Slaves Fleeing the U.S. South, 1864


Slaveholders in Maryland used slaves to cultivate wheat and tobacco, or to perform domestic work and skilled labor. They viewed their slaves as property, sources of revenue, status symbols, and important investments. Despite the advantages of enslaving blacks, many owners also viewed them as dangerous threats that needed to be controlled. Slaveholders feared their bondsmen would inspire insurrections or plots to murder their families.

Slave owners sought to control slaves by subjecting those who escaped or rebelled to harsh punishments. If a slave escaped, the remaining slaves on the plantation sometimes were punished. If the slave was caught, the slaveholder generally gathered his slaves to watch the flogging of that particular individual. While there were certainly some positive relationships between master and servant, this was essentially an economic system and bonded African Americans were considered a slaveholder’s property.