Seeking meanings to information on 1850 & 1860 Slave Schedules

I am researching my enslaved ancestors. Why are mulatto slaves listed as "fugitives" on the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules? What does "fugitive from the state" mean?

  • Mulatto slaves are not normally listed in the 1850 & 1860 slave schedules as "fugitive from the state".  Without being able to see the schedule you are referencing, I would assume that the slave owner was listing all the slaves that he owned including one or more who had escaped or fled, who happened to be mulatto.

  • Dear Ms. Pierce,


    Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!


    Column 6 on the 1850 & 1860 U.S. Census Schedule No. 2 - Slave Inhabitants “fugitive from the state” was meant to enumerate “the number of uncaught escaped slaves in the past year”.  For information about the 1850 & 1860 U.S. Census, see the Census Bureau technical documentation and questionnaires as well as the FamilySearch Research wiki for United States Census Slave Schedules.


    We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your family research!


  • I am excited to discover another person who has seen this in an 1860 slave census.  Muhlenberg County, Kentucky is a research interest of mine and in its 1860 slave census, every single mulatto slave is marked as a fugitive of the state, and every single black slave is not.  That is a statistical impossibility.  More specifically, in that column of the forms, the mulattos are indicated with a number code which census enumerators were authorized to use to refer to private notes.  As I understand it, there was contention back then about the requirement to ask this question, and recording the information in this way served as a compromise.  But why were there markings for mulatto only?

    Prior to coming across this, I had long suspected there was an unknown Underground Railroad operation in that county, mainly from scattered  bits of very circumstantial evidence.  When I encountered this unusual pattern in the slave enumeration, I became convinced my hunch was right, though there was still no hard evidence.  At least, not until a just a few years ago when a local citizen stumbled across a family letter from an individual during that period, who I suspected was part of that UGRR operation.  The letter lacked much detail, as I understand, but it did confirm the existence of a previously unknown Underground Railroad operation in the county.

    --Norm Pritchett

    Lacey, WA

  • I am seeing this too in a nearby KY county.  So many mulattos are fugitives.  Have you learned anything more?

  • I saw it in thej 1860 Slave Schedudle for Monroe County, Georgia. Only Mulattos.

  • I am also seeing this in Madison County, Ky. In 1850, the fugitive box is ticked/checked for Mulattos. In 1860, the Asst Marshall numbered Mulattos..??? 

  • I think the use of the "fugitives from the state" column is probably an underrearched domain of census and U.S. slavery history!

    There thoughts:

    * In some cases slaves were owned by one person but "hired out" to another person, and/or had some degree of freedom of movement because their work required and sometimes because they paid a percentage of their earnings to their legal enslaver, either because they were a source of unearned income for their enslaver and/or because they were paying installments on either their own freedom or the freedom of a family member. I wonder if "fugitive" checkbox was used a shorthand for "doesn't live here and kinda does their own thing" but sure this person is legally a slave to whom I have title. 

    * I've found two cases where "fugitive from the state" was checked off for certain people who were associated with a slave trader or a slave jail. In those cases, it seems like they were being enumerated as a captured fugitive/runaway with their jailer, not as a missing slave enumerated with their owner. 

     * I wonder how much the and the associated politics of that was the reason for the inclusion of this column, and what it was that they hoped to understand better once they had collected the data.