Author Archives: ara4

Team 1 4/14 Progress Report Part 1

As we continue to address the question of how similar Texas runaway ads were to those of other states, we have begun focusing on a handful of specific topics within that question. This week we have been working on answering some of the questions we had after the close-reading and initial digital reading of the ads. Daniel and I split up the labour by tackling different questions. Below, find results for the digital reading I conducted on my half of the questions.

Group Runaways?

One of the things I was interested in after completing the close-reading was whether Texas had a higher frequency of group runaway attempts. In TAPoR’s Comparator, a higher occurrence of the plural word “negros” suggests that Texas might have had more multi-person runaway attempts.

19th C. ads seem to have more commonly spelled “negroes” with an “e” however. (Just as a side note, this highlights the importance of checking for variations or abnormalities in spelling when conducting digital research.) Although the raw count for “negroes” is higher in Arkansas, the relative frequency based on document length is higher for Texas, although not by much.

For the word “runaways,” Texas and Arkansas are relatively equal. Just based on these word counts, it is difficult to make a conclusion about group runaways in Texas, but appears that rates of mentions for group runaways in Texas and Arkansas were roughly equivalent.

In comparison to the Mississippi corpus, Texas rates of “negros” and “negroes” are both higher.

However, use of “runaways” is significantly larger in Mississippi.

Curious about why this might be, I clicked through to the word in context section.

This snippet from the use of the word “runaways” in the Mississippi ads reveals that it was often used in relation to jailor’s notices. Even more so than other runaway ads, jailor’s notices tend to follow a very standard format, often following a word-for-word form. In Mississippi, many of them are titled “Runaways In Jail” and conclude with a note about the “law upon the subject of runaways,” as seen above. This is one example of how the presence of jailor’s notices in the mix of runaway ads can skew the trends in one direction or another.

Ultimately, the digital reading of the ads through TAPoR suggest to me that Texas did not have a significantly higher frequency of group runaways than either Arkansas or Mississippi. If we choose to pursue this question more closely, it will be necessary to do a combination of digital and close-reading to confirm one way or the other.

Note: For an in-depth explanation of how TAPoR calculates relative frequency ratios, see this earlier post explaining the calculations behind the figures.

Thieves or accomplices?

In my rough-draft of the close-reading of the ads, I noticed that many runaway ads suspect an accomplice of persuading the slave to run away, or a thief of stealing the slave for resale. These ads provide historical clues about some of the routes of aid that runaways might have had, or perhaps, instances in which slaves were made to “run away” against their will. In ads where the subscriber suspects a thief, it is not possible to know whether those suspicions are accurate or not, but it can give us a sense of the climate in that region. If subscribers are more suspicious of thieves or accomplices in one region vs. another, it may suggest a situation of lawlessness and slaveholder fear in that state.

In Texas compared to Mississippi, the word “stolen” appears relatively more frequently, but the word “thief” relatively less frequently.

Another word which appears frequently in this category of ad is “persuaded,” which appears more frequently in Mississippi. This screenshot shows snippets of how the word “persuaded” appears in the ads.

To me, these results suggest that the Mississippi ads may have had more instances of accomplice and/or thief suspicions than Texas. Texas and Arkansas had very similar rates for the words “stolen,” “thief,” and “persuaded”.

In Voyant Tools, this embedded word trends from the Telegraph and Texas Register collection shows the correlation between the words “thief” and “stolen”. Both words follow similar patterns across the corpus.

One of the benefits of Voyant is that it allows users to copy an html link to embed Voyant tools into their own blog. Rather than a static screenshot, readers can change the settings on the embedded tool. Try playing around with it!

This tool also allows you to visualize where in the corpus peaks in slave theft occur. Patterns such as these raise questions about why theft might have spiked in the Houston area at that time. This is just one example of how a digital reading can notice patterns difficult to discern through close-reading alone, but inspire further close-reading through the questions raised.

Racial Descriptors? Differences in Racial/Ethnic involvement?

In most runaway ads, the subscriber tends to give some description of the runaway’s complexion or racial status. We were interested in tracking variations in these terms across states. We were also interested in tracking runaway slaves’ involvement with various racial or ethnic groups in their geographical area.

This embedded graph from Voyant shows trends for the words “African” and “Africans” across the Telegraph and Texas Register. Over time, occurrences of these words goes down until eventually disappearing. In class, we talked about potentially finding evidence of the illegal international slave trade continuing for a while in the early years of Texas. These trends would suggest that to be the case.

Additionally, “African” appears most frequently in Texas compared to the other states, and slightly more frequently in Mississippi than in Arkansas. This confirms my suspicions from the close-read that Texas had higher rates of Africans than the other states, as well as my hunch that Mississippi and Texas, with access to ocean ports, would have higher rates of African slaves than landlocked Arkansas.

One of the terms we both noticed in our close-readings was the French word Griff(e). “Griff” and “Griffe” occur much more frequently in Texas, followed by Mississippi, and not at all in Arkansas. Tracking the word “Griffe” alongside “French” and “Mulatto” reveals some interesting trends. While Texas and Mississippi have higher use of the word Griff(e), Arkansas has higher use of the word Mulatto. Additionally, Texas and Mississippi — the states where the French word “Griff” is used — also have higher occurrences of the word “French” suggesting a more significant presence of French people or the French language in these states. Possibly, in Texas and Mississippi, subscribers were more likely to prefer the term Griff(e) to refer to someone of part white, part black ancestry, whereas in Arkansas they were more likely to prefer the term Mulatto.

This final screenshot reveals the high relative frequency of “Mexico” and “Mexican” in Texas. In Arkansas and Mississippi, these words never occur at all. This screenshot also shows how the favorites function works in Voyant. To track several related words, use the search function in Words in the Entire Corpus, then select the word and hit the favorites heart in the bottom bar. Then you can toggle back and forth from favorites and search to either look at the list of words you want to track or select more words. From here, you can select one or more words from the favorites list to track visually chart their progress across the corpus. This is very handy tool for tracking word correlation and relation.

If you are interested in looking into these runaway trends in Voyant more closely, follow this link to a saved Voyant skin containing all of the collected ads from Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

Team 1 Progress Report Part 1: Essay Rough Draft

(note: this is a draft of the essay, so please feel free to comment with suggestions for final revisions!)

How similar were Texas runaway slave advertisements to those of Arkansas and Mississippi? A collection of runaway digitized slave advertisements from a variety of newspapers spanning the years 1800 to 1865* can help answer this question. In the end, patterns of runaway advertisements in Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi, are on the whole very similar, with some notable distinctions.

In all three states, runaway advertisements follow a standard format, usually providing similar kinds of information. Most include a description of the runaway slave(s)’ name, age, physical characteristics (such as height and complexion), distinctive marks or injuries, and notable personality traits. The ads also provide information about slave ownership or origins, when the slave escaped (or date captured, in the case of found runaway notices), where the slave escaped from, and where they are believed to be headed. When relevant, the ads provide information about suspected accomplices or a descriptions of horses used for running away. More detailed ads sometimes describe the slave’s clothing, familial relationships, hobbies, or skilled crafts. Most advertisements concluded with the subscriber’s name, and where and how they can be contacted. And as incentive, runaway notices almost always prominently advertise that a generous reward will be given for information about or capture of the runaway slave. At first glance, this consistently short, boilerplate format of runaway ads makes it difficult to really distinguish between them. The ads from Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi start to all look practically indistinguishable, making it difficult for close-reading alone to recognize pattern breaks between the states, without the assistance of computational data. However, there are certain distinctive details that appear more in one state vs. another.

Before describing these differences, it is worth noting the similarities in runaway advertisements across state lines. In all three states, the “typical” runaway is a young male. Ads for female runaways occur disproportionately infrequently, and it is rare to see an advertisement for a child or an elderly slave. As a means of transportation, runaways often take from their masters a horse or a mule. All states feature ads which contain a “white man” suspected of stealing or persuading slaves to run away. These ads often refer to the man as a “white villain,” clearly angered over this blatant disrespect to their property, and offer a separate reward for the apprehension and conviction of the white thief. Some ads describe a specific white man who has been seen in the neighborhood, and are able to provide details of name and appearance. Others, on the other hand, treat this “white man” as a nebulous, unnamed threat. One slaveholder in Texas, for example, found it hard to believe that his slave would run away of his own volition, stating that: “It is believed that he was instigated to run away by white persons, as he has always been treated with great kindness”. For this slaveholder it was easier to blame the outside influence of a villainous white man than question a paternalistic belief in the slave’s happiness. Unlike the other two states, in Texas, the nefarious accomplice/thief is sometimes listed as a “Mexican” as well as a “white man”.

In general, Texas runaways appear to have had more interaction with Mexico and Mexicans than in the other two states – not surprising, considering the state’s shared border with Mexico. Slaveholders in Texas were conscious of the presence of Mexico, often speculating that runaways were headed to the nearby nation. Embodying both fears of white predation and of the looming Mexican border, one Austin Gazette subscriber speculated that his runaway slave was “in company with some rascally white person. It is my impression said boy is making his way west, and will, under the guidance of white men, and with the assistance of his free pass, endeavor to reach Mexico”. While law enforcement officials and slaveholders in nearby Southern states could be depended upon to support the institution of slavery and return runaway slaves, slavery in Mexico had been abolished. This made Mexico an appealing destination for runaway slaves, and a concerning one for slaveholder subscribers.

Arkansas and Mississippi runaway ads, on the other hand, contain more mentions of interaction with Native American tribes than Texas ads. These two states much more frequently mention slaves suspected to be fleeing towards Native American tribes, slaves who are part Native American, or slaves who can speak a Native American language. Whether slaves in Arkansas were described as part Cherokee, or slaves in Texas were described as being able to speak “Mexican” (Spanish), runaway ads from all of the states suggest the diversity of the United States during the 19th century. These ads create a picture of how slaves interacted with and often benefited from the diversity of cultures in the United States and bordering nations.

It is also important to remember that regions of Texas varied both culturally and geographically, and runaway patterns across the state are not homogeneous. While ads from all the states mention instances of slaves stealing and carrying weapons upon escape, these appear more frequently among Texas ads. In particular, notices of runaway slaves carrying guns and sometimes knives appear frequently in ads listed in the Austin Gazette. Significantly, this newspaper circulated in a central Texas area, closer to the Western frontier, compared to the Houston-area based Telegraph and Texas Register. Potentially, proximity to the Western frontier, and the dangers associated with that area, gave slaves more access to weapons, or made slaves feel that taking a weapon with them on their escape was more essential to their success. Similarly, the Austin Gazette more frequently mentions slaves running for Mexico, suggesting that slaves in the central region of Texas ran for Mexico more often than the gulf region (or at least their masters suspected they did).

In all of the states, one thing to keep in mind is that patterns of runaway slave advertisements may not necessarily be the same as actual runaway patterns. There were many reasons why a slaveholder may not have placed an ad for a runaway, or would have delayed placing the ad. Maybe they believed a missing slave was merely “lying out” and would return to the plantation soon on their own. Maybe the slaveholder was using personal means to pursue and recapture runaways, such as a search team of locals, and didn’t feel the need to make a public announcement. Maybe the runaway was not valuable enough to justify the cost of running an ad. Or, in some cases, the slaveholder may not have even noticed the missing slave, if the slave ran away at an opportune time when the plantation was in chaos, such as the death of a master. However, the differences that exist between Texas runaway ads and those from Arkansas and Mississippi are enough to suggest that runaway patterns in Texas were distinct from other U.S. Southern states. These differences appear to be related in part to Texas’s proximity to Mexico and to the Western frontier.

*These included ads from the Telegraph and Texas Register from the years 1836 to 1860, hosted by the Portal to Texas History and transcribed by students at Rice University and the University of North Texas; advertisements from the Austin Gazette from 1850 to 1860, transcribed by students at UNT; and a collection of ads from several newspapers from Arkansas, 1820 to 1865, and Mississippi, 1800 to 1860, transcribed and publicly available from the Documenting Runaway Slaves project at the University of Southern Mississippi.

HW#5: Thoughts and Progress on Voyant

For the group presentations, I’ve been working with the tool Voyant, which does text analysis on one or more documents. Among its tools, it generates a word cloud of most frequent words, generates graphs of word frequency across the corpus, and lets you compare multiple documents. Once you have a text uploaded, you can play around a lot within the Voyant “skin”, opening and closing different tools, or clicking on a particular word to see trends for that word specifically. It’s also possible to generate a link to the skin that can then be shared with others, allowing them to then play around with the data on their own. I think this interactive feature could potentially be really useful, since it lets anyone who is curious take a look at the data and track key words in pursuit of whatever questions they might be interested in.

Just as an example of what using the Voyant tools looks like, this screenshot shows Shakespeare’s works (Voyant’s sample corpus).

Right now I have the word “king” selected, allowing me to see specific information about the word such as where in the corpus the word appears, frequencies of the word over time, and the word in context.

To apply Voyant specifically to runaway slave ads, Daniel and I looked at transcribed documents of runaway slave ads from Mississippi and Arkansas (PDF’s available from Documenting Runaway Slaves Project). I looked at the Arkansas ads, splitting the corpus up in two different ways. First, I split the document up by decade and then a single document of the ads from 1820-1865. (note: to turn off common stop words such as “and” “the”, click the gear icon and choose English for list of stop words) Splitting the ads up by decade could potentially make it easier to track changes over time, although since the original document was already ordered chronologically this is also possible to do with the single document. Another possibility we talked about in class is splitting up runaway ads into individual documents, making it possible to compare specific ads, rather than time clumps.

During class, Daniel and I combined the Arkansas and Mississippi documents to do a side-by-side comparison of the two states. Not surprisingly, “Arkansas” is a distinctive word in the Arkansas documents, but with other words such as “sheriff” or “committed” it could be interesting to dig down deeper and figure out why those differences exist. Are these merely linguistic/word choice differences, or do they indicate a difference in runaway patterns? These are the sorts of questions which Voyant raises, but can also help answer, with tools such as keywords in context.

I was interested in comparing the work we’d already done on Mississippi and Arkansas to some of the Texas ads we’ve collected in the Telegraph and Texas Register. I transcribed Texas ads from 1837 (excluding reprints) and compared that with Mississippi and Arkansas ads from 1837. The sample from Texas is small, so I would be hesitant to draw grand conclusions from this comparison, but it’s a good place to start addressing the questions many of us were interested in about what difference Texas makes (if any) in runaway patterns. Here are the results of all three states for 1837. Looking forward, I’m interested in looking at these results more closely to see if they raise interesting questions regarding Texas. This can help us answer questions about whether or not it’s worthwhile to continue transcribing Texas ads (and if so, how many), and how to split up the data (by year, by individual advertisement?).

The main downside to using Voyant so far is the same issue we ran into with Mallett: the Telegraph and Texas Register advertisements are not available individually in text format. This is not so much a limitation with Voyant itself as it is with the medium of primary source documents we are working with. It does seem at this point that Voyant could be a useful tool, but if we as a class decide to use Voyant for our project in the future, we’ll have to think of ways to get around that obstacle.