Fugitive slave ad database receives grant from Mellon

Cornell-based Freedom on the Move (FOTM), a database documenting the lives of fugitives from American slavery through newspaper ads placed by slave owners in the 18th and 19th centuries, has received a $150,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Ed Baptist, professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences and one of FOTM’s developers, said the grant will help further the public’s knowledge and understanding of “a complicated and difficult” period in U.S. history.

“The support will enable us to start working on weaving source collections together in a ‘database of databases’ format that we call ‘Freedom’s Loom,’” Baptist said. “We hope that the tools we begin building will help scholars and college students to find stories that have been long hidden, or hidden to some, but which have always been historically significant.”

Since its inception in 2014, FOTM has sought to bring stories of resistance against slavery to the public through hands-on engagement. The database includes runaway slave ads from the time of the first newspapers in the 13 colonies until the fall of Richmond, Virginia, in April 1865, which brought about the end of the Civil War.

FOTM includes researchers from Cornell, the University of New Orleans, the University of Alabama, the University of Kentucky and Ohio State University, with the support of technical, data and library experts from the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER).

The database, which has 27,000 archival ads available, allows users to interact with the ads through crowdsourced transcription. The database is anticipated to have more than 100,000 ads by the time it is complete.

“Our online community grows by more than 500 new users each month,” said William Block, director of CISER and one of FOTM’s developers. “The Mellon Foundation’s generous funding will help us further the technical development of Freedom’s Loom, linking multiple digital projects together in new and exciting ways.”

Read the story in the Cornell Chronicle.

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