THE LAWS OF ALABAMA in regard to runaway slaves were never very severe. They were much the same as other measures for the recovery of other types of lost property. Under these laws, a slave found eight miles from his owner's plantation, or one who was away more than two days without permission of his master, was considered a runaway.1 A slave who merely went off on a short trip did not fall into this classification.
A runaway slave, however, whether his absence was long or short, was both a trouble and an expense to his owner. The excitement on the plantation when a runaway's absence was discovered was bad for morale and interfered with routine. If the truant was found, the master usually had to pay a fee for his arrest and his lodging in jail. If he succeeded in making good his escape, the financial loss to the owner ran into hundreds of dollars.
Why did slaves run away? Only when one analyzes the causes for truancy, can one understand the problem. And, it must be admitted, such analysis highlights some of the worst aspects of slavery.
Slaves frequently ran away to restore family bonds which had been disrupted. Advertisements for runaways often carry statements like these: "He has a wife who formerly lived in the neighborhood of Capt. Leslie, but has since moved to the vicinity of Limestone; it is supposed he is lurking about the place of her residence";2 "The above negroes, I have no doubt, will aim to go to Columbia, in the State of Tennessee, at which place their father and mother____________________