Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Alfred Homer (b. circa 1834 - d. ?)
MSA SC 5496-047808
Escaped from the Rockville District, Montgomery County, Maryland, 1856

Biography:

Alfred Homer fled his enslavement near Rockville on Saturday, May 31, 1856. Slaveholders often exempted their slaves from work on Sunday, so Homer may have timed his escape so that his absence could remain unnoticed until Monday. Homer worked on Dr. John W. Anderson's farm just northwest of Rockville along with thirteen other slaves.1

On June 7th, Anderson placed a runaway advertisement in the Montgomery County Sentinel under the heading "$100 Reward!!"2 He described Homer as "about 22 years of age; 5 feet 7 inches high; dark copper color, and rather good looking." Dr. Anderson described Homer's clothing as "a dark blue and green plaid frock coat, of cloth, and lighter colored plaid pantaloons." Pantaloons, close-fitting pants common in the first half of the nineteenth century, were typical clothing for male slaves. They had widely appeared in plaid, initially in white society, for the past thirty years.3 The letters "tf" at the end of the advertisement meant that the Sentinel would print the advertisement till the fugitive was found. The Sentinel ran the advertisement at least through July, and while August issues no longer exist, the advertisement did not appear in September. The ad also appeared twice in the Baltimore Sun.

Homer fled during a severe combination of drought, rain, and intense cold that had begun in the spring, forcing many Montgomery County farmers to "replant as many as three times."4 Despite facing this extreme weather and the publicity of Dr. Anderson's advertisements, Homer managed to reach the Vigilance Committee of Philadelphia by June 16th. William Still, a leading black abolitionist and businessman, had cofounded the Committee four years earlier to assist runaway slaves. In his 1872 book The Underground Railroad, Still recounted Homer's meeting with the Committee after a two-week journey. Homer "gave a full description of his master's character, and the motives which impelled him to seek his freedom."5 Still added that the Committee did not keep a written record of Homer's extensive interview, in which he also described his destination. This may have been to protect Homer at the time.

We lose track of Homer following his meeting with the Committee. Like many runaway slaves, he may have proceeded to Canada, since the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 would have legalized his capture even in the free northern states.
 


1.     Detail of Rockville from Simon J. Martenet, Martenet and Bond's Map of Montgomery County, 1865, Library of Congress, MSA SC 1213-1-464.
        U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) for John W. Anderson, Slaves, 1850, Montgomery County, Rockville District, Page 2, Line 25 [MSA SM61-168, M 1505-5].

2.     "$100 Reward!!" Montgomery County Sentinel 7 June 1856. MSA SC 2813, Reel M 475-01. Maryland State Archives.

3.     Christopher Breward. (The Culture of Fashion: A New History of Fashionable Dress. New York, NY: Manchester University Press, 1995) 174-175.

4.     "Harvest and Crops." Baltimore Sun 2 July 1856: 4. The Baltimore Sun Historical Archives. Enoch Pratt Free Library.

5.     William Still. The Underground Railroad (Philadelphia, PA: Porter & Coates, 1872) 388.
 


Researched and written by Rachel Frazier, 2009.

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