Tag Archives: Fairfax County

Stealing Freedom: The Fairfax Slave Who Liberated Himself and His Son

By Kyle Rogers, Virginia Newspaper Project intern

During my research so far this summer for the Virginia Newspaper department’s continuing project in collaboration with Cornell University, Freedom on the Move, I have already found and collected over one-hundred fugitive slave advertisements from historical Virginia newspapers.  Most notices concerning runaway slaves follow a boilerplate format, but a few particularly unusual and fascinating ads have caught my eye.  The most extraordinary of these were posted in the Alexandria Gazette by one John Wilkinson of Fairfax County, VA, during the winter of 1814:

Alexandria Gazette 1814-10-22

Alexandria Gazette 1814-12-15

I titled this blog post “Stealing Freedom” in reference to the complex legal significance of slaves’ self-liberation in the early-nineteenth century, when these advertisements were printed.  By law in states where slavery was legal, enslaved Africans were the property of their masters, so for a bondperson, running away was tantamount to stealing oneself.  A forty-year-old slave named Humphrey did just that on or about 12 October 1814, when he ran away from his enslaver John Wilkinson, probably to seek refuge with his wife in Alexandria.  Wilkinson paid the Alexandria Gazette to republish his notice several times, but evidently to no avail; Humphrey had successfully escaped, at least as far as the historical record can confirm.

Humphrey’s self-liberation is, in itself, a historically significant act of resistance to the institution of slavery, but his story grew even more astonishing two months later.  On December 15, Wilkinson posted another advertisement to alert the public that his house had been broken into by none other than Humphrey, his former slave.  According to Wilkinson’s notice, Humphrey had only stolen one thing: his eight-year-old son, Thornton.  Humphrey risked his life not once, but twice, to not only liberate himself but also to rescue his young son from bondage and, thereby, reunite his fractured … read more »

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A History of the Fairfax Herald

By Anne McCrery, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern

Founded in 1882 by Captain Stephen Roszel Donohoe, the Democratically-affiliated Fairfax Herald was published weekly in Fairfax, Virginia, where it served as the area’s dominant newspaper for many years. Fairfax, located near Washington D.C., underwent significant industrialization and population growth throughout the twentieth century, with the city’s population reaching 21,970 and the county’s reaching 455,021 by 1970, around the end of the Fairfax Herald’s run. In 1880, however, just prior to the Herald’s founding, the town of Fairfax had only a population of 376, while the county had a population of 16,025. The community was largely agricultural, producing “corn, wheat, oats, butter, hay; livestock,” according to the 1890 Ayer and Son’s American Newspaper Annual.

It was in this small farming community that S. R. Donohoe founded the Fairfax Herald, bringing the town its first printing press, advertisements for which stated: “Equipped with Type Setting Machine and Steam Press. All kinds of job printing. Splendid advertising medium.” The Fairfax Herald was four pages long and 20 inches by 26 inches in size originally. It had a circulation of 1,225 in 1904, 900 in 1911, and 1,000 in 1920.

FH 1886Born February 1, 1851 in Loudoun County, Donohoe was successful in multiple ventures of public service, in addition to his prolific career in newspapers. He served in the Spanish-American War as a lieutenant with the Fairfax company. He then served as Treasurer of Fairfax County between 1889 and 1891; state senator for two terms, beginning in 1900; Auditor of Public Accounts of Virginia from 1910-1912; a member of the State Tax Commission in 1914, and Federal Prohibition Director of the State, beginning in 1919. Moreover, he is listed as a director at the National Bank of Fairfax in advertisements appearing for the … read more »

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