top of page

Runaways, Coffles

and Fancy Girls:

A History of Slavery in Tennessee

By Bill Carey

About the Book

About the book

In researching Runaways, Coffles and Fancy Girls, author Bill Carey searched every newspaper printed in Tennessee from 1791 until 1864. He found just about every runaway slave ad, every slave sales ad and "slave wanted" ad that was published in the state. Using these primary sources, combined with first-person accounts and existing books on the topic, Carey has made many  revelations about slavery in Tennessee which will be new to most of the reading public. For instance:

* The government of the city of Nashville owned at least 26 slaves. The government paid a slave trader $12,000 in the fall of 1830. That trader went to Virginia and returned with 24 slaves, and the city bought at least two more a few months later. At least twice, some of those slaves tried to escape, and the mayor published runaway slave ads.

* At every county courthouse, Chancery Court Clerk and Masters regularly and routinely sold slaves, often children, as part of the normal course of government. Carey found more than 150 such sales advertised in Tennessee's newspapers, from Polk County in the east to Shelby County in the west.


* At least one slave died in the construction of the  State Capitol, a fact that has remained untold since the building was completed in the 1850s.

* "Fancy girls"--young, female slaves singled out as sex concubines, were sold in Nashville and even openly advertised in the newspapers.

* In antebellum Tennessee, newspaper advertisements were routinely used to hire slaves out to work in factories, farms, railroads, steamboats, construction companies and other types of work.


Runaways Coffles and Fancy Girls is illustrated with more than 150 newspaper ads and has three appendices. One contains data from 906 runaway slave ads published in more than 20 Tennessee newspapers. The second contains information about more than 150 Chancery Court slave sales, most of which occurred at courthouses throughout the state. The third is a list of the 24 slaves purchased by the government of Nashville in the fall of 1830, with name, physical description of the slave, price and previous home.

This book is destined to be one of the most important Tennessee history books written in recent years.


September 14, 2019 (Saturday)--Tennessee State Library and Archives, 9:30 a.m.

Previous events included McLemore House (July 6, 2018); Parnassus Bookstore (July 15); Franklin Rotary (Aug 9); Fort Negley (Aug 14); Williamson County Public Library (Aug. 19); Brentwood Library (Sept. 13); Belmont Mansion/TN Historical Society (Sept 18); West TN Historical Society (Oct. 1); Green Hills Rotary (Oct. 5); Southern Festival of Books (Oct. 12); Economics Club of Nashville (Oct. 23); Green Hills Library (Nov. 3); Giles Co. Library (Nov. 4); First Universal Unitarian Church Palmer Lecture on Human Rights (Nov. 9); Rose Glen Literary Festival in Sevierville (Feb. 23, 2019); Belle Meade Mansion (Feb. 28); Downtown Nashville Rotary (March 4); Nashville Sertoma (April 2); African-American History and Genealogy Association (May 4); Franklin Breakfast Rotary (Sept. 3).

Other Titles

Other Titles

About Us

Press/About Us

Nashville Public Library Podcast.

Click here.

Battle of Franklin Trust Podcast.

Click here.

Tennessee Magazine (Nashville, TN)

Column about the book here

Nashville Scene (Nashville, TN)

Betsy Phillips reviewed Runaways, Coffles and Fancy Girls here.

The Tennessean (Nashville, TN)

Writer Emily Adams Keplinger published this interview with Bill Carey about the book.

Tennessee Tribune (Nashville, TN)

Reporter Clare Bratten wrote this story about the book and about a talk Bill Carey gave at the McLemore House in Franklin.

Williamson Herald (Franklin, TN)

John McBryde published this story and interview. (Oxford, MS)

Here is a review of the book which ran on the Oxford-area website

Political Blogger Tom Humphrey

Political blogger Tom Humphrey had this to say about the book.

Clearbrook Press is a Nashville-based publisher of state and local history books.

Our titles can be purchased at Parnasus Books in Green Hills, Landmark Booksellers in Franklin, Elders Bookstore, the Carnton/Carter House, the Belle Meade Mansion gift shop, The Hermitage gift shop and from this website.

To book a presentation or stock the book at your bookstore, email or call 615-477-1644.

bottom of page