Slavery Advertisements Published May 16, 1771

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Maryland Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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Maryland Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (May 16, 1771).

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New-York Journal (May 16, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Journal (May 16, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 16, 1771).

May 15

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Essex Gazette (May 14, 1771).

“[The following was paid for as an Advertisement.]”

Newspaper editors selected which articles and letters to print or reprint in their publications, but that did not exclude others, especially advertisers, from shaping the contents and messages disseminated to readers.  In the era of the American Revolution, for instance, many advertisers enhanced their notices with political commentary, encouraging consumers to graft politics onto their decisions in the marketplace.  Aggrieved husbands regularly published advertisements warning others not to extend credit to wives who had the audacity to resist the patriarchal authority husbands were supposed to exercise in their households.  In the process, husbands gave details about marital discord and the misbehavior of their wives.  On occasion, some of those wives responded with advertisements of their own, painting less than flattering portraits of abusive or negligent husbands.  Other advertisers disputed land titles or pursued personal grudges.  Editors temporarily transferred editorial authority to advertisers who paid for space in their newspapers.

That seems to have been the case concerning a poem that ran in the May 15, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Many eighteenth-century newspapers featured a poetry corner, often positioned in the upper left corner of the final page, but that was not the case with this poem.  Instead, it appeared at the bottom of the last column on the third page.  Given the production process for a standard four-page issue, that meant that the poem was the last item the compositor inserted into that issue.  Perhaps Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, had second thoughts about including it at all.  An editorial note preceded the poem, suggesting that Hall decided that its appearance in his newspaper required some sort of explanation: “[The following was paid for as an Advertisement.]”  In other words, Hall did not select it for the edification or amusement of his readers.  He might not have even fully understood its purpose or meaning, but a customer paid for the space.  The poem very well may have bewildered Hall and most readers.  A preamble declared, “The folloing lines were Presented to A lat skull mistres in this town by 4 of her skolers the morning after her mareg.”  The misspellings continued throughout the poem, suggesting that the “skull mistres” (school mistress) achieved only partial success with these “skolers” (scholars) who sent tidings following her “mareg” (marriage).  The poem was an inside joke not intended for all readers of the Essex Gazette.

Hall could have refused to publish the poem, exercising his prerogative as editor and proprietor of the Essex Gazette.  He was not obligated to publish anything submitted to the printing office, even if accompanied by payment to appear as an advertisement.  Yet that payment justified temporarily surrendering editorial control to an advertiser.  Indeed, Hall abbreviated an advertisement from Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., explaining that “[Want of Room obliges us to defer the Particulars till next Week.]”  Hall could have given Sparhawk the space devoted to the poem, but instead opted to collect payment and insert the poem with a disclaimer.  The four “skolers” then found their ode to their “skull mistres” in the public prints.

May 14

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Essex Gazette (May 14, 1771).

“Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield.”

George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  Newspapers in Boston published the news the following day.  Newspapers in other colonies reprinted those accounts as soon as they came to hand.  Almost as quickly, printers, booksellers, and others inserted advertisements for various commemorative items, including funeral sermons, poems in memory of the minister, and works written by Whitefield.  Once vessels crossing the Atlantic delivered the news to England and returned to the colonies, printers advertised even more Whitefield memorabilia, including his last will and testament and the sermon John Wesley preached in his memory.  As broadsides, pamphlets, and books, the simultaneous commemoration and commodification of Whitefield took place via print.

Yet that commemoration and commodification was not confined to print.  Advertisers also marketed “Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield.”  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, was the first to do so, inserting a brief notice in the May 14, 1771, edition of his newspaper.  Hall did not elaborate on the medals, stating only that they “may be had at the Printing-Office next Thursday or Friday.”  He did not mention the images or inscriptions that appeared on either side, nor did he specify the artist or place of production.  Artists produced several medals on the occasion of Whitefield’s death, many of them dated to 1770, but Hall did not indicate which medals consumers could purchase at his printing office.  Given his experience marketing other commemorative items, he may not have considered it necessary to provide elaborate descriptions of the medals in newspaper advertisements, especially if those other items met brisk demand among consumers who wished to mourn the famous minister through acquiring goods associated with him.  Many months after Whitefield’s death attracted notice throughout the colonies, new commemorative items continued to hit the market.  One of the most significant news events of 1770 continued to receive attention in the public prints as advertisers hawked a variety of Whitefield memorabilia.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 14, 1771

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Essex Gazette (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 14, 1771).

May 13

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 13, 1771).

“Preparing catalogues … to be distributed gratis to their customers.”

In the spring of 1771, booksellers Noel and Hazard took to the pages of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to advertise the “general assortment of books, and stationary ware” available at their shop.  They sought customers of all sorts, offering their inventory both “wholesale and retail.”  The partners made recommendations for the proprietors of country stores, including “bibles, testaments, psalters, primers, childs new play thing, [and] young man’s companion.”  They also had on hand a “great variety of Newbury’s pretty little gilt picture books for young masters and misses,” encouraging adults to purchase books for children.  For prospective customers who pursued certain occupations, Noel and Hazard stocked “navigation books and instruments, surveying books and instruments, [and] architect books and instruments.”  For all sorts of other readers, they sold English and French dictionaries, a “variety of the best pieces on husbandry, gardening and farriery,” and works by Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, and a variety of other authors familiar to eighteenth-century readers.

Noel and Hazard imported their merchandise from London and Scotland.  They anticipated expanding their inventory upon the arrival of “the next vessels from London, Bristol, and Scotland.”  At that time, the items available at their shop would become “so very numerous” that a newspaper advertisement would not longer suffice.  As an alternative, Noel and Hazard were “preparing catalogues of the whole to be distributed gratis to their customers.”  Booksellers regularly produced and disseminated catalogs to supplement their newspaper advertisements.  Those catalogues took various forms, sometimes appearing as broadsides and other times as pamphlets.  Over time, they became more sophisticated in terms of organization.  Rather than listing available titles according to the size of the volumes, booksellers instead grouped them together according to genre.  Doing so assisted prospective customers in locating titles of interest and discovering items they were most likely to purchase but might not have otherwise considered.  Promising free catalogs also served as a ploy to get consumers into shops.  Noel and Hazard described an extensive inventory in their advertisement, but readers who visited their shop to acquire a complete catalog had an opportunity to browse and examine the merchandise for themselves.

Few eighteenth-century book catalogs survive relative to how often booksellers mentioned them in newspaper advertisements.  That has prompted some historians to suspect that many never actually made it into print.  After all, Noel and Hazard stated that they “are preparing catalogues,” not that the catalogs were ready for distribution.  The mere promise of a catalog may have also drawn prospective customers into shops.  Still, booksellers promoted catalogs so frequently that it seems likely that they did distribute many of them, at least in sufficient numbers for prospective customers to have reasonable expectations of acquiring catalogs described in newspaper advertisements.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 13, 1771

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 13, 1771).

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New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 13, 1771).

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New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 13, 1771).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 13, 1771).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 13, 1771).

May 12

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 9, 1771).

“If offered for sale … it’s desir’d it may be stopt, and Advice given … by publishing it in the Papers.”

Lost and found advertisements regularly appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Colonists sought to harness the power of the press in recovering garments, documents, currency, jewelry, and a variety of other items that they misplaced, dropped, or inadvertently left behind.  The watchmakers Asby and McLain published an advertisement concerning “A Gold Watch lost” on the evening of April 20, 1771, hoping that readers of the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter would assist in returning it.  To that end, they offered “TWENTY DOLLARS Reward.”

The watch went missing “between the Town-House and Draw-Bridge in Boston,” but Asby and McLain widened the search.  They realized that whoever might find the watch would not necessarily seek its owner but instead keep it or attempt to sell it.  The watchmakers enlisted the assistance of “Master of Vessels,” requesting that they observe their crew to see “if such a Watch should appear to be in Possession of any of the Sailors on board.”  Asby and McLain left discipline to captains, advising they either confiscate the watch or pay the reward “as they shall think proper” under the circumstances.  Anticipating the possibility that the watch might be “offered for sale in Boston, or in any Town upon the Continent,” the watchmakers asked that the watch “may be stopt” or confiscated and “Advice given … by publishing it in the Papers, that either of them may know w[h]ere to apply and pay the Reward.”

In giving those instructions, Asby and McLain suggested that newspapers would continue to play a role in their search for the watch beyond publishing their own advertisement.  They expected readers in Boston and other places to take note, testifying to the dissemination and reach of newspapers in the era of the American Revolution.  The watchmakers also suggested that they would scan the newspapers for an advertisement placed in response to their notice.  Even though they gave their location and anyone who found or confiscated the watch could communicate with them directly, Asby and McLain depended on the public prints as an alternative.

May 11

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (May 11, 1771).

“N.B. They have just received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.”

The arrival of the Providence in Providence on May 1, 1771, was good for business for John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette.  Captain Phineas Gilbert brought a variety of information that quickly found its way into the town’s only newspaper.  He delivered newspapers from London and letters from distant correspondents to Carter.  In turn, the printer selected excerpts for publication in the Providence Gazette.  He also published updates about the progress made by several vessels the Providence encountered during its transatlantic voyage.

In addition to news, the Providence also generated advertising.  Merchants quickly placed advertisements announcing that they stocked consumer goods “JUST IMPORTED from LONDON … In the Ship Providence.”  John Brown made that pronouncement in the May 4 edition.  Joseph Russell and William Russell also advertised that Captain Gilbert delivered a “large Assortment of GOODS” to them.  A week later, several other entrepreneurs placed similar notices in the Providence Gazette.  The advertising section in the May 11 edition commenced with notification from “Nicholas, Joseph& Moses Brown, In Company” that they had “imported in the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a great Variety of English and India GOODS.”  Thurber and Cahoon made the same appeal, adding a nota bene to an advertisement that previously ran in the Providence Gazette.  The new copy asserted that Thurber and Cahoon “have just recently received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.”  Nathaniel Wheaton did not mention the Providence in his new advertisement, but he did declare that he “just imported from London” an assortment of merchandise that he offered to “the Gentlemen and Ladies both of Town and Country.”  Most likely the Providence transported his goods.  Not all entrepreneurs who placed such advertisements had shops in Providence. Richard Matthewson of East Greenwich promoted goods he received via the Providence, noting that he set prices “as cheap as any in the Colony.”

While Carter certainly welcomed any news that Captain Gilbert carried, he likely appreciated the goods and, especially, the advertisements they inspired even more.  After all, he regularly reprinted news from London that appeared in newspapers published in Boston.  That allowed him to satisfy subscribers, but it did not generate additional revenue.  The number of advertisements for consumer goods in the Providence Gazette significantly increased after the Providencearrived in port and delivered its cargo to merchants and shopkeepers.  That meant both additional content and greater revenue for the newspaper.

May 10

Who were the subjects of advertisements in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy (May 10, 1771).

“RUN away last Tuesday Night, a Negro Man named GLASGOW.”

“RUN away last Tuesday Night, a Negro Man named ABEL.”

Sometime during the night of May 7, 1771, Glasgow, “a Negro Man,” made his escape from his enslaver, John Treat of Milford, Connecticut.  Three days later, Treat published an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  He provided a description that included Glasgow’s age, height, and clothing.  Treat also offered a reward for “Who ever shall take up and return said Negro.”  Like so many other enslavers, Treat proclaimed that Glasgow had “RUNaway.”  From Glasgow’s perspective, no doubt, he had instead liberated himself.

Glasgow was not the only enslaved man in Milford who seized his liberty that night.  According to Gideon Platt, Jr., Abel also escaped from bondage on May 7.  Platt also resorted to placing an advertisement in hopes that other colonists would take note of Black men they encountered, scrutinize them to determine whether they matched the description in the newspaper, and, if they spotted Abel, “take up said Negro, and return him to [Platt], or send Word so that he may have him again.”  Platt encouraged readers to attend to age and physical characteristics, but he also reported that Abel “talks good English.”  Linguistic ability as well as appearance could help identify this fugitive from enslavement.

Platt’s advertisement describing Abel appeared immediately below Treat’s advertisement offering a reward for the capture and return of Glasgow in the May 10 edition of the Connecticut Journal.  While not definitive evidence, that Abel and Glasgow happened to depart on the same evening suggests that they may have worked together in seeking freedom, believing that cooperation increased their chances of outsmarting their enslavers.  If they were initially unaware of this coincidence when separately submitting their notices to the printing office, Platt and Treat almost certainly recognized the possibility when they saw their advertisements in the newspaper.

Just as both enslavers told a story filtered through their own perspectives when they stated that Abel and Glasgow had “RUN away,” they likely did not present an account of events that accurately related all of the details or gave Abel and Glasgow credit for coordinating their escape.  Though it was not their intention, Platt and Treat published short narratives that testified to the agency and perseverance exhibited by Abel and Glasgow.  Still, those narratives were incomplete and did not reveal the experiences of the enslaved men as well as if they had recorded their own stories.