Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“DANIEL O’Mullen, a Run-away Servant, belonging to Mr. James Huston in Second Street, Philadelphia, was taken up in this City a few Days ago.”
This advertisement may seem a bit out of place considering that the Adverts 250 Project focuses primarily on advertisements for consumer goods and services, setting aside the other kinds of notices that colonists paid to have placed in newspapers. This advertisement reminds us that in the eighteenth century many people were commodities themselves. Advertisements for enslaved men and women, youths, and children provide the most compelling examples, but indentured servants were also bought and sold in colonial America — and, like other unfree laborers, their attempts to escape were often chronicled in newspaper advertisements.
I also selected this advertisement from the New-York Mercury because it demonstrates the networks of newspaper distribution and readership in the 1760s. It references “an Advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, of December 26, 1765,” offering a reward to anyone who captured O’Mullen so “his Master may have him again.” Rather than sending a letter to “James Huston, in Second-street, Philadelphia,” the original advertisement was met with an advertisement. It appears that those seeking to collect the reward expected that Huston or one of his acquaintances would see the advertisement concerning O’Mullen’s capture.