What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“RUN away from his Master … a NEGRO Man named Neptune.”
John Moody placed this advertisement when “a NEGRO Man named Neptune” – almost certainly not the name bestowed on him by his parents when he was born – ran away. This advertisement stands in stark contrast to the one featured yesterday, though both came from the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Yesterday’s “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” encouraged readers to put on all kinds of displays upon receiving word that the Stamp Act had been repealed. This advertisement, however, asserted that black bodies should be on display and encouraged readers to take note of any “NEGRO Man” they encountered. Black bodies were figuratively on display in the crude woodcut that could have been any enslaved man. Black bodies were literally on display – scrutinized closely – any time readers attempted to assess if a black man fit the description in the advertisement. “Neptune” could change his clothing, but the fugitive could not disguise certain physical characteristics: “lost two of his Toes, and can’t move his Under Jaw.” Determining if a black man fit this description could require sustained observation; these are not attributes that would necessarily be noticed at a glance. While many colonial Americans engaged in public spectacles to celebrate the end of the Stamp Act, “Neptune” likely did all he could to avoid becoming a public spectacle, but today’s advertisement encouraged colonial Americans to think of all black bodies as some sort of public spectacle to be observed and scrutinized.