June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:20:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 20, 1766).

“RUN away … an apprentice boy named RAINES TUCKER.”

It was easy to spot the advertisements for runaway slaves in the Virginia Gazette. Most had a woodcut of a slave in the upper left corner, announcing the content of the advertisement before subscribers even read a single word.

Advertisements for other sorts of runaways were much less likely to be adorned with a woodcut, yet slaves were not the only people who ran away from their masters in eighteenth-century America. An assortment of unfree labor statuses existed in colonial America, including slaves, indentured servants, and apprentices.

The life of an apprentice could be difficult. Although part of his master’s household during the years that he learned his trade, an apprentice was not necessarily treated as part of the family. Sometimes apprentices were not provided the same quality of food, clothing, or shelter as the master’s wife, children, and other members of the household. Masters often set strict rules for their apprentices and monitored their activities during what little free time they were allowed. Some masters also used corporal punishment to discipline apprentices. On occasion, apprentices accused masters of exploiting them for their labor but not teaching them all the aspects of their craft. Such masters, they claimed, kept apprentices dependent and subservient by withholding the complete education they were supposed to provide.

What was the relationship like between Robert Jones and his runaway apprentice, Raines Tucker? What prompted Tucker to run away? Today’s advertisement does not reveal those answers, but it does tell us that for some reason Tucker chose to depart before he completed his apprenticeship. It also tells us that unfree laborers of various sorts resorted to running away.

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