What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WENT AWAY about two months ago, a MULATTO BOY named BILLY.”
This runaway advertisement does not fill in many of the details of the life led by “a MULATTO BOY named BILLY,” but it offers enough to imagine some of what his story might have been. The notice indicated that Billy “was born in Jamaica” and speculated that he was spending time on the Savannah waterfront “skulking about some vessels in order to get there again.” The advertiser did not question why Billy might have wanted to return to Jamaica, what would have drawn him there. In addition to being a familiar place, Jamaica may have been where Billy hoped to be reunited with a mother or siblings or other relatives or friends, a network of people that he cared about and who cared about him.
There’s no way to know that for certain. Billy may have had other reasons for wanting to return to Jamaica, but my first thought upon reading this advertisement was that it told the story of a boy who had been separated from his family and wanted to get back to them. I suspect that the advertiser may have had a similar hunch but refused to put it into words. Doing so would have recognized the humanity of Billy, the very real bonds of affection that he felt for his relatives and other significant people in his life. Doing so would have also acknowledged the extent that the slave trade separated families. This advertisement seems to carefully skirt Billy’s humanity in favor of depicting him as a commodity to be delivered back to “the warden of the work-house, or to MINIS MINIS” (presumably the name of the plantation estate of his master, George M’Intosh).