GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WENT AWAY from the subscriber about a week ago, AN INDENTED IRISH SERVANT MAN.”
This advertisement caught my eye because my ancestry is Irish. My father came to Boston in 1956. As with many Irish immigrants across time, he did not come with much money. His aunt who lived in Boston sponsored him, and he had to work very had in the carpenters union to get to where he is now. Jeremiah Herrington, the “INDENTED IRISH SERVANT MAN” in this advertisement from the Georgia Gazette, made a similar journey for Ireland to North America.
In terms of culture and climate, Georgia was a big difference from what Jeremiah was used to in Ireland. Slavery had been banned in colonial Georgia until 1750, so indentured servitude was another way to get laborers during early years of settlement in the colony.
This advertisement had also been placed the week before on October 1, and not taken down. This leads me to believe that Joshua Vaughan had not heard from his Irish servant or any subscribers of the Georgia Gazette. This could have meant that Herrington as still on the run. Runaway advertisements were very popular in colonial newspapers; unfortunately, at the time owning a person was very common and desensitized. Missing servants and slaves were noticed quickly and often times if not found reported. If returned to their masters they were often punished. In some colonies, such as Virginia, masters could punish runaways with death if they were repeat offenders.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Elizabeth has chosen an advertisement that provides an important corrective to some of the research she and her classmates are doing this semester. In addition to guest curating the Adverts 250 Project for a week, each student in my colonial America class is also curating the newly established Slavery Adverts 250 Project on Twitter. Regular visitors here know that all of the advertisements from that project are republished here in a daily digest.
In designing that project, I chose to focus exclusively on slaves in colonial America, excluding other sorts of unfree laborers, such as indentured servants and convict servants. In part, I wanted to keep the project focused rather than risk becoming too diffused. In addition, modern Americans continue to grapple with the legacy of slavery in our culture, politics, and economics every single day; we are rather confronted with a legacy of indentured servitude that challenges us in the same way.
From a practical standpoint, I knew that the Slavery Adverts 250 Project would be an experimental collaborative research effort with my students. In launching something new like that I wanted to start off relatively small and leave room to expand at a later time, if the project worked out. As an instructor, I knew that the project needed to be self-contained and manageable for undergraduates who were studying colonial America for the first time and who were new to using digitized primary sources to conduct independent research. To test the viability of the project, I gathered all the slavery advertisements for a single week several months ago. In the process, I determined that the scope in terms of research, effort, and time was an appropriate substitute for the essay assignment the project replaced on the syllabus.
Still, I have questioned my decision because featuring slavery advertisements exclusively tells only part of the story of unfree laborers in early America. Each student submits hard copies of all the newspapers printed in colonial America during his or her week as curator of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. I carefully skim through them to confirm that all the advertisement they have highlighted belong to the project as well as flag any that they might have missed. In the process, my students and I have encountered significant numbers of advertisements for indentured servants (and a smaller number for convict servants), both for sale and runaways. Such advertisements were especially common in newspapers published in Philadelphia and New York in 1766.
I stand by my decision to focus exclusively on advertisements concerning slavery for the class project, but that does not mean that our conversations in class exclude other forms of unfree labor, nor does it mean that the Adverts 250 Project cannot examine advertisements for indentured servants and convict servants in colonial America. This week Elizabeth has examined and advertisement for each.