Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RAN-away … a stout Molatto Negro Slave.”
Step, “a stout Molatto Negro Slave,” ran away “from his Master Lieut. Mathew Caldwell” at the end of November in 1767. In his attempt to capture the fugitive, Caldwell made every effort in the public prints to alert his fellow colonists. He provided a description of Step, offered a reward, and warned others against assisting Step in any way. In addition to the reward, Caldwell pledged to reimburse “all necessary Charges” incurred in securing and returning the runaway slave. He publicized all of this information as widely as possible, inserting the notice in all four newspapers published in Boston at the time. On December 28, it appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, Boston-Gazette, and Boston Post-Boy. Four days earlier, the same advertisement ran in the Massachusetts Gazette. Considering the reward, expenses, and advertising, Caldwell made a significant investment in his search for Step.
This advertisement seems a stark contrast to many of the other paid notices and news items in Boston’s newspapers during the final months of 1767. All four newspapers published accounts of the town meeting at the end of October, noting the general discontent about an imbalance of trade between Britain and the colonies that contributed to an economic recession and scarcity of hard money. Bostonians voted to encourage production and consumption of local alternatives to imported goods. Other towns in Massachusetts and neighboring colonies then passed their own resolutions calling for increased local industry combined with nonimportation agreements. All of this coincided with resistance to the Townshend Act and new duties on certain imported goods. Advertisements for consumer goods and services reflected the concerns expressed at town meetings. Some advertisers underscored that they made certain goods or sold items produced locally. Other advertisers once again used the Liberty Tree as a landmark when listing directions to their shops.
Colonists in Massachusetts and elsewhere in New England expressed concerns about infringements on their liberty and devised plans for resistance in 1767. They reacted to an imperial crisis that eventually resulted in the American Revolution. Step ran away from Caldwell amid ongoing public discussions about the meaning of liberty. He engaged in his own acts of resistance to unjust authority in the era of the revolution.