What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A negroe fellow called CATO … and his wife JUDY … have not been seen or heard of.”
James Bulloch, a slaveholder, regretted trusting “a negroe fellow called CATO … and his wife JUDY.” The two took advantage of that trust, at least from Bulloch’s perspective, when they decided to run away after he had issued them a pass to go to Savannah. Cato and Judy, for their part, likely had little sympathy when it came to betraying the trust of a man who held them in bondage. Bulloch briefly told their story in an advertisement he inserted in the July 13, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette.
Cato and Judy were both skilled workers. Bulloch described Cato as “a cooper by trade” and Judy as “a washer-woman.” Cato had apparently practiced his trade in the colony’s largest port town; Bulloch indicated that he was “well known in Savannah.” That being the case, it may not have been difficult for Cato to find work when he wished, providing that Bulloch allowed him to participate in the hiring out system. Judy also possessed a skill often in demand, especially in ports. Hiring out his slaves accrued certain benefits for Bulloch, especially if he did not have sufficient work to keep them occupied. By hiring out the cooper and laundress, allowing them to seek their own employment for a specified period, Bulloch reduced his responsibilities for providing food and shelter. He also generated additional income since their wages belonged to him. Slaveholders who thought of themselves as generous sometimes gifted a small portion of the wages to the enslaved men and women who earned them, but usually little more than a token.
Bulloch apparently had no misgivings about this system, at least not as far as Cato and Judy were concerned. Perhaps they had cultivated his trust over time, anticipating when they might have an opportunity to make their escape. Bulloch issued he couple “a written license … to come to town, and thee to work for a month from the 13th day of June last.” He expected them to return after a month, with their wages to hand over to him. To Bulloch’s dismay, however, Cato and Judy “have not been seen or heard of since.” Apparently the couple did not make any pretense of arriving in Savannah and seeking work. Instead, they fled at the earliest opportunity in order for their disappearance to go unnoticed as long as possible, increasing their chances for making good on their escape. Bulloch eventually discovered the subterfuge and offered a reward for their capture and return.
Although filtered through the perspective of slaveholders, advertisements for runaway slaves present striking stories of survival and resistance by enslaved men and women. The same issue of the Georgia Gazette that first provided an account of Cato and Judy’s escape also included three other advertisements for runaway slaves: Pedro “of the Angola country,” who “has the upper part of his right ear cut off,” possibly as a disciplinary measure; Chloe, who “has her country marks on both her cheeks” and spoke little English; and Ben, who “has been for some time sickly.” The advertisements do not provide as much information about any of these fugitives, making it more difficult to reconstruct their stories. Still, these advertisements demonstrate that enslaved men and women did not meekly accept their fate but instead sought to change their condition.