GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN AWAY … A NEGRO FELLOW, named YORK … and SARAH.”
On May 3, 1769, William Coachman of South Carolina took out this advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to try to find his runaway slaves named York (or Yorkshire) and Sarah. The advertisement gave descriptions of both York and Sarah. It even told readers how York spoke with a stutter.
During the eighteenth century slaves ran away for a variety of reasons, such as attempting to find family members, needing a break from work, or trying to escape from an abusive master. In 1705 the General Assembly in Virginia passed a new law that made it very risky for slaves to flee from their masters. According to Tom Costa, plantation owners now had the legal rights to punish their runaway slaves however they saw fit. This even included disciplining a slave to death for attempting to run away. There was even a plantation owner named Robert Carter who sought permission to dismember his slaves that tried to run away from him. It is hard to imagine what slaves had to endure 250 years ago; however, this was an important part of American history as enslaved men and women ran away from their owners as acts of defiance and resistance.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
As the spring semester draws to a close, Patrick is the final guest curator from my Revolutionary America class at Assumption College. For his penultimate entry, he has selected this advertisement about “A NEGROE FELLOW, named YORK, or YORKSHIRE” who was born in Georgia and Sarah, a woman from “Guiney” who had survived the Middle Passage. Despite the differences in their origins, York and Sarah found common cause in seizing their own liberty by escaping from their enslaver.
Like each of his peers, Patrick had to fulfill certain requirements with his contributions as guest curator. Among those, he had to select at least one advertisement concerning enslaved men, women, and children to analyze for the project. He chose two, one that offered “A CARGO of Three Hundred PRIME YOUNG NEGROES” for sale and the other about York and Sarah’s flight from William Coachman. In so doing, he examined the two types of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. This provides a more complete story than considering just one type of advertisement. It balances the inhumanity and exploitation of the for sale advertisements with the resistance and agency of the runaway advertisements. Both are necessary components for understanding the experiences of enslaved people. To focus on one to the exclusion of the other tells an incomplete story.
In selecting their advertisements about slavery, the guest curators did not tend to choose one type over another. Another sort of pattern, however, did emerge among their choices: most selected advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children from the Georgia Gazette. Why, when similar advertisements ran in newspapers throughout the colonies, did the guest curators independently concentrate their attention on just one newspaper to fulfill this particular requirement for the project? Consider the contents of the advertisements in the Georgia Gazette collectively. Relatively few advertisements for consumer goods and services ran in the Georgia Gazette, even though they overflowed into advertising supplements in other publications. In comparison, a disproportionate number of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children filled the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Guest curators selected these advertisements to examine out of necessity because the commerce represented in the pages of the Georgia Gazette so often revolved around the slave trade and the surveillance of black bodies to capture runaways rather than promoting consumer goods and services or marketing important commodities.