What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Advertisement in Reply to Mr. Samuel Anthony’s, inserted in the first Page of this Paper.”
It began as an advertisement concerning “a Negro Man named Cuffe, about 22 years of Age” who made his escape from Edward Bardin. That advertisement followed a standard format, offering a physical description of Cuffe, listing the clothes he wore when he departed, offering a reward for his capture and return, and warning “Masters of Vessels” and others against “harbouring, concealing or carrying off” Cuffe. Bardin’s advertisement generated a response that called into question whether Cuffe actually escaped from Bardin. Samuel Anthony inserted a notice in the December 25, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette to advise the public that Isaac Winslow had sold Cuffe to him and, in turn, Anthony had sold Cuffe to James Lloyd. Anthony suggested that Cuffe had not escaped from Bardin, advising that “All Persons are therefore hereby caution’d against taking up said Negro as they may depend on being prosecuted therefor by Dr. Lloyd, who purchas’d him fairly, and is determined to defend his Right to him by Law against all Persons whatever.” That same advertisement included details of several transactions that had transferred Cuffe from one enslaver to another.
Three days later, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter carried both advertisements. The compositor helpfully placed them one after another on the front page, inserting a heading to inform readers that Anthony’s notice was a “NOTIFICATION in Answer to the above ADVERTISEMENT.” Bardin had apparently seen Anthony’s advertisement in the Boston-Gazette. He penned a response on December 27, in time for it to appear in the December 28 edition of the Weekly News-Letter, but not early enough for it to run alongside the other advertisements. Instead, the compositor once again devised a header, this one labeling Bardin’s notice as an “Advertisement in Reply to Mr. Samuel Anthony’s, inserted in the first Page of this Paper.” This new addition to the feud between Bardin and Anthony filled as much space as the other two notices combined, going into even more detail about the agreements Bardin, Anthony, Winslow, and Lloyd made concerning Cuffe. Bardin concluded by asserting, “[A]s I am threatned by Doctor Lloyd to be sued to the uttermost of the Law if I dare or any one else to touch the said Negro, as he claims him as his Property, I am determined for to know by the Law who has the best Right to him,” excluding the possibility that Cuffe had the “best Right” to himself.
This series of advertisements suggests that Cuffe never “RAN-away” from Bardin. Instead, Bardin advertised that Cuffe escaped and offered a reward for his capture and return as a ploy for getting him back from others who claimed that they now rightfully held him in bondage. The subsequent advertisements did not report that Cuffe had escaped amid all the confusion over whom “has the best Right to him.” Bardin adapted the standard runaway advertisement to suit other purposes.
 Bardin and Anthony both described Cuffe as a “Servant,” but neither provided other details that identified him as an indentured servant rather than an enslaved man. For instance, they both provided extensive details about the agreements they negotiated concerning Cuffe, but neither mentioned how much time remained of his indenture. Although Black men, women, and children were sometimes indentured rather than enslaved in colonial New England, in this instance it appears that Bardin and Anthony conflated the words “servant” and “slave” in describing Cuffe.