What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“I forewarn the masters of vessels from carrying him off.”
When “A NEGROE FELLOW, named SAM,” made his escape, James Lucena placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to enlist readers throughout the colony in recovering the man he considered his property. His notice followed a standard format, one familiar from newspapers published not only in Georgia but throughout British mainland North America. He stated that Sam was “about 22 years old” and “speaks very good English.” Lucena offered a physical description, noting that Sam was “about 5 feet 6 inches” and had ritual scars or “country marks on each side of his face this |||.” He also offered a description of the clothing Sam wore when he escaped: “a dark grey cloth double breasted waistcoat and a white negroe cloth under jacket, a pair of green negroe cloth long trowsers, and a round sailor’s cap.” He may have considered additional details unnecessary since Sam was “well known in and about Savannah.” All of these details encouraged readers to take special note of the physical characteristics, clothing, and even speech of Black men they encountered.
Lucena was just as concerned about accomplices who aided Sam, especially “masters of vessels” who might depart the port of Savannah and transport Sam far away from Georgia and far beyond Lucena’s ability to force Sam back into bondage. Lucena appended a nota bene to the conclusion of his advertisement, asserting that “Said negroe is suspected to be concealed on board some vessel.” Sam could have hidden on board unknown to any of the crew, but Lucena suggested that he received assistance from sailors or even officers. Mariners throughout the eighteenth-century Atlantic world were an exceptionally egalitarian community, often suspected of providing assistance to enslaved men in their efforts to escape. Lucena warned that anyone who aided Sam “may depend on being prosecuted to the utmost rigour of the law.” Like other colonies, Georgia enacted statutes to punish both enslaved men and women who escaped and anyone who “concealed,” harbored, or otherwise assisted them. Lucena’s advertisement encouraged surveillance of Black men, but it also called for scrutiny of mariners and anyone who might be suspected of being sympathetic to Sam and others who seized their liberty.