What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN-AWAY … a NEGRO FELLOW, named MONDAY.”
Newspaper coverage of the Boston Massacre in the weeks after it happened resulted in greater dissemination of advertisements entreating surveillance of Black men in South Carolina. How did the one cause the other? Following widespread custom, colonial printers did not write original articles about the Massacre but instead reprinted items from other newspapers. Thus, the same story about the funeral procession for the victims appeared in both the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal within a couple of days of each other, copied either from its original source in the Boston-Gazette or another newspaper that reprinted the story from the Boston-Gazette. Peter Timothy ran it in the April 5, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, exactly one month after the Boston Massacre took place. The story first appeared in the March 12 edition of the Boston-Gazette. It took nearly four weeks for it to appear in a newspaper printed in South Carolina.
Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, did not allow Timothy, his competitor, to provide the colony’s only coverage of the shocking event. He had just published his newspaper on April 3. Given that most colonial newspapers distributed one issue per week, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was not scheduled for another edition until April 10 … but this news was too momentous to wait that long to take it to press. Instead, Crouch published a two-page supplement on April 7. The entire front and much of the back of that broadsheet featured news from Boston, including a woodcut of four coffins that closely replicated the one that accompanied the original article in the Boston-Gazette. Although other newspapers that reprinted the story included woodcuts, none were as detailed as the one in the Boston-Gazette. That being the case, Crouch most likely drew his coverage directly from that newspaper rather than another that reprinted it.
The space required for the news from Boston left a column and a half for other content. Crouch filled that space with advertisements, including two advertisements for enslaved men who escaped from colonists who held them in bondage. John Marley described “a neg[r]o fellow named GEORGE” who seized his own liberty five months earlier in November. Humphry Sommers advertised “a NEGRO FELLOW, named MONDAY,” who escaped the day before the Boston Massacre took place hundreds of miles away in Massachusetts. Both advertisements encouraged readers to engage in careful scrutiny of Black men to determine if they might be George or Monday. Both Marley and Sommers offered rewards to colonists who helped capture the Black men they claimed as property. Arguably, these notices received greater attention for having appeared in a supplement devoted to the Boston Massacre than when they ran in the standard issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Had it not been for Crouch issuing that supplement, these advertisements encouraging the surveillance of Black men would not have circulated as widely.