What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“RUN AWAY … a NEGRO fellow, named July.”
No newspaper advertisements concerning enslaved people appear via the Slavery Adverts 250 Project today, but that does not mean that no such advertisements were published in the American colonies on June 27, 1770. The absence of these advertisements is a consequence of the Georgia Gazette no longer being part of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project as of May 23. James Johnston continued publishing the Georgia Gazette into 1776, but many editions have been lost over time. Any surviving copies published after May 23, 1770, have not been digitized, making them less accessible to scholars and others who wish to consult them. Of the newspapers published in 1770 that have been digitized, the Georgia Gazette was the only publication regularly distributed on Wednesdays (with dates that correspond to Saturdays in 2020), though printers in Charleston occasionally published newspapers on Wednesdays. As a result, the Slavery Adverts 250 Projectnow inadvertently gives the impression that no advertisements concerning enslaved people circulated in colonial America on Wednesdays in 1770 even though the Georgia Gazette usually included at least half a dozen such advertisements and often significantly more.
Unfortunately, the absence of these advertisements further obscures the stories that they tell about the experiences of enslaved people in the era of the imperial crisis that resulted in the American Revolution. Today’s featured advertisement about an enslaved man who liberated himself, a man known to his enslavers as July, comes from the June 26, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Filtered through the perspective of July’s enslaver, the advertisement tells a truncated story of Black agency and resistance similar to the stories told in advertisements that likely appeared in the Georgia Gazette on the following day. Other advertisements in that missing issue likely told other kinds of stories, some of enslaved people for sale as individuals or in groups or “parcels” and others of enslaved people who attempted to liberate themselves but were captured and imprisoned until those who asserted mastery over them claimed them. Advertisements that ran in other newspapers tell similar stories as those from the missing issues of the Georgia Gazette.
Relying on those proxies, however, does not as effectively reveal the number and frequency of advertisements concerning enslaved people that circulated in early American newspapers. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project seeks not only to tell representative stories of enslaved people but also to demonstrate the magnitude of newspaper advertising as a means of perpetuating slavery in early America by identifying and republishing as many advertisements as possible, making the evidence impossible to ignore. Like any examination of the past, work on the Slavery Adverts 250 Project is sometimes constrained by which sources have survived and are accessible and which have not survived or are not accessible. Despite its endeavor toward comprehensiveness, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project is not presenting newspaper advertisements originally published on June 27, 1770; that does not mean that advertisements concerning enslaved people did not circulate in the American colonies on that day, only that the sources are not known to exist at this time.