Who were the subjects of advertisements in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN away last Tuesday Night, a Negro Man named GLASGOW.”
“RUN away last Tuesday Night, a Negro Man named ABEL.”
Sometime during the night of May 7, 1771, Glasgow, “a Negro Man,” made his escape from his enslaver, John Treat of Milford, Connecticut. Three days later, Treat published an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. He provided a description that included Glasgow’s age, height, and clothing. Treat also offered a reward for “Who ever shall take up and return said Negro.” Like so many other enslavers, Treat proclaimed that Glasgow had “RUNaway.” From Glasgow’s perspective, no doubt, he had instead liberated himself.
Glasgow was not the only enslaved man in Milford who seized his liberty that night. According to Gideon Platt, Jr., Abel also escaped from bondage on May 7. Platt also resorted to placing an advertisement in hopes that other colonists would take note of Black men they encountered, scrutinize them to determine whether they matched the description in the newspaper, and, if they spotted Abel, “take up said Negro, and return him to [Platt], or send Word so that he may have him again.” Platt encouraged readers to attend to age and physical characteristics, but he also reported that Abel “talks good English.” Linguistic ability as well as appearance could help identify this fugitive from enslavement.
Platt’s advertisement describing Abel appeared immediately below Treat’s advertisement offering a reward for the capture and return of Glasgow in the May 10 edition of the Connecticut Journal. While not definitive evidence, that Abel and Glasgow happened to depart on the same evening suggests that they may have worked together in seeking freedom, believing that cooperation increased their chances of outsmarting their enslavers. If they were initially unaware of this coincidence when separately submitting their notices to the printing office, Platt and Treat almost certainly recognized the possibility when they saw their advertisements in the newspaper.
Just as both enslavers told a story filtered through their own perspectives when they stated that Abel and Glasgow had “RUN away,” they likely did not present an account of events that accurately related all of the details or gave Abel and Glasgow credit for coordinating their escape. Though it was not their intention, Platt and Treat published short narratives that testified to the agency and perseverance exhibited by Abel and Glasgow. Still, those narratives were incomplete and did not reveal the experiences of the enslaved men as well as if they had recorded their own stories.