GUEST CURATOR: Katie Galvin
Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN-AWAY … a NEGRO MAN, named HECTOR … Also a Negro Man, named MAIDSTONE.”
This advertisement concerns an enslaved man named Hector, along with another enslaved man named Maidstone. Both men ran away from James Sinkler’s plantation. Sinkler claimed that Hector was “supposed to be harboured at Mr. Boone’s plantation… where his Father and Mother reside.” This means that Hector was attempting to run away and return to his family and that they helped him by hiding him. Many enslaved people at the time were separated from family and friends during auctions or other sales. Sinkler said that Maidstone has been “lately purchased at the Sale of Mr. JAMES LE BAS Estate,” so he has been recently stripped away from his community.
Maidstone and Hector had experiences similar to many other enslaved people. According to Victoria Bissell Brown and Timothy J. Shannon, enslaved people often ran away for reasons more than the mistreatment from masters. Sometimes they were “trying to preserve a family that was being driven apart by a sale.” Many enslaved people wanted to liberate themselves and reunite with their families. Historians at the National Park Service’s Ethnography Program also state that “enslaved people ran away to reestablish marital and family ties or to protest changes in ownership or even to join prospective mates from whom they’ve been separated from.”
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
James Sinkler made a significant investment in his efforts to recover two men he enslaved. Katie chose to examine his advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina Gazette on October 24, 1771, but that is not the only newspaper that carried Sinkler’s notice. As guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, Katie also worked with Sinkler’s advertisement in the October 28 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the October 29 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Sinkler was so eager to recapture Hector and Maidstone that he placed notices in every newspaper printed in Charleston, increasing the dissemination of his advertisement and encouraging greater numbers of colonists to engage in surveillance of Black men to determine if they matched the descriptions that appeared in print.
By the time Sinkler’s advertisement appeared in those newspapers in late October, they had already been running for months. As work has continued on the production of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, other guest curators and I have learned that Sinkler’s advertisements continued to appear well into 1772. We have not yet determined when Sinkler discontinued them. That the advertisements ran for so long suggests that Hector and Maidstone managed to elude detection and evade capture for quite some time. They may have received assistance from family and friends in the places Sinkler suspected, but they may have gone in completely different directions than he imagined. The same may have been true for Cudjoe, Jemmy, Rynah, Venus, and Dye, five enslaved people who fled from Peter Sinkler and James Sinkler on the last day of March in 1771. The Sinklers thought that the fugitives seeking their freedom “intend for Ponpon, where they lately lived.” If they did, no one there spotted them and attempted to claim the reward. That advertisement also continued to run in October, more than six months later.
The archive includes many silences, including the fates of most enslaved people who attempted to liberate themselves by running away from those who held them in bondage. That advertisements about Hector and Maidstone ran for many months suggests that the men managed to make good on their escape. At the very least, they were not recaptured quickly or easily. The text of the advertisement offers insights into their experiences, but tracking it through multiple newspapers over an extended period helps to reconstruct a more complete story of what might have happened. Even then, the silences in the archive prevail.
 Victoria Bissel Brown and Timothy J. Shannon, “Colonial America’s Most Wanted: Runaway Advertisements in Colonial Newspapers,” in Going to the Source: The Bedford Reader in American History, eds. Brown and Shannon (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004), 50.