Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN-AWAY … six Angola negro men.”
“LIBERTY … excellent Accommodations.”
In the fall of 1771, John Edwards and Company sought freight and passengers for the Liberty, soon departing Charleston for Bristol. In an advertisement in the November 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Edwards and Company promised “excellent Accommodations” for passengers. Two aspects of the advertisement helped draw attention to it: the name of the ship, “LIBERTY,” in capital letters and a large font as well as a woodcut of a ship at sea. Wind seemed to fill the sails and unfurl the flags, suggesting a quick and comfortable journey. The advertisement for freight and passage aboard the Liberty appeared two notices below another advertisement that also incorporated a woodcut. That image, however, depicted an enslaved man on the run. He seemed to move in the opposite direction across the page in relation to the ship adorning the advertisement for the Liberty, testifying to the very different conceptions of liberty among enslavers and enslaved people in South Carolina in the era of the American Revolution.
Francis Yonge placed that advertisement to offer a reward for the capture and return of not just one enslaved man but instead “six Angola negro men” who had “RUN-AWAY” from his plantation at the end of October. Yonge purchased the men a few months earlier, suggesting that they had only recently arrived in South Carolina and “cannot as yet speak English.” Readers could also identify them by the clothing they wore, blue jackets and breeches made of “negro cloth” with their enslaver’s initials sewn “in scarlet cloth … upon the forepart of their jackets.” Yonge selected the rough cloth for its low costs, not for its comfort. Such callousness would have been familiar to the six men from Angola by the time Yonge outfitted them at his plantation. After all, they had survived the Middle Passage on a ship that did not offer “excellent Accommodations” for its human cargo, unlike the Liberty that carried passengers from South Carolina to England. As was so often the case in early American newspapers, advertisements that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans and African Americans appeared in stark contrast to other advertisements, editorials, and articles that promoted, in one way or another, the liberty that white colonists demanded for themselves.