What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A carpenter he is by trade, / Clandestinely from me he stray’d.”
Like newspapers published throughout the colonies, the Pennsylvania Journal regularly ran advertisements about indentured servants who ran away and enslaved people who liberated themselves. When Richard Grosvenor, a carpenter indented to Joseph Lamb, ran away in January 1772, Lamb placed such an advertisement. To distinguish his notice from others and make it more memorable, Lamb composed a verse that described Grosvenor and the horse that he stole.
Rather than the standard “RUN AWAY” that appeared at the beginning of similar advertisements, Lamb commenced with “JANUARY the nineteenth day, / RICHARD GROSVENOR rode away.” He then simultaneously described the runaway servant and mocked him. “Short, thick, and chunkey, five feet four / His height appears, – I think no more,” Lamb pronounced. He then explained that Grosvenor was “fat and plump, the cause I reckon / ‘S with eating of my beef and bacon.” Lamb had provided for the ungrateful servant, only to be betrayed. As for Grosvenor’s clothing, most of it was old, worn, and faded, “And yet the proud, presumptuous cur / Must place upon each heel a spur, / Brass joined ones, some of the best; / The drunken sot’s compleatly dressed.” Lamb peppered the carpenter with insults before describing the horse he stole. His advertisement concluded, as most did, with the terms of the reward for capturing and returning the runaway servant. “Whoever takes up the miscreant, / A good reward they shall not want, / THREE DOLLARS cast, I do declare, / Just one for him, and two the mare.” As a final insult, Lamb offered twice as much for recovering the horse as he did for his “drunken sot” of an indentured servant.
Readers of the Pennsylvania Journal encountered so many advertisements about runaway servants that Lamb sought to increase the chances that they took note of his notice about Grosvenor. The unusual format likely made the description of Grosvenor more memorable as well. Lamb was certainly not the first aggrieved advertiser to resort to stilted verses to describe a runaway servant, but so few adopted that strategy that he probably believed it stood a good chance of engaging readers as they perused the advertisements.