May 22

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (May 22, 1773).

“He was seen in New-York. And remained some Days there; but has since taken his Flight to Rhode-Island.”

An advertisement in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1773 described Jonathan Pinkard, an indentured servant who ran away from watchmaker Samuel Jefferys, and offered a reward for his capture.  Jefferys noted that Pinkard was “by Trade a Watchmaker,” likely the reason they entered the indenture contract together, and cautioned other watchmakers that Pinkard “will probably apply to the Trade for Work.”  He requested that they exercise special vigilance in detecting and detaining this “talkative Fellow.”

Unlike most other advertisements about runaway indentured servants in the Providence Gazette, this one did not concern a fugitive who departed from Providence or a nearby town.  Instead, Pinkard fled from Philadelphia.  What made Jefferys believe that placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette would yield results?  He reported that Pinkard “was seen in New-York, and remained some Days there; but has since taken his Flight to Rhode-Island, and will probably proceed to Boston.”  Where did Jefferys derive this intelligence?

Another advertisement in another newspaper may very well have put Jefferys on the trail of Pinkard.  In a notice in the April 5 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Jefferys offered a similar description of the “talkative cowardly fellow.”  In addition to the clothing that Pinkard took with him, he also had a “silver watch, with a steel chain, maker’s name Thomas Hill, London, No. 11,151,” which would have been easy to identify.  Jefferys did not mention the watch in his advertisement in the Providence Gazette, perhaps suggesting that he had evidence that the runaway servant sold or traded the watch in New York.  The aggrieved Jefferys also increased the reward from five dollars to eight dollars, an indication of his exasperation and his commitment to recovering Pinkard as the indentured servant put more and more distance between himself and the watchmaker in Philadelphia.  Jefferys’s investment in the effort already included advertising in newspapers in two cities.

That investment had not yet resulted in the capture and return of Pinkard, yet the progression of notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to notices in the Providence Gazette suggests some level of effectiveness of the initial advertisement and Jefferys’s belief that another advertisement had a good chance of producing the desired results.

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