Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Ran away … a NEGRO Man Slave named PRINCE.”
When “a NEGRO Man Slave named PRINCE” liberated himself by running away from his enslave, John Mulford “of East-Hampton, on Long Island,” in June 1773, the story became frontpage news in the New-London Gazette. Timothy Green, the printer, did not actually treat the story as news, but he did run Mulford’s advertisement describing Prince and offering a reward for his capture and return on the front page of the July 9 edition of his newspaper. Prince may have been familiar to some readers since he previously “lived about Six Years with Mr. Daniel Denison, at Stonington, in New-London County,” a roundabout way of saying that Denison enslaved Prince before Mulford did. Like many other advertisements – from legal notices and estate notices to advertisements about burglaries and thefts to notices about wives who “eloped” from their husbands to advertisements about apprentices, enslaved people, and indentured servants who “ran away” to notices about lotteries that funded public works projects – this one delivered news to readers. In many instances, advertisements provided more local news than printers inserted elsewhere in their newspapers.
Mulford’s advertisement about Prince was not the only paid notice on the first page of the July 9 edition of the New-London Gazette. Green (or a compositor who worked in the printing office) positioned a real estate notice, an advertisement for a “variety of Goods suitable for the SEASON” available at a shop in Norwich, and the notice describing Prince as the first items in the first column. An editorial “Continued from our last” issue filled the rest of the column and the remainder of the page. Additional advertisements, including one about “two melatto men slaves,” Edward Peters and Rufus Cooper, who liberated themselves from Ezekiel Root of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, appeared on the third and fourth pages. How did any advertisements land on the front page? A standard edition of the New-London Gazette and other colonial newspapers consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Printers usually printed the first and fourth pages on one side, let the ink dry, and then printed the second and third pages on the other side. Since many advertisements ran for several weeks, printers used type already set when they printed the first and fourth pages, reserving the second and third pages for the latest news that arrived in the printing office. In this instance, Green selected advertisements and the continuation of an editorial to take to press while he figured out the content for the remaining two pages. As a result, Prince’s escape and liberation from his enslaver became frontpage news.