January 25


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

South-Carolina Gazette (January 25, 1772).

“RUN AWAY … A Negro Man, named SAUL … and a [Woman] named CHARLOTTE, with a Male Child.”

This advertisement is interesting because it shows us how slave owners viewed their slaves during the era of the American Revolution. The advertiser gave physical descriptions of Saul and Charlotte.  He also mentioned that Saul spoke “very proper English,” making a distinction between him and the many slaves criticized for not speaking “proper English.” The advertiser uses the term “wench” to describe Charlotte. That the dehumanization of female slaves specifically.

This advertisement also included details about Saul and Charlotte’s experiences.  They did not escape on their own.  They took their baby, “a Male Child … about eight Months old,” with them.  This may have been the determining factor for them to “RUN AWAY” from the advertiser. They probably did not want their baby to grow up to the same fate that they did.

The rewards for Saul, Charlotte, and their baby are also interesting.  The amount offered for Saul was ten pounds, while Charlotte and the child were together listed at ten pounds. It makes sense that Saul had a higher reward than Charlotte because he had a valuable skill.  He was a cooper, a barrel maker, and Charlotte was a seamstress.  Saul’s skill was probably more lucrative for the advertiser, even though she was “an extraordinary seamstress.”

According to Arlene Balkansky, “The vast majority of those who escaped or attempted to escape enslavement in America were never well-known.”  Instead, the “only record we have for many are fugitive slave ads,” like this one for Saul, Charlotte, and their baby.



Mike and his fellow guest curators in my Revolutionary America class had several responsibilities.  Each of them compiled a digital archive of newspapers from a particular week in 1772, examined those newspapers to identify advertisements that belong in the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, composed the tweets distributed via the project’s Twitter feed, and wrote an essay about what they learned about slavery in the era of the American Revolution from the work they did as guest curators.  In addition, each guest curator selected an advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project.  Most chose advertisements for consumer goods and services, but I also approved advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children.

Doing so gave guest curators like Mike an opportunity to examine one advertisement in greater detail than was possible in the tweet about that advertisement.  Mike composed tweets for more than sixty advertisements, but each tweet was limited to 280 characters.  Each had to include the tagline that explained one of the purposes of the project (“Colonial newspapers contributed to the perpetuation of slavery”), an illustrative quotation, and a citation that listed the newspaper and date.  The length of the tagline and citations (especially for advertisements from newspapers with longer titles) required Mike and other guest curators to select the most salient details to include in the quotations, but that also meant that they could not include everything of significance.

In choosing this advertisement about Saul, Charlotte, and their child to feature on the Adverts 250 Project, Mike had an opportunity to examine their experiences in greater depth.  He noted some of the aspects of Saul and Charlotte’s experience that consistently appeared in advertisements about enslaved people who liberated themselves published in the eighteenth century.  Enslavers often commented on linguistic ability, as the advertiser did in noting that Saul spoke “very proper English.”  Advertisements about enslaved people also document that they possessed a variety of skills and pursued all sorts of occupations.  Saul and Charlotte, a cooper and a seamstress, were not unique; newspaper advertisements reveal that countless enslaved men and women pursued occupations far beyond agricultural labor.  Perhaps most importantly, these advertisements provide glimpses of how enslaved men and women thought about their experiences, though that certainly was not the intention of the enslavers who placed these notices.  As Mike notes, offering their child a life outside the confines of bondage may have convinced Saul and Charlotte to liberate themselves when they did.

March 8

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Mar 8 - 3:8:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Addition to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 8, 1768).

“They carry on the Taylors Business in all its Branches.”

David Maull and John Wood’s advertisement was one of nearly a dozen that appeared in the two-page Addition to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal published by Charles Crouch on March 8, 1768. It accompanied the regular four-page issue of that newspaper and a two-page Supplement. Crouch distributed supplements so often that many readers may have come to expect them as standard, made necessary by the number of advertisements submitted to the printing office. Indeed, the supplements usually contained advertising exclusively, even when advertisements accounted for nearly half of the space in regular issues.

The Addition, however, did not follow this pattern. Only two of the six columns (three on each side of the halfsheet) were filled with advertising. The ninth of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the Inhabitants of the BRITISH COLONIES” occupied nearly the entire first page. In it, the “FARMER” explained the necessity of local representation in firmly established assemblies. The Addition also included news from Boston and Philadelphia as well as a poem, “The Batchelor’s Reasons for taking a Wife.”

What Crouch termed an Addition his counterparts in other cities and towns usually called an Extraordinary in their efforts to distinguish such publications from the more common supplements often distributed with the standard issues of their newspapers. Whatever the nomenclature, Crouch’s Addition of March 8, 1768, further establishes a pattern. During the period of the imperial crisis between the imposition of the Stamp Act in 1765 and the outbreak of military hostilities in 1775, the colonies alternately experienced periods of intense discord with Britain and periods of relative calm. In early March 1768 the Townshend Act had been in effect for just over three months. Colonists had commenced non-importation agreements at the beginning of the year. From New England to Georgia, newspapers reported discontent and political outrage, often in supplements and extraordinary issues that proliferated during those times that the imperial crisis intensified.

At most times advertising, especially the revenue it generated for printers, facilitated the dissemination of news and editorial items. Supplements devoted to advertising made delivering the news and other content possible. During periods of conflict, however, publishing the news sometimes led to the broader or more frequent distribution of advertising. Such appears to have been the case with Crouch’s Addition from March 8, 1768. As he went about publishing Dickinson’s “LETTER IX” and news from Boston and Philadelphia, the printer needed to fill an entire halfsheet. The poem took up half a column. Two of the advertisements promoted the printer’s own wares, but the others had previously appeared as paid notices. Perhaps those who placed them paid for this insertion as well. Even if that were the case, the Addition upended the usual relationships between news and advertisements in colonial newspapers. In this case, publishing the news led to readers being exposed to more advertising rather than the usual situation of advertising bringing the news.