August 8

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

South-Carolina Gazette (August 8, 1771).

“CUDJOE, JEMMY, RYNAH, VENUS, and her Daughter DYE.”

For several months, Peter Sinkler and James Sinkler attempted to use the power of the press to recapture six enslaved people who liberated themselves in 1771.  According to advertisements the Sinklers placed in several newspapers, including the June 19 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, “Cudjoe, Jemmy, Long Jemmy, Rynah, Venus, and her daughter Dye, about twelve years old,” departed from the Sinklers’ plantation in St. Stephen Parish on March 31.  The Sinklers surmised that Cudjoe, “elderly” and “very artful,” had “enticed the others.  Jemmy, Long Jemmy, Rynah, Venus, and Dye, however, may not have needed much enticing when they decided to seize their freedom.

After eluding capture for many months, Long Jemmy suddenly did not appear in the advertisement that ran in the August 8 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  In every previous iteration, the advertisement identified “the six following NEGROES” and then always listed them in the same order.  For some reason, however, a new advertisement referred to only “the Five following NEGROES” and did not include Long Jemmy.  What happened to him?  Did he get separated from the others and then captured and returned to the Sinklers?  Had he returned of his own accord, as enslaved people sometimes did after demonstrating that enslavers did not exercise total authority over them?  Did a colonist see the advertisements, recognize Long Jemmy, and collect the reward for apprehending him?  What else might have occurred?

After identifying, remediating, and republishing these advertisements for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project over the past four months, Long Jemmy seems starkly absent from this advertisement.  Yet that is not the only absence associated with this enslaved man.  The earlier advertisements may be the sole archival sources that name him.  Even those silence him, his story told from the perspective of enslavers who claimed that Long Jemmy, like the others who liberated themselves, “is so well known … as to need no further Description.”  Other than saying that Cudjoe was likely the leader of group, the Sinklers did not comment on any of their relationships or much of anything else about them.  Long Jemmy, Rynah, Venus, and the others are not “well known” in Charleston and elsewhere today.  Archival sources allow us to tell composite stories of their likely experiences, but they did not have the same opportunities to shape the historical record and how they should be remembered as the Sinklers did through the simple act of placing a newspaper advertisement.

June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:5:1769 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (June 5, 1769).

“Advertisements … are inserted for Five Shillings.”

Advertising represented an important revenue stream for eighteenth-century printers, prompting many to regularly solicit advertisements in the colophons of their newspapers. In 1769, for example, the colophon for the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy stated that James Parker printed it “at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE … where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are taken in.” Similarly, William Goddard used the colophon of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to proclaim that “Subscriptions, (at TEN SHILLINGS per Annum) Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence are gratefully received for this Paper” at his printing office. While printers regularly encouraged colonists to submit advertisements, they much less frequently indicated how much it cost to advertise in their publications.

Those that did list their advertising rates most often did so in the colophon, again utilizing it for conducting business on behalf of the newspaper rather than merely listing the particulars about who published it. A systematic examination of the colophons of eighteenth-century newspapers would produce a much better accounting of eighteenth-century advertising rates than has yet been compiled by historians of early American print culture. Such a project would include the New-York Chronicle.

When Alexander Robertson and James Robertson launched this newspaper in May 1769, they included their advertising rates in the colophon: “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.” Their pricing schedule reflected common practices among printers who listed the fees for inserting notices in newspapers. Advertisers commonly purchased a “square” of advertising as the basic unit, paying an initial fee that covered both setting the type and running the advertisement for several weeks, usually three or four. Most printers also indicated additional costs for continuing an advertisement after its initial run, as well as proportional pricing for those that exceeded the standard square. In this case, the five shillings that the Robertsons charged to insert an advertisement for four weeks consisted of one shilling for setting the type and one shilling for each week it appeared in the New-York Chronicle. Each additional week cost one shilling. In this case, the colophon revealed valuable information about the business of printing in early America.