What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN AWAY … BEN … of the Guiney country … TOM … very sensible and artful … his wife … BELLA. DUBLIN … of the Ebbo country, marked on the cheeks.”
This is the last advertisement from the Georgia Gazette that will be featured on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. James Johnston founded the Georgia Gazette and printed it from April 7, 1763, through at least February 7, 1776, with a hiatus from late November 1765 through late May 1766 due to the Stamp Act. The newspaper ultimately ceased publication due to the Revolutionary War. Although Johnston published the Georgia Gazette from 1770 through 1776, for some of those years either no copies are extant (1771) or very few have survived (1772 and 1773), according to Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820. Complete or extensive coverage exists for 1770, 1774, and 1775, but no copies published after May 23, 1770, have been digitized. As a result, the Georgia Gazette will no longer be part of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.
This is unfortunate. Printed in Savannah, the Georgia Gazette provides a glimpse of advertising in a smaller port city compared to the newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Established in 1732, Georgia was the only one of the thirteen colonies that eventually declared independence founded in the eighteenth century. The contents of the Georgia Gazette present a city and a colony that had not yet reached the same maturity as others. As the only newspaper regularly published on Wednesdays, it was frequently featured on this project. Its contents document life in a southern colony, including the high proportion of advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children. That will be the most significant loss relating to the missing or unavailable issues of the Georgia Gazette from June 1770 through May 1776. The intersections of advertising, commerce, and culture can be examined in newspapers published in other colonies, but the stories of enslaved people that appeared only in the Georgia Gazettewill no longer play a significant role in demonstrating the ubiquity of advertising about enslaved Africans and African Americans in the early American press.
This also means that stories of courage, resistance, survival, and enslaved people seizing their own liberty during the era of the American Revolution will be truncated as the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Projectcontinue. Consider today’s advertisement, the last one drawn from the Georgia Gazette. The people known as Ben, Tom, Bella, and Dublin by those who enslaved them made their escape from Alexander Wylly in 1770. The advertisement tells only a portion of their stories. Ben “of the Guiney country” endured the Middle Passage and spoke “indifferent English.” Tom and Bella were a couple. Dublin “of the Ebbo country” bore ritualized scars on his cheeks, a testament to his African origins even after he learned to speak English. Did these four escape together, perhaps led by the “very sensible and artful” Tom? Their story, refracted through Wylly’s rendition of it, is incomplete … but it is more of their story than we would otherwise know about Ben, Tom, Bella, and Dublin. Stories of Black people who were bought and sold and stories of Black people who escaped from those who held them in bondage appeared among the advertisements in every issue of the Georgia Gazette. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project seeks to uncover those stories and make them more visible to both scholars and the general public. The coming silence due to missing and unavailable issues of the Georgia Gazette will unfortunately suggest an absence of those stories, an absence that did not actually exist.