November 30

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

Nov 30 - 11:30:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (November 30, 1769).

“WHEREAS by an Advertisement in the Philadelphia Papers …”

Did colonists read all of those advertisements that appeared in the pages of early American newspapers? Occasionally some of the advertisements help to answer that question. Consider an advertisement that ran in the November 27, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy and, later that week, in the November 30 edition of the New-York Journal. The notice acknowledged “an Advertisement in the Philadelphia Papers, of November 2, 1769” that described a runaway named Galloway and offered a reward for apprehending him. According to the notice in the New York newspapers, “a Person answering the Description of the above-named Galloway” had been jailed in the city. The notice instructed Galloway’s master to contact one of the aldermen, “who has the Goods that Galloway had stole, in his Possession.” Someone had indeed read the advertisements, at least those concerning runaway apprentices and indentured servants and their counterparts about enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage. Such advertisements usually included a fair amount of detail, in this case enough to identify Galloway and the stolen goods. In addition to disseminating that information, this advertisement served as a testimonial to the effectiveness of inserting such notices in the public prints.

It also demonstrated that newspapers circulated far beyond the cities and towns where they were printed. This notice concerning a runaway described “in the Philadelphia Papers” appeared in two newspapers in New York, describing a suspected runaway jailed in New York. Newspapers from Pennsylvania found their way to New York … and residents of New York had a reasonable expectation that their newspapers circulated in Pennsylvania. Someone considered it effective to respond to an advertisement that originated “in the Philadelphia Papers” by placing a notice in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal. Thanks to exchange networks devised by printers and abundant reprinting from one newspaper to another, the news items and editorials in colonial newspapers created a public discourse that extended from New England to Georgia. Yet conversations in those newspapers were not confined to news and editorials selected by printers. Advertisers sometimes engaged in their own conversations that moved back and forth from one newspaper to another, further contributing to the creation of imagined communities among readers in faraway places.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:22:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 22, 1768).

“A negro fellow born in Jamaica, calls himself James Williams.”

An advertisement listing fugitive slaves who had been captured and “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE” was a regular feature in newspapers published in South Carolina and Georgia in the late 1760s. The supplement that accompanied the November 22, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, for example, included an advertisement that described three such runaways: Belfast, a “new negro fellow” who “has the mark of a shot on his left thigh, which he said was done by his master,” Jenny, a “negro wench of the Angola country … of a yellow complexion, with very small breasts,” and James Williams, a “negro fellow born in Jamaica” who had been “branded on his right shoulder.” The notice indicated where each had been “taken up” before being delivered to the workhouse.

Other details hinted at more complete stories that each captured runaway could tell. That James Williams identified himself by both first and last name, for instance, was notable. He certainly had not adopted the surname of Thomas Wheeler of Kingston, the man who currently held him in bondage. What circumstances had prompted Williams to adopt that surname? What meaning did it hold for him? Which experiences had shaped his life and convinced him to seize an opportunity to make an escape? According to the notice, Williams had been “hired to one Davis, first Lieutenant of the Sterling-Castle,” but he ran away when the ship was at Cape Fear. In addition to the brand on his shoulder, he also had “the mark of a shot just below his left knee, which he says was done at the siege of the Havanna” near the end of the Seven Years War. The brief description of James Williams in the “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE” notice was an incomplete narrative of his life, as was the case for both Belfast and Jenny.

These truncated narratives stood in stark contrast to the poem, “To LIBERTY,” printed immediately to the right. Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, presented one notion of liberty for his readers to consider as colonists grappled with their deteriorating relationship with Parliament. Probably quite inadvertently, Crouch provided a companion piece with the “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE” notice. Most likely very few readers acknowledged the juxtaposition, in part because white narrators framed the experiences of runaway slaves. Given the opportunity to tell their own stories, Belfast, Jenny, and James Williams would have advanced their own understandings of liberty. Enslaved men, women, and children did not need poets or printers to teach them any lessons about what it meant to be free. Through the act of running away, they testified that they already understood.

January 28

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

Jan 28 - 1:28:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 28, 1768).

“Committed as a Runaway … 8 11.”

In most instances it is impossible to determine what happened as the result of advertisements for runaway slaves or captured fugitives. Some runaways likely made good on their escapes, but the odds were stacked against them. Many slaveholders likely reclaimed their human property after seeing notices that they had been committed to jail or the workhouse, though the dates in those advertisements sometimes indicated that inmates remained for weeks or months without an owner collecting them.

In the case of “a well set Negro Man, who calls himself James Gale” who had been thrown in jail in Orange County on suspicion that he was a runaway, however, the notations inserted into the advertisement by the compositor suggest that the notice had its intended effect. Gale’s master likely claimed him shortly after the advertisement first appeared in the New-York Journal on January 28, 1768.

Consider the notation at the conclusion of the advertisement: “8 11.” These numbers appear unrelated to the content of the advertisement. Instead, they indicate which issues of the newspaper needed to include the advertisements. The “8” referred to the first issue that contained the advertisement, “NUMB. 1308,” published on January 28, 1768. The “11” referred to when the compositor should discontinue the advertisement, removing it from “NUMB. 1311” scheduled for publication on February 18. The notation indicates that it was slated to run in three issues, numbers 1308, 1309, and 1310.

Examination of other advertisements from the January 28 issue suggests that this was indeed the case. Mark Feely, an attorney, placed an advertisement for his legal “WRITINGS” that also featured the notation “7 10.” This advertisement originated in number 1307 and ran in the next two issues, but did not reappear in number 1310. Similarly, an advertisement announcing the auction of a “Corner House and Lot of Ground” had a notation that read “8 12” on the final line. As expected, it first ran in number 1308, continued for the next several issues, but disappeared with the publication of number 1312.

That being the case, the advertisement concerning the suspected runaway being held in jail in Orange County should have been in the three issues indicated by the notation “8 11.” However, it only ran for two weeks. Why? James Gale’s owner most likely became aware of the advertisement and made arrangements for the fugitive’s return quickly enough that John Hudson, the sheriff who placed the notice, requested that the printer discontinue it. This unfortunate conclusion demonstrates the power that print played in policing black men and women in eighteenth-century America.

June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:24:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 24, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, A YOUNG, HEALTHY, and HANDY, NEGROE WENCH.”

Nine advertisements about enslaved men and women appeared in the June 24, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Four of them offered slaves for sale. Another sought not to sell an enslaved woman outright but instead to hire her out by the month. Readers could rent her services – washing and ironing – for less than purchasing a slave. The slaveholder continued to generate a return on an investment in human property. Three other advertisements warned against runaways and offered rewards for their capture and return. The final advertisement identified two runaways that had been captured and “Brought to the Work-house, ” where they were being held until their masters collected them.

As the image above demonstrates, seven of those advertisements ran on the final page of the issue. They accounted for approximately half of the content printed on the page. The other two notices similarly accounted for half of the space allotted to advertising elsewhere in the issue. This underscores that advertisements concerning slaves provided a firm foundation for other sorts of advertising in the Georgia Gazette. Revenues from these advertisements contributed to the continuation of the newspaper.

Most of these advertisements focused exclusively on slaves, especially those for runaways and captured fugitives. On the other hand, some that advertised slaves for sale did so in the midst of attempting to make other sales as well. For instance, one notice for an estate sale listed “HOUSEHOLD and KITCHEN FURNITURE” and “a SMALL STOCK of CATTLE, a GUN, a PAIR of PISTOLS, a SMALLSWORD, TWO WATCHES, a NEGROE BOY, a MAN’s SADDLE, &c.” The same advertisement also listed “TWO NEGROE FELLOWS, a PARCEL of BOOKS, and sundry other articles.” Undifferentiated from other possessions, the presence of slaves among an estate inventory soon to be auctioned further demonstrates that eighteenth-century consumer culture (and the print culture that bolstered it) operated firmly within a system that relied on the productive labor of enslaved men, women, and children and the ability to buy and sell them as easily as any other commodities.

February 25

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

feb-25-2251767-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 25, 1767).

“Brought to the Work-house, A NEGROE FELLOW, middle aged.”

This advertisement caught my attention because it is an advertisement about runaway slaves. After doing further research on runaway slaves, I discovered that advertisements like this were very common during this period. Advertisements similar to this one were used to recapture slaves and indentured servants. They listed specific physical characteristics, such as height and clothing. The abundance of slavery advertisements is why the Slavery Adverts 250 Project also exists. Slavery was such an important part of society and the colonists’ economy at this time that slavery advertisements were abundant in many eighteenth-century newspapers.

Sadly, according to Tom Costa, advertisements sometimes did not need to be posted because many slave owners would recapture their slaves within one to two weeks of their escape. Costa also states that many slave owners would only put out advertisements if the runaway was seen as valuable. Unfortunately, advertisements such as these often made it nearly impossible for slaves to escape to freedom.

Many slavery advertisements, spanning several decades, have been digitized and made available for the public to view in the Virginia Gazette. The Virginia Gazette is the only colonial and revolutionary-era newspaper that has been digitized and made available to the general public, providing the ability to view many advertisements similar to this one from the colonial and revolutionary eras. Also, other slavery advertisements are easy to view via the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. This project also provides the public with hundreds of slavery advertisements from 250 years ago, emphasizing how commonplace slavery advertisements were. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project includes slavery advertisements published in newspapers throughout all of the colonies.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As the guest curators from my Revolutionary America class and I work on this project together, we have many opportunities to discuss methodology, primary and secondary sources, and the availability of digitized documents to scholars and the general public. In the process, my students gain a better understanding of both the past and how historians pursue their work.

From now until the end of the semester, visitors to the Adverts 250 Project may notice that each student incorporates at least one advertisement concerning slavery into her or his week serving as guest curator. This complements the work that each will conduct when curating the companion Slavery Adverts 250 Project during a different week, giving each an opportunity to examine at least one slavery advertisement in greater detail.

Today, Shannon offers important observations about the accessibility of eighteenth-century newspapers, including the advertisements for slaves that prominently appeared in them. To complete their work on both the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, students consult several databases of digitized newspapers as they draw material from the nearly two dozen published in the colonies in 1767. They complete most of their research using Readex’s Early American Newspapers, available via databases linked on the campus library’s website. That particular subscription, however, does not include all of the eighteenth-century newspapers Readex has digitized. When students visit the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society they have access to Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, which includes all of the newspapers available via Early American Newspapers as well as the Pennsylvania Gazette (perhaps the most important eighteenth-century American newspaper) and both versions of the Virginia Gazette published in 1767 (one by Purdie and Dixon and one by Rind). Students must also visit the American Antiquarian Society to access three newspapers printed in Charleston, South Carolina, via Accessible Archives.

As Shannon notes, it is not necessary to visit a research library or have remote access to their digital resources to examine the Virginia Gazette. Colonial Williamsburg has made these sources available to the general public via their Digital Library, which also includes manuscripts, research reports, and York County estate inventories. This collection of newspapers includes several publications (or continuations of publications with new printers) all published under the title Virginia Gazette: Parks (1736-1740, 1745-1746), Hunter (1751-1757, 1759, 1761), Royle (1762, 1763, 1765), Purdie and Dixon (1766-1774), Rind (1766-1774), Pinkney (1774-1776), Dixon and Hunter (1775-1778), Purdie (1775-1778), Clarkson and Davis (1779-1780), and Dixon and Nicholson (1779-1780).

The Adverts 250 Project includes a daily digest of all slavery advertisements published 250 years ago that day. The citations for advertisements from the Virginia Gazette always includes a link that takes readers to Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, directly to the correct page of the newspaper so readers can examine each advertisement in its original context. Each advertisement tells an important story of human bondage, but they tell even richer and more complete stories when not disembodied from the other advertisements, news items, and other content that accompanied them. It’s not possible for the Adverts 250 Project or the Slavery Adverts 250 Project to provide that kind of access to every eighteenth-century newspaper. Colonial Williamsburg offers unique access to the Virginia Gazette to all readers, not just those associated with colleges and universities or major research institutions.

 

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (August 29, 1766).

“RUN away … a short squat young Mulatto fellow.”

Amos Legg, an enslaved “young Mulatto fellow,” seemed determined to escape from bondage. In an advertisement alerting readers of the Virginia Gazette that Legg had made his escape, William Meredith also reported that “Sometime past he was taken up by Capt. Dawson of Norfolk, in Jamaica, and brought home.” Legg must have been a particularly recalcitrant slave, one who did not allow the setback of having been captured and returned to his master deter him from making a subsequent attempt to seize his own liberty in an age when Virginia’s gentry protested what they considered “enslavement” via infringements on their liberty by Parliament.

Like other genres of advertisements, those for runaways often followed a general formula and included stock language (just as they often included a stock image of an enslaved person). Advertisements for runaways frequently warned “masters of vessels” against giving passage to suspected runaways attempting to put as much distance between themselves and their masters as possible. That Legg had previously made it to Jamaica from Virginia indicates that masters had real cause to worry about such possibilities.

This advertisement tells a story of the resilience of one man who refused to accept his enslavement, but it also reveals the tenuous position of runaways. No matter how far away from their masters they managed to get, they were never completely free or safe. Their everyday experience included the possibility of capture and return, compounded by threats of punishment for the audacity of having made an escape at all. A sharp-eyed captain had taken up Amos Legg hundreds of miles from Virginia. How many other advertisements about runaway slaves resulted in men and women being returned to their masters after an all-too-brief respite from bondage?