March 4

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

mar-4-341767-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 4, 1767).

“Five Pounds Sterling Reward. RUN AWAY … NEGROE MAN, named DAVID.”

This advertisement for a runaway slave named David provides a brief description of his appearance, including special features like the holes in his ears and the blanket, hat, and pair of “cheque trowsers, and an old cheque shirt” he took when he escaped. Slaves’ appearance was crucial to advertisements seeking their capture because clothing was one of the most important means of identifying people in the colonial and Revolutionary periods. Runaway slaves attempted to disguise themselves through altering or changing their clothes when possible.

Charmaine A. Nelson recently discussed the use of clothing in runaway slave advertisements. The amount of control slaves had over their appearance varied, and while David may not have had much choice in the clothes he possessed he still could have attempted to change his appearance after escaping his master. Nelson draws attention to David Waldstreicher’s arguments regarding the importance of describing slaves’ appearance and clothing in runaway advertisements, along with “trades or skills, linguistic ability or usage, and ethnic or racial identity.” Nelson also focuses on the case of a runaway woman named Cash, whose description included clothes she owned and that she presumably produced.

It’s depressing to realize that at a time when ideas of liberty and democracy were taking root in the American consciousness, people were also callously trampling on other humans’ attempts to gain freedom and prosperity.

For more information see “Cash’s Bundle: Fugitive Slave Advertisements, Clothing, and Self-Care” at The Junto.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Thomas Lee’s notice offering a reward for David included all four of the most common types of descriptions in runaway advertisements identified by David Waldstreicher.[1] Sam has already investigated the clothing David took with him. Lee also implicitly remarked on David’s trade or skills when he mentioned that the enslaved man fled “from the subscriber’s brick-yard.” He explicitly incorporated linguistic ability (“can speak no English”) and ethnic identity (“of the Gambia country”). This notice was one of nineteen runaway advertisements printed in newspapers throughout the colonies during the week of February 26 through March 4, 1767. Most deployed some or all of these common means of describing runaways.

From the clothes that David wore to his height to the “large hole in each year,” Lee provided means for identifying the fugitive slave according to his physical features, but doing so required surveillance by readers of the Georgia Gazette. In order for runaway advertisements to be effective, colonists needed to scrutinize black bodies – carefully, actively, and constantly. Using text rather than images, runaway advertisements put the bodies of Africans and African Americans on display in the pages of newspapers, but this effect was not limited to print. Such advertisements demanded that readers take special notice of any and all black people they encountered, especially any not previously familiar to them. Such advertisements required close inspection of black bodies as readers compared published descriptions to the flesh-and-blood people who stood before them. As a result, runaway advertisements targeted specific individuals, but they potentially affected all black people subject to being sized up by readers on the lookout for fugitives.

Readers of the Georgia Gazette grappled with only one runaway advertisement in the March 4, 1767, issue. However, other runaway advertisements had appeared recently in previous issues, including one for Maria that ran for six months. Such descriptions would have become very familiar to readers who encountered them week after week. Often multiple runaway advertisements appeared in any given issue of the Georgia Gazette. As a result, readers could mentally conjure up an assortment of mental images of various runaways whenever they encountered unfamiliar Africans and African Americans. Print furthered the display and examination of black bodies in colonial and Revolutionary America.

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[1] David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways: Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic,” William and Mary Quarterly 56, no. 2 (April 1999): 248.

October 24

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

oct-24-10241766-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 24, 1766).

“Stephen Hardy, Taylor from London.

This advertisement starts off with the words: “Stephen Hardy, Taylor from London.” It originally caught my attention because it mentioned a specific line of products. Many newspaper advertisements were from the equivalent of general stores, shops where a variety of goods — from agricultural tools to alcohol to handkerchiefs — could be purchased. Yet this one is an advertisement for a very specific line of goods and services. Hardy “Makes Gentlemens Cloaths of all sorts” and “He has just Imported A variety of Remnants of Cloth.” The advertisement made me curious about clothing and fashions in Colonial America. I looked at the different terms used in the advertisement, including “Breeches,” “Ladies Riding Habets,” and “strip’d Linnen.”

Those lines got me thinking about what the everyday wear for colonists was and how clothing was important to colonial society. Even in the modern day, clothing can be interpreted as a symbol of socioeconomic status. This also proved true for the 1700s. Typically men of the middle to upper class wore breeches and shirt, not necessarily with a jacket nor necessarily of a matching pattern. Women’s fashions varied with social class in regard to fabric and style.

In addition, another thing very important to note about clothing and fashion during this time was the complex etiquette associated with clothes. There was a specific protocol, especially with the social elite, about what was acceptable in informal and formal situations. There were informal everyday garments, the “undress,” and formal garments, the “dress” clothing. In addition different accessories and fabrics were included in this silent protocol. A consumer from the upper classes who read the advertisement would know right away which things were appropriate for everyday use and what needed to be worn. These choices would not only appease their peers but showcase to the others that they enjoyed a privileged social position. This idea of social status and acting in a way that befits one’s station was an important component of early American society. Understanding colonial clothing helps modern day people understand colonial society overall.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Given the size of Portsmouth relative to other colonial cities, the New-Hampshire Gazette published fewer advertisements than newspapers from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. In any of those urban ports, Stephen Hardy’s advertisement would have competed with several others that offered similar goods and services. In the October 24, 1766, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, only one other advertisement bore any sort of resemblance to Hardy’s notice. Samuel Cutts promoted an array of imported textiles, but also listed “All sorts of Nails; Frying Pans; Shovels and Tongs, &c. &c. &c. &c.”

Hardy and Cutts certainly competed for some of the same customers, but several aspects of Hardy’s advertisement suggest that he enticed Portsmouth’s more genteel consumers (or those who aspired to gentility). Perhaps most significantly, Hardy, a “Taylor from London,” offered services to accompany the goods he sold. He not only imported textiles but also “punctually served” his clients who visited him to have “Gentlemens Cloaths of all sorts” and “Ladies Riding Habets” made to specification. Cutts, on the other hand, sold textiles but did not assist customers in transforming them into finished apparel. Cutts did sell pins and sewing needles so his customers could make their own clothing out of the fabrics they purchased from him.

In listing his occupation as a “Taylor” rather than a shopkeeper, Hardy also underscored that he was “from London.” He did not indicate how recently he had migrated to the colonies (though many readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have known approximately how long he had resided in Portsmouth), but listing his origins affiliated him with the Britain’s largest city and the cosmopolitan center of the empire. By implication, his textiles and the clothing he made from them aligned with the latest fashions of the transatlantic elite.

Hardy also addressed his prospective clients as gentlemen and ladies, suggesting the status of those who visited his shop. When customers did call on Hardy they found themselves surrounded with fine textiles and adornments, rather than the diversity of qualities (or the hardware and housewares) listed in Cutts’ advertisement. As Megan notes, Hardy specialized in his trade; the inventory in his advertisement and shop reflected his work as a tailor rather than a shopkeeper.