Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“I am no servant.”
As soon as the Pennsylvania Packet commenced publication in late October 1771, William Henry Stiegal placed advertisements to promote the American Flint Glass Manufactory at Manheim in Lancaster County. That advertisement ran for several weeks. Stiegal soon supplemented it with another notice, that one offering “FIVE PISTOLES REWARD” for “a certain servant man, named FELIX FARRELL, by trade a Glass Blower” who ran away from the factory. Stiegal described Farrell and promised the reward to whoever “secures him in any of his Majesty’s [jails].” It was one of many advertisements for runaway servants that ran in newspapers printed in Philadelphia that fall.
Most went unanswered, but Felix Farrell published a response to set the record straight. Readers encountered both Stiegal’s notice claiming Farrell ran away and Farrell’s response in the November 18 edition. Farrell acknowledged Stiegal’s advertisement, but warned that he was “no way desirous of having any person plunge himself into an expensive law-suit.” He then filled in details that Stiegal overlooked in his notice, stating that he and other men migrated to Pennsylvania “to pursue the business of making glass-ware.” They were “pleased with the civility” that Stiegal demonstrated to them when they first arrived, especially since they were “strangers in America.” Stiegal convinced them “to enter into articles of agreement with him.” The relationship, however, turned sour, at least according to Farrell. He reported that Stiegal “forfeited the covenant on his part” by not paying the promised wages. That meant that Farrell had “a right to leave his employ and to bring action against him” rather than “drudge and spend my whole life and strength” upholding a broken contract.
Most significantly, Farrell declared, “I am no servant.” He did not reach that conclusion on his own, but had instead “taken the opinion of an eminent gentlemen of the law” who examined the articles of agreement between Stiegal and Farrell. Furthermore, Farrell warbed that “no person can be justified in apprehending me.” Anyone who attempted to do so “will subject himself to an action of false imprisonment.” Farrell retained a copy of the articles of agreement, asserting his willingness to publish them for consideration in the court of public opinion as well as pursue more formal legal proceedings if Stiegal continued to harass him.
The power of the press usually operated asymmetrically when it came to runaway advertisements in eighteenth-century America. Wives who “eloped” from their husbands usually did not publish responses. Enslaved men and women who liberated themselves did not place notices, nor did most indentured servants. Felix Farrell was one of those rare exceptions, someone who had both the resources to pay for an advertisement and firm enough standing not to place himself in further jeopardy by calling additional attention to himself.