May 24

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

Connecticut Journal (May 24, 1771).

“RUN away … a Negro Man named GLASGOW.”

Near the end of April 1770, Dover, an enslaved man, liberated himself from Nathaniel Sperry of New Haven.  As the anniversary of Dover making his escape approached, Sperry turned to the public prints to seek assistance in capturing Dover and returning him to bondage.  To that end, he placed an advertisement in which he described Dover and offered a reward in the Connecticut Journal.  On the night of May 7, 1771, another enslaved man, Glasgow, liberated himself from John Treat of Milford.  On the same night, “a Negro Man named ABEL” liberated himself from Gideon Platt, Jr., also of Milford.  Abel and Glasgow may have worked together to outsmart their enslavers and increase their chances of successfully escaping from their enslavers.  Platt and Treat placed separate advertisements in the Connecticut Journal, perhaps unaware of any possible connection until their notices appeared one after the other in the May 10, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal.

All three advertisements ran for three consecutive weeks, but their format shifted during that time.  On May 10, all three appeared in a single column on the final page.  The following week, however, the printers had more content than space, so they improvised by placing the advertisement about Abel in the left column on the second page and the advertisements about Dover and Glasgow in the right margin on the third page.  Since the type had already been set for these advertisements, the printers simply divided them into several columns that ran perpendicular to the other text on the page. Doing so conserved time and effort while also making using of available space since the printers had to make only one small revision, placing the town and date on the same line as John Treat’s name.  For the final appearance in the May 24 edition, all three advertisements returned to the regular columns, each of them reconstituted to their original format (save for the minor change to Treat’s advertisement about Glasgow).

Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers of the Connecticut Gazette, minimized the amount of effort required to run the advertisements about Abel, Dover, and Glasgow for three consecutive weeks.  They adopted a common strategy of printing in the margins, a practice that tended to their own interests as entrepreneurs seeking to maximize revenues while reducing expenses.  In the process, they demonstrated their commitment to serving their customers by publishing notices submitted to their printing office, including notices about enslaved people who liberated themselves.  The Greens could have delayed publication of the advertisements about Abel, Dover, and Glasgow by a week, as other printers sometimes did when they had more content than space.  Instead, the Greens invested additional effort in publishing descriptions of the men, even as they conserved their own resources.  Reconfiguring the advertisements twice, even if not starting over on setting type each time, testified to their willingness to give customers access to the power of the press as a means of encouraging surveillance of Black people with the intention of capturing of enslaved people who liberated themselves.

May 17

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

Connecticut Journal (May 17, 1771).

“RUN away … a Negro Man named ABEL.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, had more content than would fit in a standard four-page issue on May 17, 1771, but not so much to justify a half sheet supplement.  To make room for everything they wished to squeeze into the issue, the Greens resorted to a method frequently deployed by eighteenth-century compositors.  They placed advertisements in the margins.

Doing so required rotating the type so it ran perpendicular to the rest of the contents of the newspaper.  That did not, however, require them to set new type for the advertisements that appeared in the margins.  Instead, they adapted notices that appeared in the previous issue, dividing them into shorter columns.  For instance, Gideon Platt, Jr., placed an advertisement describing Abel, an enslaved man who liberated himself, and offering a reward for his capture and return.  In the May 10 edition, that notice filled fifteen lines in a single column.  In the May 17 edition, on the other hand, the Greens divided Platt’s advertisement into five columns of three lines each in order to make them fit in the left margin on the second page.  Two other advertisements offering rewards for enslaved men who liberated themselves ran in the right margin on the third page.  They accounted for twenty-six lines in the previous issue, but by placing the town and date on the same line as John Treat’s name, the Greens managed to create five columns of five lines each without making significant interventions into type already set.

Rather than diminish the effectiveness of those advertisements, this strategy likely resulted in greater visibility.  The unique format challenged readers to discover what was so noteworthy that it merited inclusion in the margins rather than waiting until the next edition.  The Greens also made those advertisements easily accessible, placing them in the outer margins rather than along the inner fold of the newspaper.  Even as Abel, Dover, and Glasgow, the men described in the advertisements attempted to elude attention, the unique placement of the notices in the margins of the Connecticut Journal encouraged greater scrutiny and familiarity with their descriptions.

May 10

Who were the subjects of advertisements in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy (May 10, 1771).

“RUN away last Tuesday Night, a Negro Man named GLASGOW.”

“RUN away last Tuesday Night, a Negro Man named ABEL.”

Sometime during the night of May 7, 1771, Glasgow, “a Negro Man,” made his escape from his enslaver, John Treat of Milford, Connecticut.  Three days later, Treat published an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  He provided a description that included Glasgow’s age, height, and clothing.  Treat also offered a reward for “Who ever shall take up and return said Negro.”  Like so many other enslavers, Treat proclaimed that Glasgow had “RUNaway.”  From Glasgow’s perspective, no doubt, he had instead liberated himself.

Glasgow was not the only enslaved man in Milford who seized his liberty that night.  According to Gideon Platt, Jr., Abel also escaped from bondage on May 7.  Platt also resorted to placing an advertisement in hopes that other colonists would take note of Black men they encountered, scrutinize them to determine whether they matched the description in the newspaper, and, if they spotted Abel, “take up said Negro, and return him to [Platt], or send Word so that he may have him again.”  Platt encouraged readers to attend to age and physical characteristics, but he also reported that Abel “talks good English.”  Linguistic ability as well as appearance could help identify this fugitive from enslavement.

Platt’s advertisement describing Abel appeared immediately below Treat’s advertisement offering a reward for the capture and return of Glasgow in the May 10 edition of the Connecticut Journal.  While not definitive evidence, that Abel and Glasgow happened to depart on the same evening suggests that they may have worked together in seeking freedom, believing that cooperation increased their chances of outsmarting their enslavers.  If they were initially unaware of this coincidence when separately submitting their notices to the printing office, Platt and Treat almost certainly recognized the possibility when they saw their advertisements in the newspaper.

Just as both enslavers told a story filtered through their own perspectives when they stated that Abel and Glasgow had “RUN away,” they likely did not present an account of events that accurately related all of the details or gave Abel and Glasgow credit for coordinating their escape.  Though it was not their intention, Platt and Treat published short narratives that testified to the agency and perseverance exhibited by Abel and Glasgow.  Still, those narratives were incomplete and did not reveal the experiences of the enslaved men as well as if they had recorded their own stories.