May 20

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper published 250 years ago this week?

Pennsylvania Packet (May 18, 1772).

“RUN AWAY … a Negro Man, named PETER.”

This advertisement testifies to both the mobility of enslaved people who liberated themselves by fleeing from their enslavers and the efforts of enslavers to capture and return to bondage fugitives seeking freedom.  Peter, “a Negro Man … of a yellow complexion,” escaped from Patrick Simpson’s plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, in the late spring or early summer of 1771.  Nearly a year later, an advertisement describing Peter ran in the Pennsylvania Packet.  The dateline in the advertisement indicated that it had originated in New York, not Charleston.  Hallett and Hazard, merchants who presumably operated on behalf of Simpson, informed readers that they would receive “TEN DOLLARS REWARD” for apprehending Peter and securing him “in any [jail] in Pennsylvania or New-Jersey” and notifying local agents in Philadelphia or Princeton.

What prompted Simpson to believe that Peter might have made it to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or any of the neighboring colonies?  The advertisement described him as a “sensible, plausible fellow” and indicated that he spoke “very proper E[n]glish.”  Peter may have been able to pose as a free man as he made his way north, especially if it was obvious from his speech that he was “country born” rather than “new” from Africa.  When Simpson could not locate Peter in South Carolina, he might have suspected that he made his way to another colony.

In his attempt to capture and once again enslave Peter, Simpson enlisted the aid of both local agents and the general public.  Hallett and Hazard in New York, Peter Wikoff in Philadelphia, and Peter Gordon in Princeton all assisted Simpson, but the advertisement also called on others to engage in surveillance of Black men they encountered to assess if any of them matched the Peter’s description.  That meant observing their physical characteristics, their clothing, and their comportment as well as assessing their speech.  John Dunlap, the printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, also aided Simpson, earning revenues when he published the advertisement.  Capturing Peter was not simply a local matter, one confined to newspaper notices published in South Carolina and readers in that colony.  Instead, Simpson relied on an extensive apparatus as he sought to once again deny Peter his liberty.

January 5

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

New-York Journal (January 2, 1772).

“A large assortment of Goods.”

Earlier this week, the Adverts 250 Project featured several advertisements from the January 3, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy that made appeals to consumer choice by deploying words and phrases like “great assortment,” “general assortment,” “quantity,” and “all kinds.”  None of those advertisements, however, included lists of goods to demonstrate the range of merchandise available.  Almost simultaneously, merchants and shopkeepers in New York ran advertisements in the New-York Journal that not only promoted “a large Assortment of Goods” but also enumerated scores of items.

Such was the case in an advertisement inserted by Hallett and Hazard for their store on Hanover Square.  In a catalog of their merchandise, they listed everything from “Died pillows” and “Table cloths” to “Mens superfine white and marbled ribb’d worsted hose” and “Womens and childrens white and purple mitts and gloves” to “Candlesticks” and “Brass knobs.”  For some items, they used brackets to draw attention to the many varieties in stock.  For instance, Hallett and Hazard offered “Gold basket[,] Campaign and Death head” buttons and “Silk and cotton romal[,] Bandannoe[,] Mallabar[,] Barcelona[,] Printed[,] Ghenting[,] Scots and Black gauze” handkerchiefs.”  The extensive advertisement filled three-quarters of a column.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Thomas Pearsall placed a similar advertisement that also extended three-quarters of a column.  Both advertisers made their notices easier for prospective customers to navigate by creating two columns with only one or two items on each line and a dividing line running down the center.

Such advertisements certainly cost more than making declarations about “a large Assortment of Goods.”  The colophon for the New-York Journal stated that “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, … and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”  For Hallet and Hazard, that meant that their advertisements cost at least three times as much as they would have paid for a standard square of space.  The merchants presumably considered it worth the additional investment to demonstrate all the choices they offered to consumers.