GUEST CURATOR: Carl Allard
Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN-AWAY … a negro man named JACK.”
One part of the mission of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project is to understand the lives of enslaved people through information gathered from “RUN-AWAY” advertisements. In late September 1771, an enslaved man named Jack liberated himself by running away from Meyer Moses, a colonist who bore the name of the biblical figure who liberated the enslaved Israelites yet ironically sought to return Jack to bondage. This advertisement not only details the fascinating biography of Jack, but also remains a testimony to hope. Jack’s escape, a struggle against immense opposition, runs parallel to what we know of his medical history. The ad states Jack was, “much pitted in the face with the small pox, one of his feet frost-bitten.” According to Elizabeth Fenn, medical data from that era suggests the mortality rate of smallpox was quite high; if the hemorrhaging pustules overlapped, one stood a 60 percent chance of dying. Certainly, Jack’s self-liberation was just the latest in a series of struggles that he had overcome. The advertisement reveals that Jack “speaks good English.” This skill, as David Waldstreicher notes, might have been a powerful tool to secure passage on a ship, as the advertisement stated Jack planned on doing. Waldstreicher also observes that self-liberated people, such as Jack, were often self-fashioning. Clothing choice, such as the “soldier’s coat” Jack wore, was central to the success of enslaved people pursuing freedom, allowing them to try to blend in as free.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
For the next three months, the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project will feature work undertaken by students who enrolled in my Research Methods: Vast Early America course at Assumption University in Spring 2021. Required of all History majors in the spring of their junior year to prepare them to pursue their own projects under the direction of a faculty mentor in the capstone seminar in the fall of their senior year, Research Methods focuses on important skills: accessing and interpreting primary sources and understanding and evaluating secondary sources. Students complete an historiographical essay for their final project in Research Methods, but throughout the semester they complete smaller projects that help them develop their skills.
To that end, I invite my students to serve as guest curators for the digital humanities projects I have created. As guest curator, Carl Allard, the author of today’s entry, was responsible for navigating four databases of digitized eighteenth-century American newspapers to create an archive of issues originally published between September 26 and October 2, 1771. From there, he selected an advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project. He conducted research to identify secondary sources beyond those we examined in class and then drafted a short entry. I reviewed that draft and offered suggestions for revisions. Carl then set about editing and resubmitting his entry. As he worked on his entry, he also made contributions to the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, composing the tweets to accompany the advertisements that appear on the project this week. He selected a key quotation from each advertisement and inserted a citation that included the name of the newspaper and publication date. Throughout the process, he adhered to filename conventions and other methodologies not usually visible to readers and followers but imperative for the behind-the-scenes production of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. As a result, his classmates, my research assistant, and I could all easily access and consult data Carl contributed to the projects as we each completed our own duties in presenting them to the public.
Each student whose work will be featured in the next three months developed the same skills and made similar contributions. In that regard they were not merely students but junior colleagues who assumed significant responsibilities in the ongoing production of these digital humanities projects. They did not simply learn about the past; instead, they spent the semester “doing history” as they prepared to once again “do history” this semester in their capstone seminar. I very much appreciate the hard work and dedication of each of the guest curators from my Research Methods class.
 David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways: Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 56, no. 2 (April 1999): 259-260.
 David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways,” 253.