September 14

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

Sep 14 - 9:14:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 14, 1768).

“A negroe fellow called CATO … and his wife JUDY … had a written license … to come to town.”

James Bulloch’s advertisement concerning an enslaved man and woman who tricked him into issuing them a pass so they could hire themselves out in Savannah for a month and then ran away became a regular feature in the Georgia Gazette in 1768. Dated July 6, it first appeared in the July 13 edition. It then ran every week, with the exception of August 3, for the next six months, making its final appearance on January 4, 1768, in the first issue of the new year. Overall, Bulloch inserted this advertisement in the Georgia Gazette twenty-five times. It would have been impossible for regular readers to remain unaware of Cato and Judy’s subterfuge and flight, but Bulloch published the notice often enough that even those who read the Georgia Gazette only occasionally were likely to encounter the story of the runaway cooper and laundress.

In that regard, Bulloch’s advertisement did not differ from many other notices about runaway slaves in the Georgia Gazette and other newspapers printed throughout the colonies. The account of Cato and Judy’s escape appeared alongside other advertisements for runaway slaves that also ran for months at a time, including one about “THREE NEW NEGROE MEN, called NEPTUNE, BACCHUS, and APOLLO … and ONE STOUT SEASONED FELLOW, called LIMERICK” who ran away from a plantation near Pensacola, Florida, and were suspected of making way “through the Creek nation.” Bulloch and others made significant investments as they attempted to reclaim runaway slaves. In addition to the “reward of ten shilling sterling, beside all other necessary and common charges” that he offered for the capture and return of Cato and Judy, Bulloch financed an advertising campaign that lasted for six months.

Why did these advertisements cease on January 4, 1769? Had Cato and Judy been captured? Or had they successfully made their escape, at least for the moment, having used the “written license” they finagled from Bulloch to move freely and as far away as possible before he even realized they were gone? The slaveholder may have decided to cut his losses by suspending the advertisements. By then, however, colonists throughout Georgia and beyond would have been familiar with Cato and Judy’s story because they saw it repeated in the Georgia Gazette so many times. Even though the advertisements did not continue, the runaways were not safe. Bulloch had used the power of the press for months to encourage others to engage in the surveillance necessary to bring and end to Cato and Judy’s flight for freedom.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 13, 1768).

“A negroe fellow called CATO … and his wife JUDY … have not been seen or heard of.”

James Bulloch, a slaveholder, regretted trusting “a negroe fellow called CATO … and his wife JUDY.” The two took advantage of that trust, at least from Bulloch’s perspective, when they decided to run away after he had issued them a pass to go to Savannah. Cato and Judy, for their part, likely had little sympathy when it came to betraying the trust of a man who held them in bondage. Bulloch briefly told their story in an advertisement he inserted in the July 13, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette.

Cato and Judy were both skilled workers. Bulloch described Cato as “a cooper by trade” and Judy as “a washer-woman.” Cato had apparently practiced his trade in the colony’s largest port town; Bulloch indicated that he was “well known in Savannah.” That being the case, it may not have been difficult for Cato to find work when he wished, providing that Bulloch allowed him to participate in the hiring out system. Judy also possessed a skill often in demand, especially in ports. Hiring out his slaves accrued certain benefits for Bulloch, especially if he did not have sufficient work to keep them occupied. By hiring out the cooper and laundress, allowing them to seek their own employment for a specified period, Bulloch reduced his responsibilities for providing food and shelter. He also generated additional income since their wages belonged to him. Slaveholders who thought of themselves as generous sometimes gifted a small portion of the wages to the enslaved men and women who earned them, but usually little more than a token.

Bulloch apparently had no misgivings about this system, at least not as far as Cato and Judy were concerned. Perhaps they had cultivated his trust over time, anticipating when they might have an opportunity to make their escape. Bulloch issued he couple “a written license … to come to town, and thee to work for a month from the 13th day of June last.” He expected them to return after a month, with their wages to hand over to him. To Bulloch’s dismay, however, Cato and Judy “have not been seen or heard of since.” Apparently the couple did not make any pretense of arriving in Savannah and seeking work. Instead, they fled at the earliest opportunity in order for their disappearance to go unnoticed as long as possible, increasing their chances for making good on their escape. Bulloch eventually discovered the subterfuge and offered a reward for their capture and return.

Although filtered through the perspective of slaveholders, advertisements for runaway slaves present striking stories of survival and resistance by enslaved men and women. The same issue of the Georgia Gazette that first provided an account of Cato and Judy’s escape also included three other advertisements for runaway slaves: Pedro “of the Angola country,” who “has the upper part of his right ear cut off,” possibly as a disciplinary measure; Chloe, who “has her country marks on both her cheeks” and spoke little English; and Ben, who “has been for some time sickly.” The advertisements do not provide as much information about any of these fugitives, making it more difficult to reconstruct their stories. Still, these advertisements demonstrate that enslaved men and women did not meekly accept their fate but instead sought to change their condition.