What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Whoever secures my servants and Negro … shall, besides the reward allowed by law, be paid any reasonable satisfaction.”
John Mercer turned to the Virginia Gazette to advertise more than just beer, porter, and ale. His lengthy advertisement for the “MARLBOROUGH BREWERY” appeared on the opposite side of the page as this notice concerning a slave and two indentured servants who ran away from the brewer. John Mercer had a hard time holding on to his help!
That may tell us something about what kind of master Mercer was, but he used this advertisement to shape the narrative. What else could be expected of Temple, the slave? After all, he “carries the marks of the discipline he underwent” while on a ship in the West Indies. It was plain for anybody to see (especially from the scars Neptune bore on his body), Mercer suggested, that the slave had a history of challenging authority, not following instructions, and stepping out of his appropriate place.
The two indentured servants, Joseph Wain and William Cantrell, were equally troublesome, according to Mercer. A single glance could reveal that Wain was trouble, considering the way that he “stoops pretty much in his walk” and “has a down look.” Cantrell apparently had a habit of misrepresenting his skills: “he pretend[s] to understand ploughing and country business.” (Advertisers regularly denigrated runaway slaves and servants by accusing them of not possessing the skills they claimed.) Mercer suspected his servants had conspired with others that went missing at the same time. Furthermore, several horses disappeared around that time. In addition to being runaways, Wain and Cantrell were likely thieves, at least according to Mercer.
All three men – Temple, Joseph Wain, and William Cantrell – sought their own freedom when they ran away from their master. Mercer’s exasperation concerning Wain and Cantrell may have been justified considering that they served only half a year of their indentures, skipping out on a contract when they departed, but his frustration at Temple’s escape from more than three decades of slavery garners no sympathy at all.