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