Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“CUDJOE, JEMMY, RYNAH, VENUS, and her Daughter DYE.”
For several months, Peter Sinkler and James Sinkler attempted to use the power of the press to recapture six enslaved people who liberated themselves in 1771. According to advertisements the Sinklers placed in several newspapers, including the June 19 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, “Cudjoe, Jemmy, Long Jemmy, Rynah, Venus, and her daughter Dye, about twelve years old,” departed from the Sinklers’ plantation in St. Stephen Parish on March 31. The Sinklers surmised that Cudjoe, “elderly” and “very artful,” had “enticed the others. Jemmy, Long Jemmy, Rynah, Venus, and Dye, however, may not have needed much enticing when they decided to seize their freedom.
After eluding capture for many months, Long Jemmy suddenly did not appear in the advertisement that ran in the August 8 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. In every previous iteration, the advertisement identified “the six following NEGROES” and then always listed them in the same order. For some reason, however, a new advertisement referred to only “the Five following NEGROES” and did not include Long Jemmy. What happened to him? Did he get separated from the others and then captured and returned to the Sinklers? Had he returned of his own accord, as enslaved people sometimes did after demonstrating that enslavers did not exercise total authority over them? Did a colonist see the advertisements, recognize Long Jemmy, and collect the reward for apprehending him? What else might have occurred?
After identifying, remediating, and republishing these advertisements for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project over the past four months, Long Jemmy seems starkly absent from this advertisement. Yet that is not the only absence associated with this enslaved man. The earlier advertisements may be the sole archival sources that name him. Even those silence him, his story told from the perspective of enslavers who claimed that Long Jemmy, like the others who liberated themselves, “is so well known … as to need no further Description.” Other than saying that Cudjoe was likely the leader of group, the Sinklers did not comment on any of their relationships or much of anything else about them. Long Jemmy, Rynah, Venus, and the others are not “well known” in Charleston and elsewhere today. Archival sources allow us to tell composite stories of their likely experiences, but they did not have the same opportunities to shape the historical record and how they should be remembered as the Sinklers did through the simple act of placing a newspaper advertisement.