Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN away … a Negro Boy, named PIGGEN.”
It was the ninth issue of the Norwich Packet, a newspaper established by Alexander Robertson, James Robertson, and John Trumbull in October 1773. The ninth issue included an advertisement that described “a Negro Boy, named PIGGEN,” who liberated himself by running away from his enslaver, James Rogers. The advertisement documented the clothing worn by the young man, “about 19 years of age,” when he departed from New London, Connecticut. Rogers also reported that Piggen “speaks good English,” encouraging readers to listen to Black men they did not recognize as well as take note of their apparel. Anyone who identified Piggen, captured him, and returned him to Rogers “shall have three dollars reward.” This advertisement resembled so many others that appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia.
It may not have been the first paid notice about an enslaved person that appeared in the Norwich Packet. The first several issues have not survived. Coverage in America’s Historical Newspapers, the most extensive database of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers, begins with the sixth issue. Previous issues might have included advertisements offering enslaved men, women, and children for sale or advertisements about other enslaved people who liberated themselves. Every newspaper published in New England at the time ran such advertisements. Whether or not Rogers’s advertisement about Piggen was the first to appear in the Norwich Packet, it took the Robertsons and Trumbull no more than two months to incorporate this particular kind of content into their new publication. In both northern colonies and southern colonies, printers quickly became complicit in perpetuating slavery by publishing such advertisements. In Baltimore, for instance, the first issue of the Maryland Journal, published August 20, 1773, included an advertisement by a broker seeking to purchase and enslaved girl and a notice promising a reward for Prince, an enslaved man who emancipated himself. In the third issue of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, published May 6, 1773, James Rivington published an advertisement offering a “Very fine Negro Boy” for sale. Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks became the new proprietors of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in the spring of 1773. They continued publishing advertisements about enslaved people, a policy already in place at that newspaper. When printers ran such advertisements, they generated revenues that underwrote the dissemination of other news during the era of the American Revolution.