August 11

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

Aug 11 - 8:11:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 11, 1768).

“John Sloan, my Apprentice, has lately misbehaved.”

Advertisements for unfree laborers who ran away – indentured servants, slaves, apprentices – comprised one of the most common genres of paid notices inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers. Such advertisements appeared in newspapers printed and distributed throughout the colonies on August 11, 1768. Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, for instance, included two advertisements for runaway slaves, one concerning “a Negro Man partly Molatto named Primus” and the other “a Negro Man named Caesar.” Both advertisements offered rewards for the capture and return of the fugitive slaves. Fifteen advertisements for runaways – two for indentured servants, two for slaves, and eleven for indentured servants – appeared on the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, its supplement, and a one-page postscript. Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette carried four advertisements for runaway slaves. The main competitor, Rind’s Virginia Gazette, had twice as many advertisement, seven for slaves and another for am “English convict servant.” The New-York Journal continued publishing an advertisement for “a Welch servant man named William Walters” and another for “an Apprentice Lad, named Jacob Horsen, by Trade a Blacksmith.”

The New-York Journal carried another advertisement about an unruly apprentice, an advertisement preemptively placed in anticipation that he would attempt to run away from his master. James Sloan explained that his apprentice, John Sloan, “has lately misbehaved” and “threatened to leave.” Expecting that apprentice Sloan would attempt to make his escape imminently, master Sloan warned that “no Person will entertain, harbour, conceal, or carry off the said Apprentice, as they will answer it at their Peril.” Aggrieved masters frequently threatened legal action against anyone who aided runaways. The master also offered a reward for his apprentice’s capture and return even before he run away. James Sloan was sufficiently certain that his apprentice would make the attempt that he paid five shillings to have a notice inserted in the New-York Journal for four weeks. He may have considered this a less expensive option than waiting for apprentice Sloan to depart, especially if brought the advertisement to the apprentice’s attention. Knowledge of the advertisement and the increased surveillance directed at the apprentice may have been a preventative measure that forestalled flight from his master.

Throughout the colonies printers generated revenues by selling advertisements for unfree laborers who ran away from their masters. In this case, James Sloan adapted those familiar advertisements, devising a notice that warned of the possibility that his apprentice might attempt to flee. As the apprentice asserted his own agency by misbehaving and threatening to run away, the master sought to harness the power of the press in his efforts to manage and control a disorderly apprentice.

September 9

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

Sep 9 - 9:9:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 9, 1767).

“My apprentice Patrick Nihell will make his escape.”

Throughout the eighteenth century, runaway advertisements were one of the most common types of notices inserted in newspapers. Slaveholders advertised runaway slaves. Masters advertised runaway indentured servants. Husbands advertised runaway wives. Military officers advertised runaway soldiers who had deserted. Masters advertised runaway apprentices. For people in subordinate positions, for people who were often exploited by others, running away from those who exercised power and authority over them was a means of attempting to remedy their situation.

Some of these advertisements appeared more frequently than others. Advertisements for runaway slaves and runaway servants were most common, though their proportion varied from region to region based on how extensively the local economy depended each type of labor. Newspapers in the Chesapeake and Lower South disseminated many advertisements for runaway slaves, but far fewer advertisements for runaway servants. Their counterparts in the Middle Atlantic regularly featured many of both types of advertisements, though careful quantitative analysis would likely reveal that advertisements for runaway servants significantly outnumbered advertisements for runaway slaves in that region. In New England, on the other hand, advertisements for runaway slaves appeared only occasionally and less frequently than advertisements for runaway servants.

Husbands advertised runaway wives throughout the colonies. Not surprisingly, newspapers in the largest urban ports – Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia – had the highest concentration of such advertisements, corresponding to the size of their populations, yet such notices also appeared in newspapers published in smaller towns. Advertisements for runaway soldiers were the least common, but readers also encountered them in newspapers throughout the colonies.

Finally, advertisements for runaway apprentices ran in newspapers in every region of colonial America, but tended to be most heavily concentrated in those regions that had higher numbers of indentured servants rather than slaves. In running away, abused apprentices sought to escape mistreatment by their masters. In today’s advertisements, Thomas Lee, Jr., updated the standard format for such advertisements. His apprentice, Patrick Nihell, had not run away, but their relationship had apparently deteriorated to the point that Lee suspected Nihell would “make his escape.” In anticipation, Lee preemptively warned “all masters of vessels and others” not to assist Nihell in any way if he did attempt to abscond. He concluded by threatening anyone who colluded with the apprentice “may depend to be prosecuted to the utmost rigour of the law.”

June 22

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jun 22 - 6:20:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 20, 1766).

“RUN away … an apprentice boy named RAINES TUCKER.”

It was easy to spot the advertisements for runaway slaves in the Virginia Gazette. Most had a woodcut of a slave in the upper left corner, announcing the content of the advertisement before subscribers even read a single word.

Advertisements for other sorts of runaways were much less likely to be adorned with a woodcut, yet slaves were not the only people who ran away from their masters in eighteenth-century America. An assortment of unfree labor statuses existed in colonial America, including slaves, indentured servants, and apprentices.

The life of an apprentice could be difficult. Although part of his master’s household during the years that he learned his trade, an apprentice was not necessarily treated as part of the family. Sometimes apprentices were not provided the same quality of food, clothing, or shelter as the master’s wife, children, and other members of the household. Masters often set strict rules for their apprentices and monitored their activities during what little free time they were allowed. Some masters also used corporal punishment to discipline apprentices. On occasion, apprentices accused masters of exploiting them for their labor but not teaching them all the aspects of their craft. Such masters, they claimed, kept apprentices dependent and subservient by withholding the complete education they were supposed to provide.

What was the relationship like between Robert Jones and his runaway apprentice, Raines Tucker? What prompted Tucker to run away? Today’s advertisement does not reveal those answers, but it does tell us that for some reason Tucker chose to depart before he completed his apprenticeship. It also tells us that unfree laborers of various sorts resorted to running away.

May 31

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette 3rd page
Third page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766).

Two weeks the Adverts 250 Project featured the entire first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to examine the extent of advertising that appeared in that newspaper when it commenced publication. Although Rind included a limited number of advertisements in that initial issue, he issued a call for prospective advertisers to submit announcements and commercial notices.

How did William Rind fare when it came to generating advertisements, an important source of revenue for those who printed newspapers in the colonial period? Unfortunately, no copies of the second issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette have survived, but the third issue (published two weeks after the first) suggests that advertising picked up relatively quickly. The entire final page was covered with advertising, as well as an entire column on the third page. While not as extensive as advertising in some long-established newspapers in urban ports, the amount of space devoted to advertising in the third issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette was on par with other newspapers in smaller towns in the 1760s. In other words, Rind seems to have attracted a critical mass of advertisers fairly quickly.

This issue carried a variety of different kinds of advertisements: some for consumer goods and services, some legal announcements, some lost and found (including stray livestock), a horse “to cover,” a runaway apprentice (but not yet any runaway slaves, unlike the those that dominated the advertising section in the competing Virginia Gazette), and some placed by the printer himself to promote his own enterprises. A least one advertisement previously appeared in the pages of the local competitor. It appears that John Mercer wanted to cover all his bases when it came to the beer, porter, and ale from his Marlborough Brewery.

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Final Page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766)