August 28

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

Aug 28 - 8:28:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 28, 1770).

“Still believing the former Piece to be more agreeable to Truth than the latter.”

When Joseph Symonds, Joseph Hobbs, and Joseph Hobbs, Jr., placed an advertisement in the August 28, 1770, edition of the Essex Gazette, they depended on readers being familiar with a series of advertisements that previously appeared in that newspaper.  In the first, Addison Richardson accused “an Apprentice Lad, named Samuel Hobbs” of running away and taking a box “containing sundry Articles of Cloathing.”  Richardson had already recovered the box.  He warned others “to be very cautious in having any Concern” with the apprentice.

In an unusual turn of events, Hobbs placed his own advertisement to respond.  Usually runaways either did not have the resources to respond in print or chose not to draw additional attention to themselves by doing so.  Hobbs, however, sought to set the record straight, declaring that he “was not bound” to Richardson or “under any Obligation to live with him any longer than we could agree,” that the box and most of its contents did not belong to Richardson, and that his purported master had not treated him well during “almost five Years Service.”  Symonds, Hobbs, and Hobbs, all relations of the alleged runaway, signed a short addendum stating that they believed the young man’s account to be “real Truth” and encouraged that “the Publick will take no Notice.”

In turn, Richardson published yet another advertisement, this time masquerading as “SA——EL H—BBS.”  That notice paralleled the format of the one placed by Hobbs, offering an alternate version of events that corrected what Richardson considered inaccuracies in the clarifications that Hobbs offered the public.  Richardson-as-H—BBS also pointed out that “two Uncles and a Brother” of the apprentice might not be the most reliable witnesses in the dispute.  In order to continue the parallel format, he concluded the advertisement with a short declaration about having “Reason to believe the Piece above to be real Truth” and signed it “A. RICHARDSON.”

Two weeks later, Symonds, Hobbs, and Hobbs placed an advertisement of their own accord.  Just in case any readers were confused about whether Samuel Hobbs was responsible for the notice signed by SA——EL H—BBS, they proclaimed that it “was not put in by him, for he did not know any Thing of it.”  They also reported that some accommodation had been reached:  Mr. Richardson hath returned the Box, with what was in it, and offered to cloath [Hobbs] honorably if he will come and live with him again.”  Seeing this as a satisfactory outcome, the uncles and brother decided to “forbear, and say no more,” though they opined that Richardson would “be very cautious how he advertises Runaways for the future.”  As a parting shot, they stated that the advertisement by the real Hobbs was “more agreeable to Truth” than the one by Richardson-as-H—BBS, “and not merely because the Boy told us so neither.”  Even after accommodation had been reached, these three men sought to clarify which version of events was more accurate.

Buying space in the local newspaper gave Richardson, Hobbs, and Hobbs’s relations opportunities to shape the narrative of what transpired between master and apprentice in the summer of 1770.  Rather than working out their disagreements among themselves, they put their dispute on display before the general public, each attempting to convince the community that they were in the right and someone else behaved poorly.  These advertisements amplified gossip and word-of-mouth reports of the discord between Hobbs and Richardson.

August 14

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

Aug 14 - 8:14:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 14, 1770).

“WHEREAS Addison Richardson has advertised me as a Runaway.”

When Addison Richardson advertised Samuel Hobbs as a runaway apprentice in the Essex Gazette in the summer of 1770, Hobbs took the extraordinary step of placing his own advertisement in response.  In most similar situations, “runaways,” whether apprentices, indentured servants, enslaved people, or wives, did not possess the resources to publish their own advertisements or did not wish to call attention to themselves by doing so.  As a result, masters, enslavers, and husbands controlled the narrative in the public prints.  Yet Hobbs did manage to insert an advertisement that contested Richardson’s version of events in the August 7, 1770, edition of the Essex Gazette.  His brother and two of his uncles attested to the “real Truth” of Hobbs’s depiction of what transpired with Richardson.

The aggrieved master was not amused by his apprentice’s advertisement.  In the next issue, he ran a new advertisement in which he masqueraded as “SA——EL H—BBS.”  He began by stating that “Addison Richardson has advertised me as a Runaway” and “I have told the Public one Story very contrary to Truth,” but “I now tell them another Story that is very agreeable to Truth.”  Richardson as H—BBS then repeated each detail from Hobbs’s advertisement along with a clarification he considered the actual truth.  For instance, “I told [the public] that I was not bound to him, but I was by the Rules of Justice, which the Public always looks upon as the strongest Obligation whatever.”  In the original advertisement, Richardson accused Hobbs of stealing a box “containing sundry Articles of Cloathing,” but noted that he had recovered it.  In his response, Hobbs stated that the box did not belong to Richardson, that the contents belonged to Hobbs except for “one Pair of Stockings full of Holes, and a Pair of Shirts which [Richardson] gave me,” and that Richardson did not provide him with adequate clothing during “almost five Years Service.”  Richardson as H—BBS contested that narrative, offering this alternative:  “I told the Public, that he had found me but one Shirt, which was very false, for I am very conscious he has found me five new Shirts since I lived with him, and a sufficient Quantity of all other Cloathing.”  Richardson provided for H—BBS even though “I served him but very poorly for almost five Years.”

Richardson was equally unimpressed with the character witnesses who had testified to the “real Truth” of Hobbs’s advertisement.  “As to the Conduct of the three that signed at the Bottom of my Piece,” Richardson as H—BBS opined, “ they say ‘We the Subsribers have Reason to believe the Piece above to be real Truth:’—What Reason? says the By-Stander: Why, say they, the Boy that run away from his Master told us so, and so it must be true; and that is all the Evidence they had.”  To cast further doubt on the motives of these witnesses, Richardson as H—BBS requested that “the Public judge for themselves” if that was “sufficient Reason for two Uncles and a Brother to sign such a story.”

This new advertisement ended with a short statement of support by “A. RICHARDSON” for the version of events presented by “SA——EL H—BBS,” replicating the structure of Hobbs’s advertisement and deploying some of the same language.  “I the Subscriber have Reason to believe the Piece above to be real Truth,” A. RICHARDSON declared before admonishing that he “still hope[s] the Public will hold Runaways in Contempt, and all their Abettors.”

The dispute between Richardson and his (alleged) apprentice played out in the public prints beyond a standard runaway advertisement.  Both parties placed lengthy notices that impugned the honesty and character of the other in their efforts to convince others in their community which of them had indeed been wronged by the other.  Most runaway apprentice advertisements went unanswered, but in this case both apprentice and master made further use of the press to present their version of events to the public.

August 7

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

Aug 7 - 8:7:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 7, 1770).

“Addison Richardson hath advertised me as a Runaway.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers carried advertisements for all sorts of “runaways.”  Those runaways included enslaved people who liberated themselves from enslavers who held them in bondage, wives who “eloped” from their husbands to remove themselves from patriarchal authority (and often mistreatment) in the household, and apprentices and indentured servants who broke the terms of their contracts.  Few of these advertisements garnered responses in the public prints.  Even if they possessed the resources to place advertisements, enslaved people who liberated themselves had no reason to call additional attention to themselves.  Aggrieved husbands usually declared that they would pay no debts on behalf of their absent wives, eliminating their ability to publish notices in response.  Occasionally, some wives did find the means to run their own advertisements.  Apprentices and indentured servants, like enslaved people who escaped, also avoided publishing responses to the advertisements that declared them runaways and requested aid in locating and returning them.

That made a pair of advertisements that ran in the Essex Gazette in the summer of 1770 especially notable.  Addison Richardson first advertised Samuel Hobbs as a runaway on July 24.  He claimed that the “Apprentice Lad” ran away and recommended that others “be very cautious in having any Concern with him.”  Richardson also noted that Hobbs had “carried off a Box, containing sundry Articles of Cloathing,” but Richardson had since recovered the box and the stolen items.  Richardson’s advertisement ran again on July 31.  When it appeared for a third time on August 7, a response from Hobbs accompanied it.  The compositor placed one notice after the other, making it easier for readers to follow the saga as it unfolded.

In an advertisement twice the length of the one that named him a runaway apprentice, Hobbs asserted that he “was not bound” to Richardson not was he “under any Obligation to live with him any longer than we could agree.”  Hobbs suggested that Richardson had not lived up to whatever terms they had set, but if he had “fulfilled his Promise” then Hobbs “should not have left.”  In response to the accusation of theft, Hobbs stated that neither the box nor the contents belonged to Richardson, except for “one Pair of Stockings full of Holes, and a Pair of Shirts, which he gave me.”  Everything else in the box belonged to Hobbs, yet Richardson refused to return any of it.  Hobbs also lamented that in “almost five Years Service” Richardson had not provided adequate clothing as was his responsibility.  In response to Richardson’s advice that others be cautious in their dealings with Hobbs, he turned the tables by warning others to “be very cautious where they put out Children, especially poor fatherless ones, such as I am.”

To strengthen his credibility, Hobbs also included a short note from three men who endorsed his version of events.  Joseph Symonds, Joseph Hobbs, and Joseph Hobbs, Jr., some or all of them probably relations to the alleged runaway apprentice, stated that they “have Reason to believe the Piece above to be the real Truth.”  They asked that “the Publick … take no Notice of the Advertisement.”  Quite possibly these supporters paid to insert Hobbs’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette.

Runaway apprentice advertisements rarely generated responses in print in eighteenth-century America, making this an extraordinary case of an alleged runaway defending his reputation, revealing mistreatment by his master, and marshalling the support of others who advocated on his behalf.  Yet this was not the end of the exchange in the Essex Gazette.  The following week Richardson published a response to Hobbs’s response.  That will be the featured advertisement on August 14.

March 18

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

Mar 18 - 3:15:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 15, 1770).

“His past Offences will be forgiven.”

Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, generated significant revenue from publishing advertisements for “runaways.”  Most of those runaways were actually enslaved men and women who escaped from those who attempted to hold them in bondage.  These included “a negro fellow named LONDON, this country born” and “a negro man named ISAAC” who spoke “tolerable good English” even though he came from “the Guinea country” and survived the Middle Passage.  Both men were subjects of advertisement that ran in the supplement published on March 15, 1770.

Apprentices, indentured servants, convict servants, and even recalcitrant wives were sometimes the subjects of other runaway notices, though not nearly in the same numbers as enslaved people in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers published in Charleston.  In newspapers published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, however, the number of runaway notices for apprentices and servants rivaled or often exceeded the advertisements for enslaved men and women who escaped.  Still, notices calling on colonists to help identify and return enslaved people to those who purported to be their masters appeared in every newspaper from Georgia to New England.

Crouch not only published advertisements concerning a variety of runaways but on occasion found himself in the position of placing them.  In the same supplement that carried notices about London and Isaac, Crouch ran a notice directed to his own apprentice, William Way, who “hath absented himself from my Service, for two Months past.”  Addressing Way or anyone who would pass along the message, Crouch pledged that if the wayward apprentice “will return of his own Accord, and behave himself well in future, his past Offences will be forgiven.”  Enslavers occasionally, though rarely, made similar proposals when they attempted to recover people they treated as property.

Crouch’s advertisement told a truncated story about his disobedient apprentice.  It told Crouch’s side of the story.  In the advertisement, Crouch blamed Way for “absent[ing] himself” and accused him of “past Offences” that the printer would generously forgive, but he did not comment on anything that he might have done to exacerbate the situation.  It did not indicate if the master had mistreated or abused the apprentice.  Every runaway notice told only a partial story, one constructed by someone who possessed significantly more power and authority than the subject of the advertisement. Such notices aimed to reassert order in the face of apprentices, servants, and enslaved people exercising agency and seizing power away from those who usually wielded it.  These skirmishes played out in advertisements that appeared in the public prints throughout the colonies.

January 5

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

Jan 5 1770 - 1:5:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 5, 1770).

“Ran away last Wednesday … an Apprentice Boy.”

The format and placement of Benjamin Mackay’s advertisement suggests that it was a late addition to the new edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Mackay reported that his apprentice, John Bowler, “Ran away last Wednesday” on January 3, 1770. The aggrieved master scrambled to insert an advertisement in the next issue of the colony’s only newspaper, published just two days later on Friday, January 5. Failing to do so would have forced Mackay to wait another week to alert the community by disseminating information about the runaway apprentice in print since the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other American newspapers published in the early 1770s, appeared only once a week.

Mackay apparently delivered his advertisement to the printing office too late for inclusion in any of the next issue’s twelve columns, three on each of four pages. The compositor had already set the type … but that did not mean that there was not any space for Mackay’s new and urgent advertisement. Compositors sometimes placed short advertisements and news items in the margins, an innovative strategy used only occasionally to include additional content. Mackay’s advertisement ran on the third page of the January 5 edition, running in the bottom margin across all three columns. The unique format possibly attracted the attention of some readers, but it also limited the number of details that Mackay could publish in that particular advertisement. Brevity allowed for speedy publication, but forced Mackay to carefully select which information to circulate to other colonists.

With more time to plan, he remedied that situation in the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He published another advertisement, nearly three times the length, that provided a much more extensive description of Bowler, including his approximate age, notable physical characteristics, and description of his clothing. In addition to offering a reward for apprehending and returning the apprentice, that second advertisement warned others against “entertaining or carrying off” Bowler.

That Mackay published a second advertisement at all suggests that the first was not successful, at least not in the short time between its publication and the compositor preparing the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Still, it had no chance of success if it had not appeared in the January 5 issue at all. By resorting to an innovative format for the advertisement, the compositor helped Mackay distribute time-sensitive information in the public prints as quickly as possible.

December 16

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

Dec 16 - 12:16:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 16, 1769).

“RUN away … an Apprentice Lad.”

In December 1769, David Smith turned to the Providence Gazette when his apprentice, Eliazer Peck, “a Shoemaker by Trade,” departed without his permission. After Peck had been away for a week and Smith determined that he was unlikely to return of his own accord, he placed an advertisement that described the apprentice and offered a reward to anyone who “takes up and secures the said Apprentice, so as his Master may have him again.” Smith also advised that “All masters of Vessels are forbid to carry him off.” He did not want the delinquent apprentice further removing himself from his authority by sailing to another colony or elsewhere in the Atlantic world.

To aid in identifying the apprentice, Smith described both is physical features and the clothes he wore. He asked readers of the Providence Gazette to keep their eyes open for “a short thick-set Lad, round-shouldered, … full-faced.” Readers might also recognize his “brownish Coat, a short double-breasted Jacket, [and] blue knit Breeches.” If he did not acquire different garments, Peck could alter his appearance slightly by changing shirts; he took with him “two striped and one white Shirt.” To further aid in recognizing the apprentice, Smith gave his approximate age, “about 19 Years,” and hinted at his personality, noting he “has a Humour in his Eyes.”

Smith’s advertisement followed the same pattern as so many others that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers throughout the colonies. That genre of notices described unfree laborers of various sorts: apprentices, indentured servants, convict servants, and enslaved men, women, and children. Such advertisements used the public prints as a mechanism of surveillance, encouraging colonists to closely examine people they encountered to determine if they matched the descriptions published in the most recent newspapers. These advertisements allowed those who already possessed greater authority and resources to exercise even more power by recruiting an entire community to aid them in capturing and returning runaway servants and apprentices and enslaved people who seized their own liberty by escaping from those who held them in bondage.

When they purchased advertising space in newspapers, colonists deployed the power of the press for various purposes. Some promoted the expansion of consumer culture by encouraging readers to acquire goods and services. Others posted legal notices for settling accounts with the estates of deceased colonists. Some offered employment opportunities. A good many utilized newspapers, the most widely circulated form of media of the period, to engage in surveillance of others, appealing to readers to carefully scrutinize their fellow colonists to detect and return runaways.

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)