August 1

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

Aug 1 - 8:1:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 1, 1769).

“Said Negro is the same that ran away from me the first of June.”

As white colonists fretted about their figurative enslavement by Parliament in the late 1760s and early 1770s, a “Negro Man named Titus” chafed under literal enslavement on Cape Ann in Massachusetts. In an advertisement from Gloucester in the Essex Gazette, Thomas Jaques announced that Titus made his escape sometime during the night of July 18, 1769. Titus cleverly timed his departure. Like most other colonial newspapers, the Essex Gazette published only one issue each week, distributing it on Tuesdays. Titus made his escape on a Tuesday night, perhaps realizing that Jaques would not be able to place a notice in the public prints for an entire week. With such a delay in mobilizing the power of the press to enlist other colonists in the surveillance necessary to capture him, Titus gained a bit of a head start. Jaques suspected that the young man was clever in other ways as well, cautioning that he would “change his Cloathing if he has Opportunity.” He was also resilient. Jaques indicated that Titus had attempted to escape in June as well.

Despite his best efforts in 1769, however, Titus did not manage to get clear of those who enslaved him. In an exhibition for the Cape Ann Museum, Molly O’Hagan Hardy identified two other advertisements concerning Titus that ran in the Essex Gazette, one in 1772 and the other in 1773. By that time, John Lee enslaved him in nearby Manchester, but Titus had no more intention of remaining under the authority of Lee than he did Jaques. Both advertisements reported that he “RAN away,” but did not acknowledge his repeated attempts to escape as acts of self-determination. These subsequent advertisements do not reveal how long he managed to make good on his escape in 1769, only that he somehow returned to bondage within the next few of years. Yet they also make clear that he was not dissuaded from his efforts to liberate himself. The final advertisement testified to his continued ingenuity, stating that Titus “has with him a false pass or Bill of Sale.” The enslaved man had either forged the document himself or found an accomplice to aid him in his escape. Lee warned “All Masters of Vessels and others” against harboring or transporting Titus “on Penalty of the Law,” but perhaps the forged document or sympathy for his plight or a combination of the two convinced someone to help him. Given that he made at least four attempts to escape, Titus was not the type to give up on freeing himself. The absence of further advertisements documenting additional attempts to escape suggests that Titus may have finally succeeded.

July 4

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

Jul 4 - 7:4:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 4, 1769).

“RUN away … two Negro Boys named GUY and LIMEHOUSE.”

American colonists engaged in a variety of resistance activities in response to new legislation passed by Parliament with the intention of better regulating the vast British Empire in the years after the Seven Years War concluded. Colonial legislatures passed resolutions asserting the rights of American and submitted petitions encouraging Parliament to reconsider. Merchants and shopkeepers organized nonimportation agreements, disrupting commerce as a means of achieving political goals. Extending those efforts, consumers boycotted goods imported from Britain. Many colonists also expressed their political views by participating in public demonstrations, some of them culminating in violence. The colonial press chronicled all of these efforts, contributing to the creation of an imagined community from New England to Georgia. Print culture played an important role in creating a sense of a common cause for many colonists.

Yet white colonists were not the only ones thinking about liberty and those were not the only means of seeking freedom. Enslaved Africans and African Americans did not need newspaper reports about petitions, nonimportation agreements, and public demonstrations to inform them of the ideals of liberty and the meaning of freedom. Many engaged in their own acts of resistance, seizing their own liberty by escaping from bondage. Such was the case for “two Negro Boys named GUY and LIMEHOUSE.” Late in the winter or early in the spring of 1769, these two young men decided to make their escape from Ralph Izard’s plantation. For weeks, Izard ran advertisements in South Carolina’s newspapers, including in the July 4, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. He offered a reward of ten pounds each for the capture and return of Guy and Limehouse, instructing that they should be delivered “to the Warden of [t]he Work-house in Charlestow[n].”

Other than their names (presumably names bestowed on the young men by their enslavers), Izard provided little information about the young men. He described them as “Boys,” but did not offer even an approximation of their ages. Izard indicated that he had purchased Guy and Limehouse from William Drayton, but did not report how much time had elapsed between that transaction and their escape. For at least a couple of months, the young men experienced freedom, though they likely never felt secure. Guy and Limehouse’s stories, as told by Izard, were exceptionally truncated compared to the stories they would have told about themselves. Still, their determination to free themselves demonstrates that the spirit of liberty was not confined to white colonists aggrieved over the actions of Parliament.

That spirit of liberty, however, existed in stark contrast to the realities of enslavement during the imperial crisis, throughout the American Revolution, and beyond. Advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children who attempted to seize their own liberty highlight that paradox of the American founding. Many historians address the tension between liberty and enslavement in the era of the American Revolution, both in projects intended mainly for their colleagues in the academy and projects intended to engage the general public. On July 4, as Americans celebrate Independence Day, the Adverts 250 Project seeks to add to that conversation by presenting the stories of enslaved people who made their escape from bondage at the same time that white colonists protested for their rights and freedom from figurative enslavement to Parliament. In addition to the stories of Guy and Limehouse, learn more about Caesar, advertised in the Providence Gazette on July 4, 1767, and Harry, advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on July 4, 1768. Celebrations of Independence Day should acknowledge the complexity of American history and commemorate the courage and conviction of enslaved people who pursued their own means of achieving freedom in an era of revolutionary fervor.

May 3

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 3 - 5:3:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 3, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … A NEGRO FELLOW, named YORK … and SARAH.”

On May 3, 1769, William Coachman of South Carolina took out this advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to try to find his runaway slaves named York (or Yorkshire) and Sarah. The advertisement gave descriptions of both York and Sarah. It even told readers how York spoke with a stutter.

During the eighteenth century slaves ran away for a variety of reasons, such as attempting to find family members, needing a break from work, or trying to escape from an abusive master.   In 1705 the General Assembly in Virginia passed a new law that made it very risky for slaves to flee from their masters. According to Tom Costa, plantation owners now had the legal rights to punish their runaway slaves however they saw fit. This even included disciplining a slave to death for attempting to run away. There was even a plantation owner named Robert Carter who sought permission to dismember his slaves that tried to run away from him. It is hard to imagine what slaves had to endure 250 years ago; however, this was an important part of American history as enslaved men and women ran away from their owners as acts of defiance and resistance.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As the spring semester draws to a close, Patrick is the final guest curator from my Revolutionary America class at Assumption College. For his penultimate entry, he has selected this advertisement about “A NEGROE FELLOW, named YORK, or YORKSHIRE” who was born in Georgia and Sarah, a woman from “Guiney” who had survived the Middle Passage. Despite the differences in their origins, York and Sarah found common cause in seizing their own liberty by escaping from their enslaver.

Like each of his peers, Patrick had to fulfill certain requirements with his contributions as guest curator. Among those, he had to select at least one advertisement concerning enslaved men, women, and children to analyze for the project. He chose two, one that offered “A CARGO of Three Hundred PRIME YOUNG NEGROES” for sale and the other about York and Sarah’s flight from William Coachman. In so doing, he examined the two types of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. This provides a more complete story than considering just one type of advertisement. It balances the inhumanity and exploitation of the for sale advertisements with the resistance and agency of the runaway advertisements. Both are necessary components for understanding the experiences of enslaved people. To focus on one to the exclusion of the other tells an incomplete story.

In selecting their advertisements about slavery, the guest curators did not tend to choose one type over another. Another sort of pattern, however, did emerge among their choices: most selected advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children from the Georgia Gazette. Why, when similar advertisements ran in newspapers throughout the colonies, did the guest curators independently concentrate their attention on just one newspaper to fulfill this particular requirement for the project? Consider the contents of the advertisements in the Georgia Gazette collectively. Relatively few advertisements for consumer goods and services ran in the Georgia Gazette, even though they overflowed into advertising supplements in other publications. In comparison, a disproportionate number of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children filled the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Guest curators selected these advertisements to examine out of necessity because the commerce represented in the pages of the Georgia Gazette so often revolved around the slave trade and the surveillance of black bodies to capture runaways rather than promoting consumer goods and services or marketing important commodities.

April 12

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Georgia Gazette (April 12, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … A NEGROE FELLOW, named JACK.”

This advertisement for a runaway “NEGROE FELLOW, named JACK,” includes a description of some injuries: “a large scar on left side of his head cut by a hanger, and a scar upon his ear by the same stroke, and several cuts upon his body.” These injuries could have been a reason why Jack was motivated to try to escape. Running away was one form of resistance enslaved men and women attempted. According to James H. Sweet, “Slave resistance began in British North America almost as soon as the first slaves arrived in the Chesapeake in the early seventeenth century.” This advertisement was part of a long history of slave resistance that had been going on ever since slaves arrived in America almost 150 years earlier. Slaves resisted in other ways if masters “increased workloads, provided meager rations, or punished too severely … by slowing work, feigning illness, breaking tools, or sabotaging production.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Jack’s story was not unique. The advertisements in the April 12, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette chronicled the attempts of several other enslaved men in their endeavors to escape from bondage. Immediately above the advertisement that described Jack, another announced that a “NEGROE FELLOW, named ABRAM” who “talks good English” had made his escape nearly three weeks earlier. Almost immediately to the left, another advertisement documented the escape of a “NEGROE BOY named ROBIN, well known in Savannah” as well as “SEVEN NEGROE FELLOWS, named QUAMINA, PRINCE, HARRY, SAWNEY, POMPEY, JAMIE this country born, and another of the same name of the Angola country.”

That same issue also included advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children whose attempts to escape had failed. One reported that a “NEGRO FELLOW, and A WENCH, with A CHILD about two months old” had been “TAKEN UP” about twenty miles from Augusta near the end of January. The arrival of the child may have been the primary motivation for Sampson and Molly to flee when they did, departing shortly after Molly gave birth. Two other advertisements described captured runaways who had been “Brought to the Work-house” until slaveholders claimed them, a “NEW NEGRO FELLOW, who calls himself CATO” and Michael, a “TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW … of the Coromantee country.” These prisoners each considered the possible punishments for running away worth the risk of obtaining their freedom if they managed to make it to safety without being captured.

Georgia Gazette (April 12, 1769).

Some of their advertisements were among the most visible items in the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement about Abram, for instance, featured a crude woodcut of an enslaved man on the run. It was one of only four visual images in the entire issue. Two other advertisements for freight and passage had woodcuts of ships; the masthead depicted a lion and unicorn flanking a crown. The woodcut drew attention to the description of Abram, just as the headline “Brought to the Work-house” in gothic type distinguished those advertisements from others. The compositor deployed that font sparingly throughout the rest of the issue, but did so consistently for “Brought to the Work-house” advertisements, not only in the April 12 issue but week after week. These decisions about typography and graphic design significantly increased the visibility of many advertisements about enslaved men and women who attempted to escape, underscoring how disruptive and dangerous colonists considered such acts of resistance.

March 29

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Georgia Gazette (March 29, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … A NEGRO FELLOW, named ABRAM.”

This advertisement contains the description of a runaway slave named Abram, including what he was wearing and distinguishing marks, and a reward for returning him. In running away, Abram participated in an his own act of resistance during a time of growing tensions between the British and the colonists. Unsurprisingly, many slaves were always looking for ways to become free. Noticing this sentiment, the governor of Virginia issued Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation on November 7, 1775. This proclamation offered freedom to slaves that belonged to people that were supporting or taking part in the war against the British, so long as they took up arms with the British against their masters. Many slaves took up this offer; according to Maya Jasanoff in Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, approximately 20,000 slaves joined up with the British. As for the Americans, many people who owned slaves had reservations against arming those that they had held in bondage. Jasanoff says only around 5,000 slaves fought for the colonists.[1] According to Ray Raphael, “Some who fought for the patriots were sent back into slavery at war’s end. … Patriot leaders in the South offered enslaved people as bounties to entice white recruits.”[2] It is not hard to see that slaves may have thought that their best shot at freedom would have been with the British instead of the colonists, who were not above using them as currency to entice more people to join their cause.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

At a glance, the pages of the Georgia Gazette may appear rather static to modern eyes. Like most other colonial printers, James Johnston filled his newspaper with dense text and very few visual images. Yet careful attention to the issues published in early 1769 reveals variations in organization and typography that suggest Johnston and others who worked in his printing office experimented with how they presented the news and other content in the Georgia Gazette.

The March 29, 1769, edition, for instance, included another advertisement with the advertiser’s name in large gothic font, replicating an innovative visual element adopted by other advertisers in recent weeks. This time, John Johnston called on prospective customers to purchase bread.

Johnston also distributed advertisements throughout the entire issue, an organizational strategy repeated from other recent issues. Paid notices, along with the usual colophon, filled both columns of the last page. Every other page featured at least one advertisement. Two appeared at the bottom of the second column on the first page. Another, Johnston’s advertisement, ran at the top of the second column on the second page. Perhaps those on the first page served, in part, as filler to complete the column. Even so, Johnston made a choice not to continue with news coverage. The first item on the next page, news from Corsica, would have fit in the remaining space on the first page if Johnston had wished to continue with news rather than switch to advertising. Similarly, it would be difficult to argue that Johnston’s advertisement on the second page appeared there solely to neatly complete a column. Its position at the top of the column forced Johnston to continue the last item on the page, a moral tale, on the following page.

The advertisement about Abram making his escape ran in the first column on the third page, immediately following the conclusion of the moral tale. News from Savannah, including the usual lists from the customs house, appeared below it. Advertisements completed the column and the rest of the page. On the third page, Johnston switched between paid notices and other content multiple times rather than grouping all of the advertisements together. Readers holding open the newspaper to peruse the second and third pages encountered a hodgepodge of content, with advertisements in three of the four columns.

Some colonial printers chose to reserve advertising for the final pages of their newspapers, inserting paid notices only after all other content appeared. That was often Johnston’s strategy when he had only enough advertising to fill the last page. On occasions that he had more than would fit on the final page, however, he experimented with interspersing advertisements among news and other content throughout the rest of the issue. This strategy likely increased the chances readers noticed some of those advertisements since they were not consigned to space reserved solely for paid notices. Anyone seeking just the news had to make more effort to distinguish among the various types of content in the Georgia Gazette when Johnston spread out the advertisements.

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[1] Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (New York: Penguin, 2011), 361.

[2] Ray Raphael, Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past, rev. ed. (New York: New Press, 2014), 216.

March 8

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Georgia Gazette (March 8, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … CUFFY and BERSHEBA.”

Slavery advertisements were common in eighteenth-century newspapers, especially in the Georgia Gazette and other newspapers in southern colonies,. In the advertisement, Shand and Henderson offered a monetary reward for two of their slaves who ran away: Cuffy and Bersheba. They offered twenty shillings for each of them. This was one of six advertisements concerning slavery in this issue. In the Georgia Gazette, advertisements for slaves were just as common as advertisements for tea, household goods, and property for sale.

In a chapter on “Runaway Advertisements in Colonial Newspapers,” Victoria Bissell Brown and Timothy J. Shannon discuss how colonists saw slaves as material goods, not as human beings. “One of the great advantages to reading these advertisements in their original context is to comprehend how casually colonial Americans bought and sold human laborers.”[1] Based on the look inside colonial society that newspapers give us, we are able to see how colonists in the eighteenth century did not think twice about seeing an advertisement for a runaway slave next to one for a stray horse. As revolution drew closer to becoming a reality, slavery began to decline in the north but it remained strong in the south, where advertisements like this one were very common.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Olivia notes that in addition to Shand and Henderson’s notice about Cuffy and Bersheba making their escape, five other advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children appeared in the March 8, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Two of them reported on runaways that had been captured. Two offered enslaved people for sale, wile the final one offered an enslaved woman “To be hired out” as a domestic servant. When it came to such advertisements in the Georgia Gazette, this was actually relatively few compared to most issues. That newspaper often featured a dozen or more advertisements related to enslavement. They constituted an important source of revenue for James Johnston, the printer.

Olivia challenges us to consider how unremarkable white colonists found these advertisements that appeared week after week throughout the colonial period. This certainly reveals something significant about the attitudes of most colonists, but these advertisements also tell important stories about the experiences of enslaved people. Consider not only Cuffy and Bersheba but also their counterparts in the advertisements reporting Africans and African Americans who had been “TAKEN UP” or “”Brought to the Work-house.” Cuffy and Bersheba were both approximately twenty-five years old. Both spoke “good English,” indicating that they were either born in the colonies or had been transported there quite some time ago. When they made their escape, Cuffy had “leg irons on” (and Bersheba may have as well, though the wording of the advertisement does not make it clear). Shand and Henderson made every effort to keep them around, but Cuffy and Bersehba were determined to free themselves. Sampson, Molly, and an unnamed infant were discovered “on the Indian Country Path,” making their escape from a “master [who] lives near the salt water.” Sampson “speaks such bad English as scarcely to be understood,” suggesting that he may not have been enslaved his entire life. Michael, a “TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW” who had been confined to the workhouse in Savannah definitely had not been born into slavery in Georgia. He spoke little English. The advertisement reported that he was “of the Coromantee country” and had “his country marks thus ||| on each side of his face,” referring to ritual scarification.

Each of these advertisements provides a miniature and incomplete biography of enslaved people who attempted to seize their own liberty in the era of the American Revolution. White colonists placed them for one reason, recovering their human property, but these advertisements ultimately served an unintended purpose. They testified to the agency and resistance of enslaved men and women. Although not in their own words, these advertisements tell the stories of people who had few opportunities to create documents that recorded their own experiences.

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[1] Victoria Bissell Brown and Timothy J. Shannon, Going to the Source: The Bedford Reader in American History (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004), 48.

March 1

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

Georgia Gazette (March 1, 1769).

“He is branded on the breast IW in small letters.”

In this particular advertisement for a runaway slave, the vivid description suggests the desperation to find him. Including a reward made the search that much more enticing. A key detail in the advertisement states the slave, named Bristol, was “Angola born.” He was brought to the West Indies, then eventually to Georgia. This implies the slave has been sold multiple times. Coming from the West Indies with a brand also became a telltale sign he had previous masters. In addition, Bristol speaks “pretty good English,” which implies he had been enslaved long enough to learn the language. With the demand for slave labor and the revenue it produced, masters circulated their slaves for profit. The amount of information and detail provided in the advertisement allows for readers to reconstruct the story of Bristol.

The brand on Bristol’s breast, “IW in small letters,” helped to identify him. Betty Wood examines the practice of branding enslaved people: “If they had not been branded before leaving Africa, then there was a good chance that it would happen to them upon their arrival in America.”[1] Branding, using a “red-hot iron,” was a common technique to leave an imprint upon the bodies of slaves. Typically, the brand was stamped on the chest, shoulder, or cheek. The act of branding by slave owners made a bold statement; it displayed complete ownership and possession of the slave. The visual image of a brand made a statement, to deny the humanity of people of African origin. To put branding in perspective, this type of treatment was used on animals, such as cattle and horses, to keep track of them if they became lost. Similar to the runaway slave Bristol, the origins of other enslaved people could be traced through the symbol branded upon their body.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

By the time George McIntosh’s advertisement concerning Bristol ran in the March 1, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, the runaway had been absent for nearly seven weeks. McIntosh reported that Bristol “WENT AWAY” on January 13. Also by early March the advertisement would have been familiar to colonists who regularly read the Georgia Gazette. Dated “17th January, 1769,” it appeared in its sixth consecutive issue. McIntosh apparently submitted it to the printing office too late for inclusion in the January 18 edition, but starting on January 25 the advertisement appeared every week. By then, Bristol had been “AWAY” from McIntosh’s plantation for nearly two weeks. In the several weeks since, he continued to make good on his escape. Perhaps he had learned from a previous failed attempt and crafted a better plan. McIntosh stated that Bristol had been “taken up once before” in the area of Sunbury and Midway.

The longevity of McIntosh’s advertisement describing a man who had escaped from bondage was hardly unique, at least not compared to other advertisements that described runaways and offered rewards for their capture and return. Some ran for as long as six months before being discontinued. When such advertisements disappeared from the pages of the Georgia Gazette after so long, it most likely indicated that slaveholders decided not to make further investments in alerting the public about the runaways. After seeing the same advertisements for months, readers were probably well aware of the descriptions of the runaways and the circumstances of their escapes.

In contrast to the constant republishing of runaway advertisements, other sorts of paid notices usually ran for a much more limited time. Advertisements for consumer goods and services, for example, typically ran for three or four weeks. Merchants and shopkeepers did not make the same investment in notifying the public about their wares as slaveholders made in their attempts to reclaim their human property. Advertisements for runaway slaves were an important revenue stream for the Georgia Gazette not only because colonists placed so many of them but also because those advertisements ran for so much longer than any others.

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[1] Betty Wood, Slavery in Colonial America, 1619-1776 (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), 28.

January 21

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

Providence Gazette (January 21, 1769).

“RUN away from his Master … a well-set Negro Manm Slave, named Isaac.”

By the time the January 21, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette was published, Samuel Rose had been placing an advertisement offering a reward for “a well-set Negro Man Slave, named Isaac,” who had run away in late November of the previous year for an entire month. Isaac had “a Scar on his Forehead” and a “thick Beard.” According to Rose, the enslaved man could “play on a Fiddle, and loves strong Drink,” though savvy readers likely realized that many slaveholder exaggerated when it came to that latter detail. Rose also warned “Masters of Vessels, and others” against providing assistance, whether “carrying off or harbouring” Isaac.

The tone of this advertisement advanced starkly different rhetoric than other items published on the same page and elsewhere throughout the issue. John Carter’s advertisement for “A NEW EDITION” of Abraham Weatherwise’s “New-England TOWN and COUNTRY Almanack” filled the entire column immediately to the right. The notable contents of the almanac promoted in the advertisement included “a beautiful poetical Essay on Public Spirit, wrote by an American Patriot” and a Portrait of the celebrated JOHN WILKES, Esq.,” the radical English politician and journalist considered friendly to the American cause during the imperial crisis that led to the Revolution. In the upper left corner of the page, a poem entitled “ADDRESS to LIBERTY” by “AMERICANUS” appeared before any of advertisements. The poem lamented recent encroachments on colonists’ liberty by “tyrant Lords,” but it addressed only the position of white colonists and not enslaved men, women, and children. The poem did not make room for Isaac the justice that was supposed to be extended to English sons who had “cross’d th’atlantic Seas / To Climes unknown.” News filled most of the rest of the issue, including a “humble Address of the House of Commons to the KING.” Parliament stated that it would “be ever ready to hear any real grievance of Your Majesty’s American subjects,” but insisted it was “one of our most important duties, to maintain entire and inviolate the supreme authority of the legislature of Great-Britain, over every part of the British empire.” Colonists considered this enslavement.

Amidst all of this rhetoric circulating in conversations and the public prints, Isaac determined to seize his own liberty. Although Rose did not recognize it, the enslaved man put into action the ideals that so many of his white neighbors espoused in the late 1760s.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:22:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 22, 1768).

“A negro fellow born in Jamaica, calls himself James Williams.”

An advertisement listing fugitive slaves who had been captured and “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE” was a regular feature in newspapers published in South Carolina and Georgia in the late 1760s. The supplement that accompanied the November 22, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, for example, included an advertisement that described three such runaways: Belfast, a “new negro fellow” who “has the mark of a shot on his left thigh, which he said was done by his master,” Jenny, a “negro wench of the Angola country … of a yellow complexion, with very small breasts,” and James Williams, a “negro fellow born in Jamaica” who had been “branded on his right shoulder.” The notice indicated where each had been “taken up” before being delivered to the workhouse.

Other details hinted at more complete stories that each captured runaway could tell. That James Williams identified himself by both first and last name, for instance, was notable. He certainly had not adopted the surname of Thomas Wheeler of Kingston, the man who currently held him in bondage. What circumstances had prompted Williams to adopt that surname? What meaning did it hold for him? Which experiences had shaped his life and convinced him to seize an opportunity to make an escape? According to the notice, Williams had been “hired to one Davis, first Lieutenant of the Sterling-Castle,” but he ran away when the ship was at Cape Fear. In addition to the brand on his shoulder, he also had “the mark of a shot just below his left knee, which he says was done at the siege of the Havanna” near the end of the Seven Years War. The brief description of James Williams in the “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE” notice was an incomplete narrative of his life, as was the case for both Belfast and Jenny.

These truncated narratives stood in stark contrast to the poem, “To LIBERTY,” printed immediately to the right. Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, presented one notion of liberty for his readers to consider as colonists grappled with their deteriorating relationship with Parliament. Probably quite inadvertently, Crouch provided a companion piece with the “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE” notice. Most likely very few readers acknowledged the juxtaposition, in part because white narrators framed the experiences of runaway slaves. Given the opportunity to tell their own stories, Belfast, Jenny, and James Williams would have advanced their own understandings of liberty. Enslaved men, women, and children did not need poets or printers to teach them any lessons about what it meant to be free. Through the act of running away, they testified that they already understood.

September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (September 19, 1768).

“ABSENTED himself … a negro fellow named BROMLEY.”

Throughout the summer of 1768 Thomas Shirley inserted the same advertisement in all three newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina. Dated June 8, Shirley’s notice had two parts. In the shorter first portion Shirley described a yawl either “DRIFTED or STOLEN from the Brigantine Prince-of-Wales, Thomas Mason, Master.” He offered a “TWO DOLLARS reward” for its return. In a much lengthier second portion Shirley described Cyrus and Bromley, two enslaved men, who had “ABSENTED themselvesfrom the Schooner Mary, John Doran, Master.” Shirley did not suspect that the runaways had stolen the yawl but instead reported that he suspected “they went off in a Canoe for Ponpon, where Bromley has a wife who belongs to William Harvey.” Shirley provided approximate ages and heights for both fugitives. He also noted that Cyrus “has both his ears cropt” and “his cheeks branded,” likely as punishment for prior acts of disobedience. The enslaved man must have earned some notoriety in the area. Shirley determined that he was “so well known as to need no further description.” As for Bromley, Shirley indicated that he sometimes went by the name Chippenham and “speaks good English.” He concluded by offering rewards for the capture and return of the runaways as well as rewards for information leading to the conviction of anyone who provided them assistance.

That advertisement appeared for the last time in early September. Starting with the September 19 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, a much shorter notice replaced it. Shirley no longer advertised the missing yawl or the infamous Cyrus, but he continued to seek the capture and return of Bromley. He offered a little more information to help readers recognize the fugitive, noting the clothing he wore when he made his escape: “a seaman’s jacket, trowsers and check shirt.” Shirley also stated that Bromley was “well known in Charles-Town and Winyaw, having sailed a considerable time with Captain Henry Richardson.”

What promoted theses revisions to an advertisement that ran for nearly three months? Had Cyrus been captured? Did Shirley receive information indicating that Cyrus was somehow beyond his reach? Had something else happened that caused Shirley to cease advertising Cyrus? The new advertisement no longer mentioned Bromley’s wife in Ponpon. Why not? Had she undergone so much interrogation and surveillance that Shirley determined that his assumption that Bromley would make his way to her was a false lead? What kinds of experiences did she have after her husband and an accomplice fled from Shirley? Perhaps the slaveholder placed too much emphasis on Bromley’s possible attempt to seek refuge with his wife. In the new advertisement he acknowledged that Bromley previously experienced a fair amount of mobility when hired out as a sailor with Captain Richardson. That may have given Bromley more room to maneuver and make good on his escape rather than placing his wife in greater danger by drawing her into a conspiracy.

Like every other runaway advertisement, this one tells a truncated story filtered through the perspective of the slaveholder who composed and placed the notice in the public prints. Unlike most other runaway advertisements, this one provides a second chapter, yet it still raises as many questions as it answers. It does confirm that Bromley continued to elude Shirley, at least for the moment, but it does not definitively reveal anything more about Cyrus or Bromley’s unnamed wife.