August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:23:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 23, 1770).

“Two Negro Men, supposed to have gone off in Company.”

Two Black men, known to their enslavers as Boston and Newport, liberated themselves in the summer of 1770.  They escaped from Isaac Coit and Robert Kinsman of Plainfield, Connecticut, during the night of August 8.  Coit and Kinsman, in turn, immediately set about placing newspaper advertisements describing Boston and Newport and offering rewards in hopes of enlisting other colonists in capturing the Black men and returning them to enslavement.  Unlike most enslavers who placed such advertisements in a single newspaper or multiple newspapers in a single city, Coit and Kinsman broadened the scope of their surveillance and recovery efforts by inserting advertisements in five newspapers published in five cities and towns in four colonies.  In addition to the reward they offered, they made an investment in advertisements that ran in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, the New-London Gazette, the New-York Journal, and the Providence Gazette.

Although similar, these advertisements were not identical.  The variations tell a more complete story of the escape devised by Boston and Newport.  Consider the notice that ran in the New-London Gazette.  Dated August 9 (first appearing in the August 10 edition) and signed by Coit, it featured Boston only, describing him as “a stout, thick-set fellow, of middling stature, about 30 years old, very black.”  It was the only advertisement that included a visual image, a crude woodcut of a Black person in motion, wearing a grass skirt and carrying a staff, an “R” for runaway on the chest.  Another advertisement dated August 9 ran in the New-York Journal, but that one included the descriptions of both Boston and Newport.  It did not appear until August 23, likely due to the time it took for the copy to arrive in the printing office in New York from Plainfield.  An undated advertisement with almost identical copy also ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on August 18, likely dispatched to the printing office at the same time as the one sent to New York.  Coit and Kinsman both signed it.  They noted in the final paragraph that “Said Negroes have Passes, and if apprehended, ‘tis requested the Passes may be secured for the Benefit of their Masters.”  Quite likely Coit sent the copy for his advertisement concerning Boston to the New-London Gazette, the newspaper closest to Plainfield, prior to discovering that Newport liberated himself from Kinsman.  When the enslavers realized that Boston and Newport liberated themselves on the same night, they collaborated on new advertisements with a narrative updated from what ran in the New-London Gazette.  The new version stated that Boston and Newport were suspected “to have gone off in Company,” a conspiracy to free themselves.  Determining that they had passes may have caused Coit and Kinsman to widen the scope of their efforts by publishing in multiple newspapers in New England and New York, realizing that the passes increased the mobility and chances of escape for Boston and Newport.

Two other advertisements, those that ran in the Connecticut Courant and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, had identical copy.  They included short descriptions of Boston and Newport, signed by Coit and Kinsman.  In a nota bene, they declared, “It is suspected said Negroes have got a forg’d Pass.”  These advertisements were both dated August 10.  The notice in the Hartford newspaper first appeared on August 13 and in the Boston newspaper on August 16.  As the enslavers fretted about Boston and Newport having better prospects for making good on their escape thanks to the passes, they likely determined that they needed to place notices in additional newspapers.  Doing so amounted to an effort to recruit more colonists to participate in the surveillance of Black men to determine whether they might be Boston or Newport.

Advertisements for enslaved men and women who liberated themselves appeared in American newspapers just about every day in the era of the American Revolution.  The advertisements concerning Boston and Newport were not unique in their content or purpose.  What made them extraordinary was the geographic scope of the newspapers in which they appeared and the effort and expense undertaken by the enslavers Coit and Kinsman.  They marshalled the power of the press across a vast region in their attempt to return Boston and Newport to bondage.

August 18

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

Aug 18 - 8:18:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 18, 1770).

“Said Negroes are supposed to have Passes.”

In eighteenth-century newspapers, advertisements often served as a supplemental source of news.  Paid notices delivered information about current events that editors did not necessarily select for inclusion among the news articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  Advertisements about “runaways,” enslaved people who liberated themselves, fit into this category of paid notices that delivered the news.

Consider an advertisement concerning “two Negro Men,” Boston and Newport, “supposed to have gone off in Company” with each other that ran in the August 18 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The enslavers who placed the advertisement, Isaac Coit and Robert Kinsman of Plainsfield, Connecticut, provided lengthy descriptions of Boston, “a thick-set, well-built Fellow, of a middle Stature, about 30 Years of Age very black,” and Newport, “a well-built Fellow, of a lesser Size than the former, and not so clear a Black, about 24 Years of Age.”  In addition to these physical descriptions, Coit and Kinsman listed all of the clothing that Boston and Newport took with them, hoping that “a Snuff-coloured Velvet Jacket, lined with Calimanco, having Horn Buttons nearly of the same Colour” would help vigilant colonists recognize Boston or that “a Pair of Brown Fustian Breeches” would aid in identifying Newport.  The enslavers also suspected that Boston and Newport “have Passes,” though they did not elaborate on how the enslaved men had acquired those passes, whether they were literate enough to forge passes for themselves or if an accomplice provided them.  Coit and Kinsman may not have known; they “requested the Passes may be secured for the Benefit of their Masters,” perhaps in hopes of examining them to determine their origins and prevent Boston, Newport, and other enslaved people from making use of other passes in subsequent attempts to liberate themselves.

Placed for the purpose of capturing Boston and Newport in order to return them to bondage, this advertisement operated as a news report that supplemented the other contents of the Providence Gazette.  As readers perused the paid notices in the August 18, 1770, edition, they learned of impoverished colonists seeking “the Benefit of an Act … for the Relief of insolvent Debtors,” a burglary in Middletown, Connecticut, a variety of goods “STOPPED” because they were “Supposed to have been stolen,” and the efforts of Boston and Newport to seize their own liberty.  Since printers often focused on reprinting news from faraway places, local news appeared among the advertisements.

July 4

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

Jul 4 - 7:4:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 4, 1770).

“RUN away … JACK is a Negro Man … TONY is a brown Indian Man.”

The July 4, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette include an advertisement that advised readers of “A SCHOONER STOLEN” and the two enslaved men responsible for absconding with it.  Although the advertisement asserted that Jack, “a Negro Man,” and Tony, “a brown Indian Man,” had “RUN away … with perhaps some others not yet discovered,” it actually told a truncated story of enslaved men who liberated themselves.  Such advertisements had been a regular feature of colonial American newspapers since the Boston News-Letter commenced publication in 1704.  Enslaved people had been liberating themselves long before that.

According to William Lyford, Jack and Tony stole his “PILOT BOAT” and made their escape “from Cockspur in the province of Georgia.”  To help readers identify the two men, Lyford noted their heights and also reported that Tony spoke “good English and Spanish,” while Jack spoke “very good English, and can write indifferently well,” a skill that he might have planned to put to use in evading capture.  Lyford also indicated that Jack “was brought up at Lancaster inEngland, and purchased from Capt. Addison of that port.”  He did not insert other details about the two men, but instead provided an extensive description of the boat before offering a reward “for bringing back the said Negro, Indian, and Boat.”

This advertisement tells a story of disobedience and disorder from the perspective of an enslaver for the consumption of others that he hoped would assist in perpetuating slavery even if they did not themselves hold others in bondage.  Lyford, like so many other enslavers, sought to use the power of the press to encourage and direct surveillance of Black and Indigenous men.  His descriptions of Jack and Tony also served as instructions for scrutinizing all Black and Indigenous men to determine whether they were the enslaved men who had stolen the pilot boat and made their escape.  Lyford attempted to frame Jack and Tony’s actions as unruly and dangerous, but their rebelliousness did not neatly fit within that narrative.  In making their escape, appropriating Lyford’s boat for that purpose, Jack and Tony engaged in a powerful act of resistance.  They liberated themselves.  Despite Lyford’s best efforts to set the terms, he could not deprive Jack and Tony of the agency they exerted in pursuing their own destiny.  Contrary to his intentions, Lyford’s advertisement resonates as a memorial to the courage of Jack and Tony and a truncated narrative of their resistance.

Jack and Tony liberated themselves while the colonies were in the middle of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution and independence for the United States.  White colonists lamented their figurative enslavement to Parliament, all while literally enslaving Black and Indigenous people.  Yet enslaved people understood the value of freedom and self-determination long before the upheaval between Britain and the colonies; they did not require the philosophizing of white colonists to recognize the injustices imposed upon them.  Thousands of newspaper advertisements for “runaways,” for enslaved people who liberated themselves, published throughout the colonies before and during the era of the American Revolution demonstrate that was the case.

In 1770, colonists did not know that July 4 would become such an important date.  It was not yet known as Independence Day, but it was a day of independence for Jack and Tony, just as it was for other enslaved people who liberated themselves, some of them documented in newspaper advertisements.  Since the inception of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, the Adverts 250 Project has featured advertisements about enslaved people who liberated themselves on July 4, both in celebration of their acts of resistance and as a reminder of the tension between liberty and enslavement that was the paradox of the American founding.  In addition to the story of Jack and Tony in 1770, read more about the story of Caesar in 1767, the story of Harry, Peg, and their two children in 1769, and the story of Guy and Limehouse in 1769.  They all made their own declarations of independence when they liberated themselves from their enslavers.

June 27

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

Jun 27 - 6:26:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 26, 1770).

“RUN AWAY … a NEGRO fellow, named July.”

No newspaper advertisements concerning enslaved people appear via the Slavery Adverts 250 Project today, but that does not mean that no such advertisements were published in the American colonies on June 27, 1770.  The absence of these advertisements is a consequence of the Georgia Gazette no longer being part of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project as of May 23.  James Johnston continued publishing the Georgia Gazette into 1776, but many editions have been lost over time.  Any surviving copies published after May 23, 1770, have not been digitized, making them less accessible to scholars and others who wish to consult them.  Of the newspapers published in 1770 that have been digitized, the Georgia Gazette was the only publication regularly distributed on Wednesdays (with dates that correspond to Saturdays in 2020), though printers in Charleston occasionally published newspapers on Wednesdays.  As a result, the Slavery Adverts 250 Projectnow inadvertently gives the impression that no advertisements concerning enslaved people circulated in colonial America on Wednesdays in 1770 even though the Georgia Gazette usually included at least half a dozen such advertisements and often significantly more.

Unfortunately, the absence of these advertisements further obscures the stories that they tell about the experiences of enslaved people in the era of the imperial crisis that resulted in the American Revolution.  Today’s featured advertisement about an enslaved man who liberated himself, a man known to his enslavers as July, comes from the June 26, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Filtered through the perspective of July’s enslaver, the advertisement tells a truncated story of Black agency and resistance similar to the stories told in advertisements that likely appeared in the Georgia Gazette on the following day.  Other advertisements in that missing issue likely told other kinds of stories, some of enslaved people for sale as individuals or in groups or “parcels” and others of enslaved people who attempted to liberate themselves but were captured and imprisoned until those who asserted mastery over them claimed them.  Advertisements that ran in other newspapers tell similar stories as those from the missing issues of the Georgia Gazette.

Relying on those proxies, however, does not as effectively reveal the number and frequency of advertisements concerning enslaved people that circulated in early American newspapers.  The Slavery Adverts 250 Project seeks not only to tell representative stories of enslaved people but also to demonstrate the magnitude of newspaper advertising as a means of perpetuating slavery in early America by identifying and republishing as many advertisements as possible, making the evidence impossible to ignore.  Like any examination of the past, work on the Slavery Adverts 250 Project is sometimes constrained by which sources have survived and are accessible and which have not survived or are not accessible. Despite its endeavor toward comprehensiveness, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project is not presenting newspaper advertisements originally published on June 27, 1770; that does not mean that advertisements concerning enslaved people did not circulate in the American colonies on that day, only that the sources are not known to exist at this time.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 23, 1770).

“RUN AWAY … BEN … of the Guiney country … TOM … very sensible and artful … his wife … BELLA.  DUBLIN … of the Ebbo country, marked on the cheeks.”

This is the last advertisement from the Georgia Gazette that will be featured on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  James Johnston founded the Georgia Gazette and printed it from April 7, 1763, through at least February 7, 1776, with a hiatus from late November 1765 through late May 1766 due to the Stamp Act.  The newspaper ultimately ceased publication due to the Revolutionary War.  Although Johnston published the Georgia Gazette from 1770 through 1776, for some of those years either no copies are extant (1771) or very few have survived (1772 and 1773), according to Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820.  Complete or extensive coverage exists for 1770, 1774, and 1775, but no copies published after May 23, 1770, have been digitized.  As a result, the Georgia Gazette will no longer be part of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.

This is unfortunate.  Printed in Savannah, the Georgia Gazette provides a glimpse of advertising in a smaller port city compared to the newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Established in 1732, Georgia was the only one of the thirteen colonies that eventually declared independence founded in the eighteenth century.  The contents of the Georgia Gazette present a city and a colony that had not yet reached the same maturity as others.  As the only newspaper regularly published on Wednesdays, it was frequently featured on this project.  Its contents document life in a southern colony, including the high proportion of advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children.  That will be the most significant loss relating to the missing or unavailable issues of the Georgia Gazette from June 1770 through May 1776.  The intersections of advertising, commerce, and culture can be examined in newspapers published in other colonies, but the stories of enslaved people that appeared only in the Georgia Gazettewill no longer play a significant role in demonstrating the ubiquity of advertising about enslaved Africans and African Americans in the early American press.

This also means that stories of courage, resistance, survival, and enslaved people seizing their own liberty during the era of the American Revolution will be truncated as the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Projectcontinue.  Consider today’s advertisement, the last one drawn from the Georgia Gazette.  The people known as Ben, Tom, Bella, and Dublin by those who enslaved them made their escape from Alexander Wylly in 1770.  The advertisement tells only a portion of their stories.  Ben “of the Guiney country” endured the Middle Passage and spoke “indifferent English.”  Tom and Bella were a couple.  Dublin “of the Ebbo country” bore ritualized scars on his cheeks, a testament to his African origins even after he learned to speak English.  Did these four escape together, perhaps led by the “very sensible and artful” Tom?  Their story, refracted through Wylly’s rendition of it, is incomplete … but it is more of their story than we would otherwise know about Ben, Tom, Bella, and Dublin.  Stories of Black people who were bought and sold and stories of Black people who escaped from those who held them in bondage appeared among the advertisements in every issue of the Georgia Gazette.  The Slavery Adverts 250 Project seeks to uncover those stories and make them more visible to both scholars and the general public.  The coming silence due to missing and unavailable issues of the Georgia Gazette will unfortunately suggest an absence of those stories, an absence that did not actually exist.

April 28

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

Apr 28 - 4:28:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 28, 1770).

“Mary, Wife of me the Subscriber, has refused my Bed and Board.”

In addition to advertisements for “CHOICE INDICO,” printed blanks, the London Coffeehouse in New London, and “Mens and Womens Shoes, Slippers, [and] Boots,” the paid notices in the April 28, 1770 edition of the Providence Gazette included two that testified to disorder.  Those advertisements described the transgressions of their subjects while simultaneously revealing that the advertisers who placed them proved unable to properly exercise their authority.

In the first, John Stewart alerted readers that his wife, Mary, “has refused my Bed and Board, and in many other respects behaved herself very indecently.”  Stewart did not provide further details about those incidents; to do so would have embarrassed him and damaged his reputation even more than placing an advertisement that deployed formulaic language about a wife who did not exercise proper deference to her husband.  Stewart may very well have preferred not to make his marital discord even more widely known in the public prints, but he needed a mechanism to prevent his recalcitrant wife from incurring debts on his account.

In the other, John McClister described “a Negroe Man, named SAM” who made his escape at the beginning of the month.  McClister warned that “All Masters of Vessels are forbid to carry [Sam] off.”  He also offered a reward to “Whoever takes up said Negroe, and secures him, so that his Master may have him again.”  Sam apparently disagreed that McClister was indeed his master.  In an age when colonists regularly denounced their figurative enslavement by Parliament, Sam refused to allow McClister to hold him in literal bondage any longer.

Both Mary Stewart and Sam deviated from the attitudes and behavior expected of them due to their subordinate status in colonial society.  As a woman and an enslaved man, respectively, they were expected to submit to the men who claimed dominion over them.  Yet Mary and Sam had other ideas.  John Stewart and Jon McClister cast them as the offenders in advertisements in the Providence Gazette, yet those notices did not reflect well on the advertisers either.  Stewart and McClister attempted to regain their authority, but in doing so they first had to publicly acknowledge that they had not been able to maintain it.

April 7

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

Apr 7 - 4:7:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1770).

“RUN-AWAY … a NEGRO FELLOW, named MONDAY.”

Newspaper coverage of the Boston Massacre in the weeks after it happened resulted in greater dissemination of advertisements entreating surveillance of Black men in South Carolina.  How did the one cause the other?  Following widespread custom, colonial printers did not write original articles about the Massacre but instead reprinted items from other newspapers.  Thus, the same story about the funeral procession for the victims appeared in both the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal within a couple of days of each other, copied either from its original source in the Boston-Gazette or another newspaper that reprinted the story from the Boston-Gazette.  Peter Timothy ran it in the April 5, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, exactly one month after the Boston Massacre took place.  The story first appeared in the March 12 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  It took nearly four weeks for it to appear in a newspaper printed in South Carolina.

Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, did not allow Timothy, his competitor, to provide the colony’s only coverage of the shocking event.  He had just published his newspaper on April 3.  Given that most colonial newspapers distributed one issue per week, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was not scheduled for another edition until April 10 … but this news was too momentous to wait that long to take it to press.  Instead, Crouch published a two-page supplement on April 7.  The entire front and much of the back of that broadsheet featured news from Boston, including a woodcut of four coffins that closely replicated the one that accompanied the original article in the Boston-Gazette.  Although other newspapers that reprinted the story included woodcuts, none were as detailed as the one in the Boston-Gazette.  That being the case, Crouch most likely drew his coverage directly from that newspaper rather than another that reprinted it.

The space required for the news from Boston left a column and a half for other content.  Crouch filled that space with advertisements, including two advertisements for enslaved men who escaped from colonists who held them in bondage.  John Marley described “a neg[r]o fellow named GEORGE” who seized his own liberty five months earlier in November.  Humphry Sommers advertised “a NEGRO FELLOW, named MONDAY,” who escaped the day before the Boston Massacre took place hundreds of miles away in Massachusetts.  Both advertisements encouraged readers to engage in careful scrutiny of Black men to determine if they might be George or Monday.  Both Marley and Sommers offered rewards to colonists who helped capture the Black men they claimed as property.  Arguably, these notices received greater attention for having appeared in a supplement devoted to the Boston Massacre than when they ran in the standard issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Had it not been for Crouch issuing that supplement, these advertisements encouraging the surveillance of Black men would not have circulated as widely.

Apr 7 - Boston Massacre in South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1770).

March 21

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

Mar 21 - 3:21:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 21, 1770).

“I forewarn the masters of vessels from carrying him off.”

When “A NEGROE FELLOW, named SAM,” made his escape, James Lucena placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to enlist readers throughout the colony in recovering the man he considered his property.  His notice followed a standard format, one familiar from newspapers published not only in Georgia but throughout British mainland North America.  He stated that Sam was “about 22 years old” and “speaks very good English.”  Lucena offered a physical description, noting that Sam was “about 5 feet 6 inches” and had ritual scars or “country marks on each side of his face this |||.”  He also offered a description of the clothing Sam wore when he escaped: “a dark grey cloth double breasted waistcoat and a white negroe cloth under jacket, a pair of green negroe cloth long trowsers, and a round sailor’s cap.”  He may have considered additional details unnecessary since Sam was “well known in and about Savannah.”  All of these details encouraged readers to take special note of the physical characteristics, clothing, and even speech of Black men they encountered.

Lucena was just as concerned about accomplices who aided Sam, especially “masters of vessels” who might depart the port of Savannah and transport Sam far away from Georgia and far beyond Lucena’s ability to force Sam back into bondage.  Lucena appended a nota bene to the conclusion of his advertisement, asserting that “Said negroe is suspected to be concealed on board some vessel.”  Sam could have hidden on board unknown to any of the crew, but Lucena suggested that he received assistance from sailors or even officers.  Mariners throughout the eighteenth-century Atlantic world were an exceptionally egalitarian community, often suspected of providing assistance to enslaved men in their efforts to escape.  Lucena warned that anyone who aided Sam “may depend on being prosecuted to the utmost rigour of the law.”  Like other colonies, Georgia enacted statutes to punish both enslaved men and women who escaped and anyone who “concealed,” harbored, or otherwise assisted them.  Lucena’s advertisement encouraged surveillance of Black men, but it also called for scrutiny of mariners and anyone who might be suspected of being sympathetic to Sam and others who seized their liberty.

January 24

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

Jan 24 - 1:24:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 24, 1770).

“RUN AWAY … A STOUT LIKELY NEGROE FELLOW, named TIM.”

A dozen advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children ran in the January 24, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Some offered them for sale like commodities. One sought skilled laborers, sawyers and squarers, “on Hire by the Year,” with the wages going to the enslaver rather than the workers. A regular feature, the “Brought to the Work-house” notice that often appeared as the last item on the final page of the Georgia Gazette, described four “NEGROE FELLOWS” captured and confined until those who asserted ownership claimed them.

In the midst of all the depictions of selling and imprisoning of enslaved people spread throughout the colony’s only newspaper, the vast majority of them unnamed in the advertisements, two notices did include names, at least the names that enslavers called those they held in bondage. Charlotte, a woman born in the colonies and “well known about Savannah,” escaped from William Mackenzie a week earlier. Tim, a man “about 30 years of age, Carolina born,” escaped more than a month earlier. Readers could recognize him by his “white whitney great coat, [and] red stroud breeches” as well as by his stutter if they attempted to engage him in conversation or challenge him with questions. Perhaps most distinctively, at some point Tim had been “branded on the left cheek” with the letter “R,” perhaps denoting “runaway” after a previous unsuccessful attempt to make good on his escape.

Like all of the advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children, filtered through the perspectives of enslavers, these two advertisements for “runaways” tell exceptionally abbreviated stories about their experiences. Although incomplete, they testify to a spirit of resistance and survival in the era of the American Revolution. As colonists decried their figurative enslavement to Parliament during the imperial crisis, Charlotte and Tim did not need a tutorial on the meaning of liberty. The fragmentary evidence in newspaper advertisements does not allow historians and others to reconstruct their stories as completely as the stories of white colonists who left behind more documents, but those notices do give us a glimpse of other struggles for freedom that took place during the imperial crisis. Enslaved men, women, and children had been seizing their own liberty by escaping from their captors long before the era of the American Revolution. They would continue to do so for nearly another century until slavery was abolished throughout the United States after the Civil War.

December 29

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

Dec 29 - 12:29:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (December 29, 1769).

“A negro Man named TOM … has a scar on one of his wrists.”

 

The final issue of the New-London Gazette published in 1769 included several advertisements that encouraged surveillance of Black men, women, and children. The last column consisted almost entirely of advertisements concerning enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage. Those enslaved people seized their own liberty at the same time that colonists complained about their supposed enslavement to Britain as a result of various measures enacted by Parliament, including duties levied on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.

The advertisements in the New-London Gazette encouraged readers to begin the new year by carefully observing Black people they encountered, assessing whether they matched the descriptions published in the newspaper. Each offered a reward as an incentive for participating in an eighteenth-century version of racial profiling, but only if that participation resulted in the capture and recovery of enslaved people who “Ran-away from their Master.”

Theophilus Hopkins advised colonists that Joseph Cuffe “speaks good English [and] very well understands playing on a violin.” Two other characteristics may have made him even easier to identify: he “has lost both his great toes” and he “went off in company with a small indian squaw.” Hopkins reported that Cuffe had been spotted with the Indian woman in the eastern part of Connecticut in the time since making his escape. In so doing, he encouraged colonists not only to observe individual Black people but also to take note of the company they kept.

Samuel Chapman similarly emphasized looking for specific configurations of people, in this instance a family that consisted of Newport, “a Negro Man Servant … of a light swarthy Complexion,” his wife, Sarah, and six children ranging in age from two to fifteen. The three eldest were boys – Rufus, Israel, and Gershon – followed by two girls – Rhena and Chloe – and then another boy – Amos. Like Cuffe, Newport could also be recognized by a unique physical attribute: he “has lost the Top of one or two of his Fingers on one Hand, by the firing of a Pistol.” Observers may have detected that more readily than Cuffe’s missing toes, but in each instance they were encouraged to engage in careful scrutiny of Black bodies.

Isaac Tanner of South Kingston, Rhode Island, was so eager to recapture “a negro Man named TOM” that he offered “SIX DOLLARS reward” in an advertisement in the New-London Gazette, apparently suspecting that Tom made his way to Connecticut. Tanner noted that the fugitive “often calls himself TOM CARD,” suggesting that he asserted agency in shaping his identity before making his escape. Tanner described the clothes that Card wore when he departed, but also stated that he “has a scar on one of his wrists.” Once again, an advertiser invited readers of the New-London Gazette to carefully examine Black bodies to identify or eliminate the Black people they encountered as suspected runaways.

This concentration of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children who escaped on the final page of the New-London Gazette testifies to the widespread surveillance of Black bodies in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. This was not a feature of southern colonies alone. Instead, from Georgia to New England, enslavers mobilized the press for purposes of surveillance of Black people in service of recapturing those who escaped.