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).


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.

October 31

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

Oct 31 - 10:31:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 31, 1769).

“RAN-away … a Negro Man named Titus.”

Titus was determined to make his escape from Thomas Jaques, the man who enslaved him. He fled sometime during the night of October 18, 1769, prompting Jaques to pen a notice to insert in the next several issues of the Essex Gazette. Based on the description in the advertisement, Titus would have been difficult to miss if any readers encountered him. According to Jaques, Titus “stutters considerably when he speaks, and hath lost Part of his great Toe on one Foot.” Perhaps most significantly, he also “had a Span of Iron, with a Chain fastned to it on one Leg.” The chain may have been part of an unsuccessful effort to prevent Titus from making his escape. After all, Jaques had some experience with Titus attempting to seize his own liberty. Just a few months earlier, in advertisements dated July 19, Jaques described Titus and offered a reward for his return. He indicated in his new advertisement that “Said Negro is the same that ran away from me the middle of July.”

That Titus had once again found himself under the thrall of Jaques suggests that the advertisement placed in the summer produced results. Jaques did not explain how he managed to capture Titus, but he apparently considered advertising an effective tool because he resorted to it once again. Such advertisements serve as narratives of resistance that often lack definitive conclusions. Modern readers can hope that enslaved people like Titus made good on their escapes, but often the documentary record does not include evidence one way or the other. This particular advertisement does confirm that, unfortunately, Titus did not managed to remove himself from the grasp of Jaques. Yet it also reveals that Titus was not deterred by that setback. He tried again …

… and again and again. Molly O’Hagan Hardy has identified two other advertisements about Titus’s attempts to escape, one from 1772 and the other from 1773. In addition to those instances, Lise Breen has documented two others. As colonists transitioned from resistance to revolution, Titus again fled from his enslavers in 1774 and 1775. Again, newspaper advertisements may have been effective in helping to capture Titus and return him to those who held him in bondage. Advertisements describing him, offering rewards, and warning “Masters of Vessels” against “harbouring, concealing, or carrying off said Negro” appeared alongside news about colonists demanding their liberty and editorials excoriating Parliament for its abuses. Through it all, Titus embodied a revolutionary spirit, repeatedly seeking his own freedom from bondage.

September 14

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

Sep 14 - 9:14:1769 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (September 14, 1769).
“RUN away … a Mulatto slave.”

The digitization of historical sources has made them much more widely accessible to scholars and the general public. Anyone with an internet connection, for instance, can access this advertisement from the September 14, 1769, edition of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette. Colonial Williamsburg has made the entire issue, along with hundreds of other newspapers published in Williamsburg from 1736 to 1780, available via their Digital Library.

These sources, however, sometimes obscure portions of the past even as they provide greater illumination for other parts. Everyday use damaged some sources even before they found their way into an archive or library. Others have suffered the ravages of time. Poor photography has contributed to the illegibility of some digital surrogates.

Consider today’s featured advertisement. At a glance, readers can identify it as an advertisement for a runaway thanks to the mostly legible first two words as well as the muddy outline of a woodcut depicting a fugitive. Although such woodcuts most often accompanied advertisements about enslaved people who escaped, they sometimes appeared in notices about indentured servants and convict servants. Readers with experience examining similar advertisements might spot the word “Mulatto” on the second line and then reasonably extrapolate it to “Mulatto slave.” Most of the rest of the advertisement is illegible, except for the name of the advertiser at the end. Who was the slaveholder who sought the return of an enslaved person who attempted to escape from bondage? Thomas Jefferson.

Like most other eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, especially runaway advertisements, this notice ran for multiple weeks. Sometimes this allows readers the opportunity to read the same advertisement in another issue, but in this case other insertions are not much more legible. Jefferson’s advertisement first ran on September 7. Look for it near the top of the third column on the third page. A portion of the page was cut out at some point. What remains of Jefferson’s advertisement is only partially legible, but not his name on the final line. The advertisement ran again on September 21, the first item in the final column on the final page. The digital image of this insertion is more legible; an experienced reader could carefully transcribe most of the advertisement. The advertisement is accessible, but not easy to read. This time the fault appears to lie with poor photography rather than the vagaries of time damaging the page.

Due to the prominence of the enslaver who sought the return of his human property, this advertisement has been transcribed and made widely available by the National Archives. The presentation includes the complete text, but not an image, of the advertisement. Other content from the September 14 edition of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette, including an advertisement for “sundry SLAVES” to the right of Jefferson’s notice, remains inaccessible via digital surrogates. Other extant copies may be much more legible, but readers who rely on digitized sources do not have ready access to those. Digitization of historical sources helps to tell a more complete story of the past, but the digitization does not necessarily make any source readily accessible.

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).


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.



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).


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.”



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


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

Georgia Gazette (March 29, 1769).


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.



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.


[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


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

Georgia Gazette (March 8, 1769).


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.



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.


[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.