November 28

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

Boston-Gazette (November 26, 1770).

“Stolen … a large Chesnut Canoe … taken away by Mr. Wait’s Negro.”

In the fall of 1770, Samuel Clark placed an advertisement about a stolen canoe in the Boston-Gazette.  That “large Chesnut Canoe, about 14 Feet long,” was connected to advertisements that appeared in newspapers in four colonies, though those notices were concerned with Pompey, also known as Pomp, an enslaved man who liberated himself, rather than a stolen canoe.

When Pompey made his escape, Aaron Waitt, his enslaver, ran a series of advertisements in Essex Gazette, Providence Gazette, New-London Gazette, and New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Waitt sought the assistance of newspaper readers in New England and New York in capturing and returning Pompey to bondage.  To that end, Waitt offered a description of the young man, including his approximate age, height, and clothing.  To help identify this fugitive seeking freedom, Waitt noted that Pomp had “a large Scar on one Part of his Forehead.”  The enslaved man, “a Leather-Dresser by Trade,” spoke “good English.”

Waitt knew something of Pompey’s movements.  He reported in his advertisements that Pompey had been spotted “on board the Sloop Free Mason, John Rogers, Master,” which departed from East Greenwich, Rhode Island, for New York and then the Carolinas on October 18.  Waitt suspected that Pompey would disembark in New York.  From there he could either remain in the bustling urban port or seek out other places to elude capture.  Waitt placed advertisements in newspapers published in both New York and Connecticut in anticipation of both possibilities.

Considered together, Waitt’s advertisements provided more information about Pompey’s means of liberating himself than most eighteenth-century newspaper notices about enslaved men and women who, from the perspective of their enslavers, “ran away.”  Yet Waitt’s advertisements document Pompey’s plans only after he made it to Rhode Island and continued his venture from there.  Clarke’s notice about a stolen canoe presents additional information about the initial portion of Pompey’s journey to freedom.  He conjectured that his canoe had been “taken away by Mr. Wait’s Negro of Salem,” referencing current events as reported in newspaper advertisements circulating at the time.

Although placed for the purposes of surveilling Black bodies and returning Black people to colonists who purported to own them, newspaper advertisements can also be used to reconstruct some of the experiences of enslaved people.  Pompey did not have an opportunity to record his own narrative in print, but, unintentionally, Waitt and Clarke told a story of a determined man who took advantage of various resources.  Pompey appropriated a canoe to put some distance between himself and his enslaver, then he boarded a ship heading to one of the busiest ports in the colonies to make it even more difficult for Waitt to lay hands on him.  Printers who published Waitt’s advertisements became accomplices in his endeavor, but in the process they inadvertently recorded the story of Pompey’s courage, ingenuity, and resistance.

November 9

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

New-London Gazette (November 9, 1770).

“Said Negro was seen on board Capt. John Rogers’s Sloop.”

When Pompey, an enslaved man, liberated himself by running away in the fall of 1770, Aaron Waitt enlisted the power of the press in his efforts to capture him.  Waitt initially placed advertisements in his local newspaper, the Essex Gazette, to alert residents of Salem, Massachusetts, and the surrounding area that Pompey had departed without his permission.  He provided a description, noting in particular that Pompey was about twenty-three years old, had a scar on his forehead, and wore a dark coat.

The advertisements in the Essex Gazette did not produce the results that Waitt desired, in large part because Pompey understood that mobility was one of the best strategies for freeing himself.  According to advertisements that Waitt subsequently placed in the New-London Gazette, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, and the Providence Gazette, Pompey boarded “John Roger’s Sloop,” the Free Mason, “at East-Greenwich, in the Colony of Rhode Island” on October 18 and then sailed to New York.  Pompey apparently tried to place himself out of reach of his enslaver, but that only prompted Waitt to broaden the scope of his advertising to newspapers in other colonies.  When he did so, he added details to aid readers in identifying Pompey.  Waitt noted the enslaved man’s height and reported that he was “a Leather-Dresser by Trade” who “speaks good English.

Waitt’s advertisements in several newspapers published in New England and New York contributed to a culture of surveillance of Black men already in place in the colonies.  Advertisements for enslaved people who liberated themselves amounted to an eighteenth-century version of racial profiling, encouraging readers far and wide to scrutinize Black people when they encountered them.  Waitt and others asked colonists to carefully observe the bodies, clothing, and comportment of Black men and women to determine whether they matched the descriptions published in newspapers.  In the case of Waitt and Pompey, such efforts were not confined to one locality or media market but instead extended across an entire region as the enslaver inserted advertisements in multiple newspapers.

November 3

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

Providence Gazette (November 3, 1770).

“RUN away … a Negro Man Servant, named Pomp.”

Like all newspapers published in colonial America, the Providence Gazette ran several sorts of “runaway” advertisements.  These included notices about indentured servants and apprentices who departed from their masters before their time of service concluded.  Other notices described enslaved people who seized their liberty, offering rewards to readers who captured them and returned them to bondage.  Husbands also turned to the public prints to place notices about disobedient wives who “eloped” from them.  Unlike the advertisements for indentured servants, apprentices, and enslaved people, these did not seek the return of wives to their husbands but instead warned that the aggrieved spouse would no longer pay debts accumulated by their absent wives.  The subjects of these notices were uniformly depicted as the transgressors, yet the advertisements implicitly testified to discord and exploitation perpetrated by the advertisers.  Runaways exercised one form of power available to them as they sought to improve their circumstances.

The various kinds of runaway advertisements promoted a culture of surveillance in early America, enlisting colonists to scrutinize the bodies, clothing, and comportment of people they encountered.  In particular, such notices focused attention on people who, at a glance, appeared to belong among the ranks of the lower sorts.  The November 3, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette featured an advertisement concerning Pomp (or Pompey), “a Negro Man Servant,” who escaped from his enslaver.  Aaron Waitt described Pomp’s age, physical characteristics, including a scar on his forehead, clothing, and linguistic ability, noting that he “speaks good English.”  Waitt resided in Salem, Massachusetts, and also placed notices in the Essex Gazette, the newspaper published in that town.  Yet he apparently traced Pomp as far as Rhode Island, asserting that he received reports that the fugitive seeking freedom boarded the Free Mason when it sailed from East Greenwich to New York and Carolina.  Waitt used the public prints to encourage surveillance of Black men while targeting Pomp far beyond the towns in the vicinity of Salem. No matter the distance that Pomp put between himself and his enslaver, he had to be wary about encountering colonists who had seen the advertisements that described him and offered rewards for his capture and return.

October 2

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

Essex Gazette (October 2, 1770).

Ranaway … a Negro Man, named Jack.”

“Elizabeth, my Wife, hath left my Bed and Board.”

Interspersed among the advertisements for consumer goods and services that ran in the October 2, 1770, edition of the Essex Gazette, another kind of advertisement documented disruptions to the social order.  Two versions of “runaway” notices appeared in that issue, one concerning an enslaved man who liberated himself and the other concerning a woman who left her husband.  In both instances, the advertisers attempted to use the power of the press to assert their authority and return to good order (as they understood it).

Joseph Homan reported that “a Negro Man, named Jack” made his escape from bondage sometime during the night of September 17.  He offered a reward to readers and other members of the community who captured and returned Jack.  To help others recognize the fugitive, Homan noted that Jack was “near 50 Years of Age” and “speaks bad English.”  He also provided descriptions of the clothes Jack wore when he departed, but also noted that he may have changed.  Given the uncertainty of what Jack might have been wearing, any Black man over the age of forty became a suspect worthy of scrutiny and surveillance.

James Messer stated that his wife, Elizabeth, “hath left my Bed and Board.”  He feared that “she may run me in Debt,” so placed his advertisement as a warning for others “not to trust her on my Account.”  He resolutely declared that he would “not pay one Farthing of Debt that she shall contract.”  All in all, Messer’s advertisement followed a standard format for such notices.

Jack the formerly enslaved man and Elizabeth the absent wife certainly had different experiences and endured different challenges, yet their stories had similarities as well.  Neither of them inhabited a position of authority, yet they exercised power when they chose to depart.  Neither Jack nor Elizabeth published their own version of events in the Essex Gazette.  Instead, an enslaver and an aggrieved husband placed advertisements meant to vilify Jack and Elizabeth, providing incomplete narratives.  Neither advertiser could be taken at their word to tell the entire story, then or now.  Contrary to the purposes for which they were placed, their newspaper notices provided evidence that people who were supposed to be subordinate and submissive did not simply accept those roles.  Jack liberated himself, the abuses and hardships he had endured untold by Homan.  Elizabeth removed herself from her husband’s household, that act only hinting at greater domestic discord that motivated her to take action.  Cast as the offenders by Homan and Messer, Jack and Elizabeth demonstrated courage and conviction when they asserted their autonomy and sought to transform their lives for the better.

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.