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.

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.