Who were the subjects of advertisements in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A NEGRO GIRL, about 12 years old.”
“RAN away … Negro PRINCE.”
After many months of disseminating subscription proposals and promoting the Maryland Journal, the first newspaper published in Baltimore, William Goddard printed and distributed the first issue on August 20, 1773. In addition to subscribers, he sought advertisers to generate revenues that would make the enterprise viable. In an update that appeared in the May 20 edition of the Maryland Gazette, for instance, Goddard pledged that “seasonable notice will be given in this gazette, to give gentlemen an opportunity to advertise in the first number.” Just as John Dunlap managed to do when he launched the Pennsylvania Packet, Goddard attracted a significant number of advertisers for the first issue of the Maryland Journal. Advertising accounted for a little more than four of the twelve columns in the inaugural issue.
Those advertisements included some that previously appeared in other newspapers, including Daniel Grant’s notice that he opened an inn and tavern “at the Sign of the Fountain” in Baltimore and a lengthy notice concerning land in the Ohio River valley placed by Virginia planter and land speculator George Washington. Other advertisers included Christopher Hughes and Company, “GOLDSMITHS and JEWELLERS,” David Evans, “CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER,” Francis Sanderson, “COPPERSMITH,” Grant and Garrison, “TAYLORS,” and Mr. Rathell, “Teacher of the ENGLISH Language, Writing-master and Accomptant.”
In addition, Thomas Brereton, “COMMISSION and INSURANCE BROKER,” placed a short notice in which he “GRATEFULLY acknowledges the favours of his friends, and hopes for a continuance of their correspondence.” He also reported that he “has now for sale, a Pocket of good HOPS, a 10-inch new CABLE – and wants to buy a NEGRO GIRL about 12 years old.” In another advertisement, Richard Bennet Hall described a Black man, Prince, who had liberated himself the previously December. Prince was captured once “at Susquehanna Lower Ferry, but made his escape, and is often seen in the neighbourhood.” The formerly enslaved man managed to elude capture, but Hall hoped his advertisement would help put an end to that. He offered five dollars who anyone who detained Prince in a local jail “so that that the owner may get him again” or ten pounds and “reasonable charges” to anyone who delivered Prince to Hall in Prince George’s County. In its very first issue, the Maryland Journal became an instrument for perpetuating slavery with both a brokerage notice related to the slave trade and an advertisement encouraging readers to engage in surveillance of Black men in order to identify an enslaved man who liberated himself and assist in returning him to captivity. Goddard had prior experience publishing such advertisements in the Providence Gazette and the Pennsylvania Chronicle. From New England to Georgia, no newspaper printer in the colonies rejected advertisements about enslaved people. Instead, they solicited and accepted them as an integral part of generating revenues that underwrote publishing news and editorials.