The runaway was something of a cultural icon in early America. Rebellious young apprentices, bold African slaves, and aging indentured servants all had reason to break away from the written contracts and unwritten codes which bound them to a system of human ownership. The newspaper advertisements which proclaimed such fugitives and offered rewards for their return represent a unique window into visual appearance in the era before photography. Because most advertisements minutely describe the clothing worn when the individual "ran away from the subscriber," we can often reconstruct precisely what these people wore on a daily basis. This sort of close study can be expanded to explore the mysteries of social relationships, personal identity, economics, politics, and that most American of all values - independence.
As a graduate student in the humanities with interests in the history of common dress, I thought it an interesting idea to begin a blog discussing some of these advertisements. I'll begin with postings from the Pennsylvania Gazette, published in Philadelphia. Most notes about fabric types will refer to the pioneering work of Florence Montgomery, as published in "Textiles in America, 1650-1870."
If nothing else, this project represents a unique way to present these very human stories in a very unacademic fashion. And perhaps learn something along the way.