Newspapers are among our favorite things at Journal of the American Revolution, providing endless information and insight about America’s Revolutionary era. In addition to news, notices, and opinion pieces, newspapers carried advertising that reveals important aspects of the people who placed ads and read them. Some of the ads were actually about people. When soldiers absconded from their duty, for example, army officers sometimes placed advertisements in newspapers, giving a description of the deserter and offering a reward for his return. American newspapers advertised thousands of deserters during the course of the war; this week, we’ll present one ad each day as a very brief survey of these important sources of information.
First off is the first deserter advertisement of the war. As a substantial American army coalesced on the heights around Boston in April, May and June of 1775, bringing order to this disorganized composite force was the greatest challenged faced by the army’s leaders.
Deserted from the subscribers company in Col. Wooster’s Regiment, one James Parker, a transient Irishman, about 36 years of age, middling stature, his face pitted with gun-powder, short black hair, had on a light colour’d coat, and is a taylor by trade. Whoever shall take up said deserter, and return him to the subscriber, shall be reasonably rewarded by Thomas Porter.
Waterbury, June 12, 1775.
[Connecticut Courant, June 12, 1775]
This ad is not remarkable in any way other than that it is the first known published advertisement for a deserter from the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Soldiers had certainly deserted before this; desertion was a constant problem for armies of this era, and particularly for the amalgam American army that fought in the Revolution. The British army had advertised for deserters in America before this, and there were of course many advertisements placed during the French and Indian War. But this was a new army in a new war, so this otherwise-unremarkable tailor with a powder-pitted face holds a special place in the history of American advertising.
Many newspapers published in America during the eighteenth century can be read and searched using internet databases; the premier source is America’s Historical Newspapers. Most require subscriptions, but many public libraries and university libraries have subscriptions that patrons can use. Check with your local library system, or your state university library system (many states allow residents to have access to state university library resources).