Unpacking the Advertisements for Runaways


Grades 7-12


Students will become familiar with newspaper ads for slave sales and runaways in 18th century Philadelphia. They will learn strategies for clarifying unfamiliar words and letters. They will use critical thinking skills for historical analysis and use primary source documents.


  • Teacher Materials (attached below, including vocabulary list and chart of information found in ads)
  • Printouts of June 13, 1781 Pennsylvania Gazette or SmartBoard technology to project the newspaper OR printout to transparency for overhead projection


  • Remind students to ask questions, especially around vocabulary, language usage, and letters (long s and f)
  • Pass out copies of the June 13, 1781 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, a weekly newspaper (see attachments below) 
  • Have students find and/or read through the ads concerning runaways. The teacher may choose to highlight the ads (see attachment with just 4 ads) or on the SmartBoard
  • Read through the ads as a whole class, citing vocabulary questions
  • Point out to students the characteristics noted in the advertisements
    • Physical height
    • Personality and physical characteristics, i.e. "very strong and healthy" and "good tempered when sober..."
    • Good taylor
    • Negro
    • Mulatto
    • Dutch serving man
    • Attempt to get to the enemy"
    • Tanner and currier
    • "very good shoemaker"
    • "smart boy"
    • "secure the fellow in goal (jail) on the continent, and give notice...so that he may recover him, shall have the above reward, besides reasonable charges, if brought home."

Consider and discuss the follow questions:

  • Who is being sought? Are they all slaves? Are they all "Africans?"
  • What strikes you about the economy that is hinted at in these ads? Do slaves or runaways have a monetary value? 
  • The chief coinage in the colonies was the Spanish milled dollar or "piece of eight." This translates into: $30 for mulatto Jack, $50 for negro Dick, $4 for Dutch serving man Daniel. The currency is in flux and there are many different bills and coinage being used.
  • Is there a common thread amongst all of the fugitives clothing?" If slaves are chattel, to whom does their clothing belong, legally? If they run away with only the clothing on their backs, is that clothing stolen?
  • What, if anything, can you tell about the owner/advertiser?
  • Take the position of the newpaper owner/editor. Will you publish these ads? Why or why not?
  • The "Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery" in Pennsylvania went into effect in 1780
  • How is it that slaves can be bought and sold after 1780?

PA history standards

 8.1 B,C; 8.2 A,B,C,D; 8.3 A,B,C