On May 2, 1771, John Hardaway of Dinwiddie County, Virginia posted a notice in the Virginia Gazette about a runaway slave. The notice was ordinary, blending in with the many advertisements for escaped slaves, servants, wives, and horses that filled the classified section of the Gazette in the eighteenth century. Like countless other advertisements posted in newspapers wherever slaves were held, Hardaway's advertisement read: “Run away from the subscriber, a dark mulatto man slave named Bob Colemand, 25 years old, tall, slim, and well made, wears his own hair pretty long, his foretop combed very high, a blacksmith by trade, claimed his freedom under pretense of being of an Indian extraction.”
Honor Sachs is a visiting assistant professor of history at the College of Charleston <firstname.lastname@example.org>. She thanks the many people who have read and commented on earlier drafts of this article, particularly, Scott Casper, Alan Gallay, Celia Naylor, Michael Nicholls, and Angela Pulley Hudson. She is also grateful to David Waldstreicher, Martha Jones, and all the conference participants at the Ab Initio: Law in Early America conference in June 2010 for their valuable comments.