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Benjamin Franklin, Media Manhunter?
An Escaped Irish Servant and Madagascan Slave Are Sought by the Plantation Media of the 1729 American Gulag System

Once into Virginia we depart from the language conventions of Maryland and points north, in which a black is called a negro and is assumed to be a slave for life unless otherwise noted, though he may be a servant, free-man, and even slave-holder himself. Three aspects of the racial politics of servitude are apparent here in his remarkably honest ad. This was an age when those who did evil often spoke plainly and shamelessly about its commission.

1. Whites were never called slave in the south, nor were the blacks generally employed as servants as in the north, due to the lessons learned in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, that whites—prone to having martial skills—and blacks, usually in command of sufficient English to ally with the whites, where in the regular habit of banding together and turning on their masters. They were thus semantically and physically segregated as much as possible by the master class.

2. In a debt-based world where anyone could fall into poverty and be summarily sold—and nobles were, on a number of occasions, and Macoum with his skill set might have been one—the master class protected themselves at the semantic and judicial level from the possible fate of a lifetime of servitude by declaring lifelong terms intrinsic to the negro condition and lesser—of often repeating for life—terms for those of their own race, in order to preserve some hope should they fall from their position of mastery or perhaps be kidnapped and sold by enemies. In Maryland Robin would be named Negro Robin. Even in the listing below you will see inconsistent terminology applied to the non-white fugitive. If this ad were place in 1839 he would just be called a slave throughout.

3. Once housing segregation had been enacted on Virginia Plantations circa 1678, joint rebellions did not occur in Virginia, but running away together became a standard escape tactic, with the white servant posing as a master or overseer. In the case below, Macoum would certainly pose as a nobleman with his man servant. Throughout the next century, up until the 1850s, white servants and sailors—in fact a class of servant, rarely being free—would be instrumental in the freeing of black slaves. This alliance of negro and white slaves has been obscured by all means available to the ruling class and their historians since emancipation.

Virginia Gazette (Parks), Williamsburg, August 10 to August 17, 1739

August 17, 1739. RAN away, on the 5th of this Instant August, 1739, from the Subscriber, living in St. Mary's county, on Potowmack River, in Maryland, a Servant Man, nam'd Thomas Macoun, and with him a Negro Fellow, nam'd Robin. Macoun is a slender, neat made impudent Irishman, of a middle Stature, brown Complexion, very dark Eyebrows and Beard, a nimble upright Walk, and can speak broad Scotch. He professes Dancing, Fencing, Writing, Arithmetick, drawing of Pictures, and can play Legerdemain, [1] or slight of Hand Tricks.

He had on, when he went away, a large Hat, a brown Cue Wig, a dark colour'd old Cloth Coat, a German Serge Wastecoat, a Pair of short Linnen Breeches, a Pair of long Ditto, Thread Stockings, and a Pair of London Falls; he also took with him a Linnen Coat, and it's suspected, a Silver hilted Sword, 2 ruffled Shirts, one red Cloth Wastecoat, and one blew Ditto, and several other Things.

The Negro is a Native of Madagascar, [2] a nimble Fellow, short and slender, has lost his Fore Teeth, and has a long Cut on one of his Shins:

He had with him two dark colour'd Manx Cloth Jackets, one Ditto of Plains, fac'd with red, a red coat with Brass Buttons, and turn'd up with yellow, and an old grey Manx Cloth Great Coat. They went away in a 16 Foot Boat, with Schooner Sails, the Fore-sail very ragged, the Rudder painted red, and a Pair of red Oars.

If they should be taken up and secured in Pennsylvania, it is requested, that Notice may be given to Mr. Franklin, [3] Printer, in Philadelphia:

If taken and secured in the southern Parts of Virginia, that Notice may be given to Mr. John Taylor, Merchant in Norfolk, or to William Parks, Printer, in Williamsburg:

And if they should be taken and secured in Carolina, that Notice may be given to Dr. Abraham Blackhall, at Edenton,

for which Notification, a Pistole Reward shall be given by either of the Persons before-mentioned, besides what the Law allows.

And Whoever will apprehend the said Servant and Slave, and bring them to me, in St. Mary's County, on Potowmack, or to Major John Waughop, in Northumberland County, Virginia, on Potowmack River, shall have 6 Pistoles Reward, and reasonable Charges, paid by Major Waughop, aforesaid, or by me. Robert Chesley.


1. “leg•er•de•main” is the art of trickery, slight of hand, even sorcery or magic, for which a man of 1739 might well be executed or sold into servitude as a convict.

2. Robin is most lightly a mixed negro-Malay, but may have been purely Asiatic, as numerous Asians were classed as negroes, from that island that was a stopping point for the ships of the East India Company

3. Benjamin Franklin and other printers are here indicted by their own subscriber as the media watchdogs of the American gulag system. Franklin, himself a runaway servant, had no qualms about turning on other servants once he established himself and even ranted against escaped servants in later years.

Stillbirth of a Nation: Caucasian Slavery in Plantation America: Part One

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