From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Isaac and the First Newspaper Escaped Slave Reward Ad in Kentucky

(start date: 1788) 

There are thousands of newspaper reward ads that sought the return of escaped slaves. The March of 1788 ad for the return of [Isac] Isaac is recognized as the first in a Kentucky newspaper.  

On March 1, 1788, slave owner, frontiersman, land speculator, and very wealthy John Campbell paid to have reward ads printed in the Kentucke Gazette newspaper. The first ad appeared on March 15, 1788. The ad was asking for the capture and return of an escaped slave named Isac [Isaac]. The reward was $3. The series of ads ran during the month of March. The Kentucke Gazette newspaper was located in Lexington, District of Kentucky, Virginia. John Campbell (1735-1799) lived in Jefferson County, District of Kentucky, Virginia. Kentucky split from Virginia and became a state on June 1, 1792.

The ads described Isaac as a small pale colored fellow with a hooked nose and he had lost the toes on one foot. Isaac's demeanor was said to be "very artful insinuating and impudent." The final statement of the ads cautions that, "All persons are forbid[den] to harbour him."

There are many slave reward ads that mention the escaping person has lost all or some of their toes. The loss may have been due to frostbite, burns, work-related accidents, or the toes were chopped off to dissuade the enslaved from running away. It is not known how Isaac lost his toes. The loss did not prevent him from escaping around the 24th of January 1788. More than a month later, John Campbell had the reward ads printed in the Kentucke Gazette. The $3 reward for Isaac was the same amount offered for the return of farm animals that had strayed away from their owner's property.

Five months later, on August 2, 1788, there was a new reward want ad for Isaac. His return value had increased by one dollar. The $4 reward ad was not placed by his owner, but rather, the ad had been placed on behalf of the jail in Bairds town [Bardstown, KY]. Isaac had been captured in Bardstown and he was placed in jail. Then he escaped from the jail.

The contact person, as stated on the $4 reward ads, was Thomas Barbee in Danville, KY. The ads were dated July 30, 1788 and they had the same physical description of Isaac as had been written in the $3 reward ads. Isaac's demeanor was said to be "very talkative plausible, and insinuating." The new ads gave the name of John Campbell in Jefferson County as Isaac's owner, and Isaac had previously belonged to H. Pawling of Lincoln County [now Garrard County], who had sold him to lawyer Brown in Bardstown. Isaac was said to be well acquainted in the Bardstown neighborhood. The $4 reward ads ran in the Kentucke Gazette during the month of August 1788. 

That was the last of the newspaper reward ads for Isaac or the mention of Isaac in the newspapers. It is not known if he was recaptured or if he became a free man.

Sources: "Three Dollars Reward," Kentucke Gazette, 03/15/1788, p.2; see John Campbell on pp.154-155 in The Kentucky Encyclopedia edited by John E. Kleber; Williams, Yohuru, "The most damaging myths about slavery, debunked," 02/06/2019 @; "Four Dollars. Reward." Kentucke Gazette, 08/02/1788, p.2; see the mention of Isaac and John Campbell at the KET webpage titled "Kentucky's Underground Railroad: Passage to Freedom."

**John Campbell in Jefferson County, Kentucky, SHOULD NOT be confused with the John Campbell in Boston, MA, a newspaper man who printed the earliest slave runaway advertisement in an American newspaper on the 10th of December 1705. For more about that guy see "John Campbell and the Runaway Slave Advertisiment by Shaun Wallace," a Stirling Centre for Scotish Studies webpage, October 1, 2015.


Kentucky County & Region

Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Fayette County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Boyle County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Lincoln County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Garrard County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Nelson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Lexington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Danville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Bardstown, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Kentucke gazette (newspaper), 1787-1789
NKAA Source: The Kentucky encyclopedia

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Isaac and the First Newspaper Escaped Slave Reward Ad in Kentucky,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 23, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-06-13 17:33:27