January 21

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jan 21 - 1:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 21, 1768).

“PUBLIC VENDUE, At the NORTH END Vendue OFFICE.”

Auctioneer John Gerrish inserted advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette to encourage residents of Boston and its environs to buy and sell at his “Public Vendue-Office” in the North End. His upcoming auctions included “A great Variety of Articles, — lately imported,” including “Mens Apparel,” a “Variety of Callimancoes,” and “a Parcel of well-made, exceeding stout P. JACKETS and Breeches, very suitable in the present Season for Fishermen.” In addition to new merchandise, he also auctioned “Second hand Articles.” This selection matched the inventories listed in advertisements for shops and other auction houses in local newspapers.

To convince both buyers and sellers to do business at his establishment, Gerrish asserted that the experience would compare favorably to commercial transactions conducted elsewhere in the urban port. “All Sorts of Goods sell full as well at the North End,” he proclaimed, “as in King-Street, Queen-Street, or any other Street, or Auction Room in Boston.” In a bustling city, readers had many choices when it came to venues for buying and selling consumer goods. Gerrish did not want them to dismiss the North End out of hand.

The “Public Vendue Master” also underscored that buyers and sellers could depend on fairness when they made their transactions at the “NORTH END Vendue OFFICE.” Realizing that some readers might indeed have preferences for familiar shops and auction houses elsewhere in the city, he strove to bolster his reputation by assuring potential clients and customers that they had nothing to lose if they instead chose his vendue office. Those who decided to “Employ the Master of said Vendue Office” could “depend upon His Fidelity,” trusting that he made every effort to market their merchandise prior to the auction and encourage the highest possible returns during the bidding. Invoking his “Fidelity” also suggested that he kept accurate books and did not attempt to cheat sellers, especially those who could not be present at an auction to witness the bidding. Yet he also served those looking to make purchases, stressing that “all BUYERS may depend upon never being IMPOSED upon in said Vendue Office.” Gerrish pledged not to unduly pressure prospective customers who attended his auctions. Even as he worked as an intermediary who executed exchanges between buyers and sellers, he wanted each to feel as though they ultimately remained in charge of their commercial transactions rather than relinquishing control to potential manipulation on his part.

John Gerrish, Public Vendue Master, did more than merely announce that he conducted auctions in Boston’s North End. He encouraged both buyers and sellers to participate by instilling confidence in the process, promising that he faithfully served them. Colonists had many choices when it came to acquiring and selling consumer goods. Gerrish used his advertisement to assure them that doing business at his auction house was an option well worth their consideration.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 21, 1768

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter: @SlaveAdverts250.

Jan 21 - Massachusetts Gazette Slavery 1
Massachusetts Gazette (January 21, 1768).

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Jan 21 - Massachusetts Gazette Slavery 2
Massachusetts Gazette (January 21, 1768).

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Jan 21 - New-York Journal Slavery 1
New-York Journal (January 21, 1768).

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Jan 21 - New-York Journal Slavery 2
New-York Journal (January 21, 1768).

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Jan 21 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 1
Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon) (January 21, 1768).

January 20

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jan 20 - 1:20:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette Extraordinary (January 20, 1768).

“FOUR Years of a Mulatto Girl’s Time to be Sold.”

James Parker issued an Extraordinary issue of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy on January 20, 1768, just two days after publishing the regular issue for the week. The printer explained that “Matters of Amusement and Speculation, as well as News by the Packet, crowding in upon us at this Juncture, we think it necessary to give this Second extra Gazette, in Order to be upon a Par with our Neighbours.” The Extraordinary consisted of two pages, compared to the four of the regular Gazette. In addition to the “Matters of Amusement and Speculation” and “News” received via recent arrivals in the port city, the Extraordinary also featured a list of the “PRICE CURRENT in NEW-YORK” and three short advertisements.

Those advertisements included one that announced “FOUR Years of a Mulatto Girl’s Time to be Sold.” The unnamed “Mulatto Girl” apparently was not a slave, despite her mixed heritage. That the advertiser sold four years of her time rather than selling her outright suggests that she was an indentured servant who would eventually gain her freedom once her indenture expired. Given that so many other mulatto men, women, and children were enslaved in colonial America, how had this come to happen? How had this mulatto girl escaped enslavement for life in favor of servitude for a fixed number of years?

Perhaps her mother was a free woman. Within a cultural and legal framework that specified that the status of the child followed the condition of the mother, it did not matter if the mulatto girl’s mother was white, black, or mulatto, nor did it matter if her father was free, enslaved, or indentured. If her mother had been a free woman at the time of the mulatto girl’s birth then the child would have been free herself. Financial considerations may have contributed to the decision to indenture the girl for a portion of her childhood and youth. Alternately, her mother may have been enslaved but managed to negotiate for the eventual freedom of her offspring. Securing an indenture for her daughter may have been a means of achieving gradual emancipation. Other circumstances may have shaped the mulatto girl’s experiences. The advertisement does not provide enough information to know for certain.

The notice appeared in an interesting context. What kinds of news did James Parker consider so pressing as to warrant an Extraordinary issue? The bulk of the supplement consisted of the seventh in the series of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” that critiqued the Townshend Acts. Even though Dickinson recognized the authority of Parliament to oversee the empire, he argued that the colonies possessed sovereignty over their internal affairs. In particular, he stressed that Parliament overstepped its authority by imposing taxes on the colonies intended to raise revenues rather than merely regulating trade.

As many colonists asserted their rights and printers published letters and speeches that defended the liberty of the North American colonies, they also accepted various forms of unfree labor, including enslavement and indentured servitude. Those systems extended beyond just labor; slaves and indentured servants experienced unfree status in colonial society. Advertisements that promoted and reinforced slavery and indentured servitude appeared alongside impassioned appeals to liberty like Dickinson’s “Letters.” The revenues such advertisements generated for printers helped to fund the dissemination of newspapers that made stark calls for freedom from enslavement to the abuses of Parliament. That an advertisement for “FOUR Years of a Mulatto Girl’s Time” appeared alongside Dickinson’s “LETTER VII” demonstrated complex and contradictory understanding of the nature of liberty during the revolutionary era.

Summary of Slavery Advertisements Published January 14-20, 1768

These tables indicate how many advertisements for slaves appeared in colonial American newspapers during the week of January 14-20, 1768.

Note:  These tables are as comprehensive as currently digitized sources permit, but they may not be an exhaustive account.  They includes all newspapers that have been digitized and made available via Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, and Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers.  There are several reasons some newspapers may not have been consulted:

  • Issues that are no longer extant;
  • Issues that are extant but have not yet been digitized (including the Pennsylvania Journal); and
  • Newspapers published in a language other than English (including the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote).

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Slavery Advertisements Published January 14-20, 1768:  By Date

Slavery Adverts Tables 1767 By Date Jan 14

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Slavery Advertisements Published January 14-20, 1768:  By Region

Slavery Adverts Tables 1767 By Region Jan 14

Slavery Advertisements Published January 20, 1768

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter: @SlaveAdverts250.

Jan 20 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 1
Georgia Gazette (January 20, 1768).

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Jan 20 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 2
Georgia Gazette (January 20, 1768).

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Jan 20 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 3
Georgia Gazette (January 20, 1768).

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Jan 20 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 4
Georgia Gazette (January 20, 1768).

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Jan 20 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 5
Georgia Gazette (January 20, 1768).

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Jan 20 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 6
Georgia Gazette (January 20, 1768).

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Jan 20 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 7
Georgia Gazette (January 20, 1768).

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Jan 20 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 8
Georgia Gazette (January 20, 1768).

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Jan 20 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 9
Georgia Gazette (January 20, 1768).

January 19

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jan 19 - 1:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

“A WELL assorted stock of Goods, consisting of most articles imported into this province.”

In their advertisement in the January 19, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Nowell and Lord incorporated many of the most common marketing strategies deployed by merchants and shopkeepers in eighteenth-century America. The format of their advertisement, like the appeals, would have been familiar to readers. Like many of their competitors in Charleston and throughout the colonies, Nowell and Lord composed a list-style advertisement that revealed the range of goods they stocked, from “Irish and Kentish sheeting” to “leather caps” to “blue and white earthen ware.”

In and of itself, this format demonstrated the veracity of one of their appeals to potential customers: consumer choice. The partners reiterated that their patrons could choose the items that matched their needs, desires, tastes, and budgets throughout their advertisement. First, they described their inventory as “A WELL assorted stock of Goods,” proclaiming that it included “most articles imported into this province.” In other words, customers were unlikely to find merchandise in other shops that Nowell and Lord did not also carry. To underscore the variety they offered, the partners promoted their “choice assortment of cutlery” midway through the advertisement. They also made a point of noting that the list they printed in the newspaper was not exhaustive; instead, they also carried “many other articles too tedious to enumerate.” Customers would delight in the number of choices available to them when they visited Nowell and Lord’s shop.

In addition to consumer choice, the shopkeepers also made appeals to price and fashion. For instance, they stressed that they sold their merchandise “remarkably low.” To make their wares even more affordable, they offered “credit to the first of December 1768.” When it came to textiles for making garments, they informed readers that they imported “the newest patterns,” allowing customers to impress their friends and acquaintances by keeping up with current fashions in other parts of the empire.

Nowell and Lord deployed consumer choice as the central marketing strategy in their advertisement, but they supplemented that appeal with assurances about price and fashion. To sell their merchandise, they replicated methods used by countless other advertisers throughout the colonies. That so many merchants and shopkeepers consistently relied on the same strategies testifies to the power they believed those strategies possessed to entice and influence colonial consumers.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 19, 1768

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter: @SlaveAdverts250.

Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 1
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 2
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 3
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 5
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 6
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 7
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 8
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 9
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 10
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 11
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 12
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 13
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 15
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

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Jan 19 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 14
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).