January 16

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jan 16 - 1:16:1766 Massachusetts-Gazette
Massachusetts-Gazette (January 16, 1766)

“Will be sold … A Likely strong NEGRO GIRL.”

Many, many different kinds of merchandise were bought and sold via the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers — certainly more than an assortment of textiles, housewares, and foodstuffs imported from London and other ports throughout the Atlantic world.  People could also be commodities in eighteenth-century America, as this advertisement demonstrates.

Advertisements for buying and selling slaves — and for runaways who sought to escape their captivity — were not uncommon in newspapers printed in New England and the Middle Atlantic and an even more familiar feature in the Chesapeake and Lower South.  This advertisement, however, is rather unique:  unlike most others peddling slaves, it includes an image, a woodcut intended to depict “A Likely strong NEGRO GIRL.”  This would have been a stock piece owned by the printer.  It could have been inserted in any number of advertisements for female slaves or even runaway wives since its features did not depict any particular woman or girl.  The “Likely strong NEGRO GIRL” remained nameless in this advertisement, just as interchangeable with other slaves, other pieces of property that could be bought and sold, as a piece of type that could be inserted in any number of advertisements.

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