What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A number of English and Irish MEN and WOMEN SERVANTS.”
A few days ago I featured an advertisement for human cargo, a ship carrying two hundred African slaves that had just arrived on the James River in Virginia. I noted that such advertisements did not appear in newspapers published in New England or the Middle Atlantic where the demand for enslaved labor was significantly lower.
That did not mean, however, that those regions of English settlement did not welcome other vessels with other sorts of human cargo. This advertisement from the Pennsylvania Journal reported that a shipment of English and Irish indentured servants had just arrived in New Castle, Delaware. The partnership of Carsan, Barclay, and Mitchell emphasized that the indentured servants they “Imported” practiced a variety of trades and possessed a variety of skills: “shoemakers; periwig makers; farriers; coachmen; tobacco spinners; dyers; scowerers; shearers; linen, worsted, yarn, broad cloth, stocking, tape and girth webb weavers; breeches makers; glovers; miners; butchers; country carpenters; a number of laborers.”
Human cargo in the form of indentured servants did indeed arrive in other regions. Still, it is important to note that while the existence of indentured servants could be bleak their experiences differed from enslaved Africans in a variety of ways. Although indentured servants were sometimes tricked, most made the voyage to the American colonies voluntarily, unlike enslaved Africans. Many sought new opportunities, especially in the Middle Atlantic colonies, a region sometimes called “the best poor man’s land.” Indentured servants signed contracts, which offered them some protections and also set a limit to their time of servitude. Unlike slaves, indentured servants knew that their situation was temporary rather than permanent.
The “MEN and WOMEN SERVANTS” who arrived in New castle at the end of June 1766 may have experienced some trepidation, but they might have also experienced some hope. They had successfully crossed the Atlantic and a new life awaited them, a life they anticipated would, eventually, be better than the one they left behind in England or Ireland. The enslaved Africans who arrived in Virginia just a few weeks earlier did not exercise the same choices or have the same hopes for a better future.