Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
The previous issue of the Virginia Gazette included an advertisement announcing that “two hundred choice healthy” slaves from the Windward and Gold Coasts in Africa had “JUST arrived in James river.” It did not give additional information about those slaves, except to announce that they would be sold starting on July 7.
Today’s featured advertisement similarly offered little information about the “THIRTY choice SLAVES” slated to be sold in October, three months later, but it did indicate that “men, women, and children” were included among their ranks. In addition, several of the slaves were tradesmen, though the advertisement did not reveal if they were carpenters, coopers, blacksmiths, or practitioners of other crafts. Those slaves would have been particularly valuable given their ability to make unique contributions beyond agricultural labor to a plantation. Their prospective owners might also stand to make a profit by hiring them out at times that they did not have enough work to keep them busy. Slaves that knew a trade could also teach it to their children, passing down specialized knowledge from generation to generation, further benefiting the master or his heirs.
As if it were not already apparent that these men, women, and children had been reduced to commodities, the advertisement included terms of exchange intended to facilitate the sale. Buyers could receive two years of credit (or more, if necessary), but they would receive a “Five per cent. discount” for payment in full at the time of purchase. In the end, these “THIRTY choice SLAVES” amounted to little more than numbers in a ledger, just like other goods and services during the eighteenth century. Their existence could be summed up as the best sort of deal that could be haggled between buyer and seller.