What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“ALL the PERSONAL ESTATE of the said Dr. Alexander Jameson.”
Today’s advertisement, a notice for an estate sale, features two focal points, the “A” in “ALL” set inside a decorative border near the beginning of the notice and the word “NEGROES” in capital letters and larger type dividing the notice in half. Arguably, “NEGROES” is the primary focal point.
I’ve previously argued that, generally, advertisers wrote their own copy but printers assumed responsibility for design and format. In examining some advertisements, especially when comparing them to the “standard” format established in others printed throughout an issue or multiple issues of the same newspaper, it’s possible to discern examples in which advertisers likely made special requests or gave specific instructions concerning design and visual aspects. It seems likely that this was such an advertisement. While it may have been standard for the printer to capitalize general categories of commodities to be sold at estate sales (“HOUSEHOLD and KITCHEN FURNITURE, HORSES, CATTLE, MEDICINES, … INSTRUMENTS, … BOOKS”), it appears to have been a calculated decision to make the word “NEGROES” into a single line of text with type significantly larger than any found elsewhere in the advertisement. Thomas Yuille, the executor of the Dr. Alexander Jameson’s estate, likely provided some direction on this count.
Why? Why emphasize “NEGROES” over any of the other commodities that comprised the estate? Possibly their collective value amounted to the most significant assets within the estate. Given the real estate, property, and personal items listed in the notice, Jameson appears to have been fairly affluent, with perhaps the bulk of his personal finances tied up in the bodies of the slaves he owned.
On several occasions I have commented on the stories only partially revealed in eighteenth-century advertisements. Here, again, we see only part of a story, but we can imagine others. This was certainly a time of mourning for the family and friends of Dr.. Alexander Jameson, but it was also a time of mourning for the slaves he possessed. Their futures were uncertain. They stood to be separated and sold away from spouses, children, and parents. The death of Jameson marked a time of transition for his family, neighbors, and others in the community, but his slaves were likely to be among the most significantly affected.