What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Likely Negro Man about 30 Years of Age.”
Yesterday’s featured advertisement announced that the sloop Ranger had arrived in Philadelphia carrying a human cargo, a “Parcel of healthy SLAVES, men, women, boys, and girls” “from the river Gambia” who were soon to be “sold upon low terms.” I argued that although the number of slaves that resided in northern colonies did not approach those in southern colonies, the advertisement demonstrated that slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were indeed part of society, culture, and commerce throughout all the colonies. Contrary to common misconceptions about the American past, slavery was not absent in the colonies that eventually became free states in the nineteenth century.
I concluded by noting that a single advertisement was one piece of evidence, suggestive but perhaps not sufficient documentation to be completely convincing. To that end, today I have selected a companion advertisement published one day later but hundred of miles further north in another colony. William Barrell wished to sell “A Likely Negro Man about 30 Years of Age.” He indicated that the unnamed enslaved man “will suit a Farmer.” These two advertisements are representative of the many similar ones inserted in newspapers published in cities in northern cities.
Advertisements for enslaved people – seeking to sell them or to buy them, warning against runaways or announcing their capture – certainly appeared in greater numbers in newspapers published in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, but that does not mean that such notices in northern newspapers may be dismissed. This advertisement for “A Likely Negro Man” inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette, published in Portsmouth (the most northern city with a newspaper in 1766 in what became the United States*), testifies to an accepted practice and part of everyday life. (*Halifax, Nova Scotia, founded less than two decades earlier, also had a newspaper. None of the issues from 1766 in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society include advertisements for slaves, though the commodities offered for sale were certainly part of the larger networks of trade that crisscrossed the Atlantic and incorporated the slave trade.) Colonists in New England and the Middle Atlantic lived in a society that allowed for slavery. They encountered slaves regularly. Some owned or traded slaves. To assume that slavery was a southern phenomenon misconstrues the past.