GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A CARGO consisting of about ONE HUNDRED and FORTY young and healthy new NEGROES.”
I chose this advertisement because it demonstrates the inhumane and terrible slave industry in colonial America. The advertisement demonstrates how racial barriers dehumanized Africans in the eighteenth century. Because of their skin tone and origin, Africans were thought of as commodities, not as human beings. This idea is horrifying and irrational to modern readers. However, the transatlantic slave trade was a reality of American culture for hundred of years. In fact, slavery persisted in Southern society until the end of the Civil War.
A contributing factor to colonial Americans attachment to slavery was the need for a large workforce to toil over the agricultural endeavors of Southern colonies. Slavery provided landowners with an inexpensive workforce that could be expanded at virtually any time. Thus the demand for slaves persisted throughout the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.
However slavery also occurred in the all the colonies. Slaves were utilized for domestic service Evidenced comes from multiple advertisements for slaves posted in newspapers printed in the New England and Middle Atlantic colonies. There were advertisements regarding slaves in the Connecticut Courant, the Providence Gazette, and the New-York Gazette, among others. In the fall of 1766, the Connecticut Courant included an advertisement that said “TO be sold for Cash or 6 Months Credit … One Negro Boy.” In the Providence Gazette there was a advertisement that stated: “To be sold at Public Vendue … A likely healthy active Negro Boy, about fourteen Years old.” The New-York Journal included this advertisement in one of its October issues: “TO BE SOLD, A fine Female Slave.” It is obvious from the widespread nature of these advertisements that slavery was an established part of society throughout all the colonies.
Thankfully, the practice of slavery was abolished in the 1800s, but the transatlantic slave trade shaped our country in ways no founding father could have imagined. The legacy of slavery persisted after its abolition, causing strife for descendants of slaves. That is why learning about the roots of slavery is important. It has contributed to years of human rights abuses, the rise of humanitarian movements, and important political change. Even though this part of our history is abhorrent, we need to remember our past in order to ensure justice and equality in the future.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Megan notes that slavery was not restricted to colonies in the Chesapeake and Lower South. Instead, as the advertisements she has chosen for today demonstrate, slavery and the slaver trade were part of colonial culture and economics in New England and the Middle Atlantic as well. I appreciate how she shows that advertisements for slavery were spread across newspapers printed in each region of colonial America in the fall of 1766. For my additional commentary, I am examining how such advertisements were concentrated in one particular issue.
According to the project’s methodology, Megan needed to select an advertisement from a newspaper printed exactly 250 years ago today. That gave her only one option in terms of choosing a newspaper: the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was the only newspaper printed on October 28, 1766. It’s not surprising that when she consulted that issue that she chose an advertisement for an impending slave auction. In total, eighty-four advertisements appeared in that issue. Fourteen of them advertised slaves. Some offered dozens of slaves for sale, cargoes recently arrived from Africa, as was the case in the advertisement Megan chose. Others sought to sell individual slaves, sometimes as part of estate sales. Some warned against runaway slaves and offered rewards for their capture and return. Some notified masters that escaped slaves had been captured and told them where to retrieve their human property. It would have been practically impossible to look at this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal without noticing numerous advertisements explicitly connected to slavery and the slave trade.
The visual aspects of the advertisements made it even more likely that readers would focus on advertisements for slaves. Only ten advertisements featured any sort of image, a woodcut that would have been a standard part of any printer’s stock. These woodcuts included two ships (one for a departing vessel and another for imported goods), two houses (both for properties to be leased), and one horse (for a stolen gelding). The other five woodcuts all depicted slaves, three runaways and two Africans on display to promote auctions from cargoes recently arrived from Africa. The woodcuts depicting slaves were spread out over three of the four pages of the broadsheet newspapers. Considering the density of text in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, these advertisements were among the most prominent items that appeared in that issue.
Megan demonstrated the breadth of advertisements for slaves in newspapers printed in several regions during the fall of 1766. That is important, but it tells only part of the story. The depth of advertising in specific issues and particular newspapers also merits further investigation. That is part of the work my entire Colonial America class is doing with the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.