What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“TO BE SOLD, A Likely Young NEGROE WENCH.”
Advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children dominated the notices published in the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s. Of the thirty-six advertisements in the October 28, 1767, edition, twelve concerned slaves. Nine offered slaves for sale or to be “hired out by the Month or Year.” One described a runaway slave and offered a reward to anyone who captured him and delivered him “to the Warden of the Work-house in Savannah.” Another described a fugitive “with an iron on his right leg” who had been detained at the workhouse. One slaveholder announced that “AN OVERSEER is wanted to take charge of about 20 negroes to be employed in the planting of rice.” In addition, four other advertisements offered employment to overseers but did not explicitly mention slaves, yet any overseer “well acquainted with plantation business” most certainly would have expected to manage slaves as part of the job.
In addition to indicating how extensively Georgians incorporated slavery into the commerce and culture of their colony, these advertisements reveal an important aspect of operating a printing business, including publishing the only newspaper in the province, during the decade before the American Revolution. Few colonial newspapers attracted sufficient subscribers to generate profits or even continue publication. Instead, the printers relied on advertising for revenues. Given that one out of three paid notices in the October 28 issue explicitly mentioned slaves and another four sought overseers, James Johnston depended on advertisements concerning the bondage of men, women, and children to fund the publication of the Georgia Gazette. This was neither unique nor extraordinary to this particular issue. The Adverts 250 Project previously examined the high proportion of advertisements about slaves in another issue published four months earlier. Advertisements for slaves regularly dominated the paid notices in the Georgia Gazette.
Yet it was not just Johnston, the printer, who relied on the revenue from these advertisements to continue publishing and distributing the Georgia Gazette. The residents of the colony also depended on advertisements about slaves to bring them other news, foreign and domestic, including the list of taxes to be assessed on various commodities when the Townshend Act went into effect on November 20. That excerpt from “An Act for granting certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America” was printed on the other side of the page that featured the twelve advertisements for slaves in the October 28 edition. Those advertisements not only contributed to the livelihood of the printer and the continuation of the newspapers, they also made possible the dissemination of news throughout the colony. Advertisements about slaves funded an important civic institution in colonial Georgia.