What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“… that a Tax of … all Slaves, and … ENCE on every … he Expences of … Third Day of …”
This advertisement presented a conundrum when I set about compiling the advertisements from the May 3, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal for inclusion in the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. It includes a reference to slaves, seemingly in connection to taxes to be collected, but the majority of the advertisement has been obscured. Working with a digital surrogate available in Accessible Archives‘s database of newspapers published in South Carolina rather than an original copy, it is difficult to determine exactly why a large portion of the advertisement is not visible. It does not seem to be the result of poor photography or digitization but rather a faithful rendition of the state of the original issue as the result of the treatment it received in the quarter millennium since it was published.
As I have worked my way through the digitized copies of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal from 1768 I have discovered that many issues include portions that are similarly illegible. It appears that at some point someone attempted to repair rips and tears in those issues with tape. (See the image of today’s advertisement and others to the left.) Most often the concealed portion appears at the edge of the page, the place most easily ripped. In the case of this advertisement, the items printed on the opposite side of the page do indeed display evidence of two tears. (See the image below. Note the mirrored tears that appear to have happened when the page was folded in half.) Taping one side preserved the contents on the other. Whether the tape remains on the page is not clear. It appears that it may have been removed, damaging the newspaper in the process. If this is indeed the case, examining the original may not reveal anything that cannot be viewed in the digital surrogate. If the tape remains on the page, however, it may be possible to examine the original from other angles that reveal more than the single image of the page yields.
Historical documents are fragile things that sometimes present a variety of problems when working with them. Digital surrogates sometimes compound those problems. Although photography and digitization have been performed to aid in the preservation of eighteenth-century newspapers and other sources, to prevent them from sustaining further damage as a result of continued use, sometimes the surrogates do not sufficiently replicate the originals. Digital surrogates are not replacements for original documents. Instead, they are complements that allow greater numbers of people to gain access to historical sources. In this case, unfortunately, the complement does not tell the complete story … and it is difficult to tell from the surrogate if examining the original would reveal more. As much as we celebrate the advantages of digitization in this technological age, we must also acknowledge the various shortcomings and challenges of working with digitized sources.