April 5

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Georgia Gazette (April 5, 1769).

“A PRIME CARGO OF NEW NEGROES.”

Advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children were common in most newspapers in most colonies in 1769. In the northern colonies, the amount of such advertisements was usually less than in southern colonies. This advertisement was in the Georgia Gazette, where slave advertisements were almost everywhere. These slaves in this advertisement came from Africa, specifically from Gambia. The transatlantic slave trade was brutal as Africans were packed in slave ships with little room left unfilled. This was just the beginning of the awfulness as the unhygienic conditions on the ships allows pathogens to thrive, causing regular outbreaks of various diseases that would easily spread to the slaves as they were transported together. Once a ship arrived at a colony, the suffering continued with the Africans being sold off, usually not with their family.

This advertisement is ironic because at this time the colonists were beginning to think of becoming independent from Britain in light of all the acts by Parliament, such as the Declaratory Act. At the same time, colonists imported slaves from Africa. As the colonists thought of getting their liberty and freedom, they were taking away the freedom of the enslaved men, women, and children, like the “NEW NEGROES” in this advertisement.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Aidan notes, this advertisement reveals important details about the transatlantic slave trade and one voyage in particular. It includes enough information to locate this delivery of “NEW NEGROES” in the Slave Voyages database, where it is recorded as Voyage ID 77969. Considered together, the advertisement and the data compiled in Slave Voyages tell a more complete story of the captives and crew who crossed the Atlantic on the Britannia.

The voyage began in London on September 8, 1768. Stephen Deane commanded the vessel with a crew of twenty-two. The Britannia had four guns mounted to fend off any sort of attack. Deane sailed to Gambia, the principal place for purchasing Africans on this voyage. There, approximately 175 Africans boarded the Britannia before it sailed to Georgia, arriving in late March. (Slave Voyages lists April 5 as the arrival date, likely deriving the date from when the Georgia Gazette was published. The advertisement itself, however, lists March 31 as the date it was written. The Britannia likely arrived sometime in the previous week.) According to the advertisement in the Georgia Gazette, only “about one hundred and fifty” of the Africans arrived at the colony. One in seven did not survive the voyage. Many of them likely perished due to smallpox. The advertisement reported “one hundred and twenty … had the smallpox on board said vessel before they arrived here.” Although this “PRIME CARGO” was scheduled for sale in Savannah on April 11, the captives were first “performing a quarantine at Tybee” while they recovered enough to safely put them on display for colonial buyers. From the time the Britannia departed London until it arrived in Georgia, a little more than two hundred days passed. The records, however, do not provide enough information to determine the length of the Middle Passage that the survivors, “chiefly men,” endured.

According to Slave Voyages, the Britannia was one of three vessels that delivered human cargo to Georgia directly from Africa in 1769. In total, twenty-eight vessels made such voyages between Africa and mainland North America that year. The vast majority disembarked enslaved men, women, and children in Charleston, but others also arrived in New York and Virginia. This continuing trade did indeed stand in stark contrast to colonists decrying their own loss of liberty at the hands of Parliament in the late 1760s.

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