What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“HANDCUFFS and CHAINS … and sundry other Stores proper for the African trade.”
The business of slavery was apparent throughout the Georgia Gazette and other colonial newspapers in the 1760s, especially in the advertisements. While some newspapers certainly published more advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children than others, none excluded such content. From New Hampshire to Georgia, advertisements looking to buy or sell slaves or capture those who managed to escape from colonists who held them in bondage appeared among the other advertisements in the public prints. Even if they were not slaveholders themselves, colonial printers facilitated and profited from the trade in enslaved men, women, and children.
Even more so than usual, this was the case for James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, in the May 17, 1769, edition. In addition to the sorts of advertisements that ran week after week in his newspaper, this issue included an advertisement promoting supplies for slavers involved in “the African trade.” Some of these goods could have been sold to purchasers involved in a variety of endeavors, such as the “FORTY IRON BOUND PUNCHEONS” (or barrels) and “a TON of GUINEY RICE.” Yet the other items offered for sale were not so prosaic: “HANDCUFFS and CHAINS,” “SIX SOLDIERS MUSKETS,” and “FOUR CARRIAGE GUNS.” These were not merely supplies for transatlantic voyages; they were tools of violence and subordination required for trafficking in human cargo.
Elsewhere in the same issue auctioneers Ewen and Bolton advertised a “NEW NEGROE WENCH,” a woman who was not “country born” in Georgia or elsewhere in mainland North America. In another advertisement, William Coachman described “SARAH, a tall Guiney wench” who had escaped a month earlier. Both had survived the middle passage from Africa to the American colonies. As women, they were less likely than their male counterparts to spend the voyage in “HANDCUFFS and CHAINS,” but, at the very least, they most certainly saw other captives so restrained during the ordeal. Both had been subject to the violence of the slave trade and ongoing exploitation upon arriving in Georgia.
All of that was part of a system that played a significant role in sustaining newspapers like the Georgia Gazette. Eleven advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children ran in the May 17 issue, making Johnston complicit in “the African trade.” The advertisement for “HANDCUFFS and CHAINS” and other equipment for participating in the transatlantic slave trade did not make the printer any more complicit. Instead, it underscored the depravity of the enterprise that appeared so prominently in the pages of his newspapers week after week.