What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Neat Worsted Stuffs, proper for Negro Wenches Gowns.”
Fourteen notices concerning enslaved men, women, and children appeared in the October 26, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and its advertising supplement. Eight of them offered enslaved people for sale, but the other six described adults and children (including “a new Negro Girl, named MOLLY, about 12 Years of Age”) who escaped from bondage. Even though the two sorts of advertisements occupied approximately the same amount of space, the number of Africans and African Americans for sale far exceeded the number that managed to seize their liberty. The former included “THIRTY valuable NEGROES, “ “FIVE NEGROES,” a “Valuable Negro Man, his Wife, and Child … Also a Negro Girl … And a Man,” “BETWEEN Forty and Fifty prime SLAVES,” “TWO compleat BRICKLAYERS, “ SIX valuable NEGROES,” “ten able NEGRO MEN,” and “six valuable Slaves,” for a total of between 104 and 114 enslaved men, women, and children to be bought and sold as property.
Still other advertisements demonstrated that colonists did not have to be directly involved in the slave trade to profit from it. Isaac Motte and Company listed “A LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS” imported via the Mermaid and the Liberty, including “neat Worsted Stuffs, proper for Negro Wenches Gowns.” Dawson and White promoted several items that they imported on the Liberty, but they chose one item, “NEGRO CLOTH” to serve as the headline that would attract the attention of prospective customers. In both cases, merchants stood to generate significant revenues by selling textiles to slaveholders for the purpose of clothing the men, women, and children they deprived of freedom. An advertisement placed by the proprietors of the Liberty sought tobacco and other commodities as freight for the return trip across the Atlantic. As the Liberty sailed back and forth between Bristol and Charleston, its name a beacon to colonists who despised Parliament’s attempts to impose duties on imported goods, it engaged in commerce that first delivered supplies to enslavers and then transported commodities produced by enslaved laborers. Although Motte and Company, Dawson and White, and the proprietors of the Liberty did not advertise enslaved men women, and children for sale, their livelihoods depended in part on an economy that embraced enslavement.