What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“NEW NEGROES, CHIEFLY MEN.”
On March 28, 1770, Joseph Clay placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to announce the sale of “A CARGO consisting of about 170 young and healthy NEW NEGROES” scheduled for the next day. A crude woodcut depicted adults and a child, but the copy specified that the “CARGO” consisted of “CHIEFLY MEN.” Clay assured prospective buyers that the enslaved men previously “had the Smallpox,” thus increasing their value by offering a guarantee that they would not contract the illness in the future. Perhaps as further evidence of their good health, Clay noted that the enslaved men had “Just arrived, after a short passage of five weeks … from Gambia” rather than languishing aboard the vessel an even longer time. Captain Stephen Dean and the snow Britannia delivered them to Georgia.
This advertisement provides sufficient information to identify it as voyage 77996 in Slave Voyages, a database documenting the transatlantic slave trade. That entry reveals more about the voyage than the advertisement, though most of the additional information concerns the experiences of the crew rather than the enslaved men transported across the ocean. The Britannia departed London on September 25, 1769, and spent an unspecified amount of time along the coast of Africa. The database indicates the Britannia arrived in Georgia on March 21, 1770, though the advertisement is dated March 19. Either way, it took slightly less than six months to sail from London to Africa, acquire the “CARGO,” and then deliver the enslaved men to mainland North America. The Britannia remained in port for seven weeks, departing on May 11 and completed its voyage in London on June 30. For the twenty-three crew members, the voyage lasted a mere nine months. For the estimated 199 Africans that embarked in Gambia, this voyage changed their lives forever. Many died while crossing the Atlantic, reducing the estimated 199 to “about 170.” Those who survived faced an array of challenges in a new land.
Perhaps some of those “NEW NEGROES” later made their way into the pages of the Georgia Gazette as runaways who escaped from those who held them in bondage. Many may have become the subject of other advertisements that once again offered them for sale, either individually or among a parcel. The advertisements testify to their presence in colonial Georgia and reveal some of their experiences, yet tell exceptionally incomplete stories of what they endured and how they survived.