What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Some Negroes likewise to be sold.”
For several weeks in the summer of 1770, Henry Paget took to the pagers of the Providence Gazette to advertise several properties for sale in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Those properties included a farm in Smithfield, Rhode Island, a “Lot of very good Land” near Ware, Massachusetts, and a house near Reading, Connecticut. He also offered for sale his “Dwelling-House” with “Shops and a good Store below” in Providence, promoting its prime location “near the Great Bridge, and handy to the College.” Yet Paget’s notice was not merely a real estate advertisement.
At the conclusion of the advertisement, Paget inserted two additional lines indicating that he also sought to sell enslaved people: “Some Negroes likewise to be sold. For further Particulars enquire of said Paget.” He did not provide further details. He did not state how many enslaved people he intended to sell. He did not say how many were men or women or children. He did not list any ages. He did not report on the skills any of them possessed. Other advertisements sometimes included those “Particulars,” but many did not.
Eighteenth-century newspapers, including those published in New England, frequently carried advertisements that casually mentioned enslaved people for sale. In many instances, such sales were not the primary purpose of the notices. Instead, such sales appeared as postscripts to advertisements placed for other reasons, such as Paget’s real estate notice, or enslaved people were included alongside various commodities, treating them as though they were nothing more than commodities themselves. Rather than focusing exclusively on enslaved people, many advertisements made casual reference to enslaved people, integrating the buying and selling of men, women, and children into other daily activities and commercial transactions.
At a glance, Paget’s advertisement does not appear to be an advertisement offering enslaved people for sale. The headline, “His FARM,” suggests that it was a real estate notice. That might make it easy for modern readers to overlook those final two lines unless they read carefully. For readers of the Providence Gazette in 1770, however, enslavement was part of the fabric of everyday life. Advertisements that hint at “Some Negroes likewise to be sold” only begin to tell much more extensive stories of enslavement in colonial and revolutionary New England.