What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“LIBERTY. A POEM”
“A NEGRO CARPENTER.”
On July 26, 1770, at least thirty-one advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children appeared in newspapers published throughout the thirteen colonies that declared independence from Great Britain later in the decade. Those advertisements ran in newspapers in every region of colonial America, not just the southern colonies with the largest populations of enslaved people. In New England, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury carried such advertisements, as did the New-York Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal in the Middle Atlantic. In the Chesapeake, the Maryland Gazette and Rind’s Virginia Gazette ran more of these advertisements. Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette almost certainly did as well, but the July 26, 1770, edition has not been digitized for consultation by scholars and other readers.
In the Lower South, the South-Carolina Gazette also circulated advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children, including one that offered a “NEGRO CARPENTER” and a “young NEGRO WENCH” for sale. That advertisement ran immediately below an advertisement for “LIBERTY. A POEM. Dedicated to the SONS OF LIBERTY in SOUTH-CAROLINA” offered for sale in the printing offices where Peter Timothy published the South-Carolina Gazette and Charles Crouch published the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, another newspaper that regularly distributed advertisements offering enslaved people for sale or offering rewards for the capture of enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from colonists who attempted to hold them in bondage.
As the Slavery Adverts 250 Project demonstrates, advertisements about enslaved people were ubiquitous in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. The same newspapers that carried those advertisements also documented the events and debates of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution. As printers shaped public discourse about how Parliament abused the colonies, they simultaneously profited from publishing advertisements that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans and African Americans. David Waldstreicher offered an overview in “Reading the Runaways: Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic” in 1999. In 2020, Jordan E. Taylor provides a much more extensive examination in “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807.” Colonial printers facilitated the slave trade and played an integral role in the surveillance of Black bodies in eighteenth-century America.
Those activities occurred within the same pages of newspapers that ran articles and editorials … and advertisements for consumers goods … that advocated “LIBERTY” for white colonists. Sometimes advertisements about enslaved people and editorials about liberty appeared on different pages, but considering that most newspapers of the era consisted of only four pages (or six when they included a supplement) they were always within close proximity. Such was the case for an advertisement for a “Likely young Negro Girl” that ran in the supplement that accompanied the March 26, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. The supplement also included letters from “A TRUE PATRIOT” and “POPULUS” that warned that Parliament actively eroded American liberties. In other instances, as Taylor demonstrates, advertisements about enslaved people ran next to articles and editorials that demanded liberty for white colonists. Sometimes advertisements delivered the news, such as a notice about a “new Non-Importation Agreement” that ran immediately above an advertisement offering an enslaved man and woman for sale in the January 25, edition of the New-York Journal.
Other times, advertisements about consumer goods and commerce played slavery and liberty in stark juxtaposition. Consider an advertisement for a “Likely Negro LAD,” a skilled cooper, that ran immediately above Nathaniel Frazier’s advertisement for “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS” in the October 3, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, Massachusetts. Frazier assured prospective customers and the entire community that he acquired those goods prior to the nonimportation agreement adopted to protest the duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts. Frazier offered white colonists an opportunity to defend American liberties and practice politics via their choices about consumption at the same time that an “Enquire of the Printer” advertisement reduced an enslaved cooper to a commodity to be traded in the marketplace.
The paradox of liberty and enslavement was vividly apparent in the advertisements that ran in the South-Carolina Gazette 250 years ago today. In a single glance, readers encountered an invitation to purchase an ode to “LIBERTY” dedicated to the Sons of Liberty and a notice that perpetuated the enslavement of a Black carpenter and a young Black woman who possessed several domestic skills. This example provides a particularly stark demonstration of unevenly applied ideologies of liberty in the era of the American Revolution and the founding of the nation. Eighteenth-century readers regularly encountered such contradictions in the contents of newspapers.
 David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways: Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 56, no. 2 (April 1999): 243–272.
 Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 287-323.