What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Some Thousand Pairs of NEGRO SHOES.”
Simon Berwick and John Berwick had a variety of customers in mind when they advertised “MEN’s SHOES and PUMPS” in the September 27, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. They began their advertisement with footwear intended for white colonists, proclaiming that these shoes were “made in the neatest Manner” and cost fifty shillings per pair. They also stocked “A great Quantity of strong black Shoes and Pumps” that cost between twenty-five and forty shillings. The Berwicks presented those shoes “for House-Negroes and others.” The “others” presumably included white colonists from more humble backgrounds than the customers who would purchase the more expensive shoes that led the advertisement. The Berwicks also had in stock “some Thousand Pairs of NEGRO SHOES” that they described as “all fresh, and equal to any made in the Province.”
Were enslaved artisans involved in the production of these shoes? Did the Berwicks enslave others who did not make shoes? The answers to those questions are not apparent from their advertisement. Yet the answers make little difference when it comes to disentangling the Berwicks from the commercial and economic web of slavery in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. They pitched their advertisement to enslavers who need to outfit the men, women, and children they held in bondage. They provided moderately-priced shoes for “House-Negroes” who would be seen by enslavers and their guests as well as less expensive “NEGRO SHOES” for those who labored beyond the house and thus relatively out of sight. The Berwicks did not have to have enslaved people making shoes in their workshop or otherwise serving them in order to reap the benefits of slavery. Instead, a significant portion of their business revolved around provisioning enslavers. They sold shoes, while others, like Henry Rugeley, advertised “NEGRO CLOTH,” a rough and inexpensive fabric intended for clothing for enslaved people. The business model developed by the Berwicks depended on enslavers engaging them as customers.