What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Two valuable negro men, and a negro wench with a female child.”
Auctioneers Thomas William Moore and Company regularly advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, advising prospective bidders of a constantly changing array of new and secondhand goods for sale at their “AUCTION-ROOM.” On November 12, 1770, for instance, they ran advertisement announcing that the next day they would continue “the sale of a large parcel of dry goods” that included textiles, ribbons and trimmings, “printed handkerchiefs,” and “ladies gloves.” They also had “a quantity of ironmongery” that included “scythes, frying pans, [and] wool cards” for the highest bidder.
In addition to the sales at their Auction Room, Moore and Company also sponsored other sales “On the Bridge, At the Coffee-House,” a popular meeting place for transacting business. The auctioneers advised that a “large parcel of genteel furniture” would be sold the same day that their advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. In addition, “two valuable negro men, and a negro wench with a female child” would go on the auction block the following day. The notice did not elaborate on the men and child, but did state that the woman was “honest, sober and good tempered.”
Enslaved people comprised a significant portion of the population of New York City during the era of the American Revolution. Advertisements offering enslaved men, women, and children for sale as well as notices offering rewards for capturing enslaved people who liberated themselves from those who held them in bondage frequently appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and other newspapers published in the busy urban port. Some advertisements focused on enslaved people exclusively, such as a notice offering a “LIKELY young NEGRO MAN” for sale in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy on the same day that Moore and Company ran their auction notice. Other advertisements, like the one placed by the auctioneers, embedded the sale of enslaved people among other aspects of daily life, like buying clothing and housewares. At a glance, it was not immediately apparent that Moore and Company’s advertisement was part of the infrastructure of the slave trade. That only became apparent on closer inspection, but offering two Black men, a Black woman, and a Black girl for sale would not have surprised newspaper readers. Casually inserting enslaved people among goods for sale was both insidious and ubiquitous, even in newspaper advertisements published in northern colonies. The consumer revolution of “printed handkerchiefs” and “ladies gloves” operated in tandem with the transatlantic slave trade and the maintenance of a system of exploitation in eighteenth-century America.