Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“For further Particulars, enquire of Edes & Gill.”
Two short advertisements about enslaved people appeared in the June 17, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. One announced, “TO BE SOLD, A likely Negro Fellow about 15 Years of Age.” The other declared, “A Negro Child of a good Breed, to be given away.” The same day, two other advertisements ran in the Boston-Gazette. “To be Sold for Want of Employ,” stated one, “A likely Negro Woman, about 33 Years old, remarkable for Honesty and a good Temper.” The other described “a Negro Man named Dick or Richard” who liberated himself. The clever fugitive for freedom possessed a forged pass.
Each of those advertisements testified to the presence of slavery in northern colonies in the era of the American Revolution. As colonists debated their rights and objected to abuses perpetrated by Parliament, many continued to enslave Africans and African Americans. They turned to the same newspapers that kept them informed about politics and current events to facilitate the buying and selling … and even giving away … of enslaved men, women, and children. In offering a reward for the capture and return of Dick, David Edgar encouraged all readers, whether enslavers or not, to engage in surveillance of Black people to detect the fugitive seeking freedom. Newspapers, especially advertisements, helped perpetuate slavery in early America.
Most of those advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on June 17 had another similarity: the extent that the printer participated in the transaction. Edgar was the only advertiser who signed his notice. Both advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post concluded with “Enquire of the Printers.” The one offering a “likely Negro Woman” for sale in the Boston-Gazette advised, “For further Particulars, enquire of Edes & Gill.” In addition to being well known as printers of that newspaper, their names appeared in the colophon at the bottom of the column that featured that advertisement. The printers of both newspapers not only generated revenues by publishing advertisements about enslaved people but also actively took part in the buying, selling, and giving away of enslaved men, women, and children. They played the role of information brokers beyond the printed page, providing additional services to enslavers who placed and responded to advertisements.