Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“TO BE SOLD A LIKELY Negro Woman.”
An advertisement in the January 31, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette offered a “LIKELY Negro Woman” for sale. Nothing about the advertisement distinguished it from similar advertisements published in newspapers from New England to Georgia in the era of the American Revolution. Slavery was so ubiquitous, such a part of everyday life, throughout the colonies that such an advertisement did not look out of place to the readers of the New-Hampshire Gazetteany more than it would have for readers of the Maryland Gazette, the Virginia Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette, or the Georgia Gazette. Newspapers published in southern colonies certainly carried more advertisements about enslaved people, but they were not unique to that region.
The advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette provided few details about the “LIKELY Negro Woman.” Instead, it directed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printers.” Enslavers often adopted this approach in their advertisements, relying on printers to act as brokers in such transactions. As a result, printers became implicated in the slave trade twice over, first through disseminating such advertisements and then through actively participating in sales of enslaved men, women, and children. They did not need to be enslavers themselves to play an important role in perpetuating the slave trade.
Yet printers did more than facilitate sales. They also published advertisements that described enslaved people who liberated themselves by escaping from their enslavers and offered rewards for their capture and return. Such advertisements contributed to a culture of surveillance of Black people, encouraging readers to carefully scrutinize any Black person they encountered to determine if they matched the descriptions in the newspaper advertisements.
Each advertisement that printers published generated revenues that helped in making their newspapers viable enterprises. Even as many printers critiqued the abuses perpetrated by Parliament and advocated for independence during the era of the American Revolution, they also published advertisements that perpetuated slavery. Those advertisements underwrote the dissemination of news and editorials during the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution. Denied liberty for herself, the “LIKELY Negro Woman” advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette played a part in the colonies achieving independence and establishing a new nation.
For a more extensive chronicle of newspaper advertisements about enslaved people published during the era of the American Revolution, follow the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.