Who were the subjects of advertisements in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Negro Man named Prince … A Negro Man named Cesar.”
Colonizers placed advertisements in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, Massachusetts, for a variety of purposes. In the February 11, 1772, edition, for instance, John Appleton, Andrew Daglish, Weld Gardner, and James Hastie each advertised consumer goods for sale at their stores and shops. Hastie proclaimed that he carried “An ASSORTMENT of English and India GOODS, suitable to all Seasons of the Year.” The other merchants and shopkeepers made similar appeals to prospective customers. Joseph Hiller called on “ALL Persons indebted to, or that have any Demands on the Estate of the Widow ABIGAIL TARBOX, late of Gloucester,” to settle accounts, while John Pratt and John Bacheller, Jr., who described themselves as “Guardians” of Thomas Parker of Reading, cautioned “all Persons from trading” with Parker because they “will not pay any Debts he shall contract.” Samuel Field sought a family to rent a house that he owned. An anonymous advertisers offered for sale a “Tavern-House in a goof Place.”
Interspersed among those advertisements, several others concerned enslaved people and contributed to the slave trade and the perpetuation of slavery in New England. An unnamed advertiser instructed anyone who could supply “a Negro Boy, between 8 and 14 Years old” to “Enquire of the Printer.” Nicholas Bartlett of Marblehead offered “A Negro Man named Cesar” for sale. Having been enslaved in a community that depended on maritime trades, Cesar “well understands the Shoreman’s Business of making Fish,” but he possessed other skills as well. Bartlett described Cesar as “a prime Chimney-Sweeper,” but also reported that he “can work on a Farm very well.” In another advertisement, Christopher Bubier of Marblehead reported that “a Negro Man named Prince” liberated himself from his enslaver by running away. Bubier provided a brief description of Prince, encouraging readers to engage in surveillance of any Black men they encountered, and offered a reward for his capture and return.
Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, the Essex Gazette did not organize or classify advertisements according to their purpose or genre. As a result, advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children were intermixed with other notices about commerce and real estate. Their dispersal throughout the pages of the Essex Gazette and other newspapers testifies to the extent that slavery was part of everyday life, even in New England, in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution.