What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Lands, Houses, and Negroes, Bought and sold at private Sale, upon the usual Commissions.”
Jacob Valk opened a brokerage office in Charleston in the early 1770s. For months in 1773, he ran an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to alert “the PUBLIC in general, and his Friends in particular” about the various services he provided. He presented five primary categories of tasks undertaken in his office: “Merchants and Tradesmen may have their Books regulated,” “Sets of Books opened properly, for Persons newly commencing any Kind of Business and superintended with the utmost Care,” “Persons desirous of settling their yearly Business expeditiously, by sending their Books to him may have it done,” “Money borrowed and lent at Interest,” and “Lands, Houses, and Negroes, Bought and sold at private Sale, upon the usual Commissions.” Among the various jobs that he did on behalf of colonizers who employed him, Valk facilitated buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children.
To that end, he also placed advertisements on behalf of his clients. In the August 9, 1773, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, one of those advertisements ran immediately below his weekly notice about his various services. On behalf of his clients, the broker described “Four valuable and seasoned Negroes” available “by private Contract” rather than auction. Two young men were “fit for the Field,” but another young man as well as a woman possessed skills for contributing to a household. The “young FELLOW” had experience as a “complete Waiting-Man” who had also seen to the “Care and Management of Horses, and can drive a Carriage.” The woman was a “complete” housekeeper, “who is also a good ordinary Cook.” Valk concluded with instructions that prospective buyers should contact him for more information about the enslaved men and woman and the “Terms of Sale.”
In another advertisement in the same issue, the broker described a house and lot for sale. Valk’s newspaper advertisements outlining his services likely helped generate business in his brokerage office. In turn, he placed additional notices that increased his visibility and, when successful, augmented his reputation among his clients and the general public. Those advertisement also demonstrated that the broker actively worked on behalf of his clients, confirming for prospective customers that they might do better by entrusting sales to him “upon the usual Commissions” rather than invest their own time and effort. In addition, those additional advertisements testified to the fact that others did indeed employ Valk, perhaps elevating the confidence that prospective clients had in his abilities.