August 10

Who were the subjects of advertisements in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 10, 1773).

“NEW ADVERTISEMENTS … about One Hundred choice Gambia SLAVES.”

Advertising underwrote the dissemination of the news in eighteenth-century America.  Among the advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, and real estate advertisements that usually filled at least half of any issue of any newspaper printed in the colonies in the 1760s and 1770s, advertisements about enslaved people described men, women, and children for sale and offered rewards for the capture and return of “runaways” who liberated themselves from their enslavers.  No printer rejected such advertisements on principle.  Indeed, when James Rivington launched a new newspaper in the spring of 1773, it took only three issues for him not only to publish an advertisement about a “Very fine Negro Boy” for sale but also to serve as a broker by instructing interested buyers to “Enquire of the Printer.”

From New England to Georgia, printers generate revenues by publishing advertisements about enslaved people, though such advertisements accounted for a greater proportion of all notices in newspapers in southern colonies.  The August 10, 1773, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, for instance, carried forty-four advertisements.  Fifteen of them concerned enslaved people.  Ten of those offered enslaved men, women, and children for sale, either individually “by private Contract” or at auctions for a “CARGO OF … SLAVES” recently arrived in Charleston after surviving the Middle Passage from Africa.  One offered a reward for a “new negro fellow named TOM” who liberated himself while another described five Black men and youths “Brought to the WORK-HOUSE” and held there until their enslavers claimed them and paid charges for holding them.  Yet another advertisement sought an overseer for a “Rice Swamp Plantation,” stating that it would be more agreeable if an applicant “has a Wife, who is used to the Management of, and will pay due Attention to sick Negroes and children.”  One more gave notice to “Residents and Non-Residents of the Parish of St. Thomas and St. Dennis” that they needed to submit a “Return upon Oath, of all their Male Slaves, liable to work in the High Roads … in Order that an Assessment may be made for defraying the Expences or Repairs.”  In addition to advertisements about enslaved people for sale and rewards for returning fugitives from enslavement, newspaper notices seeking employees and preparing for public works projects sometimes incorporated enslaved people as critical components.

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 10, 1773).

Advertisements about enslaved people were so ubiquitous in the August 10 edition that they appeared as the first and last notices that readers encountered.  After the list of ships that entered and cleared the customs house in Charleston, a header marked “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.”  That header appeared immediately above the first of those advertisements, a notice about the upcoming sale of “about One Hundred choice Gambia SLAVES” currently in quarantine.  It included a brief overview of a boy who had smallpox during the voyage but recovered more than four weeks earlier.  In addition, the notice provided assurances that “not the smallest Symptom hath ever appeared on any of the other Slaves, who are now all in perfect Health.”  The issue concluded with two advertisements offering enslaved people for sale by a local broker, one for “FOUR valuable and seasoned Negroes” and the other for a “Likely young NEGRO FELLOW, … a good Bricklayer.”  The broker, Jacob Valk, also placed the advertisement for the four enslaved people in the South-Carolina Gazette the previous day, one of the sixteen notices about enslaved men, women, and children in that newspaper.  Those last two advertisements ran immediately above the colophon that provided publication information: “CHARLES-TOWN: Printed by CHARLES CROUCH, in Elliott-Street.”  Advertisements about enslaved people, so lucrative for printers, bookended the paid notices in that issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.

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