November 4

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Packet (November 4, 1771).

“WANTED, A NEGRO BOY … apply to the Printer.”

Two issues.  It took only two issues for John Dunlap, the printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, to become a slave broker.  Dunlap published the inaugural issue of his newspaper on October 28, 1771.  It overflowed with advertising.  So many advertisers submitted notices to the printing office that Dunlap published a two-page supplement and inserted a note that other advertisements arrived too late for publication that week but would appear in the next edition.  Most advertisements in that first issue promoted consumer goods and services.

The following week, however, Dunlap ran another sort of advertisement that regularly appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia:  a notice in which an unnamed advertiser sought to purchase an enslaved person.  “WANTED,” the advertisement proclaimed, “A NEGRO BOY, from fourteen to twenty years of age, that can be well recommended.”  In running that advertisement, John Dunlap and the Pennsylvania Packet helped to perpetuate slavery and the slave trade.  Yet Dunlap did more than provide space in his newspaper in exchange for advertising fees that made his new publication a viable venture.  The advertisement instructed that “Any person who has such to dispose of, may hear of a Purchaser by applying to the Printer.”  Dunlap brokered the sale by supplying additional information to readers who responded to the advertisement.

That was a common practice throughout the eighteenth century.  In “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Jordan E. Taylor analyzes a “dataset of more than 2,100 unique eighteenth-century North American ‘enquire of the printer’ newspaper slave advertisements appearing from 1704 through 1807.”[1]  Most of those advertisements ran for multiple weeks, making them even more ubiquitous before the eyes of readers and profitable for printers.  Dunlap, then, was not an outlier among printers during the era of the American Revolution.  Instead, he very quickly adopted a widespread practice.  Not exclusively a broker of information, the printer also served as a broker of enslaved men, women, and children.

**********

[1] Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 290.

October 31

GUEST CURATOR:  Jake Luongo

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Spy (October 31, 1771).

“A YOUNG, sprightly, sober NEGRO BOY … Enquire of the Printer.”

This advertisement offers a thirteen-year-old “NEGRO BOY” for sale, along with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer hereof” for anybody interested in purchasing the enslaved boy slave.  Selling a human being is just abhorrent, to say the least, but to put the advertisements amongst other advertisements for household items and livestock is just utterly disturbing to today’s readers. Unfortunately, it was just another advertisement to most readers of eighteenth-century newspapers.  Advertisements for enslaved people for sale were abundant in number yet often sparse when it came to details regarding the people actually being purchased. If interested buyers needed more information, they were to “Enquire of the Printer.”

Printers acted as liaisons between buyers and sellers of enslaved people. According to Jordan E. Taylor, printers acted as “slave brokers” both before and after the American Revolution.[1]  Once the Declaration of Independence was signed, it seemed contradictory to some Americans to advertise enslaved people for sale, but printers did not agree.  The advertisements continued, along with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer.”  According to Taylor, no matter the backlash printers received for these advertisements in the late eighteenth century, the money made on them mattered more, especially in towns with more than one newspaper that competed with each other for advertisements.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Jake outlines some of the most significant arguments that Jordan E. Taylor makes in “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807.”  In his study of “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements, Taylor examined newspapers published throughout the colonies and the new nation in the eighteenth century.  That included newspapers published in New England and the Middle Atlantic, where Taylor identified a concentration of these advertisements before the end of the American Revolution.[2]

Note that the advertisement Jake examined appeared in the Massachusetts Spy, the newspaper published in Boston by ardent patriot Isaiah Thomas.  In the spring of 1775, Thomas fled to Worcester for his safety after repeatedly infuriating British officials with the articles and editorials he published in the Massachusetts Spy.  Even in 1771, when the advertisement for a “YOUNG, sprightly, sober NEGRO BOY” appeared with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information, Thomas made his political principles known.  The advertisement not only ran among notices promoting consumer goods and services but also in close proximity to Thomas’s own advertisement for the “Massachusetts CALENDAR; or an ALMANACK, for the year 1772.”  Rather than publishing a generic almanac, Thomas made clear his was one for American patriots.  It contained essays “On Liberty and Government” as well as an engraving of the Boston Massacre as both memorial and warning.

Taylor identifies many other instances of the juxtaposition of content advocating liberty for some Americans alongside content that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.  Historians now consider Isaiah Thomas one of the most significant and influential printers active during the era of the American Revolution, in large part because he was such a vocal proponent of American rights, American liberty, and American independence.  Closer examination of the contents of the Massachusetts Spy, however, reveals that he also served as a slave broker, facilitating the purchase and sale of enslaved men, women, and children by publishing advertisements and providing additional information to those who did “Enquire of the Printer.”

Massachusetts Spy (October 31, 1771).

**********

[1] Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 287.

[2] Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer,” 309.

October 3

GUEST CURATOR:  Katerina Barbas

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-York Journal (October 3, 1771).

“A Woman of good character … may hear of a place by inquiring of the Printer hereof.”

This advertisement highlights traditional gender roles for European colonists in colonial America. European gender roles constituted that the ideal family was led by a man who was in charge of his family and represented it beyond the home, while a woman performed domestic work and ran the household. These European gender roles were brought to the colonies in the new world. According to an article on National Geographic’s website, white women in colonial America had responsibilities within the household such as cooking, cleaning, sewing, making soap and candles, and caring for and educating children, which was their primary role. Seeking a “woman of a good character” required that the woman be an exceptional role model, because she would be supporting the emotional and moral development of the children and prepare them for adulthood. A woman who responded to this advertisement would have been responsible for teaching young girls in the family how to perform household tasks in order to prepare them for the traditional role as wife and mother.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Among the many legal notices and advertisements for consumer goods and services that colonists paid to insert in the New-York Journal, a variety of employment advertisements appeared as well.  Many of them featured labor undertaken by women.  In the advertisement Katerina chose to feature today, an unnamed advertiser sought a woman willing to move fourteen miles from the busy port to serve as a “nursery maid” for a family in the countryside.  In another advertisement in the October 3, 1771, edition, another anonymous advertiser offered work for a “Careful woman who understands washing, cooking … and is willing to do all work in a middling family.”  That advertisement concluded with a nota bene proclaiming that “None need apply without being able to produce a good character from reputable people.”  In other words, candidates needed to produce references before entering the household.  The family in the countryside seeking a nursery maid also likely requested similar assurances.

In both instances, the prospective employers relied on John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, to act as a broker.  The family in the countryside informed prospective nursery maids that they “may hear of a place by inquiring of the Printer hereof.”  Similarly, the “middling family” instructed women with appropriate references that they “may hear of employment by applying to the printer.”  Holt disseminated some information in print, but, at the request of advertisers, reserved some details only for readers who contacted the printing office.  That was also the case for a “likely healthy Negro” woman offered for sale.  An unnamed enslaver described the woman as “an excellent thorough Cook” who could “pickle and preserve.”  The advertisement did not say much else about the woman except that she was “about 24 Years of Age.”  Like so many other advertisements, it declared, “for Particulars, inquire of the Printer.”  In this instance, Holt became not only an information broker but also a broker of enslaved labor.  He actively facilitated the slave trade, first by running the advertisement in his newspaper and then by collaborating with enslavers who bought and sold the “likely healthy Negro” woman.

Colonists turned to the public prints as a clearinghouse for acquiring workers, female as well as male.  Advertisements offering employment to women maintained expectations about the roles they fulfilled within families, like cooking, cleaning, and caring for children.  Some of those advertisements offered women new opportunities with employers of their choosing, but others merely perpetuated the enslavement of Black women.  Gender played an important part in shaping the experiences of women who applied to the advertisement Katerina selected for today, but it was not the only factor that defined their role in New York and other colonies.

September 3

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Essex Gazette (September 3, 1771).

“The Original of this Advertisement, with the Subscribers Names, which are omitted, may be seen at the Printing-Office.”

Colonial printers disseminated information via newspapers, broadsides, pamphlets, and other items produced on their presses, but the printed word was not their only means of communicating with the public.  Through written correspondence or visiting printing offices, colonists gained access to information that did not appear in print.  For instance, newspaper advertisements of all sorts instructed interested parties to “enquire of the printer” for more information.  Enslavers often remained anonymous when they placed advertisements looking to sell those they held in bondage, instead stating that readers should “enquire of the printer” for particulars, but they were not alone.  Purveyors of various commodities also listed printers as intermediaries, as did colonists seeking employment and artisans seeking apprentices.  In addition to “enquire of the printer” advertisements, subscription notices listed printers as local agents collecting orders for books published in other cities.  Sometimes printers had more extensive subscription notices on display in their printing offices compared to what appeared in newspapers.

On other occasions, printers chose to withhold some information, but informed readers that they could learn more in person.  Such was the case in an advertisement that ran in the September 3, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  The notice declared that “the new Work-House in Salem, was broke open” on August 25 and “the Workmen’s Tools stolen and carried away.”  The “Subscribers” who placed the advertisement lamented “such Villainy [that] brings a Scandal upon the Town” and encouraged “all well-disposed Persons [to] do their utmost that Justice may take Place.”  To that end, the “Subscribers” offered a reward “to any Person or Persons, who will discover the Offenders.”  The notice concluded with a note from Samuel Hall, the printer, that stated, “The Original of this Advertisement, with the Subscribers Names, which are omitted, may be seen at the Printing-Office.”  Hall did not indicate whether the original contained more information than appeared in print, other than the names of the “Subscribers” who placed it and offered the reward, but even the omitted names revealed that readers could learn more with a visit to the printing office.  Hall also did not specify why he did not publish the names of the “Subscribers.”  Perhaps he shared his reasons with those who came to examine the original.  Whatever the case, Hall utilized multiple methods in disseminating the information in his possession.  Some of it appeared in print, but certain details he shared with the curious when they visited his printing office.

June 17

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (June 17, 1771).

“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.

March 19

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Essex Gazette (March 19, 1771).

“Whoever has a Mind to purchase … by applying to the Printer hereof may know further.”

Advertisements for grocery items, an “elegant Assortment of English GOODS,” sermons in memory of George Whitefield, and real estate for sale or lease ran in the March 19, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Readers were accustomed to encountering each sort of advertisement when they perused the Essex Gazette.  They were also accustomed to another kind of advertisement that offered enslaved people for sale.  In that issue, an anonymous advertiser presented a “likely, healthy, stout NEGRO Man, of about 30 Years of Age, who understands the farming Business in all its Branches.”  The advertiser advised prospective purchasers that the enslaved man was “To be SOLD, for Want of Employ, and not for any Fault.”  In other words, he was not ill, lazy, or disorderly; his current enslaver did not have enough work to keep him occupied.  The advertiser, who also had a “House Lot” in Marblehead for sale, instructed interested parties to contact the printer for more information.

Samuel Hall was that printer.  He began printing the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in August 1768.  The success of that newspaper and every other newspaper published in the colonies depended on attracting both subscribers and advertisers, but it also depended on other services provided at the printing office.  Printers served as information brokers.  The newspapers they distributed accounted for only a portion of the information in their possession.  They frequently disseminated via other means, including letters and conversations in printing offices, information that did not appear in print, especially when advertisers did not include all the particulars in their notices but instead asked readers to “enquire of the printer.”  In some cases, they made introductions, putting those who made inquiries in contact with advertisers.  On other occasions, they supplied additional details.  Either way, they acted as brokers, not only brokers of information but also brokers who facilitated sales.

When Hall published an advertisement for a “House Lot in Marblehead” and a “likely, healthy, stout NEGRO Man” that told readers they could learn more “by applying to the Printer,” he became a real estate broker and a broker in the slave trade.  Jordan E. Taylor has recently examined “enquire of the printer” advertisements published throughout the colonies and new nation in the eighteenth century, demonstrating that Hall was not alone.[1]  Taylor identified more than 2100 unique “enquire of the printer” advertisements offering enslaved people for sale.  Printers from New England to Georgia actively participated in the slave trade, both by publishing advertisements about enslaved people and by acting as a broker for “enquire of the printer” advertisements.  As Taylor argues, “Print culture was inextricable from the culture of slavery, just as print capitalism was slavery’s capitalism.”

**********

[1] Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer:  Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies:  An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 287-323.

July 15

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jul 15 - 7:12:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 12, 1770).

“Hear of good Encouragement, by applying to the Printer at the Exchange.”

By the late 1760s, entrepreneurial colonists established and advertised “intelligence offices” in Boston and New York.  The brokers who operated those establishments provided a variety of services for their clients.  They introduced merchants and traders seeking to buy and sell commodities.  They conducted real estate transactions.  They also facilitated sales of indentured servants and enslaved people in addition to aiding employers seeking workers.  Brokers made matches in the marketplace.

Yet their occupation was not unique in that regard.  Printing offices served as intelligence offices by another name.  Throughout the eighteenth century, advertisements often concluded with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.  Consider some of the advertisements that appeared in the July 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  One short notice offered a young enslaved woman for sale, but offered little detail beyond her age and a promise that she “can be well recommended.”  The advertisement did not identify the enslaver; instead, it concluded with the familiar refrain, “Enquire of the Printer.”  Another advertisement offered employment opportunities for men willing to migrate to Virginia.  The anonymous advertiser sought a “Sober single Man, of a good Character, who understand the Smith’s Business” and “a single Man of like Character, who understands the tending and Management of a Merchant’s Mill.” Candidates could learn more “by applying to the Printer at the Exchange.”  According to the colophon, John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, ran his office “near the Exchange, in Broad-Street.”

Printing offices were hubs for collecting and circulating information in eighteenth-century America.  Printers disseminated some information via newspapers, but advertisements in those publications often hinted at far more information that did not appear in print.  By visiting or sending notes to printers, readers could learn more about job opportunities and commodities, real estate, indentured servants, and enslaved people for sale.  Newspaper advertisements reveal how frequently printers acted as brokers as one of the many facets of their occupation.

January 4

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jan 4 1770 - 1:4:1770 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (January 4, 1770).

“To be SOLD … A Healthy likely Negro.”

When the new year began in 1770, colonists in New York had access to four newspapers printed in their bustling port city. Hugh Gaine published the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on Mondays, the same day that James Parker circulated the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy. On Thursdays, John Holt distributed the New-York Journal. Commencing in May 1769, Alexander Robertson and James Robertson released a new issue of the New-York Chronicle on Thursdays. All four newspapers carried advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children, who comprised a significant portion of the population. According to the New-York Historical Society, “As many as 20 percent of colonial New Yorkers were enslaved Africans. … Almost every businessman in 18th-century New York had a stake, at one time or another, in the traffic of human beings.” Gaine, Parker, Holt, and the Robertsons certainly had a stake, generating revenue from advertisements offering enslaved people for sale and from notices describing those who escaped, the advertisers hoping that colonists would recognize, capture, and return “runaways” for a reward.

This advertisement seeking to sell a “Healthy likely Negro Wench, about Thirteen Years of Age,” appeared in the January 4, 1770, edition of the New-York Chronicle. As in so many other advertisements of this type, the seller did not include their name but instead instructed interested parties to “enquire of the Printers.” When they acted as information brokers in response to such enquiries, the Robertsons and other printers became even more enmeshed in the slave trade.

Yet the Robertsons ceased offering such services, not necessarily out of any moral compunction but instead because the New-York Chronicle closed down. The January 4 edition is the last known issue and, quite probably, the last issue of that newspaper. The newspaper did not survive an entire year, but the printers still managed to play a role in facilitating the slave trade in the colony. This advertisement offering a thirteen-year-old girl for sale ran on the final page of the January 4 edition. The New-York Chronicle helped to perpetuate slavery until the newspaper’s very end. New Yorkers then had one less place to insert advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children, but the disappearance of the New-York Chronicle likely made little difference in that regard. Three other newspapers continued to publish those advertisements, further embroiling colonial printers in maintaining and bolstering the slave trade. Gaine’s New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury tended to carry the most advertisements concerning enslaved people, but the others published them as well. As the 1770s dawned in New York, none of the city’s newspaper printers refused such advertisements and the fees associated with them.

October 11

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Oct 11 - 10:11:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 11, 1769).

“WANTED, AN APPRENTICE … Enquire of the printer.”

Printing offices served as information hubs in eighteenth-century America. Publishing newspapers depended on gathering all sorts of information to print and circulate. To aid in that endeavor, printers often called on colonists to keep them apprised of news to insert in their publications. James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, made such overtures in every issue; the colophon on the final page noted that “Letters of Intelligence … are taken in” at the printing office. Johnston selected from among the “Letters of Intelligence” submitted for his consideration, but also liberally reprinted material from newspapers published in other colonies, a common practice in the eighteenth century. Most editions of the Georgia Gazette also included shipping news compiled by the customs house in Savannah, a listing of vessels “ENTERED INWARDS,” “ENTERED OUTWARDS,” and “CLEARED.” Advertisements comprised a significant portion of the content of the Georgia Gazette, delivering all sorts of information via legal notices, announcements, notices warning about enslaved men and women who escaped, and lists of consumers goods and commodities for sale.

Yet not all the information received in the printing office circulated in print. Johnston, like other printers, intentionally held some information in reserve at the request of those who supplied it. That made “Enquire of the printer” a common phrase that concluded many advertisements. One that ran in the October 11, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette briefly stated, “WANTED, AN APPRENTICE to the BARBER and P[ER]UKE MAKING BUSINESS. Enquire of the Printer.” Two other advertisements in that issue, both of them seeking overseers on plantations, also instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the printer” to learn more, including the identity of the prospective employers. Advertisers did not pay only for printers to set type and provide space in their newspapers; the fees printers charged for advertising sometimes included other services, including fielding inquiries from readers who desired more information. Printers oversaw multiple means of disseminating information to colonists, often making information readily available in print but sometimes serving as gatekeepers who dispersed certain information much more sparingly. “Enquire of the printer” advertisements demonstrate that information that flowed out of printing offices did not always take the form of print.

August 5

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Aug 5 - 8:5:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 5, 1769).

“Enquire of the Printer.”

Like other printing offices throughout the colonies, John Carter’s printing office at the “Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in Providence was a hub for circulating information. Carter printed the Providence Gazette, distributing information to residents of the city, the colony, and beyond. To that end, he participated in exchange networks with other printers, sending and receiving newspapers and reprinting liberally from one publication to another. The August 5, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, included items “From the BOSTON EVENING-POST” and “From the Massachusetts Gazette” as well as other items almost certainly reprinted from other newspapers.

Yet Carter did not rely solely on other newspapers to provide the content he needed to fill the pages of the Providence Gazette. The colophon at the bottom of the final page of every issue advised readers that “Articles and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received for this Paper” at the printing office. One item in the August 5 edition was an “Extract of a letter from Kennet, in Chester county,” Pennsylvania. Several such extracts came from London: “Extract of a letter from London,” “Extract of another letter from London,” and “Extract of another letter, by the last vessel, from a merchant in London to a merchant in Boston.” Carter depended on merchants, captains, and others to provide news to print in the Providence Gazette.

Yet not all of the information that found its way to the printing office circulated in print. Consider an employment advertisement placed by “A PERSON that understands the DISTILLING Business, in all its Branches.” Like so many other eighteenth-century advertisements, it withheld information in favor of instructing interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer.” The advertiser who paid to have this notice inserted in the Providence Gazette purchased more than the time and labor required to set the type and the space that it occupied on the page. This transaction also included an ongoing obligation on behalf of the printer to respond to inquiries, both written messages and visitors to the printing office. Carter acted as a gatekeeper for information, choosing which items to publish in the newspaper and doling out additional information to supplement what appeared in print. His printing office must have been a busy place considering the number of people, letters, and newspapers that passed through it.