November 24

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

Nov 24 - 11:24:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (November 24, 1768).
“SUKEY HAMILTON, cook to the late Governor, with her youngest daughter.”

The name Sukey Hamilton, belonging to an enslaved woman of some repute, appeared among the advertisements in the November 24, 1768, editions of both Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette and William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. Despite variations in typography, identical copy appeared in the notices: “SUKEY HAMILTON, cook to the late Governor, with her youngest daughter, 7 years old, will be sold before Mr. Hay’s door on Thursday the 15th December next. Credit will be allowed for six months, bond and proper security being given.” Francis Fauquier, the lieutenant governor of the Virginia colony who had served as acting governor in the absence of the Earl of Loudon and Jeffrey Amherst for the past decade, had died at the beginning of March. Nine months later, representatives of his estate advertised the sale of his enslaved cook and one of her daughters to take place three weeks later.

Hamilton would bring her own qualifications to any household that purchased her. Prospective buyers likely recognized some cachet in acquiring the cook who formerly served the governor. Yet the notice offered more than just the skill and expertise that Hamilton would contribute to the kitchen. She was to be sold “with her youngest daughter. In Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine, Kelley Fanto Deetz that enslaved children were “valued with the cook” because they “helped in the kitchen and contributed to the production of meals.” Hamilton’s unnamed seven-year-old daughter likely performed tedious tasks, including picking stems and shucking corn. Over time, Hamilton likely taught her daughter to cook in an attempt to pass down her knowledge to the next generation. According to Deetz, the “practice of having their children working and living next to [enslaved cooks] … carried into the profits of slavery.”

Advertisements for enslaved men often touted their abilities as artisans or skilled laborers. In the same issue of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette, for instance, another advertisement listed “two Negro men …, both of whom have been accustomed to attend a mill, and one of them is an extraordinary good cooper.” Many enslaved women, however, also possessed skills and expertise, even when their duties did not place them beyond the household. Their own abilities should not be overlooked merely because they undertook tasks traditionally considered women’s work. Preparing meals in an eighteenth-century kitchen, Deetz declares, “required skill, strength, and perseverance.”[1]

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[1] Kelley Fanto Deetz, Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017).

October 17

GUEST CURATOR: Lindsay Hajjar

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

oct-17-10171766-new-london-gazette
New-London Gazette (October 17, 1766).

“ALSO, An able body’d hearty Wench 16 Years old (with a sucking Child.”

This advertisement started with the sale of a twenty-nine-year old slave, described as “strong and healthy.” The seller then indicated where he was born and that he has skills in farming. Next, he stated he was selling a “Wench” who was sixteen years old. By calling her a wench he degraded her status as a woman even further. In this case, a female slave was held at even lower regard than a male slave, perhaps because of the fact that when she had a child it took away from her ability to do work. The girl being sold was “able-bodied” and could “do all Sorts of House Work,” but was being sold because of “her breeding.” The words “breeding” and “wench” show the seller’s opinion about women, especially enslaved women, as well as an assumption that because she was a women and a slave she should be good at housework because that was what she was born to do.

In “Work, Pregnancy, and Infant Mortality among Southern Slaves,” John Campbell talks about how in the South slave owners placed value not on the gender of slaves but rather their age and physical condition. Campbell also points out that both male and female slaves were “harvesting equal proportions of cotton,” showing that in the South it did not matter to the slave owners the gender of the slave as long as they were capable of doing the work.[1] However, this advertisement was printed in the northern colony of Connecticut during an earlier period; the seller’s tone was different. It changed, becoming more aggressive and angry when going from depicting the man to the girl being sold. It is as if the seller was annoyed that she had a child that was now going to be a burden on him and he had to sell them because the child would be a distraction to her. He was not willing to make the long-term investment in the child, showing that Northern slave owners in the colonial period were not as ambivalent about their slaves’ genders as Southern slave owners were in the nineteenth century. In his advertisement the seller said the young woman came “with a sucking child.” He seemed upset with the fact that she had a child and that the child was nothing but an inconvenience, because the child was still breastfeeding. Female slaves could be looked at as beneficial because they had the ability to produce more slaves for their owners but that could also be a shortcoming because when they were pregnant and while the child was dependent mothers were not able to work to the same capacity.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

I appreciate how Lindsay compares the sentiments expressed in today’s advertisement to the attitudes adopted by slaveholders in another region during another period, underscoring that there was not a monolithic experience of slavery in America. Instead, different people (both enslaved and free) faced very different circumstances depending on the period and place in which they lived.

Another notice that appeared on the same page of the New-London Gazette further complicates today’s advertisement. “We are told,” an anonymous narrator (perhaps the printer) proclaimed, “that the Negro Wench advertised for Sale in this Paper, has had Three living Children, tho’ she is only 16 Years old. — A rare Instance of Prollfickness!” (Presumably the last word was supposed to be “prolificness.”) As Lindsay noted, the seller wished to be rid of this young woman solely because of her “breeding” and the inconveniences that it caused. The other notice, however, seemed to celebrate the young enslaved woman’s ability to produce children, promoting her fecundity as a selling point for potential buyers.

oct-17-10171766-puff-piece-new-london-gazette
New-London Gazette (October 17, 1766).

Who was responsible for the announcement that the sixteen-year-old “hearty Wench” already had three children? Was this an advertisement – a puff piece – placed by the current owner of the young woman in hopes of generating interest and making a sale? Or did the printer insert it of his own volition, as a point of interest he hoped would inform and entertain readers? The placement on the page makes it difficult to reach any particular conclusion. The notice appeared among the advertisements included in that issue of the New-London Gazette, but it appears at the bottom of the column immediately to the left of the column in which the advertisement for the “hearty Wench” was printed. It may have been positioned to prime readers to consider purchasing the young woman, but it also could have been intended as amusing filler when news and advertising did not completely fill the column. Either way, it now provides disheartening evidence concerning the levels of degradation one enslaved woman experienced at the hands of her captor and his community.

When Lindsay first presented this advertisement for my approval, I thought I might contemplate whether it suggested a family was being separated. When I examined it in the context of the rest of the issue, however, I discovered a much more revolting situation.

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[1] John Campbell, “Work, Pregnancy, and Infant Mortality among Southern Slaves,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 14, no. 4 (Spring 1984): 797.