April 9

GUEST CURATOR: Drew Nunnemacher

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

New-York Journal (April 9, 1772).

“A Likely young Negro Girl.”

We do not know much about this “Likely young Negro Girl” advertised in the New-York Journal except that she was around 13 years old and had been “brought up in the Country” and not in New York City.  She may have been separated from her mother and other members of her family at a young age.  Even if that was not the case, being sold would separate her from family and friends.  According to Heather Andrea Williams in an article about “How Slavery Affected African American Families,” enslaved people “lived with the perpetual possibility of separation through the sale of one or more family members.”  She also states, “Young children, innocently unaware of the possibilities, learned quickly of the pain that such separations could cost.”  This advertisement was about one girl, but it helps to tell the stories of many more children and their families who were separated because of slavery and the slave trade during the era of the American Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Like his peers in my Revolutionary America class, Drew had an opportunity to select any newspaper advertisement to examine in greater detail from his week as guest curator of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  That meant that he selected from hundreds of advertisements for consumer goods and services and dozens of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children.  In total, he identified sixty advertisements about enslaved people published in newspapers from New Hampshire to South Carolina from April 3 through April 9, 1772.  The vast majority of those ran in newspapers in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, but a significant number of them, like this advertisement for a “Likely young Negro Girl,” appeared in newspapers published in Pennsylvania, New York, and New England.  Drew could have chosen any of those advertisements to research for his entry on the Adverts 250 Project.

I suspect that he decided on an advertisement about an enslaved girl published in New York in part because he and his classmates were dismayed to learn about the extent of slavery in New England and the Middle Atlantic before, during, and after the American Revolution.  They were accustomed to thinking of slavery as a southern institution in the nineteenth century, not an integral part of daily life throughout the colonies during the eighteenth century.  Working on the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, examining entire issues of approximately two dozen newspapers published in the early 1770s, allowed them to witness the reality of slavery in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  This advertisement about a “Likely young Negro Girl” was not some sort of exceptional example.  It appeared immediately below another advertisement for a “Likely Negro Man, about 20 years of age.”  The same day, the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal both carried advertisements about enslaved people.  Throughout the week, similar advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the New-Hampshire Gazette, the New-London Gazette, and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury as well as in several newspapers in the Chesapeake and the Lower South.  As an instructor, I could have gathered together examples to share with my students, but I believe that examining the primary sources themselves, seeing these advertisements in the context of the newspapers that carried them, more fully testifies to the presence of slavery and enslaved people in early America.