October 10

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 9, 1770).

“He is in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS, for whom good Wages will be given.”

In the early 1770s, Thomas fell operated a tailoring shop on Elliott Street in Charleston.  He placed advertisements in South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advise prospective clients of the services he offered “in the genteelest Manner, and with Dispatch.”  Yet he did not run the shop alone.  In addition to extending “hearty Thanks” to his customers, he also announced that he was “in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS.”  Fell declared that “good Wages will be given” for the work undertaken by those enslaved men.

Those “good Wages,” however, did not go directly to the tailors but instead to the enslavers who hired them out by the day, week, month, or year.  As newspaper advertisements, slave narratives, and other sources demonstrate, enslavers who did not have sufficient work to occupy the time of the men and women they held in bondage instead generated a return on their investment by hiring out (or renting) them to others.  Sometimes they attempted to appear magnanimous by allowing enslaved laborers to keep a portion of those “good Wages,” but in the end it was the enslavers rather than the enslaved who derived the most significant financial benefits from such arrangements.

Colonists like Fell also gained advantages from hiring enslaved artisans, including tailors, blacksmiths, carpenters, and coopers.  While Fell promised genteel garments made quickly for clients who visited his shop, he did not do all of the work himself.  He relied on the expertise and labor of enslaved tailors.  His advertisement made clear that they worked in his shop, but many other notices in the public prints certainly obscured the contributions of enslaved artisans.  Rarely did proprietors mention assistants of any sort, whether free, indentured, or enslaved.  The advertisements that crowded the pages of newspapers and supplements depicted vibrant commerce and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America, but often obscured the extent that enslaved men and women involuntarily provided their skills, knowledge, and labor.

September 18

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 18, 1770).

“He is in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS, for whom the highest Wages will be given.”

The September 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal included multiple advertisements offering enslaved men, women, and children for sale.  One advertisement, for instance, concerned a “Young Country-born” woman “with her first Child, two Years old.”  This young woman, “an extraordinary good Washer and Ironer,” was pregnant with another child.  Other advertisements described enslaved people who possessed a variety of skills for sale with and without members of their families.

Yet buying and selling enslaved people was not the only means of distributing and exploiting their labor in the public prints.  Several “for hire” advertisements also ran in that issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Rather than purchase enslaved people outright, colonists frequently “hired” or rented their services from their enslavers.  In so doing, they acquired the labor they needed but without making as much of an investment.  One advertisement proclaimed, “WANTED ON HIRE, A Sprightly NEGRO BOY, who has been used to wait on a Gentlemen, and attend at Table.”  The advertiser did not sign the notice but instead instructed that anyone looking to hire out an enslaved servant should “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.  John Savage placed a similar advertisement, though he stated that he wanted an enslaved man “who was handy about a House” and an enslaved woman who was a good domestic servant “ON HIRE, OR TO PURCHASE.”  Thomas Fell, a tailor, informed the public that he was “in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS, for whom the highest Wages will be given.”  Those wages, however, did not go to the enslaved tailors.  Instead, their enslavers collected the wages.  If they wanted to feel magnanimous, the enslavers could dole out a portion of those wages to the enslaved tailors who did the work.  Doing so might salve their consciences, yet the tailors remained enslaved and exploited.

This system of hiring out enslaved workers for short periods – days, weeks, months, or a year – supplemented the slave trade in early America.  In the colonial and revolutionary eras, it occurred throughout the colonies.  It later continued into the nineteenth century in all areas that did not abolish slavery.  Gabriel, the enslaved man executed for organizing a failed uprising in Richmond, Virginia, in 1800, hired out as a blacksmith.  Frederick Douglass hired out as a caulker in shipyards in Baltimore in the early nineteenth century.  Newspaper advertisements help to tell the stories of many other enslaved men and women who were hired out in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.