October 8

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 8, 1771).

“Yorkshire STUFFS for Negro [Women’s] Gowns.”

The partnership of Powell, Hopton, and Company announced the sale of “A Cargo of One Hundred and Thirty-three HEALTHY and PRIME NEGROES” recently arrived from Gambia in an advertisement in the October 8, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Elsewhere in the same issue, an anonymous advertiser offered to hire out an enslaved woman as a wet nurse “by the month,” instructing interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.  Both the unnamed advertiser and Powell, Hopton, and Company sought to generate revenues by participating in the slave trade.

John Davies also stood to profit from the slave trade, though not from selling or leasing enslaved people.  Instead, he peddled goods to enslavers.  In his advertisement, Davies hawked “SUNDRY MERCHANDIZE” imported from London, calling special attention to “a large ASSORTMENT of Yorkshire STUFFS for Negro [Women’s] Gowns.”  Other merchants and shopkeepers placed extensive advertisements that listed dozens of items available at their stores and warehouses, hoping to entice consumers with the many choices available to them.  For Davies and his prospective customers, however, choice was largely irrelevant.  The enslaved women who would wear garments made of the textiles Davies sold were not consumers; they did not do the shopping or select the cloth according to their own tastes and budgets.  Davies did not need to make the same marketing appeals to the enslavers who purchased his “Yorkshire STUFFS” as other advertisers made to prospective customers.

Davies received his merchandise from London via the Magna Charta, a vessel named for a royal charter understood as protecting individual English freedoms.  The tension between liberty and enslavement contained within his advertisement apparently did not register with Davies as he attempted to earn his livelihood through supplying enslavers who bought his goods and also purchased the human cargo that arrived in Charleston on ships from Africa.  The slave trade had so many tentacles that colonists did not have to buy and sell enslaved people in order to profit from it.

October 1

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

Oct 1 - 9:28:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 28, 1769).

“A likely healthy Negroe … to dispose of.”

Shopkeeper Magdalen Devine occasionally advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the late 1760s. She usually promoted “A LARGE assortment of dry GOODS,” as she did in the September 28, 1769, edition. Her advertisements were notable because they sometimes included a woodcut that depicted some of her wares, two rolls of fabric and two swatches unfurled to display the patterns. Devine relied on images rather than an extensive list of merchandise to communicate the choices available at her shop. Woodcuts commissioned by merchants and shopkeepers were relatively rare in early American newspaper advertisements. Devine was one of an exceptionally small number of women who deployed visual images in her marketing.

Yet Devine sought to accomplish more than just selling dry goods in some of her advertisements. The notice she ran in late September 1769 included a nota bene seemingly unrelated to her merchandise: “She has a likely healthy Negroe wench, about 18 years old, to dispose of, having no cause to part with her but want of employment.” Although most eighteenth-century readers would have found nothing notable about attempting to sell both textiles and an enslaved woman in a single advertisement, modern readers might find this notice particularly striking for the casual manner in which Devine treated another woman as a commodity.

Furthermore, the advertisement testifies to the presence of enslaved men and women in urban ports like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston during the era of the American Revolution. Throughout the colonies and throughout the Atlantic world, consumer culture and enslavement were inextricably linked. Commerce depended on the transatlantic slave trade as well as the skills and involuntary labor of enslaved men, women, and children. The advertisements for consumer goods that filled eighteenth-century newspapers, many of them listing dozens of items offered for sale, usually did not make direct reference to slavery, but colonists had access to those wares, the “LARGE assortment of dry GOODS” advertised by merchants and shopkeepers like Devine,” thanks to networks of exchange that included the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved labor, and the profits from both as an integral component. It was practically impossible to be either a retailer or a consumer in the eighteenth century without perpetuating slavery, directly or indirectly. More readily than most others, Devine’s advertisement makes clear that was the case.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:17:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (August 17, 1769).
“A Negro Woman that can do Household Work, to let out by the Year.”

In the era of the American Revolution, enslavement of Africans and African Americans was not confined to the southern colonies. As newspaper advertisements and other sources from the period demonstrate, enslaved men, women, and children lived and labored throughout the colonies that eventually became the United States, from New England to Georgia. Consider this advertisement seeking “a Negro Woman that can do Household Work” that ran in the August 17, 1769, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. It testifies to the presence of enslaved people in Boston and its environs. It also reveals that the market for enslaved labor was more complex than buying and selling. The advertiser sought a domestic servant “let out by the Year.” In other words, the family did not wish to purchase and permanently acquire an enslaved woman; instead, they wished to rent her services for a year, a practice known as hiring out. Not only were enslaved people deemed commodities by colonists, their labor was also a commodity to be traded in the marketplace.

The conscribed freedom of “a Negro Woman [who] can do Household Work ” stood in stark contrast to the other contents of the newspaper, at least to anyone who cared to take notice. The front page carried news about the ongoing nonimportation agreement, an act of economic resistance to Parliament imposing taxes on paper, glass, lead, tea, and paint in the Townshend Acts. Henry Bass’s advertisement for “American Grindstones … esteemed vastly superior to those from Great-Britain” ran once again. A news article noted that the Sons of Liberty had celebrated their anniversary, gathering first at the “Liberty-Tree” to drink fourteen toasts and then adjourning to “Mr. Robinson’s at the Sign of Liberty-Tree in Dorchester.” By 1769, the Liberty Tree had become a familiar symbol in Boston. The bulk of the news concerned participation in the nonimportation agreement that “some Persons who had heretofore refused to join in the Agreement for Non-Importation appeared and signed the same.” Another indicated that the “Committee of Inspection” would soon make a report about those violated the agreement. Yet another outlined the political stakes of the boycott, noting that those who selfishly did not abide by it exhibited “a total Disregard to the Liberty and Welfare of their County.”

The concept of liberty appeared repeatedly in Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette in August 1769, in juxtaposition with an advertisement seeking “a Negro Woman that can do Household Work.” Colonists encountered symbols of liberty as they traversed the streets of Boston, just as they encountered enslaved men, women, and children denied their own liberty. Yet so few acknowledged the contradiction in 1769. Enslaved people, however, were all too aware of it. Any “Negro Woman [who] can do Household Work” likely had her own ideas about the meaning of liberty, informed by her own experiences, her treatment in the marketplace, and the discourse swirling around her in the era of the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:10:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 10, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD, (At a Distance from the Town of Providence only).”

Among the advertisements in the June 10, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, an unnamed colonist offered to sell an enslaved youth. The advertisement did not provide many details except that the “young NEGROE WOMAN” was approximately fifteen years old and had been “born in the Country” rather than surviving the middle passage from Africa. The advertiser claimed that the enslaved youth was “capable of any Work suited to her Age,” but did not specify any particular skills that she possessed. Interested parties were instructed to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.

None of that deviated from typical advertisements that offered enslaved men, women, and children for sale in the 1760s. The advertisement, however, did include one unusual element. It specified an exception concerning the terms of sale, stating that the seller intended to deal with buyers “At a Distance from the Town of Providence only.” The advertisement did not elaborate on the reason. This suggested a deliberate effort to separate the young woman from someone else. It hints at a story that most likely will never be recovered.

“Enquire of the Printer” advertisements truncated the information provided to readers, but they also truncated the miniature biographies of enslaved men, women, and children contained in those advertisements. Filtered through the perspective of a slaveholder, the advertisement obscures what may have been one of the most significant relationships in the young woman’s life at the time. Perhaps the advertiser considered it necessary to sell her “At a Distance” in order to effectively separate her from family members who exercised too much influence over her. Perhaps friends encouraged her to engage in acts of resistance and the seller hoped that sending her away would correct such insubordination. Perhaps she had embarked on a new romance that made her difficult to manage. Perhaps she frequently participated in altercations with the advertiser or a member of the advertiser’s family. Perhaps she had been sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted by a member of the household and selling her “At a Distance” was a strategy intended to make it easier for members of the household to overcome the rifts in their relationships with each other that had resulted. What might this young woman have recorded had she written her own narrative rather than having her experiences voiced, mostly in the formulaic language of advertisements of the period, by an unnamed slaveholder? The advertisement insinuates so much more while denying the young woman her own voice and concealing her story from readers past and present.

November 24

Who was the subject of an advertisement 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]


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

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (September 1, 1768).
“RUN away … Negro woman named GRACE … appears to be young with child.”

In many instances, newspaper advertisements for runaways may be the only documents that testify to the experiences of some enslaved men and women. Each runaway advertisement tells a story of someone who might otherwise have disappeared from the historical record, but these are only partial stories told by aggrieved masters rather than by the fugitive slaves themselves. Still, these truncated narratives allow us to reconstruct the past, granting insight into the thoughts and experiences of enslaved people even though they do not provide direct testimony.

Consider the story of Grace, described by James Johnson as “a likely Virginia born Negro woman … of a very black complexion.” When Grace ran away in early August 1768, Johnson placed an advertisement offering a reward for her capture in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette. He provided a short biography, though it likely did not include the details that Grace would have chosen were she telling her own story about her life. The young woman had been born in Virginia, like most of the other enslaved men, women, and children advertised in the same the Virginia Gazette at the time she made her escape. She was not a “new negro” who had survived the Middle Passage from Africa and then transshipment within the colonies, but she had not always resided with the same master in the same town. Johnson reported that she ran away from Amelia, well inland, and would “endeavour to get on board some vessel in James river, or make for Hampton town” on the coast. Johnson was at least her third owner, having acquired Grace from James Machan who “said she had lived with Mr. Collier” near Hampton.

Johnson provided one other important detail about Grace, reporting she was “somewhat fat, middling large, and appears to be young with child.” Every fugitive had good reason for running away, but Grace may have had more motivation than others. She was probably aware that she could be separated from her child at any time. Another advertisement in the same issue listed several prizes in a lottery, including “a likely breeding woman named Agnes” valued at fifty pounds as one prize and “Agnes’s child, named Rose, 18 months old” valued at fifteen pounds as another. Mother and daughter were almost certain to be separated when the tickets were drawn and the so-called “Prizes” awarded. In addition to Agnes, the “Prizes” included another “likely breeding woman named Ruth.” Grace may not have fled merely to avoid being separated from her child. She may have been escaping sexual abuse and exploitation that led to her pregnancy, whether perpetrated by Johnson or others. In a society that treated her as a “likely breeding woman,” Grace may have been attempting to assert control over her own body and reproductive choices.

It is impossible to know for certain the precise reasons that Grace chose to run away or why she ran at the time she did, but Johnson’s advertisement suggests some likely possibilities. He did not acknowledge the abuses Grace may have suffered, but readers can fill in those silences by imagining Johnson’s narrative of the enslaved woman’s life had it been told by Grace herself.

March 12

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

Mar 12 - 3:12:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 12, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD, (For no Fault, but on Account of her breeding fast) A healthy likely Negroe Wench.”

For several weeks in February and March 1768 John Lyon inserted an advertisement for a “healthy likely Negroe Wench” and “two male Children” in the Providence Gazette. He informed potential buyers that the woman could “do all Kinds of House-Work” and also implied that she was capable of various sorts of agricultural labor since she “has lived on a Farm.” Lyon was uncertain of her age, estimating it at “about 20 or 25 Years.” He provided even less information about the children, though if they were sons of the woman offered for sale they would have been fairly young.

Like many other slaveholders who placed advertisements when they wished to sell their human property, Lyon assured prospective buyers that he sold this woman “For no Fault,” though he did provide a slightly different variation on that phrase. When slaveholders asserted “no fault” they testified that they were not parting with slaves due to physical or temperamental deficiencies.   Presumably the woman in this advertisement was not particularly recalcitrant, disruptive, or disobedient. She was also “healthy,” though Lyon did not indicate whether she had previously survived small pox. That was often a selling point since it alerted prospective buyers that they did not need to worry about acquiring slaves only to lose them to a common illness.

Many slaveholders who stated that they sold slaves for “no fault” also added the phrase “but for want of employ,” signaling that they did not have sufficient tasks to assign to those slaves to justify continuing to provide them with food and shelter. Rather than setting them free, however, they aimed for a return on their investment by selling them. Lyon, however, offered a different clarification when he stated he sold an enslaved woman “For no Fault.” In this case, he decided to part with her “on Account of her breeding fast.” The unnamed woman had too many children too quickly as far as Lyon was concerned. Even if Lyon found this unmanageable, others who wished to profit from a steady supply of offspring would have considered this an advantage when purchasing the young woman.

Written from the slaveholder’s perspective, this advertisement obscures the experiences of the enslaved woman. In addition to deploying language that equated her with an animal – “breeding fast” – Lyon did not address the circumstances of her multiple pregnancies. Had the woman become pregnant voluntarily? Or had she been exploited for the sexual gratification of Lyon or other members of his household or the community, just as she had been exploited for her labor? Lyon placed the onus on the enslaved woman for having more children than he found convenient, but he did not acknowledge any possibility that she did not have any choice in whether she became pregnant. Like other enslaved women, she would have regularly found herself in situations in which she did not maintain ultimate power over her own body but was instead at the mercy of her master or other white men. Although this advertisement does not even offer the name of the “healthy likely Negroe Wench” it does suggest some of her experiences. It aids in excavating the history of enslaved women when considered in combination with other sources from the colonial era.

February 13

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

Feb 13 - 2:13:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 13, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD … A healthy likely Negroe Wench.”

The pages of colonial newspapers regularly featured black women, including the unnamed “healthy likely Negroe Wench” that John Lyon advertised for sale in the February 13, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. These women appeared either as commodities to be bought and sold or as fugitives who seized their own freedom in an era that white colonists debated the meaning of liberty within the British Empire.

As a result of their bondage and the complicit role the eighteenth-century press played in maintaining systems of unfree labor, black women were more likely to appear in the public prints among “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic” than white women. News items sometimes mentioned notable women. Female shopkeepers occasionally placed advertisements, but not in proportion to their numbers in the marketplace. Widows affixed their names as executrixes and administrators to legal notices when they settled the estates of their deceased husbands. English, Irish, and other women of European origins were often the subject of advertisements for runaway indentured servants, especially in newspapers published in New York and Pennsylvania, but throughout the colonies black women – both Africans and African Americans – achieved an unsettling prominence among the paid notices inserted in newspapers. Barely a day passed in the 1760s that at least one newspaper did not feature at least one advertisement about one or more enslaved women and girls.

Those advertisements help to reconstruct the history of black women in early America, even though the advertisements provide only truncated stories. Consider the “Negroe Wench” from today’s advertisement. Even though she could “do all Kinds of House-Work” well enough that her master found “no Fault” with her efforts, Lyon decided to sell her “on Account of her breeding fast.” In other words, the unnamed woman had too many children too quickly. Yet the advertisement does not reveal anything about the woman’s relationships with others in the household or the community. Who was the father of her children? A fellow slave or a free black man? A member of the Lyon household? John Lyon himself? This advertisement quite likely chronicled a sexual relationship that was not consensual, even though the wording places the blame on the unnamed woman for “breeding fast.” What of the “two male Children” also offered for sale? Were these children the unwanted result of the woman “breeding fast”? If so, did Lyon sell them with their mother or separate the family? The advertisement hints at the experiences of an unnamed enslaved woman yet reveals precious few details. In broad strokes, it paints a picture of the experiences of countless enslaved women in early America.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 11
Georgia Gazette (October 21, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, A Likely Young NEGROE WNECH, Who can wash, and is very handy in a house.”

The October 21, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette included thirteen advertisements that involved enslaved men, women, and children in some way. Seven advertisers sought to sell slaves. Two offered rewards for the capture and return of runaway slaves. Another two described suspected runaways that had been captured and requested that their masters claim them. One employment notice outlined the responsibilities of an overseer who would “take charge of about 20 negroes to be employed in planting rice and provisions.” The final advertisement proposed hiring out (or renting out) a “LIKELY NEGROE GIRL,” a good seamstress, by the month or year.

Among these thirteen advertisements, five featured enslaved women and girls. Women may have been largely (but not completely) absent from the advertising pages when it came to operating businesses and promoting their entrepreneurial activities to consumers, but enslaved women and girls appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers regularly. Practically every day in the 1760s at least one newspaper published somewhere in the colonies included at least one advertisement that featured enslaved women or girls, making slavery advertisements perhaps the most voluminous source for examining women’s history printed in colonial newspapers. Although not written from the perspective of enslaved women and girls, they still reveal much about their experiences.

Some reveal more than others. One simply stated: “TO BE SOLD, A VERY FINE, STOUT, YOUNG, and HEALTHY WENCH. For particulars apply to THOMAS HAMILTON.” In addition to the enslaved seamstress who could be hired out, another short advertisement offered a “NEGROE WENCH, Who can wash, and is very handy in a house.” A real estate advertisement for a farm concluded by noting the seller also had “TWO YOUNG NEGROE WENCHES … who are very handy at any kind of house work, and are good sempstresses.” These mentions were brief, but they still aid in understanding and reconstructing the experiences of enslaved women and girls. For instance, these advertisements indicate that enslaved women and girls often engaged in domestic labor rather than working in the fields. Not all of them were drudges within the home but instead developed valuable skills.

Other advertisements told much more elaborate stories about enslaved women and girls, especially advertisements for runaways that often included physical descriptions, described clothing, commented on personality traits, and acknowledged relationships with other slaves. Sometimes they tracked known or suspected movements, speculating on which friends or relatives runaways might approach for aid. No advertisements of that sort appeared in the October 21, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette, but they had in the past and they would again. That publication, like most of its counterparts throughout the colonies, frequently ran advertisements about enslaved women and girls, advertisements of various lengths and with assorted purposes. As a result, enslaved women and girls likely appeared in colonial newspapers more often than other women. The attempts to keep them in bondage also yielded a more prominent and extensive record of their experiences in the public prints. Enslaved women could never be out of sight to anyone who read the newspaper, either in the eighteenth century or today.

October 17

GUEST CURATOR: Lindsay Hajjar

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

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.



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.

New-London Gazette (October 17, 1766).

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.

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.


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