June 27

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

Jun 27 - 6:26:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 26, 1770).

“RUN AWAY … a NEGRO fellow, named July.”

No newspaper advertisements concerning enslaved people appear via the Slavery Adverts 250 Project today, but that does not mean that no such advertisements were published in the American colonies on June 27, 1770.  The absence of these advertisements is a consequence of the Georgia Gazette no longer being part of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project as of May 23.  James Johnston continued publishing the Georgia Gazette into 1776, but many editions have been lost over time.  Any surviving copies published after May 23, 1770, have not been digitized, making them less accessible to scholars and others who wish to consult them.  Of the newspapers published in 1770 that have been digitized, the Georgia Gazette was the only publication regularly distributed on Wednesdays (with dates that correspond to Saturdays in 2020), though printers in Charleston occasionally published newspapers on Wednesdays.  As a result, the Slavery Adverts 250 Projectnow inadvertently gives the impression that no advertisements concerning enslaved people circulated in colonial America on Wednesdays in 1770 even though the Georgia Gazette usually included at least half a dozen such advertisements and often significantly more.

Unfortunately, the absence of these advertisements further obscures the stories that they tell about the experiences of enslaved people in the era of the imperial crisis that resulted in the American Revolution.  Today’s featured advertisement about an enslaved man who liberated himself, a man known to his enslavers as July, comes from the June 26, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Filtered through the perspective of July’s enslaver, the advertisement tells a truncated story of Black agency and resistance similar to the stories told in advertisements that likely appeared in the Georgia Gazette on the following day.  Other advertisements in that missing issue likely told other kinds of stories, some of enslaved people for sale as individuals or in groups or “parcels” and others of enslaved people who attempted to liberate themselves but were captured and imprisoned until those who asserted mastery over them claimed them.  Advertisements that ran in other newspapers tell similar stories as those from the missing issues of the Georgia Gazette.

Relying on those proxies, however, does not as effectively reveal the number and frequency of advertisements concerning enslaved people that circulated in early American newspapers.  The Slavery Adverts 250 Project seeks not only to tell representative stories of enslaved people but also to demonstrate the magnitude of newspaper advertising as a means of perpetuating slavery in early America by identifying and republishing as many advertisements as possible, making the evidence impossible to ignore.  Like any examination of the past, work on the Slavery Adverts 250 Project is sometimes constrained by which sources have survived and are accessible and which have not survived or are not accessible. Despite its endeavor toward comprehensiveness, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project is not presenting newspaper advertisements originally published on June 27, 1770; that does not mean that advertisements concerning enslaved people did not circulate in the American colonies on that day, only that the sources are not known to exist at this time.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 23, 1770).

“RUN AWAY … BEN … of the Guiney country … TOM … very sensible and artful … his wife … BELLA.  DUBLIN … of the Ebbo country, marked on the cheeks.”

This is the last advertisement from the Georgia Gazette that will be featured on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  James Johnston founded the Georgia Gazette and printed it from April 7, 1763, through at least February 7, 1776, with a hiatus from late November 1765 through late May 1766 due to the Stamp Act.  The newspaper ultimately ceased publication due to the Revolutionary War.  Although Johnston published the Georgia Gazette from 1770 through 1776, for some of those years either no copies are extant (1771) or very few have survived (1772 and 1773), according to Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820.  Complete or extensive coverage exists for 1770, 1774, and 1775, but no copies published after May 23, 1770, have been digitized.  As a result, the Georgia Gazette will no longer be part of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.

This is unfortunate.  Printed in Savannah, the Georgia Gazette provides a glimpse of advertising in a smaller port city compared to the newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Established in 1732, Georgia was the only one of the thirteen colonies that eventually declared independence founded in the eighteenth century.  The contents of the Georgia Gazette present a city and a colony that had not yet reached the same maturity as others.  As the only newspaper regularly published on Wednesdays, it was frequently featured on this project.  Its contents document life in a southern colony, including the high proportion of advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children.  That will be the most significant loss relating to the missing or unavailable issues of the Georgia Gazette from June 1770 through May 1776.  The intersections of advertising, commerce, and culture can be examined in newspapers published in other colonies, but the stories of enslaved people that appeared only in the Georgia Gazettewill no longer play a significant role in demonstrating the ubiquity of advertising about enslaved Africans and African Americans in the early American press.

This also means that stories of courage, resistance, survival, and enslaved people seizing their own liberty during the era of the American Revolution will be truncated as the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Projectcontinue.  Consider today’s advertisement, the last one drawn from the Georgia Gazette.  The people known as Ben, Tom, Bella, and Dublin by those who enslaved them made their escape from Alexander Wylly in 1770.  The advertisement tells only a portion of their stories.  Ben “of the Guiney country” endured the Middle Passage and spoke “indifferent English.”  Tom and Bella were a couple.  Dublin “of the Ebbo country” bore ritualized scars on his cheeks, a testament to his African origins even after he learned to speak English.  Did these four escape together, perhaps led by the “very sensible and artful” Tom?  Their story, refracted through Wylly’s rendition of it, is incomplete … but it is more of their story than we would otherwise know about Ben, Tom, Bella, and Dublin.  Stories of Black people who were bought and sold and stories of Black people who escaped from those who held them in bondage appeared among the advertisements in every issue of the Georgia Gazette.  The Slavery Adverts 250 Project seeks to uncover those stories and make them more visible to both scholars and the general public.  The coming silence due to missing and unavailable issues of the Georgia Gazette will unfortunately suggest an absence of those stories, an absence that did not actually exist.

May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 16, 1770).

“WILLIAMS and MACKAY’s Copartnership will expire in June next.”

It would have been nearly impossible for readers of the Georgia Gazette not to know that “WILLIAMS AND MACKAY’s Copartnership will expire” in June 1770.  The partners ran an advertisement to that effect in every issue for several months.  They commenced their efforts to notify “all indebted to that concern” to settle accounts in the January 3 edition of the Georgia Gazette.  That advertisement, the first item on the first page, bore a dateline at its conclusion: “Augusta, 1st January, 1770.”  The following week they published a slightly revised version, adding “Pack Horses, Indian Debts” to the list of items they continued to sell at “Their Trading House in Augusta.”  Doing so required resetting the type for the second half of the advertisement, but the compositor left the first half intact.

That advertisement ran for thirteen weeks before Williams and Mackay updated it again.  (I am assuming that it appeared in the March 14 edition.  The fourth page, usually reserved for advertisements in the Georgia Gazette, is missing from the digitized copy available via America’s Historical Newspapers).  Throughout that time, that advertisement advised that they sought to sell the trading house itself, “which may be entered upon the first of April next.”  Apparently, they did not find any purchasers by that time.  On April 11, they further revised the copy to state that the trading house “may be entered upon immediately.”  This required resetting type in the second half of the advertisement once again.  At that time, the dateline also disappeared from the advertisement.

For at least twenty consecutive weeks one iteration or another of Williams and Mackay’s advertisement ran in the Georgia Gazette.  It may have continued past the May 16 edition, but those issues have not survived.  America’s Historical Newspapers includes the first two pages of the May 23 edition, but by that time this advertisement had migrated to the last two.  That’s the end of both known copies of the Georgia Gazette and digitized editions that make them more accessible.  Inserting their advertisement that many times would have been a significant investment for Williams and Mackay.  For James Johnston, the printer, this advertising campaign yielded revenues that supported the dissemination of the news that appeared elsewhere in the Georgia Gazette.  Regular readers likely became accustomed to seeing the advertisement over the course of nearly half a year.  By inserting it so often, Williams and Mackay increased the chances that even those who read the Georgia Gazette only sporadically would see their notice.

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 9, 1770).

“No Part of the Cargo will be sold but in the Yard on the Day of Sale.”

It was the first advertisement readers encountered as they perused the May 9, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  John Graham informed the residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony that the Cavendish had recently arrived “from SIERRALEON on the Windward Coast” with “A CARGO” of 200 “Young and Healthy SLAVES.”  This “CARGO,” humans reduced to commodities, would be offered for sale in less than a week.  Graham asserted that the Africans experienced a “short Passage” across the Atlantic, suggesting that they had not had enough time to become ill while aboard the Cavendish.  Such advertisements never mentioned how many perished during the Middle Passage. Furthermore, neither Graham nor other enslavers worried much about the health of the enslaved Africans for their own sake.  Instead, Graham offered these assurances to convince prospective buyers of the value of the “CARGO” and bolster prices.

In addition to the usual information that appeared in advertisements of this sort, Graham added a final note: “That those who propose to become Purchasers may have an equal Chance, no Part of the Cargo will be sold but in the Yard on the Day of the Sale.”  In other words, prospective buyers could not arrange for private sales and select the best of this “CARGO” in advance of the sale open to all bidders on the designated day.  This starkly underscored the interests of those who participated in the slave trade while ignoring the humanity of the young Africans offered for sale.  For those who invested in the voyage, it tended to their interests by increasing the likelihood that multiple buyers would seek to outbid each other when they could select from among the entire “CARGO,” thus maximizing profits.  For prospective buyers, it tended to their interests as consumers, alerting them that they would not be deprived of the opportunity to examine all of the merchandise and choose their favorites, as if the Africans who arrived on the Cavendish were no different than textiles, housewares, hardware, and other goods imported to Savannah on other ships and then put on display in the town’s shops.  The note at the end of Graham’s advertisement addressed the desires of prospective purchasers, further obscuring the fact that the enslaved Africans were also imbued with desires of their own.

May 2

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

May 2 - 5:2:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 2, 1770).

“Will engage to cut any Quantity of Live Oak and Cedar Ship Timbers.”

Printers did not organize or classify advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Instead, advertisements placed for various purposes appeared indiscriminately next to each other and above and below each other.  Readers could not consult a particular portion of the advertisements in the newspaper to find notices of interest, such as consumer goods for sale or real estate or legal notices.  Instead, they had to peruse all of the advertisements throughout the entire issue to determine if any contained the kind of information they sought.

That may have been just as well when it came to the advertisement John Morel placed in the May 2, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  His lengthy advertisement defied classification.  In it, he aimed to achieve five different goals.  On Ossabaw Island, one of Georgia largest barrier islands, he offered several commodities for sale, including “Exceeding good barreled Beef,” “Myrtle-wax and Tallow Candles plain and fluted,” and “Hard Soap of the best kind.”  He had a different and more extensive array of goods to sell in Savannah, such as “an Assortment of Hinges and Locks,” “some neat Mens, Womens, and Youths Shoes and Hose,” and “some Sets of Dutch Tile.”  In the third portion of his advertisement, Morel encouraged prospective customers to place their orders for “any Quantity of Live Oak and Cedar Ship Timbers.”  He would cut them to “any shape and size required” and deliver them on Ossabaw Island.  In addition to these various consumer goods and commodities Morel also had “Part of a Tract of Land known by the name of Bewlie” for sale.  He described various aspects of the property, noting that it was “well stored with live oak and other valuable timber.”  Finally, Morel called on “all of those indebted to him” to settle accounts.  He did not threaten legal action as some colonists tended to do when they placed such notice.

Not only did readers of the Georgia Gazette have to examine all of the advertisements to determine which interested them, they also had to scrutinize the various segments of Morel’s advertisement to ascertain what it actually contained.  If the printer had required advertisers to place classified notices that fit within specific categories, Morel would have needed to divide his lengthy advertisement into several shorter notices.

April 25

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

Apr 25 - 4:25:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 25, 1770).

“Sincere and hearty thanks to the benefactors of Rhode Island College.”

In March 1770 Hezekiah Smith prepared to depart Charleston after a successful stay in the city.  He visited to raise funds for Rhode Island College (now Brown University) and met many benefactors during his time in South Carolina.  In advance of leaving, he inserted an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to express his appreciation as well as offer instructions for anyone who still desired to make contributions but had not yet done so.

Smith did not collect the funds and immediately return to Providence, the site of a new building and a new location for the college.  Instead, he headed further south to Savannah to continue seeking contributions.  In an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette, he outlined a strategy similar to the one he deployed in South Carolina.  He commenced by offering his “sincere and hearty thanks to the benefactors of Rhode Island College” that he had encountered so far, alerting others who had not yet donated that others in the community considered the college a worthy cause.  He also drew attention to the “subscription paper” that listed all of the benefactors and the amount they pledged.  Smith invited benefactors and others to visit Benjamin Stirk, a local agent and counterpart to David Williams in Charleston, to examine the list and confirm “that his donation goes towards making up the sum to be collected and got subscribed” in Georgia.  In the process, benefactors and prospective benefactors would also observe who else had donated and how much, spurring them on to make sure that their own contribution reflected well on themselves.  Smith implicitly relied on raising funds by placing donors in competition with each other as they participated in this sort of philanthropy as a means of asserting status and enhancing reputations.

Advertisements calling on local residents to contribute to Rhode Island College regularly appeared in the Providence Gazette in 1770, but representatives of the college did not confine their fundraising efforts to Rhode Island.  Advertisements that Smith placed in newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina demonstrate that the college sought benefactors near and far.

April 18

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

Apr 18 - 4:18:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 18, 1770).

“LOST … A GREEN SILK UMBRELLA.”

An advertisement offering a reward for the return of a lost ‘GREEN SILK UMBRELLA” appeared in the April 18, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  It ran at the bottom of the first column of the second page.  Unfortunately, a portion of the advertisement is missing from the digital image available via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database.

Apr 18 - Clarence Calendar
Calendar from Clarence: Denotes Issues of Georgia Gazette in the Collections of the American Antiquarian Society

Yet consulting another digital resource, Clarence:  Newspaper Holdings of the American Antiquarian Society, makes clear that Readex faithfully captured an image of the April 18 edition in its extant status in the archive.  According to the American Antiquarian Society, “Clarence is named in honor of Clarence S. Brigham (1877-1963), a man pivotal in the building of the AAS newspaper collection.  Brigham began his service to AAS in 1980 as its librarian and retired in 1959 as its director.”  Brigham is well known among scholars of early American print culture for his monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (1947).

Apr 18 - Readex Calendar
Calendar from America’s Historical Newspapers: Denotes Issues of Georgia Gazette in that Database

The Clarence database appropriately provides detailed information about the newspapers in the collections at AAS.  It does not, however, provide digital images.  The AAS and Readex partnered to create America’s Historical Newspapers. Although Readex also worked with other research libraries to produce its database, the calendars in Clarence and America’s Historical Newspapers indicate that the digital images in the latter come from original sources at the AAS.  Although Brigham’s bibliography reports that the Georgia Gazette continued publication until 1776, the AAS has issues only through May 23, 1770.  Compare the calendar from Clarence to the calendar from America’s Historical Newspapers.  They match, indicating that the images of the Georgia Gazette in Readex’s database did indeed come from the originals in the collections at the AAS.  For further confirmation, note the status of the issues at the AAS.  Those denoted with a blue box are “whole” according to the legend, while those denoted with a red box are “damaged.”  All of the digital images missing the bottom of the page in America’s Historical Newspapers correspond to damaged newspapers at the AAS.

Close examination of the digital images on their own suggest that they are accurate renderings of the originals in the archive, but working back and forth between the two digital resources confirms that is the case and tells a more complete story of the sources available to historians and other scholars.

April 11

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

Apr 11 - 4:11:1770 Georgia Gazette
Advertising Supplement for the Georgia Gazette (April 11, 1770).

“RUN AWAY … TWO NEGROE MEN.”

Given the distance, it is not surprising that it took longer for word of the Boston Massacre to reach James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, than his counterparts in other cities.  On April 11, 1770, he published coverage of the Massacre, reprinting the article that originally appeared in Edes and Gill’s Boston-Gazette on March 12.  Johnston did not indicate whether he reprinted the news directly from the Boston-Gazette or from one of the many newspapers that had earlier reprinted and further disseminated Edes and Gill’s coverage of the shocking event.

The news from Boston comprised almost an entire page, prompting Johnston to issue a relatively rare advertising supplement because he lacked space for all the content for that week.  The supplement featured sixteen advertisements, including three that described enslaved men and women who escaped from the colonists who held them in bondage.

Johnston’s supplement to the Georgia Gazette did not take the same form as most supplements to other newspapers printed throughout the colonies.  Those usually ran on half sheets with a masthead to identify the publication.  The only indication that this supplement belongs with the April 11 edition of the Georgia Gazette is a notation at the bottom of the page.  “[No. 340.]” corresponded to the issue number in the masthead of the standard issue.

It is impossible to tell the size of the sheet for Johnston’s April 11 supplement from digitized copies of the Georgia Gazette except to say that it certainly was not a half sheet.  It may very well have been a quarter sheet.  Under other circumstances, I would visit the American Antiquarian Society to examine an original edition and take measurements, but that library, like others across the nation, is temporarily closed as part of the physical distancing measures to slow and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

No matter the size of the supplement, carrying news of the momentous events in Boston forced Johnston to decide between enlarging the size of the Georgia Gazette on April 11 or choosing among advertisements and other news to delay for a week.  Having a duty to subscribers to provide news and a financial obligation to advertisers to distribute their notices, Johnston opted for creating a supplement.  Doing so drew on a precious resource, considering that imported paper was still taxed under the Townshend Acts and supplies of paper produced in the colonies were limited.

Apr 11 - 4:11:1770 Georgia Gazette
Advertising Supplement for the Georgia Gazette (April 11, 1770).

March 28

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

Mar 28 - 3:28:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 28, 1770).

“NEW NEGROES, CHIEFLY MEN.”

On March 28, 1770, Joseph Clay placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to announce the sale of “A CARGO consisting of about 170 young and healthy NEW NEGROES” scheduled for the next day.  A crude woodcut depicted adults and a child, but the copy specified that the “CARGO” consisted of “CHIEFLY MEN.”  Clay assured prospective buyers that the enslaved men previously “had the Smallpox,” thus increasing their value by offering a guarantee that they would not contract the illness in the future.  Perhaps as further evidence of their good health, Clay noted that the enslaved men had “Just arrived, after a short passage of five weeks … from Gambia” rather than languishing aboard the vessel an even longer time.  Captain Stephen Dean and the snow Britannia delivered them to Georgia.

This advertisement provides sufficient information to identify it as voyage 77996 in Slave Voyages, a database documenting the transatlantic slave trade.  That entry reveals more about the voyage than the advertisement, though most of the additional information concerns the experiences of the crew rather than the enslaved men transported across the ocean.  The Britannia departed London on September 25, 1769, and spent an unspecified amount of time along the coast of Africa.  The database indicates the Britannia arrived in Georgia on March 21, 1770, though the advertisement is dated March 19.  Either way, it took slightly less than six months to sail from London to Africa, acquire the “CARGO,” and then deliver the enslaved men to mainland North America.  The Britannia remained in port for seven weeks, departing on May 11 and completed its voyage in London on June 30.  For the twenty-three crew members, the voyage lasted a mere nine months.  For the estimated 199 Africans that embarked in Gambia, this voyage changed their lives forever.  Many died while crossing the Atlantic, reducing the estimated 199 to “about 170.”  Those who survived faced an array of challenges in a new land.

Perhaps some of those “NEW NEGROES” later made their way into the pages of the Georgia Gazette as runaways who escaped from those who held them in bondage.  Many may have become the subject of other advertisements that once again offered them for sale, either individually or among a parcel.  The advertisements testify to their presence in colonial Georgia and reveal some of their experiences, yet tell exceptionally incomplete stories of what they endured and how they survived.

March 21

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

Mar 21 - 3:21:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 21, 1770).

“I forewarn the masters of vessels from carrying him off.”

When “A NEGROE FELLOW, named SAM,” made his escape, James Lucena placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to enlist readers throughout the colony in recovering the man he considered his property.  His notice followed a standard format, one familiar from newspapers published not only in Georgia but throughout British mainland North America.  He stated that Sam was “about 22 years old” and “speaks very good English.”  Lucena offered a physical description, noting that Sam was “about 5 feet 6 inches” and had ritual scars or “country marks on each side of his face this |||.”  He also offered a description of the clothing Sam wore when he escaped: “a dark grey cloth double breasted waistcoat and a white negroe cloth under jacket, a pair of green negroe cloth long trowsers, and a round sailor’s cap.”  He may have considered additional details unnecessary since Sam was “well known in and about Savannah.”  All of these details encouraged readers to take special note of the physical characteristics, clothing, and even speech of Black men they encountered.

Lucena was just as concerned about accomplices who aided Sam, especially “masters of vessels” who might depart the port of Savannah and transport Sam far away from Georgia and far beyond Lucena’s ability to force Sam back into bondage.  Lucena appended a nota bene to the conclusion of his advertisement, asserting that “Said negroe is suspected to be concealed on board some vessel.”  Sam could have hidden on board unknown to any of the crew, but Lucena suggested that he received assistance from sailors or even officers.  Mariners throughout the eighteenth-century Atlantic world were an exceptionally egalitarian community, often suspected of providing assistance to enslaved men in their efforts to escape.  Lucena warned that anyone who aided Sam “may depend on being prosecuted to the utmost rigour of the law.”  Like other colonies, Georgia enacted statutes to punish both enslaved men and women who escaped and anyone who “concealed,” harbored, or otherwise assisted them.  Lucena’s advertisement encouraged surveillance of Black men, but it also called for scrutiny of mariners and anyone who might be suspected of being sympathetic to Sam and others who seized their liberty.