June 21

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

Jun 21 - 6:21:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 21, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … A NEGROE FELLOW named WILL.”

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project aims to demonstrate that eighteenth-century newspapers contributed to the perpetuation of slavery in colonial America and the new nation. Yet this was not a relationship that merely benefited slaveholders through the continued exploitation of enslaved men, women, and children. Printers also benefitted, as did the public that consumed all sorts of information that circulated in newspapers. The revenues generated from advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children made significant contributions to the economic viability of eighteenth-century newspapers.

Consider, for example, the final page of the June 21, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children have been outlined in red. Ten appeared on that page (as well as two others on the previous page). Of the ten on the final page, five offered enslaved people for sale, one sought to purchase enslaved people, two offered rewards for runaways who escaped from bondage, and two described fugitives that had been captured and imprisoned. Collectively, these advertisements bolstered not only the market for buying and selling human property but also a culture of surveillance of Black people.

These advertisements also represented significant revenue for James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. Like most other newspapers published in 1769, a standard issue of the Georgia Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. With two columns per page, Johnston distributed a total of eight columns of content to subscribers and other readers in each issue. The advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children in the June 21 edition accounted for an entire column, a substantial proportion of the issue.

Elsewhere in the newspaper Johnston inserted news items, many of them concerning the deteriorating relationship between Britain and the colonies. These articles originated in Boston, London, and other faraway places. Readers of the Georgia Gazette had access to information about the imperial crisis, including resistance efforts throughout the colonies, in part because the fees generated from advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children contributed to the ongoing publication of the colony’s only newspaper. Enslavement and liberty appeared in stark contrast in the pages of the newspaper but also in the ledger kept by the printer. Articles and editorials advocating liberty found their way before the eyes of readers thanks to advertising fees paid for the purpose of sustaining slavery.

June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:14:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 14, 1769).

“Gentlemen and others … may depend on the greatest punctuality.”

As spring turned to summer in 1769, Robert Gray launched a new business in Savannah. The wigmaker and hairdresser marked the occasion by placing an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to inform the public that “he intends carrying on his business in this town.” Prospective clients could find him on Broughton Street, “Next door to Mr. Johnston’s.” He was conveniently located next door to the printing office operated by James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. Yet Gray did not expect clients to visit his shop; instead, he offered to serve them “either at their lodgings or his shop,” catering to their convenience.

Gray used his advertisement to inform “the publick” of his new enterprise, but he also addressed “Gentlemen and others” when he pledged his “greatest punctuality” in serving his clients. This was a curious phrase, one that also appeared elsewhere on the same page in an advertisement placed by John Beaty, a tailor from London. Beaty proclaimed, “All gentlemen and others who may favour him with their commands shall be waited upon, and have their orders strictly obeyed.” Gray and Beaty attempted to peddle in exclusivity, but they also wanted to have it both ways. They encouraged prospective clients to think of themselves as genteel “gentlemen,” yet they did not want to position themselves as serving only the most elite residents of Savannah. In a small port with relatively few potential patrons compared to larger cities that may have been a practical strategy. The hairdresser and the tailor might have built their businesses around greater exclusivity in Charleston, New York, or Philadelphia, but they had to operate according to the realities of the market in Savannah. Gray and Beaty also implied that they recognized the distinctions between “gentlemen and others,” though neither would have given voice to clients that they considered them in one category or the other. As the consumer revolution gave colonists of various backgrounds greater access to goods and services previously reserved for the upper ranks, hairdressers, tailors, and others carefully presented their services to both the genteel and aspirants to gentility. The “others” might, over time, improve their social standing and become “gentlemen” if they used the services of hairdressers and tailors to their best advantage.

June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:7:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 7, 1769).

SOLOMON SOLOMONS … A fmall Affortment of JEWELERY.”

Earlier this week NPR commentator Cokie Roberts caused quite a hullabaloo when she suggested that historians had significantly inflated the frequency of advertisements for abortion providers that appeared in nineteenth-century newspapers. Roberts stated, “There are many articles by abortion rights proponents who claim the procedure was so common that newspapers advertised providers. Look, I did a search of nineteenth-century newspapers and couldn’t find them.”[1] Historians quickly responded via Twitter, with Dr. Lauren MacIvor Thompson, a specialist in the history of medicine, public health, and the law, in the forefront with a tweet thread that corrected the record.

In addition to addressing content, historians representing various other fields within the discipline addressed the flaws in Roberts’s methodology. Roberts, a pundit rather than a trained historian, apparently did not realize that the absence of results generated by keyword searches does not mean that the historical evidence was not there. Like many of my colleagues, I pointed out two relevant issues. Both are so fundamental that I discuss them with undergraduate students in introductory and upper-level history courses on the first day that we begin working with databases of historical newspapers.

First, keyword searches have many shortcomings, especially because OCR (optical character recognition) is so imperfect. I explain to my students that computers are often, for lack of a better word, stupid. They do not always recognize or make sense of visual images (photographs or digital scans of historical sources) as effectively as people do. Computer software lacks the necessary creativity and flexibility. This is especially true when working with eighteenth-century printed sources that use the long “s” that looks like an “f” to twenty-first-century eyes. What human readers recognize as “Assortment,” for instance, looks like “Affortment” via OCR. (See Solomon Solomons’s advertisement from the June 7, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette.) Yet the long “s” is not the only pitfall for OCR. If the original printed words were not clear or subsequent remediation (photographs, microfilm, digital scans) was poorly done, then OCR has no chance of decoding the words on the page.

Second, when doing historical research it is necessary to think like the people from the period, especially to use the words they would have used rather than impose modern terminology. Context matters. Roberts, lacking an historian’s understanding of the period she investigated, apparently did not choose her keywords carefully or appropriately. When I train my undergraduate students to serve as guest curators for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I underscore that they must look for words beyond just “slave” (and that they have to examine every advertisement because keyword searches will exclude MANY advertisements that belong in the project). In addition to “slave,” they must also keep their eyes open for “negro,” “mulatto,” and “wench,” some of the words most often used to describe enslaved men, women, and children even when the word “slave” did not appear in an advertisement.

To demonstrate the shortcomings of keyword searches, I like to provide a practical example of an advertisement that I know exists yet a keyword search will not produce. Consider an advertisement from the June 7, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. I previously downloaded the entire issue via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database. I know that it contains an advertisement for jewelry placed by Solomon Solomons. Say that I want to know the extent of Solomons’s advertising campaign in 1769. Doing a keyword search with his last name would be a good place to start. To make the search as efficient as possible, I set several parameters. I limit the date under consideration to 1769. I restrict the newspapers to be searched to the Georgia Gazette. Then I enter “Solomons” as the keyword. This yields only two results: Solomons’s advertisement when it appeared in the May 24 and May 31 editions, but not the June 7 edition. This certainly tells me more about the frequency that Solomons advertised, but it did not yield an advertisement that I already knew existed! The digitized image of the advertisement is fairly clear (especially compared to many others), yet it appears that just enough ink bled through from the other side of the page to trick the OCR into overlooking this advertisement when doing a keyword search for “Solomons.”

This particular instance is not as “fraught,” to invoke Roberts’s term, as advertisements placed by abortion providers in the nineteenth century, but it is a practical example of how technology cannot substitute for historical expertise and appropriate methodologies for conducting research with primary sources. As many other historians have done in recent days, I encourage reporters and pundits to call on trained historians rather than make misleading assertions based on incomplete understandings of the past and shoddy research methods.

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[1] This quotation comes from Thompson’s tweet thread. NPR has updated the original audio and transcript to excise Robert’s incorrect and misleading assertions.

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:31:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 31, 1769).

“HENRY YONGE … intends to depart this province for some time.”

Even more so than usual, the May 31, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette was a delivery mechanism for advertisements of all sorts. From week to week the balance of news, advertising, and other content varied, yet advertisements accounted for significant space in any issue regardless of the relative proportions. After all, advertising provided an important revenue stream that made publication of the rest of the content possible.

In addition to the standard four-page issue, the May 31 edition also featured a one-page supplement. Unlike most other colonial newspapers, James Johnston did not run a masthead across the top of the occasional supplement to the Georgia Gazette. Instead, only the issue number that it accompanied – [No. 296.] – appeared at the bottom of the final column. Otherwise, advertising filled the entire page, just as advertisements filled the entire third and fourth pages as well as the second column of the second page. News ran on the first page and in the first column of the second page. Overall, between the regular issue and the supplement, advertising accounted for seven of ten columns distributed to readers on May 31, 1769.

Much of that advertising consisted of notices for consumer goods and services, including lengthy lists of merchandise for sale by Inglis and Hall, Samuel Douglass, and Lewis Johnson. Other advertisements announced the sale of enslaved men, women, and children or offered rewards for the capture of those who had escaped from slaveholders who held them in bondage. Others described real estate for sale. Half a dozen legal notices appeared in the supplement, one after the other in the closest the organization of the advertisements came to any sort of classification system.

Readers of the Georgia Gazette were accustomed to encountering more advertising than any other content within that newspaper’s pages. That had been the case for all of the issues published in May 1769, but the inclusion of a supplement devoted entirely to advertising at the end of the month underscored that disseminating advertising, rather than news, was an important purpose of the publication.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:24:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 24, 1769).

“JUST IMPORTED, in the SHIP GEORGIA PACKET … from LONDON.”

When the Georgia Packet arrived in port in the spring of 1769, it delivered merchandise from London to several merchants and shopkeepers in Savannah. The May 24, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette included four advertisements that listed that vessel as the source of wares now available for purchase. The advertisers, however, adopted different strategies for promoting their new inventory.

Samuel Douglass and the partnership of Reid, Storr, and Reid published advertisements that most resembled each other, listing dozens of items in stock. Such litanies appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies, a popular means of demonstrating the many choices for consumers. Reid, Storr, and Reid were more restrained in compiling their list. They introduced “An ASSORTMENT of the MOST USEFUL ARTICLES imported into this province” before naming various textiles, accessories, and other items. Their list extended sixteen lines, concluding with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that prospective customers would encounter far more items at their store in Johnson’s Square. Douglass, on the other hand, did not make an explicit appeal to an “assortment” of goods. Instead, he listed for more items, from fabrics to hardware. His list extended forty-seven lines, nearly three times the length of Reid, Storr, and Reid’s catalog of goods, before concluding with a promise that Douglass had even more to offer: “many other articles too tedious to mention.”

The other two advertisements for goods that recently arrived via the Georgia Packet were much shorter. In the course of only four lines, the partnership of Cowper and Telfairs stated that they carroed a “large and well assorted CARGO of GOODS, suitable for the place and season.” They attempted to entice customers by offering “reasonable terms,” but they did not elaborate on their merchandise. Apparently they expected “large and well assorted” to sufficiently make a point about consumer choice. Cowper and Telfairs may have also benefited from the lengthy lists published by their competitors. Those litanies gave prospective customers a sense of the wares delivered by the Georgia Packet, perhaps prompting some to do some comparison shopping in several stores regardless of how many items appeared in each advertisement.

Finally, Solomon Solomons also published a comparatively short advertisement, only six lines. Rather than an array of goods, he specialized in a “small Assortment of JEWELERY” that he had “JUST IMPORTED, in the SHIP GEORGIA PACKET … from LONDON.” His strategy emphasized exclusivity rather than expansive choices for consumers. With fewer direct competitors than Douglass, Cowper and Telfairs, and Reid, Storr, and Reid, Solomons may not have considered it imperative to catalog his new merchandise in the public prints.

One other advertisement also listed goods “Just imported from London,” though it did not explicitly identify the Georgia Packet as the source. According to the shipping news, the Georgia Packet was the only ship that had arrived from London recently, so it almost certainly carried the “Assortment of Medicines” that Lewis Johnson listed in an advertisement that rivaled Douglass’s advertisement in length.

These five advertisements were the only notices in the May 24 edition that promoted new consumer goods. (Others offered secondhand items for sale.) Together, they accounted for nearly one-quarter of the content in the issue. In a port the size of Savannah, the arrival of a single ship, the Georgia Packet on May 17, had a significant impact on both the commercial landscape and the information distributed throughout the colony in Georgia’s only newspaper the following week. The news items in the May 24 issue all originated from London, like the wares promoted to prospective customers. The news and goods transported on that ship crowded out other content that might otherwise have appeared in the public prints that week.

 

May 17

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

May 17 - 5:17:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 17, 1769).

“HANDCUFFS and CHAINS … and sundry other Stores proper for the African trade.”

The business of slavery was apparent throughout the Georgia Gazette and other colonial newspapers in the 1760s, especially in the advertisements. While some newspapers certainly published more advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children than others, none excluded such content. From New Hampshire to Georgia, advertisements looking to buy or sell slaves or capture those who managed to escape from colonists who held them in bondage appeared among the other advertisements in the public prints. Even if they were not slaveholders themselves, colonial printers facilitated and profited from the trade in enslaved men, women, and children.

Even more so than usual, this was the case for James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, in the May 17, 1769, edition. In addition to the sorts of advertisements that ran week after week in his newspaper, this issue included an advertisement promoting supplies for slavers involved in “the African trade.” Some of these goods could have been sold to purchasers involved in a variety of endeavors, such as the “FORTY IRON BOUND PUNCHEONS” (or barrels) and “a TON of GUINEY RICE.” Yet the other items offered for sale were not so prosaic: “HANDCUFFS and CHAINS,” “SIX SOLDIERS MUSKETS,” and “FOUR CARRIAGE GUNS.” These were not merely supplies for transatlantic voyages; they were tools of violence and subordination required for trafficking in human cargo.

Elsewhere in the same issue auctioneers Ewen and Bolton advertised a “NEW NEGROE WENCH,” a woman who was not “country born” in Georgia or elsewhere in mainland North America. In another advertisement, William Coachman described “SARAH, a tall Guiney wench” who had escaped a month earlier. Both had survived the middle passage from Africa to the American colonies. As women, they were less likely than their male counterparts to spend the voyage in “HANDCUFFS and CHAINS,” but, at the very least, they most certainly saw other captives so restrained during the ordeal. Both had been subject to the violence of the slave trade and ongoing exploitation upon arriving in Georgia.

All of that was part of a system that played a significant role in sustaining newspapers like the Georgia Gazette. Eleven advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children ran in the May 17 issue, making Johnston complicit in “the African trade.” The advertisement for “HANDCUFFS and CHAINS” and other equipment for participating in the transatlantic slave trade did not make the printer any more complicit. Instead, it underscored the depravity of the enterprise that appeared so prominently in the pages of his newspapers week after week.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:10:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 10, 1769).

“STRAYED off the Common at Savannah, A SORREL HORSE.”

In the late 1760s the Georgia Gazette did not have a standard format for the placement of advertisements in relation to other content. The publication followed a general rule that filling the final page with paid notices, but any additional advertisements could appear just about anywhere else in a standard four-page issue.

Consider the May 10, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Each page had a different configuration of news and advertising. No paid notices ran on the front page, just the masthead, news, and editorials. As usual, advertisements filled the last page, except for the colophon running across the bottom. It also served as an advertisement of sorts, advising readers of the services available at the printing office: “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.” Advertising also filled most of the third page. The Georgia Gazette had two columns per page. An editorial extended for half of the first column on the third page; advertisements accounted for the remainder of the column as well as the entire second column. The second page featured a more even division, with news in the column on the left and advertisements in the column on the right, along with the shipping news positioned at the bottom of that column.

One additional advertisement stood out from the rest of the content on the second page. It ran in the margin across the bottom, spanning both columns. In it, James Read described a horse that had strayed “off the Common at Savannah” and pledged that anyone who found the horse and returned it to him “shall be handsomely rewarded.” The format and placement indicates that Read likely submitted his advertisement to the printing office too late to have it integrated among the other content. Anxious for the return of his horse, Read may have negotiated for it to appear in the issue in any way possible; alternately, the printer may have devised this means of inserting it as a service. Either way, Read’s advertisement further demonstrates the Georgia Gazette’s flexible approach to positioning advertisements within its pages. At a glance, eighteenth-century newspapers may appear to be dense amalgamations of text, but the variations in the placement of news, advertising, and other content suggests that printers and compositors exercised creativity as they significantly altered the layout from issue to issue.

May 3

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 3 - 5:3:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 3, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … A NEGRO FELLOW, named YORK … and SARAH.”

On May 3, 1769, William Coachman of South Carolina took out this advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to try to find his runaway slaves named York (or Yorkshire) and Sarah. The advertisement gave descriptions of both York and Sarah. It even told readers how York spoke with a stutter.

During the eighteenth century slaves ran away for a variety of reasons, such as attempting to find family members, needing a break from work, or trying to escape from an abusive master.   In 1705 the General Assembly in Virginia passed a new law that made it very risky for slaves to flee from their masters. According to Tom Costa, plantation owners now had the legal rights to punish their runaway slaves however they saw fit. This even included disciplining a slave to death for attempting to run away. There was even a plantation owner named Robert Carter who sought permission to dismember his slaves that tried to run away from him. It is hard to imagine what slaves had to endure 250 years ago; however, this was an important part of American history as enslaved men and women ran away from their owners as acts of defiance and resistance.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As the spring semester draws to a close, Patrick is the final guest curator from my Revolutionary America class at Assumption College. For his penultimate entry, he has selected this advertisement about “A NEGROE FELLOW, named YORK, or YORKSHIRE” who was born in Georgia and Sarah, a woman from “Guiney” who had survived the Middle Passage. Despite the differences in their origins, York and Sarah found common cause in seizing their own liberty by escaping from their enslaver.

Like each of his peers, Patrick had to fulfill certain requirements with his contributions as guest curator. Among those, he had to select at least one advertisement concerning enslaved men, women, and children to analyze for the project. He chose two, one that offered “A CARGO of Three Hundred PRIME YOUNG NEGROES” for sale and the other about York and Sarah’s flight from William Coachman. In so doing, he examined the two types of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. This provides a more complete story than considering just one type of advertisement. It balances the inhumanity and exploitation of the for sale advertisements with the resistance and agency of the runaway advertisements. Both are necessary components for understanding the experiences of enslaved people. To focus on one to the exclusion of the other tells an incomplete story.

In selecting their advertisements about slavery, the guest curators did not tend to choose one type over another. Another sort of pattern, however, did emerge among their choices: most selected advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children from the Georgia Gazette. Why, when similar advertisements ran in newspapers throughout the colonies, did the guest curators independently concentrate their attention on just one newspaper to fulfill this particular requirement for the project? Consider the contents of the advertisements in the Georgia Gazette collectively. Relatively few advertisements for consumer goods and services ran in the Georgia Gazette, even though they overflowed into advertising supplements in other publications. In comparison, a disproportionate number of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children filled the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Guest curators selected these advertisements to examine out of necessity because the commerce represented in the pages of the Georgia Gazette so often revolved around the slave trade and the surveillance of black bodies to capture runaways rather than promoting consumer goods and services or marketing important commodities.

April 26

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Georgia Gazette (April 27, 1769).

“HOUSE, SIGN, and SHIP PAINTING, done by ROBERT PUNSHON.”

Signs were very important in colonial America, since they served as a way for colonists to distinguish between private homes and those that served as taverns for the public. According to Susan P. Schoelwer, tavern signs in the eighteenth century typically had impressive woodwork, but the paintings were not very elaborate. This was because there were more skilled woodworkers in the colonies than there were painters. As the nineteenth century drew closer, and the new United States of America matured, so did the signage. Travel became more common, and more skilled artists lived in the new nation, which resulted in more sophisticated signs, as well as more signs being advertised in newspapers. The images painted on these signs ranged from animals to horse-drawn carriages to even portraits and landscapes as painters became more skilled. To view images of tavern signs from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, visit “Tavern Signs Mark Changes in Travel, Innkeeping, and Artistic Practice.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

What kind of market for sign painting did Robert Punshon encounter in Savannah? The answer is difficult to determine. Entrepreneurs who placed advertisements for consumer goods and services in the Georgia Gazette rarely indicated that shop signs marked their location. In the same issue that Punshon advertised, for instance, Lewis Johnson inserted a notice about “An Assortment of MEDICINES” but did not list a sign to help prospective clients navigate to his shop.

In contrast, shopkeepers, merchants, and artisans in other places, especially the largest port cities, regularly included signs in the notices they placed in the public prints. In the April 23, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Samuel Young stated that “the Sign of the Black Boy” marked his store near the Baptist Meeting House. In another advertisement (as well as the colophon), John Carter reminded readers and potential customers that “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” adorned the printing office. The next day in the Boston-Gazette, Elias Dupee advertised a “PUBLIC VENDUE” to be held at his “NEW AUCTION ROOM” located “near the Golden Key.” Although he did not have a sign for his own business, he made use of the sign marking a nearby shop in giving directions to his clients. Another auctioneer promoted a vendue “at the Bunch of Grapes” in an advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy published the same day.

The absence of shop signs in newspaper advertisements does not necessarily mean that advertisers did not have signs of their own. Two advertisements by Joseph Russell and William Russell ran in the Providence Gazette that week. Neither of them gave their location as “the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” although they advertised prolifically and frequently inserted that detail into their notices. The Golden Eagle became their logo, perhaps so well known that they considered it unnecessary to include it in every advertisement.

That being the case, Robert Punshon may have worked in a market for sign painting in Savannah that was much more vibrant than other advertisements in the Georgia Gazette indicated. Some eighteenth-century advertisers regularly associated their businesses with specific images, such as “Shakespear’s Head” or the Golden Eagle, as they experimented with developing brands and logos. Others who had shop signs did not necessarily advertise in newspapers or incorporate their signs when they did. That Punshon even listed sign painting along with house and ship painting suggests that either a market for signs already existed or he believed that one could be cultivated among the merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans of Savannah.

April 23

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Georgia Gazette (April 26, 1769).

“Brought to the Work House, a TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW … says his name is Michael.”

This advertisement for an enslaved African named Michael who attempted to escape and had been captured and “Brought to the Work House.” In other similar advertisements, as well as runaway slave advertisements, only the first names of the slaves were usually listed. Although there have been claims made that slaves did not have last names until after they were emancipated following the Civil War, research done on the naming of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves suggests that many did, in fact, have last names (“Naming Patterns in Enslaved Families”).[1] In analyzing records of slaves beginning in the late eighteenth century, historians and other scholars found that these surnames allowed slaves to maintain family connections. Even if they were separated, which was more usual than not, slaves had a way to preserve family ties. One of the most prominent families on Jefferson’s plantation, the Hemings, can be connected to Monticello for over five generations because of their shared last name. It was also common for enslaved people to name children after themselves or relatives. Their offspring then chose to continue to preserve this attachment to their families left behind after being sold by sharing a last name or giving their own children the names of their siblings, parents, or other relatives. Enslaved people placed emphasis on family values and found ways to stay connected, no matter when they were separated.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In a recent entry I discussed the challenges of working with remediated sources rather than the original documents. While all historians face these sorts of challenges, they offer particularly valuable lessons in problem solving to the undergraduates who serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Those students “do” history in ways that are new to them when they consult multiple versions of the same primary sources, discovering that all remediation is not equal.

Compare this black-and-white image to the greyscale image of the same advertisement above. Georgia Gazette (April 26, 1769).

Consider two images of today’s advertisement concerning Michael, “A TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW” who had been captured and “Brought to the Work-house” in Savannah after attempting to make his escape from his enslavers. Both images come from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, a database that guest curators become very adept at navigating. The processes used to download the images, one originally as a gif file and the other originally as a pdf file (and both converted to jpg files to post here), resulted in one image easier to read than the other. The shades of grey in the gif file distinguished which text had been printed on the page and what had bled through from the other side, unlike the black and white image from the pdf file.

The interface for America’s Historical Newspapers has been designed such that it is much more efficient to download pdf files. Acquiring gif files would be much more time consuming, both for me as a scholar who works on this project every day and for undergraduates who make contributions as guest curators over shorter durations. Once students have acquired digital copies of the newspapers for their week as guest curator, we print copies that they may use however they wish, such as marking them up and clipping items. These black-and-white images printed on 8.5×11 office paper can be quite difficult to read, depending on the remediation process. Poorly preserved primary sources, poor photography, and conversion from one kind of digital file to another all contribute to making some digital surrogates less legible than the originals. Although students often find it most convenient and efficient to work with the hard copies we have generated, I encourage them to work back and forth between digital copies and hard copies when they encounter text that is not clearly legible. I do the same, often discovering that the digital copy becomes more legible as I manipulate it, sometimes zooming in and sometimes consulting the greyscale gif image.

This process underscores to students that when they examine a hard copy of a digitized image of a newspaper from the eighteenth century that they are working with a particular manifestation of that source, one that has been altered through repeated remediation over the years. Doing the work of an historian requires not only consulting primary sources but also learning and developing strategies for working with those sources effectively.

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[1] Editor’s note: “Naming Patterns in Enslaved Families” has been widely cited online. It has also appeared in the citations for at least one scholarly monograph, Sharon Block’s Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America. At the time of publication for this entry, however, the article is not available on Monticello’s website. The link currently takes visitors to Monticello’s home page. Hopefully “Naming Patterns in Enslaved Families” will be restored soon.