Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Ten Shillings per Day will be paid to every able Male Slave.”
Roads and bridges needed repair. That was the message in a notice that ran in the April 14, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Henry Ravenel informed readers that two bridges in St. John’s Parish “are both in Want of great and immediate Repairs.” He called on “any Person or Persons, who will repair both, or either of the said Bridges” to submit Proposals to the Board of Commissioners in Monck’s Corner. In addition to the bridges, “Part of the high Road leading from Goose Creek to Monck’s Corner, stands in great and immediate Want of Repair.” Ravenel did not request proposals for that job. Instead, he declared that “Ten Shillings per Day will be paid to every able Male Slave” who worked on repairing the road.
Readers knew that was an impolite fiction. The enslaved men who did the repairs would not receive ten shillings for each day they labored. Instead, the Board of Commissioners would pay those funds directly to the enslavers. This advertisement testified to yet another contribution beyond agricultural labor that enslaved men and women made to the colonial economy. They participated in building and maintaining infrastructure. Other advertisements in the same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal concerned a “NEGRO WAITING BOY, who also understands the Management of Horses,” an enslaved cooper, enslaved tanners, an enslaved “House Carpenter,” enslaved sawyers, and enslaved domestic servants. Some of those enslaved men and women may have also hired out, like the enslaved men who repaired the road between Goose Creek and Monck’s Corner, and their enslavers may have allowed them to keep a small portion of their earnings, but they almost certainly did not retain their entire wages for the work they performed. Those enslaved men and women undertook all kinds of labor, much of it requiring specialized skills and expertise, in the colonial economy. Their contributions extended far beyond cultivating rice, indigo, and other crops.