What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The New Auction-Room and Intelligence-Office.”
The partnership of Russell and Yorke operated the “New-Auction-Room and Intelligence-Office” in Boston in 1772. In the September 10 edition of the Massachusetts Spy, they explained to prospective clients that the intelligence office “is conducted … upon the same useful plan such offices are in the city of LONDON and other capital placed in England.” Russell and Yorke served as agents who registered real estate, commodities, livestock, and other items “for sale or hire.” They also introduced colonizers with money to invest to borrowers who could provide “security.” In addition, they offered employment services, keeping a roster of colonizers seeking employment in order to “provide gentlemen and ladies with servants in all capacities.” In the auction room, they conducted sales “upon the most reasonable terms” for clients who entrusted them to sell “goods of all kinds.” Their advertisement included sections for items “Now registered at said office for SALE” (including “A lady’s pinchbeck watch” and “Two genteel houses in good repair, pleasantly situated in Boston”) and people who “WANT EMPLOYMENT” (including “A woman who would take the care of a family, or children, and can be well recommended”).
Russell and Yorke listed “negros” among the commodities they registered and sold at the intelligence office, acknowledging that slavery and the slave trade were enmeshed in commerce and daily life in Boston during the era of the American Revolution. One of the partners, Ezekiel Russell, also ran a printing office. For less than six months, from late November 1771 through early May 1772, he published a combination political magazine and newspaper called The Censor. That publication occasionally included a supplement for advertising, but did not attract many advertisers during its short run. No advertisements offering enslaved people for sale or offering rewards of the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from their enslavers appeared in extant issues, differentiating The Censor from other colonial newspapers. That does not seem, however, to have been the result of a principled stand by Russell but rather an outcome grounded in failing to recruit advertisers for a publication with low circulation numbers during its brief existence. Just a few months after The Censor folded, the printer advertised his services as an agent who registered “negros” at the intelligence office “Over E. RUSSELL’s Printing-Office” in Boston. While other printers in the city acted as slave brokers when they disseminated “enquire of the printer” advertisements in their newspapers, Russell promoted the services he provided as a slave broker at his new intelligence office. In printing offices and intelligence offices alike, facilitating the buying and selling of enslaved men, women, and children was one of many services available to colonizers.