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