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