Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Several Negroes to be sold, belonging to said Estate.”
Estate notices regularly ran among the advertisements in the Providence Gazette and other colonial newspapers. On March 7, 1772, for instance, Deborah Paget and Joseph Olney inserted a notice calling on “ALL Persons who have any Accounts against the Estate of HENRY PAGET, Esq; late of Providence, deceased, … to bring them to us … for Settlement.” Similarly, they requested that “all those who are in any Manner indebted to said Estate … make immediate Payment” so Paget and Olney “may be enabled to discharge the Debts due from said Estate.”
The notice also included a nota bene that advised, “Several Negroes to be sold, belonging to the said Estate.” That was not the only mention of enslaved people for sale in that edition of the Providence Gazette. Another advertisement proclaimed, “TO BE SOLD, FOR no Fault, but for Want of Employ, a stout, likely NEGRO MAN, who understands Farming, and almost all other Kinds of Business.” No colonizer signed that advertisement. Instead, it instructed anyone interested in purchasing the enslaved man to “Enquire of the Printer.” In this instance, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, not only generated revenue from disseminating the advertisement but also served as a broker in the slave trade. Throughout the colonies, newspaper printers regularly assumed that dual role.
Elsewhere in the March 7 edition of the Providence Gazette, Carter reprinted an essay that ran in the Essex Gazette two weeks earlier. It made a case for the colonies united in a “Grand American Commonwealth” to become “an independent state,” noting that “liberty has taken deep root in America, and cannot be eradicated by all the Tories in the universe.” The author, who adopted the pseudonym “FORESIGHT,” challenged printers to fill the pages of newspapers “with essays against the present tyranny” perpetrated by Britain. Carter may have believed that he joined that effort by reprinting the essay, but his decision to publish advertisements offering enslaved people for sale and to act as a broker in those transaction demonstrated the juxtaposition of liberty and enslavement in the era of the American Revolution. Over and over, throughout the colonies, printers promoted the rights of colonizers against the tyranny of Britain while simultaneously perpetuating slavery and the slave trade. Revenues generated from advertisements offering enslaved people for sale helped fund essays that advocated for the liberties of American colonizers.