November 22

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 22, 1770).

“LIBERTY.”

“To be sold … A Healthy active young NEGRO MAN.”

Liberty and enslavement were intertwined in the 1770s, a paradox that defines the founding of the United States as an independent nation.  As white colonists advocated for their own liberty and protested their figurative enslavement by king and Parliament, they continued to enslave Africans and African Americans.  Even those who did not purport to be masters of Black men and women participated in maintaining an infrastructure of exploitation.  The juxtaposition of liberty and enslavement regularly found expression in the pages of newspapers during the era of the American Revolution as news items and editorial letters rehearsed arguments made by patriots and advertisements encouraged consumers to factor political considerations into the choices they made in the marketplace while other news items documented fears of revolts by enslaved people and other advertisements offered Black men, women, and children for sale or announced rewards for capturing enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from those who held them in bondage.

Such contradictory items always appeared within close proximity to one another, especially considering that newspapers of the era usually consisted of only four pages.  In some instances, the juxtaposition should have been nearly impossible for readers to miss.  Consider two advertisements that ran in the November 22, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the newspaper, inserted a short notice about “LIBERTY.  A POEM” available for sale at their printing office.  Immediately below that notice appeared John Bayard’s advertisement offering a “Healthy active young NEGRO MAN” and an enslaved woman for sale.  The word “LIBERTY” in the Bradfords’ very brief notice appeared in all capitals and such a large font that it could have served as a headline for the next advertisement, an exceptionally cruel and inaccurate headline.  Both advertisements represented revenues for the Bradfords, the first potential revenues of potential sales and the second actual revenues paid by Bayard to insert the advertisement.

Examining either advertisement in isolation results in a truncated history of the era of the era of the American Revolution.  The advertisement for “LIBERTY.  A POEM” must be considered in relation to the advertisement for a “Healthy young NEGRO MAN” and woman to tell a more complete story of the nation’s past, even when some critics charge that the inclusion of the latter is revisionist and ideologically motivated.  It is neither.  Instead, it is a responsible and accurate rendering of the past.  The Bradfords positioned these advertisements together on the page 250 years ago.  We cannot separate them today.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (July 26, 1770).

“LIBERTY.  A POEM”

“A NEGRO CARPENTER.”

On July 26, 1770, at least thirty-one advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children appeared in newspapers published throughout the thirteen colonies that declared independence from Great Britain later in the decade.  Those advertisements ran in newspapers in every region of colonial America, not just the southern colonies with the largest populations of enslaved people.  In New England, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury carried such advertisements, as did the New-York Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal in the Middle Atlantic.  In the Chesapeake, the Maryland Gazette and Rind’s Virginia Gazette ran more of these advertisements.  Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette almost certainly did as well, but the July 26, 1770, edition has not been digitized for consultation by scholars and other readers.

In the Lower South, the South-Carolina Gazette also circulated advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children, including one that offered a “NEGRO CARPENTER” and a “young NEGRO WENCH” for sale.  That advertisement ran immediately below an advertisement for “LIBERTY. A POEM. Dedicated to the SONS OF LIBERTY in SOUTH-CAROLINA” offered for sale in the printing offices where Peter Timothy published the South-Carolina Gazette and Charles Crouch published the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, another newspaper that regularly distributed advertisements offering enslaved people for sale or offering rewards for the capture of enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from colonists who attempted to hold them in bondage.

As the Slavery Adverts 250 Project demonstrates, advertisements about enslaved people were ubiquitous in newspapers printed throughout the colonies.  The same newspapers that carried those advertisements also documented the events and debates of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.  As printers shaped public discourse about how Parliament abused the colonies, they simultaneously profited from publishing advertisements that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.  David Waldstreicher offered an overview in “Reading the Runaways:  Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic” in 1999.[1]  In 2020, Jordan E. Taylor provides a much more extensive examination in “Enquire of the Printer:  Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807.”[2]  Colonial printers facilitated the slave trade and played an integral role in the surveillance of Black bodies in eighteenth-century America.

Those activities occurred within the same pages of newspapers that ran articles and editorials … and advertisements for consumers goods … that advocated “LIBERTY” for white colonists.  Sometimes advertisements about enslaved people and editorials about liberty appeared on different pages, but considering that most newspapers of the era consisted of only four pages (or six when they included a supplement) they were always within close proximity.  Such was the case for an advertisement for a “Likely young Negro Girl” that ran in the supplement that accompanied the March 26, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal.  The supplement also included letters from “A TRUE PATRIOT” and “POPULUS” that warned that Parliament actively eroded American liberties.  In other instances, as Taylor demonstrates, advertisements about enslaved people ran next to articles and editorials that demanded liberty for white colonists.  Sometimes advertisements delivered the news, such as a notice about a “new Non-Importation Agreement” that ran immediately above an advertisement offering an enslaved man and woman for sale in the January 25, edition of the New-York Journal.

Other times, advertisements about consumer goods and commerce played slavery and liberty in stark juxtaposition.  Consider an advertisement for a “Likely Negro LAD,” a skilled cooper, that ran immediately above Nathaniel Frazier’s advertisement for “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS” in the October 3, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, Massachusetts.  Frazier assured prospective customers and the entire community that he acquired those goods prior to the nonimportation agreement adopted to protest the duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts.  Frazier offered white colonists an opportunity to defend American liberties and practice politics via their choices about consumption at the same time that an “Enquire of the Printer” advertisement reduced an enslaved cooper to a commodity to be traded in the marketplace.

The paradox of liberty and enslavement was vividly apparent in the advertisements that ran in the South-Carolina Gazette 250 years ago today.  In a single glance, readers encountered an invitation to purchase an ode to “LIBERTY” dedicated to the Sons of Liberty and a notice that perpetuated the enslavement of a Black carpenter and a young Black woman who possessed several domestic skills.  This example provides a particularly stark demonstration of unevenly applied ideologies of liberty in the era of the American Revolution and the founding of the nation.  Eighteenth-century readers regularly encountered such contradictions in the contents of newspapers.

**********

[1] David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways: Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 56, no. 2 (April 1999): 243–272.

[2] Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer:  Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies:  An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020):  287-323.

July 4

Who was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jul 4 - 7:4:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 4, 1770).

“RUN away … JACK is a Negro Man … TONY is a brown Indian Man.”

The July 4, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette include an advertisement that advised readers of “A SCHOONER STOLEN” and the two enslaved men responsible for absconding with it.  Although the advertisement asserted that Jack, “a Negro Man,” and Tony, “a brown Indian Man,” had “RUN away … with perhaps some others not yet discovered,” it actually told a truncated story of enslaved men who liberated themselves.  Such advertisements had been a regular feature of colonial American newspapers since the Boston News-Letter commenced publication in 1704.  Enslaved people had been liberating themselves long before that.

According to William Lyford, Jack and Tony stole his “PILOT BOAT” and made their escape “from Cockspur in the province of Georgia.”  To help readers identify the two men, Lyford noted their heights and also reported that Tony spoke “good English and Spanish,” while Jack spoke “very good English, and can write indifferently well,” a skill that he might have planned to put to use in evading capture.  Lyford also indicated that Jack “was brought up at Lancaster inEngland, and purchased from Capt. Addison of that port.”  He did not insert other details about the two men, but instead provided an extensive description of the boat before offering a reward “for bringing back the said Negro, Indian, and Boat.”

This advertisement tells a story of disobedience and disorder from the perspective of an enslaver for the consumption of others that he hoped would assist in perpetuating slavery even if they did not themselves hold others in bondage.  Lyford, like so many other enslavers, sought to use the power of the press to encourage and direct surveillance of Black and Indigenous men.  His descriptions of Jack and Tony also served as instructions for scrutinizing all Black and Indigenous men to determine whether they were the enslaved men who had stolen the pilot boat and made their escape.  Lyford attempted to frame Jack and Tony’s actions as unruly and dangerous, but their rebelliousness did not neatly fit within that narrative.  In making their escape, appropriating Lyford’s boat for that purpose, Jack and Tony engaged in a powerful act of resistance.  They liberated themselves.  Despite Lyford’s best efforts to set the terms, he could not deprive Jack and Tony of the agency they exerted in pursuing their own destiny.  Contrary to his intentions, Lyford’s advertisement resonates as a memorial to the courage of Jack and Tony and a truncated narrative of their resistance.

Jack and Tony liberated themselves while the colonies were in the middle of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution and independence for the United States.  White colonists lamented their figurative enslavement to Parliament, all while literally enslaving Black and Indigenous people.  Yet enslaved people understood the value of freedom and self-determination long before the upheaval between Britain and the colonies; they did not require the philosophizing of white colonists to recognize the injustices imposed upon them.  Thousands of newspaper advertisements for “runaways,” for enslaved people who liberated themselves, published throughout the colonies before and during the era of the American Revolution demonstrate that was the case.

In 1770, colonists did not know that July 4 would become such an important date.  It was not yet known as Independence Day, but it was a day of independence for Jack and Tony, just as it was for other enslaved people who liberated themselves, some of them documented in newspaper advertisements.  Since the inception of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, the Adverts 250 Project has featured advertisements about enslaved people who liberated themselves on July 4, both in celebration of their acts of resistance and as a reminder of the tension between liberty and enslavement that was the paradox of the American founding.  In addition to the story of Jack and Tony in 1770, read more about the story of Caesar in 1767, the story of Harry, Peg, and their two children in 1769, and the story of Guy and Limehouse in 1769.  They all made their own declarations of independence when they liberated themselves from their enslavers.

January 25

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

Jan 25 - 1:25:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 25, 1770).

“A new Non-Importation Agreement.”

“A Likely Negro Man and a Wench.”

The first two advertisements that appeared in the January 25, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal tell very different stories about the era of the American Revolution. The first addressed efforts to resist the abuses of Parliament, the figurative enslavement of the colonies. The second offered a Black man and woman for sale, perpetuating their enslavement rather than setting them free. That one advertisement followed immediately after the other testifies to the uneven rhetoric of the era as well as the stark tension between liberty (for some) and slavery (for many) at the time of the nation’s founding.

The first advertisement called on the “Signers of the Agreement relative to the Traders of Rhode-Island” to meet and discuss how to proceed in their dealings with the merchants in that nearby colony. The trouble arose when Rhode Island did not adhere to nonimportation agreements adopted throughout the rest of New England as well as in New York and Pennsylvania. In response, merchants, shopkeepers, and others in New York decided that they would no longer engage in trade with their counterparts in Rhode Island, broadening the nonimportation agreement to include fellow colonists who acted contrary to the interests of the colonies. When New York received word from Newport of “a new Non-importation Agreement, lately come into at that Place,” those who had ceased trade with the colony met to reconsider once the merchants there had been brought into line.

The second advertisement presented “A Likely Negro Man and a Wench,” instructing “Any person inclining to purchase them” to enquire of the printer. The unnamed advertiser described the enslaved man and woman as “fit for a Farmer, or any private Family” and offered assurances of their health by noting that they “both had the Small-Pox and Measles” so would not contract those diseases again. The advertiser added a nota bene asserting that the man and woman treated no differently than commodities were “Both young,” one more attempt to incite interest from potential buyers. The anonymous enslaver opened with advertisement with an explanation that that Black man and women were “To be sold, for no Fault, but Want of Cash.” In other words, they were not disobedient, difficult to manage, or ill. The enslaver simply needed to raise some ready money; selling the man and woman provided a convenient means of doing so.

One advertisement addressed a widespread movement to use commerce as a political tool to prevent the colonies from being enslaved by Parliament. The other depicted the continued enslavement and disregard for a “Negro Man and a Wench” not entitled to the same liberty that white New Yorkers claimed for themselves. The colonial press, in collaboration with colonists who placed newspaper notices, maintained and even bolstered the contradictory discourse contained in the two advertisements.

October 3

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

Oct 3 - 10:3:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 3, 1769).

“A Likely Negro LAD.”

Nathan Frazier’s advertisement for “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS” ran once again in the October 3, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. The shopkeeper promoted those goods by proclaiming “a single article of which has not been imported since last year.” In other words, his merchandise arrived in the colonies prior to the nonimportation agreement going into effect. He had not violated the agreement; prospective customers who supported the American cause could purchase from him with clear conscience. A new advertisement appeared immediately above it: “To be SOLD, A Likely Negro LAD, about eighteen or nineteen Years of Age, works well at the Cooper’s Trade, and understands working in the Field or Garden.” This produced a striking juxtaposition for readers, moving from an advertisement that contributed to the perpetuation of slavery to one that implicitly asserted the rights of Anglo-American colonists and defended their liberty against encroachments by Parliament. In the era of the imperial crisis that culminated with the American Revolution, colonists unevenly applied demands for liberty.

That these advertisements appeared in a newspaper published in Salem, Massachusetts, underscores that slavery was practiced throughout British mainland North America rather than limited to southern colonies. The proportion of the population comprised of enslaved men, women, and children was certainly smaller in New England than in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, but enslaved people were present, enmeshed in daily life, commerce, and print culture in the region. Fewer colonists in New England enslaved Africans and African Americans, but even those who did not themselves own slaves still participated in networks of commerce and consumption that depended on the labor of men, women, and children held in bondage. Consider another advertisement that ran in the same issue of the Essex Gazette. Richard Derby, Jr., hawked “Choice Jamaica SUGAR, RUM, ALSPICE, GINGER, and COFFEE.” Colonists in New England consumed products cultivated by enslaved laborers in the Caribbean and imported to mainland North America. They were part of transatlantic networks of production and exchange that included the slave trade as an integral component. The economies of their colonies and their personal consumption habits were deeply entangled with slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

The progression of advertisements in the October 3 edition of the Essex Gazette – from “Choice Jamaica SUGAR” to “A Likely Negro LAD” to “Fall and Winter GOODS” imported the previous year – tells a complicated story of the quest for liberty and the perpetuation of enslavement in the era of the American Revolution. Any narrative that focuses exclusively on the patriotism exhibited by Nathan Frazier in his efforts to support the nonimportation acts tells only part of the story so readily visible in the advertisements that appeared immediately before Frazier’s notice.

July 4

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

Jul 4 - 7:4:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 4, 1769).

“RUN away … two Negro Boys named GUY and LIMEHOUSE.”

American colonists engaged in a variety of resistance activities in response to new legislation passed by Parliament with the intention of better regulating the vast British Empire in the years after the Seven Years War concluded. Colonial legislatures passed resolutions asserting the rights of American and submitted petitions encouraging Parliament to reconsider. Merchants and shopkeepers organized nonimportation agreements, disrupting commerce as a means of achieving political goals. Extending those efforts, consumers boycotted goods imported from Britain. Many colonists also expressed their political views by participating in public demonstrations, some of them culminating in violence. The colonial press chronicled all of these efforts, contributing to the creation of an imagined community from New England to Georgia. Print culture played an important role in creating a sense of a common cause for many colonists.

Yet white colonists were not the only ones thinking about liberty and those were not the only means of seeking freedom. Enslaved Africans and African Americans did not need newspaper reports about petitions, nonimportation agreements, and public demonstrations to inform them of the ideals of liberty and the meaning of freedom. Many engaged in their own acts of resistance, seizing their own liberty by escaping from bondage. Such was the case for “two Negro Boys named GUY and LIMEHOUSE.” Late in the winter or early in the spring of 1769, these two young men decided to make their escape from Ralph Izard’s plantation. For weeks, Izard ran advertisements in South Carolina’s newspapers, including in the July 4, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. He offered a reward of ten pounds each for the capture and return of Guy and Limehouse, instructing that they should be delivered “to the Warden of [t]he Work-house in Charlestow[n].”

Other than their names (presumably names bestowed on the young men by their enslavers), Izard provided little information about the young men. He described them as “Boys,” but did not offer even an approximation of their ages. Izard indicated that he had purchased Guy and Limehouse from William Drayton, but did not report how much time had elapsed between that transaction and their escape. For at least a couple of months, the young men experienced freedom, though they likely never felt secure. Guy and Limehouse’s stories, as told by Izard, were exceptionally truncated compared to the stories they would have told about themselves. Still, their determination to free themselves demonstrates that the spirit of liberty was not confined to white colonists aggrieved over the actions of Parliament.

That spirit of liberty, however, existed in stark contrast to the realities of enslavement during the imperial crisis, throughout the American Revolution, and beyond. Advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children who attempted to seize their own liberty highlight that paradox of the American founding. Many historians address the tension between liberty and enslavement in the era of the American Revolution, both in projects intended mainly for their colleagues in the academy and projects intended to engage the general public. On July 4, as Americans celebrate Independence Day, the Adverts 250 Project seeks to add to that conversation by presenting the stories of enslaved people who made their escape from bondage at the same time that white colonists protested for their rights and freedom from figurative enslavement to Parliament. In addition to the stories of Guy and Limehouse, learn more about Caesar, advertised in the Providence Gazette on July 4, 1767, and Harry, advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on July 4, 1768. Celebrations of Independence Day should acknowledge the complexity of American history and commemorate the courage and conviction of enslaved people who pursued their own means of achieving freedom in an era of revolutionary fervor.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:22:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 22, 1768).

“A negro fellow born in Jamaica, calls himself James Williams.”

An advertisement listing fugitive slaves who had been captured and “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE” was a regular feature in newspapers published in South Carolina and Georgia in the late 1760s. The supplement that accompanied the November 22, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, for example, included an advertisement that described three such runaways: Belfast, a “new negro fellow” who “has the mark of a shot on his left thigh, which he said was done by his master,” Jenny, a “negro wench of the Angola country … of a yellow complexion, with very small breasts,” and James Williams, a “negro fellow born in Jamaica” who had been “branded on his right shoulder.” The notice indicated where each had been “taken up” before being delivered to the workhouse.

Other details hinted at more complete stories that each captured runaway could tell. That James Williams identified himself by both first and last name, for instance, was notable. He certainly had not adopted the surname of Thomas Wheeler of Kingston, the man who currently held him in bondage. What circumstances had prompted Williams to adopt that surname? What meaning did it hold for him? Which experiences had shaped his life and convinced him to seize an opportunity to make an escape? According to the notice, Williams had been “hired to one Davis, first Lieutenant of the Sterling-Castle,” but he ran away when the ship was at Cape Fear. In addition to the brand on his shoulder, he also had “the mark of a shot just below his left knee, which he says was done at the siege of the Havanna” near the end of the Seven Years War. The brief description of James Williams in the “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE” notice was an incomplete narrative of his life, as was the case for both Belfast and Jenny.

These truncated narratives stood in stark contrast to the poem, “To LIBERTY,” printed immediately to the right. Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, presented one notion of liberty for his readers to consider as colonists grappled with their deteriorating relationship with Parliament. Probably quite inadvertently, Crouch provided a companion piece with the “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE” notice. Most likely very few readers acknowledged the juxtaposition, in part because white narrators framed the experiences of runaway slaves. Given the opportunity to tell their own stories, Belfast, Jenny, and James Williams would have advanced their own understandings of liberty. Enslaved men, women, and children did not need poets or printers to teach them any lessons about what it meant to be free. Through the act of running away, they testified that they already understood.

March 26

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

Mar 26 - 3:26:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (March 26, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD, A Likely young Negro Girl.”

John Holt published the New-York Journal on Thursdays in 1768. According to schedule, he distributed a standard four-page issue on Thursday, March 24. A two-page supplement filled mostly with news and a limited number of advertisements accompanied that issue. Two days later, Holt distributed an additional two-page supplement on Saturday, March 26. He explained that it contained “Articles left out of last for Want of Room,” apparently items that either could not wait for inclusion the following week or that would crowd out more recent news if held that long. The March 26 supplement consisted almost entirely of news items. One advertisement appeared at the bottom of the final column on the second page.

That advertisement offered a “Likely young Negro Girl about 13 Years of Age” for sale. It stood in stark juxtaposition to the remainder of the content of the supplement. Holt devoted four of the six columns to news from Boston, including several editorial pieces reprinted from the Boston-Gazette. One reprinted letter, signed “A TRUE PATRIOT,” warned that the colonists “soon will find themselves in chains” if they did not “support their own RIGHTS, and the Liberty of the PRESS” in the face of abuses by Parliament. Another correspondent, “POPULUS,” underscored that there was “nothing so justly TERRIBLE to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as FREE PRESS.” The press played such an important role that “it is ever watched by those who are forming plans for the destruction of the people’s liberties, with an envious and malignant eye.”

In addition to these editorials, Holt inserted a circular letter “written by the hon. the House of Representatives” in Massachusetts “in the last Session of the General Assembly and sent to the respective Assemblies on the Continent.” In it, that body expressed “their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest deference to the wisdom of the parliament; that the acts made there, imposing duties on the people of this province, with the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are infringements on their natural and constitutional rights; because, as they are not represented in the British parliament, his Majesty’s commons in Britain, by those acts, grant their property without their consent.” In other words, colonists in Massachusetts objected to taxation without representation. Holt amplified their sentiments by reprinting their letter for readers in New York and its hinterlands.

All of this discussion of freedom of the press and theories of constitutional liberty took place alongside an advertisement for a “young Negro Girl.” The revenues generated from that advertisement contributed to the dissemination of the arguments voiced by “A TRUE PATRIOT,” “POPULUS,” and the assembly of the “Province of MASSACHUSETTS-BAY.” As white colonists fretted about their liberties, they also perpetuated a system that enslaved a “young Negro Girl” and countless others, holding their bodies in bondage even as they lamented potential challenges to their own speech. Resistance led to revolution as the imperial crisis intensified over the course of a decade, but many colonists were inconsistent in their conceptions of liberty and applying them to all who resided in the colonies. Even as they challenged Parliament to recognize their “natural constitutional right” colonists continued to purchase and peddle slaves from New England to George. The evidence for each appeared side-by-side in the pages of their newspapers.