March 22

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Georgia Gazette (March 22, 1769).

TO BE SOLD … ONE NEGROE GIRL.”

This advertisement from the Georgia Gazette talked about selling an enslaved person, “ONE NEGROE GIRL.” Newspapers from the southern colonies constantly had advertisements for selling enslaved people in the 1760s. So did many newspapers from northern colonies, but they did not have as many advertisements about enslaved people as the southern newspapers. This advertisement shows that Matthew Roche, the provost marshal, offered to sell a girl that was “seized” from James Lambert because he could not pay his bills, which meant anything that he owned, including human “property,” could be taken away. The girl that was seized had her whole life changed, especially if she had any family or friends who were not sold with her. This advertisement does not give a description of what the girl was like or anything about her features or her skills. It shows that Roche did not give her any identity and only cared that she was property.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Zach comments on the number of advertisements concerning enslaved people that ran in newspapers in the southern colonies in the 1760s. Indeed, this advertisement for “ONE NEGRO GIRL” was not the only one concerning enslaved men, women, and children in the March 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. A total of ten such advertisements, spread over three of the four pages, appeared in that issue.

Six of those advertisements offered enslaved people for sale. Similar to the advertisement placed by the provost marshal, one advertisement for a “PUBLICK VENDUE” or auction promoted “ONE NEGROE GIRL” for sale. It listed her, however, among a variety of commodities put up for bids to settle the estate of Captain David Cutler Braddock, including “A PARCEL RAW DEER SKINS” and “some BEES-WAX.” Other advertisements sought to sell several enslaved people at once, though that would not have been any less disruptive to their lives and their relationships since there was no guarantee of being sold together. One brief advertisement offered “ FEW NEGROES belonging to the Estate of Martin Fenton.” Another estate notice included “ABOUT TWENTY-ONE VALUABLE PLANTATION SLAVES” along with “A STOCK OF CATTLE.” Henry Yonge also announced an auction, leading with “ABOUT FIFTEEN VALUABLE PLANTATION AND HOUSE SLAVES” before listing furniture, livestock, corn, and other provisions. Due to his own declining health, another advertiser aimed to sell his plantation, including “About THIRTY LIKELY NEGROES.” To make them more attractive to prospective buyers, he noted that “amongst them is a very good Bricklayer, a Driver, and two Sawyers.” Many of them were “fit for field or boat work.” The rest were “fine thriving children.” Like the “NEGRO GIRL” to be sold by the provost marshal, all of those children and the other enslaved people offered for sale in these advertisements faced fates largely determined by those who held them in bondage.

Acts of resistance, however, were possible. Two of the advertisements about enslaved people reported on those who had escaped. Two men, Perth and Ned, had run away “some time ago.” Thomas Morgan suspected that they “went to Halifax in St. George’s parish, where they are well known.” Shand and Henderson once again ran an advertisement about Cuffy and Bersheba, who had been gone for more than a month, having made their escape on February 9. Two other advertisements, on the other hand, described runaways who had been captured. A couple, Sampson and Molly, had been “TAKEN UP … on the Indian Country Path, about 20 miles from Augusta.” They had an infant “about two months old” with them. The arrival of the child may have provided the motivation to abscond. The final advertisement described Michael, “A TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW.” He had been imprisoned in the workhouse in Savannah for several months following his capture.

As Zach notes, advertisements about enslaved people were indeed a “constant” feature in many newspapers in the 1760s, especially newspapers published in the southern colonies. In the same era that colonists decried their figurative enslavement by Parliament in the pages of those same newspapers they also placed and read advertisements that contributed to the perpetuation of the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.

March 18

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 18, 1767).

“A VALUABLE NEGROE WENCH and CHILD.”

Scanning through a colonial American newspaper, especially one from Georgia, it is not uncommon to see advertisements selling slaves with other goods. It is appalling to see a woman and her child being sold as property along with carpentry tools and household furniture. Ironically, in the 1730s the Georgia Trustees envisioned their colony as a free settlement. Unfortunately, the economic temptations were too strong and by 1751 slavery was legalized. In contrast, by 1784, the northern states, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, had all abolished slavery. But Georgia remained a slave state after the Revolution.

Two crops dominated the Georgia economy, rice in the eighteenth century and cotton in the nineteenth century. Rice and cotton plantations required an adequate slave labor force, so as Georgia’s plantations grew so did the demand for slaves. A state law passed in 1793 prohibited the importation of slaves, but the law went into effect in 1798. During the 1790s the number of slaves in Georgia nearly doubled. In 1790 Georgia had 29,264 slaves, but then 54,699 slaves in 1800.

What did it really mean to see a slave advertisement in the colonial American newspaper? It means viewing human beings as property that could contribute to the owner’s own economic growth. They were seen just as equal as household furniture and other common goods that could be sold and advertised in a newspaper.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Today is the 251st anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Such an odd number merits little notice in a culture that usually prefers to celebrate landmark numbers of years measured in decades. For the purposes of the Adverts 250 Project, however, March 18, 1767, was the first anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Colonists did not allow that important anniversary to pass unnoticed. Instead, they engaged in commemorations noted in newspapers published throughout the colonies during the week before and several weeks after March 18.

Against that backdrop, today’s advertisement for “A VALUABLE NEGROE WENCH and CHILD” seems especially jarring. The juxtaposition did not go unnoticed during the years prior to the American Revolution. In Taxation No Tyranny, published in 1775, Samuel Johnson famously asked, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” The British author and lexicographer identified a glaring inconsistency in the rhetoric of colonists who claimed they were being enslaved by Parliament.

Although patriots in northern colonies (later states) did not level the same sort of acerbic observations against their southern counterparts, many increasingly applied the rhetoric of liberty to the circumstances of their own slaves. As Daniel notes, several northern states abolished slavery by the end of the eighteenth century. Others adopted gradual emancipation plans. As a result, advertisements offering slaves for sale tapered off in northern newspapers.

For the past six months, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project has demonstrated, however, that advertisements for slaves were common in newspapers printed in New England and the Middle Atlantic, regions not associated with slavery to the same extent as the Chesapeake and the Lower South (in part because the northern regions abolished or phased out slavery after the Revolution). Today’s advertisement lumping together “A VALUABLE NEGROE WENCH and CHILD” with tools, clothing, and furniture appeared in some variation in newspapers printed in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia during its week of initial publication.

As Daniel and his peers in my Revolutionary America class work on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I am encouraging them to contemplate the tensions between liberty and enslavement in eighteenth-century America, as well as the uneven application of the rhetoric of the Revolution when it came to slavery. While it is important to realize that approximately half a million slaves resided in the colonies at the time of the Revolution, the micro-histories embedded in slavery advertisements tell the stories of individuals. They provide further insight into the daily lives and lived experiences of enslaved men, women, and children in early America.

October 29

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

oct-29-10291766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 29, 1766).

“A PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.”

I chose this advertisement because it dealt with a material whose impact on society I did not know a lot about overall: leather. This short advertisement attempted to sell “A PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” I did realize that throughout history leather played a role, but did not fully understand its importance in the colonial world. Obviously there was demand for it. But why was leather in demand? I engaged in some research to find out more about it. According to Colonial Williamsburg, leather was used for myriad of items: equestrian equipment, fashion items and storage products. It even was used for luxury items like “ fur and leather hand muffs” and “razor cases.”

The importance of equipment used in harnessing horses cannot be overstated. During the colonial period the primary mode of travel, other than walking, was horseback or a horse drawn vehicle. There would have been thousands of colonists using horses to travel across towns or colonies. None of that travel would have been possible without bridles, saddles, harnesses, and other leather goods. That is one of the main reasons leather was a commodity that was worth selling. It was a necessary component of colonial travel, as well as a resource used in fashion. A colonist reading this advertisement would have recognized the value of leather goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Megan has selected an advertisement that differs from many other advertisements for consumer goods and services in one significant aspect: “MATT. ROCHE, Prov. Mar.” signed this notice. Roche was not a producer, supplier, or retailer. Instead, he was a local official, a provost marshal (a law enforcement officer roughly equivalent to a sheriff). As part of their own institutional history, the U.S. Marshals Service states that “as soon as the colony of Georgia was founded in 1733, the office of provost marshal was established.” Other colonies, including Virginia, also had provost marshals. Their duties included collecting fines, apprehending and transporting criminals, and, most significantly for the purposes of understanding this advertisement, “taking inventory of a deceased person’s estate.”

Roche did not seek to sell his own goods or make a profit from transactions with customers. That was not his way of earning a living. Instead, in his official capacity he participated in settling the estate of “the late Mr. William Smith.” Note that Roche did not have his own shop, auction house, or warehouse for dispersing the “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” Instead, those interested in purchasing this commodity needed to seek it out at “Joseph Pruniere’s store adjoining his house.” Notice as well that Roche did not announce an ongoing sale. The “PARCEL” had been divided into lots that were to be sold on a specific date (“Tuesday the 4th of November, 1766”) at a specific place. This was an auction intended to quickly and efficiently liquidate the deceased Smith’s inventory of sole leather in order to move forward with settling his estate. Roche inserted an announcement of the sale in the Georgia Gazette, but he did not attempt to incite demand by resorting to any particular appeals to entice buyers, unlike shopkeepers whose livelihoods depended on attracting customers.

Most likely many colonists eventually wore shoes constructed from this “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER,” but the path from producer to consumer took unanticipated turns along the way.