What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.”
In the late 1760s, the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven by Thomas Green and Samuel Green, carried significantly less advertisements that most newspapers printed elsewhere in the colonies. Such was the case for some of the newspapers from smaller towns. For instance, the September 8, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal contained only four advertisements. The printers placed two of those advertisements themselves. In one, they announced “A Plan of Exercise, fro the Militia of the Colony of Connecticut” for sale at their printing office. In the other, they promoted two tracts concerning religion, one that would be available soon and the other already in stock.
The other two advertisements merit particular notice. Both offered enslaved people for sale. One described “a healthy, strong NEGRO FELLOW, 22 or 23 Years old” who had “had the Small-Pox” and thus was not at risk of contracting it again. The other listed “a likely Negro Wench, aged about 23 Years” and also “a Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.” Nicholas Street, the colonist who held them in bondage, described the woman as “strong and healthy,” not unlike the “NEGRO FELLOW” in the other advertisement, and specified that she was “well-skilled in all Business suitable for a Wench.” He did not indicate the relationship between the woman and the girl, leaving readers to reach their own conclusions about whether Street compounded the violence being done by separating family members. He certainly did not express any compunction about selling the woman and girl separately.
Advertisements were an important source of revenue for printers. Paid notices made newspapers viable ventures; they funded the circulation of the news far and wide during the era of the American Revolution. Advertisements concerning enslaved people, whether offering them for sale or seeking the capture of those who attempted to seize their liberty by escaping, accounted for a significant portion of the paid notices that made it possible for printers to continue publishing newspapers. These two advertisements in the Connecticut Journal are especially striking because they represent the only advertising revenue the Greens accrued for the September 8 edition. Even in New England, enslavement was enmeshed in print culture. The two served as bulwarks for each other. Newspapers perpetuated slavery through the frequent publication of advertisements concerning enslaved people, while the advertising fees collected from enslavers contributed to the continuing operations of every newspaper published in colonial America.