June 17

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (June 17, 1771).

“For further Particulars, enquire of Edes & Gill.”

Two short advertisements about enslaved people appeared in the June 17, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  One announced, “TO BE SOLD, A likely Negro Fellow about 15 Years of Age.”  The other declared, “A Negro Child of a good Breed, to be given away.”  The same day, two other advertisements ran in the Boston-Gazette.  “To be Sold for Want of Employ,” stated one, “A likely Negro Woman, about 33 Years old, remarkable for Honesty and a good Temper.”  The other described “a Negro Man named Dick or Richard” who liberated himself.  The clever fugitive for freedom possessed a forged pass.

Each of those advertisements testified to the presence of slavery in northern colonies in the era of the American Revolution.  As colonists debated their rights and objected to abuses perpetrated by Parliament, many continued to enslave Africans and African Americans.  They turned to the same newspapers that kept them informed about politics and current events to facilitate the buying and selling … and even giving away … of enslaved men, women, and children.  In offering a reward for the capture and return of Dick, David Edgar encouraged all readers, whether enslavers or not, to engage in surveillance of Black people to detect the fugitive seeking freedom.  Newspapers, especially advertisements, helped perpetuate slavery in early America.

Most of those advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on June 17 had another similarity:  the extent that the printer participated in the transaction.  Edgar was the only advertiser who signed his notice.  Both advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post concluded with “Enquire of the Printers.”  The one offering a “likely Negro Woman” for sale in the Boston-Gazette advised, “For further Particulars, enquire of Edes & Gill.”  In addition to being well known as printers of that newspaper, their names appeared in the colophon at the bottom of the column that featured that advertisement.  The printers of both newspapers not only generated revenues by publishing advertisements about enslaved people but also actively took part in the buying, selling, and giving away of enslaved men, women, and children.  They played the role of information brokers beyond the printed page, providing additional services to enslavers who placed and responded to advertisements.

May 22

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

“Enquire of the Printers.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (May 22, 1769).

On May 22, 1769, readers of the Boston Evening-Post encountered an advertisement offering an enslaved youth for sale: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, brought up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of the Printers.” On the same day, a nearly identical advertisement ran in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of Edes and Gill.” The Massachusetts Gazette, published the same day, also carried that advertisement: “TO BE SOLD, A fine likely Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Inquire of Green & Russell.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 22, 1769).

Except for variations in the spelling of “brought” (or “bro’t”), the copy in all three notices was identical until the final sentence that advised interested parties to “Enquire of the Printers” for more information. These advertisements and many others like them made T. and J. Fleet, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell active participants in the slave trade. Printing advertisements for the purposes of buying and selling enslaved men, women and children or capturing those who escaped from bondage already made printers complicit in the perpetuation of slavery, but these “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements demonstrated even more active involvement as purveyors of people, not merely as conduits for disseminating information.

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (May 22, 1769).
Compared to newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South, far fewer advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children ran in newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic, but they were not absent. Printers in Boston devoted less space in their newspapers to these advertisements, but the frequency of “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements suggests that the Fleets, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell invested time in facilitating these transactions beyond what was required for receiving the copy and setting the type. In effect, they served as brokers, even if they never described or advertised their services in that manner.