What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“This masterly Performance merits the closest Attention and Consideration of every true SON OF AMERICA, the Propriety of imposing TAXES on free Subjects.”
Yesterday’s advertisements from the New-Hampshire Gazette testified to the connections between slavery and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Slavery was discussed elsewhere on the same page of that issue, though it was slavery of a different sort. The printers inserted several letters forwarded by the “true born Sons of Liberty” concerning the continuing controversy over the Stamp Act. The American protestors were “determined to use there utmost Efforts to prevent even the Appearance of Slavery.” Meanwhile, readers who glanced two columns to the left would have seen the advertisements for “BARBADOS whitest LOAF SUGAR” and “A NEGRO BOY.”
Today’s advertisement appeared on the previous page. It does not include the word “slavery,” but other items published in the same issue demonstrate that many readers consciously linked the Stamp Act and enslavement (even as they may have attempted to eschew associations between sugar and slavery). In American Slavery, American Freedom (1975), Edmund S. Morgan explored the paradox of the founding of the American nation: the rhetoric of freedom and equality during the Revolution and after occurred with the enslavement of black laborers as its backdrop throughout the colonial era and beyond. The liberty of white Americans was contingent in many ways on the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, a distressing contradiction.
Today’s advertisement is certainly evidence that advertising and consumer culture took on a political valence in the years of the imperial crisis, but a story of patriotic advertising would be an incomplete story. Just as yesterday’s advertisements for sugar and an enslaved boy were bound together, the stories of Americans advocating (and eventually fighting) for their liberties and simultaneously continuing to practice slavery cannot be separated from each other.