January 22

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 22, 1771).

“Scotch camblets for negro wenches gowns.”

Advertisers took to the pages of the January 22, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to offer a variety of commodities for sale.  A good number of advertisers also sought to sell enslaved men, women, and children; their notices were interspersed among the others, ubiquitous in the commercial landscape represented on the printed page and enacted in everyday life.  The executors of Edward Smilie’s estate, for instance, advertised “Twenty-seven valuableSLAVES, among whom are, a carpenter and driver, as few good house-wenches, a seamstress, and several handy boys and girls.”  Thomas Knighton advertised “Nineteen valuable NEGROES, among which are, one copper, two sawyers, and a good house wench.”  An anonymous advertiser instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer” to learn more about purchasing a “Young NEGRO FELLOW, that has been used to attend on a Gentleman in the Country.”

Such advertisers, however, were not alone in their efforts to profit from the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.  Henry Rugeley and Company advertised a variety of goods, mostly textiles but also tea and seeds.  Their textiles included “a variety of long and clear lawns, Silesia linens, tandems, Russia drab, dowlas, garlix, osnabrugs, and half-ell German linen” as well as “Scotch camblets for negro wenches gowns.”  Although Rugeley and Company did not seek to sell enslaved people, at least not in that advertisement, the partners did want a share of the market for supplying provisions to enslavers.  They derived some of their revenues from selling textiles intended to clothe enslaved women.  The transatlantic slave trade had tentacles that extended beyond the buying and selling of enslaved men, women, and children.  Like Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal who collected advertising fees and facilitated sales of enslaved people, Rugeley and Company deliberately played a supporting role in the perpetuation of slavery in colonial America.  As newspaper advertisements and other sources make clear, there was money to be made through enslavement and exploitation, not only by slave traders but also by printers, merchants, shopkeepers, and others in a vast commercial infrastructure that catered to enslavers.

September 27

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

South-Carolina Gazette (September 27, 1770).

“Some Thousand Pairs of NEGRO SHOES.”

Simon Berwick and John Berwick had a variety of customers in mind when they advertised “MEN’s SHOES and PUMPS” in the September 27, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  They began their advertisement with footwear intended for white colonists, proclaiming that these shoes were “made in the neatest Manner” and cost fifty shillings per pair.  They also stocked “A great Quantity of strong black Shoes and Pumps” that cost between twenty-five and forty shillings.  The Berwicks presented those shoes “for House-Negroes and others.”  The “others” presumably included white colonists from more humble backgrounds than the customers who would purchase the more expensive shoes that led the advertisement.  The Berwicks also had in stock “some Thousand Pairs of NEGRO SHOES” that they described as “all fresh, and equal to any made in the Province.”

Were enslaved artisans involved in the production of these shoes?  Did the Berwicks enslave others who did not make shoes?  The answers to those questions are not apparent from their advertisement.  Yet the answers make little difference when it comes to disentangling the Berwicks from the commercial and economic web of slavery in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.  They pitched their advertisement to enslavers who need to outfit the men, women, and children they held in bondage.  They provided moderately-priced shoes for “House-Negroes” who would be seen by enslavers and their guests as well as less expensive “NEGRO SHOES” for those who labored beyond the house and thus relatively out of sight.  The Berwicks did not have to have enslaved people making shoes in their workshop or otherwise serving them in order to reap the benefits of slavery.  Instead, a significant portion of their business revolved around provisioning enslavers.  They sold shoes, while others, like Henry Rugeley, advertised “NEGRO CLOTH,” a rough and inexpensive fabric intended for clothing for enslaved people.  The business model developed by the Berwicks depended on enslavers engaging them as customers.