April 30

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 1, 1769).

“NEGROES … from CAPE-MOUNT, on the WINDWARD COAST, which is in the center of a RICE COUNTRY.”

Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton took out this advertisement in the South Carolina and American General Gazette to inform readers that a slave ship had just arrived. The advertisement stated that “A CARGO of Three Hundred PRIME YOUNG NEGROES Arrived Yesterday”

from Cape Mount on the Windward Coast of Africa. The captain was looking to offload its cargo on Wednesday, May 10, 1769. The advertisement speaks volumes about the economy of South Carolina in the era of the American Revolution. A slave ship with three hundred young black men and women would have been a welcomed sight for plantation owners looking to increase their labor force. Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton made sure in this advertisement to state that these slaves came from the Windward Coast. The reason for this, according to Joseph Opala, was that these slaves would already have expertise in farming rice. Colonists had found that the climate in South Carolina was perfect for farming rice; however, very few people had the skills to do so. This made slaves coming from the Windward Coast or the “Rice Coast” even more valuable because they came from fishing and rice farming villages.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton’s advertisement was one of many in the May 1, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that indicated the origins of enslaved men, women, and children offered for sale. The partners provided very little information about the human cargo except to note that these “PRIME YOUNG NEGROES” came “from CAPE-MOUNT, on the WINDWARD COAST, which is in the center of a RICE COUNTRY.” Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton gave a short geography lesson, anticipating that it would resonate with prospective buyers precisely for the reasons that Patrick outlines in his analysis of the advertisement.

In another advertisement, John Chapman and Company announced the sale of “Two Hundred and Fifty NEGROES, Arrived … directly from GAMBIA.” Edmond Head placed yet another for “A CARGO of One Hundred and Twenty-six PRIME NEGROES … from GAMBIA.” Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton also placed a second advertisement, that one concerning “A CARGO of Three Hundred and Forty PRIME HEALTHY NEGROES, Arrived … directly from ANNAMABOE, on the GOLD COAST of AFRICA” (in modern Ghana). All of these advertisers expected that documenting the origins of enslaved men, women, and children made them more attractive to prospective buyers.

According to the Slave Voyages database, twenty-two vessels carrying at least 4277 captives arrived in Charleston directly from Africa in 1769. Another thirty-eight vessels from other ports, all of them in the Caribbean or mainland North America, also delivered enslaved men, women, and children to Charleston in 1769. Each of those vessels carried far fewer slaves. Still, the port of Charleston, one of the largest cities in the American colonies, was a vibrant slaving center on the eve of the American Revolution. Prospective buyers had many choices, prompting slave traders to attempt to distinguish the African men, women, and children they treated as commodities according to their particular places of origin and the types of expertise associated with laborers from those faraway places.

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Bohane

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

“New Rice by the Cask.”

Thomas Walley sold “New Rice by the Cask” at his “Store, on Dock-Square.” Rice was one of the most profitable goods cultivated in colonial America. According to James M. Clifton, settlers from Barbados and other colonies in the West Indies introduced rice to South Carolina. Colonists there had much to learn about rice, doing so through trial and error. The earliest mention of rice shipment recorded was in 1692, but after that point it became a staple crop, one that supported much of the economy for the entire colony.[1] In order to reduce the amount of strenuous labor required to produce this popular commodity, colonists in South Carolina sought to perfect machines and mills that could aid in processing rice.[2] Unfortunately, this proved quite unsuccessful and remained a challenging process throughout the colonial period. Rice crops became more profitable, however, with the labor of black slaves who worked on plantations and knew how to properly cultivate rice.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “New Rice by the Cask,” Thomas Walley also peddled a variety of other goods. He emphasized textiles and “all sorts of Groceries,” such as tea, olive oil, and mustard. The assortment of fabrics available at his store included “homespun check,” cloth that had been woven in the colonies rather than imported from England. Walley did not explicitly link his products to the imperial crisis that had intensified six months earlier when the Townshend Act went into effect, but he did offer prospective customers the opportunity to participate in a larger coordinated effort to resist Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue without the consent of the colonies. Several months before Walley’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, the Boston Town Meeting (followed by many others) had voted to use commerce as leverage in the political dispute with Parliament. They pledged to encourage “American manufactures” rather than continue their dependence on imported goods. In so doing, they acknowledged that in order to change their consumption habits that they first needed to modify the amount of goods produced in the colonies.

Just as this advertisement obscures the role of enslaved labor in producing “New Rice by the Cask,” it also obscures the role women played in this political strategy. Barred from participating in the formal mechanisms of government, women pursued other avenues when it came to participating in resistance efforts during the imperial crisis that culminated in the Revolution. American women produced Walley’s “homespun Check,” first spinning the thread and then weaving it into checkered cloth. Women also made choices about which goods to consume, their decisions extending to entire households. Women who purchased homespun could make very visible political statements by outfitting every member of their families in garments made from that cloth. The meanings of consumption increasingly took on political valences in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. In that realm, women often exercised as much power as men as they exercised their judgment in selecting which goods to acquire and which to reject. Their decisions reverberated beyond the point of purchase; everyday use of clothing, housewares, groceries, and other goods advertised in newspapers and sold by merchants and shopkeepers became laden with political significance.

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[1] James M. Clifton, “The Rice Industry in Colonial America,” Agricultural History 55, no. 3 (July 1981): 267.

[2] Clifton, “Rice Industry,” 278.

April 4

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Apr 4 - 4:3:1766 Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (April 3, 1766).

“Indian Corn, new Rice, Pitch and Tar, – and a great Variety of English Goods.”

My curiosity was caught by this advertisement because of the “Indian Corn.” At first, I thought that the Indian corn could refer to some sort of trade between Native Americans and the English settlers. However, upon further research I found it referred to the type of corn. Indian corn, or maize, was popular in Massachusetts especially because it was easy to grow there. Native Americans farmed and harvested it, using all parts of the corn, not only for food, but for making items such as baskets and hats as well.

Maize was indicative of an earlier relationship between the Massachusetts colonists and Native American tribes. The Indians helped the colonists in growing corn as the English found that their crops, such as wheat, were not very suitable to the new climate. In a sense the Indian corn is still a representation of trade, but it was an exchange of knowledge from the Native Americans to the English settlers.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I appreciate how Maia identifies an exchange of knowledge as a precursor to the exchange of goods – “Indian Corn” in particular – envisioned in this advertisement. The evolving foodways of Africans, indigenous Americans, and Europeans that were part of the Columbian Exchange included trading knowledge about cultivation, preparation, and uses of a variety of new foods.

For English colonists, “new Rice” was an equally unfamiliar crop. Along with tobacco and indigo, many people recognize rice as a staple crop grown in the Chesapeake and Lower South. Slaves provided the necessary labor on rice plantations, enriching their masters in the process. Yet enslaved men and women contributed more than just their labor, significant enough in its own right. Africans were much more familiar with rice cultivation than Europeans. Enslaved Africans provided the experience and expertise growing rice that allowed European colonists to establish profitable plantations.

The first two items listed in this advertisement, “Indian Corn” and “new Rice,” both underscore that Europeans who ventured, settled, and traded throughout the Atlantic World depended on indigenous peoples, Africans and Native Americans, to supply knowledge about the foodstuffs that became part of their commerce and cuisine.