August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 25, 1767).

“Coarse shoes for Negroes.”

From fabrics to foodstuffs to decorative housewares, James McCall sold an array of merchandise at “Messrs. LLOYD and NEYLE’s store in Broad-street” in Charleston. He carried clothing items intended for a variety of customers. For instance, his advertisement distinguished between “men’s buck gloves” and “women’s white unglazed kid gloves and mitts, with flowered backs.”

McCall made even greater distinctions among his assortment of shoes for all sorts of colonists: “women and girls leather and black callimanco shoes and pumps, men and boys shoes and pumps, coarse shoes for Negroes, a great choice of childrens black leather and Morocco shoes and pumps.” This short catalog of shoes and their intended wearers underscores that not everyone who eventually wore clothing sold by McCall qualified as customers in their own right. The slaves who donned the “coarse shoes for Negroes” never visited the store or made their own selections. They put consumer goods to use, but they did not participate in obtaining them. They did not engage in the processes of imagining alternatives and making choices about which shoes and other clothing items to acquire and wear.

Advertisements for consumer goods targeted broad swaths of the colonial population, but they also excluded or did not envision direct participation by enslaved men, women, and children. In addition to McCall’s “coarse shoes for Negroes,” advertisers in South Carolina and other colonies with significant slave populations frequently announced that they sold “NEGRO CLOTH” (as did Atkins and Weston in the same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that carried McCall’s advertisement). Slaveholders purchased negro cloth, a coarse material, to outfit their slaves, even as they selected among almost innumerable textiles of higher quality for their own apparel.

In publishing an extensive list of shoes he stocked, McCall marketed fashion to prospective customers, but not when it came to “coarse shoes for Negroes.” In that case, McCall merely advertised provisions. The “coarse shoes for Negroes” would have more appropriately appeared in other parts of the advertisement, along with “flour in barrels” or the half dozen different kinds of nails. “Negroes” certainly used some of the clothing items McCall imported and sold, but they did not qualify as customers. Their participation in the consumer culture was circumscribed by their status as slaves.

November 18

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 18, 1766).

“Coarse Shoes for Negroes.”

In this advertisement published in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Godfrey and Gadsden offered an assortment of goods from Bristol, England. For this entry, I decided to focus on the listing for “coarse Shoes for Negroes.”

My first question about this listing was why Godfrey & Gadsden chose the word “coarse” to describe shoes for slaves. I quickly discovered in my research that “coarse” was a very common description in advertisements for not only slave shoes, but for jackets, shirts, pants, and blankets, all created specifically for slaves. In Slavery in Alabama, James Benson Sellers writes, “The slave’s clothing was usually of a coarse quality, suitable for long, hard wear, as well as for protection against the weather.”[1] Slave shoes and clothes were created to stand the test of time, not for fashion or comfort. In “Fashion and Appearance: Men’s Clothing,” Travis Jacquess writes, “Slave shoes were notoriously uncomfortable and made of materials such as cardboard, thin leather, and wooden soles.”[2]

This listing also advertises “Men’s neat Shoes” for sale. Seeing the two items, “Men’s neat Shoes” and “coarse Shoes for Negroes” directly next to each other reminds us of how class distinctions could be presented through fashion in colonial America.



Mary and her peers began the semester by reading T.H. Breen’s groundbreaking article, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776.”[3] In addition to providing an overview of early American economic history, Breen explains the importance of examining consumer culture in colonial America. In so doing, he provides a foundation on which to build for students preparing to contribute to the Adverts 250 Project.

In “Empire of Goods,” subsequent articles, and, eventually, a book (The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence), Breen argues that colonists experienced a standardization of consumer culture throughout the eighteenth century. He claims that colonists from New England to Georgia had access to the same consumer goods imported from England and other faraway places. Even though colonists lived quite a distance from each other, they participated in the same marketplace because merchants and shopkeepers made available the same goods for them to purchase. As a result, consumers throughout the colonies had a common experience that united them culturally, thus facilitating subsequent political unity in the face of abuses by Parliament.

Breen relies on newspaper advertisements to make this argument. As my students and I have pursued the Adverts 250 Project over the past year we have seen for ourselves that, by and large, the same imported goods were indeed advertised in newspapers from throughout the colonies. However, there has been one notable exception: “coarse Shoes for Negroes” and similar descriptions of the same product. Especially as we have simultaneously constructed a parallel project, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, that requires scanning all newspaper advertisements for words like “slave,” “negro,” and “mulatto,” we have noticed that advertisements for shoes for slaves appeared exclusively in newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South, regions that by the 1760s were slave societies rather than societies with slaves. In the absence of large populations of enslaved men, women, and children, merchants and shopkeepers in New England and the Middle Atlantic did not tend to advertise “coarse Shoes for Negroes,” even if they may have stocked and sold them.

As a result, we have concluded that Breen offers a convincing argument about the standardization of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America, but with at least one important caveat. Whether they owned slaves or not, colonists in the Chesapeake and Lower South were exposed regularly to advertisements for shoes and clothing explicitly associated with slaves in stark contrast to the apparel marketed for white consumers. Slavery caused some regional differences in consumer culture to creep into newspaper advertising.


[1] James Sellers, Slavery in Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1950), 99.

[2] Travis Jacquess, “Fashion and Appearance: Men’s Clothing” in The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia, ed, Merril D. Smith (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2015), 284.

[3] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 467-499.