April 15

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

Providence Gazette (April 15, 1769).

“A Quantity of Red and White Oak Hogshead STAVES.”

On April 15, 1769, Samuel Young put an advertisement put in the Providence Gazette to tell readers that he wanted “to purchase a Quantity of Red and White Oak Hogshead STAVES, for which he will make good Pay.” Staves are narrow pieces of wood used to make barrels. A hogshead is a barrel that holds 64 gallons. According to Jeremy M. Bell, “Barrels were the shipping containers of their time” in the eighteenth century. They held an abundance of items, including alcohol, corn, and tobacco. Today it is not very common to see barrels in stores, except maybe a Cracker Barrel, but in colonial times they were extremely common in shops, very noticeable objects for customers. Bell states that barrels were so frequently used that the British Parliament passed the first act to standardize hogsheads and their measurements in 1423. Starting with a tun barrel at 252 gallons, they made it so that each designation of volume would then be cut in half. A pipe barrel held 126 gallons. Therefore, a hogshead measured 64 gallons and a standard barrel at 32 gallons. Practically everyone involved in commerce in early America used hogsheads and barrels of other sizes.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

No advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children appeared in the April 15, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. None of the paid notices offered men and women for sale. None of them encouraged white colonists to engage in acts of surveillance in the service of capturing escaped slaves and returning them to those who held them in bondage, nor did any describe suspected runaways that had been imprisoned. Yet black bodies were not absent from the pages of the Providence Gazette or the commercial landscape in the city.

Before he announced that he sold an “Assortment of European, East and West-India GOODS” and sought “Hogshead STAVES,” Samuel Young proclaimed that he operated a store at “the Sign of the Black Boy.” Enslaved men and women had labored to produce many of the goods Young sold. Enslaved men and women would eventually handle the barrels made from the staves Young acquired. They were integrated into the networks of production, exchange, and consumption in the early modern Atlantic world. That was a fact that would have been difficult for residents of Providence to overlook, but Young’s choice of shop sign provided a stark visual reminder that black bodies had been appropriated and exploited for a variety of purposes. Enslaved men and women contributed their labor, their skills, and their expertise in the production of commodities. The image of a “Black Boy” then served as a marketing logo and a landmark that aided colonists in finding many of those commodities as they navigated the streets of Providence.

Elsewhere in the April 15 issue, the Providence Gazette disseminated news about the imperial crisis brewing as a result of the Townshend Acts and other abuses by Parliament. Some correspondents wrote about “AMERICAN Liberty,” while others defended the prerogatives of George III and Parliament. Calls for “AMERICAN Liberty,” however, extended only so far, only to white colonists. Most colonists who reduced enslaved men, women, and children to a stylized image on “the Sign of the Black Boy” did not contemplate how to evenly apply their rhetoric to all of the residents of Rhode Island and the other colonies.

December 10

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

Providence Gazette (December 10, 1768).

“The Sign of the Black Boy and Butt.”

No advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children happened to appear in the December 10, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, but that did not mean that the black body was absent from the commercial landscape of the port city that newspaper served. Jonathan Russell inserted an advertisement for his “large and fresh Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS,” noting that readers would easily recognize his store “on the West Side of the Great Bridge” because “the Sign of the Black Boy and Butt” marked its location. It was not the first time that he invoked his shop sign when giving directions to prospective customers, though he had previously referred to it simply as “the Sign of the BLACK-BOY.” Perhaps he had acquired a new sign, but it may have always included a depiction of a butt, a large cask. Russell’s description of it could have shifted over time.

Even when Russell was not advertising in the local newspaper, his sign was constantly on display in Providence, reminding residents and visitors alike of the connections between black bodies and colonial commerce. Nor was Russell the only merchant or shopkeeper to adopt such iconography. Two years earlier Augustus Deley placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant to proclaim that he “CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO … for chewing or smoaking.” Interested parties could find him “At the Sign of the Black Boy, Near the North Meeting-House in Hartford.” Signs depicting black boys had a long history in New England. More than thirty years earlier, Jonathan Williams placed an advertisement for imported wine and New England rum sold “at the Black Boy and Butt.”[1] In some instances, the youths represented enslaved workers closely associated with the products sold. Such was the case for Deley’s tobacco, grown on plantations in other colonies, and Williams’s rum, produced from molasses acquired as a byproduct of sugar cultivation on Caribbean plantations. The connection between Russell’s “Black Boy” and his “ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” was not as immediate. Instead, it offered a shorthand description of the networks of trade, production, and consumption that crisscrossed the Atlantic in the eighteenth century. Commercial exchange in Providence was part of a larger system that included the transatlantic slave trade and forced labor at sites of cultivation and production. Residents of Providence did not need “the Sign of the Black Boy and Butt” to inform them of that. Instead, it testified to a reality that was familiar to consumers throughout the Atlantic world.

**********

[1] New England Weekly Journal (March 8, 1737).

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 9, 1767).

“Assortment of English and India GOODS, at his Shop at the Sign of the BLACK-BOY.”

Jonathan Russell ran a shop “at the Sign of the BLACK-BOY; on the West Side of the Great-Bridge, in PROVIDENCE.” As I compiled today’s entries for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project I debated whether Russell’s advertisement should be included. Two other notices in the same issue of the Providence Gazette explicitly sold slaves, “A Negro Woman, who understands all sorts of houshold Work” and “A Likely, healthy Negro Boy … fit for either Town of Country,” but Russell’s advertisement did not promote the sale of slaves.

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project casts a wide net when it comes to including notices that mention slaves. Most of the advertisements fall into three main categories: slaves for sale, runaway slaves, and captured slaves. Enslaved men, women, and children, however sometimes found themselves the subjects of other sorts of advertising. Rather than sell slaves, some masters preferred to hire them out. Others mentioned the role slaves played in commercial ventures, such as Lewis Johnson’s help wanted notice seeking “AN OVERSEER who understands the BUSINESS of STAVEMAKING, to take charge of a few negroes employed in that way” in the Georgia Gazette (May 6, 1767). Some provided evidence of the presence of enslaved people in everyday life in the colonies, such as Robert Murray’s notice in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 8, 1767) offering to return a “PLAIN gold RING” upon the owner “paying for this advertisement, and giving something to the negro who found it.”

Russell’s advertisement for “his Shop at the Sign of the BLACK-BOY,” however, does not refer to an actual person or to any humans treated as commodities that he attempted to sell. Yet “the Sign of the BLACK-BOY” drew meaning from the context of transatlantic commerce that included the slave trade and the production of “indigo, rum, melasses, sugar, rice,” and other goods produced by enslaved men, women, and children and transported to Russell’s and other shops throughout the Atlantic world. Slaves lived and toiled in Providence. Many merchants from the city and other ports in Rhode Island made their livings, at least in part, by participating in the slave trade. In his own fashion, Jonathan Russell also exploited black bodies for his own benefit when he adopted “the sign of the BLACK-BOY” as the device to mark his location and identify his commercial enterprises. Accordingly, I have included his advertisement in the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.

March 31

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 31, 1766).

“Augustus Deley, … CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO.”

I find it interesting that this advertisement starts by stating that the advertiser “CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO, in all its Branches.” This makes me wonder if something happened to cast doubt in the minds of his customers about whether they would be able to continue purchasing their tobacco from him or not. This advertisement has the air of someone reassuring his customers that he was indeed still in business.

The fact that Deley mentioned that he needed sufficient notice from those wishing to purchase large quantities of tobacco makes me think that he was not a minor tobacconist. To have customers purchase large amounts of tobacco must have occurred often enough for him to specifically ask those who wished to purchase those amounts to let him know beforehand. It must have been inconvenient for him to have a customer come in and take most of his supply because afterward he would have to potentially turn other customers away while he waited for a new shipment.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Augustus Deley certainly wanted residents of Hartford and its hinterland to know that he continued to sell tobacco, that he was still in business, but his advertisement also alluded to a notice that he posted in the Connecticut Courant nearly three months earlier. Perhaps Deley had recently moved to Hartford and was settling in. After all, his earlier advertisement announced that he was a “Tobaconist (from New-York),” but he dropped that description in his updated advertisement. He may have become an increasingly familiar face in Hartford, but he likely wanted to let potential customers not yet aware of his shop or uncertain of its success that he did indeed “CONTINUE to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO.”

Among the various updates to his advertisement, Deley listed a location: “At the Sign of the Black Boy, Near the North Meeting-House in Hartford.” It was no coincidence that a tobacconist set up shop “At the Sign of the Black Boy.” After all, slaves provided the labor involved in cultivating tobacco in the Chesapeake colonies. Just as many trade cards or tobacco wrappers from the era featured images of enslaved men and women at work on plantations or interacting happily with white masters and overseers, Deley selected a shop sign that reduced a “Black Boy” to the colonial equivalent of a mascot or a brand to market his product.