What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“No Part of the Cargo will be sold but in the Yard on the Day of Sale.”
It was the first advertisement readers encountered as they perused the May 9, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette. John Graham informed the residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony that the Cavendish had recently arrived “from SIERRALEON on the Windward Coast” with “A CARGO” of 200 “Young and Healthy SLAVES.” This “CARGO,” humans reduced to commodities, would be offered for sale in less than a week. Graham asserted that the Africans experienced a “short Passage” across the Atlantic, suggesting that they had not had enough time to become ill while aboard the Cavendish. Such advertisements never mentioned how many perished during the Middle Passage. Furthermore, neither Graham nor other enslavers worried much about the health of the enslaved Africans for their own sake. Instead, Graham offered these assurances to convince prospective buyers of the value of the “CARGO” and bolster prices.
In addition to the usual information that appeared in advertisements of this sort, Graham added a final note: “That those who propose to become Purchasers may have an equal Chance, no Part of the Cargo will be sold but in the Yard on the Day of the Sale.” In other words, prospective buyers could not arrange for private sales and select the best of this “CARGO” in advance of the sale open to all bidders on the designated day. This starkly underscored the interests of those who participated in the slave trade while ignoring the humanity of the young Africans offered for sale. For those who invested in the voyage, it tended to their interests by increasing the likelihood that multiple buyers would seek to outbid each other when they could select from among the entire “CARGO,” thus maximizing profits. For prospective buyers, it tended to their interests as consumers, alerting them that they would not be deprived of the opportunity to examine all of the merchandise and choose their favorites, as if the Africans who arrived on the Cavendish were no different than textiles, housewares, hardware, and other goods imported to Savannah on other ships and then put on display in the town’s shops. The note at the end of Graham’s advertisement addressed the desires of prospective purchasers, further obscuring the fact that the enslaved Africans were also imbued with desires of their own.
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A CARGO consisting of about ONE HUNDRED and FORTY young and healthy new NEGROES.”
I chose this advertisement because it demonstrates the inhumane and terrible slave industry in colonial America. The advertisement demonstrates how racial barriers dehumanized Africans in the eighteenth century. Because of their skin tone and origin, Africans were thought of as commodities, not as human beings. This idea is horrifying and irrational to modern readers. However, the transatlantic slave trade was a reality of American culture for hundred of years. In fact, slavery persisted in Southern society until the end of the Civil War.
A contributing factor to colonial Americans attachment to slavery was the need for a large workforce to toil over the agricultural endeavors of Southern colonies. Slavery provided landowners with an inexpensive workforce that could be expanded at virtually any time. Thus the demand for slaves persisted throughout the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.
However slavery also occurred in the all the colonies. Slaves were utilized for domestic service Evidenced comes from multiple advertisements for slaves posted in newspapers printed in the New England and Middle Atlantic colonies. There were advertisements regarding slaves in the Connecticut Courant, the Providence Gazette, and the New-York Gazette, among others. In the fall of 1766, the Connecticut Courant included an advertisement that said “TO be sold for Cash or 6 Months Credit … One Negro Boy.” In the Providence Gazette there was a advertisement that stated: “To be sold at Public Vendue … A likely healthy active Negro Boy, about fourteen Years old.” The New-York Journal included this advertisement in one of its October issues: “TO BE SOLD, A fine Female Slave.” It is obvious from the widespread nature of these advertisements that slavery was an established part of society throughout all the colonies.
Thankfully, the practice of slavery was abolished in the 1800s, but the transatlantic slave trade shaped our country in ways no founding father could have imagined. The legacy of slavery persisted after its abolition, causing strife for descendants of slaves. That is why learning about the roots of slavery is important. It has contributed to years of human rights abuses, the rise of humanitarian movements, and important political change. Even though this part of our history is abhorrent, we need to remember our past in order to ensure justice and equality in the future.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Megan notes that slavery was not restricted to colonies in the Chesapeake and Lower South. Instead, as the advertisements she has chosen for today demonstrate, slavery and the slaver trade were part of colonial culture and economics in New England and the Middle Atlantic as well. I appreciate how she shows that advertisements for slavery were spread across newspapers printed in each region of colonial America in the fall of 1766. For my additional commentary, I am examining how such advertisements were concentrated in one particular issue.
According to the project’s methodology, Megan needed to select an advertisement from a newspaper printed exactly 250 years ago today. That gave her only one option in terms of choosing a newspaper: the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was the only newspaper printed on October 28, 1766. It’s not surprising that when she consulted that issue that she chose an advertisement for an impending slave auction. In total, eighty-four advertisements appeared in that issue. Fourteen of them advertised slaves. Some offered dozens of slaves for sale, cargoes recently arrived from Africa, as was the case in the advertisement Megan chose. Others sought to sell individual slaves, sometimes as part of estate sales. Some warned against runaway slaves and offered rewards for their capture and return. Some notified masters that escaped slaves had been captured and told them where to retrieve their human property. It would have been practically impossible to look at this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal without noticing numerous advertisements explicitly connected to slavery and the slave trade.
The visual aspects of the advertisements made it even more likely that readers would focus on advertisements for slaves. Only ten advertisements featured any sort of image, a woodcut that would have been a standard part of any printer’s stock. These woodcuts included two ships (one for a departing vessel and another for imported goods), two houses (both for properties to be leased), and one horse (for a stolen gelding). The other five woodcuts all depicted slaves, three runaways and two Africans on display to promote auctions from cargoes recently arrived from Africa. The woodcuts depicting slaves were spread out over three of the four pages of the broadsheet newspapers. Considering the density of text in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, these advertisements were among the most prominent items that appeared in that issue.
Megan demonstrated the breadth of advertisements for slaves in newspapers printed in several regions during the fall of 1766. That is important, but it tells only part of the story. The depth of advertising in specific issues and particular newspapers also merits further investigation. That is part of the work my entire Colonial America class is doing with the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“DAVID & JOHN DEAS, HAVE JUST IMPORTED … an assortment of other goods.”
Contrary to what this short advertisement, rather plain and unremarkable in its appearance, may suggest, David and John Deas made their mark on the history of advertising thanks to the infamous broadsides (what we would call posters today) that they distributed in Charleston, South Carolina, in the decade before the American Revolution.
Not much distinguishes this advertisement for textiles, including “A LARGE supply of WHITE and COLOURED PLAINS,” from other commercial notices about imported goods that appeared in the same issue of the South Carolina Gazette. David and John Deas are much better remembered (and not just by scholars who specialize in economic history or advertising) for this broadside that circulated in Charleston and beyond nearly three years later.
This broadside measures 32 x 20 cm (12 ½ x 8 in), which would have made it a good size to post around town or pass out as a handbill. The woodcuts depicting “PRIME, HEALTHY NEGROES” and the graphic design are both crude, but exceptionally memorable, at least to modern viewers. The haunting images of Africans treated as commodities elicit emotional responses today, but that would not necessarily have been the case in the 1760s. While it would have been impossible not to notice the images on the broadside, colonial consumers would not have been shocked by advertisements treating people as commodities. Accustomed to trade cards and billheads with images more skillfully and effectively rendered, colonists likely would not taken particularly favorable notice of the artistic or aesthetic qualities of the broadside.
David and John Deas’s newspaper advertisement for textiles did not indicate any direct involvement with the slave trade, though the merchandise they stocked made them part of transatlantic networks of commerce and consumption that depended on human cargoes and the staple crops produced through the labor of enslaved men, women, and children. Still, the juxtaposition of their newspaper advertisement and their broadside offers an important reminder that advertisements often provide evidence concerning only a portion of a shopkeeper’s, merchant’s, or firm’s business enterprises. How many other advertisers who promoted general merchandise via their advertisements at one time or another imported and auctioned slaves?
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Parcel of healthy SLAVES, men, women, boys, and girls.”
This advertisement reveals a hidden history of slavery that has been largely forgotten in the United States, forgotten because it is both convenient and comfortable to overlook, forgotten because it disrupts familiar narratives about when and where Americans traded slaves and owned enslaved men, women, and children. In particular, the slave trade and the presence of slaves are associated with colonies in the Chesapeake and the Lower South. Most people tend to think of those colonies that became the northeastern United States as territories that never practiced slavery or profited from the slave trade.
This story has not been completely overlooked. Many historians of early America have devoted their careers to uncovering and examining the histories of both the presence of enslaved peoples in northern colonies as well as the networks of trade and commerce that inextricably tied northern colonies and their economic welfare to participation in the transatlantic slave trade. In addition to the work of these specialists, other historians have increasingly integrated slavery in the northern colonies and states into the larger narrative of American history they include in their publications for fellow scholars and in the course content they deliver to students. Many public historians have also sought to address slavery conscientiously and responsibly in their efforts to present the past to audiences beyond traditional classroom settings.
Yet it seems fair to continue to describe this as a hidden history, an intentionally overlooked history. The students who enroll in my early American history courses every year are more likely than not to assume that slavery was not a part of the New England experience. In a variety of forums, public historians report that they regularly encounter visitors either unaware of the history of slavery in northern colonies or willfully resistant to acknowledging its existence alongside the stories they want and expect to be told.
Today’s advertisement, however, makes clear that slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were indeed part of everyday life and commerce in places other than Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. Today’s advertisement announced that “A Parcel of healthy SLAVES, men, women, boys, and girls” were “Just imported, from the river Gambia” and would be “sold upon low terms, by James and William Harvey, merchants” in Philadelphia. Even in Pennsylvania, “The quality of the slaves from the abovementioned river, is so well known, that nothing further is necessary to recommend them.” In other words, colonists in the north had a more than passing awareness and familiarity with slaves and the transatlantic slave trade.
The advertisement does not mention that this “Parcel of healthy SLAVES” consisted of 100 men, women, and children. Nor does it mention that 120 had been loaded on the Ranger off the coast of Africa, but twenty had died during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic. Those numbers come from other sources that have been compiled at Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Those sources also reveal that the Ranger sailed directly from Africa; it did not make stops in other American ports. These men, women, and children were always intended for sale in one of the northern colonies, not any of the colonies in the Chesapeake or Lower South that operated on a plantation economy.
Today’s advertisement is just one piece of evidence, but it is not the only piece. Slavery was a significant part of the colonial experience throughout the colonies, not just in the southern colonies. It is part of American history that cannot be overlooked, at least not if we want to be honest and truly understand the past that has led to the present.
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
The previous issue of the Virginia Gazette included an advertisement announcing that “two hundred choice healthy” slaves from the Windward and Gold Coasts in Africa had “JUST arrived in James river.” It did not give additional information about those slaves, except to announce that they would be sold starting on July 7.
Today’s featured advertisement similarly offered little information about the “THIRTY choice SLAVES” slated to be sold in October, three months later, but it did indicate that “men, women, and children” were included among their ranks. In addition, several of the slaves were tradesmen, though the advertisement did not reveal if they were carpenters, coopers, blacksmiths, or practitioners of other crafts. Those slaves would have been particularly valuable given their ability to make unique contributions beyond agricultural labor to a plantation. Their prospective owners might also stand to make a profit by hiring them out at times that they did not have enough work to keep them busy. Slaves that knew a trade could also teach it to their children, passing down specialized knowledge from generation to generation, further benefiting the master or his heirs.
As if it were not already apparent that these men, women, and children had been reduced to commodities, the advertisement included terms of exchange intended to facilitate the sale. Buyers could receive two years of credit (or more, if necessary), but they would receive a “Five per cent. discount” for payment in full at the time of purchase. In the end, these “THIRTY choice SLAVES” amounted to little more than numbers in a ledger, just like other goods and services during the eighteenth century. Their existence could be summed up as the best sort of deal that could be haggled between buyer and seller.