What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“TO BE SOLD … A Likely, strong, and remarkably healthy Negro Girl.”
The Essex Gazette commenced publication in Salem, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1768. The colophon at the bottom of the final page advised readers that it was “Printed by SAMUEL HALL, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House; where SUBSCRIPTIONS, (at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum) ADVERTISEMENTS, &c. are received for this Paper.” The first issue included half a dozen advertisements that Hall apparently solicited in advance of publication. Hall certainly included those advertisers in the message he addressed “To the PUBLICK” in the inaugural issue. He “return[ed] my sincere Thanks to every Gentleman, who has, in any Manner, patronized and encouraged my Undertaking.” Those first advertisers included an apothecary, a tailor, a shopkeeper, and a tavernkeeper. Each offered consumer goods and services to the residents of Salem and its environs.
Readers were accustomed to seeing those sorts of advertisements in the several newspapers published in nearby Boston as well as other newspapers that circulated in New England. They were also accustomed to seeing other sorts of paid notices, those that offered enslaved men, women, and children for sale or announced rewards for the capture and return of runaways slaves. It did not take long for advertisements for people reduced to commodities to find their way into the Essex Gazette. In issue “NUMB. 8,” only seven weeks after Hall distributed the first issue of the Essex Gazette, the first advertisement mentioning a slave appeared in the new publication, one of only six paid notices in that issue. In it, James Lee announced that he sought to sell a “Likely, strong, and remarkably healthy Negro Girl, between 11 and 12 Years of Age.” She would make a good domestic servant, already being “well acquainted with the Business of a Family” and knowing how to knit, spin, and sew.
Practically from the start of this new endeavor printer Samuel Hall was enmeshed in the business of human bondage. The success and continued publication of the Essex Gazette depended on those who “patronized and encouraged” the venture, including those who placed advertisements that generated revenue that sustained the newspaper. Even as the news items printed elsewhere in the Essex Gazette addressed questions concerning the “invaluable Rights and Privileges, civil and religious” of the colonists, advertisements contributed to the perpetuation of slavery in Massachusetts during the era of the American Revolution.