October 1

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

Oct 1 - 9:28:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 28, 1769).

“A likely healthy Negroe … to dispose of.”

Shopkeeper Magdalen Devine occasionally advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the late 1760s. She usually promoted “A LARGE assortment of dry GOODS,” as she did in the September 28, 1769, edition. Her advertisements were notable because they sometimes included a woodcut that depicted some of her wares, two rolls of fabric and two swatches unfurled to display the patterns. Devine relied on images rather than an extensive list of merchandise to communicate the choices available at her shop. Woodcuts commissioned by merchants and shopkeepers were relatively rare in early American newspaper advertisements. Devine was one of an exceptionally small number of women who deployed visual images in her marketing.

Yet Devine sought to accomplish more than just selling dry goods in some of her advertisements. The notice she ran in late September 1769 included a nota bene seemingly unrelated to her merchandise: “She has a likely healthy Negroe wench, about 18 years old, to dispose of, having no cause to part with her but want of employment.” Although most eighteenth-century readers would have found nothing notable about attempting to sell both textiles and an enslaved woman in a single advertisement, modern readers might find this notice particularly striking for the casual manner in which Devine treated another woman as a commodity.

Furthermore, the advertisement testifies to the presence of enslaved men and women in urban ports like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston during the era of the American Revolution. Throughout the colonies and throughout the Atlantic world, consumer culture and enslavement were inextricably linked. Commerce depended on the transatlantic slave trade as well as the skills and involuntary labor of enslaved men, women, and children. The advertisements for consumer goods that filled eighteenth-century newspapers, many of them listing dozens of items offered for sale, usually did not make direct reference to slavery, but colonists had access to those wares, the “LARGE assortment of dry GOODS” advertised by merchants and shopkeepers like Devine,” thanks to networks of exchange that included the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved labor, and the profits from both as an integral component. It was practically impossible to be either a retailer or a consumer in the eighteenth century without perpetuating slavery, directly or indirectly. More readily than most others, Devine’s advertisement makes clear that was the case.

February 26

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 20, 1769).

“Two Tierces of SUGAR of the first Quality.”

Sugar was a sought-after consumer good, closely associated with tea in the eighteenth century. Drinking tea with sugar was popular in colonial America, especially since the rituals resembled the lifestyle of Britons on the other side of the Atlantic. Everyone loved tea with sugar, but it is essential to look at where all the sugar came from.

The production of sugarcane, mostly by slaves in the Caribbean, increased throughout the eighteenth century. During this time, there was a shift from tobacco to sugar, according to B.W. Higman. In “The Sugar Revolution,” Higman states, “The six central elements of the sugar revolution are commonly regarded as a swift shift from diversified agriculture to sugar monoculture, from production on small farms to large plantations, from free to slave labour, from sparse to dense settlement, from white to black populations, and from low to high value per caput output.”[1] As part of the “sugar revolution,” the exportation of sugar from the Caribbean to mainland North America allowed colonists to live a life resembling the mother country. Slaves, the hands behind production, played a significant part in the expansion of colonial consumer culture. With high demand for sugar, slaves put in long hours on plantations to meet the needs of mass production. Enslaved labor boosted production to large-scale enterprises. It is safe to say slavery was a driving force in the success of the sugar industry. It is interesting how colonists set high demands for a good, such as sugar, to enhance their identity as British while allowing enslaved workers to be the means behind it. It shows how slavery was part of consumer culture even for colonists kept their hands clean by not owning slaves.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph Russell advertised the “SUGAR of the first Quality” that prompted Chloe to consider the connections between slavery and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Russell, however, was neither a shopkeeper nor a merchant. Instead, he was an auctioneer who regularly advertised the various goods coming up for bids at his “Auction Room, in Queen-street.” In addition to the sugar slated to be sold “by PUBLIC VENDUE” (or auction), he also advertised “a variety of English GOODS.” Russell was not alone in his efforts to steer consumers to auctions rather than patronizing the many shops in Boston. Immediately above his advertisement, another notice, this one placed by John Gerrish, informed readers of an upcoming auction of “A fresh Assortment of GOODS” at “the Public Vendue-Office, North End.” Beyond Boston, other auctioneers also published newspaper advertisements to promote their establishments. Four of them – “Abeel & Neil’s VENDUE,” “M‘DAVITT’s Vendue House,” “MOORE & LYNSEN’s AUCTION-ROOM,” and “Nich. W. Stuyvesant, & Co’s. Vendue-House” – inserted notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on the same day that Russell’s advertisement ran in the Boston Evening-Post.

Auctions presented additional opportunities for colonists to participate in the consumer revolution. Rather from visit shops or warehouses where they would have to haggle with shopkeepers and merchants in hopes of gaining the lowest prices, they could instead seek bargains at auctions. Auctioneers advertised in hopes of drawing crowds, hoping that would increase bids, but colonists knew that they could acquire goods below market value if bidding lagged. Gerrish’s advertisement indicated that his next auction consisted of “a great Variety of ARTICLES, both New, and Second hand.” For those who could not afford to purchase certain kinds of clothing, housewares, and other merchandise from merchants and shopkeepers, auctions allowed them to acquire secondhand items at reduced prices. Gerrish announced that the “Goods may be viewed before the Sale,” thus allowing prospective bidders to examine used items for wear, defects, and cleanliness in advance rather than forcing them to make decisions on the spot during the auction.

Russell’s auction of “a variety of English GOODS” likely included many items similar to those listed in Thomas Knight’s advertisement on the same page of the Boston Evening-Post. While Knight proclaimed that he was “determined to sell at the very lowest” prices, savvy consumers knew that they might get even better deals at an auction.

**********

[1] B.W. Higman, “The Sugar Revolution,” Economic History Review 53, no. 2 (May 200): 213

April 8

GUEST CURATOR:  Jonathan Biscelgia

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

Apr 8 - 4:8:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 8, 1768).

“A few Hogsheads of Choice old Rum.”

This advertisement from the New Hampshire Gazette appears straightforward about what Thomas Bell was trying to sell. However, there is more to this advertisement when examining the vernacular more closely, specifically the word “Hogsheads.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines this as “A large cask, esp. for storing liquids; spec.one of a definite capacity, varying according to the commodity held.” This keys into the fact that Thomas Bell sold large quantities of rum. Rum was prevalent in the colonies because the ingredients, particularly molasses, were easy to acquire because of the triangular trade that connected New England to sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

The sale of alcohol in these large quantities gives insight into consumption trends of the larger population. According to Ed Crews, a public historian at Colonial Williamsburg, “Rum was king of the colonies before the Revolutionary War.  …  By 1770, the colonies had more than 140 rum distilleries, making about 4.8 million gallons annually. That was on top of the 3.78 million gallons imported each year. Production was concentrated in the Northeast.” Identifying that production was concentrated in New England and the Middle Atlantic is important because it tells the larger story of slavery in America. The molasses needed for rum was produced in the Caribbean by the work of slaves. Rum could not have been distilled in mainland North America if it had not been for the struggles of enslaved men and women in the Caribbean.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Today the Adverts 250 Project republishes fourteen advertisements that originally appeared in colonial newspapers 250 years ago today: Thomas Bell’s advertisement for “Choice old Rum” that Jonathan examines above and thirteen advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children that have been incorporated into the daily digest for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. The South-Carolina and American General Gazette published all thirteen of the notices offering slaves for sale or warning about runaway slaves.

A cursory glance at these advertisements does not necessarily reveal the connections between Bell’s notice from the New-Hampshire Gazetteand the series from one of Charleston’s three newspapers. Further examination of all of the newspapers published 250 years ago today might initially reaffirm first impressions about enslavement in southern colonies and freedom in New England.  Two other newspapers, the Connecticut Journal and the New-London Gazette, were also published on April 8, 1768.  Like the New-Hampshire Gazette, neither of them happened to include any advertisements concerning slaves.  Considered solely in this context, the distribution of newspaper advertisements suggests a striking regional different between New England and the Lower South.

Yet the contents of newspapers published on a single day do not tell the entire story of colonial American culture and commerce.  Widening the scope a little – to just newspapers published 250 years ago this week – forces us to confront advertisements for slaves from other newspapers printed in New England as well as even more from the Middle Atlantic.  Widening the scope even more – to all newspapers from 1768 – reveals that colonists placed and read advertisements for slaves in the Connecticut Journal, the New-Hampshire Gazette, and the New-London Gazette, even if they appeared in lesser numbers or frequency than in other newspapers.

This broader view of newspapers and advertisements from 1768 illustrates that that the commerce and culture of colonial New England was not devoid of enslavement.  That being said, Jonathan demonstrates that it is not necessary to identify advertisements for slaves to use eighteenth-century advertisements to examine the region’s relationship to slavery.  Instead, advertisements for a popular commodity like rum testify to New England’s participation in networks of exchange that depended on slavery. Making this connection requires looking beyond the commodity advertised for consumption to also see the process of production and commerce that made “Choice old Rum” available to consumers in New England and throughout the colonies.