What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“White and coloured NEGRO CLOTH.”
The partnership of Ancrums and Chiffelle took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advise “their Friends” that they stocked “White and coloured NEGRO CLOTH, Together with a Variety of other GOODS, fromLONDON and BRISTOL” in the summer of 1772. They placed an advertisement in the August 11 edition, as did Atkins and Weston. They informed readers that they imported “NEGRO CLOTH, DUFFIL, BLANKETS, and SAIL CLOTH” from Bristol. Atkins and Weston assured “their Friends and Customers” that they set low prices. Elsewhere in the same issue, Thomas Eveleigh advertised “A FEW BALES of NEGRO CLOTH, and some good LONDON PORTER, just imported, and to be sold reasonably.”
Those advertisements accompanied seven others that offered enslaved men, women, and children for sale, one seeking “TWO or Three NEGRO BOYS, as Apprentices to the Wheel-Wright’s Business,” five announcing rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from their enslavers, and a lengthy notice describing eighteen Black men and women “Brought to the WORK-HOUSE” and imprisoned there on suspicion of attempting to liberate themselves. The printer did not arrange advertisements according to purpose or category, so readers encountered notices about enslaved people interspersed with advertisements promoting consumer goods and services, real estate notices, legal notices, and other kinds of advertisements.
Ancrums and Chiffelle and their competitors who hawked “NEGRO CLOTH” may or may not have participated in the slave trade directly, yet they certainly aimed to profit from maintaining that institution. In their advertisements, those merchants made supplying enslavers with an inexpensive textile to clothe the men, women, and children held in bondage central to their operations at the stores and warehouses they operated in Charleston. Furthermore, they demonstrated that commerce enmeshed in the transatlantic slave trade extended beyond any sort of streamlined triangular trade that connected Africa, England, and colonies on the other side of the Atlantic. Even as ships departing from London, Bristol, and other English ports carried goods to Africa to purchase captives held in outposts along the coast, other ships from those ports delivered finished goods, including “NEGRO CLOTH,” directly to South Carolina and other colonies. Many merchants, including Ancrums and Chiffelle, sought opportunities to profit from selling supplies to enslavers, embracing the transatlantic slave trade in their business models even if they did not transport or sell Black men, women, and children themselves.