What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A FEW NEGROES.”
James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, rarely issued a supplement to the standard four-page edition, but on February 28, 1770, he had sufficient content to merit distributing a smaller sheet that consisted entirely of advertising. Unlike supplements that accompanied most other colonial newspapers, this one did not bear a masthead. Instead, a notation at the bottom of the page tied it to the standard issue. The notation, “[No. 334.],” matched the issue number in the masthead of the February 28 edition.
Printed on both sides, the supplement included eighteen additional advertisements. Those notices represented significant revenue for Johnston. Like other eighteenth-century printers, he depended on advertising to make publishing a newspaper economically viable. Subscription fees alone did not pay for the production and dissemination of the news. That meant that Peter Gandy contributed to the process when he placed an advertisement about an “EVENING SCHOOL … for the benefit of those who can’t attend the day school.” Yet it also meant that Patrick Houston did as well when he advertised “FEW NEGROES belonging to the estate of Martin Fenton.” The warden of the workhouse did as well when advertising “TWO NEGRO FELLOWS, brought from the Creek nation, … A NEGROE FELLOW, who says his name is Boston, … [and] A NEW NEGRO FELLOW, can’t speak English so as to tell his master’s or his own name.” Those were two of the many advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children that ran in the February 28 edition of the Georgia Gazetteand its supplement.
At the same time that Georgia’s only newspaper carried news about the imperial crisis that ultimately culminated in the American Revolution it also disseminated advertisements that offered enslaved people for sale or that encouraged colonists to engage in surveillance of Black bodies to recognize and recapture those who escaped from bondage. Depictions of liberty and slavery appeared side by side in the pages of colonial newspapers. Advertisements, in their attempts to maintain the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, funded coverage of the purported abuses that colonists supposedly suffered at the hands of Parliament. Early American advertising contributed to the paradox of liberty and slavery present at the founding of the new nation.