October 28

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

Oct 28 - 10:28:1767 Georgia Gazette
Advertisements for slaves dominated the final page of the October 28, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  Twelve advertisements that explicitly mentioned slaves are identified with red.  An additional advertisement, identified with blue, sought an overseer who would have presumably managed enslaved laborers.

“TO BE SOLD, A Likely Young NEGROE WENCH.”

Advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children dominated the notices published in the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s. Of the thirty-six advertisements in the October 28, 1767, edition, twelve concerned slaves. Nine offered slaves for sale or to be “hired out by the Month or Year.” One described a runaway slave and offered a reward to anyone who captured him and delivered him “to the Warden of the Work-house in Savannah.” Another described a fugitive “with an iron on his right leg” who had been detained at the workhouse. One slaveholder announced that “AN OVERSEER is wanted to take charge of about 20 negroes to be employed in the planting of rice.” In addition, four other advertisements offered employment to overseers but did not explicitly mention slaves, yet any overseer “well acquainted with plantation business” most certainly would have expected to manage slaves as part of the job.

In addition to indicating how extensively Georgians incorporated slavery into the commerce and culture of their colony, these advertisements reveal an important aspect of operating a printing business, including publishing the only newspaper in the province, during the decade before the American Revolution. Few colonial newspapers attracted sufficient subscribers to generate profits or even continue publication. Instead, the printers relied on advertising for revenues. Given that one out of three paid notices in the October 28 issue explicitly mentioned slaves and another four sought overseers, James Johnston depended on advertisements concerning the bondage of men, women, and children to fund the publication of the Georgia Gazette. This was neither unique nor extraordinary to this particular issue. The Adverts 250 Project previously examined the high proportion of advertisements about slaves in another issue published four months earlier. Advertisements for slaves regularly dominated the paid notices in the Georgia Gazette.

Yet it was not just Johnston, the printer, who relied on the revenue from these advertisements to continue publishing and distributing the Georgia Gazette. The residents of the colony also depended on advertisements about slaves to bring them other news, foreign and domestic, including the list of taxes to be assessed on various commodities when the Townshend Act went into effect on November 20. That excerpt from “An Act for granting certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America” was printed on the other side of the page that featured the twelve advertisements for slaves in the October 28 edition. Those advertisements not only contributed to the livelihood of the printer and the continuation of the newspapers, they also made possible the dissemination of news throughout the colony. Advertisements about slaves funded an important civic institution in colonial Georgia.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 11
Georgia Gazette (October 21, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, A Likely Young NEGROE WNECH, Who can wash, and is very handy in a house.”

The October 21, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette included thirteen advertisements that involved enslaved men, women, and children in some way. Seven advertisers sought to sell slaves. Two offered rewards for the capture and return of runaway slaves. Another two described suspected runaways that had been captured and requested that their masters claim them. One employment notice outlined the responsibilities of an overseer who would “take charge of about 20 negroes to be employed in planting rice and provisions.” The final advertisement proposed hiring out (or renting out) a “LIKELY NEGROE GIRL,” a good seamstress, by the month or year.

Among these thirteen advertisements, five featured enslaved women and girls. Women may have been largely (but not completely) absent from the advertising pages when it came to operating businesses and promoting their entrepreneurial activities to consumers, but enslaved women and girls appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers regularly. Practically every day in the 1760s at least one newspaper published somewhere in the colonies included at least one advertisement that featured enslaved women or girls, making slavery advertisements perhaps the most voluminous source for examining women’s history printed in colonial newspapers. Although not written from the perspective of enslaved women and girls, they still reveal much about their experiences.

Some reveal more than others. One simply stated: “TO BE SOLD, A VERY FINE, STOUT, YOUNG, and HEALTHY WENCH. For particulars apply to THOMAS HAMILTON.” In addition to the enslaved seamstress who could be hired out, another short advertisement offered a “NEGROE WENCH, Who can wash, and is very handy in a house.” A real estate advertisement for a farm concluded by noting the seller also had “TWO YOUNG NEGROE WENCHES … who are very handy at any kind of house work, and are good sempstresses.” These mentions were brief, but they still aid in understanding and reconstructing the experiences of enslaved women and girls. For instance, these advertisements indicate that enslaved women and girls often engaged in domestic labor rather than working in the fields. Not all of them were drudges within the home but instead developed valuable skills.

Other advertisements told much more elaborate stories about enslaved women and girls, especially advertisements for runaways that often included physical descriptions, described clothing, commented on personality traits, and acknowledged relationships with other slaves. Sometimes they tracked known or suspected movements, speculating on which friends or relatives runaways might approach for aid. No advertisements of that sort appeared in the October 21, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette, but they had in the past and they would again. That publication, like most of its counterparts throughout the colonies, frequently ran advertisements about enslaved women and girls, advertisements of various lengths and with assorted purposes. As a result, enslaved women and girls likely appeared in colonial newspapers more often than other women. The attempts to keep them in bondage also yielded a more prominent and extensive record of their experiences in the public prints. Enslaved women could never be out of sight to anyone who read the newspaper, either in the eighteenth century or today.

October 12

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

Oct 12 - 10:12:1767 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (October 12, 1767).

“The Calamitous State of the Enslaved NEGROES in the British Dominions.”

American colonists became increasingly preoccupied with their own liberty and potential enslavement by Parliament in the 1760s and 1770s. Among their many methods of protest, they gave voice to their anxieties in newspapers. For instance, Edes and Gill printed a lengthy letter warning against “parliamentary slavery” resulting from the “corruption of Parliament” alongside the text of the an “ACT OF PARLIAMENT, for granting certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America,” better known today as the Townshend Act.

Colonists concerns about the enslavement they believed they experienced stood in stark contrast to advertisements concerning enslaved Africans that appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies, including those published in New England. In the same issue of the Boston-Gazette that Edes and Gill paired the Townshend Act with a spirited critique of Parliament, four advertisements presented slaves for sale. Whether for “a very likely Negro Boy” who could “sort & cut & spin all Sorts of Tobacco” or a “healthy, stout Negro Man … who has been in this Country about three Months,” all four advertisements instructed interested buyers to “inquire of Edes and Gill” for more information. A fifth advertisement offered “A fine Negro Male Child, well provided with Cloathing” for free, “To be given away.” Again, the advertisement concluded with “inquire of Edes & Gill.” The printers who gave voice to Anglo-American colonists’ objections to the tyranny of Parliament not only generated revenues by selling advertisements for slaves but also served as agents who facilitated the trade for anonymous sellers.

Edes and Gill could not have been completely oblivious to this contradiction. After all, one additional advertisement mentioned slavery. The printers announced that they sold “A CAUTION and WARNING to Great-Britain and her Colonies, in a short Representation of the Calamitous State of the Enslaved NEGROES in the British Dominions.” Anthony Benezet, a Quaker abolitionist from Philadelphia, penned this pamphlet in 1766. Originally published in Philadelphia, it was reprinted in London the following year. Based on the supplementary materials mentioned in the advertisement, Edes and Gill sold yet another edition, this one printed by Hall and Sellers in Philadelphia in 1767.

As many colonists fretted over the tension between their own liberty and imagined enslavement, some applied such rhetoric more broadly to include enslaved Africans and their descendants in the colonies. Others conveniently ignored any contradictions. Printers like Edes and Gill, through the advertisements and pamphlets they sold and the exchanges they facilitated, stood to gain financially from the activities of slaveholders and abolitionists alike.

September 30

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

Sep 30 - 9:30:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 30, 1767).

“RUN AWAY … a NEGROE FELLOW, named LONDON.”

Hundreds of advertisements for runaway slaves appeared in colonial American newspapers every year throughout the 1760s, documenting one form of resistance to the institution of slavery. From New Hampshire to Georgia, readers would have recognized them as a familiar component of the public prints, published alongside advertisements for consumer goods and assorted legal notices. Many runaway advertisements focused solely on the experiences of particular runaways, but some also told stories about other members of colonial communities.

Grey Elliott inserted such an advertisement in the September 30, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. In it, he reported that London, a “NEGROE FELLOW … well known in and about Savannah” ran away a month earlier. Elliott offered a reward, ten shillings, to whoever captured London and delivered him either to Elliott or “the Warden of the Work house in Savannah.” In addition, he detailed two other awards. Suspecting that London had assistance from accomplices, Elliott announced rewards for anyone “who shall discover him or her by whom the said negroe is harboured.” In other words, he was interested in learning where London was hiding out and who concealed him from his master and colonial authorities. The awards varied: “TWENTY SHILLINGS if a slave” (twice as much as the reward for capturing London) and “FIVE POUNDS … if a white person” (ten times as much as the reward for capturing the runaway). The wording makes it difficult to determine definitively if Elliott meant a slave informant would receive twenty shillings and a white one five pounds or of he meant that the rewards would depend on whether London received aid from a fellow slave or a white accomplice.

Either way, Elliott’s advertisement demonstrates that runaways did not always go it alone when they absconded from their masters. Instead, they benefited from assistance provided by other slaves and, perhaps, sometimes even sympathetic white colonists. Other runaway advertisements provided even more specific information, sometimes noting family relationships that might have drawn runaways to particular places or influenced others to provide aid and comfort. Running away was an act of resistance undertaken by many slaves, but it also had ripple effects. Those who provided assistance to runaways engaged in their own acts of resistance as member of a community allied against the power and authority of slaveholders.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:22:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 22, 1767).

“SUGAR … RUM … NEGROES … NEGROE SHOES.”

Cowper and Telfairs’ business, at least the aspects promoted in this advertisement, revolved around the enslavement of African men, women, and children. Near the end of July 1767, they announced to readers of the Georgia Gazette that they sold “A FEW NEGROES, consisting of men, women, boys, and girls.” They did not, however, elaborate on the origins of these slaves, whether they had just arrived in the colony directly from Africa or if they had been transshipped through other colonial ports or if they had been born in Georgia. Nor did they add other information that acknowledged the humanity of the men, women, and children they sold. The “NEGROES” were merely commodities to be exchanged, not unlike the goods listed before and after them in the advertisement.

Colonists who had acquired slaves also needed to outfit them. Cowper and Telfairs pursued this market as well, selling “NEGROE SHOES at 36s. per dozen.” The price structure indicates that the partners expected to deal with slaveholders who wished to purchase in volume. The Georgia Gazette and the several newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina, frequently inserted advertisements for “NEGROE SHOES,” though none provided much detail about the shoes. As the price suggests, they would have been constructed of inferior materials, especially stiff fabrics, and not particularly comfortable. Presumably readers were already so familiar with this commodity that “NEGROE SHOES” usually merited no additional comment. Cowper and Telfairs, however, did offer various sizes. They promised, “Any person who chuses to deliver measure[ment]s may be supplied in proper time for their negroes.”

Finally, Cowper and Telfairs advertised commodities produced with enslaved labor: sugar and rum. Slaves certainly participated directly in the cultivation and processing of sugar. The advertisers did not reveal the origins of the rum they sold. Slaves may have played a significant role in distilling it. At the very least, rum, whether made from molasses or sugarcane juice, was a byproduct of sugar production, a commodity that circulated throughout the Atlantic world in great quantities as a consequence of enslaved labor on sugar plantations.

Cowper and Telfairs advertised several “commodities” – slaves, shoes, sugar, rum – that might seem like a haphazard combination at first glance. However, the system of enslavement that formed the foundation of economic exchange in the early modern Atlantic world linked all of these “commodities” in ways that would have been apparent to eighteenth-century readers and consumers.

June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:24:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 24, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, A YOUNG, HEALTHY, and HANDY, NEGROE WENCH.”

Nine advertisements about enslaved men and women appeared in the June 24, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Four of them offered slaves for sale. Another sought not to sell an enslaved woman outright but instead to hire her out by the month. Readers could rent her services – washing and ironing – for less than purchasing a slave. The slaveholder continued to generate a return on an investment in human property. Three other advertisements warned against runaways and offered rewards for their capture and return. The final advertisement identified two runaways that had been captured and “Brought to the Work-house, ” where they were being held until their masters collected them.

As the image above demonstrates, seven of those advertisements ran on the final page of the issue. They accounted for approximately half of the content printed on the page. The other two notices similarly accounted for half of the space allotted to advertising elsewhere in the issue. This underscores that advertisements concerning slaves provided a firm foundation for other sorts of advertising in the Georgia Gazette. Revenues from these advertisements contributed to the continuation of the newspaper.

Most of these advertisements focused exclusively on slaves, especially those for runaways and captured fugitives. On the other hand, some that advertised slaves for sale did so in the midst of attempting to make other sales as well. For instance, one notice for an estate sale listed “HOUSEHOLD and KITCHEN FURNITURE” and “a SMALL STOCK of CATTLE, a GUN, a PAIR of PISTOLS, a SMALLSWORD, TWO WATCHES, a NEGROE BOY, a MAN’s SADDLE, &c.” The same advertisement also listed “TWO NEGROE FELLOWS, a PARCEL of BOOKS, and sundry other articles.” Undifferentiated from other possessions, the presence of slaves among an estate inventory soon to be auctioned further demonstrates that eighteenth-century consumer culture (and the print culture that bolstered it) operated firmly within a system that relied on the productive labor of enslaved men, women, and children and the ability to buy and sell them as easily as any other commodities.

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 9, 1767).

“Assortment of English and India GOODS, at his Shop at thr Sign of the BLACK-BOY.”

Jonathan Russell ran a shop “at the Sign of the BLACK-BOY; on the West Side of the Great-Bridge, in PROVIDENCE.” As I compiled today’s entries for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project I debated whether Russell’s advertisement should be included. Two other notices in the same issue of the Providence Gazette explicitly sold slaves, “A Negro Woman, who understands all sorts of houshold Work” and “A Likely, healthy Negro Boy … fit for either Town of Country,” but Russell’s advertisement did not promote the sale of slaves.

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project casts a wide net when it comes to including notices that mention slaves. Most of the advertisements fall into three main categories: slaves for sale, runaway slaves, and captured slaves. Enslaved men, women, and children, however sometimes found themselves the subjects of other sorts of advertising. Rather than sell slaves, some masters preferred to hire them out. Others mentioned the role slaves played in commercial ventures, such as Lewis Johnson’s help wanted notice seeking “AN OVERSEER who understands the BUSINESS of STAVEMAKING, to take charge of a few negroes employed in that way” in the Georgia Gazette (May 6, 1767). Some provided evidence of the presence of enslaved people in everyday life in the colonies, such as Robert Murray’s notice in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 8, 1767) offering to return a “PLAIN gold RING” upon the owner “paying for this advertisement, and giving something to the negro who found it.”

Russell’s advertisement for “his Shop at the Sign of the BLACK-BOY,” however, does not refer to an actual person or to any humans treated as commodities that he attempted to sell. Yet “the Sign of the BLACK-BOY” drew meaning from the context of transatlantic commerce that included the slave trade and the production of “indigo, rum, melasses, sugar, rice,” and other goods produced by enslaved men, women, and children and transported to Russell’s and other shops throughout the Atlantic world. Slaves lived and toiled in Providence. Many merchants from the city and other ports in Rhode Island made their livings, at least in part, by participating in the slave trade. In his own fashion, Jonathan Russell also exploited black bodies for his own benefit when he adopted “the sign of the BLACK-BOY” as the device to mark his location and identify his commercial enterprises. Accordingly, I have included his advertisement in the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.