June 8

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

Jun 8 - 6:8:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 8, 1768).

“A CHOICE CARGO OF 250 PRIME SLAVES.”

In early June 1768 merchants Alexander Inglis and Nathaniel Hall advertised the sale of “A CHOICE CARGO OF 250 PRIME SLAVES, Just arrived, in the Ship Constantine, Thomas Gullan Commander, after a short Passage, directly from Angola.” Their advertisement provides various details about a particular slave trading voyage, enough to identify it as Voyage 17665 in Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

According to the database, the Constantine departed Bristol on April 21, 1767, and sailed to West Central Africa and St. Helena to purchase slaves. The database does not include entries for “Date trade began in Africa” or “Date vessel departed Africa,” but it does specify the “Date vessel arrived with slaves” in Savannah: June 1, 1768, the same day that Inglis and Hall’s advertisement first appeared in the Georgia Gazette. The merchants allowed just over a week before selling their slaves on June 9, allowing them two opportunities to advertise their human cargo in the colony’s only newspaper.

Given that more than a year passed between the beginning of the voyage and the ship’s arrival in Savannah, it appears that the Constantine spent quite some time on the African coast. The voyage for some of the enslaved Africans likely consisted of more than just the Middle Passage between Africa and North America, especially if Inglis and Hall accurately reported a “short Passage” across the Atlantic. Given the notoriously high mortality rates and deterioration of health experienced by survivors of the Middle Passage, Inglis and Hall may have exaggerated the length of the voyage across the ocean. Even so, some of the Africans among the human cargo likely spent weeks or months imprisoned aboard the Constantine before the vessel even departed for Georgia.

The database indicates that Gullan intended to purchase 400 slaves but only embarked approximately 275. According to Inglis and Hall, only 250 disembarked in Savannah. Nearly one in ten died during the Middle Passage. Unfortunately, the known records do not reveal the percentages of men and women or the ages of the enslaved Africans who arrived in the colonies via the Constantine.

The entry for Voyage 17665 does not list the advertisement in the Georgia Gazette as one of the sources, but I suspect that it was incorporated into the secondary source listed in the entry, David Richardson’s Bristol, Africa, and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade to America. Other entries do list advertisements from colonial American newspapers, highlighting their role in reconstructing the transatlantic slave trade.

March 26

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

Mar 26 - 3:26:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (March 26, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD, A Likely young Negro Girl.”

John Holt published the New-York Journal on Thursdays in 1768. According to schedule, he distributed a standard four-page issue on Thursday, March 24. A two-page supplement filled mostly with news and a limited number of advertisements accompanied that issue. Two days later, Holt distributed an additional two-page supplement on Saturday, March 26. He explained that it contained “Articles left out of last for Want of Room,” apparently items that either could not wait for inclusion the following week or that would crowd out more recent news if held that long. The March 26 supplement consisted almost entirely of news items. One advertisement appeared at the bottom of the final column on the second page.

That advertisement offered a “Likely young Negro Girl about 13 Years of Age” for sale. It stood in stark juxtaposition to the remainder of the content of the supplement. Holt devoted four of the six columns to news from Boston, including several editorial pieces reprinted from the Boston-Gazette. One reprinted letter, signed “A TRUE PATRIOT,” warned that the colonists “soon will find themselves in chains” if they did not “support their own RIGHTS, and the Liberty of the PRESS” in the face of abuses by Parliament. Another correspondent, “POPULUS,” underscored that there was “nothing so justly TERRIBLE to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as FREE PRESS.” The press played such an important role that “it is ever watched by those who are forming plans for the destruction of the people’s liberties, with an envious and malignant eye.”

In addition to these editorials, Holt inserted a circular letter “written by the hon. the House of Representatives” in Massachusetts “in the last Session of the General Assembly and sent to the respective Assemblies on the Continent.” In it, that body expressed “their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest deference to the wisdom of the parliament; that the acts made there, imposing duties on the people of this province, with the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are infringements on their natural and constitutional rights; because, as they are not represented in the British parliament, his Majesty’s commons in Britain, by those acts, grant their property without their consent.” In other words, colonists in Massachusetts objected to taxation without representation. Holt amplified their sentiments by reprinting their letter for readers in New York and its hinterlands.

All of this discussion of freedom of the press and theories of constitutional liberty took place alongside an advertisement for a “young Negro Girl.” The revenues generated from that advertisement contributed to the dissemination of the arguments voiced by “A TRUE PATRIOT,” “POPULUS,” and the assembly of the “Province of MASSACHUSETTS-BAY.” As white colonists fretted about their liberties, they also perpetuated a system that enslaved a “young Negro Girl” and countless others, holding their bodies in bondage even as they lamented potential challenges to their own speech. Resistance led to revolution as the imperial crisis intensified over the course of a decade, but many colonists were inconsistent in their conceptions of liberty and applying them to all who resided in the colonies. Even as they challenged Parliament to recognize their “natural constitutional right” colonists continued to purchase and peddle slaves from New England to George. The evidence for each appeared side-by-side in the pages of their newspapers.

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.