March 22

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Georgia Gazette (March 22, 1769).

TO BE SOLD … ONE NEGROE GIRL.”

This advertisement from the Georgia Gazette talked about selling an enslaved person, “ONE NEGROE GIRL.” Newspapers from the southern colonies constantly had advertisements for selling enslaved people in the 1760s. So did many newspapers from northern colonies, but they did not have as many advertisements about enslaved people as the southern newspapers. This advertisement shows that Matthew Roche, the provost marshal, offered to sell a girl that was “seized” from James Lambert because he could not pay his bills, which meant anything that he owned, including human “property,” could be taken away. The girl that was seized had her whole life changed, especially if she had any family or friends who were not sold with her. This advertisement does not give a description of what the girl was like or anything about her features or her skills. It shows that Roche did not give her any identity and only cared that she was property.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Zach comments on the number of advertisements concerning enslaved people that ran in newspapers in the southern colonies in the 1760s. Indeed, this advertisement for “ONE NEGRO GIRL” was not the only one concerning enslaved men, women, and children in the March 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. A total of ten such advertisements, spread over three of the four pages, appeared in that issue.

Six of those advertisements offered enslaved people for sale. Similar to the advertisement placed by the provost marshal, one advertisement for a “PUBLICK VENDUE” or auction promoted “ONE NEGROE GIRL” for sale. It listed her, however, among a variety of commodities put up for bids to settle the estate of Captain David Cutler Braddock, including “A PARCEL RAW DEER SKINS” and “some BEES-WAX.” Other advertisements sought to sell several enslaved people at once, though that would not have been any less disruptive to their lives and their relationships since there was no guarantee of being sold together. One brief advertisement offered “ FEW NEGROES belonging to the Estate of Martin Fenton.” Another estate notice included “ABOUT TWENTY-ONE VALUABLE PLANTATION SLAVES” along with “A STOCK OF CATTLE.” Henry Yonge also announced an auction, leading with “ABOUT FIFTEEN VALUABLE PLANTATION AND HOUSE SLAVES” before listing furniture, livestock, corn, and other provisions. Due to his own declining health, another advertiser aimed to sell his plantation, including “About THIRTY LIKELY NEGROES.” To make them more attractive to prospective buyers, he noted that “amongst them is a very good Bricklayer, a Driver, and two Sawyers.” Many of them were “fit for field or boat work.” The rest were “fine thriving children.” Like the “NEGRO GIRL” to be sold by the provost marshal, all of those children and the other enslaved people offered for sale in these advertisements faced fates largely determined by those who held them in bondage.

Acts of resistance, however, were possible. Two of the advertisements about enslaved people reported on those who had escaped. Two men, Perth and Ned, had run away “some time ago.” Thomas Morgan suspected that they “went to Halifax in St. George’s parish, where they are well known.” Shand and Henderson once again ran an advertisement about Cuffy and Bersheba, who had been gone for more than a month, having made their escape on February 9. Two other advertisements, on the other hand, described runaways who had been captured. A couple, Sampson and Molly, had been “TAKEN UP … on the Indian Country Path, about 20 miles from Augusta.” They had an infant “about two months old” with them. The arrival of the child may have provided the motivation to abscond. The final advertisement described Michael, “A TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW.” He had been imprisoned in the workhouse in Savannah for several months following his capture.

As Zach notes, advertisements about enslaved people were indeed a “constant” feature in many newspapers in the 1760s, especially newspapers published in the southern colonies. In the same era that colonists decried their figurative enslavement by Parliament in the pages of those same newspapers they also placed and read advertisements that contributed to the perpetuation of the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.

March 1

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

Georgia Gazette (March 1, 1769).

“He is branded on the breast IW in small letters.”

In this particular advertisement for a runaway slave, the vivid description suggests the desperation to find him. Including a reward made the search that much more enticing. A key detail in the advertisement states the slave, named Bristol, was “Angola born.” He was brought to the West Indies, then eventually to Georgia. This implies the slave has been sold multiple times. Coming from the West Indies with a brand also became a telltale sign he had previous masters. In addition, Bristol speaks “pretty good English,” which implies he had been enslaved long enough to learn the language. With the demand for slave labor and the revenue it produced, masters circulated their slaves for profit. The amount of information and detail provided in the advertisement allows for readers to reconstruct the story of Bristol.

The brand on Bristol’s breast, “IW in small letters,” helped to identify him. Betty Wood examines the practice of branding enslaved people: “If they had not been branded before leaving Africa, then there was a good chance that it would happen to them upon their arrival in America.”[1] Branding, using a “red-hot iron,” was a common technique to leave an imprint upon the bodies of slaves. Typically, the brand was stamped on the chest, shoulder, or cheek. The act of branding by slave owners made a bold statement; it displayed complete ownership and possession of the slave. The visual image of a brand made a statement, to deny the humanity of people of African origin. To put branding in perspective, this type of treatment was used on animals, such as cattle and horses, to keep track of them if they became lost. Similar to the runaway slave Bristol, the origins of other enslaved people could be traced through the symbol branded upon their body.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

By the time George McIntosh’s advertisement concerning Bristol ran in the March 1, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, the runaway had been absent for nearly seven weeks. McIntosh reported that Bristol “WENT AWAY” on January 13. Also by early March the advertisement would have been familiar to colonists who regularly read the Georgia Gazette. Dated “17th January, 1769,” it appeared in its sixth consecutive issue. McIntosh apparently submitted it to the printing office too late for inclusion in the January 18 edition, but starting on January 25 the advertisement appeared every week. By then, Bristol had been “AWAY” from McIntosh’s plantation for nearly two weeks. In the several weeks since, he continued to make good on his escape. Perhaps he had learned from a previous failed attempt and crafted a better plan. McIntosh stated that Bristol had been “taken up once before” in the area of Sunbury and Midway.

The longevity of McIntosh’s advertisement describing a man who had escaped from bondage was hardly unique, at least not compared to other advertisements that described runaways and offered rewards for their capture and return. Some ran for as long as six months before being discontinued. When such advertisements disappeared from the pages of the Georgia Gazette after so long, it most likely indicated that slaveholders decided not to make further investments in alerting the public about the runaways. After seeing the same advertisements for months, readers were probably well aware of the descriptions of the runaways and the circumstances of their escapes.

In contrast to the constant republishing of runaway advertisements, other sorts of paid notices usually ran for a much more limited time. Advertisements for consumer goods and services, for example, typically ran for three or four weeks. Merchants and shopkeepers did not make the same investment in notifying the public about their wares as slaveholders made in their attempts to reclaim their human property. Advertisements for runaway slaves were an important revenue stream for the Georgia Gazette not only because colonists placed so many of them but also because those advertisements ran for so much longer than any others.

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[1] Betty Wood, Slavery in Colonial America, 1619-1776 (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), 28.

December 22

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

Virginia Gazette [Rind] (December 22, 1768).

“A SCHEME of a LOTTERY.”

Bernard Moore did not specify why he set about “disposing of certain LANDS, SLAVES, and STOCKS” when he published “A SCHEME of a LOTTERY” in the December 22, 1768, edition of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. Whether he planned to leave the colony or needed the funds to settle debts or some other reason, Moore aimed to raise a guaranteed £18,400 through the sale of lottery tickets rather individual sales of “LANDS, SLAVES, and STOCKS” or an auction that may not have raised the same revenue as the lottery. Of the 124 possible prizes, real estate and livestock comprised the majority, but a total of fifty-five enslaved men, women, and children accounted for the prizes for thirty-nine winning tickets.

Approximately half of Moore’s advertisement listed those men, women, and children held in bondage, describing their relationships and their skills. In some instances Moore intended to keep family members together as a single prize. Such was the case for a “Negro man named Billy, … an exceeding trusty good forgeman” and “his wife named Lucy, … who works exceeding well both in the house and field” as well as a “Negro woman named Rachel … and her children Daniel and Thompson.” Moore separated other families. One prize consisted of a “Negro man, Robin, a good sawyer, and Bella, his wife,” but not their children. “A negro girl named Sukey, about 12 years old, and another named Betty, about 7 years old; children of Robin and Bella” constituted a different prize. Barring some stroke of luck, parents and children would be separated on the day of the drawing.

As the descriptions of Billy, Lucy, and Robin indicate, Moore owned enslaved workers who possessed a variety of skills beyond agricultural labor. Many of them worked in the “forge and grist-mill” also offered as a prize. Moore included these descriptions of their abilities: “a very trusty good forgeman, as well at the finery as under the hammer, and understands putting up his fire,” “a fine chaferyman,” “an exceeding good hammerman and finer,” “an exceeding good forge carpenter, cooper, and clapboard carpenter,” “a very fine blacksmith,” and “a very fine master collier.” Moore also acknowledged gradations of skill level, describing other colliers as “very good” or “good.” Other workers possessed skills not necessarily related to operating the forge, including “a good miller,” “an exceeding trusty good waggoner,” “a good carter,” “a good sawyer,” and “the Skipper” of a flat-bottomed boat.

Moore described a community, though his “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” and his treatment of enslaved men, women, and children as prizes for the winners did not acknowledge it. Indeed, good fortune was not the lot for the twenty-eight men, fourteen women (including the pregnant Pat), and thirteen children. Other sorts of advertisements concerning slaves typically described only one or a few individuals, but the extensive list of names, ages, relationships, and skills in Moore’s notice about his lottery sketched an entire community. Moore intended to raise funds, but he unintentionally produced a document that aids subsequent generations in uncovering the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children who had far fewer opportunities than slaveholders to tell their own stories.

December 7

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

Georgia Gazette (December 7, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD … a likely Negroe Wench and Child, a Riding Horse, a Set of Saddlers Tools.”

Advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream for newspaper publishers in eighteenth-century America. Often paid notices, rather than subscriptions, made newspapers viable ventures for the men and women that printed them. The colophons for many newspapers even included a list of services offered at the printing office, usually highlighting advertisements. The Georgia Gazette’s colophon, for instance stated that it was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.” Johnston prioritized advertising ahead of collecting content or subscribers in his efforts to promote his newspaper.

Advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children appeared among the many sorts of paid notices in eighteenth-century newspapers published throughout the colonies. From New Hampshire to Georgia, colonial printers included such advertisements in their publications, reaping financial benefits from their role in perpetuating human bondage. Even if they did not own slaves themselves, they facilitated both sales and surveillance of runaways. For some printers, advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children represented a significant proportion of their paid notices.

Consider the December 7, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Advertisements appeared on two of its four pages, filling three and a half of its eight columns. The first and last notices both concerned enslaved people, the first describing a fugitive slave, “A MUSTEE FELLOW, middle aged, named JOE,” and the last describing Michael, “A TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW” who had been captured and “Brought to the Work-house.” A total of thirty-nine paid notices ran in that issue. Of those, ten concerned enslaved men, women, and children. Four offered slaves for sale, including “TEN YOUNG LIKELY WORKING NEGROES.” One sought to purchase or hire “A CAREFUL HEALTHY NEGROE WENCH, with a good breast of milk” who could nurse a child. Four described runaways, including the advertisement for Cato, a cooper, and Judy, a laundress, that ran for months. The tenth advertisement concerning slavery, the “Brought to the Work-house” notice, appeared in the usual spot for the list of captured runaways, the very last item (excepting the colophon) in the issue. Advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children comprised one-quarter of those in the December 7 edition. The revenue they generated helped to distribute the news content elsewhere in the issue, including updates from Boston and London.

October 28

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

Oct 28 - 10:28:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 28, 1768).

“A very likely, healthy Negro BOY, about 17 Years of Age, to be Sold.”

A brief advertisement in the October 28, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette advised readers of “A very likely, healthy Negro BOY, about 17 Years of Age, to be Sold.” The notice did not provide any additional information about the enslaved youth or the seller; instead, it instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printers.”

Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would not have considered such an advertisement particularly remarkable. Although they did not appear in the same numbers as in newspapers published in Boston, advertisements concerning enslaved people were inserted in New Hampshire’s only newspaper regularly. This particular advertisement was more likely to attract attention for its format rather than its content. With the exception of the masthead on the first page and the colophon on the final page, the rest of the content was organized into three columns on each page. The masthead, colophon, and this advertisement for a “Negro BOY,” however spanned all three columns. The advertisement ran across the bottom of the third page, a position that distinguished it from news and other paid notices.

Did this format make the advertisement more effective? It is impossible to say for certain, but it is also worth noting that it ran for only one week. Newspaper printers who listed their rates for advertising typically indicated a flat fee for setting the type and inserting an advertisement for three or four weeks as well as additional fees for each additional week the notice ran. Unless they struck a special deal, the printers and advertiser would have expected this advertisement for an enslaved youth to appear in at least three consecutive issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette. That it was discontinued after its initial appearance suggests that someone did indeed purchase the “healthy Negro BOY,” prompting the anonymous advertiser to cancel further insertions.

This does not conclusively demonstrate the success of the advertisement, but it does strongly suggest an active marketplace for buying and selling enslaved people in New Hampshire. At the very least, the advertisement testifies to the presence of slaves in the colony, a familiar sight both in public and in the public prints.

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.