January 12

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

SlaveryProvidence Gazette (January 12, 1771).“A Likely strong Negro Man.”

On January 12, 1771, an advertisement for a “Likely strong Negro Man, about 28 Years of Age,” ran in the Providence Gazette.  It was just one of dozens of advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children that appeared in newspapers published throughout the colonies during the week of Sunday, January 6, through Saturday, January 12.  From New England to South Carolina, newspapers contributed to the perpetuation of slavery by publishing advertisements about buying and selling enslaved people, notices that described enslaved people who liberated themselves and offered rewards for their capture and return, and advertisements about suspected “runaways” who had been committed to jails in northern colonies and workhouses in southern colonies.

Newspaper printers, including John Carter of the Providence Gazette, generated revenues from publishing at least seventy-one such advertisements.  They appeared in newspapers in every region:  six advertisements in five newspapers in New England, eleven advertisements in four newspapers in the Middle Atlantic, twenty-five advertisements in three newspapers in the Chesapeake, and twenty-nine newspapers in the Lower South.  This tally almost certainly undercounts the total number of newspaper advertisements concerning enslaved people published that week.  Two of the four pages of the January 8 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal are missing.  Portions of the January 10 edition of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette are so damaged as to be illegible.  No copies of the Georgia Gazette from 1771 survive, though other sources confirm that newspaper continued publication throughout the year.  This census of newspapers notices concerning enslaved men, women, and children provides only the minimum number of such notices that readers throughout the colonies encountered that week.

That being the case, these advertisements were a familiar sight, a part of everyday life in the colonies … and not just colonies in the Chesapeake and the Lower South.  In New England, the Boston Evening-Post, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, the Massachusetts Spy, the New-Hampshire Gazette, and the Providence Gazette all carried advertisements concerning enslaved people.  In the Middle Atlantic, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal did as well.  Today it may seem striking to some to glimpse an advertisement about the sale of a “Likely strong Negro Man” in the pages of the Providence Gazette in the early 1770s, that advertisement did not seem out of place to readers in Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England and other colonies when it was published.

October 27

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

Providence Gazette (October 27, 1770).

“WANTED immediately, Fifteen likely NEGROES.”

As it did in most issues, the Providence Gazette published on October 27, 1770, featured advertisements placed for various purposes.  Benoni Pearce and Elijah Bacon announced that they had “opened a BAKE-HOUSE.”  Joseph Russell and William Russell sought passengers and freight for a ship departing for London in early November.  Joseph Whipple offered a house to rent and a store and wharf for sale.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, hawked printed blanks and an almanac for 1771.  Hampton Lillibridge proclaimed that he “WANTED” to purchase enslaved women and children “immediately.”

Advertisements like the one placed by Lillibridge were not uncommon in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers published in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  Colonists turned to notices in the public prints to aid them in buying and selling enslaved people.  In other instances, they inserted advertisements to warn about runaways who liberated themselves from those who held them in bondage, offering descriptions to identify them and rewards to colonists who captured and returned them to their enslavers.  Even colonists who did not themselves make claims to owning enslaved people participated in the surveillance of Black people — carefully scrutinizing their bodies, clothing, and comportment — that helped to maintain the institution of slavery.

Printers played a critical role in perpetuating slavery in early America.  From New England to Georgia, they printed advertisements that were disseminated as widely as their newspapers and brokered information that did not otherwise appear in print.  In his effort to purchase enslaved women and children, Lillibridge instructed readers to contact him directly in Newport or via “the Printing-Office in Providence.”  Carter not only garnered revenues from publishing notices about enslaved people, he also facilitated sales through “enquire of the printer” advertisements.  In many instances, the buyers and sellers remained anonymous to the public, though the evidence of the slave trade was quite visible on the printed page, interspersed among other advertisements.

Such notices were a familiar sight when readers perused eighteenth-century newspapers.  Lillibridge’s advertisement for “Fifteen likely NEGROES” in the Providence Gazette may seem stark and out of place to modern readers unfamiliar with the history of slavery in Rhode Island and the rest of New England, but it was unremarkable at the time, just another element of a massive cultural and commercial infrastructure that maintained a system of bondage and exploitation.

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 21, 1770).

“Some Negroes likewise to be sold.”

For several weeks in the summer of 1770, Henry Paget took to the pagers of the Providence Gazette to advertise several properties for sale in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.  Those properties included a farm in Smithfield, Rhode Island, a “Lot of very good Land” near Ware, Massachusetts, and a house near Reading, Connecticut.  He also offered for sale his “Dwelling-House” with “Shops and a good Store below” in Providence, promoting its prime location “near the Great Bridge, and handy to the College.”  Yet Paget’s notice was not merely a real estate advertisement.

At the conclusion of the advertisement, Paget inserted two additional lines indicating that he also sought to sell enslaved people:  “Some Negroes likewise to be sold.  For further Particulars enquire of said Paget.”  He did not provide further details.  He did not state how many enslaved people he intended to sell.  He did not say how many were men or women or children.  He did not list any ages.  He did not report on the skills any of them possessed.  Other advertisements sometimes included those “Particulars,” but many did not.

Eighteenth-century newspapers, including those published in New England, frequently carried advertisements that casually mentioned enslaved people for sale.  In many instances, such sales were not the primary purpose of the notices.  Instead, such sales appeared as postscripts to advertisements placed for other reasons, such as Paget’s real estate notice, or enslaved people were included alongside various commodities, treating them as though they were nothing more than commodities themselves.  Rather than focusing exclusively on enslaved people, many advertisements made casual reference to enslaved people, integrating the buying and selling of men, women, and children into other daily activities and commercial transactions.

At a glance, Paget’s advertisement does not appear to be an advertisement offering enslaved people for sale.  The headline, “His FARM,” suggests that it was a real estate notice.  That might make it easy for modern readers to overlook those final two lines unless they read carefully.  For readers of the Providence Gazette in 1770, however, enslavement was part of the fabric of everyday life.  Advertisements that hint at “Some Negroes likewise to be sold” only begin to tell much more extensive stories of enslavement in colonial and revolutionary New England.

March 28

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

Mar 28 - 3:28:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 28, 1770).

“NEW NEGROES, CHIEFLY MEN.”

On March 28, 1770, Joseph Clay placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to announce the sale of “A CARGO consisting of about 170 young and healthy NEW NEGROES” scheduled for the next day.  A crude woodcut depicted adults and a child, but the copy specified that the “CARGO” consisted of “CHIEFLY MEN.”  Clay assured prospective buyers that the enslaved men previously “had the Smallpox,” thus increasing their value by offering a guarantee that they would not contract the illness in the future.  Perhaps as further evidence of their good health, Clay noted that the enslaved men had “Just arrived, after a short passage of five weeks … from Gambia” rather than languishing aboard the vessel an even longer time.  Captain Stephen Dean and the snow Britannia delivered them to Georgia.

This advertisement provides sufficient information to identify it as voyage 77996 in Slave Voyages, a database documenting the transatlantic slave trade.  That entry reveals more about the voyage than the advertisement, though most of the additional information concerns the experiences of the crew rather than the enslaved men transported across the ocean.  The Britannia departed London on September 25, 1769, and spent an unspecified amount of time along the coast of Africa.  The database indicates the Britannia arrived in Georgia on March 21, 1770, though the advertisement is dated March 19.  Either way, it took slightly less than six months to sail from London to Africa, acquire the “CARGO,” and then deliver the enslaved men to mainland North America.  The Britannia remained in port for seven weeks, departing on May 11 and completed its voyage in London on June 30.  For the twenty-three crew members, the voyage lasted a mere nine months.  For the estimated 199 Africans that embarked in Gambia, this voyage changed their lives forever.  Many died while crossing the Atlantic, reducing the estimated 199 to “about 170.”  Those who survived faced an array of challenges in a new land.

Perhaps some of those “NEW NEGROES” later made their way into the pages of the Georgia Gazette as runaways who escaped from those who held them in bondage.  Many may have become the subject of other advertisements that once again offered them for sale, either individually or among a parcel.  The advertisements testify to their presence in colonial Georgia and reveal some of their experiences, yet tell exceptionally incomplete stories of what they endured and how they survived.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:17:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (August 17, 1769).
“A Negro Woman that can do Household Work, to let out by the Year.”

In the era of the American Revolution, enslavement of Africans and African Americans was not confined to the southern colonies. As newspaper advertisements and other sources from the period demonstrate, enslaved men, women, and children lived and labored throughout the colonies that eventually became the United States, from New England to Georgia. Consider this advertisement seeking “a Negro Woman that can do Household Work” that ran in the August 17, 1769, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. It testifies to the presence of enslaved people in Boston and its environs. It also reveals that the market for enslaved labor was more complex than buying and selling. The advertiser sought a domestic servant “let out by the Year.” In other words, the family did not wish to purchase and permanently acquire an enslaved woman; instead, they wished to rent her services for a year, a practice known as hiring out. Not only were enslaved people deemed commodities by colonists, their labor was also a commodity to be traded in the marketplace.

The conscribed freedom of “a Negro Woman [who] can do Household Work ” stood in stark contrast to the other contents of the newspaper, at least to anyone who cared to take notice. The front page carried news about the ongoing nonimportation agreement, an act of economic resistance to Parliament imposing taxes on paper, glass, lead, tea, and paint in the Townshend Acts. Henry Bass’s advertisement for “American Grindstones … esteemed vastly superior to those from Great-Britain” ran once again. A news article noted that the Sons of Liberty had celebrated their anniversary, gathering first at the “Liberty-Tree” to drink fourteen toasts and then adjourning to “Mr. Robinson’s at the Sign of Liberty-Tree in Dorchester.” By 1769, the Liberty Tree had become a familiar symbol in Boston. The bulk of the news concerned participation in the nonimportation agreement that “some Persons who had heretofore refused to join in the Agreement for Non-Importation appeared and signed the same.” Another indicated that the “Committee of Inspection” would soon make a report about those violated the agreement. Yet another outlined the political stakes of the boycott, noting that those who selfishly did not abide by it exhibited “a total Disregard to the Liberty and Welfare of their County.”

The concept of liberty appeared repeatedly in Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette in August 1769, in juxtaposition with an advertisement seeking “a Negro Woman that can do Household Work.” Colonists encountered symbols of liberty as they traversed the streets of Boston, just as they encountered enslaved men, women, and children denied their own liberty. Yet so few acknowledged the contradiction in 1769. Enslaved people, however, were all too aware of it. Any “Negro Woman [who] can do Household Work” likely had her own ideas about the meaning of liberty, informed by her own experiences, her treatment in the marketplace, and the discourse swirling around her in the era of the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution.

June 21

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

Jun 21 - 6:21:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 21, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … A NEGROE FELLOW named WILL.”

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project aims to demonstrate that eighteenth-century newspapers contributed to the perpetuation of slavery in colonial America and the new nation. Yet this was not a relationship that merely benefited slaveholders through the continued exploitation of enslaved men, women, and children. Printers also benefitted, as did the public that consumed all sorts of information that circulated in newspapers. The revenues generated from advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children made significant contributions to the economic viability of eighteenth-century newspapers.

Consider, for example, the final page of the June 21, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children have been outlined in red. Ten appeared on that page (as well as two others on the previous page). Of the ten on the final page, five offered enslaved people for sale, one sought to purchase enslaved people, two offered rewards for runaways who escaped from bondage, and two described fugitives that had been captured and imprisoned. Collectively, these advertisements bolstered not only the market for buying and selling human property but also a culture of surveillance of Black people.

These advertisements also represented significant revenue for James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. Like most other newspapers published in 1769, a standard issue of the Georgia Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. With two columns per page, Johnston distributed a total of eight columns of content to subscribers and other readers in each issue. The advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children in the June 21 edition accounted for an entire column, a substantial proportion of the issue.

Elsewhere in the newspaper Johnston inserted news items, many of them concerning the deteriorating relationship between Britain and the colonies. These articles originated in Boston, London, and other faraway places. Readers of the Georgia Gazette had access to information about the imperial crisis, including resistance efforts throughout the colonies, in part because the fees generated from advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children contributed to the ongoing publication of the colony’s only newspaper. Enslavement and liberty appeared in stark contrast in the pages of the newspaper but also in the ledger kept by the printer. Articles and editorials advocating liberty found their way before the eyes of readers thanks to advertising fees paid for the purpose of sustaining slavery.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:10:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 10, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD, (At a Distance from the Town of Providence only).”

Among the advertisements in the June 10, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, an unnamed colonist offered to sell an enslaved youth. The advertisement did not provide many details except that the “young NEGROE WOMAN” was approximately fifteen years old and had been “born in the Country” rather than surviving the middle passage from Africa. The advertiser claimed that the enslaved youth was “capable of any Work suited to her Age,” but did not specify any particular skills that she possessed. Interested parties were instructed to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.

None of that deviated from typical advertisements that offered enslaved men, women, and children for sale in the 1760s. The advertisement, however, did include one unusual element. It specified an exception concerning the terms of sale, stating that the seller intended to deal with buyers “At a Distance from the Town of Providence only.” The advertisement did not elaborate on the reason. This suggested a deliberate effort to separate the young woman from someone else. It hints at a story that most likely will never be recovered.

“Enquire of the Printer” advertisements truncated the information provided to readers, but they also truncated the miniature biographies of enslaved men, women, and children contained in those advertisements. Filtered through the perspective of a slaveholder, the advertisement obscures what may have been one of the most significant relationships in the young woman’s life at the time. Perhaps the advertiser considered it necessary to sell her “At a Distance” in order to effectively separate her from family members who exercised too much influence over her. Perhaps friends encouraged her to engage in acts of resistance and the seller hoped that sending her away would correct such insubordination. Perhaps she had embarked on a new romance that made her difficult to manage. Perhaps she frequently participated in altercations with the advertiser or a member of the advertiser’s family. Perhaps she had been sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted by a member of the household and selling her “At a Distance” was a strategy intended to make it easier for members of the household to overcome the rifts in their relationships with each other that had resulted. What might this young woman have recorded had she written her own narrative rather than having her experiences voiced, mostly in the formulaic language of advertisements of the period, by an unnamed slaveholder? The advertisement insinuates so much more while denying the young woman her own voice and concealing her story from readers past and present.

May 29

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

May 29 - 5:29:1769 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (May 29, 1769).

“A REGISTER BOOK is kept for the regular entry of … negroes.”

Colonists who read any of the newspapers published in New York in the late 1760s were likely familiar with John Coghill Knapp and the services he provided at the “Scrivener, Register, & Conveyance Office.” The attorney frequently inserted lengthy advertisements in multiple newspapers simultaneously. When Alexander Robertson and James Robertson launched the New-York Chronicle in May 1769, Knapp was one of the first to place an advertisement in their new publication. Indeed, when the Robertsons distributed their first issue on May 8 it included one of Knapp’s advertisements; the same advertisement appeared each week for the remainder of the month and beyond.

The inclusion of Knapp’s advertisement meant that the Robertsons and the New-York Chronicle were enmeshed in the slave trade as soon as the publication commenced. Among the many services he provided, Knapp consistently advertised slaves for sale or otherwise acted as a broker for clients seeking to find buyers for enslaved men, women, and children. In his advertisement in the inaugural issue of the New-York Chronicle, he advised readers that “A REGISTER BOOK is kept for the regular entry of estates for sale either in land, houses, or ground to build on; negroes, and white servants time; to which purchasers may have fee access.” In other words, he invited readers to visit his office to peruse the listings of enslaved people for sale, neatly organized in a register along with real estate and indentured servants.

Print culture, especially newspapers, played an important role in shaping politics during the revolutionary era, spreading information about the imperial crisis and various modes of resistance adopted throughout the colonies. As a result, printers and the press have long been recognized as agents of liberty and the patriot cause. Depicting the press solely as a progressive instrument, however, misses an important part of the story of the American founding. Advertisements that offered enslaved people for sale or offered rewards for those who had escaped in hopes of achieving their own freedom also testify to the power of the press yet demonstrate that it did not always serve the ideals of liberty for all who resided in the colonies. Even as the press became a significant tool advocating the cause of freedom for some colonists, it helped perpetuate the enslavement of others.

April 5

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

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

Georgia Gazette (April 5, 1769).

“A PRIME CARGO OF NEW NEGROES.”

Advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children were common in most newspapers in most colonies in 1769. In the northern colonies, the amount of such advertisements was usually less than in southern colonies. This advertisement was in the Georgia Gazette, where slave advertisements were almost everywhere. These slaves in this advertisement came from Africa, specifically from Gambia. The transatlantic slave trade was brutal as Africans were packed in slave ships with little room left unfilled. This was just the beginning of the awfulness as the unhygienic conditions on the ships allows pathogens to thrive, causing regular outbreaks of various diseases that would easily spread to the slaves as they were transported together. Once a ship arrived at a colony, the suffering continued with the Africans being sold off, usually not with their family.

This advertisement is ironic because at this time the colonists were beginning to think of becoming independent from Britain in light of all the acts by Parliament, such as the Declaratory Act. At the same time, colonists imported slaves from Africa. As the colonists thought of getting their liberty and freedom, they were taking away the freedom of the enslaved men, women, and children, like the “NEW NEGROES” in this advertisement.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Aidan notes, this advertisement reveals important details about the transatlantic slave trade and one voyage in particular. It includes enough information to locate this delivery of “NEW NEGROES” in the Slave Voyages database, where it is recorded as Voyage ID 77969. Considered together, the advertisement and the data compiled in Slave Voyages tell a more complete story of the captives and crew who crossed the Atlantic on the Britannia.

The voyage began in London on September 8, 1768. Stephen Deane commanded the vessel with a crew of twenty-two. The Britannia had four guns mounted to fend off any sort of attack. Deane sailed to Gambia, the principal place for purchasing Africans on this voyage. There, approximately 175 Africans boarded the Britannia before it sailed to Georgia, arriving in late March. (Slave Voyages lists April 5 as the arrival date, likely deriving the date from when the Georgia Gazette was published. The advertisement itself, however, lists March 31 as the date it was written. The Britannia likely arrived sometime in the previous week.) According to the advertisement in the Georgia Gazette, only “about one hundred and fifty” of the Africans arrived at the colony. One in seven did not survive the voyage. Many of them likely perished due to smallpox. The advertisement reported “one hundred and twenty … had the smallpox on board said vessel before they arrived here.” Although this “PRIME CARGO” was scheduled for sale in Savannah on April 11, the captives were first “performing a quarantine at Tybee” while they recovered enough to safely put them on display for colonial buyers. From the time the Britannia departed London until it arrived in Georgia, a little more than two hundred days passed. The records, however, do not provide enough information to determine the length of the Middle Passage that the survivors, “chiefly men,” endured.

According to Slave Voyages, the Britannia was one of three vessels that delivered human cargo to Georgia directly from Africa in 1769. In total, twenty-eight vessels made such voyages between Africa and mainland North America that year. The vast majority disembarked enslaved men, women, and children in Charleston, but others also arrived in New York and Virginia. This continuing trade did indeed stand in stark contrast to colonists decrying their own loss of liberty at the hands of Parliament in the late 1760s.

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.