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).


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.

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 21, 1767).

“ABOUT FORTY valuable country-born NEGROES, among whom are Boatmen, Carpenters, Sawyers.”

American slavery consisted of masters and overseers who controlled, in some cases, the manual labor of hundreds of slaves. That is the story taught in many schools. It was the story I thought I knew when I began college. However, this advertisement points to other roles among slaves, not strictly manual labor but also skilled workmanship. It states that the slaves being sold had various specialized skills that made them even more useful to prospective owners. According to Daniel C. Littlefield, “planters expected enslaved people to perform a wide range of jobs that included carpenter, cooper, boatman, cook, seamstress, and blacksmith, to mention only a few of the skilled functions required around plantations.” This shows a different way of looking at the uses of slavery in America during the eighteenth century. It shows that many slaves were more skilled than what is often taught in high school history classes.

These specialized skills led some slaves to be “hired out” to other masters. Douglas Egerton tells the story of Gabriel, an enslaved blacksmith, who gained a sense of freedom when he was away from his master’s plantation. This led Gabriel to want more freedom. He planned a slave rebellion in 1800 called, now known as Gabriel’s Rebellion. A highly-skilled enslaved blacksmith plotted to overthrow the government of Virginia, but the plan was discovered. In the end, the rebellion was unsuccessful. Gabriel was executed.

This advertisement reflects a part of history largely unknown to most people, a history where slaves did more than just tend fields.



During his week as guest curator, Jonathan has selected two advertisements that treated black men and women as commodities. In the process of examining these advertisements, he has addressed two common misconceptions about slavery in early America. Earlier in the week he demonstrated that slavery was practiced in New England and other northern colonies in the era of the American Revolution. In addition to his selected advertisement about “A Negro Woman, who understands all sorts of houshold Work,” he identified a Rhode Island census, conducted in 1774, that documented the numbers of “WHITES,” “INDIANS,” and “BLACKS” that resided in the colony. He also argued that even though relatively few slaves lived and worked in Rhode Island, the colony’s commerce was enmeshed in the transatlantic slave trade.

Today, Jonathan addresses the kinds of work done by slaves, a variety of jobs that many students find quite surprising when first introduced to this information for the first time. In the process, he has achieved a much better understanding of the diversity of experiences among enslaved men, women, and children in eighteenth-century America. Some worked as artisans on plantations, as was certainly the case with some of the carpenters and sawyers in today’s advertisement, but others worked in urban ports, sometimes as artisans and sometimes as domestic servants. Slaves in urban environments had experiences that did not necessarily replicate those of their counterparts who worked in the fields on farms and plantations. For instance, Sarah, a runaway also advertised in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on April 21, 1767, was a laundress “well known among the vessels” docked in Charleston because she so frequently “washed for the mariners.” Not all slaves were agricultural laborers in rural settings, nor were slaves exploited only for their labor. Masters also benefited from slaves’ expertise and skills, deriving significant additional value from them. As Jonathan indicates, this aspect of early American history often remains overlooked in the most rudimentary narratives of slavery in colonial and Revolutionary America.

March 20


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

Mar 20 - 3:20:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 20, 1767).

“BETWEEN sixty and seventy likely NEGROES … among whom are carpenters, coopers and sawyers.”


This advertisement said the slaves for sale included “carpenters, coopers and sawyers.” I had never heard of coopers or sawyers before so I decided to find out more about them. The job of a cooper was to make casks, buckets and other containers to store things. The sawyer worked in a saw mill. Daniel C. Littlefield states that in the 1700s plantation owners in South Carolina “expected enslaved people to perform a wide range of jobs that included carpenter, cooper, boatman, cook, seamstress, and blacksmith, to mention only a few of the skilled function required around plantations.”

This made me question, what other jobs could be found on South Carolina plantations. Since the majority of the plantations in South Carolina were rice plantations, the major jobs on the plantation were creating dikes or levees and sluices and to maintain them. Slaves also had to keep animals away from the area. Other jobs included planting, weeding, and harvesting the rice.



Each eighteenth-century slavery advertisement tells an important story that demonstrates the scope of enslaved people’s experiences in early America, but some of them tell stories less familiar to my students (and the general public) than others. When Ceara selected today’s advertisement, I encouraged her to focus on the “carpenters, coopers and sawyers” prominently listed among the slaves offered for sale.

That enslaved men, women, and children were exploited for their labor comes as no surprise, but most students do not realize that slaveholders benefited from far more than just the labor of their labors. Instead, slaves contributed valuable expertise to plantations and the colonial economy more generally. Many learned specialized skills. Enslaved artisans plied their crafts on plantations in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, but they also worked in urban centers throughout the colonies, north and south.

Advertisers often made special note of the skills their human property possessed, such as the “carpenters, coopers and sawyers” from today’s advertisement or the “FOUR very valuable NEGROES” advertised in the Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on March 17, 1767. Three of the four were considered particularly valuable because two were “good workmen at the cabinet-maker’s business” and one was “a good sawyer, and handles his tools so well in the coarser branches of that trade as to be capable of making a tolerable country carpenter.”

In some instances enslaved artisans were “hired out” for limited amounts of time, such as a “Negro Man, by Trade a Shoemaker” also advertised in the March 17 supplement. This practice granted slaveholders an even greater return on their investment by occupying the time of skilled laborers who might otherwise experience lulls in demand for their services on their own plantations.

I anticipate that Ceara will approach her responsibilities as curator of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project with a more nuanced appreciation of the different kinds of labor and expertise described in the advertisements now that she has a better understanding that slaves contributed knowledge and expertise as well as physical labor to the cultivation of crops and the production of commodities in colonial and Revolutionary America.


December 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette (December 25, 1766).

“Slaves, as may be absent from their master’s Houses and walking the Streets.”

Only one advertisement concerning slaves appeared in the December 25, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. Rather than seeking to buy or sell slaves or offering rewards for runaway slaves, it aimed to regulate the activities and movements of “Negro, Indian or Mulatto Slaves” in Boston.

Apparently the selectmen of the town received complaints about slaves “absent from their master’s Houses and walking the streets” in the evenings and into the night. In response, they issued “strict Orders to the Watchmen of the Town” to detain any slaves they encountered on the street “after Nine o’Clock at Night.” The watchmen were permitted to make exceptions, provided slaves made “good and satisfactory Account of their Business.” In order to demonstrate that they were not up to some sort of skullduggery, slaves traversing the streets at that hour needed to carry lanterns with lit candles, making it easier to spot them and preventing them from seeming to sneak from place to place. The advertisement concluded with a threat against masters and slaves: “such Offenders may be proceeded with according to Law.” Advertisements for runaway slaves were intended to regulate the movements of enslaved men and women, to return them to the authority and oversight of their masters. This advertisement, on the other hand, regulated both slaves and masters, instructing slaveholders who had been lax in supervising their slaves to become more vigilant and strict.


As an aside, it might seem especially appropriate today to examine the marketing aspects of an advertisement for consumer goods and services that appeared 250 years ago. After all, Christmas has increasingly become a celebration of consumerism in modern America. Isn’t this advertisement regulating the movement of slaves a missed opportunity considering all of the advertisements more explicitly linked to consumer culture?!

The Christmas holiday, however, did not garner the same attention in colonial America, especially not in New England among the descendants of Puritans. (Observing Christmas had been banned in New England in the seventeenth century.) Colonists certainly did not indulge in rampant exchanges of gifts and all of the buying and selling associated with giving presents. Accordingly, in choosing an advertisement for today I have refrained from hyping consumerism and imagining Christmas celebrations that did not exist in colonial New England. Instead, I have selected an advertisement that reveals one of the more pressing concerns in Boston on December 25, 1766.

October 28


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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 28, 1766).

“A CARGO consisting of about ONE HUNDRED and FORTY young and healthy new NEGROES.”

I chose this advertisement because it demonstrates the inhumane and terrible slave industry in colonial America. The advertisement demonstrates how racial barriers dehumanized Africans in the eighteenth century. Because of their skin tone and origin, Africans were thought of as commodities, not as human beings. This idea is horrifying and irrational to modern readers. However, the transatlantic slave trade was a reality of American culture for hundred of years. In fact, slavery persisted in Southern society until the end of the Civil War.

A contributing factor to colonial Americans attachment to slavery was the need for a large workforce to toil over the agricultural endeavors of Southern colonies. Slavery provided landowners with an inexpensive workforce that could be expanded at virtually any time. Thus the demand for slaves persisted throughout the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.

However slavery also occurred in the all the colonies. Slaves were utilized for domestic service Evidenced comes from multiple advertisements for slaves posted in newspapers printed in the New England and Middle Atlantic colonies. There were advertisements regarding slaves in the Connecticut Courant, the Providence Gazette, and the New-York Gazette, among others. In the fall of 1766, the Connecticut Courant included an advertisement that said “TO be sold for Cash or 6 Months Credit … One Negro Boy.” In the Providence Gazette there was a advertisement that stated: “To be sold at Public Vendue … A likely healthy active Negro Boy, about fourteen Years old.” The New-York Journal included this advertisement in one of its October issues: “TO BE SOLD, A fine Female Slave.” It is obvious from the widespread nature of these advertisements that slavery was an established part of society throughout all the colonies.

Connecticut Courant (October 6, 1766).


Providence Gazette (October 11, 1766).


New-York Journal (October 16, 1766).

Thankfully, the practice of slavery was abolished in the 1800s, but the transatlantic slave trade shaped our country in ways no founding father could have imagined. The legacy of slavery persisted after its abolition, causing strife for descendants of slaves. That is why learning about the roots of slavery is important. It has contributed to years of human rights abuses, the rise of humanitarian movements, and important political change. Even though this part of our history is abhorrent, we need to remember our past in order to ensure justice and equality in the future.



Megan notes that slavery was not restricted to colonies in the Chesapeake and Lower South. Instead, as the advertisements she has chosen for today demonstrate, slavery and the slaver trade were part of colonial culture and economics in New England and the Middle Atlantic as well. I appreciate how she shows that advertisements for slavery were spread across newspapers printed in each region of colonial America in the fall of 1766. For my additional commentary, I am examining how such advertisements were concentrated in one particular issue.

According to the project’s methodology, Megan needed to select an advertisement from a newspaper printed exactly 250 years ago today. That gave her only one option in terms of choosing a newspaper: the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was the only newspaper printed on October 28, 1766. It’s not surprising that when she consulted that issue that she chose an advertisement for an impending slave auction. In total, eighty-four advertisements appeared in that issue. Fourteen of them advertised slaves. Some offered dozens of slaves for sale, cargoes recently arrived from Africa, as was the case in the advertisement Megan chose. Others sought to sell individual slaves, sometimes as part of estate sales. Some warned against runaway slaves and offered rewards for their capture and return. Some notified masters that escaped slaves had been captured and told them where to retrieve their human property. It would have been practically impossible to look at this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal without noticing numerous advertisements explicitly connected to slavery and the slave trade.

The visual aspects of the advertisements made it even more likely that readers would focus on advertisements for slaves. Only ten advertisements featured any sort of image, a woodcut that would have been a standard part of any printer’s stock. These woodcuts included two ships (one for a departing vessel and another for imported goods), two houses (both for properties to be leased), and one horse (for a stolen gelding). The other five woodcuts all depicted slaves, three runaways and two Africans on display to promote auctions from cargoes recently arrived from Africa. The woodcuts depicting slaves were spread out over three of the four pages of the broadsheet newspapers. Considering the density of text in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, these advertisements were among the most prominent items that appeared in that issue.

Megan demonstrated the breadth of advertisements for slaves in newspapers printed in several regions during the fall of 1766. That is important, but it tells only part of the story. The depth of advertising in specific issues and particular newspapers also merits further investigation. That is part of the work my entire Colonial America class is doing with the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.

September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1766 South Carolina Gazette
South Carolina Gazette (September 8, 1766).

“DAVID & JOHN DEAS, HAVE JUST IMPORTED … an assortment of other goods.”

Contrary to what this short advertisement, rather plain and unremarkable in its appearance, may suggest, David and John Deas made their mark on the history of advertising thanks to the infamous broadsides (what we would call posters today) that they distributed in Charleston, South Carolina, in the decade before the American Revolution.

Not much distinguishes this advertisement for textiles, including “A LARGE supply of WHITE and COLOURED PLAINS,” from other commercial notices about imported goods that appeared in the same issue of the South Carolina Gazette. David and John Deas are much better remembered (and not just by scholars who specialize in economic history or advertising) for this broadside that circulated in Charleston and beyond nearly three years later.

Sep 8 - Deas Broadside
David and John Deas’s broadside for a slave auction (Charleston, 1769). American Antiquarian Society.

This broadside measures 32 x 20 cm (12 ½ x 8 in), which would have made it a good size to post around town or pass out as a handbill. The woodcuts depicting “PRIME, HEALTHY NEGROES” and the graphic design are both crude, but exceptionally memorable, at least to modern viewers. The haunting images of Africans treated as commodities elicit emotional responses today, but that would not necessarily have been the case in the 1760s. While it would have been impossible not to notice the images on the broadside, colonial consumers would not have been shocked by advertisements treating people as commodities. Accustomed to trade cards and billheads with images more skillfully and effectively rendered, colonists likely would not taken particularly favorable notice of the artistic or aesthetic qualities of the broadside.

David and John Deas’s newspaper advertisement for textiles did not indicate any direct involvement with the slave trade, though the merchandise they stocked made them part of transatlantic networks of commerce and consumption that depended on human cargoes and the staple crops produced through the labor of enslaved men, women, and children. Still, the juxtaposition of their newspaper advertisement and their broadside offers an important reminder that advertisements often provide evidence concerning only a portion of a shopkeeper’s, merchant’s, or firm’s business enterprises. How many other advertisers who promoted general merchandise via their advertisements at one time or another imported and auctioned slaves?

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 21, 1766).

“A Parcel of healthy SLAVES, men, women, boys, and girls.”

This advertisement reveals a hidden history of slavery that has been largely forgotten in the United States, forgotten because it is both convenient and comfortable to overlook, forgotten because it disrupts familiar narratives about when and where Americans traded slaves and owned enslaved men, women, and children. In particular, the slave trade and the presence of slaves are associated with colonies in the Chesapeake and the Lower South. Most people tend to think of those colonies that became the northeastern United States as territories that never practiced slavery or profited from the slave trade.

This story has not been completely overlooked. Many historians of early America have devoted their careers to uncovering and examining the histories of both the presence of enslaved peoples in northern colonies as well as the networks of trade and commerce that inextricably tied northern colonies and their economic welfare to participation in the transatlantic slave trade. In addition to the work of these specialists, other historians have increasingly integrated slavery in the northern colonies and states into the larger narrative of American history they include in their publications for fellow scholars and in the course content they deliver to students. Many public historians have also sought to address slavery conscientiously and responsibly in their efforts to present the past to audiences beyond traditional classroom settings.

Yet it seems fair to continue to describe this as a hidden history, an intentionally overlooked history. The students who enroll in my early American history courses every year are more likely than not to assume that slavery was not a part of the New England experience. In a variety of forums, public historians report that they regularly encounter visitors either unaware of the history of slavery in northern colonies or willfully resistant to acknowledging its existence alongside the stories they want and expect to be told.

Today’s advertisement, however, makes clear that slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were indeed part of everyday life and commerce in places other than Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. Today’s advertisement announced that “A Parcel of healthy SLAVES, men, women, boys, and girls” were “Just imported, from the river Gambia” and would be “sold upon low terms, by James and William Harvey, merchants” in Philadelphia. Even in Pennsylvania, “The quality of the slaves from the abovementioned river, is so well known, that nothing further is necessary to recommend them.” In other words, colonists in the north had a more than passing awareness and familiarity with slaves and the transatlantic slave trade.

The advertisement does not mention that this “Parcel of healthy SLAVES” consisted of 100 men, women, and children. Nor does it mention that 120 had been loaded on the Ranger off the coast of Africa, but twenty had died during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic. Those numbers come from other sources that have been compiled at Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Those sources also reveal that the Ranger sailed directly from Africa; it did not make stops in other American ports. These men, women, and children were always intended for sale in one of the northern colonies, not any of the colonies in the Chesapeake or Lower South that operated on a plantation economy.

Today’s advertisement is just one piece of evidence, but it is not the only piece. Slavery was a significant part of the colonial experience throughout the colonies, not just in the southern colonies. It is part of American history that cannot be overlooked, at least not if we want to be honest and truly understand the past that has led to the present.