What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Two negro boys brought up to the jeweler’s trade.”
When John Paul Grimke, a jeweler, decided to “retire from business” he announced a going-out-of-business sale in the South-Carolina Gazette. He aimed to liquidate his entire “STOCK IN TRADE” via auction at his shop on Broad Street in Charleston beginning in early November of 1769 and continuing into December. Grimke provided a list of his inventory as a means of enticing prospective bidders to view his wares in advance and attend the auctions. His merchandise included “many valuable jewels of most kinds,” “silver handle table and desert knives and forks,” silver hilted swords and hangers with belts,” and “silver and Pinchbeck watches with chains.”
Grimke’s “STOCK IN TRADE” that he intended to auction also included “two negro boys brought up to the jeweler’s trade.” Each had acquired several skills. They could “make gold rings and buttons, engrave them very neatly, and do many other kinds of work.” Realizing that these claims required time and observation to verify, Grimke offered a trial period of one month before making the sale of these enslaved jewelers final.
Advertisements that presented enslaved people for sale testified to the many and varied skills they possessed. Enslaved men, women, and children did not merely perform agricultural labor on farms and plantations. They also worked in homes and workshops in both urban and rural environments. Many were highly skilled artisans who enriched those who held them in bondage not only through their involuntary labor but also through their skill and expertise. Advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette regularly offered enslaved blacksmiths, carpenters, and coopers for sale. John Matthews advertised “two or three Negro Shoemakers” who had “done all my business for nine Years past,” indicating that they had played an indispensible part in the success of his business. Grimke’s enslaved assistants may never have labored in the fields, having instead been “brought up to the jeweler’s trade.” Along with other sources, newspaper advertisements catalog the variety of occupations pursued by enslaved people in eighteenth-century America, expanding our understanding of the contributions enslaved people made to colonial commerce and society. Enslaved artisans, these advertisements demonstrate, played a vital role in the development of the colonial marketplace.