What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“JUST arrived … two hundred choice healthy Windward and Gold Coast slaves.”
Eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods often deployed formulaic language, especially for goods “just imported from” London or other ports in England or the Caribbean. This advertisement offers several variations on those familiar advertisements.
First of all, “the ship Apollo, Capt. Elias Glover,” carried human cargo – slaves – rather than the “bauble of Britain” so frequently advertised in newspapers throughout the colonies. Although slaves were often offered for sale in the New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies, ships loaded with two hundred Africans usually did not sail into those ports. Here we encounter a regional difference in the kinds of advertisements that appeared in local newspapers. Rather than a ship loaded with textiles, housewares, and grocery items, Captain Glover’s vessel delivered people who had been reduced to commodities to be put up for sale.
The slave traders who sold this human cargo – Thomas Tabb, William Bolden, and John Lawrence – reported that the Apollo had come from Africa, but they do not make clear whether it had made any stops along the way. Were these slaves being imported directly from Africa? Or had the Apollo stopped in the Caribbean or other ports on the North American mainland before making its way to the James River?
Not unlike advertisements for dry goods or hardware, this notice emphasized the quality of the commodities offered for sale: they were “choice” and “healthy.” Furthermore, they came from specific places in Africa, the Windward and Gold Coasts. Plantation owners often desired slaves from particular regions, associating specific skills or knowledge with those places.
All in all, even though the wording differed from advertisements for goods imported from England, this and other advertisements for slaves took a similar tone. What seems horrifying from a twenty-first-century perspective was business as usual for slaveholders and slave traders. None of that even takes into account the perspectives of the enslaved Africans themselves.