June 15

GUEST CURATOR: Joseph Vanacore

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

Newport Mercury (June 15, 1772).

“A SLOOP of 84 tons, with all her stores.”

I found Abraham Barker’s advertisement in the June 15, 1772, issue of the Newport Mercury very interesting. The shipbuilding industry was extremely important to the colonies and played a significant role in the economy of the New England—in this case, Rhode Island specifically. Ships were essential to the survival of the colonies in countless ways. The shipbuilding industry was a lucrative portion of the economy, while simultaneously supporting the lumber industry. Ships were used for transportation of people and goods, fishing, communication, and naval and coastal defense, as well as many other purposes. With a strong shipbuilding tradition, the colonies were able to encourage and achieve a strong mercantile tradition.

Barker’s advertisement told of the robust shipping industry of Newport, Rhode Island, as well as the surrounding towns, including Tiverton. The ports of Rhode Island were a valuable location for colonial commerce as well as arriving merchants from Britain, providing a hub of trade for the region. According to historians at the John Carter Brown Library, Rhode Island also played a major in the transatlantic slave trade, for a time accounting for the home ports of approximately 20% of all slave trading ships in continental North America. Rhode Island’s well-suited harbors and prime location between the ports of Boston and New York allowed the colony’s shipping and shipbuilding industries to flourish.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

There are many pedagogical benefits to inviting students in my courses to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  They gain experience working with primary sources, pursuing independent research that incorporates both primary and secondary sources, identifying the significance of the advertisements they select, crafting an argument, writing, and revising.  Throughout the entire process, they understand that they do not have an audience of one, the professor, as is the case with most assignments, but instead are making contributions to a digital humanities project consulted by fellow students, scholars, and the general public.

I ask students to select their advertisements but not to conduct too much research until I approve those advertisements for inclusion in the project.  I wish to make sure that their advertisements fit within the general themes of the Adverts 250 Project.  I also steer students away from any advertisements I suspect will be too difficult to research.  In general, I recommend that these novice researchers choose advertisements that focus on a commodity or a service that helps to tell a story about commerce, politics, or everyday life in eighteenth-century America.

In previous semesters, students have often struggled when working with advertisements offering ships for sale, usually because they focused too much on the descriptions of particular ships.  As a result, I initially told Joe that I was not certain that Abraham Barker’s advertisement about a sloop for sale was the best choice for this project, but I was open to learning more about why he selected it and what he hoped to accomplish before rejecting it and instructing him to find another advertisement.  Joe then explained that he was not interested solely in this particular vessel but instead wanted to learn more about shipbuilding and shipping in New England, especially Rhode Island.  Even before he commenced his research, he had ideas about the bigger picture, the larger significance of this advertisement, rather than getting bogged down in the details in the notice.

After that conversation with Joe, I enthusiastically approved the advertisement.  I was even more pleased with the work Joe did for the Adverts 250 Project when he submitted a draft that incorporated Rhode Island’s prominence in the transatlantic slave trade, building on one of the central themes of a course that grappled with the tension between liberty and slavery during the era of the American Revolution.  I doubt that I would have selected Barker’s advertisement to feature today, which makes me all the more pleased with the entry inspired by it that Joe has crafted.  That underscored another aspect of students serving as guest curators that I especially enjoy.  We work together as colleagues rather than only as teacher and student.  Their ideas and contributions matter in our shared endeavor.

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 8:2:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 2, 1770).

“A Parcel of young healthy NEW NEGROES.”

A woodcut that crudely depicted four figures, presumably enslaved men, women, and children, adorned an advertisement in the August 2, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  One of the few visual images in that issue, the woodcut likely drew attention to the advertisement, despite its shortcomings.  Its presence in the New-York Journal testifies to the presence of enslaved people and the operations of the transatlantic slave trade in New York in the era of the American Revolution.  Colonists encountered enslaved people as they went about their daily activities in the busy port.  They also encountered representations of enslaved people in the public prints as well as an even greater number of notices about enslaved people that consisted entirely of text.  John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal and an enslaver himself, aided in perpetuating slavery in America and the transatlantic slave trade by publishing advertisements offering enslaved people for sale and notices promising rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves.

The advertisement featuring the woodcut announced the arrival of “NEW NEGROES” in the colony.  Comprised of “Men, Women, Boys, and Girls” ranging in age from ten to twenty-two, these “NEW NEGROES” arrived in New York directly from Africa.  The advertisement did not indicate where in Africa, nor did it specify how many enslaved men, women, and children survived the Middle Passage.  The Slave Voyages database estimates that this “Parcel of young healthy NEW NEGROES” consisted of 103 enslaved people who made it to New York.  (See Voyage #37023.)  An estimated fifteen died during the transatlantic crossing, but such advertisements never revealed that information.  Instead, they focused solely on assuring prospective buyers that the people they treated as commodities were indeed “healthy” and thus a sound investment.

According to the Slave Voyages database, three vessels transported an estimated 376 enslaved people to New York in 1770.  The brigantine Elliot featured in this advertisement was just one of those vessels.  The advertisement placed in the New-York Journal at the culmination of the Elliot’s voyage represented only a fraction of the slave trade undertaken in New York at the time.

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 9, 1770).

“No Part of the Cargo will be sold but in the Yard on the Day of Sale.”

It was the first advertisement readers encountered as they perused the May 9, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  John Graham informed the residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony that the Cavendish had recently arrived “from SIERRALEON on the Windward Coast” with “A CARGO” of 200 “Young and Healthy SLAVES.”  This “CARGO,” humans reduced to commodities, would be offered for sale in less than a week.  Graham asserted that the Africans experienced a “short Passage” across the Atlantic, suggesting that they had not had enough time to become ill while aboard the Cavendish.  Such advertisements never mentioned how many perished during the Middle Passage. Furthermore, neither Graham nor other enslavers worried much about the health of the enslaved Africans for their own sake.  Instead, Graham offered these assurances to convince prospective buyers of the value of the “CARGO” and bolster prices.

In addition to the usual information that appeared in advertisements of this sort, Graham added a final note: “That those who propose to become Purchasers may have an equal Chance, no Part of the Cargo will be sold but in the Yard on the Day of the Sale.”  In other words, prospective buyers could not arrange for private sales and select the best of this “CARGO” in advance of the sale open to all bidders on the designated day.  This starkly underscored the interests of those who participated in the slave trade while ignoring the humanity of the young Africans offered for sale.  For those who invested in the voyage, it tended to their interests by increasing the likelihood that multiple buyers would seek to outbid each other when they could select from among the entire “CARGO,” thus maximizing profits.  For prospective buyers, it tended to their interests as consumers, alerting them that they would not be deprived of the opportunity to examine all of the merchandise and choose their favorites, as if the Africans who arrived on the Cavendish were no different than textiles, housewares, hardware, and other goods imported to Savannah on other ships and then put on display in the town’s shops.  The note at the end of Graham’s advertisement addressed the desires of prospective purchasers, further obscuring the fact that the enslaved Africans were also imbued with desires of their own.

May 17

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

May 17 - 5:17:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 17, 1769).

“HANDCUFFS and CHAINS … and sundry other Stores proper for the African trade.”

The business of slavery was apparent throughout the Georgia Gazette and other colonial newspapers in the 1760s, especially in the advertisements. While some newspapers certainly published more advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children than others, none excluded such content. From New Hampshire to Georgia, advertisements looking to buy or sell slaves or capture those who managed to escape from colonists who held them in bondage appeared among the other advertisements in the public prints. Even if they were not slaveholders themselves, colonial printers facilitated and profited from the trade in enslaved men, women, and children.

Even more so than usual, this was the case for James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, in the May 17, 1769, edition. In addition to the sorts of advertisements that ran week after week in his newspaper, this issue included an advertisement promoting supplies for slavers involved in “the African trade.” Some of these goods could have been sold to purchasers involved in a variety of endeavors, such as the “FORTY IRON BOUND PUNCHEONS” (or barrels) and “a TON of GUINEY RICE.” Yet the other items offered for sale were not so prosaic: “HANDCUFFS and CHAINS,” “SIX SOLDIERS MUSKETS,” and “FOUR CARRIAGE GUNS.” These were not merely supplies for transatlantic voyages; they were tools of violence and subordination required for trafficking in human cargo.

Elsewhere in the same issue auctioneers Ewen and Bolton advertised a “NEW NEGROE WENCH,” a woman who was not “country born” in Georgia or elsewhere in mainland North America. In another advertisement, William Coachman described “SARAH, a tall Guiney wench” who had escaped a month earlier. Both had survived the middle passage from Africa to the American colonies. As women, they were less likely than their male counterparts to spend the voyage in “HANDCUFFS and CHAINS,” but, at the very least, they most certainly saw other captives so restrained during the ordeal. Both had been subject to the violence of the slave trade and ongoing exploitation upon arriving in Georgia.

All of that was part of a system that played a significant role in sustaining newspapers like the Georgia Gazette. Eleven advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children ran in the May 17 issue, making Johnston complicit in “the African trade.” The advertisement for “HANDCUFFS and CHAINS” and other equipment for participating in the transatlantic slave trade did not make the printer any more complicit. Instead, it underscored the depravity of the enterprise that appeared so prominently in the pages of his newspapers week after week.

April 30

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 1, 1769).

“NEGROES … from CAPE-MOUNT, on the WINDWARD COAST, which is in the center of a RICE COUNTRY.”

Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton took out this advertisement in the South Carolina and American General Gazette to inform readers that a slave ship had just arrived. The advertisement stated that “A CARGO of Three Hundred PRIME YOUNG NEGROES Arrived Yesterday”

from Cape Mount on the Windward Coast of Africa. The captain was looking to offload its cargo on Wednesday, May 10, 1769. The advertisement speaks volumes about the economy of South Carolina in the era of the American Revolution. A slave ship with three hundred young black men and women would have been a welcomed sight for plantation owners looking to increase their labor force. Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton made sure in this advertisement to state that these slaves came from the Windward Coast. The reason for this, according to Joseph Opala, was that these slaves would already have expertise in farming rice. Colonists had found that the climate in South Carolina was perfect for farming rice; however, very few people had the skills to do so. This made slaves coming from the Windward Coast or the “Rice Coast” even more valuable because they came from fishing and rice farming villages.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton’s advertisement was one of many in the May 1, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that indicated the origins of enslaved men, women, and children offered for sale. The partners provided very little information about the human cargo except to note that these “PRIME YOUNG NEGROES” came “from CAPE-MOUNT, on the WINDWARD COAST, which is in the center of a RICE COUNTRY.” Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton gave a short geography lesson, anticipating that it would resonate with prospective buyers precisely for the reasons that Patrick outlines in his analysis of the advertisement.

In another advertisement, John Chapman and Company announced the sale of “Two Hundred and Fifty NEGROES, Arrived … directly from GAMBIA.” Edmond Head placed yet another for “A CARGO of One Hundred and Twenty-six PRIME NEGROES … from GAMBIA.” Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton also placed a second advertisement, that one concerning “A CARGO of Three Hundred and Forty PRIME HEALTHY NEGROES, Arrived … directly from ANNAMABOE, on the GOLD COAST of AFRICA” (in modern Ghana). All of these advertisers expected that documenting the origins of enslaved men, women, and children made them more attractive to prospective buyers.

According to the Slave Voyages database, twenty-two vessels carrying at least 4277 captives arrived in Charleston directly from Africa in 1769. Another thirty-eight vessels from other ports, all of them in the Caribbean or mainland North America, also delivered enslaved men, women, and children to Charleston in 1769. Each of those vessels carried far fewer slaves. Still, the port of Charleston, one of the largest cities in the American colonies, was a vibrant slaving center on the eve of the American Revolution. Prospective buyers had many choices, prompting slave traders to attempt to distinguish the African men, women, and children they treated as commodities according to their particular places of origin and the types of expertise associated with laborers from those faraway places.

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.

August 10

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

Aug 10 - 8:10:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 10, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD at YAMMACRAW, A PARCEL OF NEW NEGROES.”

Several advertisements in the August 10, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette offered slaves for sale. Some concerned individual slaves (“A VERY HANDY YOUNG COUNTRY BORN WENCH”) or small groups of slaves (“Four Prime Negroes” and “ONE NEGROE WENCH, and TWO CHILDREN”) to be sold by their owners, but colonists who made their livelihood from trading in human property placed other advertisements for larger quantities of enslaved men, women, and children. The latter included a brief notice inserted by John Graham and Company announcing the sale of “A PARCEL OF NEW NEGROES” slated for sale at Yamacraw Bluff, the site where James Oglethorpe landed when he founded the Georgia colony in 1733. The place named for and formerly inhabited by the Yamacraw, a group of Creek Indians, became the point of arrival in North America for Africans involuntarily transported across the Atlantic.

Yet Georgia was not the first colony where these captives from Africa entered port on the western side of the Atlantic. Graham and Company’s advertisement indicated that these “NEW NEGROES” from Gambia were “Part of the Cargo of the Schooner Fortune.” Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database provides more information about the experiences of the human cargo aboard the Fortune. After acquiring 121 Africans in Gambia, James Baird and his crew set sail for Barbados. Only 109 of the captives survived the Middle Passage to disembark at some point after the Fortune arrived at an unspecified port in Barbados on June 25, 1768. The Fortune returned directly to Africa to trade for more slaves.

Some of the slaves who disembarked in Barbados then experienced what Gregory E. O’Malley has termed transshipment. Surviving the Middle Passage was not the end of their journey. Instead, lacking sufficient buyers at their original port of arrival in the Americas, they were loaded aboard other vessels and shipped between colonies to other markets for purchase. Graham and Company’s advertisement does not indicate how many of the 109 “NEW NEGROES” who disembarked in Barbados then made another journey to Georgia, nor does it indicate how many friends and relatives who survived the Middle Passage to the island colony only then found themselves separated from each other by slave traders who dispersed them to even more distant places in hopes of finding buyers.

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.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:10:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 10, 1767).

“Just imported … from London … Also in the last vessels from Philadelphia.”

This advertisement by Samuel Douglass and Company (formerly Douglass, Elbert, and Company) in the Georgia Gazette depicted the colonial crossroads of trade in the eighteenth century. While many shopkeepers placed notices that promoted imported goods from particular places (most notably the lengthy list advertisements of manufactured wares from England), these merchants outlined the many networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic and beyond.

Douglass and Company’s inventory came from diverse places. They stocked a “GENTEEL ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS,” an array of dry goods, housewares, and hardware. Various textiles made in the East Indies had been first transported to London before continuing on to the colonies. Other goods had been manufactured in the English provinces and then made their way to faraway markets.

Other products did not cross the Atlantic. Instead, they were part of the coastal trade that connected the colonies (and their economies) to each other. Farmers in the Middle Atlantic colonies, for instance, produced surpluses of wheat, butter, and meat that became important supplies for other English colonies in North America and, especially, the plantation economies of the West Indies. Douglass and Company received their dry goods via London, but ship bread, flour, hams, and other foodstuffs and agricultural products arrived “in the last vessels from Philadelphia.”

Finally, Douglass and Company sold other grocery items, particularly sugar, produced in the West Indies and shipped to the mainland colonies in exchange for agricultural goods. Enslaved Africans toiling on plantations had produced the sugar. Their labor was not mentioned in this advertisement, making Douglass and Company’s sketch of trading networks incomplete. The transatlantic slave trade was a major component of a vast system of exchange in the eighteenth century, one that made the others represented in Douglass and Company’s advertisement both possible and profitable. Douglass and Company may not have sold enslaved Africans themselves, but their venture depended on that endeavor. The map of commerce and exchange conjured in their advertisement was both extensive and incomplete.

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?