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).


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).


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?

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.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:30:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 30, 1766).

“JUST arrived in the Brigantine ANTELOPE … directly from the River GAMBIA and SIERRALEON.”

Inglis and Hall announced that they would auction “A CHOICE CARGO of ONE HUNDRED PRIME SLAVES” that had arrived in Georgia “directly from the River GAMBIA and SIERRALEON.”

Thanks to the recent work of Gregory E. O’Malley, I questioned the accuracy of this claim. Had the Antelope and its human cargo actually arrived directly from Africa? Or had it made other stops in the Americas before disembarking slaves in Georgia? Was the “CHOICE CARGO” comprised of all the slaves who had survived the transatlantic voyage? Did local buyers get to choose from among the best specimens of enslaved men, women, and children that had been forced aboard this vessel in Gambia and Sierra Leone? Or had the Antelope first landed in other ports in the Americas? Had Captain Paley already sold the best slaves in other locations? Were Inglis and Hall peddling whatever leftover captives remained and made it to Georgia?

In Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1817, O’Malley demonstrated that the famous Middle Passage was not the final stage of the voyage for captive Africans. Instead, many experienced transshipment within an intercolonial slave trade: they arrived in one port in the Americas but then underwent subsequent journeys before being sold and ending up on a plantation, in an urban household, or whatever their fate happened to be. This prompted my question about the accuracy of the claim that the Antelope had arrived “directly” from Africa.

Readers of the Georgia Gazette could have asked around or consulted the shipping news to verify that the Antelope had (or had not) arrived directly from Africa. Modern historians, on the other hand, have access to Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. The year (1766) and the name of the vessel (Antelope) was sufficient to identify the voyage from this advertisement; other information from the advertisement verified that this was indeed the correct entry. The database (which drew from records that included, but were not limited to, the advertisement) confirmed that Savannah was indeed the “first place of slave landing” in the Americas.

It also reported that 111 enslaved people had been boarded on the vessel, but only 97 survived the transatlantic voyage.

Jul 30 - Slave Voyage Map
Transatlantic voyage of the Antelope with its human cargo.  Voyages:  The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

You can examine other details about this particular shipment of human cargo, including a map, at Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. (I’m inserting a map here, but the database allows visitors to zoom in on the map for greater detail.) O’Malley has recently received a major grant to augment the database with data on the intercolonial slave trade.