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?

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.