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.