October 28

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

oct-28-10281766-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 28, 1766).

“A CARGO consisting of about ONE HUNDRED and FORTY young and healthy new NEGROES.”

I chose this advertisement because it demonstrates the inhumane and terrible slave industry in colonial America. The advertisement demonstrates how racial barriers dehumanized Africans in the eighteenth century. Because of their skin tone and origin, Africans were thought of as commodities, not as human beings. This idea is horrifying and irrational to modern readers. However, the transatlantic slave trade was a reality of American culture for hundred of years. In fact, slavery persisted in Southern society until the end of the Civil War.

A contributing factor to colonial Americans attachment to slavery was the need for a large workforce to toil over the agricultural endeavors of Southern colonies. Slavery provided landowners with an inexpensive workforce that could be expanded at virtually any time. Thus the demand for slaves persisted throughout the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.

However slavery also occurred in the all the colonies. Slaves were utilized for domestic service Evidenced comes from multiple advertisements for slaves posted in newspapers printed in the New England and Middle Atlantic colonies. There were advertisements regarding slaves in the Connecticut Courant, the Providence Gazette, and the New-York Gazette, among others. In the fall of 1766, the Connecticut Courant included an advertisement that said “TO be sold for Cash or 6 Months Credit … One Negro Boy.” In the Providence Gazette there was a advertisement that stated: “To be sold at Public Vendue … A likely healthy active Negro Boy, about fourteen Years old.” The New-York Journal included this advertisement in one of its October issues: “TO BE SOLD, A fine Female Slave.” It is obvious from the widespread nature of these advertisements that slavery was an established part of society throughout all the colonies.

oct-28-1061766-connecticut-courant
Connecticut Courant (October 6, 1766).

**********

oct-28-10111766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (October 11, 1766).

**********

oct-28-10161766-new-york-journal
New-York Journal (October 16, 1766).

Thankfully, the practice of slavery was abolished in the 1800s, but the transatlantic slave trade shaped our country in ways no founding father could have imagined. The legacy of slavery persisted after its abolition, causing strife for descendants of slaves. That is why learning about the roots of slavery is important. It has contributed to years of human rights abuses, the rise of humanitarian movements, and important political change. Even though this part of our history is abhorrent, we need to remember our past in order to ensure justice and equality in the future.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Megan notes that slavery was not restricted to colonies in the Chesapeake and Lower South. Instead, as the advertisements she has chosen for today demonstrate, slavery and the slaver trade were part of colonial culture and economics in New England and the Middle Atlantic as well. I appreciate how she shows that advertisements for slavery were spread across newspapers printed in each region of colonial America in the fall of 1766. For my additional commentary, I am examining how such advertisements were concentrated in one particular issue.

According to the project’s methodology, Megan needed to select an advertisement from a newspaper printed exactly 250 years ago today. That gave her only one option in terms of choosing a newspaper: the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was the only newspaper printed on October 28, 1766. It’s not surprising that when she consulted that issue that she chose an advertisement for an impending slave auction. In total, eighty-four advertisements appeared in that issue. Fourteen of them advertised slaves. Some offered dozens of slaves for sale, cargoes recently arrived from Africa, as was the case in the advertisement Megan chose. Others sought to sell individual slaves, sometimes as part of estate sales. Some warned against runaway slaves and offered rewards for their capture and return. Some notified masters that escaped slaves had been captured and told them where to retrieve their human property. It would have been practically impossible to look at this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal without noticing numerous advertisements explicitly connected to slavery and the slave trade.

The visual aspects of the advertisements made it even more likely that readers would focus on advertisements for slaves. Only ten advertisements featured any sort of image, a woodcut that would have been a standard part of any printer’s stock. These woodcuts included two ships (one for a departing vessel and another for imported goods), two houses (both for properties to be leased), and one horse (for a stolen gelding). The other five woodcuts all depicted slaves, three runaways and two Africans on display to promote auctions from cargoes recently arrived from Africa. The woodcuts depicting slaves were spread out over three of the four pages of the broadsheet newspapers. Considering the density of text in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, these advertisements were among the most prominent items that appeared in that issue.

Megan demonstrated the breadth of advertisements for slaves in newspapers printed in several regions during the fall of 1766. That is important, but it tells only part of the story. The depth of advertising in specific issues and particular newspapers also merits further investigation. That is part of the work my entire Colonial America class is doing with the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 12, 1766).

James & Mathew Haslett … have set up their Factory at the Sign of the Buck and Glove.”

Relatively few artisans or shopkeepers included images in their newspaper advertisement during the eighteenth century. Although printers already possessed the type, advertisers were responsible for providing any woodcuts beyond the stock printers ornaments. As a result, most advertisements placed by artisans and shopkeepers lacked images. In contrast, advertisements for runaway slaves, real estate, and vessels clearing port often sported woodcuts of slaves, houses, or ships, respectively. Each type of those stock ornaments could be used interchangeably for advertisements from the associated genre.

On the other hand, when advertisements placed by artisans and shopkeepers included woodcuts, those images were specific to a particular advertiser. In most cases, the text of the advertisement suggested that the image illustrated the shop sign that marked the advertiser’s establishment. The woodcut in James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement even depicted a shop sign!

The visual culture of the newspaper corresponded to the scenes readers saw on the street. But how closely did these woodcuts replicate the shop signs they were intended to portray? It’s tempting to assume that they were designed to reproduce the original as much as possible, yet the woodcut in the Hasletts’ advertisement throws that supposition to question. The image that appeared in the September 12 issue was the second one used by the Hasletts. Just two weeks earlier they published the same advertisement with a different (but similar) woodcut, before replacing it in the September 4 and September 12 issues. (The woodcut did not appear in the New-Hampshire Gazette again after that throughout the rest of 1766.)

Why did the Hasletts switch from one woodcut to another? What kind of expenses were involved in that decision? Was including a woodcut in their advertisement worth the investment? Did the Hasletts distribute any handbills or billheads that incorporated the same woodcut? Did the new woodcut more closely replicate their actual shop sign?

Today’s advertisement offers some refreshing visual culture among eighteenth-century advertisements usually comprised exclusively of text. However, it also raises questions about the decisions made by advertisers and how closely the crude proto-logos that appeared in newspaper advertisement portrayed the shop signs they were supposed to reference.

While researching this entry, I consulted the original newspapers in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society in addition to the digital surrogates in Readex’s Early American Newspapers.

Sep 12 - Haslett 8:29
Detail of James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette (August 29, 1766). American Antiquarian Society.
Sep 12 - Haslett 9:4
Detail of James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette (September 4, 1766). American Antiquarian Society.
Sept 12 - Haslett 9:12
Detail of James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette (September 12, 1766). American Antiquarian Society.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:25:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766).

“RUN away from his Master … a NEGRO Man named Neptune.”

John Moody placed this advertisement when “a NEGRO Man named Neptune” – almost certainly not the name bestowed on him by his parents when he was born – ran away. This advertisement stands in stark contrast to the one featured yesterday, though both came from the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Yesterday’s “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” encouraged readers to put on all kinds of displays upon receiving word that the Stamp Act had been repealed. This advertisement, however, asserted that black bodies should be on display and encouraged readers to take note of any “NEGRO Man” they encountered. Black bodies were figuratively on display in the crude woodcut that could have been any enslaved man. Black bodies were literally on display – scrutinized closely – any time readers attempted to assess if a black man fit the description in the advertisement. “Neptune” could change his clothing, but the fugitive could not disguise certain physical characteristics: “lost two of his Toes, and can’t move his Under Jaw.” Determining if a black man fit this description could require sustained observation; these are not attributes that would necessarily be noticed at a glance. While many colonial Americans engaged in public spectacles to celebrate the end of the Stamp Act, “Neptune” likely did all he could to avoid becoming a public spectacle, but today’s advertisement encouraged colonial Americans to think of all black bodies as some sort of public spectacle to be observed and scrutinized.

March 13

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

Mar 13 - 3:13:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 13, 1766).

“BOLTON and SCOTLAND, At the Sign of the Blue Hand.”

As soon as I saw this advertisement I knew that I had to select it. It didn’t matter what it said, only that it included a visual image, a woodcut of a (presumably blue) hand that likely replicated the “Sign of the Blue Hand” where Bolton and Scotland operated their business “in Race-street, between Front and Second-streets, Philadelphia.”

Most newspaper advertisements for goods and services did not include images of any sort during the eighteenth century. Unlike type that could be used repeatedly and for any purpose (set, broken up, and reset for a new job), images were often very specific to a particular advertiser’s business. This image of a hand would not have worked for any advertiser who did not happen to run a business “At the Sign of the Blue Hand.”

This is not to say that other kinds of advertisements were devoid of images. Printers usually had a small selection of woodcuts, especially ships, houses, and runaway slaves, that could be used interchangeably and generically in advertisements for vessels preparing to leave port, real estate, or seeking the return of runaways.

Shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants who wanted to spruce up their advertisements, however, had to commission their own woodcuts, but then those woodcuts belonged exclusively to them and did not appear in other advertisements. This may be obvious when looking at the Blue Hand, but it is worth keeping in mind that it applied to other sorts of woodcuts associated with particular shops. For instance, a woodcut of a spinning wheel that accompanied John Kean’s advertisements was used exclusively in his advertisements – as a brand of sorts – and was not inserted in other advertisements for textiles.

Today we are accustomed to advertisements that include stimulating visual images. In the eighteenth century, however, advertisements were typically comprised mostly of text. Images were an exception rather than the rule.

Bonus: Edward Pole’s Advertising Campaign

Yesterday evening I discovered that the American Antiquarian Society included a newspaper advertisement in its Instagram feed earlier in the day, a delightful surprise made even better by a generous reference to the Adverts 250 Project.  Please visit the AAS Instagram feed to see the advertisement and their commentary.

I was also excited because I recognized the advertiser, Edward Pole, a “Fishing-Tackle-Maker” who also operated a wholesale and retail grocery store in Philadelphia in the 1770s and 1780s.  Unlike most newspaper advertisements featured in the Adverts 250 Project so far, Pole’s advertisement (from fifteen years later, June 1781) included a woodcut to catch readers’ attention:  a striking image of a fish, certainly appropriate for an entrepreneur who peddled fishing tackle.  Woodcuts accompanying newspaper advertisements became more common during the last third of the eighteenth century.  Some advertisers, like Pole, used them as brands for their products and businesses.

Pole’s woodcut probably looked familiar to consumers in Philadelphia in 1781.  It appeared regularly in the Pennsylvania Packet (at least as early as May 1774), but that was not the only newspaper that included a woodcut of a fish with Pole’s commercial notices.  Pole placed advertisements for fishing tackle, including a very similar fish (this time with a decorative border), in the Freemen’s Journal in 1784.

Pole Newspaper Advert
Advertisement from the Freemen’s Journal (March 24, 1784).  Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

In addition,the savvy Edward Pole made use of multiple advertising media.  He distributed an engraved billhead for his receipts as early as the 1770s.  The billhead’s elaborate engraving featured a triptych logo in the upper left corner of the sheet, complete with rococo-style frames surrounding casks, crates, and scales on the left and right and the words “Edwd Pole’s GROCERY STORE Wholesale & Retail” in the center.  This billhead, with manuscript notations from 1771, is part of the Norris Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Sometime in the late 1770s or early 1780s, he also distributed engraved trade cards featuring a rectangular vignette of two gentlemen fishing in a stream above a description of the wares stocked in his shop.  Pole eventually resorted to broadsides (or, in modern terms, posters) for his business ventures.

Edward Pole Trade Card
Edward Pole’s Trace Card (ca. 1780).  Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

In addition to trade cards, billheads, and broadsides, Pole most prolifically advertised in several of Philadelphia’s newspapers, often distinguishing his advertisements from others on the page by including a woodcut of a fish, as we have seen.  Pole’s use of multiple media allowed him to publicize his wares widely.  Most advertisements relied exclusively on newspapers for their marketing, but Pole took an innovative approach by experimenting with other forms as he encouraged potential customers to visit his shop.