For our county’s first 250 years, millions of enslaved Africans lived and worked within the original thirteen colonies and the ever-expanding United States of America. Rhode Island was one of the earliest and most active shipping sites in the American colonies, which between 1705 and 1805 launched nearly 1,000 slaving voyages, frequently from the port at Newport.
The prime source of information at that time was the printed newspaper. As a leading commodity, enslaved Africans were frequently listed as part of the commercial advertisements in the earliest newspapers of the day. Perhaps one of the oldest newspapers in the country, the Newport Mercury (Rhode Island), which dates back to 1758 when the widow and son of James Franklin (Benjamin Franklin’s brother) established the paper, carried many such advertisements.
Presented here are a few of the actual advertisements from the Newport Mercury newspaper between1760 to 1806, the most active era of slave trading and ownership in Colonial Newport. Each advertisement provides a rare and important glimpse into the time when men, women and children were seen as little more than chattel property. Some of the announcements will describe African women as “good breeders,” “lusty,” and “strong.” While others will provide an important primary reference to the African origins and skilled trades of the enslaved. And many will promote the sale of children directly from Africa to Newport. It is the intention of this narrative that the advertisements will provide a forum for future learning, discussion and education to a part of American history that bears greater public examination.
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