Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704–1807
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 18, Number 3, Summer 2020
- pp. 287-323
- View Citation
- Additional Information
In eighteenth-century North America, slavery was a powerful economic pillar supporting the printing business. Runaway advertisements, for example, were a lucrative and consistent source of revenue for printers. But there was another, largely unnoticed link between slavery and print capitalism: thousands of newspaper advertisements directed readers to "enquire of the printer" for information about the sale of enslaved people. These notices put printers in a position to bring together buyers and sellers of enslaved human beings—effectively acting as brokers of the slave trade. Most printers in eighteenth-century North America seem to have engaged in this practice. Despite complaints from a few late eighteenth-century antislavery writers, who recognized the hypocrisy of placing these advertisements alongside materials that advanced a revolutionary vision of political liberty, American printers continued to broker slave sales until their economic incentives shifted in the early nineteenth century. If newspapers aided the creation of American Revolutionary and national politics, as scholars have long argued, they also contributed to the perpetuation of slavery and the slave trade. Print culture was inextricable from the culture of slavery, just as print capitalism was slavery's capitalism.