This poster is an advertisement for a sale of captive people, held in 1760 in Charleston, South Carolina, United States. The poster would have been displayed weeks before the sale, on public bulletin boards, in the windows of local businesses, and in newspapers and pamphlets.
Enslaved people from this ship (the Bance-Island) would have been of particular interest to South Carolina plantation owners, because they hailed from the "Windward and Rice Coasts." The Windward and Rice Coasts lie along Africa's central Atlantic shoreline, and include the present-day nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, and Benin.
Africans from the Rice Coast were valuable to South Carolina farmers because they were familiar with growing and harvesting the colony's cash crops, rice and indigo. Human traders who saw African farmers cultivate rice along the Rice Coast immediately recognized the potential for growing the crop in the "Low Country" of South Carolina, which shares a similar geography and climate: flat, tidal streams and flood plains; barrier islands; humid summers; and forested inland areas.
African captives brought to colonial America helped establish the rice-based economy of South Carolina. They knew how to regulate irrigation with levees, flood gates, and drains. Their knowledge contributed to the shift of rice cultivation from inland swamps to tidal flood plains. By the time of the American Revolution, the crop was second only to tobacco in terms of economic value to the new nation.
Enslaved people were also instrumental in indigo production. Indigo is native to tropical Africa, and communities along the Windward and Rice Coasts had hundreds of years' experience cultivating the plant and producing its valuable dye. In particular, Africans knew the complex chemical process needed to transfer the blue color to fabric—the dye is not water-soluble. In 1744, Eliza Pickney, a white woman, and unnamed African captives cultivated a new strain of indigo that flourished in South Carolina. It soon became the colony's other cash crop.
Captives sold at Charleston auctions like this one were immediately put to work, mostly in indigo and rice plantations. The work was exhausting—backbreaking labor in flooded fields susceptible to harmful microbes and mosquitoes. More than a third of enslaved children died before their first birthday, mostly due to malaria and malnutrition.
Colonial travelers to South Carolina's plantations called the rice and indigo fields "charnel houses."