Newspaper acknowledges it profited from slave trade through ads

HARTFORD, Conn. - In a front-page admission of ''complicity'' in the slave trade, The Hartford Courant acknowledged that it profited in the 1700s and 1800s by publishing scores of ads for the sale of slaves and the recapture of runaways.

Such advertisements were commonplace in Northern newspapers until the Civil War was under way, but the newspaper said Tuesday it felt compelled to apologize for that dark chapter in its history as the nation's longest continuously published daily.

''We are not proud of that part of our history and apologize for any involvement by our predecessors at The Courant in the terrible practice of buying and selling human beings that took place in previous centuries,'' said Ken DeLisa, a spokesman for the newspaper.

In its story, which ran across the top of the front page, The Courant noted how it recently had published stories examining how insurer Aetna Inc. had apologized in March for having sold policies to slave owners.

''The stories about Connecticut's slave profiteers had a glaring omission: The Courant itself,'' the paper said in an account detailing slave ads signed by Thomas Green, who founded the newspaper in 1764. It said the paper ran such ads at least until 1823, and that many ads placed by the owners of runaway slaves offered cash rewards.

The paper's early editors also espoused openly racist views. Thomas Day, who bought The Courant in 1855, wrote in one editorial: ''We believe the Caucasian variety of the human species superior to the Negro variety; and we would breed the best stock.''

Because ads in The Courant and other papers gave descriptions of slaves, they have become an invaluable tool to historians trying to reconstruct how slaves lived and were treated, said Richard Newman, a scholar at Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African-American Research.

''Those ads have become extremely useful to scholars because they are one of the few places that describe slaves physically, their appearance, what type of clothes they wore, whether they were literate, what type of talents they had,'' he said.

Andriena Baldwin was reviewing old editions of The Courant on microfilm while researching Hartford's black heritage with her class when she spotted an ad including a boy for sale along with swine and butter.

''We just stood there for five minutes,'' she said. ''We were just shocked that they would put a person in the same category as food.''

Billie Anthony, a former Hartford teacher whose students have examined the ads, said they were as important as they are disturbing.

''We may not always like what we find,'' she said, ''but the truth is valuable.''


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