One of the big challenges for historians trying to understand the slave trade and how life was for Africans coming to the United States is the ugly reality of a lack of available source material. Too often, historians are left looking for information where none exists because the primary source material from the slave trade was either never constructed or lost over time. With this in mind, in order to see what life was really like, one can consider alternatives types of primary sourcing, such as advertisements. It is often said that one can tell a lot about a country and how it operates by looking at the business documentation and advertisements used during a period.
From the Runaway Slave advertisement, one can see just how commoditized slaves actually were. She is described based upon her physical attributes rather than on any other qualities. Likewise, one can sense the sheer concern in the words of the slave owner, not because he feels for her as a person, but because he thinks he lost something valuable. This is a critical part of the process in understanding how slaves were treated.
Likewise, from the mass slave sale advertisement, one can see the way slaves were dehumanized. They were discussed in terms of how they were sanitized, and people needed to be reassured that the slaves were not carrying disease. One can surmise from this that the conditions aboard the ship that brought them were horrific, and one can also see that the people who bought them only cared about these issues to the extent it impacted their own safety and investment. The words on these advertisements truly provides a breakdown of what life was like for slaves, who were not respected as human beings in their own right, but rather, were also contextualized in terms of what they could bring of value to other people.