July 19

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jul 19 - 7:18:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 18, 1766).

“If not sold, which the publick will have notice of in the Gazette of that date, it will be sold at publick sale.”

Many of the newspapers that modern researchers consult have been preserved not as individual issues but instead in bound volumes that have drawn together weeks, months, or years of a single publication, arranged chronologically. The original subscribers might have bound those or archivists may have bound them for preservation at a later time. Either way, each bound volume often represents a collection of newspapers that belonged to an individual or a family.

That certainly seems to be the case with the copies of the Virginia Gazette from 1766 made available for public consultation by the Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library. Each issue has a fair amount of marginalia among the advertisements, a variety of marks and manuscript notes added after the newspaper was printed. Who made these notes? As I continue to work with (the digital surrogates of) these newspapers, it seems increasingly clear that the printers made these notes for their own purposes of bookkeeping and, as today’s advertisement suggests, editing.

First, consider the “3” next to the advertisement. This most likely suggests that it was the third time the advertisement appeared. Indeed, two weeks earlier it ran for the first time (with an “x” in manuscript added next to it) and for a second time in the previous week’s issue (with a “2” in manuscript added later). The same advertisement, with modifications to be discussed in a moment, ran the following three weeks (with a “4,” “5,” and “x” in manuscript added later in the corresponding weeks). Its appearance in a sixth consecutively published issue on August 8, 1766, was the last time it was inserted in the Virginia Gazette. These markings likely aided the printer in determining when it was time to discontinue the notice based on the advertiser’s orders.

The first version of the advertisement included a nota bene stating that if the plantation offered for sale was not purchased before July 18 that it would go up for “publick sale” (auction) at a later date, which would be announced “in the Gazette.” Today’s iteration of the advertisement appeared on that deadline, July 18. Apparently John Hollowell did not manage to sell the plantation “at private sale” because the advertisement appeared three more times.

Jul 19 - 7:25:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 25, 1766).

The marks on today’s iteration of Hollowell’s advertisement indicate the revisions made for its subsequent appearances. The nota bene was dropped completely. A new headline appeared (announcing that the auction would take place on August 5, three days before the advertisement made its final appearance). The last two lines were slightly revised to incorporate a portion of the original nota bene. Otherwise none of the other type was reset. The remainder of the advertisement appeared just as it had originally.

The advertisement certainly tells us about real estate transactions in early America, but today I focused on the marginalia in a particular collection of the Virginia Gazette as a means of exploring how certain colonists (in this case, printers) used newspapers and advertisements beyond announcing sales and inciting demand. This offered a glimpse of some of the business practices of the printers of the Virginia Gazette.

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