November 19

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

nov-19-11191766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 19, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD, A SMALL ISLAND or NECK of LAND … belonging to the estate of Col. Kenneth Bailie, deceased.”

This advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette is a description of Colonel Kenneth Baillie’s home and lands. After the death of the colonel, three executors and one executrix published this advertisement for the sale of his estate.

I already knew that executor is the term for someone who carries out instructions for a will. What I didn’t know, however, was that in colonial times women executors had their own term, which was “executrixes.” The executrix named in this advertisement, according to genealogists, was the Colonel’s wife, Elizabeth Baillie. In general, executors and executrixes were named in the will of the deceased, and they were often given specific items or property in the will. We can assume that some or all of the executors received some part of the Colonel’s estate, and they decided to sell the estate rather than keeping it.

This advertisement reveals a lot about the Colonel Bailie. First of all, we know something about his status and military service because he was addressed as a colonel. We also know how many acres of land he owned, which tells us a bit more about his status in colonial Georgia. He owned many acres for cattle, hogs, and sheep, as well as lots of space for gardening.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

On rare occasions I allow guest curators to depart from the established methodology for the Adverts 250 Project. In general, the project features an advertisement only once. Today’s advertisement, however, was featured relatively recently. Two advertisements for consumer goods and services that have not yet been included in the Adverts 250 Project were printed in the same issue of the Georgia Gazette. Why not instruct Mary to choose one of those instead?

I approved today’s advertisement for second appearance because I wanted an opportunity to explore some of the opportunities and constraints of the project. First, I’ll acknowledge two aspects of Mary’s analysis that I especially appreciated. Women placed disproportionately few advertisements as shopkeepers and other sorts of purveyors of goods and services during the eighteenth century. They appeared with a bit more regularity in various legal notices, such as this advertisement placed by Colonel Kenneth Baillie’s executrix and executors. Mary used this notice to demonstrate one of the roles that many women assumed at some point in their lives during the colonial era. In addition, Mary incorporated a type of source only infrequently consulted for entries on the Adverts 250 Project: genealogical records. Professional historians do not always adequately recognize the efforts of family historians and amateur genealogists in reconstructing relationships that help all of us to better understand the past.

In selecting this advertisement to make a second appearance, Mary has also recovered an element of eighteenth-century advertising that sometimes gets overlooked as a result of insisting that any particular advertisement may only be featured once. That obscures the fact that a great many advertisements ran for weeks or even months at a time, often with no updates or revisions. Today’s advertisement may look familiar to those who visit the Adverts 250 Project regularly; it would have certainly looked familiar to readers of the Georgia Gazette who saw only a limited number of advertisements in the once-weekly four-page issues of that newspaper. The Adverts 250 Project moves from newspaper to newspaper, city to city, every day. Colonists, however, would have had access to far fewer newspapers and far fewer advertisements. Those that lived in cities with multiple newspapers with robust advertising, such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, would have encountered a fairly broad array of advertisements, but readers in other places would not have seen the same range of advertisements that the Adverts 250 Project features.

Mary’s examination of this advertisement accomplished one other significant objective. She and former guest curator Ceara Morse demonstrated to their peers that there is no single “correct” interpretation or analysis of an advertisement. They each consulted different sources and learned different lessons about colonial America. At the same time, they both addressed common themes about property and status in eighteenth-century America.

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