February 17

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 17, 1767).

“Men, women, boys and girls worsted, cotton, thread, and silk stockings.”

Thomas Radcliffe’s lengthy advertisement filled more than two-thirds of a column in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but it could have been published in any of the nearly two dozen newspapers printed in colonial America in 1767. Radcliffe promoted his “large and neat Assortment of Goods” that he “sold on the most reasonable Terms.” He listed scores of specific imported items included in his inventory, yet concluded with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc. etc.”) to suggest an even more vast array of goods customers would encounter in his shop. In so doing, he emphasized that customers could make their own choices based on personal tastes and budgets. The appeals he made to consumers matched appeals other advertisers made in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and throughout the colonies.

Yet it was not only Radcliffe’s marketing strategies that would have looked familiar to visitors from other colonies who read his notice in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Shopkeepers throughout the colonies would have hawked the merchandise he stocked, a result of so much of it being imported from London and other English ports. T.H. Breen has labeled this the standardization of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Unique markets or regional tastes did not develop.

As a result, the letter by the pseudonymous Anthony Afterwrit published in the Providence Gazette just a few days before Radcliffe’s advertisement made its way into print hundreds of miles to the south could have appeared in any of South Carolina’s newspapers. The Afterwrit character might have expressed dismay at the bounty of goods offered to colonial shoppers, especially the “women’s fashionable hats, shades, handkerchiefs and scarfs” and “new fashionable stuffs for ladies gowns” intended the catch the attention of women, like his wife, interested in using conspicuous consumption to attest to their social status. Radcliffe’s advertisement even concluded with a “compleat set of tea china,” one of his wife’s acquisitions that Afterwrit explicitly lamented. Afterwrit conveniently ignored, however, merchandise marketed directly to men, such as “men’s silk, worsted and cotton caps” and “gentlemen’s watch chains.”

That demonstrates yet another aspect of colonial commerce common throughout the colonies: editorials that complained about feminized luxury achieved via consumption that appeared in the same newspapers that ran advertisements that marketed all sorts of goods to both female and male consumers.

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