February 18

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

feb-18-2181767-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 18, 1767).

“SILK-WORM SEED.”

The February 18, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette included only a small number of advertisements for consumer goods and services. Instead, the production of local commodities for export played a much more prominent role among the notices in that issue. In one advertisement, an overseer “who understands the planting of Rice, and making of Indico” sought employment. In the lengthiest advertisement, filling more than half a column on the final page, George Baillie announced that “the Hemp seed ordered to be purchased at the Publick charge is now received” and invited “all persons who are inclinable to make any trial or experiment in planting seed” to contact him. That part of the notice was fairly short. The bulk of the advertisement was given over to extensive “Directions for the Culture, Raising, and Curing of Hemp.” Due to its exceptionally strong and durable fibers, hemp was a valuable commodity for making rope, used widely aboard ships pursuing Britain’s maritime commercial ventures as well as its navy.

The shortest advertisement simply stated, “Notice is hereby given, That the SILK-WORM SEED Is now ready to be distributed as usual at the house of JOSEPH OTTOLENGHE.” This “seed” was actually the eggs of silkworms. From its founding in 1732, the trustees of the Georgia colony encouraged silk production. In 1735, Governor James Oglethorpe famously transported eight pounds of silk to England, which was then used to make a dress for the queen. In 1749, England eliminated duties on silk imported from Georgia. According to Frank P. Bennett, silk produced in Georgia “was of such a high grade that it commanded a price in the London market three shillings higher than any other silk in the world.”[1] The silk industry in Georgia, however, declined in the 1770s and disappeared after the Revolution, in part because the invention of the cotton gin at the end of the century made that commodity so much more profitable.

American colonists were able to participate in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century because they produced surplus goods for export as a means of affording the vast array of goods imported from London and other English ports. (Networks of credit also helped colonists acquire those baubles of Britain.) The advertisements promoting the colonial production of rice, indigo, hemp, and silk in the Georgia Gazette were counterparts to other advertisements hawking goods to prospective customers.

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[1] Frank P. Bennett, History of American Textiles: With Kindred and Auxiliary Industries (Boston: 1922), 108

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