February 24

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

South Carolina Gazette (February 24, 1767).

“For LONDON, DIRECTLY, The Snow JUDITH, JOHN DAVIS Master, FOR freight of skins or indico.”

This advertisement is unique for the Adverts 250 Project because it did not advertise goods or services, but it instead advertised the shipment of raw materials (skins and indigo). Advertisements for this project usually focus on the consumption of goods, not the shipment of goods.   Earlier this week, I posted an advertisement regarding the cultivation and use of indigo in the colonies during the eighteenth century. When indigo appeared in today’s advertisement, I decided to look more closely at its shipment between England and the colonies.

In “Indigo Production in the Eighteenth Century,” Kenneth H. Beeson, Jr., notes major producers of indigo at this time were Guatemala, Venezuela, and Mexico.[1] However, Great Britain preferred to get indigo from its own colonies, exploiting the colonies for their goods and resources. As I mentioned in my post about indigo earlier this week, the most significant producers of indigo in the colonies were Georgia and South Carolina. Once Great Britain collected what they needed from the colonies, they would then ship back British manufactured goods. Many of the advertisements posted in eighteenth-century newspapers mentioned “English goods.” The influx in importation of British goods ultimately resulted in the countless advertisements, seen in part in the Adverts 250 Project.

Map showing exportation of indigo and importation of British manufactured goods in the eighteenth century.  Infobase Publishing.

This map depicts the British Empire’s transatlantic trade routes during the eighteenth century. It shows the exportation of indigo from South Carolina to Great Britain. The map also shows the importation of manufactured goods from Great Britain to the colonies. This trade was supposed to benefit the colonies and Great Britain, but Parliament’s attempts to regulate that trade in the 1760s and 1770s led to resistance and eventually independence.



In preparing the image of today’s advertisement, Shannon and I made a decision to include a header that appeared immediately above it rather than the advertisement alone. That header, in an ornate font and larger than other text on the front page of the South Carolina Gazette, proclaimed “New Advertisements.” Peter Timothy, the printer, intended it guide readers as they examined the contents of the newspaper.

In general, advertisements did not appear according to any sort of classification system during the eighteenth century. Rather than categorize and organize them according to purpose or products, printers instead inserted paid notices in the order received or, depending on length, whatever order deemed necessary to format an issue into columns of equal length. Depending on the preferences of the printer, advertisements could appear anywhere throughout the newspaper. Some printers placed advertisements on the first page. Others exhausted all other content on the first several pages before inserting all of the advertising at the end. In such instances, they sometimes, but not always, inserted a header that simply stated “Advertisements” without revealing which, if any, were new to that issue.

Peter Timothy experimented with providing more guidance to readers of the South Carolina Gazette. To help them navigate the February 24, 1767, issue, he inserted headers for “New Advertisements” and “SALES by the Provost-Marshal” on the first page. The “New Advertisements” header again appeared on the third page, distinguishing nine advertisements from another ten on that page and fourteen on the next that followed an “Advertisements” header and line of printing ornaments that attracted even more attention by dividing the column. Those two dozen advertisements presumably ran in previous editions. Although Timothy inserted a note that “ADVERTISEMENTS unavoidably left out this week, will be in our next,” he also distributed a two-page supplement that included an “Advertisements” header in ornate font for the convenience of readers.

Unlike some newspapers published in smaller colonial cities, the South Carolina Gazette was overflowing with advertisements in the 1760s. Although the printer made little attempt to classify commercial notices and other paid announcements, he did experiment with headers that guided readers to new content. Given that some advertisements ran for weeks or months, such headers were a valuable innovation that likely gave a boost to advertisements running for the first time.


[1] Kenneth H. Beeson, Jr., “Indigo Production in the Eighteenth Century,” Hispanic American Historical Review 44, no. 2 (May 1964): 214-218.

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