March 31

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

“RUN-AWAY … a likely black fellow.”

Slavery was common in colonial and Revolutionary America. Slaves were first brought over in 1619 to aid in the production of crops like tobacco. Slaves were cheaper and more plentiful than indentured servants; many colonists took advantage of this. Slavery was harsh and cruel: slaves were beaten for misbehaving. This pushed many slaves to become runaways. Slave owners used newspapers to advertise their missing slaves, and offered rewards for finding them. Many of the advertisements were accurately descriptive of the runaways. Many slaves who ran away stole supplies, especially clothing and food, but sometimes even horses and boats. Today I am examining one example of a runaway slave advertisement that appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. This particular advertisement said that the slave had a wife, and was “well known in town and country.” People were given rewards for returning slaves to their masters. Some slaves that were returned to their masters received harsh punishments, such as whippings and beatings.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Some scholars consider runaway advertisements the first slave narratives. Although written by masters attempting to regain their human property, runaway advertisements reveal aspects of the lives of their subjects that otherwise likely would remain hidden and forgotten through time. Still, they usually lack critical details and only provide outlines of much more complicated stories.

Today’s advertisement, for instance, sought the return of a “likely black fellow, formerly belonging to James St. John’s estate.” In naming the former master but not the enslaved man who ran away, Elizabeth Beatty deprived “the said Negro” of an important part of his identity even as she implicitly recognized the agency he exercised by absconding. Perhaps Beatty believed that she otherwise so adequately described the “likely black fellow” that according him a name was not necessary for readers to identify him. After all, he was “well known in town and country,” making it possible that local residents needed only a cursory description. If the unnamed slave had already demonstrated a propensity for running away that may have rendered additional details unnecessary for neighbors familiar with his misbehavior. If that was the case, Beatty may have placed this advertisement as an announcement for readers to be on the lookout for a repeat offender who was known for visiting “Mr. Lance’s plantation in Goose-creek.” Like so many other runaway advertisements, this one only hinted at the much more extensive narrative of the subject’s life.

That life apparently included a wife, a detail that humanized “the said Negro” despite the intention of the advertisement to treat him merely as a piece of property to be recovered. This detail revealed that enslaved men and women developed relationships and personal lives despite their captivity. They established bonds with others despite their bondage, no matter how diligently or aggressively their masters worked to regulate and surveil their lives. That the “likely black fellow … may be harboured” at Lance’s plantation suggested a conspiracy that included slaves other than just his wife, a community engaged in acts of resistance in support of the runaway’s initial act of resistance.

Elizabeth Beatty published this advertisement in hopes of having human property returned “to the Warden of the Workhouse.” An alternate reading, however, allows us to recover important elements of the experiences of enslaved people in the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

Slavery Advertisements Published March 31, 1767

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter:  @SlaveAdverts250.

Compiled by Megan Watts

Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 1
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 2
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 3
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 5
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 6
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 7
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 8
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 9
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 10
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 11
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 1
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 2
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 3
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 4
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 5
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 6
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 7
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 8
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 9
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 10
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 11
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 12
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 13
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 14
Supplement to the South-Carolian Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

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Mar 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 15
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 30, 1767).

“Coarse & fine Broad Cloths, Bearskins, … German Serges, … Shalloons, … Checks, … Paper for Rooms.”

Elias Dupee planned to sell a variety of goods to the highest bidders at the “New Auction Room in Royal Exchange Lane” in Boston. A dozen or so different kinds of textiles accounted for half of the items he listed in his advertisement, but he also had everything from footwear to furniture on offer for curious consumers, including “Paper for Rooms.” What did Dupee mean by this strange entry? He promoted an item that we now know as wallpaper.

Imported “Paper for Rooms” (or paper hangings, as they were also known in the colonial and Revolutionary eras) entered the American marketplace in the seventeenth century, but wallpaper became increasingly popular during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. In many ways it was quite appropriate for Dupee to sell “Paper for Rooms” alongside an assortment of textiles, especially given that the production of textiles and wallpaper were closely linked. In Wallpaper in America, Catherine Lynn states, “By the early eighteenth century, specialists in block-printing, many of whom had learned their craft decorating textiles, took over wallpaper production from book printers, and textile patterning came to dominate wallpaper design.”[1] An emerging wallpaper trade drew on the expertise of textile designers who had mastered techniques for repeating elements in their patterns. Further facilitating this development, “the same blocks could be used to print on papers as well as on woven fabrics.”[2]

Like the textiles in Dupee’s advertisements, the “Papers for Rooms” would have been imported. Lynn notes that “English styles … dominated the pre-revolutionary wallpaper market in America.”[3] Although the Acts of Trade and Navigation played a role, they probably were not the final or most important factor. English paper hangings were better quality than those produced elsewhere in Europe. Not until the late eighteenth century did French wallpaper equal those produced in England. In the 1780s and 1790s, American advertisers disputed the relative merits of English and French paper hangings compared to those produced in the fledgling United States. For Dupee’s customers in 1767, however, fashion and quality dictated purchasing “Papers for Rooms” produced in England.

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[1] Catherine Lynn, Wallpaper in America: From the Seventeenth Century to World War I (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), 30.

[2] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 30.

[3] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 25

Slavery Advertisements Published March 30, 1767

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter:  @SlaveAdverts250.

Compiled by Megan Watts

Mar 30 - Boston Evening-Post Slavery 1
Boston Evening-Post (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - Boston Post-Boy Slavery 1
Boston Post-Boy (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - Boston Post-Boy Slavery 2
Boston Post-Boy (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - Boston-Gazette Slavery 1
Boston-Gazette (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - Boston-Gazette Slavery 2
Boston-Gazette (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - Boston-Gazette Slavery 3
Boston-Gazette (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - New-York Gazette Slavery 1
New-York Gazette (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - New-York Gazette Slavery 2
New-York Gazette (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - New-York Mercury Slavery 1
New-York Mercury (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - New-York Mercury Slavery 2
New-York Mercury (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - New-York Mercury Slavery 3
New-York Mercury (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - New-York Mercury Slavery 4
New-York Mercury (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - New-York Mercury Slavery 5
New-York Mercury (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - New-York Mercury Slavery 6
New-York Mercury (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - New-York Mercury Slavery 7
New-York Mercury (March 30, 1767).

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Mar 30 - Newport Mercury Slavery 1
Newport Mercury (March 30, 1767).

March 29

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 29 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“Best GREEN-COFFEE … Choice Bohea TEA.”

In colonial and Revolutionary America, coffee was available, but it was less accessible than tea or alcohol. Unlike tea, coffee had to be ground, which was something most colonists did not have as much time to do. So even though tea was more expensive than coffee, it took more time and labor to make coffee than tea. As a result, many colonists typically did not make coffee at home. Colonists who did make their own coffee showed their wealth when preparing or serving it, showing their privileged status.

Those who were not even able to afford tea turned to coffee substitutes. According to Christina Regelski, slaves made their own substitute coffee using ingredients from gardens such as cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and corn.

Tea also played an important role in the American Revolution. After Britain put stricter laws on imports, tea was taxed. Many colonists decided to boycott tea and give up one of the “luxuries that they had come to treasure.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

George Turner sold “A fine Assortment of English GOODS” as well as “Groceries of all Kinds” – including the coffee and tea examined by Evan – at his shop on Queen Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. To attract customers, Turner launched some of the most common appeals used by eighteenth-century advertisers, especially appeals to price and quality, but he supplemented them with several others that found their ways into advertisements less often.

For instance, he advised “Town or Country Customers” that they could “depend upon being used as well by sending their Servants, as if present themselves.” Shopkeepers in port cities regularly indicated that they received and faithfully filled orders from customers in the countryside, an eighteenth-century version of mail order shopping. Turner put a bit of a twist on that means of selling his wares. In this case, he acknowledged that customers might send others – their servants – to shop on their behalf. Doing so potentially put customers at a disadvantage in commercial transactions, but Turner assured readers that he would treat fairly with their representatives in their absence. Potential customers need not worry about being fleeced by the shopkeeper when they sent surrogates to make purchases at his store. That he listed prices for several commodities (rum, sugar, coffee, “COTTON-WOOL”), a fairly uncommon practice in eighteenth-century advertisements, left less room for haggling or surprises at the moment of purchase. In a sense, this mechanized transactions by making it irrelevant who was actually present at the exchange.

In addition, Turner also pledged to barter provisions in exchange for “any of the above mention’d ARTICLES, at a Price proportionate to the aforesaid Prices,” even though he previously announced that he sold his wares “Cheap for CASH.” Although hesitant to extend credit, the shopkeeper did not rigidly insist that every transaction required cash. Instead, he provided potential customers an alternative.

Finally, Turner put a unique spin on his appeal to price: “It is needless to say said TURNER will Sell Cheaper than others, as that would be only questioning the Judgment of the Purchaser.” Apparently it was necessary to make this statement, but in doing so Turner turned it into a self-evident statement of fact. He also absolved himself from any possible accusations of wringing inflated prices out of customers by placing the onus on them. If they bought his wares at higher prices than those charged by his competitors, that was the result of their own poor judgment. Any attempt to question Turner’s fairness became an indictment of a customer’s own competence as a savvy consumer.

George Turner created a lively advertisement that merged some standard appeals with several uncommon arguments in favor of making purchases at his shop. At a glance, his advertisement looks similar to countless others printed in eighteenth-century newspapers, but on closer examination it reveals some of the innovative playfulness possible in advertising during the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

March 28

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 28 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“CROWN Coffee-House.”

According to Colonial Williamsburg, coffeehouses in the eighteenth century were “information centers and forums for debate and discussion.” Coffeehouses were places where people had conversations with others. Most coffeehouses were not limited to serving just coffee, but provided tea and chocolate as well. Some coffeehouses served alcoholic drinks as well, including the “ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c.” at Isaac Williams’s Crown Coffeehouse. Coffeehouses that did not serve alcoholic drinks sometimes struggled to compete with those that did. Coffee, states Steven Topik, was often dismissed as an unnecessary luxury.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Isaac Williams issued a challenge to the readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Rather than simply announce that he stocked and served “the best of LIQUORS” for his patrons at the Crown Coffeehouse in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he dared them to “be so kind as to call and judge for themselves, whether his ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c. is not as good as at other public Houses.” Advertisers in the eighteenth century, like their counterparts today, engaged in a complicated dance with potential customers. They made claims that they wanted readers to believe, often offering assurances of their validity and trustworthiness, but they also expected potential customers to greet their appeals with some skepticism. Williams acknowledged as much, insisting that he “would not have them take his Word.” Instead, he craftily invited comparisons with other establishments. Readers could not make such comparisons, however, unless they actually became customers and sampled the offerings at the Crown on Queen Street.

Once he got them through the doors, Williams promised a variety of amenities in addition to the “best of Liquors.” In addition to the quality of the beverages, “Gentlemen” experienced a refined atmosphere that included “large and small Entertainment, provided in the most genteel manner.” Such entertainment may have included performances by any of the variety of itinerants that Peter Benes examines his recent book, For a Short Time Only: Itinerants and the Resurgence of Popular Culture in Early America. Musicians, singers, magic lanternists, puppeteers, actors, and conjurers all performed in American taverns and coffeehouses throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. In addition, the advertisement indicated that Williams likely completed renovations to make his coffeehouse a comfortable space for men to gather, drink, gossip, conduct business, discuss politics and current events, watch performers, and exchange information. To that end, he invested “considerable Expence … in making his House convenient” for the entertainment of his patrons.

From the liquor, coffee, and food to entertainment, furnishings, and service, Isaac Williams described an atmosphere that could only be truly appreciated by experiencing it. He prompted readers to imagine themselves drinking and socializing at the Queen, making it more likely that some would accept his challenge to visit and “judge for themselves” whether his coffeehouse compared favorably to other public houses.

March 27

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

“Genuine Medeira, Tenerif, and Fayal Wines, per Pipe or lesser Quantity.”

Mar 27 - 3:27:1767 Connecticut Gazette
New-London Gazette (March 27, 1767)

Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall’s advertisement for imported wines and other commodities stood out in the March 27, 1767, issue of the New-London Gazette. It was one of only three advertisements promoting consumer goods and services. One of them advertised ferry service – “A Passage-Boat” – that Ebenezer Webb operated between Long Island and New London. The other, placed by the printer, announced the publication of “An excellent Treatise, entituled Heaven upon Earth.” Very few other paid notices appeared in that issue.

Such was usually the case when it came to advertising in the New-London Gazette. Of the more than twenty newspapers published in the colonies in 1767, the New-London Gazette and Hartford’s Connecticut Courant carried the least advertising, often half a dozen or fewer total notices. Even the Providence Gazette, which experienced a dearth of advertising in the winter of 1766 and 1767, usually filled a page or more with advertisements repeated from earlier issues, but the printers of the New-London Gazette and the Connecticut Courant did not adopt that strategy. Visually, both newspapers from Connecticut stood in stark contrast to their counterparts published in other colonies. Other eighteenth-century newspapers overflowed with advertising, often to the extent that printers distributed supplements devoted exclusively to paid notices of all sorts.

In general, advertisements for consumer goods and services manifested dual purposes in early America. They did more than merely announce the availability of various wares. Instead, advertisers sought to incite demand among potential customers, fueling a consumer revolution that did not emerge from incipient demand alone. In the process of generating demand, advertisers also engaged in competition with others in the same occupation. At least this is the story the Adverts 250 Project tells almost every day. It is a story that flows naturally from the Pennsylvania Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, from the Boston Post-Boy and the New-York Mercury, each of them filled with advertisements, but not from the New-London Gazette or the Connecticut Courant.

What explains the differences? Was advertising primarily an urban phenomenon in the decade prior to the American Revolution? Do other factors explain the relative scarcity of advertising in some, but not all, newspapers published outside the largest cities? This project grew out of a dissertation that examined advertising in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. Consulting as many newspapers from as many places as possible raises new questions and suggests that previous conclusions merit moderation.