September 22

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

Sep 22 - 9:22:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 22, 1767).

“Yorkshire stuffs, fit for house negroe’s gowns.”

John Davies frequently placed advertisements in Charleston’s newspapers in the 1760s, promoting the “Great variety of sundry merchandize” he imported from England and Ireland. His commercial notices incorporated fairly sophisticated marketing methods. In today’s advertisements, for instance, he offered a discount on Irish linens (“15 per cent. under the common advance”) and “no charge of commissions” because his supply chain eliminated middlemen and buying in credit. To obtain his ware, he “bought of the manufacturers with cash.” Unlike most other advertisers, he specified prices for some of his inventory, including “Yorkshire stuffs … at 8s. 9d. the yard” and blue and white plains at 10s. per yard,” which allowed potential customers to engage in comparison shopping before visiting Davies’s “store in Beadon’s Alley.”

All of these factors made Davies’s advertisements noteworthy, but another element also merits attention for what it reveals about life in eighteenth-century South Carolina. Davies lived and worked in a slave society. In distinguishing between slave societies and societies with slaves, the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative defines slave societies as settlements “where slavery stood at the center of politics, the economy, labor experiences, and social identities. Slaveholders made up the ruling class in these areas and the master-slave relationship shaped all aspects of society and daily life.” (In societies with slaves, on the other hand, “the institution of slavery was relatively peripheral to local economies and white social status.”)

Davies’s advertisement reveals just one of the many ways that slavery shaped commerce and everyday life in colonial South Carolina. Those Yorkshire stuffs that Davies sold at the low price of eight shillings and nine pence per yard were “fit for house negroe’s gowns.” Davies realized that many potential customers owned slaves, some of whom worked in domestic service rather than laboring to raise rice, indigo, or other agricultural commodities. He directed customers to take note of a textile appropriate for clothing enslaved women who worked in the home, a fabric fitting to their station (as opposed to the “negroe cloth” often advertised to clothe most other enslaved men, women, and children) but that also testified to the status of slaveholders who assigned some of their human property to domestic service. Slaveholders needed a fabric that was fine enough, but not too fine, to reflect well on them should visitors glimpse their domestic “servants” at work. He gave that part of the local culture only casual acknowledgment, making no fanfare or otherwise distinguishing that particular appeal from the rest of the advertisement. Instead, the “Yorkshire stuffs, fit for house negroe’s gowns” were sandwiched between descriptions of other textiles.

A nota bene, however, did stand out from the remainder of Davies’s advertisement. In it, he informed readers that “A young Negro Fellow, who is a good Cook, is wanted on hire.” This notice was unrelated to the “Great variety of sundry merchandize” Davies sold at his store, yet he apparently did not believe that it merited a separate advertisement. Instead, he appended it to an advertisement for his business. His own arrangements for domestic labor performed by an enslaved man merged with a commercial notice intended to entice customers to make purchases from him. The institution of slavery was inseparable from commerce and domestic life in Davies’s advertisement.

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