What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A NEAT SECOND HAND CHAIR … hams, gammons, jowls, and bacon.”
Many colonists placed newspaper advertisements for a particular reason. The December 9, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, included several real estate notices that focused exclusively on the properties for sale. Other advertisements cautioned against runaway slaves or described employment opportunities. Some marketed imported goods to consumers. Mary Hepburn’s short advertisement announced that she intended to depart from Georgia and wished to settle accounts.
In contrast, certain advertisements had more than one purpose. If colonial printers and compositors had practiced any sort of system of classification to organize the paid notices in their newspapers, such advertisements would have likely been divided into shorter notices and grouped with similar ones. Instead, the contents of individual advertisements sometimes seemed as haphazard as the assortment of notices printed in the same column or on the same page.
Such was the case with John Morel’s advertisement. In the course of two short paragraphs Morel, a prominent merchant, switched from hawking a used carriage, a “NEAT SECOND HAND CHAIR … with very good harness,” to selling pork products, including “hams, gammons, jowls, and bacon.” In the process, he addressed two very different sorts of readers. Due to the expense, only the most affluent colonists would have been in the market for a carriage, whether new or “SECOND HAND.” However, “any family” would have needed hams and bacon for sustenance.
The dual purposes of Morel’s advertisement, like the hodgepodge of content throughout the rest of the newspaper, testify to habits of intensive reading in the eighteenth century. Given that far more colonists would have been interested in purchasing pork than a used carriage, Morel depended on careful attention to his advertisement. He assumed that readers would not pass over the remainder of the advertisement when they noticed the carriage at the beginning but instead continue reading to the end, including the portion that marketed hams and bacon. Certainly not every reader actually read every word of the newspaper, but the lack of organization made it imperative for readers to cast more than a casual glance to find the content they desired.