What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Has just imported for Sale from LONDON, By the CHARMING SALLY, Capt. RAINIER.”
To inform residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony that he now stocked “AN ASSORTTMENT of MEDICINES, and sundry other Articles,” Lewis Johnson placed an extensive advertisement in the June 29, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. In it, Johnson listed everything from “Peruvian bark” to “West India castor oil” to “Spirit of lavender.” In addition to ingredients for compounding remedies, Johnson also carried several popular patent medicines, including “Bateman’s drops,” “Godfrey’s cordial,” “Turlington’s balsam,” and “Anderson’s pills.”
Johnson must have rushed his advertisement to press, though he may have written the copy in advance of receiving a new shipment of merchandise. Before listing his wares, he informed prospective customers that he “Has just imported for Sale from LONDON, By the CHARMING SALLY, Capt. RAINIER,” the dozens of items he enumerated. Johnson’s advertisement filled most of a column on the second page. The facing page featured a variety of advertisements and news items, including the shipping news for the previous week. Among the arrivals and departures at the port, on June 28 the “Ship Charming Sally, Peter Rainier” had ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” from London. The vessel that carried Johnson’s new inventory arrived the day before his advertisement ran in the Georgia Gazette. The shipping news that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper bolstered his assertion that he carried fresh goods rather than leftovers that had sat on shelves or in storage. This also suggests one manner in which readers engaged with newspapers; Johnson may have expected readers to move back and forth between news items and his advertisement to tell a more complete story.
The copy of this issue of the Georgia Gazette that has been preserved, photographed, and digitized provides other evidence about how some readers used newspapers. Four of the items in the left column have small checkmarks next to them. Why? This was not an indication for the printer or compositor to remove those items in subsequent insertions. All four appear throughout the entire run of Johnson’s advertisement. Instead, someone took note of those items in particular. Perhaps a prospective customer used the advertisement to make a shopping list. Perhaps a competitor marked items of interest. We will probably never know what those checkmarks signified, but they do testify that the advertisement garnered notice. It was not merely published and overlooked by readers of the Georgia Gazette.