What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He HATH OPENED A WRITING OFFICE.”
James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted advertisements for the blanks (or forms) that he printed and sold to supplement the revenues from operating the colony’s only newspaper. The purposes of those blanks ranged widely, including “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessels and seamen, [and] indico certificates.” Making use of printed blanks allowed colonists to enter into a variety of commercial and legal agreements on their own.
Some colonists, however, did not wish to enter into such arrangements without consulting someone with greater expertise in drawing up agreements and other legal devices, especially when the complexity of their situation exceeded the circumstances anticipated on the standardized forms. In those instances, Benjamin Prime offered his services.
In the summer of 1768, Prime inserted advertisements in the Georgia Gazette to announce that he “HATH OPENED A WRITING OFFICE” conveniently located near the Assembly House in Savannah. There he drew up a variety of “Instruments,” including “Wills, Deeds, Mortgages, Leases, Letters of Attorney, Articles of Agreement,” and much more, as indicated by “&c. &c.” (invoking the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera twice). Prime’s services paralleled many of those achieved by the printed blanks sold at the printing office on Broughton Street.
Yet contracting Prime’s services conferred additional value for his clients, as he underscored in the introductory remarks in his advertisement. He explained that he “hath been bred to the Law, and hath been a practitioner for several years in the province of North Carolina.” He contributed experience and expertise to the transactions and agreements he oversaw, according greater peace of mind to clients who may have been hesitant to rely on printed blanks alone. Given that he had only recently opened his office in Savannah, he publicized his credentials as a means of assuring prospective clients that they could depend on his competence in serving them.