March 18

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Providence Gazette (March 18, 1769).

“Choice Indico.”

This advertisement shows that Joseph and William Russell had multiple items for sale, including pork, pepper, and nails. I selected “choice Indico” to examine in more detail. Indigo was used as a blue dye for clothing and other textiles. This highly priced dye was produced in the southern colonies. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “By 1755 the Carolina colony alone was exporting around 200,000 pounds of indigo annually; Georgia was just beginning to export indigo, with 4,500 pounds exported that year. Georgia’s indigo exportation reached its peak in 1770, with more than 22,00 pounds.” Production of indigo collapsed in the colonies at the onset of the Revolutionary War because plantations in Central America and Florida were able to produce more crops per year based on their climate. Indigo dye was important to the colonies. Just like the potash from yesterday’s advertisement, producing indigo and exporting it helped colonists earn money to buy imported goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As we revised earlier drafts of his entry for today’s advertisement, Zach and I discussed the intended audience. He hypothesized that the Russells did not target end-use consumers but instead sought to attract the attention of masters of vessels who needed to supplies when they visited Providence. Zach suspected that much of the “CHOICE Barrel Pork,” cordage, “Nails of all Sorts” hawked by the Russells ended up aboard ships that sailed on commercial ventures from Providence to other places throughout the Atlantic world.

I agree with Zach for a couple of reasons. First, he offers a sound interpretation of the specific commodities offered by the Russells in this particular advertisement. I also agree with him because of the style of the advertisement and the many sorts of goods that it did not include. The Russells were prominent merchants in Providence. They regularly advertised in the Providence Gazette, ranking among the most prolific advertisers in that publication. Their advertisements often invited consumers to visit their shop and examine the variety of items they offered for sale. For instance, one previous advertisement announced “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS,” although it did not describe any of the merchandise. In another advertisement they described their “large, neat, and compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” as “by far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.” Others went into elaborate detail about the Russells’s inventory. They were the first advertisers to experiment with full-page advertisements in the Providence Gazette. On such occasions they listed hundreds of items in stock at their shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” a landmark that became nearly exceptionally familiar in the public prints. In their advertisements placed as retailers, they often addressed prospective customers as “Gentlemen and Ladies both in Town and Country.”

These elements were missing from the Russells’s advertisement in the March 18, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Based on the types of goods offered for the sale, the quantities, and the style of the advertisement, it appears that they sought different buyers than they addressed in many of their other advertisements. This time they operated as merchants providing supplies in bulk rather than as shopkeepers cultivating relationships with consumers.

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