What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“HENRY YONGE … intends to depart this province for some time.”
Even more so than usual, the May 31, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette was a delivery mechanism for advertisements of all sorts. From week to week the balance of news, advertising, and other content varied, yet advertisements accounted for significant space in any issue regardless of the relative proportions. After all, advertising provided an important revenue stream that made publication of the rest of the content possible.
In addition to the standard four-page issue, the May 31 edition also featured a one-page supplement. Unlike most other colonial newspapers, James Johnston did not run a masthead across the top of the occasional supplement to the Georgia Gazette. Instead, only the issue number that it accompanied – [No. 296.] – appeared at the bottom of the final column. Otherwise, advertising filled the entire page, just as advertisements filled the entire third and fourth pages as well as the second column of the second page. News ran on the first page and in the first column of the second page. Overall, between the regular issue and the supplement, advertising accounted for seven of ten columns distributed to readers on May 31, 1769.
Much of that advertising consisted of notices for consumer goods and services, including lengthy lists of merchandise for sale by Inglis and Hall, Samuel Douglass, and Lewis Johnson. Other advertisements announced the sale of enslaved men, women, and children or offered rewards for the capture of those who had escaped from slaveholders who held them in bondage. Others described real estate for sale. Half a dozen legal notices appeared in the supplement, one after the other in the closest the organization of the advertisements came to any sort of classification system.
Readers of the Georgia Gazette were accustomed to encountering more advertising than any other content within that newspaper’s pages. That had been the case for all of the issues published in May 1769, but the inclusion of a supplement devoted entirely to advertising at the end of the month underscored that disseminating advertising, rather than news, was an important purpose of the publication.