What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“SUBSCRIPTIONS are taken in by the Printer of this Paper.”
The many and various advertisements for consumer goods and services in the January 23, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal included a subscription notice for “Essays on … the Indians, on the Continent of North-America” by James Adair, who had resided “the greater Part of 33 Years among the Indians themselves.” Those essays focused “Particularly” on the Catawbas, Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws “inhabiting the western Parts of the Colonies of Virginia, North and South-Carolina, and Georgia.” Given their proximity, the author or publisher expected that the proposed book would resonate with prospective subscribers in South Carolina … and in Georgia. The same subscription notice ran on several occasions in the Georgia Gazette in late 1769 and early 1770.
Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, acted as local agents on behalf of the author or publisher. The book would not go to press until enough “subscribers” expressed interest and confirmed their intention to buy it by putting down a deposit in advance. By enlisting local agents and seeking subscribers in South Carolina, Georgia, and likely other places as well, the author or publisher aimed to enlarge the market and make the proposed book a viable endeavor.
The advertisements in the two newspapers contained exactly the same copy (except for the final word, “Paper” instead of “Gazette”). The author or publisher may have written out the advertisement once and then carefully copied it into letters directed to multiple printing offices. Alternately, the subscription notice may have appeared once in one newspaper and then the author or publisher forwarded clippings along with requests to insert the notice in other newspapers when soliciting the cooperation of additional local agents. Depending on the sophistication of the marketing efforts, the author or publisher may even have distributed broadside subscription notices with space for subscribers to sign their names. The copy for newspaper advertisements could have been drawn directly from such broadsides.
Regardless of how the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and the Georgia Gazette ended up publishing advertisements with identical copy, readers in the two colonies encountered the same subscription notice within a single week. This contributed to the creation of an imagined community among colonists, a common identity as readers and consumers, as the press presented the same news items, reprinted from one newspaper to another to yet another, and, sometimes, the same advertisements as well.