March 14

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

Mar 14 - 3:14:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 14, 1770).

“ORDERED, That the above Resolution be published in the next Gazette.”

In March 1770 the Union Society published a notice in the Georgia Gazette that announced its members “UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED, That a handsome PIECE OF PLATE be presented to JONATHAN BRYAN, Esquire, as a Token of the Sense we entertain of his upright Conduct, as a worthy Member of this SOCIETY, a real Friend to his Country in general, and the Province of GEORGIA in particular.”  For eighteenth-century readers in Savannah and throughout Georgia, such accolades likely needed no explanation.  Bryan played an important role in local politics as the imperial crisis intensified.

Harold E. Davis provides an overview of why Bryan received this honor from the Union Society.  First, he explains that Georgians formed a variety of private societies and organizations in the eighteenth century, not unlike their neighbors in Charleston.  (Jessica Choppin Roney examines similar civic organizations in colonial Philadelphia.)  Established in 1750, the Union Society “consisted mostly of craftsmen concerned with their interests as a class,” but over time enlarged its membership to include “men of more genteel professions.”[1]  The society supported a local school that admitted ten children a year.  “As pre-Revolutionary tensions sharpened,” Davis explains, “the Union Society became active in politics and rallied behind Jonathan Bryan, a member, when Bryan angered Governor Wright in 1769 by presiding over a meeting to discuss nonimportation of British goods.”[2]  Wright expelled Bryan from his council.  The Union Society, in turn, recognized Bryan’s advocacy with a “handsome PIECE OF PLATE” and the resolution published in the Georgia Gazette.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, advertisements for consumer goods and services increasingly invoked the politics of the period, especially nonimportation as a commercial means of achieving political ends.  Yet advertisements that hawked merchandise that arrived in the colonies before nonimportation agreements went into effect or goods produced in the colonies rather than imported were not the only sorts of notices that addressed current events and offered commentary, directly or indirectly, on the news covered elsewhere in newspapers.  Given the close reading practices required to navigate eighteenth-century newspapers, the contents of advertisements, news items, and editorials all informed the others, with advertisements sometimes becoming editorials themselves.  That was certainly the case for the Union Society’s advertisement recognizing the civic virtues demonstrated by Jonathan Bryan.


[1] Harold E. Davis, The Fledgling Province:  Social and Cultural Life in Colonial Georgia 1733-1776 (Chapel Hill:  Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and University of North Carolina Press, 1976; 2012), 169-170.

[2] Davis, Fledgling Province, 170.

Leave a Reply