What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“They have entered into Co-partnership, and continue to carry on the FACTORAGE BUSINESS.”
Like many other colonial newspapers, the masthead for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.” In other words, printers promoted their newspapers by claiming that they delivered accounts of current events as soon as they became available. Local news appeared quickly, but news from other colonies, Great Britain, Europe, and other distant places took more time to report. Printers published letters they received from distant correspondents and reprinted items as newspapers arrived from other colonies and London.
In addition to those “freshest Advices,” colonial newspapers also contained significant amounts of advertising. On occasion, some even seemed as though they were delivery mechanisms for advertisements rather than purveyors of news. The February 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal provides an extreme example. It consisted almost entirely of paid notices from the first page to the last. In the first column immediately below the masthead readers encountered a header for “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.” Charles Crouch, the printer filled all three columns of the first page with advertisements. He inserted one column featuring news from Charleston and towns in other colonies, shipping news from the customs house, and a poem to entertain readers on the second page. Otherwise, advertising constituted the remainder of the second page and the entire third and fourth pages. Overall, paid notices accounted for eleven of twelve columns in the February 12 edition.
That did not mean, however, that readers did not have access to the “freshest Advices.” Advertisements delivered a variety of news, especially about local people and events. One notice published on February 12, for instance, identified colonists who did not appear in court to serve as jurors and would be fined if they did not “make good and sufficient Excuses, upon Oath, for their Non-Attendance.” Several estate notices informed the public of deaths, accounts to be settled, and real estate and household goods for sale. One advertisement described enslaved men who liberated themselves, offering rewards for their capture and return while simultaneously encouraging readers to scrutinize all Black men they encountered. Another notice lamented that “there are many Gentlemen who have Plantations and Negroes in the Parish of St. James, Goose Creek, and no white Man on them, by which Means, the Negroes are enabled to prosecute all Manner of Roguery.” The advertisement then instructed such offenders to “provide white Men for their respective Plantations” and organize patrols or face legal consequences. An array of advertisements, including one in which William Gibbes and William Hort offered their services as factors or brokers, kept readers informed about local commerce. One advertisement in Welsh invited those who could read it to participate in St. David’s Day celebrations.
Crouch did not print many news articles in that particular edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but that did not mean that he neglected to provide readers with valuable information. The advertisements presented the “freshest Advices” about many local and regional events, keeping readers informed.