May 7

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 7, 1771).

“Booksellers in Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, or … Charles-Town.”

Like many other colonial printers, Charles Crouch also sold books, pamphlets, and broadsides.  In the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he advertised titles available at his “Great Stationary and Book Shop.”  He also acted as a local agent for printers and booksellers in other cities, publishing subscription notices and handling local sales.  He did so on behalf of Robert Bell, the flamboyant bookseller responsible for publishing a three-volume American edition of “ROBERTSON’s celebrated History of CHARLES the Fifth.”  Bell coordinated an advertising campaign that extended from New England to South Carolina.  Local agents simultaneously published his subscription notice inviting readers to participate in an “elegant XENOPHONTICK BANQUET” through purchasing his American edition.

When Wells inserted that advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and listed himself as a local agent, he contributed to the creation of a community that extended far beyond Charleston.  Yet settling in for the “XENOPHONTICK BANQUET” was not the only means of joining a larger community that Wells offered to readers and prospective customers.  He appended to Bell’s subscription notice a brief note that he also sold “The Trial of the Soldiers of the 29th Regiment, for the Murders committed at Boston,” printed by John Fleeming in Boston, and “A Funeral Sermon on the Death of the Rev. Mr. Whitefield, by the Rev. Mr. Zubly,” printed by James Johnston in Savannah.  Those two items commemorated two of the most significant events of 1770, the Boston Massacre on March 5 and the death of George Whitefield on September 30.  Both events received extensive coverage in the colonial press.  Both of them also generated commemorative items ranging from broadsides and prints to sermons and orations.

In a single advertisement, Wells linked consumers in South Carolina to geographically dispersed communities that shared common interests not defined by the places individual members resided.  Colonists from New England to Georgia mourned Whitefield, just as they expressed outrage over British soldiers firing into a crowd and killing several people in Boston.  Many colonists also sought to participate in genteel communities defined in part by the books they read, joining in the “grand Feast of historical Entertainment” that booksellers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and other towns offered to them.  Wells did not merely advertise three titles available at his shop; he marketed a sense of community.

Leave a Reply