What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
The November 15, 1773, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette carried more advertising than news or other content. Advertisements filled the entire first page, except for the masthead, most of the second and third pages, and all of the final page. Peter Timothy, the printer, also published a four-page supplement devoted almost exclusively to advertising, though it did feature an essay raising “an ALARM” over the “INTRODUCTION of TEAS into AMERICA, immediately from the East-India Company’s Ware-houses, so that the Duties imposed thereon by the British Parliament, may be paid in America.” Advertisements comprised twenty-one of the twenty-four columns in the standard issue and supplement. From legal notices to calls to settle accounts to notices hawking consumer goods and services to descriptions of enslaved men and women who liberated themselves by running away from their enslavers, those advertisements delivered news in an alternate format.
Unlike content selected by the printer, most paid notices ran in multiple issues. Readers likely encountered many of them more than once as they perused the latest edition of the South-Carolina Gazette each week. To help readers navigate the advertisements, the compositor inserted headers in the standard issue (but not in the supplement). Headers for “New Advertisements” appeared on the first, second, and third pages. Another header for “Advertisements” also appeared on the third page, suggesting that anything that appeared below or after it (including in the supplement) had been published in at least one previous issue. The same headers regularly appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette. Although the headers usually provided reliable guidance, occasionally advertisements from previous issues found their way into the “New Advertisements,” as was the case with Edmund Egan’s notice promoting “CAROLINA BEER” on the first page of the November 15 edition. Printers and compositors generally did not classify advertisements by placing those inserted for similar purposes together. Headers like “New Advertisements” and “Advertisements,” along with “Timothy’s Marine List” introducing the shipping news,” accounted for the first efforts to organize some of the contents and aid readers in navigating the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette.