January 24

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

Jan 24 - 1:24:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 24, 1770).

“RUN AWAY … A STOUT LIKELY NEGROE FELLOW, named TIM.”

A dozen advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children ran in the January 24, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Some offered them for sale like commodities. One sought skilled laborers, sawyers and squarers, “on Hire by the Year,” with the wages going to the enslaver rather than the workers. A regular feature, the “Brought to the Work-house” notice that often appeared as the last item on the final page of the Georgia Gazette, described four “NEGROE FELLOWS” captured and confined until those who asserted ownership claimed them.

In the midst of all the depictions of selling and imprisoning of enslaved people spread throughout the colony’s only newspaper, the vast majority of them unnamed in the advertisements, two notices did include names, at least the names that enslavers called those they held in bondage. Charlotte, a woman born in the colonies and “well known about Savannah,” escaped from William Mackenzie a week earlier. Tim, a man “about 30 years of age, Carolina born,” escaped more than a month earlier. Readers could recognize him by his “white whitney great coat, [and] red stroud breeches” as well as by his stutter if they attempted to engage him in conversation or challenge him with questions. Perhaps most distinctively, at some point Tim had been “branded on the left cheek” with the letter “R,” perhaps denoting “runaway” after a previous unsuccessful attempt to make good on his escape.

Like all of the advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children, filtered through the perspectives of enslavers, these two advertisements for “runaways” tell exceptionally abbreviated stories about their experiences. Although incomplete, they testify to a spirit of resistance and survival in the era of the American Revolution. As colonists decried their figurative enslavement to Parliament during the imperial crisis, Charlotte and Tim did not need a tutorial on the meaning of liberty. The fragmentary evidence in newspaper advertisements does not allow historians and others to reconstruct their stories as completely as the stories of white colonists who left behind more documents, but those notices do give us a glimpse of other struggles for freedom that took place during the imperial crisis. Enslaved men, women, and children had been seizing their own liberty by escaping from their captors long before the era of the American Revolution. They would continue to do so for nearly another century until slavery was abolished throughout the United States after the Civil War.

January 23

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

Jan 23 - 1:23:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 23, 1770).

“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.

January 22

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

Jan 22 - 1:22:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 22, 1770).

He has brought with him ample Certificates of his Character.”

When John Girault, “A Native of FRANCE,” arrived in New York, he turned to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to introduce himself to the residents of that city. He also sought employment, stating that he “proposes to teach the French Language.” His origins testified to his knowledge of the language, but also raised suspicions. Less than a decade had passed since the Seven Years War concluded. That war began in the Ohio River valley, contested territory claimed by both Britain and France, but spread far beyond North America. Battles took place around the globe in what became a great war for empire that resulted in France ceding its claim to territory in North America. Yet the enmity between Britain, a Protestant nation-state, and France, a Catholic nation-state, extended back centuries. Colonists in New York had long been suspicious of French and Catholic threats to their colony as well as anxious that strangers from nearby New France would attempt to infiltrate the bustling port city for nefarious purposes.

Girault understood that he faced such suspicions when he migrated to New York. As part of his introduction, he announced that he “has brought with him ample Certificates of his Character, from the Consistory of a Protestant Congregation at Poitou in France, of which he was an Elder, and from the Consistory of a French Church in London, where he has resided for several Years.” As a “Stranger” in the colony, he offered reassurances that he was not a threat, but he did not merely ask his new neighbors to take him at his word. He arrived with documents that they could examine for themselves, in addition to offering “Messrs. James Buvelot, and Francis Bosset” as local references. At the same time that he declared himself “A Native of FRANCE” to establish his qualifications “to teach the French Language,” he also distanced himself from his place of origin by noting that he had lived in London for several years. Perhaps most importantly, he proclaimed himself a Protestant, hoping to alleviate suspicion about what might be his true purpose in the city. Even as New Yorkers and other colonists vied with Parliament over the Townshend Acts, they continued to have other concerns as members of the British Empire. Girault did what he could to address them in order to settle peacefully and to encourage students to take lessons from him.

For more on New Yorkers’ anxieties about French infiltrators in the first two thirds of the eighteenth century, see Serena R. Zabin, Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York.

January 21

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

Jan 21 - 1:18:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“Every lover of his country will encourage … American manufactures.”

Benjamin Randolph, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent and successful cabinetmakers, was also a savvy advertiser. He inserted notices in the city’s newspapers, but he also distributed an elegant trade card that clearly demonstrated the influence of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754). Known for his furniture, Randolph also promoted other carved items produced in his shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” including “a quantity of wooden BUTTONS of various sorts.”

Buttons often appeared among the extensive lists of imported merchandise published in advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers. When consumers purchased textiles and trimmings to make garments, they also acquired buttons. At a time when colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, Randolph offered an alternative to buttons from England. He made it clear to prospective customers that purchasing his buttons served a political function; doing so signaled support for the American cause. Rather than depend on consumer’s familiarity with current events and popular discourse about the political meaning of goods, Randolph plainly stated, “[E]very lover of his country will encourage [his buttons by purchasing them], as well as all other American manufactures, especially at this time, when the importation of British superfluities is deemed inconsistent with the true interest of America.” Randolph encouraged colonists to reject the “Baubles of Britain,” as T.H. Breen has so memorably named the consumer goods produced on the other side of the Atlantic and sent to American markets. Randolph made a bid not only for support of the items he produced but also others made in the colonies, showing solidarity with fellow artisans as they did their part in opposition to Parliament.

Such efforts, however, did not depend solely on Randolph and other artisans. Ultimately, consumers determined the extent of the effectiveness of producing “American manufactures” through the decisions they made about which and how many items to purchase and which to boycott. Randolph had “a quantity” of buttons on hand, but producing more depended on the reception he received from the residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands. He would “keep a general assortment of them” but only “if encouraged.” Consumers had to demonstrate that they would partner with him in this act of resistance once Randolph presented them with the opportunity.

January 20

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

Jan 20 - 1:20:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 20, 1770).

“WEST’s ALMANACKS … To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

In late January 1770, John Carter, publisher of both the Providence Gazette and Benjamin West’s New-England Almanack, continued to advertise the almanac in the newspaper, though he shifted his strategy. He commenced the new year by running the lengthy advertisement that previously ran in the Providence Gazette for many weeks once again in the January 6 edition, but then he did not advertise the almanac the following week. An advertisement appeared once again in the January 20 edition, though much abbreviated. Rather than enticing prospective customers with an extensive description of the almanac’s useful and entertaining contents, the new advertisement simply announced, “WEST’s ALMANACKS, For the present Year … To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Perhaps Carter weighed the space occupied in the Providence Gazette by continuing to insert the longer advertisement against how many surplus copies of the almanac remained in stock. As time passed, it became less likely that readers would purchase an almanac for 1770, but they did desire “the freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic,” as the masthead described the news. Carter may have determined that he better served his subscribers and, in turn, his own business interests by designating space in subsequent issues for news items and editorials rather than an advertisement for an almanac with decreasing prospects of being purchased. He continued to promote the almanac in hopes of reducing his inventory, but he did so less intensively.

In the same short advertisement, Carter also noted that he sold West’s “ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS,” another publication previously the subject of more extensive advertisements that ran in the Providence Gazette for multiple weeks. He also kept that title before the eyes of readers who might decide to purchase it, but devoted much less space to it.

The same short advertisement ran the following week, in the final issue of the newspaper for the month of January, but in the lower right corner of the final page, the very last item in that issue. Its placement may have been intended to leave an impression on readers who perused the Providence Gazette from start to finish, but it also suggests that Carter inserted the advertisement only after allocating space for news items and advertisements placed and paid for by other colonists. In compiling the contents of those issues of the Providence Gazette, he balanced his responsibilities as editor and publisher of the newspaper and his interests as printer and bookseller, choosing the shorter advertisements for the goods he sold.

January 19

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

Jan 19 - 1:19:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 19, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD AT William Scott’s Store.”

When it came to disseminating his advertisements widely, William Scott was more industrious than most merchants, shopkeepers, and others who placed newspaper notices promoting consumer goods. His advertisements for a variety of textiles available “Wholesale & Retail” at his store on the “North-side of Faneuil-Hall” ran in the January 19, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, shortly after appearing in the Essex Gazette (published in Salem, Massachusetts) and four out of five of Boston’s newspapers. His advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette listed “Irish LINNENS,” “Diaper and Damask Table Cloths,” “Cambricks,” “Lawns,” and all of the other fabrics enumerated in the other newspapers, lacking only a note about “a great Variety of English, Irish and Scotch Goods, by Retail” that concluded those advertisements.

That may have been the result of the advertisement’s position on the page in the New-Hampshire Gazette. It appeared in the lower right corner, the last item on the third page. The compositor had sufficient space to include the main body of the advertisement while still achieving columns of equal length, but not the additional note. Using a smaller font for Scott’s name would have yielded the necessary space to print the entire advertisement, but the compositor did not make the choice. Comparing Scott’s notices as they appeared in all six newspapers reveals that compositors exercised considerable discretion when it came to the format of advertisements. That discretion likely even extended to occasional minor adjustments to the copy. Scott generated the copy for his advertisements and submitted it to several printing offices, but compositors adopted very different approaches to how that copy appeared on the page when it came to font sizes, capitalization, italics, line breaks, and other typographical elements. Variations in spelling (“LINNENS” or “Linens”) and fractions (“Three quarter” and “3-4”) may have originated with the advertiser or the compositor.

Scott intended to engage as many prospective customers as possible by inserting the same advertisement in six newspapers published in three port cities in New England. His marketing efforts reveal testify to a division of labor in the production of advertisements for consumer goods. Advertisers generally took responsibility for composing copy, while compositors who worked in printing offices designed the format of advertisements in eighteenth-century America.

January 18

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

Jan 18 - 1:18:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s.”

How much did it cost to place an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper? That question does not always yield ready answers. Most printers did not regularly publish their advertising rates. Those that did publish them usually did so in one of two places: the plan in the first issue of a new publication and the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page of each issue. Some printers commenced publication of their newspapers with a plan or overview of their purpose and the kinds of information they intended to publish as well as details that included the quality of the paper and type and subscription and advertising rates. Other printers treated the colophon as a place for recording more than just their names and place of publication. They used the colophon as a mechanism for marketing the various operations at the printing office. There they sometimes indicated subscription fees, advertising rates, or both.

Such was the case in the Maryland Gazette published by Anne Catharine Green and William Green in Annapolis in 1770. The colophon listed the costs of both subscribing and advertising. The Greens declared that “all Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE at 12s. 6d. a Year.” In addition, “ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s. and 1s. for each Week’s Continuance. Long ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.” The Greens followed standard practices, yet also introduced one modification. Most printers who published their advertising rates had both an initial fee and then an additional fee for “each Week’s Continuance.” However, for most printers that initial fee included publishing the advertisement for several weeks, usually three or four, before incurring additional costs. The Greens did not offer any sort of package deal that included multiple insertions. This had the benefit of lowering the initial cost, but may have prevented prospective advertisers from feeling as though they got a bargain on the second and third insertions. Still, the fee structure suggests that the Greens charged four shillings for setting type and another shilling for the space the advertisement occupied the first time. After that, they charged only a shilling for each additional insertion, the type having already been set. Like other printers, they increased the rates for lengthy advertisements that took up more space. Prices for advertisements much larger than a “square” were assessed “in Proportion to their Number of Lines” rather than by the number of words.

That the Greens published the price of an annual subscription, twelve shillings and six pence, allows for comparison of the relative costs of subscribing and advertising. At five shillings for the first insertion, an advertisement cost 40% of a subscription. Advertisements that ran for multiple weeks steadily gained on the price of subscriptions, only needing to run for nine weeks for the former to exceed the latter. The financial viability of many colonial newspapers often depended much more on their ability to attract advertisers rather than subscribers.

January 17

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

Jan 17 - 1:17:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 17, 1770).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION.”

A subscription notice for “ESSAYS on … the Indians of the Continent of North America, especially the several Nations or Tribes of the Catawbas, Cherokees, Creeks, Chicksaws, and Choctaws, inhabiting the Western Parts of the Colonies of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia” once again ran in the January 17, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement made its first appearance of the new year, not having been among the various notices disseminated in that newspaper since November 22, 1769. Previously, it ran on the front page of the November 1 edition.

These “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION” appeared sporadically, separated by three weeks and then by eight. That deviated from standard practices for advertisements promoting consumer goods and services in the Georgia Gazette. They usually ran in consecutive issues for a limited time, often three or four weeks. James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, devised a different publication schedule for this particular advertisement.

Johnston served as a local agent for either James Adair, the author of the proposed book, or an unnamed printer in London or a combination of the two. Local agents were responsible for distributing subscription notices, collecting the names of subscribers, and transmitting the list to the author or printer. Local agents also collected payment and delivered books to the subscribers.

Given his familiarity with local markets, Johnston likely determined that a series of advertisements concentrated in a short period would not incite as much interest as introducing potential subscribers to the proposed work on multiple occasions over several months. Considerations of space may have also influenced his decisions about when he published the subscription notice. It received a privileged place the first time it ran in the Georgia Gazette, but for each of the subsequent iterations it appeared as the last item at the bottom of a column. That suggests the compositor held the advertisement in reserve, inserting it only once news and other advertisements were allocated space in an issue. As a local agent, Johnston had been entrusted with some latitude in making decisions about distributing subscription notices for a book that would be published on the other side of the Atlantic. Both his understanding of local markets and his own business interests likely had an impact on his methods of marketing the proposed book.

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (January 16, 1770).

“At William Scott’s STORE, North Side of Faneuil-Hall, Boston.”

William Scott made sure that he placed his advertisement for various textiles and “a great Variety of English, Irish and Scotch Goods” before the eyes of as many consumers in Boston and its environs as possible. His notice ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on January 11. Four days later it also appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, Scott refrained from inserting his advertisement in the Boston Chronicle, a newspaper notable for its Tory sympathies as well as strident critiques and demeaning caricatures of patriot leaders. Perhaps Scott did not wish to have his store on the north side of Faneuil Hall associated with the rhetoric espoused in the Boston Chronicle.

Though he declined to advertise in that notorious newspaper, Scott did place his notice in a fifth publication that week. On January 16, it ran in the Essex Gazette, printed in Salem by Samuel Hall. For all intents and purposes, Salem was part of the same media market as Boston. Until relatively recently, it did not have its own newspaper. Hall began publishing the Essex Gazette in August 1768, less than a year and a half earlier. That newspaper certainly did not entirely displace those printed in Boston; they served the entire colony and circulated far beyond the bustling port. Even though prospective customers who read the Essex Gazette likely would have seen his advertisement in any of Boston’s several newspapers, Scott followed through on his strategy of saturating the market with his notice. It may even have garnered greater attention in the Essex Gazette since that newspaper carried far less advertising than any of its counterparts from Boston. In each of the other newspapers, Scott’s advertisement was nestled among dozens of others. In the January 16 edition of the Essex Gazette, it was one of only ten advertisements, all of them appearing in the far right column on the last two pages.

Several advertisers in Boston regularly inserted notices about consumer goods and services in multiple newspapers published in that city. William Scott, however, was one of the first to experiment with placing advertisements in publications that radiated outward from the colony’s largest port.

January 15

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

Jan 15 - 1:15:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 15, 1770).

“Dealers will meet with the usual encouragement.”

As colonists greeted a new decade, the “proprietors of the CHINA WORKS, now erecting in Southwark” took to the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advertise their new enterprise. They sought to provide consumers an alternative to the porcelain “manufactured at the famous factory in Bow near London, and imported into the colonies and plantations.” In addition to bolstering the colonial economy, the proprietors likely had an eye on the politics of the day, especially the nonimportation agreements adopted to protest the duties on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea imposed by the Townshend Acts. While they eschewed goods made in England and transported across the Atlantic, American consumers were primed to acquire similar wares produced in the colonies, especially if they had a reasonable expectation of similar prices and quality. To that end, the proprietors assured prospective customers that “the clays of America are productive of as good PORCELAIN” as the merchandise that came from Bow. Furthermore, they intended to “sell upon very reasonable terms.” Indeed, they reiterated both points, concluding the notice by proclaiming that their wares were “warranted equal to any in goodness and cheapness, hitherto manufactured in or imported from England.”

The proprietors addressed multiple audiences in their advertisement. They called on skilled workmen to seek employment as well as “such parents as are inclined to bind their children” as apprentices to contact them as soon as possible. The advertisement served as a general notice to consumer, but the proprietors included notes specifically for retailers. They pledged to “take all orders in rotation, and execute the earliest first.” More significantly, they aimed to convince merchants and shopkeepers that stocking up on this porcelain would be a good investment that yielded profits because the proprietors would not undersell them when dealing directly with consumers. They asserted that “Dealers will meet with the usual encouragement,” implying discounts for merchants and shopkeepers who purchased by volume. The proprietors then explicitly stated that dealers “may be assured that no goods under thirty pounds worth will be sold to private persons, out of the factory, at a lower advance than from their shops.” Considering that pledge was the only copy throughout the entire advertisement that appeared in italics, the proprietors intended for retailers to take notice. After all, they stood to achieve significantly larger transactions with merchants and shopkeepers who then assumed the risk of dispersing the porcelain to consumers.

The imperial crisis of the late 1760s and early 1770s helped to frame the entrepreneurial activities of colonists who launched new commercial endeavors, the “domestic manufactures” so often invoked in public discourse when discussing the trade imbalance with Britain and the duties on certain imported goods. Yet those who answered the call to produce goods in the colonies realized that it was not enough merely to make them available to consumers. The “proprietors of the CHINA WORKS” and other entrepreneurs realized that they needed to convince both consumers and retailers to embrace their wares in practice as well as in the ideology that circulated in conversations and in the press. Newspaper advertisements allowed them to make a case that emphasized cost, quality, and employment opportunities. Others went into even greater detail, outlining procedures designed to persuade them to stock “domestic manufactures” in their own shops.