What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
It was a busy week in the printing offices of T. Powell and Company in Charleston. The printers distributed the weekly issue of the South-Carolina Gazette on Monday, August 23. Like other newspapers published in the colonies at the time, the standard issue consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Yet that did not provide enough space for all of the content that T. Powell and Company received in the printing office, prompting the printers to produce a four-page supplement to distribute on the same day. Many printers regularly resorted to supplements, but they usually devoted a half sheet, only two pages, to the venture, rather than doubling the amount of content with a second broadsheet. Even then, Powell and Company were not finished printing the news that week. Two days later, the printers issued a Postscript to the South-Carolina Gazette, a two-page supplement. Rather than four pages, subscribers received ten pages of news and other content that week.
Advertising accounted for a significant portion of that content, so much that the newspaper might better have been entitle the South-Carolina Gazette and Advertiser. Other colonial newspapers did include “Advertiser” in their extended titles, including the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, the Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, the New-York Journal, or the General Advertiser, and the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser. The standard issue for the South-Carolina Gazette featured “New Advertisements” on the first page. That header reappeared on both the second page, also filled with paid notices, and the third page, which contained a single column of news. The fourth page consisted entirely of advertising. Overall, advertisements filled eleven of the twelve columns in the August 23 standard issue.
The supplement distributed that day did not use the “New Advertisements” header, but it still ran many advertisements. Paid notices filled the first two columns on the first page, leaving the third column for news. The second page included more news, a column and a half, as well as more advertisements. Advertising filled the third and fourth pages. That brought the running total to two and half columns of news and twenty-one and a half columns of advertising between the standard issue and the supplement. Only one-tenth of the space delivered news selected by the editor, though the advertisements, including legal notices and descriptions of enslaved people who liberated themselves, featured news in another format.
The Postscript to the South-Carolina Gazette commenced with a column of “New Advertisements” under the familiar header, though the printers placed a letter to the editor and other news in the two remaining columns on the front page. News, including “Timothy’s Marine List” of ships recently arrived in port, filled most of the three columns on the reverse, with only two short advertisements completing the final column. Those news items included an unhappy letter to the editor from Philo-Patriæ that quoted in its entirety an advertisement about a proposed theater that ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette within the past week. Just as advertising often delivered news, the news sometimes incorporated advertisements.
All of this advertising meant revenues for Powell and Company at the printing office near the Exchange. Advertisements placed to promote consumer goods and services as well as for a variety of other purposes underwrote the production and dissemination of the news. There hardly could have been a case that made the point more visibly than the South-Carolina Gazette, its Supplement, and its Postscript published during the week of August 25, 1773.