What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST IMPORTED, in the SHIP GEORGIA PACKET … from LONDON.”
When the Georgia Packet arrived in port in the spring of 1769, it delivered merchandise from London to several merchants and shopkeepers in Savannah. The May 24, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette included four advertisements that listed that vessel as the source of wares now available for purchase. The advertisers, however, adopted different strategies for promoting their new inventory.
Samuel Douglass and the partnership of Reid, Storr, and Reid published advertisements that most resembled each other, listing dozens of items in stock. Such litanies appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies, a popular means of demonstrating the many choices for consumers. Reid, Storr, and Reid were more restrained in compiling their list. They introduced “An ASSORTMENT of the MOST USEFUL ARTICLES imported into this province” before naming various textiles, accessories, and other items. Their list extended sixteen lines, concluding with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that prospective customers would encounter far more items at their store in Johnson’s Square. Douglass, on the other hand, did not make an explicit appeal to an “assortment” of goods. Instead, he listed for more items, from fabrics to hardware. His list extended forty-seven lines, nearly three times the length of Reid, Storr, and Reid’s catalog of goods, before concluding with a promise that Douglass had even more to offer: “many other articles too tedious to mention.”
The other two advertisements for goods that recently arrived via the Georgia Packet were much shorter. In the course of only four lines, the partnership of Cowper and Telfairs stated that they carroed a “large and well assorted CARGO of GOODS, suitable for the place and season.” They attempted to entice customers by offering “reasonable terms,” but they did not elaborate on their merchandise. Apparently they expected “large and well assorted” to sufficiently make a point about consumer choice. Cowper and Telfairs may have also benefited from the lengthy lists published by their competitors. Those litanies gave prospective customers a sense of the wares delivered by the Georgia Packet, perhaps prompting some to do some comparison shopping in several stores regardless of how many items appeared in each advertisement.
Finally, Solomon Solomons also published a comparatively short advertisement, only six lines. Rather than an array of goods, he specialized in a “small Assortment of JEWELERY” that he had “JUST IMPORTED, in the SHIP GEORGIA PACKET … from LONDON.” His strategy emphasized exclusivity rather than expansive choices for consumers. With fewer direct competitors than Douglass, Cowper and Telfairs, and Reid, Storr, and Reid, Solomons may not have considered it imperative to catalog his new merchandise in the public prints.
One other advertisement also listed goods “Just imported from London,” though it did not explicitly identify the Georgia Packet as the source. According to the shipping news, the Georgia Packet was the only ship that had arrived from London recently, so it almost certainly carried the “Assortment of Medicines” that Lewis Johnson listed in an advertisement that rivaled Douglass’s advertisement in length.
These five advertisements were the only notices in the May 24 edition that promoted new consumer goods. (Others offered secondhand items for sale.) Together, they accounted for nearly one-quarter of the content in the issue. In a port the size of Savannah, the arrival of a single ship, the Georgia Packet on May 17, had a significant impact on both the commercial landscape and the information distributed throughout the colony in Georgia’s only newspaper the following week. The news items in the May 24 issue all originated from London, like the wares promoted to prospective customers. The news and goods transported on that ship crowded out other content that might otherwise have appeared in the public prints that week.