September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Cowper and Telfairs in Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).

“A LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.”

Lewis Johnson inserted an advertisement for his inventory of “A LARGE and COMPLETE ASSORTMENT of FRESH AND GENUINE MEDICINES” in the September 23, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The partnership of Cowper and Telfairs also placed an advertisement, informing potential customers of the “LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS” they had imported from London. The notices, each listing an elaborate array of items, appeared side by side.

Although Lewis Johnson and Cowper and Telfairs each resorted to the common list-style advertisement to market their wares, the visual aspects of their notices distinguished them from each other. Cowper and Telfairs opted for a dense paragraph that extended two-thirds of the column, enumerating everything from “white, striped and ermine flannels” to “shirt buttons” to “broad and narrow axes” to “complete sets of china.” With some exceptions, they grouped their merchandise together by category (textiles, accouterments and accessories, hardware, and housewares). This made it somewhat easier for potential customers to locate specific items of interest (while also introducing them to others they may not have otherwise considered), even though the merchants did not include any sort of headers to indicate where one type of merchandise ended and another began. This dense list maximized the number of items Cowper and Telfairs presented to the public. While its format may have been somewhat overwhelming or difficult to read, it offered extensive choices to consumers.

Johnson’s advertisement, on the other hand, occupied the same amount of space on the page, but did not list nearly as many items. Instead, it divided a single column into two narrower columns, listing only one item per line. This left much more white space on the page, making it easier for readers to navigate through the merchandise. Like Cowper and Telfairs, Johnson introduced his list with the phrase “Amongst which are,” indicating that the advertisement did not include an exhaustive inventory. Both carried additional items at their shops. Given that he carried additional medicines, Johnson made a calculated decision to truncate his list in order to make it easier to read. Compared to the dense format of everything else on the page, the layout of his list likely drew the eyes of colonial readers, increasing the likelihood that they would take note of his advertisement.

Both list-style advertisements had advantages and shortcomings inherent in their appearance on the page. Although eighteenth-century advertisements lack the dynamic graphic design elements of modern marketing efforts, advertisers and printers did experiment with different layouts in their efforts to attract attention and incite demand among potential customers.

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Johnson from Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:22:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 22, 1767).

“SUGAR … RUM … NEGROES … NEGROE SHOES.”

Cowper and Telfairs’ business, at least the aspects promoted in this advertisement, revolved around the enslavement of African men, women, and children. Near the end of July 1767, they announced to readers of the Georgia Gazette that they sold “A FEW NEGROES, consisting of men, women, boys, and girls.” They did not, however, elaborate on the origins of these slaves, whether they had just arrived in the colony directly from Africa or if they had been transshipped through other colonial ports or if they had been born in Georgia. Nor did they add other information that acknowledged the humanity of the men, women, and children they sold. The “NEGROES” were merely commodities to be exchanged, not unlike the goods listed before and after them in the advertisement.

Colonists who had acquired slaves also needed to outfit them. Cowper and Telfairs pursued this market as well, selling “NEGROE SHOES at 36s. per dozen.” The price structure indicates that the partners expected to deal with slaveholders who wished to purchase in volume. The Georgia Gazette and the several newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina, frequently inserted advertisements for “NEGROE SHOES,” though none provided much detail about the shoes. As the price suggests, they would have been constructed of inferior materials, especially stiff fabrics, and not particularly comfortable. Presumably readers were already so familiar with this commodity that “NEGROE SHOES” usually merited no additional comment. Cowper and Telfairs, however, did offer various sizes. They promised, “Any person who chuses to deliver measure[ment]s may be supplied in proper time for their negroes.”

Finally, Cowper and Telfairs advertised commodities produced with enslaved labor: sugar and rum. Slaves certainly participated directly in the cultivation and processing of sugar. The advertisers did not reveal the origins of the rum they sold. Slaves may have played a significant role in distilling it. At the very least, rum, whether made from molasses or sugarcane juice, was a byproduct of sugar production, a commodity that circulated throughout the Atlantic world in great quantities as a consequence of enslaved labor on sugar plantations.

Cowper and Telfairs advertised several “commodities” – slaves, shoes, sugar, rum – that might seem like a haphazard combination at first glance. However, the system of enslavement that formed the foundation of economic exchange in the early modern Atlantic world linked all of these “commodities” in ways that would have been apparent to eighteenth-century readers and consumers.

October 15

GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo

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

oct-15-10151766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 15, 1766).

“Goods, suitable for the season.”

Cowper and Telfairs’ store had just received a large assortment of items imported from London. After the lengthy list of items that they sold, the partners added that “they shortly expect other articles from England and Scotland to make a complete assortment of goods for this country and season.” It was good to add that they would be receiving other items so customers would come back and purchase more from their store.

This advertisement was in the newspaper in October; colonists would soon need items for the winter that was coming, even if it would not be as cold as in New England or even Virginia. The advertisement states the supplies and clothing were “suitable for the season,” making potential buyers aware that this store had goods that would help them get through the winter. Throughout the colonies, settlers made preparations. According to David Robinson, “Mothers taught daughters how to card wool and coax soft fibers from the hard stems of flax; how to spin fibers into threads; how to stitch and mend the heavy coats and hooded cloaks that soon must ward off the biting winds.” Cowper and Telfairs’ store had “a variety of other ready-made cloaths” that colonists could purchase as well as an assortment of textiles they could use to make coats, cloaks, and warmer clothing that they would need for winter weather, even if winter in Georgia was not as extreme as in colonies further north.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Not long ago guest curator Nicholas Commesso examined an advertisement from the Massachusetts Gazette in which William Palfrey marketed “Articles suitable for the approaching Season.” He noted that colonists in Boston and its hinterland needed to take into account that fall had commenced and winter would arrive soon. Palfrey attempted to sell his goods by reminding colonists that it was time to start making preparations.

In my additional commentary I noted that “suitable to the season” was a stock phrase deployed in newspaper advertisements in Philadelphia and, more generally, in New England the Middle Atlantic colonies. I have not worked as extensively with advertisements from the Chesapeake or the Lower South, so I was uncertain if that was the case in those locales or if regional differences existed. I suggested that this merited further investigation.

Jordan turned her eye to that question today, identifying the same language in an advertisement from a newspaper printed in the Georgia Gazette. While one advertisement does not demonstrate a pattern or widespread usage of “suitable for the season,” it does indicate that the phrase was not unknown in the area. Cowper and Telfairs likely meant something a bit different – or had somewhat different merchandise in mind – than William Palfrey did when they described their wares as “suitable for the season.” Each advertiser would have taken into account local conditions.

As Jordan notes, the shopkeepers concluded by describing the items “from England and Scotland” they intended to have in stock soon as “goods for this country and season.” In addition to attempting to lure customers back to their store for subsequent visits, Cowper and Telfairs also signaled that they knew exactly what kind of merchandise would be arriving on ships expected in port soon. Most likely they had negotiated with their contacts on the other side of the Atlantic and placed orders for specific goods. London merchants sometimes tried to pawn off surplus inventory, expecting colonial retailers to accept and sell whatever was sent to them, but Cowper and Telfairs suggested that their customers would be pleased with the selection they offered because their wares had been chosen with Georgia and its climate in mind.