March 9

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

Mar 9 - 3:9:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 9, 1768).

“Credit will be given till next crop for the land.”

After acquiring a wharf and storehouse in the summer of 1766, William Moore turned to the Georgia Gazette to advertise the goods that passed through his “factorage business.” His notices usually included several commodities imported from the Caribbean, including sugar, molasses, and “Jamaica, Barbados, and Antiqua Rum,” but he also acquired and sold grocery items, maritime supplies, and other goods from both the mainland and Europe. He did not specify any particular method of payment in his advertisement in the March 9, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, only mentioning that “The above articles … will be disposed of on very reasonable terms.” By implication, Moore expected to be paid in cash, especially considering the terms he set for the sale of a “TRACT of LAND … about seven miles from town.” However, the structure of the advertisement suggested that there might be room for negotiation.

Moore’s advertisement had three parts. The first announced the land for sale, noting that the parcel consisted of 350 acres “of which about 100 acres are cleared and under good fence.” The second part listed the goods “to be sold by the subscriber, at his wharf” in Savannah. Moore had revised an advertisement he previously inserted in the Georgia Gazette, one devoted exclusively to the commodities available “AT HIS WHARF.” In it, he had specified that he sold these items “on very reasonable terms for cash.” Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Moore had become wary of extending credit to customers. The third part of his new advertisement consisted of a single line, a nota bene that advised prospective buyers that “Credit will be given till next crop for the land.” Here it seemed as though Moore made a distinction between the terms he was willing to extend to someone who purchased the land and the terms for buying his commodities. He did not explicitly mention paying in cash for those goods, but he also did not make a point of offering the same credit that he was willing to consider for the land.

The structure of the advertisement presented mixed messages, perhaps by design. Why did Moore choose to append a nota bene about credit for the land purchase? Why had he not mentioned this option in the first part of the advertisement, the portion that described the land? It seemed artificial to separate the description of the land and the terms for payment. Perhaps Moore positioned the information about accepting credit for the land immediately after describing the commodities he sold at his wharf as a means of underscoring that he expected to be paid in cash for the latter. On the other hand, even if he preferred cash he may have opted not to mention it explicitly and positioned his comment about credit strategically as a means of inviting those who believed they were in a good position to secure credit to broach the subject. Through the structure of his advertisement, Moore implied the possibility of credit without extending a blanket invitation to every prospective customer who read the Georgia Gazette.

February 2

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

Feb 2 - 2:2:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 2, 1768).

“They engage to take back every Article from a Customer, that they can make the least reasonable Objection against.”

David Maull and John Wood, “TAYLORS, from LONDON,” incorporated a variety of marketing appeals into their advertisement in the February 2, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. They included some of the most popular marketing strategies deployed in the eighteenth century, but they also devised several innovative strategies that differentiated their commercial notice from others.

Purveyors of goods and services commonly promoted quality and fashion. Maull and Wood did so when they stated that their work represented “the neatest and newest fashion.” Artisans often underscored their competence. Maull and Wood reported that “they carry on the Taylors Business in all its Branches.” Shopkeepers and artisans both proclaimed their origins or other connections to London to give their goods and services more cachet in the transatlantic marketplace. Maull and Wood announced that they had migrated “from LONDON,” where they had presumably received training and previously worked. Invoking some sort of link to London also bolstered their claim to produce garments in the “newest fashion.” Many advertisers made a nod toward customer service, as Maull and Wood did when they pledged to fulfill orders “with quickest Dispatch.” Maull and Wood used stock language in making these common appeals to customers.

Yet the tailors also attempted to entice clients with a series of other marketing strategies in a nota bene that concluded their advertisement. They provided a money-back guarantee, promising “to take back every Article from a Customer, that they can make the least reasonable Objection against.” They also offered reduced rates to customers who paid in cash, vowing to “discount Five per Cent.” On the other hand, they extended “twelve Months Credit” to other customers during a period that most advertisers either demanded cash or allowed only “short credit.” Consumers regularly made purchases on credit in eighteenth-century America, but it was not a method of payment promoted by most purveyors of goods and services in their advertisements in the late 1760s. Maull and Wood made clear that they were willing to work out payment schedules that fit the needs of their prospective clients. John Ward, another tailor who advertised in the same issue, made no mention of how he expected customers to pay. Finally, Maull and Wood doubled the length of their advertisement by publishing a roster of prices to demonstrate their reasonable prices to prospective clients. This eliminated negotiating over the bill and anxieties that a better deal might have been possible by locking in rates from the start.

Maull and Wood distinguished their advertisement from others published in Charleston’s newspapers by augmenting the most common appeals with innovative marketing strategies. They did not invent any of the methods they used, but they effectively amalgamated multiple popular and novel tactics for attracting customers into a single advertisement to an extent not achieved by most other advertisers of consumer goods and services in the 1760s.

April 4

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

Apr 4 - 4:4:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 4, 1767).

“Said OLNEY has a few goods remaining yet unsold, which he will sell cheap for cash.”

I chose this advertisement because it piqued my interest. Despite the short nature of the consumer portion it reminded me of something important. Throughout navigating newspapers and collecting advertisements I have seen plenty of advertisements that talked about selling for cash or making deals with good credit. But one thing I never really thought about was the actual currency of colonial America. What was this cash? Was there a uniform currency accepted throughout all the colonies? Was money mostly coins or paper?

I did some research into it. Currency, as it happens, had a great variety in eighteenth-century America. There was no one type of universal payment; instead, there was an astounding diversity. Ron Michener discusses this confusing system of currency in the colonies. “The monetary arrangements in use in America before the Revolution were extremely varied. Each colony had its own conventions, tender laws, and coin ratings, and each issued its own paper money.” The customs regarding payment were specific to each colony. For example, in 1750 Massachusetts prohibited the use of paper money. Anything other than “specie,” gold or silver coinage, was utterly valueless there.

Also, colonists could not travel from New Jersey to Rhode Island, for instance, and expect to buy something using printed currency. They had to engage in some type of exchange prior to payment. In addition, throughout the colonies, foreign currency continued to be accepted as legal payment: “Colonists assigned local currency values to foreign specie coins circulating there in … pounds, shillings and pence.” These coins could include British or Spanish money. This caused a lot of irregularity in transactions because, depending on location, the amount stated could be measured using one type of specie or currency, and the buyer could use another type of payment. For example, a seller could ask for five South Carolina dollars for an item, and the buyer could then pay in Spanish specie. There must have been a lot of confusion and mathematical calculations happening in that era!

Over the course of my exploration I realized that there were many different types of money exchanged for goods and which coins or bills were accepted really depended on the location and year, The use of cash in America is not as simple as I originally thought; it has a long and complicated history.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Extensive networks of credit facilitated the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Even as merchants and shopkeepers attempted to incite greater demand (as Joseph Olney, Jr., did when he announced he had “a few goods remaining yet unsold), their advertisements testified to generous credit they extended to customers who obtained the “baubles of Britain” from them. Merchants and shopkeepers were middlemen and –women, often caught in expanding transatlantic webs of credit themselves. Note that Olney justified his decision to call in the debts owed to him by explaining that doing so was a necessity so that he, in turn, would be “enabled to discharge all demands that lay against himself.” Just as his customers owed him money, Olney was indebted to those who supplied him with the merchandise he sold.

Like many others who placed similar notices in the 1760s, Olney seized an opportunity to generate more revenue by following his request for payment with a brief promotion of his current inventory. In almost every example, the advertisers suggested that they were no longer in the business of extending credit to customers. There was no sense in exacerbating the problem, especially considering that earlier in the advertisement Olney threatened legal action against anyone who “refuse[d] to comply with this reasonable request” for payment. Because Olney wanted to spare himself the hassle of making “trouble at next June court,” he indicated that he would sell his remaining goods “for cash.” He made no mention of any form of credit, whether “by Note, Book Account, or otherwise.”

Olney’s advertisement was much less striking than many others that included extensive lists of merchandise or made elaborate appeals to potential customers. It served a necessary purpose, however, as he went about operating his business, just as similar advertisements did for his counterparts and competitors throughout the colonies.

March 15

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 15 - 3:14:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 14, 1767).

“Knight Dexter DESIRES all those indebted to him … to make speedy Payment.”

Knight Dexter put out this advertisement for those indebted to him to pay their bills. His customers bought on credit rather than paying at the time of purchase. Credit was one of the more popular means for buying items. The other, less popular, means were barter (trading goods for other goods) and paying with physical money.

The concept of credit in colonial America and its importance are both similar to today’s standards. Merchants allowed customers to purchase items in exchange for payment that would occur later in time, with interest included. According to David T. Flynn, this was an advantage to customers who could purchase items outside their financial resources. T.H. Breen argues that this helped create a consumer revolution in the eighteenth century. In “Baubles of Britain,” he details the variety and number of options for consumers that increased, paid for by credit.[1] The advantage for merchants was they could turn over goods faster and they would increase their profits from the interest collected. Merchants did run the risk of giving out too much credit that they could not cover their immediate expenses.

Dexter mentioned “Book Accounts.” This most likely meant he was using book credit, according to Flynn. Book credit was when merchants recorded who they gave credit to within their account books or ledger. This was a way to streamline tracking who owed how much money for what products. Other forms of credit included overseas credit and promissory notes. Dexter might have benefited from overseas credit extended by English merchants when he received imported goods. English merchants sold goods to colonial merchants, waiting six months to one year before demanding payment.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Last week I noted that as spring approached in 1767 the Providence Gazette experienced a resurgence in advertising after several months of only a small number of paid notices within its pages combined with running the same few advertisements repeatedly. Knight Dexter was among the local entrepreneurs who began inserting notices in the Providence Gazette, along with Nathaniel Jacobs. Not only did their advertisements appear one after the other in the same column of the March 14 issue, Dexter and Jacobs adopted parallel structures for their notices.

Marketing goods for sale may not have been the primary purpose either had in mind when they decided to place their advertisements. Both Dexter and Jacobs devoted half or more of their notices to calling on former customs with outstanding debts to visit their shops and settle up accounts. Both threatened legal action against any recalcitrant customers who refused to do so, though Jacobs was much more subtle and polite when he claimed that he wanted to “avoid the disagreeable Necessity of troubling them.” Dexter was more blunt, lamenting that “he should be sorry to have any Business at June Court.” Either way, the message was the same: pay up or face the consequences.

Only after dispensing with that bit of business did either shopkeeper turn to marketing their current inventory. Each promised to “sell as cheap for Cash as any in this Town.” At the same time they called on customers to pay their bills, neither seemed inclined to extend more credit to anyone else, but they balanced their insistence on paying cash with the allure of low prices.

In so doing, they placed what might be considered hybrid advertisements that amalgamated what otherwise might have been separate notices. In each case, the portion of the advertisement that promoted items they currently stocked could have run separately and not looked out of place. Indeed, other advertisements on the same page mirrored the second half of the notices inserted by Dexter and Jacobs. The Adverts 250 Project regularly features similar advertisements. Many merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently placed notices requesting that customers pay their bills, though those have not been examined nearly as often on the Adverts 250 Project. In choosing Knight Dexter’s advertisement, Daniel helps to demonstrate the various stages of commercial relationships established between consumers and retailers in the eighteenth century.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.

March 7

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

Mar 7 - 3:7:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 7, 1767).

“A fresh Assortment of English and West-India Goods.”

The March 7, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette included several advertisements already familiar to subscribers and other readers, including commercial notices from Joseph and William Russellat the Sign of the Golden Eagle” and Benjamin and Edward Thurber at “the Signs of the Bunch of Grapes and Brazen Lion” as well as notices inserted by the printers. One of those peddled printed blanks and another encouraged readers to provide the Providence Paper Manufactory with “Linen Rags of any Sort.”

Among these familiar notices, newer advertisements from Knight Dexter, Samuel Chace, Nathan Angel, Nathaniel Jacobs, and the Proprietors of the Providence Library appeared. Not all of these were published for the first time in that issue, but each advertiser had only recently joined the Russells and the Thurbers in turning to the Providence Gazette to inform customers and patrons of the goods and services they provided. The dearth of advertising Sarah Goddard and Company experienced during the winter of 1766 and 1767 had been disrupted, at least temporarily. Guest curators from my Revolutionary America course will examine most of these newer advertisements, but Nathaniel Jacobs’ notice receives consideration today.

In just twelve lines, Jacobs pursued two goals. The first half of his advertisement did not market goods or services at all. Instead, it called on former customers who bought on credit and had not yet paid their bills “to make speedy Payment, that he may avoid the disagreeable Necessity of troubling them.” Shopkeepers, merchants, printers, and others regularly placed such notices in eighteenth-century newspapers. Extensive and generous credit practically made them a necessity. However gently or politely stated, readers knew that “the disagreeable Necessity of troubling them” amounted to more than posting letters or knocking on doors. Jacobs, like so many of his counterparts, was prepared to sue.

It was only in the second half of the notice that the shopkeeper turned to attracting customers for the merchandise he currently stocked. Other than naming “best French Indigo” and three popular beverages (coffee, tea, and chocolate), he offered few details beyond promising “a fresh Assortment of English and West-India Goods.” Still, in making allusions to consumer choice among that “Assortment” as well as pledging to “sell as cheap for Cash as any person in Providence” Jacobs utilized some of the most common strategies for marketing his wares even though his advertisement was relatively short compared to many others.

June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:13:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 13, 1766).

“Those who fail complying may depend upon being sued.”

Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently placed advertisements advising their customers to settle their debts or face the consequences. Both the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century and the colonial economy operated on credit, often webs of credit that extended far beyond consumers and the retailers who sold them goods. Those same retailers had often procured imported goods from English merchants on credit themselves. Hard money was fairly rare in the colonies, often making credit a necessary substitute. Yet extending credit had its risks. Producers, suppliers, and retailers might never receive payment. Consumers might find themselves hauled into court when they did not pay.

Thomas Craig expressed exasperation in his advertisement calling on “those who have been dilatory in paying off their accounts to discharge them.” He wanted to receive payment while the current court was sitting. While this might have seemed like short notice to some, he reminded them that he had “long before now advertised” that the “present state of my affairs makes it absolutely necessary” to settle accounts.

Still, Craig depended on the good will of customers to continue to earn a living. He knew enough about customer service to attempt to mediate any offense he might have given to “good and punctual customers” by offering a nota bene that emphasized that his advertisement was not directed at them. He needed payment from others, but he did not want to risk alienating those who settled their accounts in a timely fashion.

May 13

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

May 13 - 5:12:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 12, 1766).

It appears that James Morton’s primary purpose in placing this advertisement was to inform customers who had purchased goods on credit that they needed to visit his shop to make payment because he was preparing to leave town. The nota bene, however, tells an additional story of marketing innovation and maximizing the returns on what he spent to insert this announcement in the local newspaper.

Since he had purchased space in the newspaper to encourage customers in “settling their Accounts,” he diversified his message by using a small portion of it to “sell what few Goods he has on Hand,” but for cash rather than credit. This more or less amounted to an eighteenth-century “going out of business” sale. Morton looked to get rid of his remaining stock, figuring that some return on his investment was better than none. To draw customers to his sale he promised that they could purchase the remaining goods “at prime Cost.” In other words, they would get a deal.

April 20

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Apr 20 - 4:17:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 17, 1766)

“The Trustees of the Estate of John Butler.”

Today’s advertisement regards a legal notice alerting all colonists that John Butler died and his account was being settled. Colonial Americans struggled to settle estate cases, especially involving those that did not have a prewritten will. In an article discussing “English Law in American Land Research,” Sandra Hargreaves Luebking says, “The colonies lacked the judges, lawyers, law schools, and elaborate court system to implement English property law in all its complexity, but most of the basic concepts crossed the Atlantic and exist in the land records genealogists use.” The system brought to the colonies from Great Britain was very complicated and the average colonist lacked the knowledge to understand.

The advertisement began with a dated notice – April 16, 1766 – that asked “Creditors of said Butler, to meet at the British Coffee-House in Boston, … then and there to transact such Matters and Things relating to said Debtor’s Estate as may be thought necessary.” In the following paragraph it requests that all indebted to John Butler pay the same to Daniel Leonard, an attorney at law, who was handling the estate. It then goes onto threaten that those “who neglect making Payment, may depend on being sued to July Court, without further Notice.” This was something that I found unique to colonial advertisements and almost nonexistent in modern advertisements.

I was curious about how Butler and other debtors paid the money they owed. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, in colonial America coins were the original primary form of currency, although they were not always in circulation. The first use of paper money was in “bills of credit.” These notes were redeemable in coin. One problem with these bills was that they led many colonists into debt that would be hard to repay. A project by Louis Jordan of Notre Dame states, “In 1749 the British government sent Massachusetts Bay Colony two tons of Spanish silver coins and ten tons of British coppers (primarily 1749 dated halfpence) as reimburse for assistance they provided to the Lewisburg expedition on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, during the French and Indian War.” This shows that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was given a chance to start using silver as their main currency again. Furthermore, according to, Alvin Rabushka’s book, Taxation in Colonial America, “Under the 1749 Massachusetts Currency Reform, all debts and contracts from March 31, 1750, onward would be payable only in silver coin, and any court judgments brought for the recovery of debts would be converted into silver coin at the specified exchange rate for the different tenors.”

This leads me to believe that because Butler owned and ran his own shop with multiple forms of currencies with different exchange rates coming and going it would be easy to fall into debt and then struggle to escape it with the new act requiring only silver currency. The problem did not get any better once the colonies declared independence. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, during the Revolutionary War, the new nation issued too much money, causing inflation and by the end of the war the paper money was almost worthless. In the time leading up to the war the fluctuating value of money could explain why John Butler was in such debt. Furthermore, it would explain why he was not only in deb himself, but had customers who were in debt to him and expected to repay what they owe after his death.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Estate and probate notices were a common type of advertisement that appeared in colonial newspapers, often (depending on the newspaper) as frequently as advertisements for consumer goods and services. This sort of notice, complete with its stern language threatening further legal action, may seem unfamiliar to Trevor and other modern readers, but such notices were largely unremarkable alongside other advertisements in the colonial era.

Trevor has identified some of the reasons why it was easy for colonists to fall into debt. Certainly the lack of hard currency played a significant role. It also led to networks of credit: within cities and villages, throughout the colonies, and across the Atlantic. The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century occurred, in part, because merchants extended credit to retailers and, in turn, retailers extended credit to consumers. Appeals to price became a standard part of eighteenth-century advertisements, but they were often accompanied by specifications that retailers offered credit to tempt potential customers into making purchases (or sometimes explicitly stated that low prices could be had in exchange for cash, perhaps to avoid some of the problems raised in today’s advertisement).

The Economic History Association offers an overview of “Credit in the Colonial American Economy.”