April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:26:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 26, 1768).

“He entreats a Continuation of Messrs. DAVID and JOHN DEAS’s Customers.”

Andrew Lord launched a new enterprise in the spring of 1768, at least an enterprise that was new to him. He took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journalto announce that he had “bought out Messrs. DAVID and JOHN DEAS, and taken the Stores and house lately occupied by them.”  He planned to sell all of the merchandise already on hand, pledging to part with it “very low.”  Prospective customers enjoyed bargain prices as the new proprietor attempted to clear out the existing inventory.

In addition to inviting new patrons to his store, Lord hoped to invoke loyalty among customers who already shopped there when it still belonged to the previous owners:  “He entreats a Continuation of Messrs. DAVID and JOHN DEAS’s Customers.”  This was not loyalty to the purveyors of goods but rather loyalty to the goods themselves.  Lord implied that since the Deas’s former customers appreciated the wares they had previously purchased that they would continue to be satisfied as they selected among the inventory he had obtained.  He much more explicitly, however, invited the Deas’s customers to give him a chance to demonstrate that he could serve them just as well as the former proprietors had done.  He stressed that “he expects a compleat Assortment of GOODS by the first Vessels from London and Bristol,” an assortment that he believed maintained the standards that customers had come to anticipate when making purchases in the store he now operated.

The existing clientele may have factored into Lord’s decision to acquire a shop and inventory owned by two of Charleston’s most prominent merchants and slave traders.  According to his advertisement, he certainly hoped that familiarity with the location and merchandise would convince previous patrons to continue making purchases at the same store, especially since he offered low prices and an extensive selection.  The proprietor had changed, but other aspects of the business remained the same.  Accordingly, there was no need to seek out other vendors, at least not without first giving Lord the opportunity to demonstrate that customers would not experience any disruption in the experience they had come to expect when shopping at that store.

September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1766 South Carolina Gazette
South Carolina Gazette (September 8, 1766).

“DAVID & JOHN DEAS, HAVE JUST IMPORTED … an assortment of other goods.”

Contrary to what this short advertisement, rather plain and unremarkable in its appearance, may suggest, David and John Deas made their mark on the history of advertising thanks to the infamous broadsides (what we would call posters today) that they distributed in Charleston, South Carolina, in the decade before the American Revolution.

Not much distinguishes this advertisement for textiles, including “A LARGE supply of WHITE and COLOURED PLAINS,” from other commercial notices about imported goods that appeared in the same issue of the South Carolina Gazette. David and John Deas are much better remembered (and not just by scholars who specialize in economic history or advertising) for this broadside that circulated in Charleston and beyond nearly three years later.

Sep 8 - Deas Broadside
David and John Deas’s broadside for a slave auction (Charleston, 1769). American Antiquarian Society.

This broadside measures 32 x 20 cm (12 ½ x 8 in), which would have made it a good size to post around town or pass out as a handbill. The woodcuts depicting “PRIME, HEALTHY NEGROES” and the graphic design are both crude, but exceptionally memorable, at least to modern viewers. The haunting images of Africans treated as commodities elicit emotional responses today, but that would not necessarily have been the case in the 1760s. While it would have been impossible not to notice the images on the broadside, colonial consumers would not have been shocked by advertisements treating people as commodities. Accustomed to trade cards and billheads with images more skillfully and effectively rendered, colonists likely would not taken particularly favorable notice of the artistic or aesthetic qualities of the broadside.

David and John Deas’s newspaper advertisement for textiles did not indicate any direct involvement with the slave trade, though the merchandise they stocked made them part of transatlantic networks of commerce and consumption that depended on human cargoes and the staple crops produced through the labor of enslaved men, women, and children. Still, the juxtaposition of their newspaper advertisement and their broadside offers an important reminder that advertisements often provide evidence concerning only a portion of a shopkeeper’s, merchant’s, or firm’s business enterprises. How many other advertisers who promoted general merchandise via their advertisements at one time or another imported and auctioned slaves?