March 17

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 17, 1767).

Just imported … LARGE Scotch Coal.”

Since the eighteenth century, coal has been arguably one of the most important commodities in the history of industrialized civilizations. In eighteenth-century America, coal was imported from one of the many mines in Great Britain.[1] Commonly used as a source of energy, coal also brings environmental impacts to surrounding areas when it is burned.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, its effects on the water cycle in the form of acid rain was one of the earliest known environmental effects from coal. Sulfur dioxide is released from the burning of coal and stays in the atmosphere. However, the sulfur is precipitated out of the atmosphere, just like water, but instead it becomes acid rain. The sulfur dioxide stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years; therefore, the environmental effects from earlier periods are still present today.[2] For further information on how acid rain affects the environment, you visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

 John Evelyn first reported the effects of air pollution in seventeenth-century England by John Evelyn in his book, Fumufugium. According to Fredric C. Menz and Hans M. Seip, Robert Angus Smith “first conducted detailed studies of acid rain and described many of its potentially harmful effects” in 1872. The importation of coal in eighteenth-century America and the eventually rise of coal mining in North America eventually brought similar environmental problems across the Atlantic. The environmental impacts of coal are not confined to the boundaries of countries or continents.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Alexander Urquehart’s advertisement for “LARGE Scotch Coal at six Pounds per Ton” and an assortment of other goods appeared in an exceptional issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Like the printers of newspapers in the largest port cities, Charles Crouch sometimes published a supplement when the amount of news, advertising, and other content exceeded what would fit in the standard four-page weekly issue. In most instances, supplements were printed on half sheets, limiting them to two pages. The Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal issued on March 17, 1767, however, consisted of four pages – or an entire second broadsheet. The size of the sheet used for the supplement (with two columns of text) was not as large as that of the standard issue (with three columns), so this did not double the total content delivered to subscribers. Still, it significantly increased the size of that week’s issue.

In particular, it increased the amount of advertising delivered to readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. The entire supplement – all eight columns – was devoted exclusively to advertising. Indeed, paid notices of every variety practically eclipsed news items in the March 17 issue, making it a delivery mechanism for advertising rather than news (and presumably generating greater revenue for the printer than other issues that balanced the amount of space devoted to advertisements versus other content). Advertising comprised seven of the twelve columns in the standard issue in addition to filling the entire supplement.

Among the news items that did appear, the printer noted that “TO Morrow, being the Anniversary of the REPEAL OF THE STAMP-ACT, we hear will be observed by the Lovers of Liberty and America, with Hearts elate, for our happy Delivery from so manifestly intended Oppression.” Considering that the Stamp Act assessed taxes on each advertisement printed in colonial newspapers, in addition to those leveled for the newspaper itself, it seems appropriate that the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal would mark the first anniversary of its repeal by publishing an issue that overflowed with advertisements.

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[1] U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970, Part 2 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1975), 1184.

[2] L.A. Barrie and R.M. Hoff, “The Oxidation Rate and Residence Time of Sulphur Dioxide in the Arctic Atmosphere,” Atmospheric Environment 18, no. 12 (1984): 2711-2722.

April 8

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Apr 8 - 4:7:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (April 7, 1766).

“A FARM in Bristol, containing about 140 Acres of good Land.”

I find interesting the way in which the American colonies and European countries sometimes diverged economically in the eighteenth century. In my Western Civilization course, we have discussed the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain, where the revolution started, James Hargreaves invented the spinning jenny in 1764, revolutionizing the speed at which cotton could be spun. In that same decade Richard Arkwright introduced his water frame, which harnessed waterpower, resulting in water-powered factories that could produce mass amounts of textiles. People began to flock to the cities and abandon their farmlands. As farming became more technological and less profitable, jobs in the cities, especially in factories, opened up.

However, in America, such was not the case – yet. Farms and farmland were still highly valuable in the British colonies. Even when the Industrial Revolution reached America, the government would still encourage people to go west and start their own farms. The advertised farm has everything that a farmer could need to produce for the market and provide for his family.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Urban areas in America increasingly grew during the eighteenth century. Existing cities – Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston – expanded, while others – such as Baltimore – emerged as population centers and hubs of commerce in their own right. Still, as Maia explains, the Industrial Revolution did not arrive in North America as quickly as it did in Europe. Factories that employed new technologies discussed popped up in New England by the end of the century, but they were not part of the colonial landscape in the 1760s.

That does not mean that rural areas remained untouched. Note the many ways in which this advertisement demonstrates that colonists shaped the land on which they lived and worked. In addition to the town of Bristol, an “East Road” cut through the landscape. The farm for sale included a “House, Barn, and Cribb, &c.” These buildings certainly modified the landscape. The property had been “Fenced with about 1200 Rods of Stone Wall,” a significant change to the landscape. How much of the land devoted to “Meadow, Pasture, and Tillage” existed in such a state before colonists arrived? How much of it had been cleared by colonists?

Sometimes we assume that major changes to the environment occurred only in recent times, only after the United States fully engaged in the Industrial Revolution. This real estate advertisement, however, lists a variety of ways in which colonists reshaped the landscape to suit their own needs. Those who lived in rural areas did not reside in an undisturbed natural world. Instead, they engaged in a process of simultaneously adapting to the land and adapting the land as they desired.