April 1

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Apr 1 - 4:1:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 1, 1767).

“The CLOCK and WATCH MAKING BUSINESS in all its branches.”

Adrian Loyer announced that he “carr[ied] on the CLOCK and WATCH MAKING BUSINESS in all its branches.” However, watchmaking was not as common as making clocks in colonial America, despite some colonists from England with the necessary skills and tools. Many colonists with watchmaking skills usually repaired watches, rather than creating them. Many of the watches used in colonial America were imported from England instead.

Clockmaking was much more common during the eighteenth century. Clocks were typically made of brass for the dial and wood for the case, including oak, walnut, and mahogany. Some clocks were made with expensive satinwood for inlays. Tall-case clocks made during the eighteenth century were typically expensive; their owners were usually wealthy. As a result, tall-case clocks were usually handed down through generations.

Individual clockmakers typically did not produce more than an average of four to five clocks per year. This was most likely due to the expensiveness of the materials required to produce clocks. Large clocks with tall cases required more materials and more time to produce. Despite these drawbacks, some clockmakers still managed to make a decent living.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Adrian Loyer seemed to be expanding the business he operated in Savannah, thanks to the assistance of “some compleat workmen lately from London” that he recruited on a recent trip to Charleston in neighboring South Carolina. As Evan indicates, Loyer was set “to carry on the CLOCK and WATCH MAKING BUSINESS in all its branches” at his shop, but he offered a variety of other services as well. He and his assistants also repaired mathematical instruments and performed metalwork on weapons and other items.

Residents of Savannah were apparently familiar with Loyer’s work and his reputation: he opened his advertisement by acknowledging “his friends and customers.” Former and potential customers, however, did not know much about Loyer’s new assistants and their work beyond the brief description that appeared in the advertisement. Accordingly, Loyer offered assurances to anyone who visited his shop. He pledged that any work contracted and completed in his shop “will be warranted for a twelvemonth.” In other words, Loyer offered a guarantee that lasted for a year.

Loyer did not provide further details about how his guarantee worked. Was it a money back guarantee? Or did he not charge to repair items that failed within the specified period? Or did he offer customers a choice? Edward Spauldin, who “carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS AND WATCHES” in Providence, explained how his guarantee worked in an advertisement published the previous summer. “If any of his Work fails,” Spauldin stated, “he will repair the same gratis.”

Loyer seemed quite conscious that potential patrons might choose his competitors in Savannah or even send their work to workshops in Charleston. That being the case, it seems most likely that he followed Spauldin’s example and made repairs for free. Doing so gave him the opportunity to satisfy customers rather than relinquish them to other clockmakers and smiths. Whatever the mechanisms of the guarantee, Loyer underscored that he took responsibility for any work that left his shop, whether undertaken by himself or by any of the “compleat workmen” he now employed.

March 31

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 31, 1767).

“RUN-AWAY … a likely black fellow.”

Slavery was common in colonial and Revolutionary America. Slaves were first brought over in 1619 to aid in the production of crops like tobacco. Slaves were cheaper and more plentiful than indentured servants; many colonists took advantage of this. Slavery was harsh and cruel: slaves were beaten for misbehaving. This pushed many slaves to become runaways. Slave owners used newspapers to advertise their missing slaves, and offered rewards for finding them. Many of the advertisements were accurately descriptive of the runaways. Many slaves who ran away stole supplies, especially clothing and food, but sometimes even horses and boats. Today I am examining one example of a runaway slave advertisement that appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. This particular advertisement said that the slave had a wife, and was “well known in town and country.” People were given rewards for returning slaves to their masters. Some slaves that were returned to their masters received harsh punishments, such as whippings and beatings.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Some scholars consider runaway advertisements the first slave narratives. Although written by masters attempting to regain their human property, runaway advertisements reveal aspects of the lives of their subjects that otherwise likely would remain hidden and forgotten through time. Still, they usually lack critical details and only provide outlines of much more complicated stories.

Today’s advertisement, for instance, sought the return of a “likely black fellow, formerly belonging to James St. John’s estate.” In naming the former master but not the enslaved man who ran away, Elizabeth Beatty deprived “the said Negro” of an important part of his identity even as she implicitly recognized the agency he exercised by absconding. Perhaps Beatty believed that she otherwise so adequately described the “likely black fellow” that according him a name was not necessary for readers to identify him. After all, he was “well known in town and country,” making it possible that local residents needed only a cursory description. If the unnamed slave had already demonstrated a propensity for running away that may have rendered additional details unnecessary for neighbors familiar with his misbehavior. If that was the case, Beatty may have placed this advertisement as an announcement for readers to be on the lookout for a repeat offender who was known for visiting “Mr. Lance’s plantation in Goose-creek.” Like so many other runaway advertisements, this one only hinted at the much more extensive narrative of the subject’s life.

That life apparently included a wife, a detail that humanized “the said Negro” despite the intention of the advertisement to treat him merely as a piece of property to be recovered. This detail revealed that enslaved men and women developed relationships and personal lives despite their captivity. They established bonds with others despite their bondage, no matter how diligently or aggressively their masters worked to regulate and surveil their lives. That the “likely black fellow … may be harboured” at Lance’s plantation suggested a conspiracy that included slaves other than just his wife, a community engaged in acts of resistance in support of the runaway’s initial act of resistance.

Elizabeth Beatty published this advertisement in hopes of having human property returned “to the Warden of the Workhouse.” An alternate reading, however, allows us to recover important elements of the experiences of enslaved people in the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

March 29

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 29 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“Best GREEN-COFFEE … Choice Bohea TEA.”

In colonial and Revolutionary America, coffee was available, but it was less accessible than tea or alcohol. Unlike tea, coffee had to be ground, which was something most colonists did not have as much time to do. So even though tea was more expensive than coffee, it took more time and labor to make coffee than tea. As a result, many colonists typically did not make coffee at home. Colonists who did make their own coffee showed their wealth when preparing or serving it, showing their privileged status.

Those who were not even able to afford tea turned to coffee substitutes. According to Christina Regelski, slaves made their own substitute coffee using ingredients from gardens such as cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and corn.

Tea also played an important role in the American Revolution. After Britain put stricter laws on imports, tea was taxed. Many colonists decided to boycott tea and give up one of the “luxuries that they had come to treasure.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

George Turner sold “A fine Assortment of English GOODS” as well as “Groceries of all Kinds” – including the coffee and tea examined by Evan – at his shop on Queen Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. To attract customers, Turner launched some of the most common appeals used by eighteenth-century advertisers, especially appeals to price and quality, but he supplemented them with several others that found their ways into advertisements less often.

For instance, he advised “Town or Country Customers” that they could “depend upon being used as well by sending their Servants, as if present themselves.” Shopkeepers in port cities regularly indicated that they received and faithfully filled orders from customers in the countryside, an eighteenth-century version of mail order shopping. Turner put a bit of a twist on that means of selling his wares. In this case, he acknowledged that customers might send others – their servants – to shop on their behalf. Doing so potentially put customers at a disadvantage in commercial transactions, but Turner assured readers that he would treat fairly with their representatives in their absence. Potential customers need not worry about being fleeced by the shopkeeper when they sent surrogates to make purchases at his store. That he listed prices for several commodities (rum, sugar, coffee, “COTTON-WOOL”), a fairly uncommon practice in eighteenth-century advertisements, left less room for haggling or surprises at the moment of purchase. In a sense, this mechanized transactions by making it irrelevant who was actually present at the exchange.

In addition, Turner also pledged to barter provisions in exchange for “any of the above mention’d ARTICLES, at a Price proportionate to the aforesaid Prices,” even though he previously announced that he sold his wares “Cheap for CASH.” Although hesitant to extend credit, the shopkeeper did not rigidly insist that every transaction required cash. Instead, he provided potential customers an alternative.

Finally, Turner put a unique spin on his appeal to price: “It is needless to say said TURNER will Sell Cheaper than others, as that would be only questioning the Judgment of the Purchaser.” Apparently it was necessary to make this statement, but in doing so Turner turned it into a self-evident statement of fact. He also absolved himself from any possible accusations of wringing inflated prices out of customers by placing the onus on them. If they bought his wares at higher prices than those charged by his competitors, that was the result of their own poor judgment. Any attempt to question Turner’s fairness became an indictment of a customer’s own competence as a savvy consumer.

George Turner created a lively advertisement that merged some standard appeals with several uncommon arguments in favor of making purchases at his shop. At a glance, his advertisement looks similar to countless others printed in eighteenth-century newspapers, but on closer examination it reveals some of the innovative playfulness possible in advertising during the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

March 28

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 28 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“CROWN Coffee-House.”

According to Colonial Williamsburg, coffeehouses in the eighteenth century were “information centers and forums for debate and discussion.” Coffeehouses were places where people had conversations with others. Most coffeehouses were not limited to serving just coffee, but provided tea and chocolate as well. Some coffeehouses served alcoholic drinks as well, including the “ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c.” at Isaac Williams’s Crown Coffeehouse. Coffeehouses that did not serve alcoholic drinks sometimes struggled to compete with those that did. Coffee, states Steven Topik, was often dismissed as an unnecessary luxury.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Isaac Williams issued a challenge to the readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Rather than simply announce that he stocked and served “the best of LIQUORS” for his patrons at the Crown Coffeehouse in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he dared them to “be so kind as to call and judge for themselves, whether his ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c. is not as good as at other public Houses.” Advertisers in the eighteenth century, like their counterparts today, engaged in a complicated dance with potential customers. They made claims that they wanted readers to believe, often offering assurances of their validity and trustworthiness, but they also expected potential customers to greet their appeals with some skepticism. Williams acknowledged as much, insisting that he “would not have them take his Word.” Instead, he craftily invited comparisons with other establishments. Readers could not make such comparisons, however, unless they actually became customers and sampled the offerings at the Crown on Queen Street.

Once he got them through the doors, Williams promised a variety of amenities in addition to the “best of Liquors.” In addition to the quality of the beverages, “Gentlemen” experienced a refined atmosphere that included “large and small Entertainment, provided in the most genteel manner.” Such entertainment may have included performances by any of the variety of itinerants that Peter Benes examines his recent book, For a Short Time Only: Itinerants and the Resurgence of Popular Culture in Early America. Musicians, singers, magic lanternists, puppeteers, actors, and conjurers all performed in American taverns and coffeehouses throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. In addition, the advertisement indicated that Williams likely completed renovations to make his coffeehouse a comfortable space for men to gather, drink, gossip, conduct business, discuss politics and current events, watch performers, and exchange information. To that end, he invested “considerable Expence … in making his House convenient” for the entertainment of his patrons.

From the liquor, coffee, and food to entertainment, furnishings, and service, Isaac Williams described an atmosphere that could only be truly appreciated by experiencing it. He prompted readers to imagine themselves drinking and socializing at the Queen, making it more likely that some would accept his challenge to visit and “judge for themselves” whether his coffeehouse compared favorably to other public houses.