December 7

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

Georgia Gazette (December 7, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD … a likely Negroe Wench and Child, a Riding Horse, a Set of Saddlers Tools.”

Advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream for newspaper publishers in eighteenth-century America. Often paid notices, rather than subscriptions, made newspapers viable ventures for the men and women that printed them. The colophons for many newspapers even included a list of services offered at the printing office, usually highlighting advertisements. The Georgia Gazette’s colophon, for instance stated that it was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.” Johnston prioritized advertising ahead of collecting content or subscribers in his efforts to promote his newspaper.

Advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children appeared among the many sorts of paid notices in eighteenth-century newspapers published throughout the colonies. From New Hampshire to Georgia, colonial printers included such advertisements in their publications, reaping financial benefits from their role in perpetuating human bondage. Even if they did not own slaves themselves, they facilitated both sales and surveillance of runaways. For some printers, advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children represented a significant proportion of their paid notices.

Consider the December 7, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Advertisements appeared on two of its four pages, filling three and a half of its eight columns. The first and last notices both concerned enslaved people, the first describing a fugitive slave, “A MUSTEE FELLOW, middle aged, named JOE,” and the last describing Michael, “A TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW” who had been captured and “Brought to the Work-house.” A total of thirty-nine paid notices ran in that issue. Of those, ten concerned enslaved men, women, and children. Four offered slaves for sale, including “TEN YOUNG LIKELY WORKING NEGROES.” One sought to purchase or hire “A CAREFUL HEALTHY NEGROE WENCH, with a good breast of milk” who could nurse a child. Four described runaways, including the advertisement for Cato, a cooper, and Judy, a laundress, that ran for months. The tenth advertisement concerning slavery, the “Brought to the Work-house” notice, appeared in the usual spot for the list of captured runaways, the very last item (excepting the colophon) in the issue. Advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children comprised one-quarter of those in the December 7 edition. The revenue they generated helped to distribute the news content elsewhere in the issue, including updates from Boston and London.

November 30

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

Nov 30 - 11:30:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 30, 1768).

“The Sago Powder will be of great utility at seas as well as on shore.”

At the end of November 1768, Samuel Bowen placed an advertisement promoting the “SAGO POWDER, SOY, and VERMICELLI” he cultivated and produced on several tracts of land near Savannah. He divided his advertisement into several parts, each with its own purpose. First, the prominent entrepreneur touted the accolades his products had earned. Next he described the use of sago powder. Then he offered a recipe for preparing “Sago Jelly.” Finally, after enticing prospective customers to purchase his products, he informed them of the prices and where to buy them.

By the time he placed this advertisement Bowen was a noted entrepreneur. In 1758, he traveled to India and China aboard vessels belonging to the East India Company. Little is known of the four years he spent in China beyond vague comments made by Bowen himself. He claimed to have been imprisoned for nearly four years, during which time he was moved from place to place in the interior of the country. He reappeared in London in late 1763, before heading to Georgia in 1764. Upon arriving in the colony he purchased tracts of land and commenced farming. Running short of land of his own to cultivate, he convinced Henry Yonge, the colony’s Surveyor General, to plant seeds Bowen had brought from China. That was the introduction of soybean cultivation in America.

Bowen traveled to London in the spring of 1766 and returned in the fall. His prominence as an entrepreneur increased, having received a gold medal from the Society of Arts, Manufacturers, and Commerce in London as well as present of two hundred guineas from George III. Bowen referenced these honors in his advertisement, perhaps considering them particularly important in promoting crops and products not native to Georgia and perhaps unfamiliar to many colonial consumers. He also noted these laurels as evidence that his sago powder, soy, and vermicelli were indeed “equal in goodness to those articles usually imported into Great-Britain by the East-India Company.”

In this advertisement, Bowen focused primarily on marketing sago powder. He did not, however, cultivate sago palms but instead substituted sweet potatoes. Despite his best efforts to promote his sago powder as a “wholesome nourishing food,” T. Hymowitz and J.R. Harlan report that it was more likely used “as packing material for the export of Wedgwood china from London to India.” Bowen’s product found a place in the consumer economy, but not the one he intended.

Still, some readers of the Georgia Gazette may have acquired Bowen’s sago powder with the intention of making the “Sago Jelly” from the recipe in the advertisement or otherwise using it for the purposes Bowen prescribed. He noted that the “light and nourishing substance” was “proper for fluxes and other disorders in the bowels, also in consumptive and ma[n]y other cases.” Bowen’s sago powder, soy, and vermicelli were “Sold at the Collector’s.” Eighteenth-century readers knew this referred to William Spencer, the Collector of Customs in Savannah. Spence also happened to be Bowen’s father-in-law.

This overview of Bowen’s entrepreneurial activities draws from an article by Hymowitz and Harlan. For more on Bowen, see T. Hymowitz and J.R. Harlan, “Introduction of Soybean to North America by Samuel Bown in 1765,” Economic Botany 37, no. 4 (October-December 1983): 371-379.

November 23

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

Nov 23 - 11:23:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 23, 1768).

“The stalls and stallages of the publick market of the town of Savannah.”

An advertisement in the November 23, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette bore the signature of “HUGH ROSS, C.M.” It was in his capacity as Clerk of the Market that he placed a notice addressing the operations of the stalls at Ellis Square, just a couple of blocks from the docks along the Savannah River. He gave “publick notice” to those who “have refused and neglected to pay their respective fees, rents, and arrears, due for the stalls and stallages” that they could expect legal action if they did not pay “before the first day of December next.” He also warned “sundry persons” who “for some time past have made a practice of lumbering” the Publick Wharf to removed their “staves, scantling, boards, shingles, &c.” to remove that lumber. Its accumulation had become a hindrance to “free and open recourse” to the market for the residents of Savannah.

According to Harold Davis, “the royal government created and regulated a public market” in the 1750s. Ross served as Clerk of the Market throughout most of its existence. That role included enforcing fair weights and measures in addition to collecting the fees owed by vendors who occupied the stalls. Davis notes that even though the “market theoretically was a place where all kinds of goods or provisions might be sold … in practice Georgians looked to it principally for vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry, and fish.” For residents of Savannah, it was “the most dependable place to buy fresh produce.”[1] The law allowed for anyone to buy or sell at the market, with the exception of free blacks and slaves. However, court records indicate that black vendors sometimes violated both that law and slave codes that made similar prohibitions.

The market became a significant landmark in Savannah. In its early years, a bell rang for five minutes at sunrise every day except Sunday to announce that the market was open for business. In 1764, the interval extended to fifteen minutes. Davis describes the market at Ellis Square as “sixty feet square with four little houses for truck at each corner. Stalls stretched from corner house to corner house.” One passage on each side allowed for entry into the enclosed square. A belfry at the center housed the bell. Ross’s notice would have conjured images of shopping at the market for readers of the Georgia Gazette, sights and sounds and perhaps even recollections of tastes and smells associated with the business conducted there.


[1] Harold E. Davis, The Fledgling Province: Social and Culture Life in Colonial Georgia, 1733-1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1976), 69-70.

November 16

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

Nov 16 - 11:16:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 16, 1768).


Inglis and Hall’s advertisement for “About THIRTY VERY LIKELY SLAVES” ran in the Georgia Gazette for a second time on November 16, 1768. It briefly noted that more than two dozen slaves had “Just arrived from the West-Indies” and were “To be sold on reasonable Terms.” The notice included a crude woodcut that depicted two adults and a child, though this did not necessarily reflect the composition of the human cargo hawked by the prominent merchants. It appeared in three consecutive issues before being discontinued.

Unlike most advertisements that ran for multiple weeks, it included a slight revision to the copy, the addition of a date: “Nov. 9, 1768.” That date indicated when the notice first appeared in the Georgia Gazette, not the date Inglis and Hall wrote the copy. Given the production time required for setting type and operating the printing press by hand, the merchants would have submitted their advertisement at least a day before the publication date of the issue in which it first appeared. According to the shipping news in the November 9 edition, the slaves likely arrived in Savannah aboard the “Schooner Friendship” from Grenada on November 4 or aboard the “Ship Industry” from Antigua on November 8, the same day that the “Schooner Liberty” arrived from Charleston.

Why add a date to the advertisement? That may have been done at the behest of Inglis and Hall, especially if they wished to make clear to prospective buyers that the slaves they offered for sale had not languished in Savannah for an extended period. John Graham and Company placed an advertisement for “A Parcel of Choice Healthy GUINEY and GOLD COAST NEW NEGROES” in the November 16 issue. Perhaps aware of the competition, Inglis and Hall did not want their advertisement mistaken as one that had appeared for weeks or even months. After all, the notices concerning runaway slaves included some dated July 6 and August 11. Alternately, the compositor may have simply neglected to include the date in the first insertion and rectified the error for the next issue. The updated advertisement, however, at least raises the possibility that Inglis and Hall made an intervention based on new information that came into their possession after it first appeared in the Georgia Gazette.

November 9

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

Nov 9 - 11:9:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 9, 1768).

“He has moved into town, in order to carry on his business as formerly.”

When he placed an advertisement in the November 9, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, Thomas Morgan relied on readers already possessing some familiarity with the services he offered. In its entirety, his advertisement announced, “THE subscriber gives his friends and former customers notice, that he has moved into town, in order to carry on his business as formerly, and hopes to give them satisfaction when favoured with their commands. He lives at present in the house where Mr. Garratt Allan did live. THOMAS MORGAN.” He did not even mention the type of business he operated but instead expected residents of Savannah to know his occupation. Such was the nature of life in a relatively small town in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Further investigation yields two advertisements most likely published by the same Thomas Morgan, advertisements that provided more specific information about how he earned his livelihood. Two years earlier, Morgan and Jonathan Remington stated that they had formed a partnership and proposed “carrying on the TAYLOR BUSINESS.” In an advertisement in the September 24, 1766, edition of the Georgia Gazette, they requested “the continuance of the favours of their former friends and customers, and all others who may be pleased to favour them with their commands. In another advertisement, this one placed in the July 12, 1769, edition, “MORGAN and ROCHE, Taylors,” informed the public that “they have entered into copartnership to carry on the TAYLOR BUSINESS in all its branches.”

In both of these additional advertisements, Morgan and his partner advanced more robust appeals to potential customers. In 1769 Morgan and Roche pledged that “all gentlemen may depend on being served with diligence and quick dispatch.” In 1766 Morgan and Remington proclaimed that their clients “may depend on having their work made in the genteelest and most fashionable manner, with the utmost dispatch and good attendance.” While it is impossible to know who wrote the copy for each advertisement, Morgan’s partners may have had the better instincts when it came to promoting their business in the public prints. This may have been one factor that contributed to Morgan once again entering a partnership just eight months after moving into Savannah to operate a business on his own.

When considered collectively, these advertisements tell a more complete story of Morgan’s business endeavors. Digitization of eighteenth-century newspapers has made telling that story much more viable. Formerly, identifying these advertisements would have required traveling to an archive that possessed the original issues of the Georgia Gazette or a research library that had the newspaper on microfilm, followed by hours of paging through each issue and skimming for Morgan’s name. Thanks to digitization, however, a keyword search efficiently identified advertisements placed Morgan. In Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database, I limited a search to the Georgia Gazette, set the dates for 1760 through 1775, and selected “Thomas Morgan” as the keyword. This yielded twenty-two results, many of them advertisements for runaway slaves. The others, however, elaborated on Morgan’s business activities as a tailor. An inquiry that formerly would have taken hours in an archive or research library took only minutes with a keyword search of digitized primary sources.

November 2

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

Nov 2 - 11:2:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 2, 1768).

“[No. 266.]”

Earlier this week the Adverts 250 Project featured a supplement that accompanied the October 27, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Although the supplement carried some news, advertising filled the vast majority of space. This was not uncommon in eighteenth-century newspapers, especially those published in the largest urban ports.

Yet newspapers in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia were not the only ones that sometimes circulated supplements devoted almost exclusively to advertising. Publications in smaller cities and towns sometimes did the same. Consider, for example, the November 2, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. It included the standard four-page issue created by folding a broadsheet in half as well as a one-page supplement comprised entirely of paid notices. An excess of news did not make the advertising supplement necessary. James Johnston, the printer, devoted two entire pages to news items. A couple of those overflowed onto a third page, filling half a column. If anything, that issue carried slightly less news than usually appeared in the Georgia Gazette.

In contrast, it featured significantly more advertising, enough to fill an entire page, but not enough to merit printing on both sides of a half sheet. Johnston resorted to this strategy several times in the summer and fall of 1768, but apparently not so often that he devised a masthead that read “Supplement to the Georgia Gazette.” Newspapers that frequently distributed supplements had such mastheads. Instead, Johnston simply inserted “[No. 266.]” at the bottom of the second column, a brief notation to indicate that the extra page belonged with the November 2 issue, “No. 266” according to its masthead. Most likely the extra page had been tucked inside the standard issue prior to distribution.

Although it generally carried less advertising, in terms both of numbers and of proportion of space filled, than newspapers in the largest American cities, the Georgia Gazette was also a delivery mechanism for advertisements as much as for news and other content. It carried advertisements placed for a variety of purposes – consumer goods and services for sale, runaway slaves, real estate, legal notices, to name some of the most common – to readers in Savannah and throughout the colony.

October 26

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

Oct 26 - 10:26:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 26, 1768).

“WHITE, green, and blue plains, London duffils, shags, white and striped flannels, striped linsies.”

In the fall of 1768, Rae and Somerville promoted their “Compleat ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” in an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette. The partners listed dozens of items in a notice that extended approximately one-third of a column. Compared to list-style advertisements that appeared in newspapers printed in other cities, especially the busiest ports, this advertisement may have seemed relatively short. Compared to other advertisements for consumer goods in the Georgia Gazette, however, Rae and Somerville’s notice was extensive.

Advertisements of a similar length did appear in the colony’s only newspaper, but they usually had other purposes. Many fell in the category of legal notices. Elsewhere in the same issue, advertisements of a similar length included a notice from the provost marshal concerning the sale of lands taken “under execution” and a notice from the surveyor general warning against fraudulent methods of delineating boundaries. Estate sales, especially when they included real estate, also tended to occupy as much space in the Georgia Gazette.

The length of Rae and Somerville’s advertisement made it particularly noticeable, especially considering that the Georgia Gazette featured only two columns per page. That meant that the extensive list of merchandise accounted for one-sixth of a page in the standard four-page issue. It was twice the length of any other advertisement for consumer goods in the same edition, with only one exception. Inglis and Hall once again inserted their advertisement for goods recently imported on the Industry and the Georgia Packet. Longer than most, it was not as lengthy as Rae and Somerville’s notice, neither by the number of items listed nor by the column inches. Inglis and Hall had listed only one item per line rather than a dense block of text that crowded as many items as possible into the space Rae and Somerville had purchased.

In addition, Inglis and Hall frequently advertised in the Georgia Gazette. When it came to presenting notices to local consumers via the newspaper, Inglis and Hall were the colony’s most prominent merchants. Readers were accustomed to seeing their lengthy advertisements. Rae and Somerville, on the other hand, had not previously made the same investment in advertising in the public prints. That made their extensive advertisement all the more noteworthy to those who regularly read the Georgia Gazette. In the range of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods published throughout the colonies in the 1760s, Rae and Somerville’s notice fits somewhere in the middle in terms of the number of items listed and how much of a column it occupied. Compared to others in the Georgia Gazette, the barometer most readers would have used, it was an exceptionally extensive advertisement. Its intended impact must be considered relative to experiences of the audience who would have read it.

October 19

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

Oct 19 - 10:19:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 19, 1768).

“A few new Negroes, will be sold on the most reasonable terms.”

The partnership of Cowper and Telfairs repeatedly inserted a list-style advertisement in the Georgia Gazette in the fall of 1768. Extending nearly half a column, the advertisement enumerated dozens of items included among the “Compleat and Large ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” that Cowper and Telfairs had imported from London. Their inventory included everything from “black, buff, and crimson wove breeches” to “a large assortment of printed linens, cottons, and chintzes” to “gunpowder and shot” to “ironmongery of various kinds.” To further underscore the vast array of choices they made available to consumers, the partners indicated that all the merchandise listed in their advertisement was “exclusive of many other articles too tedious to mention.”

Running this sort of advertisement was a familiar strategy for Cowper and Telfairs. Although they did not maintain a constant presence in the Georgia Gazette, they periodically placed similar notices. For instance, they inserted a notice of a comparable length the previous fall as well as a shorter one two years earlier. This advertisement, however, included one commodity that distinguished it from some of those earlier advertisements. Cowper and Telfairs trafficked in slaves, reducing “a few new Negroes” to goods to be sold alongside “glass ware of different kinds” and “womens pumps and shoes.”

The advertisement concluded with a short paragraph that consisted of only two lines. It listed three items presumably shipped from the Caribbean rather than via “the SHIP GEORGIA PACKET … from LONDON.” In addition to textiles, housewares, and hardware, Cowper and Telfairs advised that “Good rum, the very best muscovado sugar, and a few new Negroes, will be sold on the most reasonable terms for cash or a short credit.” The trade in enslaved men, women, and children was so enmeshed in the networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic in the eighteenth century that neither the advertisers who placed hits notice nor the prospective customers who read it would have considered it peculiar to mention human commodities almost as an afterthought after the fans, buttons, and so many other baubles that comprised the rest of the advertisement.

Advertisements for slaves were ubiquitous in colonial newspapers, especially the Georgia Gazette. Notices concerning enslaved people for sale, runaways, and captured fugitives generated revenues that contributed to the continued operation of eighteenth-century newspapers. Those notices also harnessed the power of print to buttress a system of exploitation, inviting all readers, whether they owned slaves or not, to participate in buying and selling enslaved people as well as encouraging them to participate in the surveillance of black people to capture any who attempted to escape. Many of these advertisements were easy to recognize at a glance because they exclusively focused on slaves for sale or fugitives, but today’s advertisement from Cowper and Telfairs demonstrates that even some advertisements that did not focus primarily on enslaved people undergirded the system of bondage in early America. The casual mention of “a few new Negroes” at the end of an extensive list of merchandise suggested the impossibility of separating slavery from commerce in Georgia on the eve of the American Revolution.

October 12

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

Oct 12 - 10:12:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 12, 1768).

“INGLIS and HALL, Have just imported, In the INDUSTRY, FURSE, from BRISTOL.”

When Inglis and Hall placed an advertisement in the October 12, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette they adopted formulaic language that often appeared in other advertisements. The partners informed prospective customers that they “have just imported” a variety of goods from London and Bristol. Like many other colonial merchants and shopkeepers, Inglis and Hall reported which ship had transported their goods across the Atlantic: “the GEORGIA PACKET, ANDERSON, from LONDON” and “the INDUSTRY, FURSE, from BRISTOL.” This allowed readers to determine for themselves that Inglis and Hall did indeed stock new merchandise. Many may have been aware of which vessels recently arrived in port, but all could read the shipping news that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.

Inglis and Hall’s advertisement appeared on the second page of the October 12 issue, opposite the list of ships ‘ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE,” those “ENTERED OUTWARDS,” and others that had “CLEARED” the port. The shipping news indicated that the “Ship Georgia Packet, George Anderson” from London “ENTERED INWARDS” on October 10. The Industry was not listed, but it was still in port, having ‘ENTERED INWARDS” on September 30 according to the October 5 edition.

Given the time required to set the type and print both sides of the newspaper on a hand-operated press, Inglis and Hall must have submitted the copy for their advertisement to James Johnston at the printing office in Savannah immediately upon the arrival of Captain Anderson and the Georgia Packet. The shipping news bolstered their claim that they “have just imported” a variety of goods. In other instances, merchants and shopkeepers ran advertisements for weeks or months, never updating them. The appeal to having “just imported” merchandise became outdated, even if the list of goods available for sale remained accurate. Readers could assess that particular appeal: sometimes an inventory described as “just imported” had been lingering on the shelves for quite some time. Consumers interested in the newest goods, including the current fashions from London, had to be aware that advertisers deployed the phrase “just imported” with little attention to the passage of time over the run of their advertisements. Usually accurate when an advertisement first appeared, that description did not disappear until advertisers discontinued their advertisements.

October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 5, 1768).

“Mrs. Cosgreve would undertake to teach young Ladies to sew and read.”

Although several schoolmasters and –mistresses offered their services in Savannah in the late 1760s, James Cosgreve published one of the most extensive advertisements in the Georgia Gazette. The length was due in part to the schoolmaster’s description of his curriculum. Like his counterparts, he taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, he also delivered lessons in several other subjects not as widely taught by other schoolmasters in Georgia at the time. For instance, Cosgreve indicated that he provided instruction in “Mathematicks, such as the first six books of Euclid, with their application in the theory and practice of Trigonometry, Navigation, Surveying, Gnomicks, Astronomy, Geography, Algebra, and the Use of the Globes.” He also offered two tracks of language instruction to match the abilities and resources of his students. Advanced students learned Latin and Greek, but those who “cannot spend so much time at school as to acquire” those languages “to any degree of perfection” could instead study “the English and French tongues grammatically.” Cosgreve was well qualified to teach all of these subjects, “having acquired a competent skill and communicative faculty … by the laborious study and experience of a long course of years, in the most noted Seminaries, Academies, and Schools in Ireland, England, and America.”

In a short nota bene Cosgreve first noted where he resided and then added that “Mrs. Cosgreve would undertake to teach young Ladies to sew and read.” Mrs. Cosgreve was not nearly as accomplished as her husband, yet she also contributed to their household economy by offering her services as a teacher. She too participated in the marketplace, yet the representation of her activities that appeared in the public prints was dramatically overshadowed by her husband’s lengthy narration of his credentials and subjects he taught. Such was often the case for wives of schoolmasters and others who provided goods and services. If their contributions to family businesses and household finances were acknowledged at all, they tended to be mentioned only briefly in the conclusions to advertisements, almost as an afterthought. Admittedly, James Cosgreve did require a greater amount of space to detail the many and varied subjects he proposed teaching to “young Gentlemen and Ladies,” but that did not mean that Mrs. Cosgreve’s parallel instruction in sewing and reading had to be consigned to a nota bene. The husband could have instead chosen to depict his wife as an assistant or junior partner while still maintaining his status as the head of a well-ordered household. Such an approach was not unknown in eighteenth-century advertisements placed by schoolmasters whose wives made contributions to the enterprise. In this case, however, Cosgreve may have believed that placing any more emphasis on his wife would have distracted from the image of himself, the atmosphere of genteel learning at his school, and the extensive curriculum that he sought to market to prospective students and their parents.