March 28

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

Mar 28 - 3:28:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 28, 1770).

“NEW NEGROES, CHIEFLY MEN.”

On March 28, 1770, Joseph Clay placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to announce the sale of “A CARGO consisting of about 170 young and healthy NEW NEGROES” scheduled for the next day.  A crude woodcut depicted adults and a child, but the copy specified that the “CARGO” consisted of “CHIEFLY MEN.”  Clay assured prospective buyers that the enslaved men previously “had the Smallpox,” thus increasing their value by offering a guarantee that they would not contract the illness in the future.  Perhaps as further evidence of their good health, Clay noted that the enslaved men had “Just arrived, after a short passage of five weeks … from Gambia” rather than languishing aboard the vessel an even longer time.  Captain Stephen Dean and the snow Britannia delivered them to Georgia.

This advertisement provides sufficient information to identify it as voyage 77996 in Slave Voyages, a database documenting the transatlantic slave trade.  That entry reveals more about the voyage than the advertisement, though most of the additional information concerns the experiences of the crew rather than the enslaved men transported across the ocean.  The Britannia departed London on September 25, 1769, and spent an unspecified amount of time along the coast of Africa.  The database indicates the Britannia arrived in Georgia on March 21, 1770, though the advertisement is dated March 19.  Either way, it took slightly less than six months to sail from London to Africa, acquire the “CARGO,” and then deliver the enslaved men to mainland North America.  The Britannia remained in port for seven weeks, departing on May 11 and completed its voyage in London on June 30.  For the twenty-three crew members, the voyage lasted a mere nine months.  For the estimated 199 Africans that embarked in Gambia, this voyage changed their lives forever.  Many died while crossing the Atlantic, reducing the estimated 199 to “about 170.”  Those who survived faced an array of challenges in a new land.

Perhaps some of those “NEW NEGROES” later made their way into the pages of the Georgia Gazette as runaways who escaped from those who held them in bondage.  Many may have become the subject of other advertisements that once again offered them for sale, either individually or among a parcel.  The advertisements testify to their presence in colonial Georgia and reveal some of their experiences, yet tell exceptionally incomplete stories of what they endured and how they survived.

March 21

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

Mar 21 - 3:21:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 21, 1770).

“I forewarn the masters of vessels from carrying him off.”

When “A NEGROE FELLOW, named SAM,” made his escape, James Lucena placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to enlist readers throughout the colony in recovering the man he considered his property.  His notice followed a standard format, one familiar from newspapers published not only in Georgia but throughout British mainland North America.  He stated that Sam was “about 22 years old” and “speaks very good English.”  Lucena offered a physical description, noting that Sam was “about 5 feet 6 inches” and had ritual scars or “country marks on each side of his face this |||.”  He also offered a description of the clothing Sam wore when he escaped: “a dark grey cloth double breasted waistcoat and a white negroe cloth under jacket, a pair of green negroe cloth long trowsers, and a round sailor’s cap.”  He may have considered additional details unnecessary since Sam was “well known in and about Savannah.”  All of these details encouraged readers to take special note of the physical characteristics, clothing, and even speech of Black men they encountered.

Lucena was just as concerned about accomplices who aided Sam, especially “masters of vessels” who might depart the port of Savannah and transport Sam far away from Georgia and far beyond Lucena’s ability to force Sam back into bondage.  Lucena appended a nota bene to the conclusion of his advertisement, asserting that “Said negroe is suspected to be concealed on board some vessel.”  Sam could have hidden on board unknown to any of the crew, but Lucena suggested that he received assistance from sailors or even officers.  Mariners throughout the eighteenth-century Atlantic world were an exceptionally egalitarian community, often suspected of providing assistance to enslaved men in their efforts to escape.  Lucena warned that anyone who aided Sam “may depend on being prosecuted to the utmost rigour of the law.”  Like other colonies, Georgia enacted statutes to punish both enslaved men and women who escaped and anyone who “concealed,” harbored, or otherwise assisted them.  Lucena’s advertisement encouraged surveillance of Black men, but it also called for scrutiny of mariners and anyone who might be suspected of being sympathetic to Sam and others who seized their liberty.

March 14

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

Mar 14 - 3:14:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 14, 1770).

“ORDERED, That the above Resolution be published in the next Gazette.”

In March 1770 the Union Society published a notice in the Georgia Gazette that announced its members “UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED, That a handsome PIECE OF PLATE be presented to JONATHAN BRYAN, Esquire, as a Token of the Sense we entertain of his upright Conduct, as a worthy Member of this SOCIETY, a real Friend to his Country in general, and the Province of GEORGIA in particular.”  For eighteenth-century readers in Savannah and throughout Georgia, such accolades likely needed no explanation.  Bryan played an important role in local politics as the imperial crisis intensified.

Harold E. Davis provides an overview of why Bryan received this honor from the Union Society.  First, he explains that Georgians formed a variety of private societies and organizations in the eighteenth century, not unlike their neighbors in Charleston.  (Jessica Choppin Roney examines similar civic organizations in colonial Philadelphia.)  Established in 1750, the Union Society “consisted mostly of craftsmen concerned with their interests as a class,” but over time enlarged its membership to include “men of more genteel professions.”[1]  The society supported a local school that admitted ten children a year.  “As pre-Revolutionary tensions sharpened,” Davis explains, “the Union Society became active in politics and rallied behind Jonathan Bryan, a member, when Bryan angered Governor Wright in 1769 by presiding over a meeting to discuss nonimportation of British goods.”[2]  Wright expelled Bryan from his council.  The Union Society, in turn, recognized Bryan’s advocacy with a “handsome PIECE OF PLATE” and the resolution published in the Georgia Gazette.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, advertisements for consumer goods and services increasingly invoked the politics of the period, especially nonimportation as a commercial means of achieving political ends.  Yet advertisements that hawked merchandise that arrived in the colonies before nonimportation agreements went into effect or goods produced in the colonies rather than imported were not the only sorts of notices that addressed current events and offered commentary, directly or indirectly, on the news covered elsewhere in newspapers.  Given the close reading practices required to navigate eighteenth-century newspapers, the contents of advertisements, news items, and editorials all informed the others, with advertisements sometimes becoming editorials themselves.  That was certainly the case for the Union Society’s advertisement recognizing the civic virtues demonstrated by Jonathan Bryan.

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[1] Harold E. Davis, The Fledgling Province:  Social and Cultural Life in Colonial Georgia 1733-1776 (Chapel Hill:  Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and University of North Carolina Press, 1976; 2012), 169-170.

[2] Davis, Fledgling Province, 170.

March 7

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

Mar 7 - 3:7:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 7, 1770).

“SUNDRY HOUSEHOLD GOODS.”

A short advertisement in the March 7, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette informed readers of an auction that would take place nearly a month later.  “To be sold, on Monday the 2d of April,” it announced, “SUNDRY HOUSEHOLD GOODS, the property of Barbara Wilson, deceased.”  Several other notices provided details for upcoming auctions and vendue sales, as they were often called in the eighteenth century.  Stephen Mellen and Ursala Peters placed an advertisement that read: “To be sold by publick vendue … HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, some CARPENTERS TOOLS, and a few NEGROES, belonging to the Estate of Christopher Peters, deceased.”  In the process of selling an array of goods the deceased Peters acquired during his lifetime, the administrators of his estate reduced enslaved people to commodities to be sold alongside “HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE” and “CARPENTERS TOOLS.”  Another notice mentioned “A PARCEL OF HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE” to be sold on the same day as Mrs. Simpson’s “DWELLING-HOUSE” and two lots of land.  Throughout these advertisements, “HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE” referred to a variety of personal belongings, not just chairs and tables and the like.

In contrast, the March 7 issue of the Georgia Gazette, like many others, had few advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others promoting new goods for sale at their storehouses and shops.  This testifies to different means of participating in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century.  Though eager to acquire new goods, especially the latest fashions, colonists also did brisk trade in secondhand goods at auctions and estate sales.  At such venues, buyers found bargains that they likely could not have achieved when purchasing new items, no matter how experienced or skillful they happened to be when it came to haggling with retailers.  While nonimportation agreements were in effect and colonists were suspicious of the origins of new merchandise, buying secondhand goods may have also provided a means of exercising their political principles.

February 28

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

Feb 28 - 2:28:1770 Georgia Gazette

“A FEW NEGROES.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, rarely issued a supplement to the standard four-page edition, but on February 28, 1770, he had sufficient content to merit distributing a smaller sheet that consisted entirely of advertising. Unlike supplements that accompanied most other colonial newspapers, this one did not bear a masthead.  Instead, a notation at the bottom of the page tied it to the standard issue.  The notation, “[No. 334.],” matched the issue number in the masthead of the February 28 edition.

Printed on both sides, the supplement included eighteen additional advertisements.  Those notices represented significant revenue for Johnston.  Like other eighteenth-century printers, he depended on advertising to make publishing a newspaper economically viable.  Subscription fees alone did not pay for the production and dissemination of the news.  That meant that Peter Gandy contributed to the process when he placed an advertisement about an “EVENING SCHOOL … for the benefit of those who can’t attend the day school.”  Yet it also meant that Patrick Houston did as well when he advertised “FEW NEGROES belonging to the estate of Martin Fenton.”  The warden of the workhouse did as well when advertising “TWO NEGRO FELLOWS, brought from the Creek nation, … A NEGROE FELLOW, who says his name is Boston, … [and] A NEW NEGRO FELLOW, can’t speak English so as to tell his master’s or his own name.”  Those were two of the many advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children that ran in the February 28 edition of the Georgia Gazetteand its supplement.

At the same time that Georgia’s only newspaper carried news about the imperial crisis that ultimately culminated in the American Revolution it also disseminated advertisements that offered enslaved people for sale or that encouraged colonists to engage in surveillance of Black bodies to recognize and recapture those who escaped from bondage. Depictions of liberty and slavery appeared side by side in the pages of colonial newspapers.  Advertisements, in their attempts to maintain the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, funded coverage of the purported abuses that colonists supposedly suffered at the hands of Parliament.  Early American advertising contributed to the paradox of liberty and slavery present at the founding of the new nation.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:21:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 21, 1770).

“The Taylor’s Business is carried on in all its branches.”

When Jonathan Remington, a tailor, moved to a new location early in 1770, he placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette so prospective clients would know where to find him.  Although he devoted much of the notice to giving directions, he also incorporated, though briefly, several marketing appeals.  “The Taylor’s Business,” he proclaimed, “is carried on in all its branches, in the genteelest manner, and with the utmost dispatch.”  Remington deployed formulaic language, though its familiarity to consumers may have been an asset.  Such brevity may have also allowed the tailor to keep down the costs of advertising while still promoting several aspects of his services.

In that single sentence, he communicated that he possessed a range of skills associated with his trade, declaring that he was qualified to pursue “all its branches.”  Prospective clients need not worry that they might present him with requests too difficult or beyond his experience.  He also made a nod to fashion, asserting that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.”  That appeal also implied the quality of his work.  Prospective customers would not look as though they had visited a second-rate tailor.  They could don his garments and confidently go about their daily interactions with other colonists without fearing that careful observation resulted in damaging judgments.  Remington’s pledge to tend to clients “with the utmost dispatch” testified to the customer service he provided.

Remington also attempted to attract new customers by leveraging his former customers as evidence of his abilities.  He expressed gratitude to “his friends and good customers for their past favours, and hopes for the continuance of them.”  In making that acknowledgment, Remington sought to maintain his current clientele while implicitly extending an invitation to new customers to visit him at his new location.  He reported that his services were already in demand, hoping to incite additional demand among readers of the Georgia Gazette who had not previously employed his services.  He played on consumer psychology that demand, or even the appearance of demand, could create additional demand.

Although not extensive, Remington’s advertisement delivered several marketing appeals intended to make his services attractive to prospective clients.  He relied on standardized language that allowed him to deliver messages grounded in the consumer culture of the period in relatively few words.

January 24

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

Jan 24 - 1:24:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 24, 1770).

“RUN AWAY … A STOUT LIKELY NEGROE FELLOW, named TIM.”

A dozen advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children ran in the January 24, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Some offered them for sale like commodities. One sought skilled laborers, sawyers and squarers, “on Hire by the Year,” with the wages going to the enslaver rather than the workers. A regular feature, the “Brought to the Work-house” notice that often appeared as the last item on the final page of the Georgia Gazette, described four “NEGROE FELLOWS” captured and confined until those who asserted ownership claimed them.

In the midst of all the depictions of selling and imprisoning of enslaved people spread throughout the colony’s only newspaper, the vast majority of them unnamed in the advertisements, two notices did include names, at least the names that enslavers called those they held in bondage. Charlotte, a woman born in the colonies and “well known about Savannah,” escaped from William Mackenzie a week earlier. Tim, a man “about 30 years of age, Carolina born,” escaped more than a month earlier. Readers could recognize him by his “white whitney great coat, [and] red stroud breeches” as well as by his stutter if they attempted to engage him in conversation or challenge him with questions. Perhaps most distinctively, at some point Tim had been “branded on the left cheek” with the letter “R,” perhaps denoting “runaway” after a previous unsuccessful attempt to make good on his escape.

Like all of the advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children, filtered through the perspectives of enslavers, these two advertisements for “runaways” tell exceptionally abbreviated stories about their experiences. Although incomplete, they testify to a spirit of resistance and survival in the era of the American Revolution. As colonists decried their figurative enslavement to Parliament during the imperial crisis, Charlotte and Tim did not need a tutorial on the meaning of liberty. The fragmentary evidence in newspaper advertisements does not allow historians and others to reconstruct their stories as completely as the stories of white colonists who left behind more documents, but those notices do give us a glimpse of other struggles for freedom that took place during the imperial crisis. Enslaved men, women, and children had been seizing their own liberty by escaping from their captors long before the era of the American Revolution. They would continue to do so for nearly another century until slavery was abolished throughout the United States after the Civil War.

January 17

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

Jan 17 - 1:17:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 17, 1770).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION.”

A subscription notice for “ESSAYS on … the Indians of the Continent of North America, especially the several Nations or Tribes of the Catawbas, Cherokees, Creeks, Chicksaws, and Choctaws, inhabiting the Western Parts of the Colonies of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia” once again ran in the January 17, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement made its first appearance of the new year, not having been among the various notices disseminated in that newspaper since November 22, 1769. Previously, it ran on the front page of the November 1 edition.

These “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION” appeared sporadically, separated by three weeks and then by eight. That deviated from standard practices for advertisements promoting consumer goods and services in the Georgia Gazette. They usually ran in consecutive issues for a limited time, often three or four weeks. James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, devised a different publication schedule for this particular advertisement.

Johnston served as a local agent for either James Adair, the author of the proposed book, or an unnamed printer in London or a combination of the two. Local agents were responsible for distributing subscription notices, collecting the names of subscribers, and transmitting the list to the author or printer. Local agents also collected payment and delivered books to the subscribers.

Given his familiarity with local markets, Johnston likely determined that a series of advertisements concentrated in a short period would not incite as much interest as introducing potential subscribers to the proposed work on multiple occasions over several months. Considerations of space may have also influenced his decisions about when he published the subscription notice. It received a privileged place the first time it ran in the Georgia Gazette, but for each of the subsequent iterations it appeared as the last item at the bottom of a column. That suggests the compositor held the advertisement in reserve, inserting it only once news and other advertisements were allocated space in an issue. As a local agent, Johnston had been entrusted with some latitude in making decisions about distributing subscription notices for a book that would be published on the other side of the Atlantic. Both his understanding of local markets and his own business interests likely had an impact on his methods of marketing the proposed book.

January 10

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

Jan 10 1770 - 1:10:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 10, 1770).

“Messrs. JOHN SKETCHLEY and CO. of GOSPORT.”

Most advertisements for goods and services in colonial newspapers came from local providers, though local did not necessarily mean close proximity to the printing office. Newspapers served not only the towns and cities where they where they were published but also entire colonies or regions. Newspapers printed in Philadelphia, for instance, served colonists in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland. Similarly, the Georgia Gazette served residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony. In large part this was because it was the only newspaper printed in the colony in 1770. With the exception of subscription notices for books and magazines, very few advertisements in colonial newspapers originated from beyond the region that any particular newspaper served.

Most of the advertisements in the January 10, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette came from Savannah, though the partnership of Williams and Mackay did insert a notice concerning “Their Trading House in Augusta.” Merchants and shopkeepers in Sunbury also placed advertisements in the Georgia Gazette on occasion, but the newspaper received few notices from neighboring South Carolina or beyond.

John Sketchley and Company of Gosport, England, placed one of those rare advertisements, addressing it to “their friends in the Carolina Trade.” They informed colonial merchants who traded rice, one of the staple commodities produced in the Lower South, that they made significant additions and improvements to their “THREE COMMODIOUS STOREHOUSES, built with brick and tile.” They further described their wharf in Gosport as “one of the most convenient in England for large ships, as well as small vessels.” Furthermore, Sketchley and Company pledged to serve their clients “with the greatest care, diligence, and dispatch.” By placing an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette, they hoped to divert vessels departing from Savannah to their wharf and storehouses in Gosport rather than sailing for other British ports. Due to the distance, placing their advertisement in the Georgia Gazette required more coordination than most that ran in that newspaper, but Sketchley and Company apparently considered it worth the investment in time and effort. In the process, the colonial press made the British Atlantic world just a little bit smaller with an advertisement that integrated commercial interests in Georgia and southern England.

January 3

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

Jan 3 1770 - 1:3:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 3, 1770.)

“The whole taken from the Boston Chronicle, in which they were first published.”

Newspaper printers participated in networks of exchange in eighteenth-century America, liberally reprinting articles, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another. Items originally published in, for example, Philadelphia’s newspapers found their way into newspapers printed in other colonies, both north and south. Over time, information radiated outward from the original place of publication. “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” penned by Pennsylvania lawyer and legislator John Dickinson, originally ran as a series of essays in newspapers printed in that colony, but printers from New England to Georgia reprinted the essays over the course of several months as they came into possession of them.

Although the most common, this was not the only means of acquiring coverage of current events published in newspapers in faraway colonies. Sometimes printers collected together several news items and republished them as pamphlets. At least four printers issued their own edition of the popular series of “Letters from a Farmer” in 1768. A couple of years later, an advertisement in the January 3, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette informed readers that they could purchase a different pamphlet, A State of the Importations from Great-Britain into the Port of Boston, from the Beginning of Jan. 1769, to Aug. 17th 1769. The entire narrative came directly “from the Boston Chronicle, in which they were first published.” John Mein and John Fleeming, printers of the Boston Chronicle, had collected together a series of articles that ran on the front page for several months.

The advertisement in the Georgia Gazette merely reiterated the lengthy title of this pamphlet, adopting a common marketing strategy in the eighteenth century when titles sometimes provided detailed overviews of the contents of books and pamphlets. Prospective customers learned that it included “the Advertisements of a Set of Men who assumed to themselves the Title of ‘All the Well Disposed Merchants,’ who entered into the a solemn Agreement, (as they called it) not to import Goods from Britain, and who undertook to give a ‘True Account’ of what should be imported by other persons.” Even the notation about “The whole taken from the Boston Chronicle, in which they were first published” appeared on the title page.

This pamphlet collected together lively coverage of recent events in Boston, including Mein’s accusations that prominent merchants played the part of patriots in public while secretly violating the nonimportation agreements for their own benefit. Mein, a Loyalist who resented such hypocrisy, named several of these “Well Disposed Merchants,” taking particular aim at John Hancock. His essays drew the ire of Boston’s patriots and led to violence, especially when Mein published insulting caricatures of many of Boston’s patriot leaders. By the time the advertisement for A State of the Importations ran in the Georgia Gazette, Mein had fled Boston to escape an angry mob.

James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, did not have enough space in the pages of his newspaper to reprint all of Mein’s explosive essays about Boston’s “Well Disposed Merchants.” Selling the pamphlet that collected them together, however, provided an alternative for sharing items that originally appeared in Boston’s newspaper with notorious Loyalist sympathies. Even if readers did not agree with Mein’s politics, they might have been curious to examine for themselves the spectacle that led to his flight from Boston.