August 12

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

Aug 12 - 8:12:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 12, 1767).

“All Persons … pay due Obedience to his Majesty’s Proclamation.”

John Stuart served as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Britain’s southern colonies from 1761 to 1779. Based in South Carolina, the Scottish-born official was counterpart to William Johnson in the northern colonies. Stuart and Johnson were charged with overseeing relations between indigenous Americans and Great Britain and the colonies. In the wake of British victory in the Seven Years War, the superintendents exercised diplomacy in their efforts to prevent violence and other conflict between settlers and Indians residing in the frontier lands newly acquired by the empire.

In this advertisement, Stuart pursued his duties. He informed “ALL PERSONS … carrying on the TRADE with … INDIANS … That no LICENSES granted for carrying on the said Trade will … be considered valid … except such as shall be conformable to the said Royal Proclamation.” Here he invoked what has become known as the Royal Proclamation of 1763, issued on October 7 of that year by George III.

That document provided a framework for managing Britain’s new territories ceded by the French at the conclusion of the Seven Years War. In addition to establishing four new colonies with military governments (Quebec, East Florida, West Florida, and Granada) and enumerating a scheme for distributing land to war veterans, the Royal Proclamation also addressed relations with indigenous Americans to the west of the Appalachians by creating the Proclamation Line. Settlers were forbidden to move into territory reserved for Indians, an attempt to prevent hostile encounters and pan-Indian uprisings like Pontiac’s War. The king and his advisors believed this would establish stability and order within the empire, but colonists felt betrayed. They had just fought and made sacrifices for Great Britain in a long war, but now the Royal Proclamation denied them the spoils they expected by prohibiting westward expansion. To add insult to injury, the proclamation seemed to protect Indians who recently fought against Britain at the expense of loyal subjects. Even before the Stamp Act crisis and other legislation that led to cries of “no taxation without representation,” the Royal Proclamation of 1763 angered colonists and alienated them from Britain.

In today’s advertisement, superintendent John Stuart invoked provisions of “his Majesty’s Proclamation, given at St. James’s, October 7th, 1763” to regulate trade between colonists and Indians. While other portions of the newspaper included news from London about “a plan for taxing America … now under consideration,” Stuart’s notice reminded colonists of other ways that a faraway government meddled in local affairs.

August 5

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

Aug 5 - 8:5:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 5, 1767).

“THE subscriber intends opening a COFFEE ROOM.”

Mary Hepburn placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette in the summer of 1767 to announce that she had entered the service and hospitality industry. She operated two related enterprises from her house, a coffee room and an ordinary. For each, she offered comparisons to similar establishments in larger cities – London and Charleston, respectively – to give readers and potential clients a frame of reference, yet also imbue her business with cosmopolitan flair.

The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that an eighteenth-century coffee room had a slightly different function than the more familiar coffeehouse. It describes a coffee room as “a public room where coffee and similar refreshments are served; now, generally, the name of the public dining-room in a hotel.” On the other hand, a coffeehouse was “a house of entertainment where coffee and other refreshments are supplied. (Much frequented in 17th and 18th c. for the purpose of political and literary conversation, circulation of news, etc.)” The OED adds an additional note that “[t]he places now so called have lost this character, and are simply refreshment-houses.” Coffeehouses had distinctive cultural functions in the early modern Atlantic world, but it does not appear that Hepburn attempted to operate that sort of establishment, at least not initially. Perhaps once she successfully established her coffee room she hoped to expand its offerings. At its initial launch, however, she limited it to breakfast alone. She did not advertise a gathering place for merchants and others to meet at all times throughout the day.

The OED also sheds light on what Hepburn and potential customers imagined when they thought of an ordinary: “an inn, public house, tavern, etc., where meals are provided at a fixed price; the room in such a building where this type of meal is provided.” (This meaning is now considered historical and archaic.) Hepburn did not, however, extend an open invitation to residents and visitors to Savannah to visit her ordinary to purchase meals. She restricted it to “eight Gentlemen” who would also board at her house for an extended period. She planned to open her coffee room immediately, but the ordinary was delayed until “the number of her boarders is compleated.”

Hepburn sold food and drink and provided lodging, yet she did not operate a tavern, an inn, or a coffeehouse. She sought to establish a different, yet related, kind of service in Savannah for select clientele, “the first attempt of this kind” in the city. If her efforts met with success, perhaps she considered expanding the scope of her enterprise, but she started on a smaller scale while she established her footing in the local marketplace.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 29, 1767).

“To be leased for Twelve Months, THE PLANTATION and HOUSE.”

John Graham and John Oates offered a lease on Smithfield, the plantation and house of the deceased William Smith. James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, gave their notice space in his newspaper, but he also used it to serve his own needs (beyond collecting the advertising fees). Johnston needed to fill out the first page of the July 29, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette; this advertisement was just the right length to do so (though several others in the same issue would have fit the bill and could have been inserted interchangeably in the same spot).

Unlike many colonial newspapers that clustered advertising on one or two pages, paid advertisements appeared on every page of this issue of the Georgia Gazette. The notice concerning Smithfield was the sole advertisement on the first page, filling the small space left by a satirical political essay on what was “RIGHT, WRONG, and REASONABLE, with regard to America” from the British perspective, a sarcastic list of lamentations that anticipated many of the grievances against George III eventually included in the Declaration of Independence. The second page included a letter reprinted from the London Chronicle as well as extensive news from New York and shorter updates from Newport, Rhode Island; Charleston, South Carolina; and several Caribbean colonies. Two advertisements – one concerning stray horses and the other seeking “a QUANTITY of GOOD BEES-WAX” – completed the page. Local news occupied the third page. Given that advertisements appeared at the top of the first column, the printer likely left space in anticipation of including additional news from across the Atlantic and from other colonies, continuing from the previous page, but ran out of content. An extended legal notice took up one of the two columns on the final page; advertisements, including two final advertisements placed by the printer, accounted for the remainder.

Printers and compositors valued advertising not only because of the additional revenue generated. Advertising yielded content of varying lengths that could be manipulated to complete the pages of a newspaper when news items were not available. To that end, the Georgia Gazette incorporated advertising throughout the July 29 issue, even inserting two notices from the printer in order to fill the space.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:22:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 22, 1767).


Cowper and Telfairs’ business, at least the aspects promoted in this advertisement, revolved around the enslavement of African men, women, and children. Near the end of July 1767, they announced to readers of the Georgia Gazette that they sold “A FEW NEGROES, consisting of men, women, boys, and girls.” They did not, however, elaborate on the origins of these slaves, whether they had just arrived in the colony directly from Africa or if they had been transshipped through other colonial ports or if they had been born in Georgia. Nor did they add other information that acknowledged the humanity of the men, women, and children they sold. The “NEGROES” were merely commodities to be exchanged, not unlike the goods listed before and after them in the advertisement.

Colonists who had acquired slaves also needed to outfit them. Cowper and Telfairs pursued this market as well, selling “NEGROE SHOES at 36s. per dozen.” The price structure indicates that the partners expected to deal with slaveholders who wished to purchase in volume. The Georgia Gazette and the several newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina, frequently inserted advertisements for “NEGROE SHOES,” though none provided much detail about the shoes. As the price suggests, they would have been constructed of inferior materials, especially stiff fabrics, and not particularly comfortable. Presumably readers were already so familiar with this commodity that “NEGROE SHOES” usually merited no additional comment. Cowper and Telfairs, however, did offer various sizes. They promised, “Any person who chuses to deliver measure[ment]s may be supplied in proper time for their negroes.”

Finally, Cowper and Telfairs advertised commodities produced with enslaved labor: sugar and rum. Slaves certainly participated directly in the cultivation and processing of sugar. The advertisers did not reveal the origins of the rum they sold. Slaves may have played a significant role in distilling it. At the very least, rum, whether made from molasses or sugarcane juice, was a byproduct of sugar production, a commodity that circulated throughout the Atlantic world in great quantities as a consequence of enslaved labor on sugar plantations.

Cowper and Telfairs advertised several “commodities” – slaves, shoes, sugar, rum – that might seem like a haphazard combination at first glance. However, the system of enslavement that formed the foundation of economic exchange in the early modern Atlantic world linked all of these “commodities” in ways that would have been apparent to eighteenth-century readers and consumers.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:15:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 15, 1767).


Joe, “a LIKELY NEW NEGROE FELLOW,” made a run for it in the summer of 1767. At the end of June, he took a canoe and attempted to make his escape from John Witherspoon. The slaveholder stated that the fugitive “was seen going towards Savannah,” perhaps heading for Savannah from Sunbury, perhaps heading toward the largest settlement in the area in hopes of attracting less attention among larger numbers of people. It may have been hard for Joe to avoid detection, however, because he “speaks very little English.”

Among enslaved men and women in Georgia, Joe was not alone in desiring his freedom. In another advertisement, David Cutler Braddock reported that his slaves had “TAKEN UP … a CANOE with TWO RUNAWAY NEGROES, a man and a woman.” Braddock advertised that he would hold the canoe until its owner came to collect it. “The negroes,” on the other hand, “were sent to the work-house” (where they joined Sharper and Tom, two captured runaways listed in the final advertisement in the July 15 issue of the Georgia Gazette).

These brief advertisements told intriguing yet incomplete stories about enslaved men and women. In addition to noting that he spoke little English, Witherspoon described Joe as “NEW.” How long had he been in Georgia? Had he recently survived the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas? Given that he was headed toward Savannah, how familiar was he with the local geography? Did he hope to reunite with friends or relatives there? Or was he on his own? What was the source of the “large scar or cut on his left shoulder”? Was it the result of some sort of punishment that may have strengthened his resolve to make an escape?

How about the runaways in the canoe? What was their relationship? Husband and wife? Brother and sister? Friends or acquaintances connected by little more than their bondage and mutual agreement to seized an opportunity to take a canoe and depart when no one was looking? What role did Braddock’s slaves play in capturing them? What was their motivation for the part they played? Did they participate willingly? Did they turn in the runaways because they expected some sort of reward? Did they turn over the fugitives and their canoe to the slaveholder reluctantly only to avoid trouble because others observed them?

Advertisements for runaway slaves have been called the first slave narratives. They certainly tell important stories about the agency exercised by enslaved men and women, but since slaveholders composed them they lack some of the perspective and insight that likely would have been present in first-person narratives. These advertisements tell rich stories, but the questions they raise can sometimes be as revealing about the experiences of enslaved people in colonial America.

July 8

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

Jul 8 - 7:8:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 8, 1767).

“INGLIS and HALL have just imported, In the ship Friendship, Capt. Fitzherbert, from Bristol.”

Inglis and Hall advertised a “NEAT ASSORTMENT” of merchandise “just imported, In the ship Friendship, Capt. Fitzherbert, from Bristol, and the last vessels from London.” Throughout the colonies, merchants, shopkeepers, and others who sold imported goods frequently indicated which ship transported their wares across the Atlantic. This was not superfluous information for eighteenth-century consumers. Instead, it allowed readers who might be potential customers to determine how recently sellers obtained their inventory. They could test the accuracy of what “just imported,” a formulaic phrase regularly inserted in advertisements, actually meant.

Inglis and Hall had the good fortune that their advertisement appeared immediately below the shipping news in the July 8, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Upon reading that their merchandise arrived “In the ship Friendship, Capt. Fitzherbert, from Bristol,” readers could glance up the column to see of they spotted the vessel and its captain in the list of those that had “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” since the last issue. The Friendship was listed first, having arrived from South Carolina five days earlier. Apparently Fitzherbert did not sail directly from Bristol to Savannah but instead made port in the much larger Charleston before continuing to Georgia. Still, by consulting the shipping new readers could determine that at least some of the merchandise Inglis and Hall promoted as “just imported” had indeed been just imported.

Not every advertisement that indicated which ship and captain transported goods now available for sale happened to be positioned so conveniently on the page in relation to the shipping news. (Most likely, the proximity in this case was a happy coincidence for Inglis and Hall, rather than a deliberate effort.) Yet colonial newspapers were relatively short by today’s standards, only four pages or perhaps six or eight if they happened to include a supplement that week. In addition, most printers inserted the shipping news immediately before the advertisements, making that information fairly easy to locate. If readers were not already aware of which ships had recently been in port, they could efficiently consult the shipping news when they encountered the names of vessels in commercial notices. Eighteenth-century advertisers expected potential customers participated in this sort of active engagement with news items printed elsewhere in newspapers as they contemplated future purchases.

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 7:1:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 1, 1767).

“The printer of this paper entreats his customers to pay their subscription monies.”

In the period before the American Revolution, printers regularly inserted notices asking newspaper subscribers to “pay their subscription monies,” as James Johnston did in the July 1, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. His notice was particularly short; others went into greater detail in their attempts to get customers to settle their account, some suggesting that many subscribers were in arrears not for weeks or months or rather for years. If colonial readers did not make timely payments for their newspapers, that helps to explain why advertising was considered such an important means of generating revenues for newspapers.

This raises a question about printers and their business practices. Did advertisers pay for their notices before they were inserted in the newspaper? Or, did printers extend credit to advertisers as well as subscribers?

Printers certainly encouraged newspaper advertising. The colophon of the Georgia Gazette indicated 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.” This was fairly standard for publications that included colophons that ran across all the columns at the bottom of the final page. That same week, several printers included similar language in their colophon, including Sarah Goddard and Company (Providence Gazette), William Goddard (Pennsylvania Chronicle), John Holt (New-York Journal), James Parker (New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy), Alexander Purdie and John Dixon (Virginia Gazette), and Robert Wells (South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal). Two of them, Holt and Purdie and Dixon, even indicated the costs of advertising, but neither indicated that they needed to be paid in advance.

Although printers frequently advertised that subscribers needed to settle accounts, they did not make similar requests of advertisers. There are at least two possibilities to explain this. Possibly advertisements had to be paid in advance. Alternately, printers may have considered advertising valuable content that helped to attract readers who would (eventually, hopefully) pay for their subscriptions. They may have been more lenient with advertisers who fell behind with their accounts as a result. This is a question that I would like to pursue in greater detail the next time I have a chance to consult printers’ records.