March 16

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 16, 1768).

“WHEREAS the following advertisement was stuck up at divers places …”

John Joachim Zubly placed an advertisement concerning a dispute over real estate in the March 16, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. In it, Zubly responded to a separate advertisement that George Galphin and Lachlan McGillivray “stuck up at divers places at Augusta and New-Windsor the beginning of this month.” Zubly opened his own advertisement with an extensive quotation from Galphin and McGillivray’s advertisement, providing readers with the context they needed to understand his rebuttal.

Although the Adverts 250 Project usually features advertisements for consumer goods and services rather than real estate, this notice merits inclusion because it provides a glimpse of another medium used for advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspaper notices comprised the vast majority of advertising of the period, but advertisers also distributed broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, magazine wrappers, catalogs, and a variety of other printed media for the purposes of disseminating information or attempting to incite demand for goods and services. Although Galphin and McGillivray’s advertisement concerned real estate, others “stuck up” advertisements that promoted the goods they sold in their shops. On occasion, the charges recorded in printers’ ledgers indicate that advertisers paid an additional fee for a boy from the shop to paste their advertisements around town, saving them the time and effort of distributing the advertisements themselves.

Based on Zubly’s description, the advertisement “stuck up at diverse places at Augusta and New-Windsor” was most likely a broadside, a sheet printed on only one side, the eighteenth-century equivalent of a poster (though the size of this particular item may have been closer to a handbill or flier). Zubly responded in print, intending that his advertisement in the Georgia Gazette would reach as many colonists as possible, but he may have also commissioned his own broadside to post in the same places that Galphin and McGillivray distributed theirs.

Even more ephemeral than newspapers, most eighteenth-century broadsides have likely been lost over time. Zubly’s advertisement, however, testifies to the rich landscape of advertising that colonists encountered in their daily lives beyond the pages of the newspapers.

March 9

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

Mar 9 - 3:9:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 9, 1768).

“Credit will be given till next crop for the land.”

After acquiring a wharf and storehouse in the summer of 1766, William Moore turned to the Georgia Gazette to advertise the goods that passed through his “factorage business.” His notices usually included several commodities imported from the Caribbean, including sugar, molasses, and “Jamaica, Barbados, and Antiqua Rum,” but he also acquired and sold grocery items, maritime supplies, and other goods from both the mainland and Europe. He did not specify any particular method of payment in his advertisement in the March 9, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, only mentioning that “The above articles … will be disposed of on very reasonable terms.” By implication, Moore expected to be paid in cash, especially considering the terms he set for the sale of a “TRACT of LAND … about seven miles from town.” However, the structure of the advertisement suggested that there might be room for negotiation.

Moore’s advertisement had three parts. The first announced the land for sale, noting that the parcel consisted of 350 acres “of which about 100 acres are cleared and under good fence.” The second part listed the goods “to be sold by the subscriber, at his wharf” in Savannah. Moore had revised an advertisement he previously inserted in the Georgia Gazette, one devoted exclusively to the commodities available “AT HIS WHARF.” In it, he had specified that he sold these items “on very reasonable terms for cash.” Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Moore had become wary of extending credit to customers. The third part of his new advertisement consisted of a single line, a nota bene that advised prospective buyers that “Credit will be given till next crop for the land.” Here it seemed as though Moore made a distinction between the terms he was willing to extend to someone who purchased the land and the terms for buying his commodities. He did not explicitly mention paying in cash for those goods, but he also did not make a point of offering the same credit that he was willing to consider for the land.

The structure of the advertisement presented mixed messages, perhaps by design. Why did Moore choose to append a nota bene about credit for the land purchase? Why had he not mentioned this option in the first part of the advertisement, the portion that described the land? It seemed artificial to separate the description of the land and the terms for payment. Perhaps Moore positioned the information about accepting credit for the land immediately after describing the commodities he sold at his wharf as a means of underscoring that he expected to be paid in cash for the latter. On the other hand, even if he preferred cash he may have opted not to mention it explicitly and positioned his comment about credit strategically as a means of inviting those who believed they were in a good position to secure credit to broach the subject. Through the structure of his advertisement, Moore implied the possibility of credit without extending a blanket invitation to every prospective customer who read the Georgia Gazette.

March 2

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

Mar 2 - 3:2:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 2, 1768).

“Any person that may bring me his head, hand, or foot, after that time, shall be rewarded.”

To one extent or another, each newspaper advertisement concerning slaves testified to a horrific system of bondage, but Joseph Gibbons’s notice concerning Limus, a runaway, exhibited even greater brutality than most. In several consecutive issues of the Georgia Gazette, Gibbons presented a proposition for the fugitive: “If the said Limus will return to his duty in ten days he shall not be whipped, but if not, any person that may bring me his head, hand, or foot, after that time, shall be rewarded.” Most slaveholders called on others to assist in the capture of runaways, promising rewards for the safe return of their human property. They did not usually mention any consequences the runaways might eventually endure. Gibbons, on the other hand, did not reserve inflicting punishments on Limus as his sole domain. Instead, he encouraged the dismemberment or even murder of the runaway.

That Gibbons extended an alternative to this ruthless punishment indicates that he expected that Limus had some sort of access to information that appeared in the colony’s only newspaper. Why attempt to strike a bargain that if Limus “will return to his duty in ten days he shall not be whipped” unless he believed that some combination of reading and conversation would eventually transmit his terms to the runaway? The merciless threat of rewarding “any person that may bring his head, hand, or foot” after the deadline had passed also would have worked more effectively if Gibbons anticipated that Limus would become aware of it. These stark choices were designed to terrorize and persuade the fugitive to return of his own accord, but they depended on overlapping networks of white and black colonists spreading news via print and word of mouth. Even though the vast majority of slaves were not literate, they still had means of acquiring and sharing news in early America. Even though white colonists may not have always been aware or attempted to downplay how much slaves knew about the contents of newspapers, some of them did acknowledge that slaves did indeed have access to information that appeared in the public prints.

February 24

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

Feb 24 - 2:24:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 24, 1768).

“GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.”

Although brief, Jacob Polock’s advertisement on the front page of the February 24, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette incorporated several appeals intended to incite demand among prospective customers. Polock promoted only three items – tea, mustard, and kettles – but he associated a specific marketing strategy with each, rather than merely announcing that he offered those goods for sale.

First, Polock highlighted his “EXCELLENT GREEN TEA, at 15s. per lb.” Here Polock succinctly made two appeals, first emphasizing the quality of the tea and then providing a price. Most merchants and shopkeepers did not indicate prices for their merchandise in their newspaper advertisements; Polock, on the other hand, let readers know what they could expect to pay in advance of visiting his shop. Tea was such a popular commodity that most prospective customers likely already had a sense of what constituted a good deal, allowing them to assess whether Polock offered a bargain.

By publishing a price, Polock set the maximum amount he would charge for a pound of tea, but that did not preclude him from giving discounts at the time of sale, especially for customers who bought in volume or purchased other items. Any time Polock lowered the price when interacting directly with customers he cultivated a good impression for having extended a better deal than the prices published in the newspaper.

Polock also sold “GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.” Here he offered consumers the ability to make choices. In choosing among the “different qualities” of mustard customers could make selections based on both cost and personal preferences, not unlike modern shoppers picking the type of mustard they most enjoy from a condiments shelf stocked with all kinds of variations.

Finally, Polock carried “IRON TEA KETTLES of Rhode Island manufacture.” In response to deteriorating relations with Britain that resulted from a trade deficit and the imposition of new taxes via the Townshend Act, many colonists resolved to purchase fewer imported goods while simultaneously encouraging domestic manufactures. Merchants and shopkeepers frequently advertised teapots and other accessories imported from England, but Polock instead participated in a rudimentary “Buy American” campaign when he noted that his tea kettles had been produced in the colonies. He challenged consumers to consider the political ramifications associated with the goods they chose to purchase.

Polock’s advertisement might appear rather simple at a glance, but careful consideration reveals that he inserted several appeals intended to resonate with readers and encourage colonists to consume his merchandise.

February 17

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

Feb 17 - 2:17:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 17, 1768).

“The Town Subscribers to this Gazette are requested to send to the Office for their Papers.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, inserted an advertisement concerning the distribution of the newspaper in the February 17, 1768, edition. “The Town Subscribers to this Gazette,” he announced, “are requested to send to the Office for their Papers.” Why did Johnston believe that this merited inclusion in the newspaper? Did it revise existing practices for getting his newspaper into the hands of subscribers? What does it reveal about the business practices of eighteenth-century printers, especially their methods for distributing newspapers?

Johnston’s short notice raises as many questions as it answers. It suggests that subscribers in Savannah previously enjoyed delivery service, but it does not indicate who made the deliveries. Johnston placed a help wanted advertisement in the same issue, promising “good encouragement” to an “honest, sober and industrious LAD” interested in becoming “an APPRENTICE to the PRINTING BUSINESS.” Perhaps another apprentice had formerly been responsible for delivering newspapers to subscribers in the relatively small port, just one of many duties assigned by the master. Maybe delivery service was only temporarily suspended until Johnston obtained a new apprentice.

That the notice addressed only the “Town Subscribers” suggests that subscribers who lived outside Savannah continued to receive their newspapers without change in the method of delivery. They may have been distributed via the post, but Johnston or his subscribers could have hired riders to carry the Georgia Gazette to readers in the hinterlands. Post riders for other newspapers sometimes published notices aimed at their customers, usually providing updates to their schedules or requesting payment for services rendered. Did the cost of a subscription usually include delivery? The newspaper’s colophon was silent on this; it solicited “Subscriptions for this Paper,” but did not list prices for either newspapers or delivery. Had Johnston previously provided delivery gratis to “Town Subscribers,” incurring only the small expense of sending an apprentice around town to drop off the newspapers? Did subscribers in the country expect to pay more for their newspapers because of their distance from the printing office?

Johnston frequently advertised various goods and services available at his printing office, indicating how he earned a living beyond publishing the Georgia Gazette. Other advertisements, however, address other aspects of his business operations. Notices concerning apprentices and delivery services reveal some of the concerns of colonial printers, even if they do not always provide all the details about the division of labor or the means of distributing newspapers to readers.

February 10

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

Feb 10 - 2:10:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 10, 1768).


When Captain Samuel Covell departed Savannah for Barbados in early February 1768 the Elizabeth and Mary sailed without three members of its crew. James Colmy, John Roche, and Alexander Sim had deserted while the ship was in port. That these sailors chose not to continue on the Elizabeth and Mary was not itself out of the ordinary, but their choice to steal a boat from William Lyford attracted more attention than they might otherwise have received.

Lyford placed an advertisement in the February 10 edition of the Georgia Gazette, the first issue published after Colmy, Roche, and Sim stole his “SQUARE STERN PILOT-BOAT” sometime in the night of February 5. To aid in apprehending the fugitive seamen, Lyford provided descriptions of the thieves and his boat. In addition, he indicated that one of his slaves had been kidnapped in the process of stealing his boat. He reported that “there was on board a DARK INDIAN FELLOW, who speaks good English, also the property of the said William Lyford, who it is supposed was asleep in the hold when the above men stole the vessel.”

Lyford may have been correct that the unnamed “INDIAN FELLOW” had been asleep and even unnoticed by the thieves when they made off with his pilot boat, but that was not the only possibility. Sensing an opportunity to gain his freedom, the enslaved Indian may have collaborated with the fugitive sailors in stealing the vessel, choosing not to resist or raise an alarm even if he had been surprised when they first boarded. If he was familiar with local waterways, the unnamed Indian could have been a valuable ally in making the escape and avoiding detection. Colmy, Roche, and Sim may have welcomed him as a partner in their adventure. After all, eighteenth-century mariners practiced an egalitarianism that often overlooked race in favor of emphasizing skill, status, and similar experiences. The “INDIAN FELLOW” and the sailors may have both embraced circumstances that allowed them to cooperate for mutual benefit as they ran away from the masters – whether slaveholders or captains – who exercised power over them.

February 3

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

Feb 3 - 2:3:1768 Image 1 Georgia Gazette
Greyscale jpeg converted from gif. Georgia Gazette (February 3, 1768).


Feb 3 - 2:3:1768 Image 2 Georgia Gazette
Black-and-white jpeg converted from PDF. Georgia Gazette (February 3, 1768).

“PROPOSED to be published, a PAMPHLET.”

Digital surrogates have significantly expanded the ability of scholars and the general public to access historical sources. The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project would not be possible without the databases of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers created by institutions like the American Antiquarian Society and Colonial Williamsburg forming partnerships with companies like Accessible Archives and Readex. Such databases make sources available online as well as portable when downloaded for further reference. This greatly expands the questions we can ask – and answer – about the past.

Yet we must also be careful consumers of digitized sources: not all digital surrogates are created equal. Consider, for instance, these two digitized versions of the same advertisement from the final page of the February 3, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Although they contain the same content, they look rather different from each other. The first is much more legible than the second, especially to readers with less experience working with digitized sources.

Why do these two images appear so different? Although I’ve converted both to jpegs, that is not the original format of either when I downloaded them from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers. The first image represents what users see on their screen when they examine the newspaper in the database, a greyscale rendition of the page derived from a photograph of the original. It disguises the actual color and texture of the eighteenth-century newspaper, but the visual variations do make it possible for the human eye to distinguish what was printed on the page and what bled through from the other side. I acquired this image by selecting Readex’s option to “Print,” which opened a new page with instructions for printing the entire page of the newspaper (complete with a citation at the top). I then deviated from the procedure intended by Readex by instead dragging a gif image of the entire page to my desktop before cropping the advertisement and converting it into a jpeg (which I have learned through trial and error is the most efficient method for pursuing this project). Had I followed through on the instructions provided by Readex, I could have printed a copy of the greyscale image of the entire page or saved it to my computer as a PDF (which I then could have cropped and converted into a jpeg, achieving the same result but requiring a few extra clicks on my part).

The second image resulted from using a different method to download the page from Readex’s database. America’s Historical Newspapers has a very useful function that allows users to “Download Issue” as a multipage PDF (which can then be cropped and converted into jpegs, as I did to create the second image of today’s advertisement). Rather than working page by page, this saves a great deal of time when it comes to the type of research I do on this project. However, when I select the “Download Issue” function it remediates the newspaper into black-and-white images rather than greyscale. The resulting images are not nearly as legible since it is more difficult to recognize what was printed on the page, what bled through from the other side, and what represents creases, paper texture, or discolorations of the page. Although portable, such images are not as accessible as their greyscale counterparts.

This compromises some of the convenience and functionality of the “Download Issue” option. It saves time, but sometimes at the expense of legibility. When working with black-and-white PDFs of entire issues, sometimes it becomes necessary to return to online database to examine the greyscale image, negating the portability of the PDF.

As digital surrogates proliferate, their users – scholars, students, and the general public – must be aware of their variations. Each digital surrogate remediates an original document. Some result from multiple generations of remediation. In the process, the images have been altered, sometimes to a greater and sometimes to a lesser degree, so users must be wary that they are not viewing a representation exactly as they would experience seeing the original document. They must devise research strategies that allow them to effectively use the digital surrogates that provide greater access to historical sources.