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.

December 27

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

Dec 27 - 12:27:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 27, 1769).

“One of Mrs. Stoke’s hand bills relating to her boarding school in Charlestown.”

Newspaper notices accounted for the vast majority of advertisements that circulated in eighteenth-century America, yet they were not the only form of marketing familiar in the colonies or the new nation. Advertisers distributed a variety of other media, including broadsides, trade cards, billheads, catalogs, magazine wrappers, subscription notices, furniture labels, and handbills. Even more ephemeral than newspapers, relatively few of these items survive today. Those that are extant testify to a vibrant landscape of advertising in early America.

In some cases, newspaper notices alluded to other advertisements, providing a more complete story of their production and circulation in eighteenth-century America. For instance, printers, booksellers, auctioneers, and others sometimes noted in their advertisements that they provided free catalogs to prospective customers who wished to learn more about their inventory. Sometimes newspaper notices placed for purposes other than marketing consumer goods and services mentioned advertisements distributed via other media.

Such was the case in a notice that ran in the December 27, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Lewis Johnson informed the public that several certificates and bills had been “STOLEN out of a desk in [his] house.” Je offered a reward to “whoever will give any information of the thief.” To help anyone who might come in contact with the culprit identify the stolen bills, Johnson reported that the “money was put up on one of Mrs. Stokes’s hand bills relating to her boarding school in Charlestown.” That single sentence, embedded in a newspaper advertisement about a theft, revealed quite a bit about another advertisement that circulated separately. Not only had a schoolmistress in Charleston, South Carolina, hired a printer to produce handbills about her boarding school, at least one of those handbills found its way to Savannah, Georgia. Whether or not he had any interest in Stokes’s school, Johnson held onto the handbill, adapting it to his own purposes when he used it as a folder to contain his certificates and bills. A significant proportion of eighteenth-century advertising ephemera in the collections of research libraries and historical societies have been preserved among family papers related to finances and household management. This suggests that advertising was integrated into the everyday lives of early Americans. In this instance, Johnson encountered Stokes’s handbill regularly as he saw to his own finances (before the theft), while readers of the Georgia Gazette saw references to an advertisement that many might have also seen circulating elsewhere.

December 20

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

Dec 20 - 12:20:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 20, 1769).

“Will be sold … at their store in Sunbury.”

In December 1769, the partnership of Kelsall and Spalding placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to inform prospective customers that they stocked “A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST INDIA GOODS” recently imported via the Georgia Packet and other vessels. Kelsall and Spalding were not the only merchants and shopkeepers who ran such notices. Samuel Douglass advertised “AN ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.” Reid, Storr, and Reid similarly promoted “A NEAT ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.” Yet Kelsall and Spalding inserted the most extensive advertisement, one designed to showcase the extent of their inventory and demonstrate to consumers the many choices that awaited them “at their store in Sunbury.”

Sunbury! Unlike Douglass and Reid, Storr, and Reid, Kelsall and Spalding did not operate a shop in Savannah. Founded on the Medway River south of Savannah in 1758, Sunbury was an emerging center of commerce in the 1760s and 1770s. That seaport might have eventually rivaled Savannah, but it never recovered from the disruptions of the American Revolution. Today it is remembered as a “lost town” of the colonial era. In the late 1760s, however, it was a bustling community.

That was the narrative that Kelsall and Spalding aimed to bolster in their advertisement. Prospective customers did not need to visit or send to the shops in Savannah to acquire the myriad of consumer goods they desired. Instead, anything they obtain the same merchandise at Kelsall and Spalding’s store in Sunbury. Printed calico fabric? Kelsall and Spalding sold it! Barlow’s best single and doubled bladed penknives? Kelsall and Spalding had them! Tin pudding pans and round sugar boxes? No need to look any further than Kelsall and Spalding’s store in Sunbury! From textiles to housewares to hardware, Kelsall and Spalding did indeed carry “A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT.”

Kelsall and Spalding’s advertisement was notable for its length, extending more than two-thirds of column in the December 20, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The partners may have considered such a complete accounting of their wares imperative in convincing consumers that they offered the same array of merchandise as their counterparts and competitors in Savannah. Readers could hardly peruse Kelsall and Spalding’s advertisement without recognizing the variety of goods on offer.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:6:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 6, 1769).

“HAS JUST IMPORTED, in the ship Georgia Packet, Capt. George Anderson, from London.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers often informed prospective customers of the origins of their goods, including how they arrived in the colonies. In an advertisement in the December 6, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, Samuel Douglass noted that he “HAS JUST IMPORTED” new merchandise “in the ship Georgia Packet, Capt. George Anderson, from London.” Douglass was not alone in noting that he replenished his inventory with goods transported via the Georgia Packet. Lewis Johnson hawked “A FRESH SUPPLY OF MEDICINES” that was “IMPORTED in the Georgia Packet, Capt. Anderson, from London.” Similarly, Reid, Storr, and Reid listed dozens of items “JUST IMPORTED, in the Ship Georgia Packet, Capt. George Anderson, from London.” Since advertisements ran for weeks or sometimes even months, this information helped consumers determine how recently merchants and shopkeepers had acquired their goods. They consulted the shipping news from the customs house to make those determinations.

The shipping news in the December 6 issue identified several vessels that “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” in the past week, including “Ship Georgia Packet, George Anderson, London.” Readers saw for themselves that Douglass, Johnson, and Reid, Storr, and Reid did indeed carry a “FRESH SUPPLY” of goods “JUST IMPORTED.” All three advertisements ran on the same page as the shipping news, facilitating consultation. Douglass’s advertisement even appeared directly below news from the customs house. The shipping news also supplement advertisements placed by other merchants and shopkeepers. Rowland Chambers, for example, sold flour, produce, and other commodities “On board the sloop Charlotte,” which the shipping news indicated “ENTERED INWARDS” from New York just two days earlier.

A proliferation of advertisements for consumer goods appeared in the December 6 edition of the Georgia Gazette. Details about the origins of those goods incorporated into the advertisements in combination with the shipping news confirm why the newspaper suddenly had more such advertisements than in recent weeks. While providing information about the vessel that transported the goods might seem quaint to twenty-first-century readers, it served an important purpose for consumers in eighteenth-century America. After consulting the shipping news, they could make their own assessments about some of the claims made in advertisements and then choose which shops to visit accordingly.

November 29

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

Nov 29 - 11:29:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 29, 1769).

“A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS.

Cowper & Telfairs and Rae & Somerville both sold imported goods, but adopted very different marketing strategies when they placed advertisements in the November 29, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Rae & Somerville inserted a notice that read, in its entirety, “JUST IMPORTED, in the Ship Georgia Packet, from London, and to be sold by RAE and SOMERVILLE, A NEAT ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS, suitable for the present and approaching season.” In so doing, they made an appeal to consumer choice, informing customers of the “NEAT ASSORTMENT” now in stock.

Yet the copy for Rae & Somerville’s advertisement merely served as an introduction when adapted for an advertisement published their competitors. Consider how another partnership opened their notice: “COWPER & TELFAIRS HAVE IMPORTED, in the Wolfe, Capt. Henry Kemp, from London, and the Britannia, Capt. John Dennison, from Glasgow, via Charleston, A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS, Which they will dispose of on reasonable Terms.” Incorporating appeals to price and consumer choice, that could have stood alone as a complete advertisement. Cowper & Telfairs continued, however, with an extensive list of their merchandise, divided in two columns to allow prospective customers to peruse their wares easily. Cowper & Telfairs carried everything from textiles and garments to a “large quantity of tin ware” and an “assortment of earthen ware” to “Neat Italian chairs” and an “assortment of Glasgow saddlery.” They strategically deployed capitals to draw attention to certain goods, including “GLASS WARE,” “CHINA WARE,” “PEWTER,” and “STATIONARY.”

Cowper & Telfairs’s advertisement extended two-thirds of a column, occupying significantly more space than Rae & Somerville’s advertisement printed immediately below it. Rae & Somerville ran a second advertisement on the following page, that one a bit longer but still only a fraction of the length of Cowper & Telfairs’s notice. In that second advertisement, Rae & Somerville listed approximately two dozen items, but did so in a dense paragraph that did not lend itself to skimming as well as Cowper & Telfairs’s neatly organized columns. They concluded their list with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that they had many more items in their inventory.

Cowper & Telfairs made a more significant investment in their advertisement, both in terms of the expense incurred for publishing such a lengthy notice and in terms of the strategies they deployed in hopes of gaining a better return on that investment. They did more to entice readers to become customers after encountering their advertisements.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:22:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 22, 1769).

“These pills are an infallible cure.”

An unnamed advertiser placed a notice for “Dr. HAMMOND’s SPECIFICK PILL” in the November 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, informing prospective customers that “Any person may be informed where these pills are to be sold by applying to the printer of this paper.” The advertisement listed a variety of maladies that the pills cured, including leprosy, scurvy, yaws, venereal disease, and even “pimpled faces.” The remedy was gentle, safe for “women with child, or persons of the most delicate constitutions.” The advertiser described this “new Medicine” as “one of the greatest ever offered to the Publick” and promised that they provided a “CERTAIN cure.”

All of this probably sounded too good to be true to many colonists. After all, readers regularly encountered advertisements for patent medicines in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Those who marketed pills and potions often claimed that they cured all kinds of diseases, deploying the most hyperbolic language in making their promises. To address some of the concerns of skeptics, this advertisement reported that the pills came with “printed directions, and signed by the author, Thomas Hammond, M.M. Bristol.” Furthermore, the advertisement directed “the dubious” to take into account “the great success this medicine has met with in Barbados, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and Granada,” apparently expecting that word of mouth recommendations from the Caribbean had reached colonists in Georgia. If that were not convincing enough, readers could also take into consideration “many great cures” attributed to Dr. Hammond’s pills in England “which have been continually inserted in the newspapers. Even if skeptical customers could not check those newspapers, the advertisement suggested that merely stating that such evidence existed should satisfy any concerns. Savvy customers likely remained suspicious of the claims made in the advertisement, despite the purported proof of the efficacy of Dr. Hammond’s pills, but some may have been eager enough to find some sort of relief for their symptoms that they allowed themselves to be convinced, or at least experience some hope, that the pills would indeed work for them. The many layers of claims made in the advertisement served to wear down any distrust by “the dubious,” just as similar repetitions of claims about miracle drugs sold via infomercials in the twenty-first century attempt to do for modern consumers.

November 15

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

Nov 15 - 11:15:1769 JPG Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 15, 1769).

“STROUDS, duffils, flannels, coarse broad cloths.”

Remediation matters. A few days ago I had an opportunity to visit an introductory digital humanities class offered by WISE, the Worcester Institute for Senior Education. During my presentation, I introduced students to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project as well as some of the databases of digitized newspapers that make those projects possible, including Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library and Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers. We discussed some of the advantages and challenges of working with digitized sources.

Nov 15 - 11:15:1769 PDF Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 15, 1769).

We began by acknowledging that any digital surrogate is, by definition, a remediation of an original document … and different processes of remediation have different effects. Consider Rae and Somerville’s advertisement in the November 15, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Both of these images come from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, yet they are not identical. One aspect of that database that I really appreciate is the ability to download an entire issue of a newspaper and then print a copy that I can mark in any way I like. When I view the Georgia Gazette via the database, Rae and Somerville’s advertisement looks like the first image. The variations achieved via greyscale make it relatively easy to recognize smudged ink, printing that bled through from the other side of the page, and foxing (or discoloration) of the paper. Downloading a copy to make it even more portable, however, yields a black-and-white image that does not include the same variations. As a result, the second image is more difficult to read. It is possible to download greyscale images from the database, but it requires more steps. In addition, pages must be downloaded individually rather than acquiring an entire issue at once.

This means that even though digital surrogates make eighteenth-century newspapers much more accessible beyond research libraries and historical societies, readers have very different experiences working with the various versions of digitized documents. Remediation does not necessarily mean producing exact replications of original sources. Instead, technologies alter images, some more than others. Scholars and others who consult digitized sources must take into account the challenges involved in reading those documents and alter their methodologies accordingly, especially when given access to multiple remediations of the same sources.