September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:13:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 13, 1768).

“Black silk and cotton gauzes.”

Several merchants and shopkeepers placed list-style advertisements in the September 13, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its two-page supplement. Among them, George Ancrum and Company, Elizabeth Blaikie, Thomas Walter, Godfrey and Gadsden, and John McCall each enumerated dozens of items they offered for sale. Most of these advertisements took the form of dense paragraphs that did not incorporate visual signals intended to differentiate the various goods they listed. Godfrey and Gadsden, however, experimented with the format of one of their advertisements. Rather than a single paragraph, they opted for two columns with only one or two items listed on each line, making it easier for prospective customers to spot “coloured ribbons” and “parrot cages” amid the many other goods. This distinctive layout distinguished Godfrey and Gadsden’s advertisement from the many other notices on the same page, even though their inventory replicated the merchandise available from their competitors.

Yet this was not the only advertisement Godfrey and Gadsden placed in that issue. In another advertisement on the same page they deployed a lengthy paragraph that rivaled all others in its density. Although the advertisement with the dense paragraph of goods occupied a privileged position as the first item in the first column, the format of the advertisement divided into two columns (with significantly more white space) made the latter much more prominent, even though it appeared near the bottom of the final column. The disparity between the two demonstrates that Godfrey and Gadsden were not committed to one format over the other; it does suggest that they did intentionally experiment with the visual elements of their advertisements, perhaps of their own volition or perhaps at the urging of a compositor who made suggestions about possible alternatives. Compared to newspapers published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal featured less variation when it came to the format of list-style advertisements in the late 1760s, yet advertisers and compositors did sometimes play with typography to create notices with unique graphic design elements.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 1, 1767).

“GODREY & GADSDEN, Will exchange the following GOODS.”

Godfrey and Gadsden’s dense list-style advertisement resembled many other inserted in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and newspapers throughout the colonies in the second half of the eighteenth century. The partners enumerated dozens of imported items, everything from textiles to housewares to hardware, and concluded with “&c.” (etc.) to suggest an even greater array of merchandise than what could be squeezed into their advertisement.

Their advertisement differed from most others, however, in one significant aspect. Godfrey and Gadsden were not seeking customers. They did not offer their assortment of goods directly to colonial consumers. Instead, they stated that they “Will exchange the following GOODS … for such others as they have occasion for.” The partners intended this notice for fellow merchants who imported a similar, yet slightly different, variety of goods and now wished to further diversify their wares. Perhaps they also sought shopkeepers who had obtained surpluses of certain items and looked for opportunities to reduce their inventory through such exchanges. They may have also had their eye on the export market, trading imported goods for local commodities that they could then transport to other ports around the Atlantic. Whatever the possibilities, Godfrey and Gadsden did not address end-sue consumers in their advertisement.

This illustrates that even though the format looked quite similar to other commercial notices advertisers sometimes envisioned very different purposes for their advertisements. They turned to the advertising pages of weekly newspapers to conduct business along multiple trajectories, rather than exclusively pursuing potential customers engulfed in the consumer revolution. The “black silk and cotton gauze” and “large bell lamps for halls and stair-cases” and “parrot cages” and “gilt Morocco leather prayer books” eventually found their way into the homes of consumers, but Godfrey and Gadsden’s advertisement helps to demonstrate the circuitous route. Rather than a direct transatlantic supply chain from English producer to English merchant to American shopkeeper to American consumer, imported goods often passed through many other hands and were part of numerous additional commercial exchanges before consumers purchased them.

November 18

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-18-11181766-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 18, 1766).

“Coarse Shoes for Negroes.”

In this advertisement published in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Godfrey and Gadsden offered an assortment of goods from Bristol, England. For this entry, I decided to focus on the listing for “coarse Shoes for Negroes.”

My first question about this listing was why Godfrey & Gadsden chose the word “coarse” to describe shoes for slaves. I quickly discovered in my research that “coarse” was a very common description in advertisements for not only slave shoes, but for jackets, shirts, pants, and blankets, all created specifically for slaves. In Slavery in Alabama, James Benson Sellers writes, “The slave’s clothing was usually of a coarse quality, suitable for long, hard wear, as well as for protection against the weather.”[1] Slave shoes and clothes were created to stand the test of time, not for fashion or comfort. In “Fashion and Appearance: Men’s Clothing,” Travis Jacquess writes, “Slave shoes were notoriously uncomfortable and made of materials such as cardboard, thin leather, and wooden soles.”[2]

This listing also advertises “Men’s neat Shoes” for sale. Seeing the two items, “Men’s neat Shoes” and “coarse Shoes for Negroes” directly next to each other reminds us of how class distinctions could be presented through fashion in colonial America.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Mary and her peers began the semester by reading T.H. Breen’s groundbreaking article, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776.”[3] In addition to providing an overview of early American economic history, Breen explains the importance of examining consumer culture in colonial America. In so doing, he provides a foundation on which to build for students preparing to contribute to the Adverts 250 Project.

In “Empire of Goods,” subsequent articles, and, eventually, a book (The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence), Breen argues that colonists experienced a standardization of consumer culture throughout the eighteenth century. He claims that colonists from New England to Georgia had access to the same consumer goods imported from England and other faraway places. Even though colonists lived quite a distance from each other, they participated in the same marketplace because merchants and shopkeepers made available the same goods for them to purchase. As a result, consumers throughout the colonies had a common experience that united them culturally, thus facilitating subsequent political unity in the face of abuses by Parliament.

Breen relies on newspaper advertisements to make this argument. As my students and I have pursued the Adverts 250 Project over the past year we have seen for ourselves that, by and large, the same imported goods were indeed advertised in newspapers from throughout the colonies. However, there has been one notable exception: “coarse Shoes for Negroes” and similar descriptions of the same product. Especially as we have simultaneously constructed a parallel project, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, that requires scanning all newspaper advertisements for words like “slave,” “negro,” and “mulatto,” we have noticed that advertisements for shoes for slaves appeared exclusively in newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South, regions that by the 1760s were slave societies rather than societies with slaves. In the absence of large populations of enslaved men, women, and children, merchants and shopkeepers in New England and the Middle Atlantic did not tend to advertise “coarse Shoes for Negroes,” even if they may have stocked and sold them.

As a result, we have concluded that Breen offers a convincing argument about the standardization of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America, but with at least one important caveat. Whether they owned slaves or not, colonists in the Chesapeake and Lower South were exposed regularly to advertisements for shoes and clothing explicitly associated with slaves in stark contrast to the apparel marketed for white consumers. Slavery caused some regional differences in consumer culture to creep into newspaper advertising.

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[1] James Sellers, Slavery in Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1950), 99.

[2] Travis Jacquess, “Fashion and Appearance: Men’s Clothing” in The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia, ed, Merril D. Smith (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2015), 284.

[3] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 467-499.