April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

New-London Gazette (April 21, 1769).

“JUST IMPORTED … from Charlestown, South Carolina … INDICO.”

Indigo was used as a dye to create vibrant blues and some greens. Although this indigo from Charleston was sold in Connecticut, in an article on South Carolina indigo and its role in the European textile industry R.C. Nash points out that plantation owners preferred to sell their indigo in London rather than in the colonies.[1] During the mid to late eighteenth century, South Carolina indigo made up 25 percent of the product being traded in the Atlantic. The colony first began producing the dye after its rice industry started to fail following the Seven Years War. According to Nash, they quickly gained a foothold in the British market as textile industries in Great Britain grew.[2] Scholars have found that South Carolina indigo was actually of much poorer quality than its competitors from French and Spanish colonies, but it continued to dominate the market because of how cheap it was. As indigo production became more popular, those plantations that produced both rice and indigo began to acquire more and more slaves, eventually coming to own 30 percent more slaves than those that only sold rice or indigo.[3] By producing both rice and indigo, South Carolina plantation owners adapted to and shaped the changing Atlantic trade economy.



With the exception of a short verse in the “Poets Corner” in the first column, advertisements filled the entire final page of the April 21, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. Some of those notices marketed commodities, such as “CHOICE Indian Corn, and INDICO,” “SALTS OF LYE,” and “Linseed Oil.” Others offered services, such as “WEBB’S Passage-Boat” that “Continues to ply between New-London and Sterling, as usual.” One offered a reward for the return of an apprentice who ran away from his master. Another reported that twenty-eight hogsheads of rum had been stolen from Nathaniel Shaw’s store and offered a reward for information about the culprits. Several legal notices appeared among these various advertisements, as did an advertisement for a book recently published and for sale by the printer. No classification system aided readers in navigating these advertisements. The compositor arranged them according to where they fit on the page, not by their contents or purpose.

The compositor did not, however, leave readers completely to their own devices. The advertisement for “CHOICE Indian Corn, and INDICO,” immediately below the “Poets Corner” bore the title “ADVERTISEMENTS,” presumably to inform readers that only advertisements appeared throughout the remainder of that issue. Even the placement of that headline did not signal a strict classification system. A paid notice appeared on the previous page. In other issues of the New-London Gazette, the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline also appeared immediately below “Poets Corner” on the final page, even though numerous advertisements ran on the previous page. Such was the case a week earlier in the April 14 edition; the third featured page half a dozen paid notices before readers encountered the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline on the fourth page. Advertisements appeared immediately after the shipping news form the customs house, a visual marker just as reliable for indicating the placement of paid notices as the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline.

The first advertisement in the final column on the last page of the April 21 edition included an additional headline: “NEW ADVERTISEMENT.” All the others on the page, including those underneath it, ran in one or more previous issues. This headline likely aided readers in identifying new content if they skimmed the paid notices quickly. It was the closest the newspaper came to using a classification system for paid notices, though this classification was not based on the contents of advertisements.


[1] R.C. Nash, “South Carolina Indigo, European Textiles, and the British Atlantic Economy in the Eighteenth Century,” Economic History Review 63, no. 2 (May 2010): 386.

[2] Nash, “South Carolina Indigo,” 363-4.

[3] Nash, “South Carolina Indigo,” 379.

March 18

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Providence Gazette (March 18, 1769).

“Choice Indico.”

This advertisement shows that Joseph and William Russell had multiple items for sale, including pork, pepper, and nails. I selected “choice Indico” to examine in more detail. Indigo was used as a blue dye for clothing and other textiles. This highly priced dye was produced in the southern colonies. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “By 1755 the Carolina colony alone was exporting around 200,000 pounds of indigo annually; Georgia was just beginning to export indigo, with 4,500 pounds exported that year. Georgia’s indigo exportation reached its peak in 1770, with more than 22,00 pounds.” Production of indigo collapsed in the colonies at the onset of the Revolutionary War because plantations in Central America and Florida were able to produce more crops per year based on their climate. Indigo dye was important to the colonies. Just like the potash from yesterday’s advertisement, producing indigo and exporting it helped colonists earn money to buy imported goods.



As we revised earlier drafts of his entry for today’s advertisement, Zach and I discussed the intended audience. He hypothesized that the Russells did not target end-use consumers but instead sought to attract the attention of masters of vessels who needed to supplies when they visited Providence. Zach suspected that much of the “CHOICE Barrel Pork,” cordage, “Nails of all Sorts” hawked by the Russells ended up aboard ships that sailed on commercial ventures from Providence to other places throughout the Atlantic world.

I agree with Zach for a couple of reasons. First, he offers a sound interpretation of the specific commodities offered by the Russells in this particular advertisement. I also agree with him because of the style of the advertisement and the many sorts of goods that it did not include. The Russells were prominent merchants in Providence. They regularly advertised in the Providence Gazette, ranking among the most prolific advertisers in that publication. Their advertisements often invited consumers to visit their shop and examine the variety of items they offered for sale. For instance, one previous advertisement announced “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS,” although it did not describe any of the merchandise. In another advertisement they described their “large, neat, and compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” as “by far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.” Others went into elaborate detail about the Russells’s inventory. They were the first advertisers to experiment with full-page advertisements in the Providence Gazette. On such occasions they listed hundreds of items in stock at their shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” a landmark that became nearly exceptionally familiar in the public prints. In their advertisements placed as retailers, they often addressed prospective customers as “Gentlemen and Ladies both in Town and Country.”

These elements were missing from the Russells’s advertisement in the March 18, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Based on the types of goods offered for the sale, the quantities, and the style of the advertisement, it appears that they sought different buyers than they addressed in many of their other advertisements. This time they operated as merchants providing supplies in bulk rather than as shopkeepers cultivating relationships with consumers.

February 24

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

South Carolina Gazette (February 24, 1767).

“For LONDON, DIRECTLY, The Snow JUDITH, JOHN DAVIS Master, FOR freight of skins or indico.”

This advertisement is unique for the Adverts 250 Project because it did not advertise goods or services, but it instead advertised the shipment of raw materials (skins and indigo). Advertisements for this project usually focus on the consumption of goods, not the shipment of goods.   Earlier this week, I posted an advertisement regarding the cultivation and use of indigo in the colonies during the eighteenth century. When indigo appeared in today’s advertisement, I decided to look more closely at its shipment between England and the colonies.

In “Indigo Production in the Eighteenth Century,” Kenneth H. Beeson, Jr., notes major producers of indigo at this time were Guatemala, Venezuela, and Mexico.[1] However, Great Britain preferred to get indigo from its own colonies, exploiting the colonies for their goods and resources. As I mentioned in my post about indigo earlier this week, the most significant producers of indigo in the colonies were Georgia and South Carolina. Once Great Britain collected what they needed from the colonies, they would then ship back British manufactured goods. Many of the advertisements posted in eighteenth-century newspapers mentioned “English goods.” The influx in importation of British goods ultimately resulted in the countless advertisements, seen in part in the Adverts 250 Project.

Map showing exportation of indigo and importation of British manufactured goods in the eighteenth century.  Infobase Publishing.

This map depicts the British Empire’s transatlantic trade routes during the eighteenth century. It shows the exportation of indigo from South Carolina to Great Britain. The map also shows the importation of manufactured goods from Great Britain to the colonies. This trade was supposed to benefit the colonies and Great Britain, but Parliament’s attempts to regulate that trade in the 1760s and 1770s led to resistance and eventually independence.



In preparing the image of today’s advertisement, Shannon and I made a decision to include a header that appeared immediately above it rather than the advertisement alone. That header, in an ornate font and larger than other text on the front page of the South Carolina Gazette, proclaimed “New Advertisements.” Peter Timothy, the printer, intended it guide readers as they examined the contents of the newspaper.

In general, advertisements did not appear according to any sort of classification system during the eighteenth century. Rather than categorize and organize them according to purpose or products, printers instead inserted paid notices in the order received or, depending on length, whatever order deemed necessary to format an issue into columns of equal length. Depending on the preferences of the printer, advertisements could appear anywhere throughout the newspaper. Some printers placed advertisements on the first page. Others exhausted all other content on the first several pages before inserting all of the advertising at the end. In such instances, they sometimes, but not always, inserted a header that simply stated “Advertisements” without revealing which, if any, were new to that issue.

Peter Timothy experimented with providing more guidance to readers of the South Carolina Gazette. To help them navigate the February 24, 1767, issue, he inserted headers for “New Advertisements” and “SALES by the Provost-Marshal” on the first page. The “New Advertisements” header again appeared on the third page, distinguishing nine advertisements from another ten on that page and fourteen on the next that followed an “Advertisements” header and line of printing ornaments that attracted even more attention by dividing the column. Those two dozen advertisements presumably ran in previous editions. Although Timothy inserted a note that “ADVERTISEMENTS unavoidably left out this week, will be in our next,” he also distributed a two-page supplement that included an “Advertisements” header in ornate font for the convenience of readers.

Unlike some newspapers published in smaller colonial cities, the South Carolina Gazette was overflowing with advertisements in the 1760s. Although the printer made little attempt to classify commercial notices and other paid announcements, he did experiment with headers that guided readers to new content. Given that some advertisements ran for weeks or months, such headers were a valuable innovation that likely gave a boost to advertisements running for the first time.


[1] Kenneth H. Beeson, Jr., “Indigo Production in the Eighteenth Century,” Hispanic American Historical Review 44, no. 2 (May 1964): 214-218.

February 20

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 20, 1767).

“Choice Indigo.”

I chose this advertisement because I didn’t know what indigo was or how it was used. After some research, I learned that it is a plant used in making blue dyes.

According to James Bitler, “plants of the genus Indigofera, known as indigo, provided a stronger, richer blue and replaced woad blue in Western Europe.” As a result, American colonists learned to cultivate a commodity considered superior to what was produced in Europe.

South Carolina and Georgia became major exporters of indigo in the mid eighteenth century. In 1744, a woman who grew up in Charleston, Eliza Lucas (who became Eliza Lewis Pinckney that same year), shipped six pounds of indigo to Great Britain, introducing the use of indigo from South Carolina to the country. As a result, the indigo business expanded in both South Carolina and Georgia. Bitler notes that exports expanded from Lucas’ six pounds in 1744 to five thousand pounds in 1745. Once the British government became aware of the profit the indigo business had to offer, they placed a bounty on indigo to encourage more production. As a result, South Carolina and Georgia greatly increased their indigo exports, greatly increasing their profit.

I found this advertisement interesting because I did not realize the importance of indigo as an export during the colonial and revolutionary periods. I was surprised to learn that the exportation of indigo was a major business in South Carolina and Georgia.



John Adams’ stark advertisement for “Choice Indigo, TO BE SOLD … At his Shop at the Sign of the State House” belies the role that a female entrepreneur played in turning indigo into a staple crop in South Carolina and Georgia. Historians of consumer culture have long noted that advertisements for tobacco, rum, and, especially, sugar disguise the means of production, although colonists certainly realized that these commodities they desired and enjoyed so much were inextricably linked to the unfree labor of slaves on distant plantations. Advertisements for indigo conceal both the role of slaves in its production and the contributions of a young woman, Elizabeth (Eliza) Lucas Pinckney, in transforming indigo into a viable and profitable colonial export.

Born in Antiqua in the British West Indies in 1722, Lucas was raised on one of her family’s sugarcane plantations, though she also attended a boarding school in London for a portion of her youth. In 1738, Colonel Lucas moved his family to South Carolina, though he was unable to join them at that time. At the age of sixteen, she oversaw Wappoo Plantation in her father’s absence. She assumed the role of head of household and overseer of the family’s plantation when her mother died shortly after arriving in South Carolina.

Lucas’ letters indicate that she especially enjoyed studying botany when in London, making it no surprise that she experimented with growing ginger, cotton, and alfalfa before turning to indigo. In the process of cultivating and improving strains of the indigo plant, she incorporated the knowledge and skills of enslaved Africans who had previous experience growing the crop in the West Indies and Africa.

As Shannon has noted above, the quantity of indigo production and exports exploded in South Carolina and Georgia after Lucas’ successful efforts in 1744 and her willingness to share her seeds and methods with other planters. As far as staple crops went, indigo was second only to rice in South Carolina. It became a major part of the colonial economy, enriching many planters. In the period before the American Revolution, indigo accounted for one-third of the total value of South Carolina’s exports.

John Adams’ advertisement does not even hint at the role Eliza Lucas Pinckney played in shaping the colonial economy or the reverberations her work throughout transatlantic networks of trade. With a little bit of effort, however, economic history and women’s history merge to create a richer narrative of American history.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s letters and other papers have been digitized. For a trial subscription, visit The Digital Editions of Eliza Lucas Pinckney & Harriott Pinckney Horry, 1739-1830.


October 26


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

Providence Gazette (October 25, 1766).

“Choice French Indigo.”

This advertisement only contained three items: “Choice French Indigo, the best Florence Oil, and Fyal Wine.” All three have something in common: they were exported from foreign countries. The indigo was French, the oil was Italian, and the wine was Portuguese. These products represented international trade. However, international trade meant competing suppliers.

One product that fostered competition was indigo. An important commodity, it was in high demand because it produced a specific dye. According to Kenneth H. Beeson, Jr., “Indigo was the most important vat dye used by the British in the eighteenth century.”[1] South Carolina focused on the indigo trade. Colonists there invested a significant amount of land and energy into producing indigo. The effort resulted in American indigo becoming a serious threat to foreign suppliers. As R.C. Nash notes, “Carolina indigo … succeeded in displacing French and Spanish indigo in the British and in some continental markets.”[2] The colony’s economy relied upon the value of indigo. When the indigo trade did well, South Carolina prospered.

American indigo did not, however, completely push out all other suppliers. The fact that French indigo was being advertised in a colonial newspaper is a testament to the continuing competition between different indigo suppliers. Regardless of the success of the competition, the South Carolina economy depended heavily on indigo and it played an important part in early American economics.



Recently several guest curators have commented on what eighteenth-century advertisements reveal about how colonists imagined urban spaces and navigated the cities where they resided or visited. In its starkness, today’s advertisement also demonstrates how much living, working, and shopping in cities has changed over the last three centuries.

This advertisement announced that readers of the Providence Gazette could purchase three popular commodities – indigo from France, olive oil from Italy, and wine from the Portuguese island of Faial in the Azores – “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle, in Providence.” Even by eighteenth-century standards this means of specifying the store’s location was quite sparse. The advertisement did not indicate the name of the seller who made these commodities available, nor did it list the street where customers could find “the Sign of the Golden Eagle.”

The advertiser apparently believed that “the Sign of the Golden Eagle” was such a well-known landmark that further directions were unnecessary. Presumably residents of Providence already knew where to find it, which suggests that the sign had been in place for quite some time. The proprietor may not have needed to include his (or possibly her) name in the advertisement because he (or she) was already so closely associated with the “Sign of the Golden Eagle” among the local populace.

In addition to giving the sign as the most significant landmark for locating the purveyor of indigo, “Florence Oil, and “Fyal Wine,” the advertisement included one piece of geographical information. The establishment could be found “in Providence.” Although neither the street nor the name of the proprietor was listed, it was necessary to specify the city or town since the Providence Gazette circulated throughout Rhode Island and beyond. Other businesses in other places had their own “Sign of the Golden Eagle.”

In modern advertisements entrepreneurs carefully specify where prospective customers can find their place of business. They list street addresses and significant landmarks. This advertiser may have been just as invested in readers knowing where to find the indigo, olive oil, and wine they needed or desired, but the nature of Providence as an urban space in 1766 required a different level of detail in providing directions for customers.


[1] Kenneth H. Beeson, Jr., “Indigo Production in the Eighteenth Century,” Hispanic American Historical Review 44, no.. 2 (May 1964), 214.

[2] R.C. Nash, “South Carolina Indigo, European Textile, and the British Atlantic Economy in the Eighteenth Century,” Economic History Review 63, no. 2 (May 2010), 362.


April 17


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

Apr 17 - 4:17:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 17, 1766).

“Cash and a good Price given for POT-ASH.”

When I first came across this advertisement there were several things that intrigued me. The first thing that caught my eye was “POT-ASH.” Potash is the common term for the nutrient form of the element potassium, which today is commonly used as a fertilizer. However, according to William I. Roberts III, in colonial America potash was essential for the production of “crown or flint glass, soft soap, various drugs and dyes, and saltpetre.” The opening line of the advertisement also caught my interest because he is offering to buy potash not selling it. The rest of the advertisement then goes on to offer a multitude of goods from window glass to flour and iron. This interested me because one of the first items for sale in Dennie’s shop is indigo. During the colonial period indigo was a major export from the colonies to England. Dennie’s advertisement exemplifies the growing demand for potash and other products from the colonies throughout the late eighteenth century.



Why did William Dennie want potash? Did he plan to use it himself in a business he operated? Or was he seeking to resell it and make a profit?

Trevor provided a link to an article that describes potash as “the principal industrial chemical of the eighteenth century” and indicates that it “was practically the only alkali used in the textile industries for bleaching linens, scouring woolens, and printing calicoes.” Printing patterns on textiles was not a common industry in early America (though some manufacturers did experiment sporadically by the end of the eighteenth century), but fullers – like the silk-dyer and scowerer from an advertisement featured last week – certainly bleached linens and scoured woolens. Perhaps Dennie intended to sell potash – along with “choice Indigo” to colonial fullers. As Trevor points out, his advertisement did include a variety of materials produced in the colonies (“Kippin’s Snuff” and “Philadelphia Flour,” for instance) that were transported from one region to another to be sold.

Perhaps Dennie had other plans. Maybe he issued a call for potash so he could export it to England. Again, from the linked article about American potash manufacture before the American Revolution, “[s]ince potash was obtained from wood ashes, the American colonies would appear to have been an obvious source of a product that was becoming increasingly vital to Great Britain as her industries grew and diversified.” Until a decade before the Revolution – about the time this advertisement was published – England depended on Germany and the Baltic to supply its potash. Dennie may have been on the cusp of this transition, helping to usher in the colonies as an increasingly important supplier of potash to England.

The advertisement does not make clear exactly why William Dennie issued a call for potash, but that he offered “Cash and a good Price” does indicate that demand existed for this product. Most colonial advertisements for goods and services attempted to incite demand. This one demonstrates existing demand for a particular product.

February 13

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Feb 13 - Massachusetts Gazette 2:13:1766
Massachusetts Gazette (February 13, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD By Andrews and Domett At Store No. 1. opposite the Swing Bridge, South Side the Town Dock.”

Andrews and Domett marketed bags of cocao, cotton, brown sugar, redwood, copper, chalk, iron hollow ware, flour, indigo, Bohea tea (an item advertised often during Colonial times, previously featured on Adverts 250), chocolate,  mustard, snuff, pipes, soap, flax, and rice. Each of these items are interesting on their own, so I chose a few of the items to focus on which some might not recognize, as they are not commonplace items during the twenty-first century, though they were in eighteenth-century America.

I did not recognize “Iron hollow Ware.” I hypothesized that this item was a type of Colonial dishware. Of course, this lack of knowledge led to an investigation. Iron hollow ware was a type of cooking pot that was made from cast iron. Today there are many individuals who collect this and other Colonial cookware for their personal home collections as a hobby. To learn more about “Iron hollow Ware” consult this book.

Feb 13 - Indigo in Bucket

Another item on the list of goods in the advertisement that I find intriguing, is the “French Prize Indigo.” Indigo is a powder derived from plants that was utilized during Colonial times as a dye to create blue clothing. Its importance was high, as blue was a highly desirable color for clothing, despite the fact that it could only be derived from indigo plants at this time. In appearance, it was a blue powder which is derived from the leguminous plant of the Indigofera genus, a plant that has over 300 identifiable known species in the world. Only two varieties of this plant are used to make indigo, including the indigofera tinctoria, which is native to both India and Asia, and the indigofera suffructiosa, which is native to South and Central America. Due to the fact that indigo was an import, it would likely be one of the more pricey items on the list in the advertisement. The University of Minnesota has an excellent historical account of “Indigo in the Early Modern World.”

During the late nineteenth century, German chemist Adolf von Baeyer created synthetic indigo and production of the synthetic dye began during the early twentieth century. Research about formulating a chemical composition for synthetic indigo was furthered due to the fact that dyes derived from natural indigo were not a significant enough source due to the rise of its use within the nineteenth-century clothing industry. The color of indigo is always a blue hue, but use of different amounts of indigo can result in a variety of shades that the substance produces when using it for dying.



Kathryn focuses on some of the goods marketed to colonial consumers. Each item stocked by Andrews and Domett merits its own investigation. What, for instance, distinguished “Castile & Crown Soap” from each other? Colonial consumers certainly would have known, but as Kathryn points out many of the goods commonly advertised and purchased in the eighteenth century are no longer as familiar to twenty-first century consumers. Advertisements are often classified or catalogued as ephemera (especially advertising media other than newspapers, such as handbills, trade cards, or billheads), but consumer goods had their own ephemeral qualities as well.

In addition to the items for sale, I am interested in the format of this advertisement. Rather than listing their wares in a single, dense paragraph, Andrews and Domett utilized two columns with only one item per line, making it easier for potential customers to identify items of interest. The advertisement also strategically includes fonts of different sizes as well as capitals and italics. Why did “CHOICE COCAO” and “A few Quintals choice Dumb Fish” receive special treatment in this advertisement? Did Andrews and Domett imagine that these would be especially popular with customers once they knew these items were available? Or perhaps these items had been overstocked and tied up too many of the shopkeepers’ resources. Did they merit special attention in the advertisement because the shopkeepers needed to sell them most quickly?

I also wonder who made some of the decisions about the format of the advertisement. To what extent did Andrews and Domett describe to the printer how they wished their advertisement to appear in the newspaper? Did they give detailed instructions about columns, font size, and type? Vague or general instructions? No instructions at all? Advertisements like this one may testify to the creativity of the printer as much as the marketing savvy of the advertisers.