February 15

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

Georgia Gazette (February 15, 1769).

“Proposed to be published.”

As usual, advertising comprised the final page of the February 15, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Yet the layout of the rest of that issue differed significantly from the standard order of news followed by advertising. Instead, advertisements appeared on every page, distributed throughout the issue alongside news items.

For instance, the front page was divided evenly between news and advertising. News filled the column on the left and three advertisements filled the column on the right. The first of those advertisements, a subscription notice for “THE ROYAL MERCHANT: A WEDDING SERMON” by Johannes Scriblerius, however, appears to have been a satire rather than a legitimate advertisement. Signed by “The EDITOR,” who otherwise remained unnamed, it advised “Those who chuse to have copies of the Royal Merchant are desired to send in their names to the printer of this paper as soon as possible.” It did not otherwise provide any information concerning a plan of publication commonly incorporated into most subscription notices. Whether inserted by the printer or another colonist, this playful piece masquerading as an advertisement served as a bridge between news and paid notices.

Advertising continued immediately on the second page, filling the entire column on the left and overflowing into the column on the right. News from Savannah, including the shipping news from the custom house, often the final item inserted before advertisements, filled most of the remainder of the column, though two short advertisements did appear at the bottom. More advertisements ran at the top of the column on the left on the third page, but filled only a portion of it. News items reprinted from newspapers from Boston and London accounted for the rest of the content on the page. Advertising filled the final page, not unlike most issues of the Georgia Gazette.

Not including the satirical “advertisement” on the front page, advertising accounted for more than half of the content of the February 15 edition, significantly more than usual for the Georgia Gazette. Perhaps the abundance of paid notices prompted James Johnston, the printer, to think creatively about the layout for the issue, though he would have certainly noticed that other colonial newspapers that he received from counterparts in other cities experimented with the placement of paid notices in relation to other content. Those that did so tended to have more advertising than would fit on the final page. Though they made exceptions on occasion, it appears that colonial printers adopted a general rule when it came to the layout of their newspapers. Reserve the final page for advertising and only distribute paid notices to other parts of an issue if they would not all fit on that last page.

February 8

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

Georgia Gazette (February 8, 1769).

“WRITING PAPER of different sorts to be sold at the Printing-Office for cash.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, peppered the final page of the February 8, 1769, edition with his own advertisements. He inserted three brief advertisements, each of them extending only two or three lines. Two of them offered goods for sale: “WRITING PAPER of different sorts to be sold at the Printing-Office for cash” and “TOBLER’s ALMANACKS, for 1769, To be sold at Messrs. Clay and Habersham’s Store, and at the Printing-Office.” The other announced an opportunity for a young man: “WANTED, An honest, sober, and industrious LAD, as an APPRENTICE to the PRINTING BUSINESS. Such a one will meet with good encouragement by applying to the printer of this paper.” In addition, the colophon at the bottom of the page advertised services that Johnston provided at his printing office: “Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.—Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.” Like other colonial printers, Johnston took advantage of his access to the press to market his own goods and services as well as post announcements intended to advance his own business interests.

In placing advertisements in his own newspaper, Johnston also testified to his confidence in their effectiveness. He implicitly suggested that he expected to sell almanacs and writing paper as a result of publishing short notices in the Georgia Gazette. Similarly, he expected that inserting an advertisement for an apprentice would yield more and better candidates than relying on word-of-mouth appeals via his friends, neighbors, and associates. To underscore the point that his notices were more than just filler, Johnston distributed the three advertisements to different locations on the final page of the February 8 issue. One appeared one-third of the way down the first column and another two-thirds of the way down. The last appeared near the bottom of the second column. By interspersing them among other advertisements rather than grouping them together at the end of the last column, the savvy printer sought to reduce any impression that his notices primarily served as filler. Instead, he indicated that he had faith in this method of circulating information. Prospective advertisers should exhibit the same confidence when they chose to place notices of their own.

February 1

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

Georgia Gazette (February 1, 1769).

“TOBLER’s ALMANACKS, for 1769.”

Even as February 1769 arrived, James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, and Messrs. Clay and Habersham, shopkeepers, continued to advertise “TOBLER’s ALMANACKS” for sale. In so doing, they participated in the final stage of advertising almanacs for the new year, a process that would soon cease for several months until it was time to market new almanacs for 1770.

Although some printers announced their plans to publish almanacs as early as July or August, most usually waited until September to place their initial notifications about the titles they intended to print. The earliest advertisements frequently noted that almanacs would soon be going to press, within weeks or a month. Advertisements that ran in November and December, on the other hand, most often reported that almanacs had been printed and were available to purchase from printers, booksellers, and shopkeepers. Those advertisements continued into January, but tapered off as the weeks passed. Relatively few advertisements for almanacs appeared in newspapers in February and March, though some printers did continue their attempts to rid themselves of surplus copies. As time passed, some of the contents became obsolete. By the time Johnston’s advertisement ran in early February, the astronomic calculations for January were outdated.

That being the case, printers and others who advertised almanacs curiously did not pursue marketing innovations that could have aided in selling remaining copies. Unlike modern calendar merchandisers who slash prices, advertisers who continued to sell almanacs in February and March did not offer discounts. Nor did they promote other contents, such as entertaining essays or useful lists of government officials, in an effort to demonstrate that their almanacs contained plenty of valuable information. Many printers and booksellers deployed such strategies earlier in the year, offering reduced rates to customers who bought in bulk and publishing extensive descriptions of the contents, but they did not choose to replicate those methods in the final stage of advertising leftover copies. For whatever reasons, they unevenly applied the strategies they sometimes used to convince customers to purchase their almanacs.

January 25

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

Georgia Gazette (January 25, 1769).

“[NO. 278.]”

Unlike some of its counterparts in other colonies, the Georgia Gazette rarely distributed a supplement with the standard issue in the late 1760s. Occasionally, however, residents of Savannah and its environs submitted sufficient advertisements to James Johnston “at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” to merit a truncated supplement, such as the one that accompanied the January 25 edition. That issue did not contain any more news than usual; paid notices accounted for all of the additional space. In other words, Johnston did not fill the standard issue with news, making it necessary to create an advertising supplement. The supplement happened to consist entirely of advertising, but paid notices in the standard issue filled the usual proportion of space.

The truncated supplement consisted of a single page. Most supplements for other newspapers were two pages, half of a broadsheet printed on both sides, though sometimes an entire broadsheet doubled the size of the issue from four to eight pages. Johnston, however, either did not have enough content or sufficient time to expand the supplement to a second page, leaving the reverse side blank. This truncated supplement differed from other supplements in another significant way. Johnston so rarely issued supplements that he did not have a masthead to identify the additional half sheet delivered with the standard issue. Rather than Supplement to the Georgia Gazette running across the top, a single line at the end of the final column said “[NO. 278.]” The January 25 edition was issue number 278, according to the masthead, so this brief notation would have aided in matching the loose sheet with the standard issue.

Johnston sometimes had to deploy especially generous spacing in the advertisements, incorporating significant white space compared to the dense text in other newspapers, to fill the four pages of a standard issue of the Georgia Gazette. That was certainly not the case for the January 25 edition, one of those rare occasions when he had so much content, especially paid notices, that he devised a truncated supplement in order to fulfill his commitments to his advertisers. In the process, he did not sacrifice news items. He could have made room in the standard issue by reducing the amount of space devoted to news, but he instead opted to give readers a substantial amount of both types of content, as they had come to expect of the Georgia Gazette.

December 7

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

Georgia Gazette (December 7, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD … a likely Negroe Wench and Child, a Riding Horse, a Set of Saddlers Tools.”

Advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream for newspaper publishers in eighteenth-century America. Often paid notices, rather than subscriptions, made newspapers viable ventures for the men and women that printed them. The colophons for many newspapers even included a list of services offered at the printing office, usually highlighting advertisements. The Georgia Gazette’s colophon, for instance stated 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.” Johnston prioritized advertising ahead of collecting content or subscribers in his efforts to promote his newspaper.

Advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children appeared among the many sorts of paid notices in eighteenth-century newspapers published throughout the colonies. From New Hampshire to Georgia, colonial printers included such advertisements in their publications, reaping financial benefits from their role in perpetuating human bondage. Even if they did not own slaves themselves, they facilitated both sales and surveillance of runaways. For some printers, advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children represented a significant proportion of their paid notices.

Consider the December 7, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Advertisements appeared on two of its four pages, filling three and a half of its eight columns. The first and last notices both concerned enslaved people, the first describing a fugitive slave, “A MUSTEE FELLOW, middle aged, named JOE,” and the last describing Michael, “A TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW” who had been captured and “Brought to the Work-house.” A total of thirty-nine paid notices ran in that issue. Of those, ten concerned enslaved men, women, and children. Four offered slaves for sale, including “TEN YOUNG LIKELY WORKING NEGROES.” One sought to purchase or hire “A CAREFUL HEALTHY NEGROE WENCH, with a good breast of milk” who could nurse a child. Four described runaways, including the advertisement for Cato, a cooper, and Judy, a laundress, that ran for months. The tenth advertisement concerning slavery, the “Brought to the Work-house” notice, appeared in the usual spot for the list of captured runaways, the very last item (excepting the colophon) in the issue. Advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children comprised one-quarter of those in the December 7 edition. The revenue they generated helped to distribute the news content elsewhere in the issue, including updates from Boston and London.

November 2

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

Nov 2 - 11:2:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 2, 1768).

“[No. 266.]”

Earlier this week the Adverts 250 Project featured a supplement that accompanied the October 27, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Although the supplement carried some news, advertising filled the vast majority of space. This was not uncommon in eighteenth-century newspapers, especially those published in the largest urban ports.

Yet newspapers in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia were not the only ones that sometimes circulated supplements devoted almost exclusively to advertising. Publications in smaller cities and towns sometimes did the same. Consider, for example, the November 2, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. It included the standard four-page issue created by folding a broadsheet in half as well as a one-page supplement comprised entirely of paid notices. An excess of news did not make the advertising supplement necessary. James Johnston, the printer, devoted two entire pages to news items. A couple of those overflowed onto a third page, filling half a column. If anything, that issue carried slightly less news than usually appeared in the Georgia Gazette.

In contrast, it featured significantly more advertising, enough to fill an entire page, but not enough to merit printing on both sides of a half sheet. Johnston resorted to this strategy several times in the summer and fall of 1768, but apparently not so often that he devised a masthead that read “Supplement to the Georgia Gazette.” Newspapers that frequently distributed supplements had such mastheads. Instead, Johnston simply inserted “[No. 266.]” at the bottom of the second column, a brief notation to indicate that the extra page belonged with the November 2 issue, “No. 266” according to its masthead. Most likely the extra page had been tucked inside the standard issue prior to distribution.

Although it generally carried less advertising, in terms both of numbers and of proportion of space filled, than newspapers in the largest American cities, the Georgia Gazette was also a delivery mechanism for advertisements as much as for news and other content. It carried advertisements placed for a variety of purposes – consumer goods and services for sale, runaway slaves, real estate, legal notices, to name some of the most common – to readers in Savannah and throughout the colony.

September 28

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

Sep 28 - 9:28:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 28, 1768).

“BOOKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.”

Like other printers throughout colonial America, James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, often used his own publication to promote books, pamphlets, and other printed materials that he sold. Although printers sought to generate additional revenues as a result of running their own advertisements in their newspapers, Johnston frequently had an additional motive. Short advertisements for books or advertisements also served as filler to complete an otherwise short column in the Georgia Gazette. Such was the case for a two-line advertisement at the bottom of the first column on the third page of the September 28, 1768, edition of that newspaper. The notice, which Johnston inserted frequently, read in its entirety: “A FEW COPIES of the ACTS of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY passed last session to be sold by the printer of this paper.” Johnston had another slightly longer advertisement, that one for printed blanks (or forms), which he also inserted regularly. It appears that the type for both remained set so the compositor could simply insert them as necessary when an issue ran short of other content.

Given those circumstances, a lengthier advertisement for “BOOKS to be sold at the Printing-Office” that filled half a column (or one-quarter of a page) departed from the usual format for advertisements placed by the printer of the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement divided the column, creating two narrower columns that listed dozens of books by title. A price, neatly justified to the right, accompanied each title. For instance, “Revolutions in Portugal” sold for three shillings and six pence. “Gullivers travels, 2 vols.” sold for eight shillings. In that regard Johnston’s advertisement differed from those placed by other printers and booksellers. Most merely listed titles; very few informed prospective customers in advance what they could expect to pay. Although Johnston rarely published such an extensive catalog of books he sold, when he chose to do so he made a significant innovation to the standard method deployed by printers and booksellers who advertised in other newspapers published in other colonies. If he had sought only to fill remaining space in an issue that lacked sufficient content, a list of “BOOKS to be sold” would have served the purpose. Including the prices, as well as the format for doing so, required additional time, effort, and creative energy in writing the copy and setting the type.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (September 1, 1768).
“RUN away … Negro woman named GRACE … appears to be young with child.”

In many instances, newspaper advertisements for runaways may be the only documents that testify to the experiences of some enslaved men and women. Each runaway advertisement tells a story of someone who might otherwise have disappeared from the historical record, but these are only partial stories told by aggrieved masters rather than by the fugitive slaves themselves. Still, these truncated narratives allow us to reconstruct the past, granting insight into the thoughts and experiences of enslaved people even though they do not provide direct testimony.

Consider the story of Grace, described by James Johnson as “a likely Virginia born Negro woman … of a very black complexion.” When Grace ran away in early August 1768, Johnson placed an advertisement offering a reward for her capture in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette. He provided a short biography, though it likely did not include the details that Grace would have chosen were she telling her own story about her life. The young woman had been born in Virginia, like most of the other enslaved men, women, and children advertised in the same the Virginia Gazette at the time she made her escape. She was not a “new negro” who had survived the Middle Passage from Africa and then transshipment within the colonies, but she had not always resided with the same master in the same town. Johnson reported that she ran away from Amelia, well inland, and would “endeavour to get on board some vessel in James river, or make for Hampton town” on the coast. Johnson was at least her third owner, having acquired Grace from James Machan who “said she had lived with Mr. Collier” near Hampton.

Johnson provided one other important detail about Grace, reporting she was “somewhat fat, middling large, and appears to be young with child.” Every fugitive had good reason for running away, but Grace may have had more motivation than others. She was probably aware that she could be separated from her child at any time. Another advertisement in the same issue listed several prizes in a lottery, including “a likely breeding woman named Agnes” valued at fifty pounds as one prize and “Agnes’s child, named Rose, 18 months old” valued at fifteen pounds as another. Mother and daughter were almost certain to be separated when the tickets were drawn and the so-called “Prizes” awarded. In addition to Agnes, the “Prizes” included another “likely breeding woman named Ruth.” Grace may not have fled merely to avoid being separated from her child. She may have been escaping sexual abuse and exploitation that led to her pregnancy, whether perpetrated by Johnson or others. In a society that treated her as a “likely breeding woman,” Grace may have been attempting to assert control over her own body and reproductive choices.

It is impossible to know for certain the precise reasons that Grace chose to run away or why she ran at the time she did, but Johnson’s advertisement suggests some likely possibilities. He did not acknowledge the abuses Grace may have suffered, but readers can fill in those silences by imagining Johnson’s narrative of the enslaved woman’s life had it been told by Grace herself.

July 27

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

Jul 27 - 7:27:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 27, 1768).

“THE subscribers … take this method of informing the publick, That they carry on the TAYLOR’S BUSINESS.”

Many colonial printers often had more content, especially advertising, than they could fit in the pages of their newspapers. A standard issue consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Although newspapers published in the largest American cities achieved daily publication by the end of the eighteenth century, newspapers published before the Revolution were generally limited to one issue per week. That meant that subscribers and other readers expected one four-page issue every seven days. Excess content, however, sometimes prompted printers to publish additional material in a supplement, a postscript, or an extraordinary. The most successful newspapers, those published in the largest and busiest port cities, regularly distributed two-page supplements along with their standard four-page issues in the 1760s. Often those supplements consisted entirely or almost entirely of advertising. When they acquired news that could not wait on the weekly publication schedule, printers issued separate supplements. Advertisements appeared less prominently in those publications.

James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s, did not often find himself in the enviable position of having to issue an advertising supplement, but even in the relatively small port of Savannah he sometimes received sufficient paid notices that made doing so necessary. Such was the case during the week of July 27, 1768. Johnston’s advertising supplement had a rather different appearance than its counterparts that accompanied other newspapers. It did not feature a masthead that identified it as an additional publication affiliated with the Georgia Gazette. Instead, “No. 252” appeared at the bottom of the page, indicating that it belonged with the rest of the issue published on July 27. Like other supplements, it was only half of a broadsheet. Unlike other supplements, it was printed on only one side, creating one page rather than two. Given the price and scarcity of paper, this was notable for not using the available resources to their capacity. It indicates that even though Johnston had so many paid notices that demanded he publish an untitled supplement that either he did not have sufficient content, neither news nor advertising, to fill a second page or he did not have ample time to print the second side of the supplementary half sheet.

Printers in larger cities were better prepared to issue supplements, in large part because doing so was such a regular occurrence that they incorporated the necessary workers and other resources into their business practices. The revenues from a steady stream of advertising helped make that possible. For Johnston and others, however, the flow of advertising was much more uneven, justifying an occasional advertising supplement but not so many that they were always equipped to distribute full supplements that replicated those issued by their counterparts in the busiest urban ports.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 22, 1768).

“A FEW COPIES of the ACTS of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY passed last session to be sold by the printer of this paper.”

James Johnston squeezed as much content as possible onto the pages of the June 22, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. In addition to news items and paid advertisements, he inserted his own short notices – none more than four lines – at the bottom of columns on the second, third, and fourth pages. In the lengthiest, he sought an apprentice: “WANTED, AN honest, sober and industrious LAD, as an APPRENTICE to the PRINTING BUSINESS. Such a one will meet with good encouragement by applying to the printer of this paper.” In another, he announced, “A FEW COPIES of the ACTS of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY passed last session to be sold by the printer of this paper.” The shortest, an advertisement Johnston inserted frequently, simply stated, “BLANKS of most sorts to be sold at the Printing-Office.” In addition to those notices, the printer incorporated an advertisement into the colophon that appeared on the final page of each issue of the Georgia Gazette: “SAVANNAH: Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.—Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”

Johnston did not need to insert these advertisements to fill the already densely formatted columns of the June 22 issue. He could have instead inserted more space between advertisements or news items that appeared on the page, a strategy that he sometimes deployed when he fell far short of sufficient content to complete an issue. His need for an apprentice may have been pressing, convincing him to run the longest of his notices in hopes of acquiring more assistance in the day-to-day operations of the printing office as quickly as possible. He may have also considered the shorter notices concerning items for sale urgent for generating revenue. After all, he had not published the Georgia Gazette the previous week, perhaps a symptom of financial difficulties or a potential cause of future disruptions that some additional sales in the printing office might remedy. Whatever the reasons for inserting these short advertisements, Johnston’s decision to do so demonstrates that eighteenth-century printers considered the pages of their newspapers malleable to their own needs. They earned a living and served their communities by publishing news and advertising, but they also tailored the format and contents to accommodate their own interests.