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.

March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 30, 1768).

“BLANKS of several sorts to be sold at [t]he Printing-Office.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement indicating that he sold “blanks” at his printing office in Savannah. These printed forms, a mainstay of eighteenth-century job printing, came in many varieties for commercial and legal use. Although Johnston’s notice in the March 30, 1768, edition simply announced “BLANKS of several sorts to be sold at [t]he Printing-Office,” he usually ran a longer advertisement that listed the many forms readers could purchase: “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessel and seamen, summonses, warrants, and attachments, for the court of conscience, summonses before justices of the peace, executions for the use of magistrates, [and] indico certificates.” Johnston concluded the list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in eighteenth-century America), suggesting that he stocked or could print other blanks. The revenue generated from these forms supplemented the fees for subscriptions and advertisements for the newspaper as well as income from job printing the “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c.” promoted in the colophon of every issue of the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s.

While Johnston certainly hoped that readers would respond to his notice by purchasing “BLANKS of several sorts,” that may not have been the only reason he published this abbreviated notice in the March 30 edition. It ran on the final page as the last item in the first column, wedged between an estate notice for “Nicholas Cassiel, late of Augusta, merchant, deceased,” and the colophon. Johnston (or the compositor) may have ended up just shy of having enough content to fill the page and complete the issue. Given the printing technologies of the period, the most efficient solution would have been to set type for a one-line advertisement. This had the additional benefit of potentially enticing readers to become consumers of other printed goods beyond the newspaper in which Johnston printed the advertisement.

February 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 16, 1768).

“BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”

The shortest advertisement – consisting of only nine words – in the January 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette appeared at the bottom of the first column on the final page. In it, Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers, advised readers that that they sold “BLANKS of all Kinds,” deploying contemporary terminology for items known today as forms. Goddard and Carter suggested that they could supply any sort of printed blanks customers desired, making it unnecessary to provide a list. Other printers, however, sometimes specified the various types of blanks they produced on their presses.

For instance, James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement in his newspaper that enumerated more than a dozen blanks, each with a distinct purpose. He kept on hand “bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessel and seamen, summonses, warrants,” and other legal or commercial documents. He also concluded his list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that the list was not exhaustive. Goddard and Carter likely stocked all or most of these forms. They could also print any others for clients who submitted orders for job printing.

The advertisement about “BLANKS of all Kinds” supplemented the announcement in the colophon published in every issue of the Providence Gazette. In addition to specifying the printers and place of publication, Goddard and Carter treated the colophon as advertising space for the various endeavors undertaken in their shop. They invited others to submit “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence” for the newspaper to their printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head,” but they also stated that they did “all Manner of PRINTING WORK” at the same location. Despite its brevity, their advertisement for “BLANKS of all Kinds” testified to a wide range of printed forms that circulated widely and would have been familiar to colonists in Providence and beyond.