June 28

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

Jun 28 - 6:28:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 28, 1769).

To be sold at the Printing-Office … An HUMBLE ENQUIRY.”

An advertisement for a pamphlet about politics appeared among the various notices inserted in the June 28, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement consisted almost entirely of the pamphlet’s title: “An HUMBLE ENQUIRY INTO The NATURE of the DEPENDENCY of the AMERICAN COLONIES upon the PARLIAMENT of GREAT BRITAIN, and the RIGHT of PARLIAMENT to lay TAXES on the said COLONIES.” James Johnston, the printer of the newspaper, informed readers that they could purchase copies at the printing office. He also listed the price, but did not further elaborate on the contents of the pamphlet.

He may have considered doing so unnecessary because an excerpt from Humble Enquiry comprised the entire first page of that issue, with the exception of the masthead. By the time readers encountered the advertisement on the third page most would have also noticed, even if they had not read carefully, the “EXTRACT from a Pamphlet” on the first page. Johnston presented an opportunity for prospective customers to read a substantial portion of the pamphlet in the pages of his newspaper. He also promised that “The remainder [of the excerpt] will be in our next” issue. By providing a portion of the pamphlet to readers of the Georgia Gazette for free, Johnston hoped to entice some of them to purchase their own copy and explore the arguments made “By a FREEHOLDER of SOUTH CAROLINA” on their own. He devoted one-quarter of the space in the June 28 edition to this endeavor.

In addition to marketing the pamphlet, the excerpt served another purpose. Even for readers who did not purchase a copy of their own to read more, the excerpt informed them of the debates that dominated much of the public discourse in the late 1760s. Together, the advertisement and the excerpt demonstrate some of the many trajectories of print culture in shaping the imperial crisis and, eventually, calls for independence. Newspapers informed colonists about events as they unfolded, weaving together news and editorials that often encouraged readers to adopt a particular perspective. At the same time, printers like Johnston invited readers to learn more about current events by purchasing books and pamphlets that addressed the rupture between Parliament and the colonies. In the case of Humble Enquiry, Johnston simultaneously offered within the pages of the Georgia Gazette an overview in the form of an excerpt that doubled as an editorial and instructions for learning more in the form of an advertisement for the entire pamphlet.

June 21

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

Jun 21 - 6:21:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 21, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … A NEGROE FELLOW named WILL.”

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project aims to demonstrate that eighteenth-century newspapers contributed to the perpetuation of slavery in colonial America and the new nation. Yet this was not a relationship that merely benefited slaveholders through the continued exploitation of enslaved men, women, and children. Printers also benefitted, as did the public that consumed all sorts of information that circulated in newspapers. The revenues generated from advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children made significant contributions to the economic viability of eighteenth-century newspapers.

Consider, for example, the final page of the June 21, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children have been outlined in red. Ten appeared on that page (as well as two others on the previous page). Of the ten on the final page, five offered enslaved people for sale, one sought to purchase enslaved people, two offered rewards for runaways who escaped from bondage, and two described fugitives that had been captured and imprisoned. Collectively, these advertisements bolstered not only the market for buying and selling human property but also a culture of surveillance of Black people.

These advertisements also represented significant revenue for James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. Like most other newspapers published in 1769, a standard issue of the Georgia Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. With two columns per page, Johnston distributed a total of eight columns of content to subscribers and other readers in each issue. The advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children in the June 21 edition accounted for an entire column, a substantial proportion of the issue.

Elsewhere in the newspaper Johnston inserted news items, many of them concerning the deteriorating relationship between Britain and the colonies. These articles originated in Boston, London, and other faraway places. Readers of the Georgia Gazette had access to information about the imperial crisis, including resistance efforts throughout the colonies, in part because the fees generated from advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children contributed to the ongoing publication of the colony’s only newspaper. Enslavement and liberty appeared in stark contrast in the pages of the newspaper but also in the ledger kept by the printer. Articles and editorials advocating liberty found their way before the eyes of readers thanks to advertising fees paid for the purpose of sustaining slavery.

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.