December 2

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

Dec 2 - 12:2:1767 Georgia Gazette“A FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA”

This advertisement for a “FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA” would have been quite familiar to regular readers of the Georgia Gazette. It had been appearing in the pages of that newspaper for more than a year. While James Johnston, the printer of the newspaper and purveyor of the map certainly wanted to sell copies he still had on hand after all that time, the advertisement also served another important purpose. In a publication that sometimes lacked sufficient content to fill its pages, Johnston frequently inserted the advertisement as filler.

That seems to have been the case in the December 2, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The issue consisted of three pages of news and a final page devoted to advertising. A variety of articles densely filled the first three pages, yet the final page featured significant amounts of white space as part of each advertisement. Notice the amount of space between the body of the advertisement and the lines that separated it from the advertisements printed before and after. That had not been part of the design two weeks earlier when Samuel Douglass and Company’s advertisement that extended more than an entire column forced the compositor to squeeze all of the other paid notices together, eliminating any hint of negative space. The text on the two pages given over to advertising in that issue appeared just as dense as the text of the news items.

In addition to Johnston’s perennial advertisement for a map of South Carolina and Georgia, many other advertisements in the December 2 issue previously ran in other issues (though none of them nearly as many times). Each had been modified to include white space before and after the body of the advertisement, stretching them out in order to fill the entire page. This did not require completely resetting the type, but it did transform portions of each advertisement into filler that helped the printer deliver a complete issue to subscribers. Beyond the revenues they generated, newspaper advertisements served other purposes for colonial printers.

October 28

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

Oct 28 - 10:28:1767 Georgia Gazette
Advertisements for slaves dominated the final page of the October 28, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  Twelve advertisements that explicitly mentioned slaves are identified with red.  An additional advertisement, identified with blue, sought an overseer who would have presumably managed enslaved laborers.


Advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children dominated the notices published in the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s. Of the thirty-six advertisements in the October 28, 1767, edition, twelve concerned slaves. Nine offered slaves for sale or to be “hired out by the Month or Year.” One described a runaway slave and offered a reward to anyone who captured him and delivered him “to the Warden of the Work-house in Savannah.” Another described a fugitive “with an iron on his right leg” who had been detained at the workhouse. One slaveholder announced that “AN OVERSEER is wanted to take charge of about 20 negroes to be employed in the planting of rice.” In addition, four other advertisements offered employment to overseers but did not explicitly mention slaves, yet any overseer “well acquainted with plantation business” most certainly would have expected to manage slaves as part of the job.

In addition to indicating how extensively Georgians incorporated slavery into the commerce and culture of their colony, these advertisements reveal an important aspect of operating a printing business, including publishing the only newspaper in the province, during the decade before the American Revolution. Few colonial newspapers attracted sufficient subscribers to generate profits or even continue publication. Instead, the printers relied on advertising for revenues. Given that one out of three paid notices in the October 28 issue explicitly mentioned slaves and another four sought overseers, James Johnston depended on advertisements concerning the bondage of men, women, and children to fund the publication of the Georgia Gazette. This was neither unique nor extraordinary to this particular issue. The Adverts 250 Project previously examined the high proportion of advertisements about slaves in another issue published four months earlier. Advertisements for slaves regularly dominated the paid notices in the Georgia Gazette.

Yet it was not just Johnston, the printer, who relied on the revenue from these advertisements to continue publishing and distributing the Georgia Gazette. The residents of the colony also depended on advertisements about slaves to bring them other news, foreign and domestic, including the list of taxes to be assessed on various commodities when the Townshend Act went into effect on November 20. That excerpt from “An Act for granting certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America” was printed on the other side of the page that featured the twelve advertisements for slaves in the October 28 edition. Those advertisements not only contributed to the livelihood of the printer and the continuation of the newspapers, they also made possible the dissemination of news throughout the colony. Advertisements about slaves funded an important civic institution in colonial Georgia.

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 7:1:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 1, 1767).

“The printer of this paper entreats his customers to pay their subscription monies.”

In the period before the American Revolution, printers regularly inserted notices asking newspaper subscribers to “pay their subscription monies,” as James Johnston did in the July 1, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. His notice was particularly short; others went into greater detail in their attempts to get customers to settle their account, some suggesting that many subscribers were in arrears not for weeks or months or rather for years. If colonial readers did not make timely payments for their newspapers, that helps to explain why advertising was considered such an important means of generating revenues for newspapers.

This raises a question about printers and their business practices. Did advertisers pay for their notices before they were inserted in the newspaper? Or, did printers extend credit to advertisers as well as subscribers?

Printers certainly encouraged newspaper advertising. The colophon of the Georgia Gazette indicated 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.” This was fairly standard for publications that included colophons that ran across all the columns at the bottom of the final page. That same week, several printers included similar language in their colophon, including Sarah Goddard and Company (Providence Gazette), William Goddard (Pennsylvania Chronicle), John Holt (New-York Journal), James Parker (New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy), Alexander Purdie and John Dixon (Virginia Gazette), and Robert Wells (South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal). Two of them, Holt and Purdie and Dixon, even indicated the costs of advertising, but neither indicated that they needed to be paid in advance.

Although printers frequently advertised that subscribers needed to settle accounts, they did not make similar requests of advertisers. There are at least two possibilities to explain this. Possibly advertisements had to be paid in advance. Alternately, printers may have considered advertising valuable content that helped to attract readers who would (eventually, hopefully) pay for their subscriptions. They may have been more lenient with advertisers who fell behind with their accounts as a result. This is a question that I would like to pursue in greater detail the next time I have a chance to consult printers’ records.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 17, 1767).

To be sold by the Printer of this paper …”

James Johnston’s advertisement for a “FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA” would have looked very familiar to readers of the Georgia Gazette. It had been inserted frequently in that newspaper for quite some time, often on the final page alongside most other advertisements but other times on the second or third pages with news items. Although Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, certainly wished to sell copies of this map to interested customers, he also used this advertisement as filler to complete the page when he did not have sufficient news items and other commercial notices to do so. Subscribers and regular readers would have recognized it at a glance. The same was true of the notice immediately below it, an announcement that colonists could purchase all sorts of printed blanks at Johnston’s printing office. Again, the advertisement served dual purposes: attracting customers and filling the page. The latter was particularly efficient since type had already been set long ago for both advertisements. The printer resorted to the eighteenth-century version of cut-and-paste when laying out the pages of the Georgia Gazette each week.

For more information about the map (and to examine the map itself), see the previous entry that featured an earlier insertion of this advertisement in the August 27, 1766, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The methodology of the Adverts 250 Project usually precludes examining any advertisement more than once but allows for exceptions when doing so illuminates some aspect of eighteenth-century practices or consumer culture. In this case, an advertisement that practically became a permanent feature of the Georgia Gazette merited attention. Its frequency should not be misconstrued to suggest that Johnston was desperate to sell surplus copies of the map (though that might have also been the case). Instead, when read alongside the notice hawking printed blanks, this advertisement might better be interpreted as a device for completing the page or the issue when lacking other content.

April 29

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

Apr 29 - 4:29:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 29, 1767).

“Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”

In the colophon for each edition of the Georgia Gazette, James Johnston informed readers that they could submit “Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper” at his “Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah. In effect, Johnston used the colophon to advertise advertisements. To some extent, it seemed to work. Advertising filled three out of eight columns of the April 29, 1767, issue, making the balance of news items and paid notices comparable to what appeared in many other newspapers throughout the colonies in the 1760s (at least those that did not distribute supplements devoted primarily to advertising). The nature of the advertising, however, differed significantly from the notices printed in newspapers in cities like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Advertisements for consumer goods placed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans accounted for a significant portion of all paid notices in those places. The Georgia Gazette, on the other hand, did not attract many advertisers promoting the assortment of goods featured so prominently in newspapers from other places.

Did this matter to Johnston? Did the printer care which sorts of advertisements he published as long he had enough to fill the pages of each issue and generate additional revenue to supplement the subscription fees? Perhaps not, but when he received newspapers from other colonies he almost certainly realized that he was missing out on a potentially lucrative opportunity. Many of his counterparts operated businesses that benefited from purveyors of consumer goods and providers of services competing with each other for potential customers in the public prints, placing new advertisements week after week.

Why did so few shopkeepers and merchants advertise in the Georgia Gazette? Certainly Savannah was a smaller town than most others with newspapers, but the shipping news did indicate the arrival of two vessels since the previous issue. The brigantine Ann had sailed from London, presumably carrying a similar assortment of consumer goods as those advertised regularly throughout the rest of the colonies. Did the relatively small size of the town alone account for the absence of any advertisements at least announcing the arrival of new merchandise? Merchants and shopkeepers in Savannah probably did not face the same level of competition as in bustling port cities, yet it was still in their own best interests to attempt to incite demand in their wares.

Many newspapers published in the quarter century before the Revolution contained a vibrant array of advertisements for consumer goods and services, testifying to a consumer revolution experienced in both Britain and the colonies. As they read their local newspaper, residents of Savannah (and New London and, to a lesser extent, Providence and Portsmouth) experienced a very different textual landscape of advertising for consumer goods compared to the multitude of advertisements for consumer goods that filled the pages of newspapers in larger cities and sometimes even flowed over into advertising supplements. Consumer culture was widespread throughout the colonies, but advertising was uneven.

February 11

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

Georgia Gazette (February 11, 1767).

“RUN AWAY … NEGROE GIRL, named MARIA, about 15 years of age.”

This advertisement about a “TALL SLIM LIKELY YOUNG NEGROE GIRL, named MARIA” who ran away from her master would have been very familiar to readers of the Georgia Gazette. Dated August 5, 1766, it first appeared in the August 6, 1766, issue. It then appeared in almost every issue published for the next six months; the February 11, 1767, issue marked half a year that Donald Mackay inserted this runaway notice in the newspaper published in Savannah.

The longevity of this advertisement may be interpreted in more than one way. It might testify to the value that Mackay placed on Maria or how intensely he chafed for her return. As I noted when I first examined this advertisement last August, the physical description of Maria suggested that Mackay valued the “TALL SLIM LIKELY YOUNG NEGRO GIRL” for more than just her capacity to labor in the household or the fields. The expenses incurred by placing an advertisement for her return almost every week for six months (plus an award and reimbursement for “al reasonable charges” associated with Maria’s capture and transport) indicated that Mackay was willing to make a significant investment in reclaiming his human property. Maria’s potential resale value possibly more than justified such expenses.

That line of reasoning, however, assumes that Mackay instructed James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, to insert this advertisement each week and that he agreed to pay for each appearance. Like other newspapers published in smaller cities, such as the Providence Gazette, the [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette, and the [Hartford] Connecticut Courant, the Georgia Gazette featured significantly fewer advertisements than newspapers in the major urban ports. That the advertisement for the runaway Maria consistently appeared for six months may have been a function of the printer seeking to fill the pages with any sort of content, especially considering how many other advertisements in the Georgia Gazette ran for extended periods, often much longer than similar notices in newspapers published elsewhere.

Perhaps the real story combines elements of these two possibilities. Maybe Donald Mackay was so eager to have Maria returned and James Johnston was so eager to fill the columns in his newspaper that they worked out a payment schedule that included discounted rates. Whatever the circumstances, the frequency that this and other advertisements appeared in the Georgia Gazette raises suspicions that not all notices were indeed paid notices.

January 7

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

Georgia Gazette (January 7, 1767).

“BLank bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures.”

Variations of this advertisement for printed blanks that appeared in the Georgia Gazette have been featured on the Adverts 250 Project on a couple of occasions. Rather than focus on the advertisement itself, this presents an opportunity to discuss methodology and process instead. This notice was the only advertisement for any sort of new consumer goods in the January 7, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette, though several advertisements did announce secondhand goods to be sold at estate auctions.

Selecting advertisements to include in this project can sometimes be a case of feast or famine. On some days I encounter multiple advertisements that I would like to share with readers and explore in greater detail. On those occasions I look ahead to see if an advertisement of interest ran for multiple weeks and could be incorporated into the project at another time. On other days, like today, selecting an advertisement becomes much more challenging due to the scarcity of commercial notices that appeared in some newspapers. Throughout the colonial period advertising for consumer goods and services (as well as other sorts of advertising) was not evenly distributed across newspapers or days of the week.

Consider the newspapers published during the first week of January 1767. (This is not an exhaustive list but instead includes only those newspapers for which a digital surrogate is available via Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, or Readex’s Early American Newspapers.)

Thursday, January 1, 1767

  • Massachusetts Gazette
  • New-York Gazette, or Weekly Post-Boy
  • New-York Journal
  • Pennsylvania Gazette
  • Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon)

Friday, January 2, 1767

  • New-Hampshire Gazette
  • New-London Gazette
  • South-Carolina and American General Gazette

Saturday, January 3, 1767

  • Providence Gazette

Sunday, January 4, 1767

Monday, January 5, 1767

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • Connecticut Courant
  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury
  • South Carolina Gazette
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

Tuesday, January 6, 1767

  • South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal

Wednesday, January 7, 1767

  • Georgia Gazette

Newspaper publication clustered on particular days, especially Mondays and Thursdays. That means that there are some days that I may select advertisements from far more newspapers. As much as possible, I cycle through each publication. In addition, many of those newspapers were published in larger cities and included much more advertising than their counterparts in smaller towns. Some even expanded from four to six pages in order to insert greater numbers of advertisements.

On other days, however, I have no choice about which newspaper to consult. In general, I know that once a week I will examine advertisements from the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Georgia Gazette, and Providence Gazette because those were the only newspapers published on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, respectively. For most weeks, I also expect to select a second advertisement from the Providence Gazette since no newspapers were published on Sundays and the project’s methodology requires consulting the most recently published newspaper in colonial America 250 years ago that day. On occasion all of the advertisements for consumer goods and services from the Providence Gazette have previously been featured in the project, which means that I have to go back a day earlier to select an advertisement.

Fortunately, the printers of the Providence Gazette and their advertisers created some interesting and significant advertisements in the 1760s, but there have been occasions that only one advertisement in a particular issue qualified for inclusion in the project. That made the choice easy while sometimes providing a challenge as far as research and writing was concerned. The same situation periodically presents itself on days that I consult the Georgia Gazette. According to the project’s methodology, technically I should not have once again selected the advertisement for printed blanks from the Georgia Gazette. However, it has been a while since I discussed methodology. I decided that this provided a helpful opportunity to share with readers a more complete accounting of newspapers published during this week in 1767 in order to provide more context for understanding advertisements otherwise removed from the publications in which they originally appeared.