November 12

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 12, 1771).

“RUN-AWAY … six Angola negro men.”

“LIBERTY … excellent Accommodations.”

In the fall of 1771, John Edwards and Company sought freight and passengers for the Liberty, soon departing Charleston for Bristol.  In an advertisement in the November 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Edwards and Company promised “excellent Accommodations” for passengers.  Two aspects of the advertisement helped draw attention to it:  the name of the ship, “LIBERTY,” in capital letters and a large font as well as a woodcut of a ship at sea.  Wind seemed to fill the sails and unfurl the flags, suggesting a quick and comfortable journey.  The advertisement for freight and passage aboard the Liberty appeared two notices below another advertisement that also incorporated a woodcut.  That image, however, depicted an enslaved man on the run.  He seemed to move in the opposite direction across the page in relation to the ship adorning the advertisement for the Liberty, testifying to the very different conceptions of liberty among enslavers and enslaved people in South Carolina in the era of the American Revolution.

Francis Yonge placed that advertisement to offer a reward for the capture and return of not just one enslaved man but instead “six Angola negro men” who had “RUN-AWAY” from his plantation at the end of October.  Yonge purchased the men a few months earlier, suggesting that they had only recently arrived in South Carolina and “cannot as yet speak English.”  Readers could also identify them by the clothing they wore, blue jackets and breeches made of “negro cloth” with their enslaver’s initials sewn “in scarlet cloth … upon the forepart of their jackets.”  Yonge selected the rough cloth for its low costs, not for its comfort.  Such callousness would have been familiar to the six men from Angola by the time Yonge outfitted them at his plantation.  After all, they had survived the Middle Passage on a ship that did not offer “excellent Accommodations” for its human cargo, unlike the Liberty that carried passengers from South Carolina to England.  As was so often the case in early American newspapers, advertisements that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans and African Americans appeared in stark contrast to other advertisements, editorials, and articles that promoted, in one way or another, the liberty that white colonists demanded for themselves.

May 30

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

South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1771).

“A Complete Assortment of GOODS (TEA excepted).”

John Edwards and Company moved quickly to place an advertisement for new merchandise in the South-Carolina Gazette.  According to the shipping news in the May 30, 1771, edition, the Heart-of-Oak arrived in port on May 27.  That gave Edwards and Company sufficient time to submit a brief advertisement to the printing office.  Their notice specified that they had “just imported” a variety of items “in the ship HEART-OF-OAK, Captain HENRY GUNN, from LONDON.”  The partners did not provide a list of their “Complete Assortment of GOODS” as a means of demonstrating the many choices available to consumers.  Perhaps they did not have enough time to unpack the merchandise before the weekly edition of the South-Carolina Gazette went to press so instead opted to entice prospective customers with promises of new inventory that just arrived in port.  Webb and Doughty took a similar approach in their advertisement on the same page as both the shipping news and Edwards and Company’s notice.

Rather than elaborating on their “Complete Assortment of GOODS,” Edwards and Company instead specified a particular item not part of their new inventory.  “TEA excepted,” they proclaimed.  They did not need to provide more detail for colonial consumers to understand their point.  Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, but the tax on tea remained.  Colonists protested the duties through a variety of means, including nonimportation agreements, but most relented and resumed trade with Britain when they achieved most of their goals.  Some continued to advocate for keeping the boycotts in place until Parliament repealed all of the offensive duties, but most merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers did not share that view.  Edwards and Company sought to have it both ways, importing and selling a variety of merchandise but underscoring that they did not carry the one item still taxed by Parliament.  This allowed them to compete with other merchants and shopkeepers to satisfy most of the needs and desires of prospective customers while still signaling that they refused to go back to business as usual without acknowledging the political significance of tea and the duty that remained in place.  Edwards and Company offered an alternative to consumers who wanted to support the American cause, at least to some extent, but also wanted to participate in the marketplace once so many options were available once again.  This strategy likely enhanced Edwards and Company’s reputation among supporters of the American cause (with the exception of the most adamant) while easing the consciences of their customers, even if it did not achieve complete ideological consistency.

It may not have mattered much to Edwards and Company that they did not publish a lengthy litany of goods that just arrived via the Heart-of-Oak in their advertisement.  Singling out tea as an item they intentionally excluded from their inventory, in an advertisement brief enough to make such a notation very visible, likely garnered far more attention and interest in their business.

October 11

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

Oct 11 - 10:11:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 11, 1768).

“Many other useful articles, too tedious to mention.”

John Edwards and Company advertised an array of goods in the supplement that accompanied the October 11, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. They emphasized abundance and consumer choice in the language deployed to describe the textiles available at their store on Tradd Street: “A LARGE QUANTITY of exceeding good WHITE PLAINS,” “a large assortment of Irish shirting and sheeting linen,” “a choice quantity of oznaburgs,” “a variety of checks, drawboys, and cotton velvets.” They applied the same appeals to other merchandise as well, including “an assortment of womens and childrens leather [shoes]” and “several very fashionable compleat sets of queens, or cream colour ware.” After listing dozens of items in their inventory, Edwards and Company concluded by underscoring the intertwined themes of abundance and choice, stressing that they carried “many other useful articles, too tedious to enumerate.” Rather than “tedious” perhaps the partners considered it too expensive to purchase additional space to list even more merchandise. They had made their pitch and their final appeal suggested prospective customers would discover an even more extensive selection when visiting their shop.

Other merchants and shopkeepers joined Edwards and Company in making general statements about the vast array of goods they sold. Godfrey and Gadsden, for instance, listed even more items than Edwards and Company yet also stated that carried “many other articles.” Mary King, a milliner, named about two dozen items associated with her trade but also promised “a variety of other articles.” Mansell, Corbett, and Roberts concluded their list-style advertisement with “&c. &c.” Dawson and Walter did the same. Not to be outdone, Alexander Gillon published a list twice as long and with an additional “&c.” at the end: “&c. &c. &c.” Through invoking the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera, these entrepreneurs challenged readers to imagine what else they sold. Choosing not “to enumerate” all of their goods allowed advertisers to incite curiosity among prospective customers. They named enough to get readers thinking about the possibilities without eliminating any options outright. Advertisers offered consumers extensive choices, but when it came to tallying all of those choices in the public prints they often opted for a version of “less is more.” They accounted for just enough to stimulate interest and then promised even more, inviting prospective customers to see for themselves when visiting their shops.