December 7

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

Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

“For New-York, the Brig General Conway; will sail in ten days, and for the sake of getting ballast, will carry freight for half price.”

More than any other printers who published newspapers in 1766, Mary Goddard and Company experimented with layout and graphic design for advertising. In collaboration with several shopkeepers, Goddard and Company mixed genres, placing advertisements that otherwise could have been separately printed and distributed as trade cards within several issues of the Providence Gazette during the summer and fall of 1766. Next, the printers continued producing hybrid publications with issues that featured full-page advertisements, effectively giving over the final page to what otherwise could have been an advertising broadside had it been produced separately.

For those efforts, Goddard and Company emphasized the size of the advertisements that appeared in the pages of the Providence Gazette. Today’s advertisement, however, was relatively short and took up little space on the page. What distinguished it from others was its position within the December 6, 1766, issue. It appeared on the third of four pages, running alongside, but perpendicular to, the column on the far right. It ran in the blank space usually reserved for the margin, making it the last text item readers would have seen when scanning the open pages of the newspaper from left to right.

Third Page of Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

This advertisement occupied space where text usually did not intrude, which would have encouraged curiosity among readers. Three columns appeared on each page of the Providence Gazette, all of them separated by sufficient white space to make them easily distinguishable from those on either side. This advertisement printed perpendicularly in the margin, however, did not have white space on its left. Instead, it was closely nestled next to the conclusion of a news article and an advertisement for the New-England Almanack. This format served both to hide and highlight the advertisement since it would have become distinguishable to readers as a distinct text only after doing a double take and realizing that the layout deviated from expectations of how the page should appear.

Mary Goddard and Company were not the first printers to deploy the single-line advertisement that ran in the margin, but they added a new twist to the relatively few examples from other printers and other newspapers. Such single-line advertisements, when they did appear, spanned multiple columns across the top or bottom of the page. Just as they had previously played with other graphic design elements for the layout and format of advertising in the second half of 1766, Goddard and Company added their own innovation to the single-line advertisement printed in the margin.

June 28

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jun 28 - 6:27:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 27, 1766).

“JUST arrived … two hundred choice healthy Windward and Gold Coast slaves.”

Eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods often deployed formulaic language, especially for goods “just imported from” London or other ports in England or the Caribbean. This advertisement offers several variations on those familiar advertisements.

First of all, “the ship Apollo, Capt. Elias Glover,” carried human cargo – slaves – rather than the “bauble of Britain” so frequently advertised in newspapers throughout the colonies. Although slaves were often offered for sale in the New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies, ships loaded with two hundred Africans usually did not sail into those ports. Here we encounter a regional difference in the kinds of advertisements that appeared in local newspapers. Rather than a ship loaded with textiles, housewares, and grocery items, Captain Glover’s vessel delivered people who had been reduced to commodities to be put up for sale.

The slave traders who sold this human cargo – Thomas Tabb, William Bolden, and John Lawrence – reported that the Apollo had come from Africa, but they do not make clear whether it had made any stops along the way. Were these slaves being imported directly from Africa? Or had the Apollo stopped in the Caribbean or other ports on the North American mainland before making its way to the James River?

Not unlike advertisements for dry goods or hardware, this notice emphasized the quality of the commodities offered for sale: they were “choice” and “healthy.” Furthermore, they came from specific places in Africa, the Windward and Gold Coasts. Plantation owners often desired slaves from particular regions, associating specific skills or knowledge with those places.

All in all, even though the wording differed from advertisements for goods imported from England, this and other advertisements for slaves took a similar tone. What seems horrifying from a twenty-first-century perspective was business as usual for slaveholders and slave traders. None of that even takes into account the perspectives of the enslaved Africans themselves.