May 2

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

May 2 - 5:2:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 2, 1770).

“Will engage to cut any Quantity of Live Oak and Cedar Ship Timbers.”

Printers did not organize or classify advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Instead, advertisements placed for various purposes appeared indiscriminately next to each other and above and below each other.  Readers could not consult a particular portion of the advertisements in the newspaper to find notices of interest, such as consumer goods for sale or real estate or legal notices.  Instead, they had to peruse all of the advertisements throughout the entire issue to determine if any contained the kind of information they sought.

That may have been just as well when it came to the advertisement John Morel placed in the May 2, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  His lengthy advertisement defied classification.  In it, he aimed to achieve five different goals.  On Ossabaw Island, one of Georgia largest barrier islands, he offered several commodities for sale, including “Exceeding good barreled Beef,” “Myrtle-wax and Tallow Candles plain and fluted,” and “Hard Soap of the best kind.”  He had a different and more extensive array of goods to sell in Savannah, such as “an Assortment of Hinges and Locks,” “some neat Mens, Womens, and Youths Shoes and Hose,” and “some Sets of Dutch Tile.”  In the third portion of his advertisement, Morel encouraged prospective customers to place their orders for “any Quantity of Live Oak and Cedar Ship Timbers.”  He would cut them to “any shape and size required” and deliver them on Ossabaw Island.  In addition to these various consumer goods and commodities Morel also had “Part of a Tract of Land known by the name of Bewlie” for sale.  He described various aspects of the property, noting that it was “well stored with live oak and other valuable timber.”  Finally, Morel called on “all of those indebted to him” to settle accounts.  He did not threaten legal action as some colonists tended to do when they placed such notice.

Not only did readers of the Georgia Gazette have to examine all of the advertisements to determine which interested them, they also had to scrutinize the various segments of Morel’s advertisement to ascertain what it actually contained.  If the printer had required advertisers to place classified notices that fit within specific categories, Morel would have needed to divide his lengthy advertisement into several shorter notices.

January 27

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

Jan 27 - 1:27:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 27, 1768).

To be sold … ALL the PERSONAL ESTATE of said BENJAMIN GOLDWIRE.”

Some colonial newspapers seemed to overflow with advertisements places by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans seeking to sell consumer goods. This was especially true of newspapers published in the largest urban ports, including Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Many newspapers from those cities frequently issued supplements devoted entirely to advertising. Other newspapers, however, featured far fewer advertisements for the wholesale or retail sale of consumer goods. Such was the case for the Georgia Gazette, published in Savannah by James Johnston. Even given the smaller population of the colony, shopkeepers placed relatively few advertisements in the Georgia Gazette. Perhaps the smaller population and fewer shops meant that the proprietors had less need to resort to the public prints rather than worrying about familiarity and word of mouth to promote their businesses.

The January 27, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, did not include any advertisements placed by shopkeepers. That did not mean, however, that it lacked evidence of participation in the vibrant consumer culture of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Several advertisements encouraged colonists to acquire goods at venues other than shops and warehouses in Savannah. Instead of purchasing new items at those locations, consumers could get similar items at bargain rates at estate sales and auctions. In four of the thirty-one advertisements in that issue, executors announced such sales. Each of them included either “Household Furniture” or “HOUSEHOLD GOODS” in addition to slaves and livestock. Unlike advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers, these notices did not incorporate any of the most popular marketing strategies, although the appeal to price was implicit when it came to the possibility of low bids at auctions. In the absence of appeals to quality, fashion, or consumer choice, advertisements for estate sales and auctions stimulated the market for secondhand goods, expanding the realm of consumer culture for greater numbers of colonists who may not have had the means to acquire solely new goods from merchants and shopkeepers.

December 9

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

Dec 9 - 12:9:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 9, 1767).

“A NEAT SECOND HAND CHAIR … hams, gammons, jowls, and bacon.”

Many colonists placed newspaper advertisements for a particular reason. The December 9, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, included several real estate notices that focused exclusively on the properties for sale. Other advertisements cautioned against runaway slaves or described employment opportunities. Some marketed imported goods to consumers. Mary Hepburn’s short advertisement announced that she intended to depart from Georgia and wished to settle accounts.

In contrast, certain advertisements had more than one purpose. If colonial printers and compositors had practiced any sort of system of classification to organize the paid notices in their newspapers, such advertisements would have likely been divided into shorter notices and grouped with similar ones. Instead, the contents of individual advertisements sometimes seemed as haphazard as the assortment of notices printed in the same column or on the same page.

Such was the case with John Morel’s advertisement. In the course of two short paragraphs Morel, a prominent merchant, switched from hawking a used carriage, a “NEAT SECOND HAND CHAIR … with very good harness,” to selling pork products, including “hams, gammons, jowls, and bacon.” In the process, he addressed two very different sorts of readers. Due to the expense, only the most affluent colonists would have been in the market for a carriage, whether new or “SECOND HAND.” However, “any family” would have needed hams and bacon for sustenance.

The dual purposes of Morel’s advertisement, like the hodgepodge of content throughout the rest of the newspaper, testify to habits of intensive reading in the eighteenth century. Given that far more colonists would have been interested in purchasing pork than a used carriage, Morel depended on careful attention to his advertisement. He assumed that readers would not pass over the remainder of the advertisement when they noticed the carriage at the beginning but instead continue reading to the end, including the portion that marketed hams and bacon. Certainly not every reader actually read every word of the newspaper, but the lack of organization made it imperative for readers to cast more than a casual glance to find the content they desired.