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