May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 9, 1769).

Just Imported in the Schooner Liberty.”

John Prince placed a short advertisement for “A Quantity of the best JAMAICA SUGARS, by the Hogshead, Barrel, or less Quantity” in the May 9, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. He announced that had “just Imported” his wares “in the Schooner Liberty.” The shipping news, printed in the same column, verified that aspect of Prince’s notice. The “Schooner Liberty, J. Lambert,” captain, arriving from Jamaica was the first entry among the vessels on the list of “INWARD ENTRIES” from the “CUSTOM-HOUSE, Port of SALEM & MARBLEHEAD, May 8.” Nine other ships had also entered the port in the past week. For its first appearance in the Essex Gazette, Prince’s advertisement benefited from its proximity to the shipping news.

“Just imported” was a stock phrase deployed frequently in eighteenth-century advertisements. In many instances, readers may have overlooked claims by merchants, shopkeepers, and others claiming to have “just imported” their merchandise, realizing that they used the phrase rather flexibly to suit their own purposes. In addition, some advertisements ran for weeks or even months without any revisions to the copy; the phrase “just imported” took on a different inflection each time it was repeated in a subsequent insertion of an advertisement originally submitted to the printing office some time earlier.

In the case of Prince’s advertisement, “just Imported” aligned quite literally with the shipping news from May 8 published in the May 9 edition of the Essex Gazette. In the next two issues, May 16 and 23, the phrase operated independently of any other content in the newspaper. Some readers may have been aware that the Liberty was still in port, drawing on their own knowledge to assess what counted as “just Imported.” When Prince’s advertisement ran once again in the May 30 edition, the shipping news listed only one vessel “OUTWARD BOUND,” the “Schooner Liberty” making ready to depart for the West Indies. Prince’s advertisement did not appear in the Essex Gazette again after that. He discontinued it while the phrase “just Imported” applied to a vessel still in port, but that certainly was not the case for every advertiser who adopted such language. Given the elasticity of the meaning of “just imported,” shrewd readers likely discounted the phrase unless they had other means of assessing its accuracy, such as the shipping news.

October 12

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

Oct 12 - 10:12:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 12, 1768).

“INGLIS and HALL, Have just imported, In the INDUSTRY, FURSE, from BRISTOL.”

When Inglis and Hall placed an advertisement in the October 12, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette they adopted formulaic language that often appeared in other advertisements. The partners informed prospective customers that they “have just imported” a variety of goods from London and Bristol. Like many other colonial merchants and shopkeepers, Inglis and Hall reported which ship had transported their goods across the Atlantic: “the GEORGIA PACKET, ANDERSON, from LONDON” and “the INDUSTRY, FURSE, from BRISTOL.” This allowed readers to determine for themselves that Inglis and Hall did indeed stock new merchandise. Many may have been aware of which vessels recently arrived in port, but all could read the shipping news that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.

Inglis and Hall’s advertisement appeared on the second page of the October 12 issue, opposite the list of ships ‘ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE,” those “ENTERED OUTWARDS,” and others that had “CLEARED” the port. The shipping news indicated that the “Ship Georgia Packet, George Anderson” from London “ENTERED INWARDS” on October 10. The Industry was not listed, but it was still in port, having ‘ENTERED INWARDS” on September 30 according to the October 5 edition.

Given the time required to set the type and print both sides of the newspaper on a hand-operated press, Inglis and Hall must have submitted the copy for their advertisement to James Johnston at the printing office in Savannah immediately upon the arrival of Captain Anderson and the Georgia Packet. The shipping news bolstered their claim that they “have just imported” a variety of goods. In other instances, merchants and shopkeepers ran advertisements for weeks or months, never updating them. The appeal to having “just imported” merchandise became outdated, even if the list of goods available for sale remained accurate. Readers could assess that particular appeal: sometimes an inventory described as “just imported” had been lingering on the shelves for quite some time. Consumers interested in the newest goods, including the current fashions from London, had to be aware that advertisers deployed the phrase “just imported” with little attention to the passage of time over the run of their advertisements. Usually accurate when an advertisement first appeared, that description did not disappear until advertisers discontinued their advertisements.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:17:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 17, 1768).

“LEWIS JOHNSON Has just imported … AN ASSORTMENT of MEDICINES.”

When readers of the Georgia Gazette perused the August 17, 1768, edition they encountered an advertisement for “AN ASSORTMENT of MEDICINES, and sundry other Articles” that may have looked familiar. Lewis Johnson had placed his notice listing an extensive array of goods as soon as they arrived in his shop. The shipping news in the June 29 issue indicated that the “Ship Charming Sally, Peter Rainier” from London had “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” on June 28. Johnson’s advertisement listing merchandise “just imported for Sale from LONDON, By the CHARMING SALLY, Capt. RAINIER” appeared in the Georgia Gazette the following day. It ran for three consecutive weeks, a standard length of time according to the fee structure for advertising in many colonial newspapers.

Johnson’s advertisement then disappeared from the next four issues before returning in the August 17 issue. Why did Johnson suddenly decide to insert his advertisement again? Just as its initial run coincided with the shipping news that confirmed the Charming Sally had just arrived with a cargo of goods imported from London, its return to the pages of the Georgia Gazette occurred when the shipping news reported the vessel’s departure. Among the other entries from the Customs House, the “Ship Charming Sally, Peter Rainier” had “CLEARED” and sailed for Martinique. For the past three weeks, the Charming Sally had been listed with those that had “ENTERED OUTWARDS” in preparation of leaving Savannah. Either from the shipping news or his interactions with the captain, Johnson would have known when the ship that transported his goods was leaving. The August 17 issue would be the last issue that carried information about the Charming Nancy provided by the Customs House. It was also Johnson’s last chance to underscore that he had indeed “just imported” his wares on a ship that had recently arrived in port.

His advertisement did not appear the following week, nor did the shipping news mention the Charming Nancy. Johnson had seized the opportunity when it presented itself, but withdrawn his advertisement when the news items printed elsewhere in newspaper made one of the appeals in his advertisement look outdated.

September 29

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

Sep 29 - 9:29:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 29, 1767).

“They daily expect by the NANCY, Capt. JORDAN, from London, two very large and compleat assortments of goods.”

Like many merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies, Atkins and Weston indicated the source of their inventory in their newspaper advertisement. They informed readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that that had “just imported from LONDON, per the Captains BALL, RAINIER, and ALEXANDER, a variety of Goods.” This was boilerplate, part of a formula for the first sentence of many advertisements, but it became a standard part of marketing in eighteenth-century America because it addressed several factors that motivated colonists to participate in a transatlantic consumer revolution.

In proclaiming that they “just imported from LONDON … a variety of Goods,” Atkins and Weston framed the remainder of their advertisement for potential customers. They promised consumer choice among the “variety of Goods” before listing many of them to demonstrate the point. They emphasized a sense of shared identity among residents of the empire’s largest and most cosmopolitan city and colonists in Charleston, South Carolina, and its hinterlands. (Note that the partners operated two shops, one in Charleston and the other in Stono.) Their customers participate in the same “empire of goods” distributed in England. They also asserted that their merchandise was timely, implying that it corresponded to current fashions. An ocean separated consumers in London and Charleston, but this did not have to prevent colonists from keeping up with current tastes and styles.

In addition, listing which captains (and, sometimes, which vessels) delivered the goods to the colonial port allowed for readers to confirm that the merchandise had indeed been acquired recently rather than sitting on shelves or in storage for an extended period. At least some readers would know when certain ships had arrived at port, but any reader could browse the shipping news, usually printed immediately before the advertisements, to learn when ships had entered and departed the harbor.

Atkins and Weston developed an enhancement to this standard introduction. Later in their advertisement they reported that “they daily expect by the NANCY, Capt. JORDAN, from London, two very large and compleat assortments of goods, … and regular importations in future.” Not only did they incite demand for their current inventory, they also encouraged potential customers to anticipate the new wares that would soon become available via the Nancy. Furthermore, promises of “regular importations in future” revealed their confidence in their supply chain while also conditioning readers to assume that Atkins and Weston frequently updated their merchandise even without being exposed to subsequent advertising.