May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 11, 1770).

“May be had … till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails.”

The colophon for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated that it was published by Robert Wells “at the Old Printing-House, Great Stationary and Book Shop.”  Like many other eighteenth-century printers, Wells simultaneously operated several affiliated enterprises from his printing office.  An advertisement in the May 11, 1770, edition of his newspaper alerted prospective customers to an item for sale among the books and stationery at his shop, “A PLAN of the CITY of NEW-YORK by Capt. Ratzer, Engineer.”

The advertisement declared that this map was “most elegantly engraved,” but that was not the only marketing strategy deployed to incite demand among consumers.  The advertisement also proclaimed that the map was available for a limited time only.  Customers could acquire their own copies for one dollar each “till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails, in which will be returned all the Copies then unsold.”  None would be held in reserve at the printing office to sell in the future.  Anyone potentially interested in this map, the advertisement warned, needed to visit Wells’s shop to examine the map and make a decision about purchasing it as soon as possible or else they would miss the opportunity to obtain it easily from a local bookseller.

May 11 - 10:15:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 15, 1770).

In its notes on Plan of the City of New York, in North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library cites two states of the map, the first “undated but about 1770” and the second from 1776.  Furthermore, the “attribution of 1770 for the first state of the map is based on a ‘New-York Gazette’ advertisement for the map in October 1770,” according to Margaret Beck Pritchard and Henry G. Taliaferro.  Although available for purchase in two of the largest urban ports in the colonies in 1770, there are “only two known examples of the map in the first state” today.  The advertisements aid historians in telling a more complete story of the production and distribution of the Plan of the City of New York in the late colonial era.

August 27

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

Aug 27 - 8:27:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 27, 1766).


James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, advertised a “FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA,” a resource that would have been particularly valuable to readers of his newspaper. Although Johnston likely printed the “COMPLETE SETS of ALL the LAWS of this PROVINCE” promoted elsewhere in his advertisement, the map most certainly had been imported from England.

In fact, the map had been produced in London nearly a decade earlier by mapmaker William Gerard de Brahm and engraver Thomas Jefferys. Historians of cartography have described the 1757 map as the most important map of South Carolina and Georgia created during the colonial period. In The Southeast in Early Maps (1958), William P. Cumming noted, “For the first time, for any large area of the southern colonies, a map possesses topographical accuracy based on scientific surveys.”

Aug 27 - Map
William Gerard de Brahm, Map of South-Carolina and Part of Georgia, engraved by Thomas Jeffreys (London: 1757).  Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps.

The advertisement made clear that the map had been carefully constructed by collating surveys conducted by William Bull, Captain Gascoign, Hugh Bryan, and William de Brahm (though it did not indicate that de Brahm had been appointed surveyor general of Georgia in 1754). The map accurately included the variety of features listed in the advertisement (“the whole sea coast, all the islands, islets, rivers, creeks, parishes, townships, boroughs, roads, and bridges” as well as the boundary lines of several plantations), making it a vast improvement over previous maps.

Johnston cannot be credit with composing copy that promoted the most useful and important features of the map. The entire description in the advertisement came directly from the title printed on the map itself. De Brahm had already embedded the necessary marketing text on the product itself!

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 17, 1766).

Mary Biddle sold “MAPS of the Province of Pennsylvania and PLANS and PROSPECTS of the CITY of PHILADELPHIA” at “the House of Capt. M’Funn, in Third street, above Arch street.” Her advertisement did not provide much additional information, leaving the impression that she might have been a mere retailer of these items. She offered very little detail about the maps, a bit of a surprise considering the labor and expertise that went into creating and producing maps in the eighteenth century. What was Mary Biddle’s connection to the maps she advertised?

Jul 17 - 10:7:1762 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 7, 1762).

Many readers may have already been aware of some of the particulars of the map Biddle sold. Nearly four years earlier she (and others) had published a subscription notice in advance of producing the map. By seeking subscribers, Biddle and her partners were able to gauge interest in their project in order to determine if it would be profitable. The subscription notice also served to incite interest in the project, increasing the chances that it would be successful and turn a profit.

That subscription notice included more information about Biddle’s role in making the map available to the public. She was listed as an editor, along with Matthew Clarkson. Despite the impression created by her later advertisement, Biddle was not merely a retailer. She was a cartographer in her own right!

The Library of Congress provides some biographical information that tells more of Biddle’s story. She was the daughter of Nicholas Scull and Abigail Heap. Scull was a prominent surveyor and cartographer who served as Surveyor General of Pennsylvania from 1748 until his death in 1761. All three of Scull’s sons went on to become surveyors, but it appears that the elder Scull passed along his knowledge to his daughter as well.

Jul 17 - Map of Philadelphia
Nicholas Scull, Matthew Clarkson, and Mary Biddle, To the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, Common Council of Freemen of Philadelphia this Plan of the Improved Part of the City (Philadelphia:  Sold by the Editors, Matthew Clarkson and Mary Biddle, 1762).  Library of Congress.  For more detail, zoom in on the map via the Library of Congress.

When Mary Biddle and her husband fell on hard times, she contributed to the family by editing this map, which had been “surveyed and laid down by the late Nicholas Scull.” The map itself included an advertisement in the lower right corner: “Sold by the Editors Matthew Clarkson and Mary Biddle in PHILADELPHIA.” This map was eventually republished many times, but the 1762 edition was the only one that acknowledged Biddle’s contribution.

Today’s short advertisement belies the significant role that Mary Biddle played in the creation, production, and distribution of this important map. In that regard it was similar to many other advertisements placed by men for the businesses they operated that did not acknowledge the labor, skill, expertise, or other contributions their wives and other female relatives contributed to their enterprises.