November 5

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

Nov 5 - 11:2:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 2, 1769).

“TWO large and compleat Assortments of Goods.”

In advertisements that appeared regularly in newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina, in the late 1760s, Atkins and Weston offered prospective customers the convenience of shopping at multiple locations. In an advertisement in the November 2, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, they advised consumers that they had “just imported … TWO large and compleat Assortments of Goods, one for their Store at STONO, and the other for their Store in CHARLESTOWN.”

That they described each shipment of goods as “large and compleat Assortments” communicated that they kept both shops well stocked rather than treating one as a satellite location that carried only the bare necessities. The shop in Stono was more than a mere outpost. Still, they did acknowledge that market considerations prompted them to make some items available at their Charleston location, in one of the largest and busiest ports in British mainland North America, which they did not carry at Stono. In particular, the inventory in Charleston included “a great variety of the most elegant and fashionable flowered and plain SILKS.” Atkins and Weston had been in business long enough, operating two stores, that they presumably figured out the most efficient means of distributing their merchandise given the market conditions at both locations.

Their advertisement testifies to the reach of the consumer revolution in eighteenth-century America. It extended beyond the largest urban ports and into the countryside. Atkins and Weston knew that there was a market for “large and compleat Assortments of Goods” outside of Charleston. With their advertisements, they also sought to stimulate even greater demand among consumers living outside of the colony’s largest city. Yet they also identified some items, the “flowered and plain SILKS,” as having the best prospect of selling in the city. Customers in Stono may have been able to send for samples to examine at that location, but Atkins and Weston concentrated their efforts for that merchandise at their urban location. Their advertisement operated at the intersection of convenience for customers and practicality for the vendors.

October 4

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

Oct 4 - 10:4:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 4, 1768).

“A proper supply of GOODS will be sent to their stores at DORCHESTER and MONCK’S CORNER.”

For six weeks in the fall of 1768 the partnership of Dawson and Walter placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to promote the “large and compleat assortment of GOODS, for the present and winter season” that they had imported from London. In addition to seasonal goods, their inventory included items that testified to the refinement of provincial consumers, especially when it came to apparel and housewares. From among the assortment of goods on hand, Dawson and Walter specifically enumerated “FASHIONABLE BROAD CLOTHS, and trimmings, compleat sets of enameled, and blue and white table china, [and] complete sets of tea ditto.”

Like many other colonial merchants and shopkeepers, Dawson and Walter did not address residents of Charleston exclusively. They also wished to cultivate customers among colonists who lived in the hinterlands surrounding the colony’s major port city. Some of their counterparts advertised that they accepted orders delivered by post or messenger and faithfully filled them, but Dawson and Walter instead opened additional shops in smaller towns to serve colonists outside of Charleston. They informed readers that “A proper supply of GOODS will be sent to their stores at DORCHESTER and MONCK’S CORNER, where their friends may now depend on finding a good assortment kept up.” Furthermore, the partners pledged that customers in the countryside would be “served as cheap as in Charles-Town.” In other words, convenience did not come at the expense of limited selections or higher prices. Those who shopped in Dorchester and Monck’s Corner could depend on choosing from among the same merchandise presented to customers in the bustling port. Despite their distance from Charleston – and their even greater distance from London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire – customers in the hinterlands could demonstrate their refinement by purchasing the same goods as consumers in the cities. Demand alone does not explain the extensive reach of the consumer revolution during the eighteenth century. Instead, entrepreneurs like Dawson and Walter who established shops beyond major cities and towns facilitated the distribution of consumer goods throughout the American colonies.

November 3

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

Nov 3 - 11:3:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 3, 1767).

“One for their TOWN and one for their STONO STORE.”

Atkins and Weston placed an advertisement in the November 3, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to “Inform their friends and customers, that by the ship Nancy, Captain Jordan, from London” they had just imported a variety of new merchandise. The shipping news, fortuitously printed immediately to the left of the advertisement, confirmed that Jordan and the Nancy had entered the port two weeks earlier on October 20. Atkins and Watson had been expecting this shipment for quite some time. They previously attempted to drum up demand for their new inventory even before it arrived; in September they published an advertisement designed to incite anticipation among their “friends and customers” and other readers of the newspaper throughout the colony.

In both advertisements Atkins and Weston underscored that they operated stores at two locations, one in Charleston and the other in Stono, a smaller settlement to the southwest across the Ashley River. Potential customers who lived in the vicinity of Stono did not have to travel to the colony’s major port to make their purchases at Atkins and Weston’s main store. Instead, they could shop at the local branch. The advertisers made clear that customers at both locations would choose from among the same selection and experience the same treatment. They announced that the recent shipment on the Nancy included “TWO very LARGE and COMPLEAT ASSORTMENTS of GOODS” that “consist of almost every article usually imported.” They were so certain of this that they did not publish a detailed list but instead argued it was “needless to descend to particulars.” They did not privilege customers in Charleston, pledging “to keep both their stores well supplied.” In addition, they assured prospective customers in both locations that they “may place a fixed confidence in their selling on as reasonable terms as any people in the province.”

Atkins and Weston offered options to consumers who did not reside in the colony’s major port, one of the largest and most cosmopolitan urban centers in the colonies in the late 1760s. Colonists who lived in Charleston’s hinterland could have the same shopping experiences at a local outlet in Stono as if they made the journey into the city because Atkins and Weston stocked both stores with the same goods. The merchandise at their second location was neither secondhand nor second best.

August 2

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

0089hi
Virginia Gazette (August 1, 1766).

“Any Gentlemen may be supplied with the same … in Norfolk, and … in Williamsburg.”

Philip Watson sold “POOLE’s best Scotch SNUFF” to customers in Shockoe, but that was not the only place in the colony that readers of the Virginia Gazette could purchase this product. Watson concluded his advertisement with a nota bene stating that “Any Gentlemen may be supplied with the same at Mr. Thomas Hepburn’s in Norfolk, and at Mr. James Southall’s in Williamsburg.”

The nota bene demonstrates two aspects of doing business in colonial Virginia. First, it points to the distribution of consumer goods, in this case “POOLE’s best Scotch SNUFF” in particular. Watson knew that many readers of the Virginia Gazette would not find it practical to call on him in Shockoe, so he offered additional locations that carried the same product. In order to make as many sales as possible, Watson incorporated convenience as part of his customer service.

That Watson listed three locations in three towns also testifies to the reach of newspaper distribution in the 1760s in Virginia and other colonies. Newspapers did not serve just the city or town in which they were printed. They passed through networks of subscribers and other readers throughout the city or town’s hinterland and beyond. Even in colonies with multiple newspapers, they tended to be printed in just one city. As a result, advertisements reached far beyond the places where newspapers were printed. Philip Watson could confidently place an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette, printed in the colony’s capital, and know that it would reach readers in Shockoe and Norfolk as well as Williamsburg.

As an aside, this advertisements also points to some of the difficulty using eighteenth-century names for towns. Where was Shockoe? Did Watson mean the relatively remote area that is currently an unincorporated community in Pittsylvania County? Probably not. It’s much more likely that he sold “POOLE’s best Scotch SNUFF” in what became Richmond – on the James River, the colony’s main waterway and means of transporting tobacco and other goods – which now contains the neighborhoods of Shockoe Hill, Shockoe Slip, and Shockoe Bottom. As with many other aspects of eighteenth-century advertisements, contemporary readers needed no explanation of the location of Shockoe.