What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
As was often the case, the October 29, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal overflowed with advertising. The first page consisted of the masthead and more than a dozen advertisements, but no news items. The second page did include those “freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic,” promised in the masthead. The shipping news from the customs house continued on the third page, but two dozen advertisements filled the vast majority of it. Nearly two dozen more appeared on the final page, along with a brief column identifying Charles Crouch as the printer at the bottom of the last column. Crouch received so many advertisements at his printing office on Elliott Street that he issues a two-page supplement that contained about three dozen more advertisements, including Joseph Atkinson’s oversized notice that spread over more than half a page. Thirteen advertisements about enslaved people ran among the other notices.
To help readers navigate the contents of the newspaper, Crouch inserted headers to identify “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.” The first appeared at the top of the first column on the first page. When advertising commenced once again on the third page, the “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” header ran once again, directing readers to notices they did not encounter in previous issues. Midway through the page, however, Crouch transitioned to advertisements already inserted at least once without providing a different header. Newspapers of the era tended to feature relatively few headlines and headers, so an effort to identify “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” made Crouch’s publication distinctive even though he did not devise other markers to aid readers as they perused the advertising. Similarly, neither Crouch nor any other printer in the colonies organized advertisements according to purpose or genre. Instead, advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, advertisements offering rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves, real estate advertisements, and a variety of other kinds of notices ran alongside each other in an undifferentiated amalgamation. A header for “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” provided some guidance for readers, but it was a rudimentary classification system.