What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Gentlemen and others … may depend on the greatest punctuality.”
As spring turned to summer in 1769, Robert Gray launched a new business in Savannah. The wigmaker and hairdresser marked the occasion by placing an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to inform the public that “he intends carrying on his business in this town.” Prospective clients could find him on Broughton Street, “Next door to Mr. Johnston’s.” He was conveniently located next door to the printing office operated by James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. Yet Gray did not expect clients to visit his shop; instead, he offered to serve them “either at their lodgings or his shop,” catering to their convenience.
Gray used his advertisement to inform “the publick” of his new enterprise, but he also addressed “Gentlemen and others” when he pledged his “greatest punctuality” in serving his clients. This was a curious phrase, one that also appeared elsewhere on the same page in an advertisement placed by John Beaty, a tailor from London. Beaty proclaimed, “All gentlemen and others who may favour him with their commands shall be waited upon, and have their orders strictly obeyed.” Gray and Beaty attempted to peddle in exclusivity, but they also wanted to have it both ways. They encouraged prospective clients to think of themselves as genteel “gentlemen,” yet they did not want to position themselves as serving only the most elite residents of Savannah. In a small port with relatively few potential patrons compared to larger cities that may have been a practical strategy. The hairdresser and the tailor might have built their businesses around greater exclusivity in Charleston, New York, or Philadelphia, but they had to operate according to the realities of the market in Savannah. Gray and Beaty also implied that they recognized the distinctions between “gentlemen and others,” though neither would have given voice to clients that they considered them in one category or the other. As the consumer revolution gave colonists of various backgrounds greater access to goods and services previously reserved for the upper ranks, hairdressers, tailors, and others carefully presented their services to both the genteel and aspirants to gentility. The “others” might, over time, improve their social standing and become “gentlemen” if they used the services of hairdressers and tailors to their best advantage.