April 20

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

Providence Gazette (April 20, 1771).

“His Design is … to exclude his Wife from all Interest in, or Advantage from said Farm.”

On occasion, advertisements published in colonial newspapers generated responses disseminated in subsequent advertisements.  Such was a case when Moses Lyon advertised a farm in South Brimfield, Massachusetts, in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1771.  Nathaniel Child placed an advertisement in response, apparently on behalf of Lyon’s wife.  Child asserted that potential buyers needed to know more about the conditions of the sale before they purchased the property.

“Justice requires,” Child proclaimed, “the Public should be informed, that [Lyon’s] Design is, if possible, to exclude his Wife from all Interest in, or Advantage from said Farm.”  In an effort to prevent such an injustice, Child published his advertisement.  He explained that Lyon’s “now lawful Wife … sustains a reputable Character” and had not “done any thing that might justly forfeit an Interest in his Affections, any more than in his Estate.”  Child did not provide all the details about the discord in the Lyon household, but he did accuse Moses of “repeated Declarations,” a “Series of public Conduct,” and “certain notorious Facts, more loudly speaking than Words” that all indicated he sought to “prevent [his wife] having the least Advantage from any of his Estate.”

Child did not specify his relationship to the Lyon family.  Perhaps he was father, brother, or cousin to the aggrieved wife.  Whatever the relationship, he framed his intervention as a matter of “Justice” so “no Person should be misled, or act in the Dark” when purchasing the farm.  Why did this warning come from him?  By law and by custom, Lyon’s wife did not possess as much power as her husband.  As a result, enlisting a male ally to act as her advocate in the public prints may have been one of the best strategies at her disposal for protecting her interests.  A third party, even a male relation, who testified to Lyon’s “Conduct towards her” likely stood to garner more trust in the veracity of that account than if she relayed a similar story on her own.  Publishing an advertisement in response to Lyon’s real estate notice gave his “now lawful Wife” and her defender greater leverage than had she pursued the matter in private.

March 16

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 16, 1768).

“WHEREAS the following advertisement was stuck up at divers places …”

John Joachim Zubly placed an advertisement concerning a dispute over real estate in the March 16, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. In it, Zubly responded to a separate advertisement that George Galphin and Lachlan McGillivray “stuck up at divers places at Augusta and New-Windsor the beginning of this month.” Zubly opened his own advertisement with an extensive quotation from Galphin and McGillivray’s advertisement, providing readers with the context they needed to understand his rebuttal.

Although the Adverts 250 Project usually features advertisements for consumer goods and services rather than real estate, this notice merits inclusion because it provides a glimpse of another medium used for advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspaper notices comprised the vast majority of advertising of the period, but advertisers also distributed broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, magazine wrappers, catalogs, and a variety of other printed media for the purposes of disseminating information or attempting to incite demand for goods and services. Although Galphin and McGillivray’s advertisement concerned real estate, others “stuck up” advertisements that promoted the goods they sold in their shops. On occasion, the charges recorded in printers’ ledgers indicate that advertisers paid an additional fee for a boy from the shop to paste their advertisements around town, saving them the time and effort of distributing the advertisements themselves.

Based on Zubly’s description, the advertisement “stuck up at diverse places at Augusta and New-Windsor” was most likely a broadside, a sheet printed on only one side, the eighteenth-century equivalent of a poster (though the size of this particular item may have been closer to a handbill or flier). Zubly responded in print, intending that his advertisement in the Georgia Gazette would reach as many colonists as possible, but he may have also commissioned his own broadside to post in the same places that Galphin and McGillivray distributed theirs.

Even more ephemeral than newspapers, most eighteenth-century broadsides have likely been lost over time. Zubly’s advertisement, however, testifies to the rich landscape of advertising that colonists encountered in their daily lives beyond the pages of the newspapers.