September 14

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

Sep 14 - 9:14:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 14, 1768).

“A negroe fellow called CATO … and his wife JUDY … had a written license … to come to town.”

James Bulloch’s advertisement concerning an enslaved man and woman who tricked him into issuing them a pass so they could hire themselves out in Savannah for a month and then ran away became a regular feature in the Georgia Gazette in 1768. Dated July 6, it first appeared in the July 13 edition. It then ran every week, with the exception of August 3, for the next six months, making its final appearance on January 4, 1768, in the first issue of the new year. Overall, Bulloch inserted this advertisement in the Georgia Gazette twenty-five times. It would have been impossible for regular readers to remain unaware of Cato and Judy’s subterfuge and flight, but Bulloch published the notice often enough that even those who read the Georgia Gazette only occasionally were likely to encounter the story of the runaway cooper and laundress.

In that regard, Bulloch’s advertisement did not differ from many other notices about runaway slaves in the Georgia Gazette and other newspapers printed throughout the colonies. The account of Cato and Judy’s escape appeared alongside other advertisements for runaway slaves that also ran for months at a time, including one about “THREE NEW NEGROE MEN, called NEPTUNE, BACCHUS, and APOLLO … and ONE STOUT SEASONED FELLOW, called LIMERICK” who ran away from a plantation near Pensacola, Florida, and were suspected of making way “through the Creek nation.” Bulloch and others made significant investments as they attempted to reclaim runaway slaves. In addition to the “reward of ten shilling sterling, beside all other necessary and common charges” that he offered for the capture and return of Cato and Judy, Bulloch financed an advertising campaign that lasted for six months.

Why did these advertisements cease on January 4, 1769? Had Cato and Judy been captured? Or had they successfully made their escape, at least for the moment, having used the “written license” they finagled from Bulloch to move freely and as far away as possible before he even realized they were gone? The slaveholder may have decided to cut his losses by suspending the advertisements. By then, however, colonists throughout Georgia and beyond would have been familiar with Cato and Judy’s story because they saw it repeated in the Georgia Gazette so many times. Even though the advertisements did not continue, the runaways were not safe. Bulloch had used the power of the press for months to encourage others to engage in the surveillance necessary to bring and end to Cato and Judy’s flight for freedom.

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 21, 1767).

“A great Variety of new Articles, just arrived in Capt. Gordon.”

Like several other merchants and shopkeepers in colonial Charleston, John Davies advertised in more than one of the city’s newspapers. A variation of today’s advertisement from the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, for instance, previously appeared in both that newspaper and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette a month earlier. This version added a nota bene informing potential customers that Davies had augmented his stock with “A very great Variety of new Articles, just arrived in Capt. Gordon.” On their own, these updates deceptively suggested that consumers could acquire merchandise fresh off a ship that had just arrived in port.

Those who consulted the shipping news, however, discovered a rather different story. No ship under the command of a Captain Gordon had arrived in port during the past week, so the nota bene did not deliver the absolutely “freshest Advices” promised in the newspaper’s masthead. Indeed, the June 30 issue indicated that the “Ship Mary, James Gordon” from London had arrived on June 26, nearly a month before today’s advertisement promoted the “very great Variety of new Articles, just arrived in Capt. Gordon.” In that issue, Davies’ advertisement appeared immediately to the left of the shipping news. Readers could verify the information communicated in the larger font used for the nota bene with a quick glance. Davies and the compositor had speedily updated the advertisement.

The revised notice appeared in the next three issues, the verity of the nota bene reduced with each passing week. Careful readers of the July 21 issue would have noticed that Captain Gordon and the Mary had been cleared for departure and a return trip to London by the Customs House on July 18. Careful readers would have also recognized Davies’ advertisement from previous issues, realizing that the information in the nota bene needed to be tempered by acknowledging that the notice had been reprinted several times over the past month. Such careful attention to the shipping news likely would not have been necessary for potential customers to approach this advertisement with some skepticism. Readers were accustomed to advertisements being reprinted for weeks and sometimes months. They would have learned to adjust their expectations when advertisers made claims about goods that had “just arrived” or had been “just imported.”

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 17, 1767).

To be sold by the Printer of this paper …”

James Johnston’s advertisement for a “FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA” would have looked very familiar to readers of the Georgia Gazette. It had been inserted frequently in that newspaper for quite some time, often on the final page alongside most other advertisements but other times on the second or third pages with news items. Although Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, certainly wished to sell copies of this map to interested customers, he also used this advertisement as filler to complete the page when he did not have sufficient news items and other commercial notices to do so. Subscribers and regular readers would have recognized it at a glance. The same was true of the notice immediately below it, an announcement that colonists could purchase all sorts of printed blanks at Johnston’s printing office. Again, the advertisement served dual purposes: attracting customers and filling the page. The latter was particularly efficient since type had already been set long ago for both advertisements. The printer resorted to the eighteenth-century version of cut-and-paste when laying out the pages of the Georgia Gazette each week.

For more information about the map (and to examine the map itself), see the previous entry that featured an earlier insertion of this advertisement in the August 27, 1766, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The methodology of the Adverts 250 Project usually precludes examining any advertisement more than once but allows for exceptions when doing so illuminates some aspect of eighteenth-century practices or consumer culture. In this case, an advertisement that practically became a permanent feature of the Georgia Gazette merited attention. Its frequency should not be misconstrued to suggest that Johnston was desperate to sell surplus copies of the map (though that might have also been the case). Instead, when read alongside the notice hawking printed blanks, this advertisement might better be interpreted as a device for completing the page or the issue when lacking other content.

February 22

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

feb-22-2211767-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (February 21, 1767).

“Powder horns.”

The “Powder horns” near the end of Joseph and William Russell’s full-page advertisement made me curious. I discovered that a powder horn was used for holding gun powder (which the Russells also sold).

Many powder horns from this period have intricate engravings on them. Some people took up horn carving as an occupation. One of the best-known horn carvers of this time period was Jacob Gay, who often carved his initials onto the powder horns he created. Historians are now able to spot the artwork he created by the “J G” engraved on a powder horn.

feb-22-powder-horn
Powder horn engraved by Jacob Gay (dated 1759).  Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Visit the museum’s online record for this object to see additional photos and other eighteenth-century powder horns.

Many powder horns have specific styles based on the period they were made and the battles that occurred at that time. Powder horns decorated just before and during the American Revolution often indicated New England’s anti-British feelings. Also, many of the engraved horns depicted battles fought during the Revolution. In addition to being used to reflect battles, powder horn engravings were also expressive of camp life during the Revolution.

In the midst of the Revolution, many powder horns were also used as forms of identification. Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, many soldiers began engraving their names or initials on their powder horns. As a result, historians are now able to identify many of the soldiers who fought in battles of the Revolution.

For more information and examples, see William H. Guthman’s “Powder Horns Carved in the Provincial Manner, 1744-1777.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph and William Russell’s full-page advertisement, the first published in the Providence Gazette, first appeared three months earlier, on November 22, 1766. Since then, it ran multiple times, either because the Russells were keen on advertising or because Mary Goddard and Company needed any sort of content to fill the pages when faced with the combination of a dearth of new paid notices and post riders carrying news from other colonies chronically arriving too late for any of it to appear in the current issue. As a result, residents of Providence and readers of the newspaper printed there were exposed to the Russells’ full-page advertisement on many occasions.

Due to the prominence and frequency it appeared in late 1766 and early 1767, this advertisement has also reappears fairly regularly as a point of reference when examining other paid notices in the Providence Gazette – or trying to explain the absence of those notices. While the methodology for the project, when strictly observed, prohibits featuring this advertisement a second time, there’s room for making exceptions when doing so yields productive observations about advertising practices and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America.

Shannon is the first student in my Revolutionary America class to take on responsibilities for guest curating the Adverts 250 Project. In turn, this is the first time students in that class have encountered the Russells’ advertisement, giving us an opportunity to discuss what was possible when it came to advertising in the revolutionary era compared to what was much more common. Revisiting this advertisement serves a second pedagogical purpose. For her work in preparing today’s entry, Shannon considered the variety of goods listed in this lengthy advertisement before choosing one to examine in greater detail. In the end, she took a closer look at an item not previously incorporated into the Adverts 250 Project, simultaneously expanding her own knowledge about an aspect of early American material culture and enhancing the project.

Finally, by choosing this advertisement Shannon contributes to an ongoing analysis of the advertising content of the Providence Gazette. This advertisement repeatedly occupied one-quarter of the space in any issue in which it appeared, quite a bit of space for the printers to yield. As mentioned above, Goddard and Company seemed to have difficulty attracting advertisers, especially when comparing their newspaper to counterparts published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. That is a story that could not be told if the Russells’ full-page advertisement were permanently excluded from further consideration simply because the Adverts 250 Project previously featured it.

 

February 11

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

feb-11-georgia-gazette-slavery-2
Georgia Gazette (February 11, 1767).

“RUN AWAY … NEGROE GIRL, named MARIA, about 15 years of age.”

This advertisement about a “TALL SLIM LIKELY YOUNG NEGROE GIRL, named MARIA” who ran away from her master would have been very familiar to readers of the Georgia Gazette. Dated August 5, 1766, it first appeared in the August 6, 1766, issue. It then appeared in almost every issue published for the next six months; the February 11, 1767, issue marked half a year that Donald Mackay inserted this runaway notice in the newspaper published in Savannah.

The longevity of this advertisement may be interpreted in more than one way. It might testify to the value that Mackay placed on Maria or how intensely he chafed for her return. As I noted when I first examined this advertisement last August, the physical description of Maria suggested that Mackay valued the “TALL SLIM LIKELY YOUNG NEGRO GIRL” for more than just her capacity to labor in the household or the fields. The expenses incurred by placing an advertisement for her return almost every week for six months (plus an award and reimbursement for “al reasonable charges” associated with Maria’s capture and transport) indicated that Mackay was willing to make a significant investment in reclaiming his human property. Maria’s potential resale value possibly more than justified such expenses.

That line of reasoning, however, assumes that Mackay instructed James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, to insert this advertisement each week and that he agreed to pay for each appearance. Like other newspapers published in smaller cities, such as the Providence Gazette, the [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette, and the [Hartford] Connecticut Courant, the Georgia Gazette featured significantly fewer advertisements than newspapers in the major urban ports. That the advertisement for the runaway Maria consistently appeared for six months may have been a function of the printer seeking to fill the pages with any sort of content, especially considering how many other advertisements in the Georgia Gazette ran for extended periods, often much longer than similar notices in newspapers published elsewhere.

Perhaps the real story combines elements of these two possibilities. Maybe Donald Mackay was so eager to have Maria returned and James Johnston was so eager to fill the columns in his newspaper that they worked out a payment schedule that included discounted rates. Whatever the circumstances, the frequency that this and other advertisements appeared in the Georgia Gazette raises suspicions that not all notices were indeed paid notices.

December 17

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

dec-17-12171766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 17, 1766).

The advertisement concerning the sale of negroes … was printed in the last page of this paper by mistake.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, issued a retraction of one of the advertisements that appeared in the December 17 issue: “The advertisement concerning the sale of negroes, &c. belonging to the estate of Mr. William Smith, deceased, was printed in the last page of this paper by mistake.”

That advertisement by Matthew Roche, the Provost Marshal, would have looked familiar to readers of the Georgia Gazette. Dated “12 Nov. 1766,” it had appeared in previous issues in order to give interested parties sufficient advance notice that slaves, cattle, horses, and fifty acres of land that included a “handsome dwelling house, garden, tan-yard, and several other convenient buildings” would be auctioned “on Tuesday the 16th day of December, 1766.”

That’s right: December 16, the day before the issue was dated and distributed for public consumption. Johnston did not publish the retraction because the sale had been canceled but instead because it truly had been printed “by mistake,” a mistake made in the office of the printer.

That Johnston overlooked this advertisement, not noticing that the new issue included an outdated advertisement until after the broadsheet had already been printed on one side, raises some interesting questions about advertisements that ran for more than a few weeks. Did advertisers contract and pay to have those advertisements repeatedly inserted? Or, did some advertisements serve as filler, published gratis, when printers lacked other content?

Johnston may have been distracted with filling the final page with advertisements already set in type; that would explain how he overlooked the date of the auction of William Smith’s estate. The same issue included other advertisements that ran for months (not just for weeks): Donald Mackay’s advertisement for a runaway slave (dated “5th August, 1766”) and the sale of Baillie’s Island by the executors of Colonel Kenneth Baillie (first published in November 1766 and repeated well into 1767). Mackay and Baillie’s executors may very well have arranged for their advertisements to appear so many times.

If they did not, however, that suggests that printers sometimes used advertisements for their own purposes in constructing complete issues of their newspapers. While it may be tempting to argue that some advertisers repeated their notices frequently because they believed in the power of advertising (or, in the case of Mackay, because he really wanted to retrieve Maria, “a TALL SLIM LIKELY NEGROE GIRL”), it is also important to question whether the advertisers themselves were indeed responsible for how frequently their notices appeared.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:16:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (June 16, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD By JAMES LUCENA, At his Store on the Point.”

James Lucena’s advertisement for the “BEST sort of Teneriffe Wine of the Madeira Grape” and other wines would have looked familiar to readers of the June 16, 1766, issue of the Newport Mercury. It had also appeared in the previous issue. It would look increasingly familiar over the next month. Lucena’s advertisement appeared in the Newport Mercury in six consecutive issues: June 9, 16, 23, and 30 and July 7 and 14. Although it moved around from page to page and column to column within the newspaper, the type had been set and it retained its original appearance.

Repeating an advertisement multiple times helped sellers inform potential customers about their wares, but this practice also aided in building their brand (to use today’s marketing parlance). Through sheer repetition, Lucena prompted consumers to associate the “BEST sort” of wine from Tenerife (the largest of the Canary Islands) with his shop. The brevity of this advertisement did not allow Lucena to expand on that appeal, to say more about the qualities of the wine he sold, but he may have balanced the relative costs of running a longer advertisement fewer times or a short advertisement a greater number of times. The recognition gained from having the short advertisement appear so many times may have been one of the results Lucena desired. Some readers who saw Lucena advertise “Teneriffe Wine of the Madeira Grape” likely came to associate this product with him even when his advertisement ceased its run in the Newport Mercury.