What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To be leased for Twelve Months, THE PLANTATION and HOUSE.”
John Graham and John Oates offered a lease on Smithfield, the plantation and house of the deceased William Smith. James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, gave their notice space in his newspaper, but he also used it to serve his own needs (beyond collecting the advertising fees). Johnston needed to fill out the first page of the July 29, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette; this advertisement was just the right length to do so (though several others in the same issue would have fit the bill and could have been inserted interchangeably in the same spot).
Unlike many colonial newspapers that clustered advertising on one or two pages, paid advertisements appeared on every page of this issue of the Georgia Gazette. The notice concerning Smithfield was the sole advertisement on the first page, filling the small space left by a satirical political essay on what was “RIGHT, WRONG, and REASONABLE, with regard to America” from the British perspective, a sarcastic list of lamentations that anticipated many of the grievances against George III eventually included in the Declaration of Independence. The second page included a letter reprinted from the London Chronicle as well as extensive news from New York and shorter updates from Newport, Rhode Island; Charleston, South Carolina; and several Caribbean colonies. Two advertisements – one concerning stray horses and the other seeking “a QUANTITY of GOOD BEES-WAX” – completed the page. Local news occupied the third page. Given that advertisements appeared at the top of the first column, the printer likely left space in anticipation of including additional news from across the Atlantic and from other colonies, continuing from the previous page, but ran out of content. An extended legal notice took up one of the two columns on the final page; advertisements, including two final advertisements placed by the printer, accounted for the remainder.
Printers and compositors valued advertising not only because of the additional revenue generated. Advertising yielded content of varying lengths that could be manipulated to complete the pages of a newspaper when news items were not available. To that end, the Georgia Gazette incorporated advertising throughout the July 29 issue, even inserting two notices from the printer in order to fill the space.