April 19

GUEST CURATOR: Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 19 - 4:19:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 17, 1767).

“A Genteel Lodging and Boarding for a single Gentleman, Enquire in Tradd-street, of JAMES KING.”

This is the entire advertisement from the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. However, this is why I picked it. Although only fourteen words, this advertisement poses a lot of questions, the most important being the usage of the word “genteel.” What did “genteel” mean in eighteenth-century America?

The Oxford English Dictionary states that genteel means “Belonging to or included among the gentry; of a rank above the commonalty.” Other definitions similarly state “Appropriate to persons of quality,” “characteristic of persons of quality,” and “suited to the station of a gentleman or gentlewoman.” When describing dwellings, food, meals, and hospitality – like the “Lodging and Boarding” in this advertisement – “genteel” means “Stylish, fashionably elegant or sumptuous.” This is important because it suggests that King advertised to someone who was looking for accommodations appropriate for his social ranking or perhaps even hoping to move up in status.

“Genteel” also referred to how people acted in addition to describing consumer goods and “Lodging and Boarding.” The Oxford English Dictionary also includes these definitions: “Having the habits characteristic of superior station” and “Of behavior: courteous, polite, obliging.” According to Cathy Hellier at Colonial Williamsburg, “Not only how something was said, but when it was said, were reflective of the social positions of the speakers.” This advertisement, regardless of its short length, shows the importance placed on social status in colonial and Revolutionary America.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Inviting undergraduates to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project opens up a variety of opportunities, not only for the students but also for me as an instructor and a scholar. Through their own efforts on the project, students often convince me to look at familiar material in new ways.

Take today’s featured advertisement. When Jonathan submitted it to me for consideration I told him that I would approve it because it fit within the parameters of the project and adhered to its methodology, but I also suggested that it seemed a bit sparse, especially compared to many of the more substantial advertisements that appeared in the same issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Although I approved King’s advertisement for “Lodging and Boarding,” I recommended that Jonathan consider alternatives and let him know that he could switch to another advertisement if he experienced too much difficulty examining this one. Jonathan assured me that he would find something interesting and significant to say about King’s advertisement. I was both curious and anxious when he began independently pursuing his research and writing the first draft of today’s entry. I had no idea how he might approach what appeared to be such a simple advertisement.

I was pleasantly surprised when Jonathan submitted his initial analysis of the advertisement. In focusing on a single word, “genteel,” he opened a portal to investigating eighteenth-century understandings of status, personal comportment, and social mobility. He originally relied solely on Cathy Hellier’s article, but I suggested that if he really wanted to understand the meaning of “genteel” in the eighteenth century that he also needed to incorporate the OED’s treatment of the word. This was a new source for Jonathan, at least as far as conducting historical research was concerned. In the following draft, he included one of the entries from the OED. Working together, we fleshed out his revised entry and better harnessed the OED’s extensive treatment of “genteel” to introduce readers to the many shades of meaning associated with the word in early America.

This was a learning experience for me as much as it was for Jonathan. I spend so much time examining eighteenth-century sources that the word “genteel” did not even register with me when I initially reviewed today’s advertisement. As a student interested but not immersed in early American history, on the other hand, Jonathan did not take “genteel” for granted. By training different eyes on the same advertisement, he raised important questions about an advertisement that turned out not to be as simple as I initially thought. In so doing, he implicitly made an argument that I regularly advance: advertisements that appear to be little more than notices often turn out to have layers of meaning and significance when examined more closely.

March 20

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 20 - 3:20:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 20, 1767).

“BETWEEN sixty and seventy likely NEGROES … among whom are carpenters, coopers and sawyers.”

 

This advertisement said the slaves for sale included “carpenters, coopers and sawyers.” I had never heard of coopers or sawyers before so I decided to find out more about them. The job of a cooper was to make casks, buckets and other containers to store things. The sawyer worked in a saw mill. Daniel C. Littlefield states that in the 1700s plantation owners in South Carolina “expected enslaved people to perform a wide range of jobs that included carpenter, cooper, boatman, cook, seamstress, and blacksmith, to mention only a few of the skilled function required around plantations.”

This made me question, what other jobs could be found on South Carolina plantations. Since the majority of the plantations in South Carolina were rice plantations, the major jobs on the plantation were creating dikes or levees and sluices and to maintain them. Slaves also had to keep animals away from the area. Other jobs included planting, weeding, and harvesting the rice.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Each eighteenth-century slavery advertisement tells an important story that demonstrates the scope of enslaved people’s experiences in early America, but some of them tell stories less familiar to my students (and the general public) than others. When Ceara selected today’s advertisement, I encouraged her to focus on the “carpenters, coopers and sawyers” prominently listed among the slaves offered for sale.

That enslaved men, women, and children were exploited for their labor comes as no surprise, but most students do not realize that slaveholders benefited from far more than just the labor of their labors. Instead, slaves contributed valuable expertise to plantations and the colonial economy more generally. Many learned specialized skills. Enslaved artisans plied their crafts on plantations in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, but they also worked in urban centers throughout the colonies, north and south.

Advertisers often made special note of the skills their human property possessed, such as the “carpenters, coopers and sawyers” from today’s advertisement or the “FOUR very valuable NEGROES” advertised in the Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on March 17, 1767. Three of the four were considered particularly valuable because two were “good workmen at the cabinet-maker’s business” and one was “a good sawyer, and handles his tools so well in the coarser branches of that trade as to be capable of making a tolerable country carpenter.”

In some instances enslaved artisans were “hired out” for limited amounts of time, such as a “Negro Man, by Trade a Shoemaker” also advertised in the March 17 supplement. This practice granted slaveholders an even greater return on their investment by occupying the time of skilled laborers who might otherwise experience lulls in demand for their services on their own plantations.

I anticipate that Ceara will approach her responsibilities as curator of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project with a more nuanced appreciation of the different kinds of labor and expertise described in the advertisements now that she has a better understanding that slaves contributed knowledge and expertise as well as physical labor to the cultivation of crops and the production of commodities in colonial and Revolutionary America.

 

March 8

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

mar-8-381767-part-1-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette

mar-8-381767-part-2-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 6, 1767).

“A DISSERTATION ON THE RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGES OF A PERPETUAL UNION BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN and her AMERICAN COLONIES.”

Robert Wells stocked a variety of items at “the great Stationary and Book Shop on the Bay” in Charleston. Among the wares he imported from England, he first listed “LARGE and elegant prints of Mr. PITT and LORD CAMDEN,” members of Parliament considered friendly to the American cause during the Stamp Act crisis. Wells concluded this advertisement by devoting significant space to a book printed in Philadelphia, a volume which included four “DISSERTATIONS” on the “RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGES OF A PERPETUAL UNION BETWEEN GREAT-BRITAIN and her AMERICAN COLONIES.” The first, authored by John Morgan, won “Mr. Sargent’s Prize Medal,” awarded at commencement exercises for the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania).

This advertisement provides valuable insight concerning how most colonists interpreted their relationship with Great Britain in the first months of 1767, still fairly early in the imperial crisis that eventually – over the course of more than a decade – led to the colonies declaring independence. One of the challenges of teaching about the American Revolution lies in helping students understand that it was not an instantaneous event but rather a long process that involved a transition from resistance to Parliamentary overreach while seeking redress of grievances to, eventually, revolutionary rhetoric and actions when Americans determined that they had exhausted all other options.

In early 1767 continued to underscore the “RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGES” of being part of the British Empire. In his “DISSERTATION,” Morgan ranked commerce and trade among some of the most significant advantages. By this time the Stamp Act had been passed and repealed, in large part due to the protests and petitions of the colonists but also thanks to advocacy by merchants and politicians, like Pitt and Camden, in England. The Americans had discovered means for having their grievances addressed, though they did not particularly care for the Declaratory Act that accompanied repeal of the Stamp Act. Still, the rupture in relations did not seem insurmountable. Indeed, most Americans believed it foolish not to attempt to make amends.

The “DISSERTATIONS” written and published in Philadelphia served to cement colonists’ understanding of their place and privileges within the British Empire, but they also reminded English observers of the benefits of amicable relations between parent country and colonies. This publication simultaneously shored up British identity among colonists while alerting those in England that it was not in anyone’s best interest to attempt to take advantage of the colonies, a warning that Parliament did not heed when it promulgated the Townshend Acts later in 1767.

Return once again to the prints of Pitt and Camden that led the list of goods Wells stocked. They set the tone for the rest of the advertisement, especially the “DISSERTATIONS” that appeared at the end. Colonists considered themselves Britons, so much so that Wells expected consumers would display images of English politicians – especially those who understood and advocated for the proper sort of relationship between Great Britain and the American colonies – in public and private spaces. Most Americans had not yet been radicalized in favor of independence in early 1767, at least not according to the merchandise Robert Wells expected to sell at his shop in Charleston.

February 27

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

feb-27-2271767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 27, 1767).

“LONDON, New-York, and other MADEIRA WINE, by the Pipe, Hogshead, Quarter Cask, or Dozen.”

Colonial Americans drank alcoholic beverages all the time and at any time they wanted. According to Ed Crews, colonists commonly had a drink for breakfast, brunch, lunch, pre-dinner snacking, during supper, and right before bed. Colonists enjoyed drinking at social events, work, and, even during studies at colleges. In fact, Crews reports, in 1639 Nathaniel Eaton, the President at Harvard College at the time, “lost his job” when he did not provide enough beer for students and staff. Alcohol was a wonder drink believed to have many beneficial properties ranging from warming the body, making people stronger, aiding the sick, and generally causing people to have a good time.

Today’s notice advertised the sale of a variety of wines and spirits imported from across the Atlantic, including Madeira, Port, Burgundy, Claret, and Brandy, as well as Jamaican Rum from the Caribbean. Colonists had a variety of different drinks they preferred, including mixers called Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle, Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip, and just as many names for being drunk.

Wine, rum, and whiskey were favored drinks among the colonists, with rum being king amongst the common man. Elites imported wine, especially Jefferson who loved French wine and attempted to produce wine in America, a failed endeavor. George Washington, on the other hand, owned and operated a private whiskey distillery on his property at Mt. Vernon.

American colonists consumed a large variety of alcoholic beverages for various occasions and at times throughout the day, with wine, rum, and whiskey being especially favorite drinks.

For more on “Drinking in Colonial America,” see Ed Crews’ article on the Colonial Williamsburg website.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Cunningham and Sands, purveyors of all sorts of alcohol, emphasized quality and service in their advertisement. Whether customers purchased any of a dozen different varieties of wine or instead opted for rum from Jamaica and other locales in the West Indies, all were “warranted to be excellent in Quality.” This was possible because Cunningham and Sands took “the greatest Care” in choosing which wines and rum to import and sell, implying a certain level of expertise on their part. They also took great care in “the Management” of the wines they stocked, suggesting that they were shipped and stored under the best conditions in order to avoid any sort of contamination or turning. Cunningham and Sands implied that they knew wine as well as artisans knew their trades.

In terms of service, the partners offered several options to potential customers interested in obtaining their products. Consumers could visit Cunningham and Sands at one of two locations in Charleston, either “at their Counting-House fronting the Bay, on Mr. Burn’s new Wharf, or at their Store in Union-street.” Realizing that not all readers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette – and prospective customers – resided in the Charleston or had easy access to either of their two locations, Cunningham and Sands also announced that “All Orders from the Country will be punctually complied with.” In effect, they offered mail order service! They apparently believed this convenience would attract customers. Not only did they include it in their advertisements, they also drew special attention to it by inserting it as a separate nota bene rather than including it in the paragraph of dense text that detailed the other aspects of quality and service they provided. (Whether Cunningham and Sands or the printer decided that the nota bene should be printed in italics is much more difficult to determine. Advertisers generally wrote their own copy and printers generally made decisions about layout, but occasionally advertisers exercised some influence over format.)

Sam notes that Americans consumed a fair amount of alcohol and enjoyed various sorts of wines and spirits. Today’s advertisement reveals some of the options available to them as well as part of the process involved in shopping for these items.

February 15

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

feb-15-2131767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 13, 1767).

“Forty or fifty valuable SLAVES … Also, Sundry Plantations and Tracts of Land.”

The vast majority of colonial newspaper advertisements did not include visual images. When illustrations did appear with advertisements, they usually came from one of four categories. Images of ships at sea accompanied notices for vessels seeking passengers and freight, though they occasionally appeared in advertisements for imported goods. Depictions of horses ran alongside announcements by breeders offering stallions “to cover” mares. Images of slaves served two purposes: they were included with both advertisements seeking to sell slaves and notices that warned about runaways. (Curiously, similar advertisements for indentured servants were much less likely to include depictions of runaways making their escape.) Finally, real estate advertisements sometimes included images of houses or pastoral scenes. In each case, the woodcut belonged to the printer and could be used interchangeably with advertisements placed for similar purposes. On occasion, some advertisers commissioned their own woodcuts to attract attention to their advertisements, usually opting for an image that replicated their shop signs.

From the standard categories of woodcuts, all four appeared in the February 13, 1767, issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. No advertisers, however, spiced up their notices with original illustrations. That did not mean that the advertising in that issue lacked creativity when it came to the deployment of visual images. When advertisements included woodcuts they tended to have only one. Vendue master Robert Wells, however, oversaw the sale of both “forty or fifty valuable SLAVES” and “Sundry Plantations and Tracts of Land.” He opted to include both types of relevant woodcuts in his notice, a choice that likely resulted in readers noticing the rich visual texture of his advertisement. Given that Wells was charged with selling both slaves and real estate, he may have believed that if he was going to include any sort of woodcut at all then using both images was necessary. After all, readers might have passed over an advertisement showing just a slave or just a plantation, assuming that the woodcut summarized the contents of the entire notice. In a newspaper with few illustrations, Wells’ advertisement with two woodcuts stood out from the rest of the content.

February 13

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

feb-13-2131767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 13, 1767).

“His friends and customers may depend on being well served.”

Apothecary James Dick sold “A FRESH sortment of chemical and galenical MEDICINES” imported from London. Like other druggists in the colonies in the 1760s, he assembled “BOXES of MEDICINES, with directions, for plantations and ships.” In providing this service, he likely also moved portions of his inventory that tended to sell more slowly, especially if given the discretion to fabricate these eighteenth-century first aid kits rather than including only items specified by purchasers.

In addition to the ease and convenience of these “BOXES of MEDICINES,” Dick wanted his “friends and customers” to know that he emphasized service in other ways. He made a fairly unique pitch when he concluded his advertisement by noting that “he has now got from London a young gentleman regularly bred, who attends the shop constantly.” Advertisers from a variety of occupations and professions frequently pledged to treat potential customers well, often promising to fulfill their duties with “care” or “dispatch.” When mobilizing such appeals, however, advertisers usually referred to their own demeanor and qualities. Dick, on the other hand, described possible interactions with his employee.

Very few advertisers mentioned employees, perhaps because many ran small operations limited to family members and maybe an apprentice.   Even shopkeepers and artisans who may have had assistants of various sorts deployed advertising in which they retained their role as the public face of the businesses they operated.

By promoting the contributions of his assistant, Dick made at least two appeals to prospective customers, one practical and one aspirational. When he noted that his assistant “attends the shop constantly,” the apothecary let readers know that someone would be available to assist them no matter when they visited. Given that the druggist provided medical services, he may have been called away from the shop on occasion. Rather than close his shop, he made arrangements for an assistant to be present even when he was not.

In addition, when he noted that his assistant not only came from London but was “a young gentleman regularly bred” the apothecary conjured images of a prosperous and genteel shop where customers would be met with courtesy and deference. Given his line of business, Dick rightly assumed that some customers visited his shop when feeling their worst. The image of a “young gentleman regularly bred” serving those customers suggested an atmosphere of pampering and authentic concern rather than a hurried transaction in a busy dispensary. Some retail pharmacies make similar appeals today, emphasizing interactions – even relationships built over time – with pharmacists and other staff.

February 6

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

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 6, 1767).

“ALEXANDER KIRKWOOD, Watch and Clock Maker from London, HAS taken shop.”

A print of An Exact Prospect of CHARLESTOWN, the Metropolis of the Province of SOUTH CAROLINA, “Engrav’d for the London Magazine” in the early 1760s, depicted a bustling colonial port city. It provided a view of the waterfront, including the wharves where vessels took on cargoes of rice, indigo, and other local products after unloading commodities imported from Europe and the West Indies, slaves arriving directly from Africa or transshipped through other ports in the New World, and migrants from Europe looking for new opportunities.

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An Exact Prospect of Charlestown, the Metropolis of the Province of South Carolina (ca. 1762).  Courtesy Library of Congress.

Alexander Kirkwood, a “Watch and Clock Maker from London,” made the journey across the Atlantic at some point, though his advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette did not indicate how recently he had arrived in the colony. Whenever he made the voyage, he likely chose to settle in Charleston because it was indeed “the Metropolis” of South Carolina (though readers of the London Magazine may have chuckled a bit over that characterization when they viewed the print), the largest settlement in Britain’s North American colonies south of Philadelphia. The “Watch and Clock Maker from London” needed a sufficient customer base to succeed, making a prosperous settlement the size of Charleston an attractive place to set up shop.

Most likely Kirkwood was a relatively new arrival when he placed this advertisement, given that he stated that he “has taken shop” rather than “removed” from one shop to another. Like shopkeeper David Conkie in Boston, who placed his own advertisement earlier the same week, Kirkwood needed to make prospective customers aware of his business. To that end, he placed notices in both the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the South Carolina Gazette, published by his neighbor, “Mr. Timothy’s printing-office, in Broad-street.” Residents may not have been familiar with Kirkwood’s shop just yet, but they certainly knew where to find the businesses on either side of him, Timothy’s printing office and the “general post-office.” Not only did his advertisements serve to garner attention, Kirkwood’s location certainly yielded a fair amount of visibility for his shop.