October 23

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 23, 1770).

“The newest and most fashionable Taste.”

In the fall of 1770, John Brown, a hairdresser, informed “the Ladies in particular” and “the Gentlemen” as well as that he had set up shop in Charleston.  In an advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he announced that he had “Just arrived from LONDON.”  This was a common marketing strategy among advertisers from a variety of occupations, from doctors to artisans to tailors to hairdressers.  They listed their place of origin as part of their credentials, suggesting to colonists that those who had trained and worked in the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire possessed greater skill and a better understanding of taste and fashion than their counterparts from the colonies.

Brown stated that he “was regularly bred to the Business,” invoking a common phrase that indicated extensive training, but he also made the claim to superior circumstances more explicit by clarifying that he learned his trade “in one of the genteelest Shops in London.”  Unlike other hairdressers in Charleston, Brown had not yet established a reputation among current and prospective clients.  As an alternative, he used his connections to the urban sophistication of London to encourage residents of Charleston to associate additional cachet with his services.

Brown also emphasized his recent arrival in South Carolina.  Many advertisers deployed the phrase “from London” in their notices, some after living and working in the colonies for years.  That made it significant for Brown to proclaim that he “Just arrived from LONDON.”  His experience working in one of those “genteelest Shops” was recent.  He possessed a familiarity with tastes and trends in the metropole that was current.  Other hairdressers relied on travelers and correspondents to keep them apprised of new styles, but Brown brought that knowledge with him when he crossed the Atlantic and set up his own shop in Charleston.  He pledged to dress hair according to “the newest and most fashionable Taste,” a common appeal that had greater resonance when deployed by a coiffeur who had “Just arrived from LONDON.”

October 3

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 3, 1770).

“He proposes teaching COTILLONS in the newest taste.”

The South Carolina Newspapers collection available via Accessible Archives is an invaluable resource for producing the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  The collection includes digitized images of three newspapers published in Charleston in 1770, the South-Carolina Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

Transcriptions of the newspapers accompany the images.  In many cases, those transcriptions make it easier to decipher the contents of advertisements and other items that appear illegible for a variety or reasons.  Perhaps the original printing did not produce a clear impression in 1770 or the document suffered damage over time or poor photography resulted in a remediation that does not accurately the original.  Sometimes more than one of these factors influence the quality of digital surrogates.

Transcriptions, whether undertaken by people or technology, must be consulted with care.  Consider an advertisement for “PIKE’s DANCING and FENCING SCHOOLS” that ran in the October 3, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The digital image is not easily legible, though an experienced research familiar with the language and contents of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements can piece together the contents.  The transcription, on the other hand, leaves out words, such as “Ladies” in the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen,” and does not accurately reproduce others, such as “he proposes trashing COTILLONSisa new first” for “he proposes teaching COTILLONS in the newest taste.”

Flawed Transcription of Pike’s Advertisement

While this is obviously an error in the transcription, the interface created by Accessible Archives does correct an error that the compositor made when setting the type for the issue that contained Pike’s advertisement.  That issue consisted of six pages, four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half and two additional pages of advertising printed on either side of a smaller sheet.  That supplement has the wrong date at the top, “Sept. 24 – Oct. 2” instead of “Sept. 24 – Oct. 3” at the top of the pages for the rest of the issue.  The page numbers for the supplement, 183 and 184, run continuously with the pages printed on the larger sheet.  The date 1770 appears in the title (an abbreviated masthead): “THE SOUTH-CAROLINA AND AMERICAN GENERAL GAZETTE, for 1770.”  Dates in some of the advertisements also make it clear that the supplement was printed in 1770.

Yet manuscript additions indicate that at some time the supplement was separated from the rest of the issue.  The first page includes a notation, either incomplete or partially illegible, that states, “Sup in 177[x],” with a missing digit at the end of the year.  Similarly, the supplement has a notation, not entirely legible, that declares it “does not belong in this [state].”  Most likely the “Oct. 2” error resulted in the supplement being cataloged or even bound with another issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette from another year, but an archivist noted the other discrepancies and context clues.  In the end, Accessible Archives arranged the digital images of all six pages of the issue together and in the correct order, despite an error made by the compositor in 1770.

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 3, 1770).

Human error and technological error sometimes creep into sources at every stage of their production, preservation, and remediation.  Such errors introduce miniature mysteries that can be entertaining to solve, but they also challenge researchers to constantly assess their sources to recognize any features that seem out of place or inconsistent with what they know about the period they are investigating or the subsequent collection and treatment of primary sources that make them accessible.

September 26

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (September 24, 1770).

“Sundry other Articles, allowed to be imported by the Resolutions.”

Several merchants and shopkeepers placed lengthy advertisements in the September 24, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Alexander Gillon’s advertisement on the front page listed dozens of items for sale, as did Isaac Motte’s advertisement.  Elsewhere in the newspaper, Benjamin Mathewes, Thomas Walter, and Radcliffe and Shepheard all ran similar notices.  In addition to “mens fine beaver hats,” “bordered handkerchiefs,” “gold and silver basket buttons,” “parrot and bird cages,” and a variety of other items that he did name in his advertisement, Mathewes also indicated that he had in stock “a number of other article[s] needless to enumerate.”  The purpose of enumerating so many of them was to demonstrate to consumers the wide array of choices available to them.  Like their counterparts who advertised in other newspapers in other towns and cities, these merchants and shopkeepers sought to incite demand by inviting prospective customers to imagine the many and varied options available to them.

Not all advertisers took this approach, but that did not mean that their notices lacked appeals meant to engage consumers.  In the same issue, Robert Porteous and Company and William and James Carsans placed advertisements that asserted they offered a similar array of choices without listing their inventory.  Porteous and Company stated that they sold “AN Assortment of such GOODS as are allowed by the Resolutions,” while the Carsanses similarly promoted textiles, nails, and “sundry other Articles, allowed to be imported by the Resolutions.”  Both incorporated consumer choice yet placed as much emphasis on the circumstances of acquiring their merchandise.  The merchants and traders in South Carolina adopted “Resolutions” or nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts.  Some items, however, were excluded from those resolutions.  Porteous and Company and the Carsanses assured prospective customers and the general public that they abided by the agreement, keeping themselves in good standing in the community.  Their marketing efforts addressed politics as well as consumer choice.

July 25

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

Jul 25 - 7:25:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 25, 1770).

“JOHN HATFIELD, TALLOW-CHANDLER and SOAP-BOILER … CARRIES on the said Business as usual.”

Among the three newspapers published in Charleston in 1770, readers encountered far more advertising than news in the final week of July.  On Wednesday, July 25, Robert Wells distributed the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Like most newspapers published in eighteenth-century America, it consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Wells divided each page of his newspaper into four columns, yielding sixteen columns of content for subscribers and other readers.  Advertising comprised eleven of those sixteen columns, slightly more than two-thirds of the issue.  Three of the four columns on the first page contained news.

Yet it was the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that delivered the most news that week.  The following day, Peter Timothy published the weekly edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  It also consisted of four pages, but featured only three columns per page.  Of the twelve columns in the July 26 issue, advertising comprised ten.  Timothy devoted just two columns to news, including “Timothy’s Marine List,” the shipping news from the customs house.  The first item on the first page was a proclamation from the acting governor calling the colonial assembly into session on August 14.  Otherwise, news items appeared on pages two and three, though that was not an uncommon format for newspapers of the period.

Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal discovered the same proportion of advertising and news in the issue that circulated on Tuesday, July 31.  Charles Crouch published two and half columns of news and editorials, confined entirely to the second page.  Paid notices filled the first page.  The contents of the newspapers published in South Carolina in the early 1770s were not always so lopsided in favor of advertising over news, but the issues from the final week of July 1770 underscore that newspapers were vehicles for disseminating advertising just as much as (and sometimes more than) delivering the news.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 18, 1770).

“Valuable pieces, professedly written in defence of the Liberties of Englishmen.”

An advertisement for the March edition of “THE FREEHOLDER’s MAGAZINE; Or Monthly CHONRICLE of LIBERTY,” published in London, appeared in the July 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Who placed the advertisement was not clear.  The advertisement attributed the magazine to “a PATRIOTICK SOCIETY” and declared that it was “Printed for ISAAC FELL, No. 14, in Pater-noster Row.”  Fell may have arranged with Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, to insert the advertisement or Wells may have independently done so.  The advertisement concluded with a note that “Some of the Numbers, as a Specimen of the Work, may be seen by applying to ROBERT WELLS, Bookseller and Printer in Charlestown, South-Carolina.”  Wells may have acquired copies of the Freeholder’s Magazine and reprinted an advertisement from a London newspaper as part of his effort to make sales in his local market.

Either way, a publisher in London or a bookseller in Charleston believed that they could incite demand for the Freeholder’s Magazine in South Carolina given current events and public discourse.  After all, the “Magazine contains many curious and valuable pieces, professedly written in defence of the Liberties of Englishmen; and highly proper to be perused at this important juncture.”  The March issue included a frontispiece depicting “LIBERTY presenting MAGNA CHARTA to BRITANNIA.”  The advertisement stated that the April edition would feature “a curious Engraving of the Arms of John Wilkes,” a noted defender of the liberties of Englishmen who resided on both sides of the Atlantic, continuing the theme of the publication via images as well as print.  (The May edition included an engraving of “The Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston” pirated from Paul Revere’s print.)  Fell or Wells or both likely believed that the tone of the magazine would resonate with readers in South Carolina.  Most who lamented the abuses of Parliament and condemned the Boston Massacre had not settled on demanding independence.  Instead, they valued being part of the British Empire and expected that they would enjoy “the Liberties of Englishmen” in the colonies.  By selling the Freeholder’s Magazine, Wells contributed to the print and visual culture that shaped debates about the position of the colonies in the British Empire.  In turn, consumers who read and viewed the contents of the Freeholder’s Magazinebecame better informed and better able to participate in the discourse of liberty as it evolved during the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution.

July 11

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

Jul 11 - 7:11:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 11, 1770).

“Any person inclinable to purchase the Whole, may have them on very reasonable Terms.”

John Tunno sold a variety of goods at his “Linen and Manchester Ware-House” on Broad Street in Charleston.  In an advertisement in the July 11, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he advertised a “large and compleat Assortment of Linen-Drapery, Hosiery, Stuffs, and other Goods.”  Those items included “printed Linens and Cottons,” a Quantity of Check Handkerchiefs,” “beautiful Silk Stripes for Mens Waistcoats,” and “neat trimmed Womens Hats and Bonnets.”  He also stocked “sundry Articles that cannot, by reason of the Resolutions,” the nonimportation agreement adopted by merchants and others in South Carolina, “be now imported.”  Tunno emphasized consumer choice in his advertisement, repeatedly using words and phrases like “assortment,” “variety,” and “of all sorts” as well as listed numerous items for prospective customers’ consideration.  That he carried items that respectable merchants no longer imported further enhanced the array of choices.

In addition to promoting a wide selection of merchandise, Tunno offered bargains to those who bought in volume.  Bulk discounts framed his advertisement, appearing at both the beginning and conclusion.  In that regard, he addressed retailers rather than consumers.  Immediately before enumerating his wares, he stated that he adjusted prices “Lower to any Person buying a Quantity.”  He inserted a nota bene at the end, instructing prospective customers to take note that “Any person inclinable to purchase the Whole, may have them on very reasonable Terms.”  Tunno aimed to part with his entire inventory in a single transaction.  For shopkeepers, this was a turnkey opportunity for acquiring inventory.

Tunno deployed two of the most common marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.  He took a standard approach to consumer choice, proclaiming that he offered a variety of goods, demonstrating that was the case with a lengthy list, and promising even more.  He modified the usual approach taken to price; rather than stating that he charged low prices Tunno instead presented conditions for getting a bargain, giving buyers a greater sense of agency in shaping the terms of their transactions.  Tunno offered an opportunity for even better bargains, but only if customers chose to buy “a Quantity” or “the Whole.”  In both cases, inciting consumer imagination through invoking choices or prompting buyers to purchase in volume, Tunno resorted to strategies that encouraged readers to actively engage with his advertisement.

July 4

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

Jul 4 - 7:4:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 4, 1770).

“RUN away … JACK is a Negro Man … TONY is a brown Indian Man.”

The July 4, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette include an advertisement that advised readers of “A SCHOONER STOLEN” and the two enslaved men responsible for absconding with it.  Although the advertisement asserted that Jack, “a Negro Man,” and Tony, “a brown Indian Man,” had “RUN away … with perhaps some others not yet discovered,” it actually told a truncated story of enslaved men who liberated themselves.  Such advertisements had been a regular feature of colonial American newspapers since the Boston News-Letter commenced publication in 1704.  Enslaved people had been liberating themselves long before that.

According to William Lyford, Jack and Tony stole his “PILOT BOAT” and made their escape “from Cockspur in the province of Georgia.”  To help readers identify the two men, Lyford noted their heights and also reported that Tony spoke “good English and Spanish,” while Jack spoke “very good English, and can write indifferently well,” a skill that he might have planned to put to use in evading capture.  Lyford also indicated that Jack “was brought up at Lancaster inEngland, and purchased from Capt. Addison of that port.”  He did not insert other details about the two men, but instead provided an extensive description of the boat before offering a reward “for bringing back the said Negro, Indian, and Boat.”

This advertisement tells a story of disobedience and disorder from the perspective of an enslaver for the consumption of others that he hoped would assist in perpetuating slavery even if they did not themselves hold others in bondage.  Lyford, like so many other enslavers, sought to use the power of the press to encourage and direct surveillance of Black and Indigenous men.  His descriptions of Jack and Tony also served as instructions for scrutinizing all Black and Indigenous men to determine whether they were the enslaved men who had stolen the pilot boat and made their escape.  Lyford attempted to frame Jack and Tony’s actions as unruly and dangerous, but their rebelliousness did not neatly fit within that narrative.  In making their escape, appropriating Lyford’s boat for that purpose, Jack and Tony engaged in a powerful act of resistance.  They liberated themselves.  Despite Lyford’s best efforts to set the terms, he could not deprive Jack and Tony of the agency they exerted in pursuing their own destiny.  Contrary to his intentions, Lyford’s advertisement resonates as a memorial to the courage of Jack and Tony and a truncated narrative of their resistance.

Jack and Tony liberated themselves while the colonies were in the middle of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution and independence for the United States.  White colonists lamented their figurative enslavement to Parliament, all while literally enslaving Black and Indigenous people.  Yet enslaved people understood the value of freedom and self-determination long before the upheaval between Britain and the colonies; they did not require the philosophizing of white colonists to recognize the injustices imposed upon them.  Thousands of newspaper advertisements for “runaways,” for enslaved people who liberated themselves, published throughout the colonies before and during the era of the American Revolution demonstrate that was the case.

In 1770, colonists did not know that July 4 would become such an important date.  It was not yet known as Independence Day, but it was a day of independence for Jack and Tony, just as it was for other enslaved people who liberated themselves, some of them documented in newspaper advertisements.  Since the inception of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, the Adverts 250 Project has featured advertisements about enslaved people who liberated themselves on July 4, both in celebration of their acts of resistance and as a reminder of the tension between liberty and enslavement that was the paradox of the American founding.  In addition to the story of Jack and Tony in 1770, read more about the story of Caesar in 1767, the story of Harry, Peg, and their two children in 1769, and the story of Guy and Limehouse in 1769.  They all made their own declarations of independence when they liberated themselves from their enslavers.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

“BOXES of MEDICINES made up, as usual, on the shortest Notice.”

After the partnership of Carne and Wilson dissolved in 1770, apothecary Robert Carne placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to advise prospective customers that he “now carries on the Business at the Old Shop on the Bay.”  He intended to provide the same services without disruption, asserting that his shop “will continue to be supplied as amply and regularly as at any time heretofore” and that clients could depend that “their Orders will be speedily and punctually executed.”  In effect, Carne promised good customer service.

That service extended to provisioning customers with “BOXES of MEDICINES,” which Carne “made up, as usual, on the shortest Notice.”  Apothecaries and druggists in Charleston and other towns sometimes noted that they offered the convenience of putting together such boxes.  The contents consisted of a variety of the most popular medicines and supplies to prepare purchasers for the most common maladies.  In some advertisements, apothecaries noted that they produced different sorts of boxes, some for families, some for country doctors whose patients might not have access to the same range of medications available in urban ports like Charleston and Philadelphia, and some for plantation owners and overseers to tend to the illnesses of enslaved workers.

These boxes provided customers with the convenience of making a single purchase rather than shopping for the many components individually.  That also benefited the apothecaries who furnished the “BOXES of MEDICINES.”  Carne and others could include a variety of tinctures and nostrums that clients did not yet need and might never need yet wished to have on hand.  This inflated sales and generated additional revenues in a manner easily framed as a supplementary service that primarily benefited customers.  As Carne entered a new stage of his career, it made sense for him to draw special attention to these boxes in a note at the conclusion of his advertisement, complete with a manicule to direct the attention of “the Publick in general, and his Friends in particular.”  Such boxes stood to produce greater profits than individual orders.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 11, 1770).

“May be had … till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails.”

The colophon for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated that it was published by Robert Wells “at the Old Printing-House, Great Stationary and Book Shop.”  Like many other eighteenth-century printers, Wells simultaneously operated several affiliated enterprises from his printing office.  An advertisement in the May 11, 1770, edition of his newspaper alerted prospective customers to an item for sale among the books and stationery at his shop, “A PLAN of the CITY of NEW-YORK by Capt. Ratzer, Engineer.”

The advertisement declared that this map was “most elegantly engraved,” but that was not the only marketing strategy deployed to incite demand among consumers.  The advertisement also proclaimed that the map was available for a limited time only.  Customers could acquire their own copies for one dollar each “till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails, in which will be returned all the Copies then unsold.”  None would be held in reserve at the printing office to sell in the future.  Anyone potentially interested in this map, the advertisement warned, needed to visit Wells’s shop to examine the map and make a decision about purchasing it as soon as possible or else they would miss the opportunity to obtain it easily from a local bookseller.

May 11 - 10:15:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 15, 1770).

In its notes on Plan of the City of New York, in North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library cites two states of the map, the first “undated but about 1770” and the second from 1776.  Furthermore, the “attribution of 1770 for the first state of the map is based on a ‘New-York Gazette’ advertisement for the map in October 1770,” according to Margaret Beck Pritchard and Henry G. Taliaferro.  Although available for purchase in two of the largest urban ports in the colonies in 1770, there are “only two known examples of the map in the first state” today.  The advertisements aid historians in telling a more complete story of the production and distribution of the Plan of the City of New York in the late colonial era.

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:27:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 27, 1770).

“It is impossible to carry on Business without Money.”

Printers, like members of other occupations, frequently extended credit to their customers in early America.  Indeed, the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century depended on extensive networks of credit on both sides of the Atlantic.  As a result, colonial newspapers carried notices calling on consumers to settle accounts nearly often as advertisements hawking goods and services.  Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, profited from both sorts of advertisements … provided that his customers paid their bills.  He sometimes found himself in the position of placing his own notices “earnestly request[ing] all his good Friends and Customers to pay off their Accounts.”

Such was the case at the end of April 1770.  He declared it “impossible to carry on Business without Money.”  Wells offered generous terms to his “Friends and Customers,” asking them to catch up only “to the End of last Year.”  He did not call on them to pay any charges incurred in the past five months, nor did he threaten legal action.  Most similar advertisement concluded with such warning, some of them more polite than others.  Wells also challenged his customers to compare what they owed him to the magnitude of credit he extended to all of his customers.  Their “Accounts separately amount only to small Sums,” he declared, while implicitly suggesting that those small sums represented a much larger total when considered together.  Wells pleaded with customers not to dismiss the impact of settling accounts just because they considered what they owed so trifling as to not matter.  The printer issued a special appeal to “Ladies and Gentlemen in the Country” to pay for their “Gazettes, Advertisements, and other Articles,” advising that they could have “their Factors or other Friends in Town” settle accounts on their behalf.  Rather than overlook his entreaty because they lived at a distance, Wells offered a solution.  What they owed made it just as “impossible to carry on Business” as what those who resided in Charleston owed.

Like other printers, Wells frequently placed notices in his own newspaper.  Usually he advertised books and stationery, but on occasion he placed another sort of notice.  He could not continue to publish the South-Carolina and American General Gazette if “Friends and Customers” did not settle accounts.  More than any advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, or others calling on customers to pay what they owed, Wells stood to generate the most revenue from this particular advertisement, provided that his customers heeded it and submitted payment.