September 24

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 24, 1771).

“AN ASSORTMENT OF MILLINARY GOODS.”

Elizabeth Prosser, a milliner, took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise “AN ASSORTMENT OF MILLINARY GOODS” available at her shop on Broad Street in Charleston.  She informed prospective customers that her wares recently arrived “per the MERMAID, Capt. BALL.”  Merchants, shopkeepers, and others who sold imported goods often noted the ships that transported their merchandise across the Atlantic as a means of demonstrating to consumers that they had new items among their inventory.  New also implied fashionable, but Prosser explicitly made the connection.  She proclaimed that she carried “the most fashionable” millinery goods for “those Ladies who please to Favour her with their Custom.”

At the same time that she addressed readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Prosser attempted to cultivate a clientele among readers of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Her advertisement appeared in both newspapers on September 24, 1771.  Purveyors of goods and services frequently advertised in multiple newspapers, seeking to reach more prospective customers and increase their share of the market.  Prosser apparently considered it worth the expense to place the same advertisement in two newspapers simultaneously.  She did not, however, decide to insert her advertisement in the third newspaper published in Charleston at the time, the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

If she had done so, her advertisement might have appeared alongside one placed by a competitor.  In the September 24 edition of that newspaper, Jane Thomson advertised “A fresh Supply of MILLINARY GOODS” that she “received by theMermaid, Capt. Ball, from LONDON.”  Thomson did not advertise in the other two newspapers.  That limited the competition between the milliners, at least in the public prints, but it also meant that readers of all three newspapers encountered advertising by female entrepreneurs who joined their male counterparts in marketing a vast array of imported goods.  Prosser addressed the “Ladies” in her notice, but women did not participate in the marketplace merely as consumers.  Prosser, Thomson, and many other female entrepreneurs conducted business as “she-merchants,” shopkeepers, and artisans during the era of the American Revolution.

July 30

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 30, 1771).

“Carries on the BOOK-BINDING and STATIONARY BUSINESS, in all its Branches.”

The term “classified ads” accurately describes newspaper notices published in later periods, but it misrepresents advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Printers did not “classify” advertisements in the sense of assigning them to categories and then grouping or organizing them to make it easier for readers to navigate their contents.  Instead, advertisements appeared as a hodgepodge fashion, requiring more careful reading to discern their purposes.

Consider, for example, advertisements about enslaved people.  Printers could have readily identified four categories or classifications:  enslaved people for sale, enslaved people wanted to purchase or to hire, “runaways” who liberated themselves, and captured fugitives seeking freedom held in workhouse and jails.  Printers did not cluster such advertisements together on the pages of their newspapers.  Consider the July 30, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  It included three advertisements offering rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves.  One ran near the top of the third column on the third page, another at the top of the second column on the last page, and the final one at the bottom of that column.  Two “Brought to the WORK-HOUSE” advertisements describing Black men also appeared in that issue, one at the bottom of the third column on the third page and the other in the middle of the third column on the last page.  The printer made no effort to classify these advertisements and place them in close proximity.

In some cases, it would have been practically impossible to classify advertisements because advertisers often placed notices with multiple purposes in mind.  When Mary Gordon, “Administratrix to the Estate of Mr. James Gordon,” departed South Carolina “for the Benefit of her Health,” she appointed James Taylor to overseer the estate.  Taylor placed an advertisement to that effect, calling on anyone with outstanding accounts to settle them.  Taylor also used the opportunity to promote his own business, inserting a note that he “carries on the BOOK-BINDING and STATIONARY BUSINESS, in all its Branches, almost opposite the State-House.”  While this advertisement could have been considered an estate notice based on its primary purpose, it also aimed to attract customers for a business unrelated to the estate.  In that regard, it defied classification.

Although it may seem reasonable to describe advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers as “classified ads,” at least initially, further examination reveals that doing so amounts to a mischaracterization of the contents and organization of those newspapers.  It also writes the history of newspaper advertising backwards, grafting later developments onto the early American press.

June 25

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 25, 1771).

“Boxes of Medicines for Plantation Use … will also contain a Phial of his famous FEVER DROPS.”

When apothecary Thomas Stinson purchased the shop and inventory of another apothecary, he placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform prospective customers.  He pledged that he gave “constant Attendance” at the shop, standing ready to serve their needs.  In addition, he provided assurances that “his DRUGS and MEDICINES … are all fresh and good.”  Stinson directed his advertisement to various kinds of customers.  He addressed “his Friends and the Public,” consumers making purchases for their households, but he also sought customers who bought in greater volume.  “Gentlemen Practitioners, both in Town and Country,” Stinson declared, “may be supplied with any Quantity of Medicines on the usual reasonable Terms.”

In addition, Stinson offered a service to plantation owners and overseers, “Boxes of Medicines for Plantation Use” that they could administer on their own.  He produced and marketed an eighteenth-century version of first aid kits.  Apothecaries often mentioned similar services in their advertisements, preparing boxes containing a variety of remedies for all sorts of symptoms for families, mariners, and plantations.  Buyers benefited from the convenience of having medicines and supplies on hand when need arose, while apothecaries augmented their revenues by moving inventory that customers did not yet need and, because they bought the boxes as a precaution, might not ever need.

Stinson devoted more attention to the contents of his medicine boxes than most apothecaries, describing two of the items they contained.  Each box contained a vial of “his ELIXIR for all Kinds of cholicky Complaints” and a vial of “his famous FEVER DROPS.”  Stinson proclaimed that this nostrum was already “well known in many Parts of this Province, where it has been found effectual.”  Stinson asserted that users would not experience negative side effects, having been “innocent even to sucking Babes” when administered to them.  Some readers may have been skeptical about both the reputation and effectiveness of Stinson’s “famous FEVER DROPS.”  Including his fever drops and his elixir in the medicine box as part of the package allowed the apothecary to boost sales of items that plantation owners and overseers might not have ordered separately.  In turn, he could make even more elaborate claims about how widely his distributed those medicines that competed with patent medicines imported from England.  While many apothecaries sold medicine boxes, Stinson adapted his medicine boxes for an additional purpose, marketing the potions and panaceas he produced.

June 11

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 11, 1771).

“She continues to make up EVERY ARTICLE in the MILINARY WAY.”

Readers encountered many advertisements that listed dozens of consumer goods when they perused the June 11, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and the supplement that accompanied it.  Indeed, rather than news accounts the first items on the first page consisted of advertisements for “a general and very compleat ASSORTMENT of GOODS, just imported … from London” that listed many kinds of textiles, garments, and adornments.  Male entrepreneurs placed most of those advertisements, but women also made an appearance in the public prints.  Jane Thomson ran her own notice for a “neat assortment of MILINARY GOODS.”

Thomson stocked everything from “pink, green, white, sky blue, and black English persians” to “women and girls silk and leather gloves and mitts” to “blond lace, single and double edged.”  After listing dozens of items, she proclaimed that her inventory also included “many other articles, too tedious to enumerate.”  She offered as many choices to consumers as her male competitors.  In addition to retailing those goods, Thomson informed prospective clients that she “continues to make up EVERY ARTICLE in the MILINARY WAY, and FINE JOINS LACE as usual.”  That made her a producer as well as a purveyor of goods.

Editorials in early American newspapers often framed women solely as consumers, usually to critique their activities in the marketplace, but Thomson demonstrated that women filled other roles during the consumer revolution.  They ran their own businesses, negotiated with English merchants who supplied their inventory, kept ledgers and other records, collected debts, produced goods, placed advertisements, and mentored other women.  Thomson informed readers that she sought “one GIRL a[s] an apprentice,” someone she could train as a milliner who might eventually operate her own business.

Many more women pursued shopkeeping and other occupations in eighteenth-century American than placed newspaper advertisements.  As a result, the public prints did not give a complete accounting of the presence of women in the marketplace as producers and purveyors of consumer goods.  As they went about their daily business, however, colonists certainly knew that many of their female friends, relatives, and neighbors operated businesses of one kind or another.  Jane Thomson’s advertisement only hints at the number of women who made or sold goods in Charleston in the early 1770s.

May 7

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 7, 1771).

“Booksellers in Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, or … Charles-Town.”

Like many other colonial printers, Charles Crouch also sold books, pamphlets, and broadsides.  In the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he advertised titles available at his “Great Stationary and Book Shop.”  He also acted as a local agent for printers and booksellers in other cities, publishing subscription notices and handling local sales.  He did so on behalf of Robert Bell, the flamboyant bookseller responsible for publishing a three-volume American edition of “ROBERTSON’s celebrated History of CHARLES the Fifth.”  Bell coordinated an advertising campaign that extended from New England to South Carolina.  Local agents simultaneously published his subscription notice inviting readers to participate in an “elegant XENOPHONTICK BANQUET” through purchasing his American edition.

When Wells inserted that advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and listed himself as a local agent, he contributed to the creation of a community that extended far beyond Charleston.  Yet settling in for the “XENOPHONTICK BANQUET” was not the only means of joining a larger community that Wells offered to readers and prospective customers.  He appended to Bell’s subscription notice a brief note that he also sold “The Trial of the Soldiers of the 29th Regiment, for the Murders committed at Boston,” printed by John Fleeming in Boston, and “A Funeral Sermon on the Death of the Rev. Mr. Whitefield, by the Rev. Mr. Zubly,” printed by James Johnston in Savannah.  Those two items commemorated two of the most significant events of 1770, the Boston Massacre on March 5 and the death of George Whitefield on September 30.  Both events received extensive coverage in the colonial press.  Both of them also generated commemorative items ranging from broadsides and prints to sermons and orations.

In a single advertisement, Wells linked consumers in South Carolina to geographically dispersed communities that shared common interests not defined by the places individual members resided.  Colonists from New England to Georgia mourned Whitefield, just as they expressed outrage over British soldiers firing into a crowd and killing several people in Boston.  Many colonists also sought to participate in genteel communities defined in part by the books they read, joining in the “grand Feast of historical Entertainment” that booksellers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and other towns offered to them.  Wells did not merely advertise three titles available at his shop; he marketed a sense of community.

April 27

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Extraordinary (April 27, 1771).

“He carries on his Business as usual, at his Shop in Broad-Street.”

A standard issue for most newspapers published in colonial America consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  This did not always provide sufficient space for all of the news and advertising on hand, so printers adopted a variety of strategies for producing supplements.  In the past week, the Adverts 250 Project has examined some of the decisions made by printers who had too much content and not enough space.  On April 24, 1771, Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, distributed a smaller sheet that consisted entirely of advertising along with the standard issue for the week.  The following day, Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, inserted a note that “for want of Room” several advertisements “must be deferred till next Week.”  He did, however, issue a supplement that contained “Fresh London Articles” that he received from the captain of a ship that just arrived in port.  In that supplement, Draper scooped other newspapers.

Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, took another approach.  On April 27, he published an Extraordinary containing both news and advertising that served as a midweek supplement to his newspaper.  Prior to the American Revolution, most newspapers operated on a weekly publication schedule.  When printers did publish supplements, they usually did so on the same day as the standard issue and distributed them together.  Both Draper and Wells did so with their supplements.  On occasion, however, printers produced supplements, extraordinaries, or postscripts midway through the week.  In such instances, supplements consisted of either news or news and advertising, but rarely just advertising.  Typically, breaking news justified publishing and disseminating midweek supplements, but printers determined that advertising supplements could wait until the usual publication day.

Crouch devoted an entire half sheet to his two-page supplement, unlike Draper and Wells who each opted to conserve resources with smaller sheets.  Crouch could have devised a smaller sheet that featured only news accounts.  Instead, he published news and advertising, further disseminating notices about consumer goods and services, real estate for sale, and ships preparing to sail to England and other colonies.  Did those advertisers pay for the additional insertion?  Or did those advertisements appear gratis?  Answering those questions requires consulting Crouch’s ledgers or other sources beyond the newspaper.  Either way, the midweek supplement increased the amount of advertising (and news) circulating in South Carolina near the end of April 1771.

April 2

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

“He will likewise dispose of at private sale, all his household furniture.”

In the spring of 1771, Sampson Neyle took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise what amounted to an eighteenth-century version of a moving sale.  He advised readers that he planned “to embark for England in few weeks” and planned to sell his belongings before departing.  He also called on “all persons who have accounts against him” to seek payment before he left Charleston.  Colonists frequently placed such advertisements in advance of making transatlantic trips.  They almost always mentioned settling accounts, but only some of them offered items for sale.

Neyle listed an assortment of “household furniture” for prospective buyers, including “a neat mahogany desk and book-case, cloaths press, shaving stand, chairs, tables, bedstead, [and] feather beds.”  He also intended to part with housewares like china and glass.  To make these items more attractive, Neyle suggested that even they were secondhand that they had been barely used.  He proclaimed, in italics to draw notice, that most of those items “were new about five months ago.”  Neyle’s moving sale presented an opportunity for buyers to benefit from bargains on slightly used consumer goods compared to what they would pay artisans and retailers for new items.

Yet Neyle also attempted to manage that discount and his own proceeds by first offering his belongings “at private sale.”  Only if necessary would he sponsor a “public sale.”  Here he likely made a distinction between one-on-one transactions with buyers and an auction.  A “private sale” of any or all of the items allowed Neyle to set prices and negotiate with buyers based on how much interest they demonstrated.  At an auction, however, he would have to settle for the highest bid … and anything that did not sell via “private sale” likely would not achieve a higher bid at auction.  In addition, sponsoring an auction also meant paying a vendue master, further eroding Neyle’s bottom line.

Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal encountered many invitations to participate in the consumer revolution.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans placed advertisements for all sorts of new goods, but other advertisers offered secondhand items as well.  Neyle and others who advertised moving sales expanded the number of ways that colonists could acquire goods, not unlike the many estate notices that listed used furniture and housewares for sale.

March 13

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 12, 1771).

“Writing Paper, Wafers, &c.
Loaf Sugar, and Bohea Tea,
Cinnamon, Nutmegs, &c.”

When an advertisement announcing the “SALE of the late Mr. CORKER’S Store Goods” appeared in the March 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, its format likely caught the attention of readers.  It listed more than one hundred items, from textiles to patent medicines to housewares to hardware.  In addition, the advertisement promised that “many small Articles too tedious to mention” would also be available for sale “at the Vendue-House” in the coming days.

The compositor designed a catalog of goods that was relatively easy for readers to navigate compared to many notices merchants and shopkeepers placed in early American newspapers.  The advertisement spanned two columns on the third page, occupying enough space to create three columns within the notice.  In turn, only one or two items appeared on each line.  A significant amount of white space, especially compared to the dense text in news accounts and other advertisements, facilitated scanning the advertisement for items of interest.  In contrast, Parker and Hutchings’s advertisement for “An ASSORTMENT of FRESH GOODS” immediately below the notice for Corker’s goods listed dozens of items in three paragraphs.  It had no white space to aid in distinguishing among the merchandise.  Parker and Hutchings selected the more common means of listing their wares in the public prints.  Incorporating orderly columns into the advertisement for Corker’s goods also increased the amount of space necessary to run it.  The size of the notice, in addition to the design elements, made it more visible on the page.

In addition to promoting the sale sponsored by Corker’s estate, this advertisement also testified to the skills of those who labored in Charles Crouch’s printing office.  In the colophon, Crouch invited prospective clients to visit him on Elliott Street, “where all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care and Expedition.”  The format of the notice about Corker’s store goods simultaneously served as an advertisement for the different styles of printing that Crouch could deliver to customers who ordered broadsides, handbills, circular letters, blanks, and other job printing.

February 12

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 12, 1771).

“They have entered into Co-partnership, and continue to carry on the FACTORAGE BUSINESS.”

Like many other colonial newspapers, the masthead for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.”  In other words, printers promoted their newspapers by claiming that they delivered accounts of current events as soon as they became available.  Local news appeared quickly, but news from other colonies, Great Britain, Europe, and other distant places took more time to report.  Printers published letters they received from distant correspondents and reprinted items as newspapers arrived from other colonies and London.

In addition to those “freshest Advices,” colonial newspapers also contained significant amounts of advertising.  On occasion, some even seemed as though they were delivery mechanisms for advertisements rather than purveyors of news.  The February 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal provides an extreme example.  It consisted almost entirely of paid notices from the first page to the last.  In the first column immediately below the masthead readers encountered a header for “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.”  Charles Crouch, the printer filled all three columns of the first page with advertisements.  He inserted one column featuring news from Charleston and towns in other colonies, shipping news from the customs house, and a poem to entertain readers on the second page.  Otherwise, advertising constituted the remainder of the second page and the entire third and fourth pages.  Overall, paid notices accounted for eleven of twelve columns in the February 12 edition.

That did not mean, however, that readers did not have access to the “freshest Advices.”  Advertisements delivered a variety of news, especially about local people and events.  One notice published on February 12, for instance, identified colonists who did not appear in court to serve as jurors and would be fined if they did not “make good and sufficient Excuses, upon Oath, for their Non-Attendance.”  Several estate notices informed the public of deaths, accounts to be settled, and real estate and household goods for sale.  One advertisement described enslaved men who liberated themselves, offering rewards for their capture and return while simultaneously encouraging readers to scrutinize all Black men they encountered.  Another notice lamented that “there are many Gentlemen who have Plantations and Negroes in the Parish of St. James, Goose Creek, and no white Man on them, by which Means, the Negroes are enabled to prosecute all Manner of Roguery.”  The advertisement then instructed such offenders to “provide white Men for their respective Plantations” and organize patrols or face legal consequences.  An array of advertisements, including one in which William Gibbes and William Hort offered their services as factors or brokers, kept readers informed about local commerce.  One advertisement in Welsh invited those who could read it to participate in St. David’s Day celebrations.

Crouch did not print many news articles in that particular edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but that did not mean that he neglected to provide readers with valuable information.  The advertisements presented the “freshest Advices” about many local and regional events, keeping readers informed.

January 22

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 22, 1771).

“Scotch camblets for negro wenches gowns.”

Advertisers took to the pages of the January 22, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to offer a variety of commodities for sale.  A good number of advertisers also sought to sell enslaved men, women, and children; their notices were interspersed among the others, ubiquitous in the commercial landscape represented on the printed page and enacted in everyday life.  The executors of Edward Smilie’s estate, for instance, advertised “Twenty-seven valuableSLAVES, among whom are, a carpenter and driver, as few good house-wenches, a seamstress, and several handy boys and girls.”  Thomas Knighton advertised “Nineteen valuable NEGROES, among which are, one copper, two sawyers, and a good house wench.”  An anonymous advertiser instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer” to learn more about purchasing a “Young NEGRO FELLOW, that has been used to attend on a Gentleman in the Country.”

Such advertisers, however, were not alone in their efforts to profit from the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.  Henry Rugeley and Company advertised a variety of goods, mostly textiles but also tea and seeds.  Their textiles included “a variety of long and clear lawns, Silesia linens, tandems, Russia drab, dowlas, garlix, osnabrugs, and half-ell German linen” as well as “Scotch camblets for negro wenches gowns.”  Although Rugeley and Company did not seek to sell enslaved people, at least not in that advertisement, the partners did want a share of the market for supplying provisions to enslavers.  They derived some of their revenues from selling textiles intended to clothe enslaved women.  The transatlantic slave trade had tentacles that extended beyond the buying and selling of enslaved men, women, and children.  Like Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal who collected advertising fees and facilitated sales of enslaved people, Rugeley and Company deliberately played a supporting role in the perpetuation of slavery in colonial America.  As newspaper advertisements and other sources make clear, there was money to be made through enslavement and exploitation, not only by slave traders but also by printers, merchants, shopkeepers, and others in a vast commercial infrastructure that catered to enslavers.