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.

January 2

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 1, 1771)

“WANTED on Purchase, or Hire by the Year, A Honest, handy, young Negro Fellow.”

Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson, the printers of the Connecticut Courant, extended best wishes to their subscribers and advertisers on January 1, 1771.  In a brief note, they proclaimed, “We wish our Customers a happy NEW-YEAR!”  On the same day, the “LAD who carried The MASSACHUSETTS SPY” delivered to subscribers a supplementary broadsheet to wish “all his kind Customers A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!”  Throughout the week, other newspapers marked the end of 1770 and the arrival of 1771.  At the request of a reader, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted “PSALM LVX. 2. For NEW-YEAR’s Day,” the verses having been “adapted to the Season,” in that newspaper’s final issue for 1770.  James Rivington advertised an assortment of goods as “NEW-YEARS PRESENTS” in the last issue of the New-York Journal of the year.  Every newspaper from New Hampshire to South Carolina carried at least one advertisement for almanacs for the new year.

Yet the arrival of a new year was not a cause of celebration for everyone in the colonies.  For many enslaved men and women, the new year marked the first day of hiring out, a system in which enslavers leased the labor of those they held in bondage.  Enslaved men and women who hired out earned wages, but they went directly to those who purported to be their masters.  Enslavers who thought themselves magnanimous sometimes allowed enslaved men and women to keep a portion of these earnings, but even in those instances the system perpetuated the exploitation of enslaved people.

When they hired out, enslaved men and women faced other hardships beyond the confiscation of their wages.  They usually moved to new households, sometimes in distant towns, leaving behind spouses, children, parents, siblings, other relations, and friends.  Hiring out disrupted their communities and strained their relationships, yet another reverberation of the widespread abuse and exploitation that was so common that advertisements for hiring out appeared in newspapers alongside mundane details of everyday life in eighteenth-century America.  The front page of the January 1, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, for instance, carried an advertisement for a young enslaved man “WANTED on Purchase, or Hire by the Year.”  The advertiser remained anonymous, instructing anyone seeking to sell or hire out “A Honest, handy, young Negro Fellow” to “apply to the Printer.”  The identity of the advertiser, however, is not the most significant detail glossed over in this advertisement.  The notice, like so many others that ran in early American newspapers, testifies to a much more complicated story about the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children in early America when considered not from the perspective of the advertiser but instead from the perspective of the subject of the advertisement and the perspectives of his family, friends, and community.  The hiring out system meant that the new year often meant anxiety, disruption. and separation, rather than celebration, for enslaved people.

December 18

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 18, 1770).

“A SERMON SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  The next day, several newspapers in Boston informed readers of Whitefield’s death.  Over the course of several weeks, news radiated from there.  Newspapers from New Hampshire to Georgia eventually reprinted articles that originated in Boston and supplemented with coverage of local reaction.  That additional coverage included poems that memorialized Whitefield and advertisements for commemorative items.  Less than a week elapsed when the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter noted that Green and Russell sold “A FUNERAL HYMN, wrote by the Rev’d Mr. Whitefield: Said to be designed to have been sung over his Corpse by the Orphans belonging to his Tabernacle in London, had he died there.”  So began the commodification of Whitefield’s death.

That commodification was widespread, though especially prevalent in New England.  Still, printers and booksellers in other regions participated as well.  On December 18, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal carried a notice that “A SERMON SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” … delivered in Charleston on October 28 by Josiah Smith “WILL BE PUBLISHED” and sold later in the week.  This was only the second commemorative item presented for purchase in South Carolina.  Previously the South-Carolina and American General Gazette carried a notice for “AN ELEGY on the Reverend GEORGE WHITEFIELD” combined in a single publication with the hymn that was first advertised in Boston.  Those advertisements ran in November.  The advertisement for the sermon first appeared four weeks after the last insertion of the advertisement for the elegy and hymn.  Consumers in South Carolina were not barraged with marketing for publications commemorating Whitefield to the same extent as their counterparts in New England, but they did not lack options either.  Perhaps of his own initiative, but perhaps in part as a result of examining newspapers from other regions, Charles Crouch, printer of both the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and Smith’s sermon memorializing Whitefield, saw an opportunity to produce a commemorative item.  He contributed to public mourning of the influential minister, but simultaneously exercised some self-interest in seeking to generate revenues from sales of the sermon, not unlike many other printers and booksellers throughout the colonies.

November 13

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

Continuation to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 13, 1770).

“CONTINUATION to the South-Carolina Gazette, and Country Journal.”

Like other newspapers published in colonial America, a standard issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Charles Crouch occasionally had more news, editorials, and advertisements than would fit in a standard issue, prompting him to distribute a supplement with the additional material.  Some newspapers so often had surplus items, especially advertisements, that supplements themselves became practically standard.

November 13, 1770, was one of those days that all of the news and all of the advertising for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal would not fit on four pages.  Six pages did not provide enough room either.  Crouch filled a two-page supplement and still had advertisements remaining.  Advertisements generated important revenue for any printer.  In this case, Crouch determined that they generated enough revenue to merit the additional expense of producing and distributing a four-page Continuation to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in addition to the supplement.  The Continuation consisted entirely of advertisements.

The Continuation, however, was not printed on the same size sheet as the standard issue or the supplement.  Digital remediations of eighteenth-century newspapers usually do not include metadata that includes dimensions, but differences in the sizes of sheets are often apparent even without knowing the precise measurements.  The standard issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal featured three columns per page.  When printed on an 8.5×11 sheet of office paper, the type is relatively small.  In contrast, the Continuation had only two columns per page.  When printed on an 8.5×11 sheet, the type is relatively large.  The sizes of the original broadsheets were obviously different.  Furthermore, white space divides the columns in standard issues, but the columns nearly run together in the Continuation, separated by a line running down the middle.  Rather than reset the type of advertisements that ran in previous issues, a time-consuming task, Crouch instead made them fit on the smaller sheet.  The Continuation had four pages, but they did not double the size of that standard issue.

Still, subscribers and other readers encountered far more content than usual when they perused the November 13 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal along with its Supplement and Continuation.  Close examination of the digital surrogate also suggests that Crouch printed the supplement on a smaller sheet than the standard issue, though one large enough to retain three columns with white space separating them.  For most newspaper printers, advertisements represented significant revenues.  Paid notices often accounted for a significant portion of the content in any given issue. In this instance, devoting a page to advertising was not sufficient.  Crouch devised additional sheets to accompany the standard issue, incurring expenses yet generating revenues while simultaneously exposing readers to greater advertising content.

October 31

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 31, 1770).

“MRS. SWALLOW begs Leave to inform the Publick.”

Newman Swallow and Mrs. Swallow, presumably husband and wife, both ran newspaper advertisements in late October and early November 1770.  Newman advised prospective clients that he “proposes carrying on the FACTORAGE BUSINESS,” serving as a broker in Charleston.  Mrs. Swallow planned to open a boarding school for “young Ladies” at a new house “next Door to his Honour the Lieutenant-Governour’s” in Broad Street.  Their advertisements first appeared, one above the other, in the October 30, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  The following day both advertisements also ran, again one above the other, in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The November 1 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included both notices, once again one above the other.  In the course of three consecutive days, the Newmans disseminated their advertisements in all three newspapers published in Charleston, maximizing exposure for their enterprises among readers throughout the busy port and the rest of the colony.

Careful examination of their advertisements reveals differences in format but not content.  The Newmans submitted the same copy to the three printing offices in Charleston, but the compositors who set type for the newspapers exercised discretion over typography and other aspects of graphic design.  Variations in font sizes, font styles, words appearing in all capital letters or italics, and the use of ornaments all testified to the role of the compositor in making decisions about how each advertisement would look on the page.  In two of the newspapers, “NEWMAN SWALLOW” and “MRS. SWALLOW” served as headlines, but not in the third.  Similar examples appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg during the era of the American Revolution.  In towns large enough to support more than one newspaper, advertisers frequently placed notices in two, three, or more publications.  The copy remained consistent across newspapers, but the graphic design varied.  This demonstrated an important division of labor in the production of newspaper advertisements in eighteenth-century America.  Advertisers dictated the contents, but usually asserted little control over the format.  Compositors exercised creativity in designing how the copy appeared on the page, influencing how readers might engage with advertisements when they encountered them in the public prints.

October 30

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 30, 1770).

“Said Report is FALSE.”

In late October 1770, Richard Clark, a watch- and clockmaker, took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to address a rumor circulating in Charleston.  “[I]t hath been reported by some MALICIOUS PERSONS,” Clark lamented, “That I was going to leave the Province.”  That was not the case at all.  “I therefore acquaint the PUBLIC,” he continued, “that said report is FALSE, as I never had such an Intention.”

Why would others have traded in such gossip?  Was it an attempt by a competitor to undermine Clark’s business by pulling away customers who thought he was leaving the colony?  Did disgruntled acquaintances seek to cause him financial difficulty if Clark’s associates demanded that he pay his debts in advance of his departure?  Did something else occur?  Clark did not speculate beyond ascribing the false reports to “MALICIOUS PERSONS” responsible for the mischief, though that does not mean that he did not have suspicious that he left unspoken.

The watchmaker took the opportunity to promote his business at the same time he corrected the record.  He “return[ed] Thanks to all those who have been pleased to favour me with their Custom,” establishing that he had a clientele who availed themselves of his services.  He invited them and others to visit his shop on King Street, where he cleaned and repaired watches and clocks “in the neatest Manner, and greatest Dispatch.”  He promised quality and efficiency to his customers, two standard appeals in newspaper advertisements placed by artisans.

Clark competed for customers in a crowded marketplace, one sometimes shaped in part by innuendo and rumor that appeared in print or passed from person to person by word of mouth.  For more than a year and a half, clock- and watchmakers John Simnet and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith engaged in vicious sparring matches in their advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Even if it was not a competitor who spread the false reports of Clark’s supposed plans to leave the colony, the watchmaker had to deal with the consequences of gossip that could damage his livelihood.  He turned to the public prints to address the calumnious reports and provide reassurances that he remained in business.

October 10

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 9, 1770).

“He is in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS, for whom good Wages will be given.”

In the early 1770s, Thomas fell operated a tailoring shop on Elliott Street in Charleston.  He placed advertisements in South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advise prospective clients of the services he offered “in the genteelest Manner, and with Dispatch.”  Yet he did not run the shop alone.  In addition to extending “hearty Thanks” to his customers, he also announced that he was “in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS.”  Fell declared that “good Wages will be given” for the work undertaken by those enslaved men.

Those “good Wages,” however, did not go directly to the tailors but instead to the enslavers who hired them out by the day, week, month, or year.  As newspaper advertisements, slave narratives, and other sources demonstrate, enslavers who did not have sufficient work to occupy the time of the men and women they held in bondage instead generated a return on their investment by hiring out (or renting) them to others.  Sometimes they attempted to appear magnanimous by allowing enslaved laborers to keep a portion of those “good Wages,” but in the end it was the enslavers rather than the enslaved who derived the most significant financial benefits from such arrangements.

Colonists like Fell also gained advantages from hiring enslaved artisans, including tailors, blacksmiths, carpenters, and coopers.  While Fell promised genteel garments made quickly for clients who visited his shop, he did not do all of the work himself.  He relied on the expertise and labor of enslaved tailors.  His advertisement made clear that they worked in his shop, but many other notices in the public prints certainly obscured the contributions of enslaved artisans.  Rarely did proprietors mention assistants of any sort, whether free, indentured, or enslaved.  The advertisements that crowded the pages of newspapers and supplements depicted vibrant commerce and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America, but often obscured the extent that enslaved men and women involuntarily provided their skills, knowledge, and labor.

September 18

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 18, 1770).

“He is in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS, for whom the highest Wages will be given.”

The September 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal included multiple advertisements offering enslaved men, women, and children for sale.  One advertisement, for instance, concerned a “Young Country-born” woman “with her first Child, two Years old.”  This young woman, “an extraordinary good Washer and Ironer,” was pregnant with another child.  Other advertisements described enslaved people who possessed a variety of skills for sale with and without members of their families.

Yet buying and selling enslaved people was not the only means of distributing and exploiting their labor in the public prints.  Several “for hire” advertisements also ran in that issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Rather than purchase enslaved people outright, colonists frequently “hired” or rented their services from their enslavers.  In so doing, they acquired the labor they needed but without making as much of an investment.  One advertisement proclaimed, “WANTED ON HIRE, A Sprightly NEGRO BOY, who has been used to wait on a Gentlemen, and attend at Table.”  The advertiser did not sign the notice but instead instructed that anyone looking to hire out an enslaved servant should “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.  John Savage placed a similar advertisement, though he stated that he wanted an enslaved man “who was handy about a House” and an enslaved woman who was a good domestic servant “ON HIRE, OR TO PURCHASE.”  Thomas Fell, a tailor, informed the public that he was “in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS, for whom the highest Wages will be given.”  Those wages, however, did not go to the enslaved tailors.  Instead, their enslavers collected the wages.  If they wanted to feel magnanimous, the enslavers could dole out a portion of those wages to the enslaved tailors who did the work.  Doing so might salve their consciences, yet the tailors remained enslaved and exploited.

This system of hiring out enslaved workers for short periods – days, weeks, months, or a year – supplemented the slave trade in early America.  In the colonial and revolutionary eras, it occurred throughout the colonies.  It later continued into the nineteenth century in all areas that did not abolish slavery.  Gabriel, the enslaved man executed for organizing a failed uprising in Richmond, Virginia, in 1800, hired out as a blacksmith.  Frederick Douglass hired out as a caulker in shipyards in Baltimore in the early nineteenth century.  Newspaper advertisements help to tell the stories of many other enslaved men and women who were hired out in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

September 11

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 11, 1770).

“Merchants and Tradesmen may have their Books regulated by the Month.”

As summer turned to fall in 1770, Jacob Valk took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise his services as a bookkeeper.  He informed readers that he “keeps an Office where Merchants and Tradesmen may have their Books regulated by the Month.”  He assisted with balancing and closing accounts as well as opening accounts “properly for those commencing any Kind of Business.”  Valk oversaw books kept for various purposes: “Partnerships Accounts, and Accounts of Ships, Planters, or Executors.”  In each case, clients could depend on having their ledgers “properly scrutinized, and accurately adjusted.”  They could also expect confidentiality.  Valk promised “Secrecy and Dispatch.”

Valk made a special appeal to prospective clients “apprehensive of a Failure or Litigation at Law.”  By hiring his services, they could avoid Embarrassment in their Affairs.”  Although he did not offer any guarantees, he suggested that anyone anxious about their bookkeeping abilities could gain a sense of security by relying on his guidance and oversight.  It was “more than probable,” he asserted, that his clients would “meet with a happy Prevention” of undesirable outcomes, but only if they acted in a timely manner.  Valk encouraged prospective clients to consult with him early rather than wait until it was too late for him to help.

Valk presented a combination of invitation and warning in his advertisement.  By responding to his notice, “Merchants and Tradesmen” lessened the chances that they would find themselves in the position of having to respond to another sort of notice that frequently appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers, those that called on colonists to settle accounts or face legal action.  In the same issue that carried Valk’s advertisement, Andrew Taylor placed just such a notice directed at “all Persons indebted to me.”  Those who owed Taylor money were on the verge of experiencing “Embarrassment in their Affairs” if they did not settle accounts quickly.  Valk offered an alternative to clients who hired his bookkeeping services.