April 19

GUEST CURATOR:  Anna MacLean

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

Apr 19 - 4:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 19, 1768).

TO BE SOLD … A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES.”

In this advertisement from the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Edward Oats announced that he intended to sell “A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES.” The slaves originally belonged to the estate of Mary Frost. This advertisement shocked me with how this group of enslaved men and women were characterized as merchandise to be purchased. In addition, the details associated with the process astounded me. Edward Oats wrote that “Twelve months credit will be given, paying interest, and giving approved security, the property not to be altered till the conditions are complied with.” This set of terms and conditions sounds comparable to buying furniture or appliances in the twenty-first century.

Furthermore, I was intrigued with the advertisement because the author chose to incorporate the many skills held by individuals among this group of slaves. They included “sawyers, mowers, a very good caulker, a tanner, a compleat tight cooper, a sawyer, squarer and rough carpenter.” In the midst of my research I observed that slaves tended to be sold in parcels, or large groups, in the southern colonies more frequently than in the northern colonies. Often, the skills and talents of slaves were highlighted by newspaper advertisements as a method of attracting buyers, especially plantation owners. According to Daniel C. Littlefield in “The Varieties of Slave Labor,” eighteenth-century plantation owners “tried to maintain self-sufficiency based on the varied skills of their slaves.” Although the vast majority of African slaves were purchased specifically for agricultural work, enslaved peoples also found themselves performing a number of skilled functions to guarantee overall efficiency on plantations.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Although Edward Oats and the readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal had no way of knowing it, within a decade April 19 would become one of the most important days in American history. Seven years after the publication of this advertisement armed hostilities broke out between colonists and Britain at Concord and Lexington in Massachusetts, initiating a new phase in the imperial crisis and eventually resulting in the Declaration of Independence and a war that lasted the better part of a decade.

Americans continue to commemorate April 19 today.  In Massachusetts it is known as Patriots’ Day, a state holiday observed on the Monday that falls closest to April 19.  The Boston Marathon takes place on Patriots’ Day.  This year residents of Massachusetts received an extension on filing their taxes until Tuesday, April 17 because the traditional tax day, April 15, fell on a Sunday, followed by Patriots’ Day on Monday. Beyond Massachusetts, Americans have been celebrating the 243rd anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride and the battles at Concord and Lexington, though historians have turned to social media and other public history platforms to offer more complete and nuanced portraits of events than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow etched in popular memory in the poem he composed about the “midnight message of Paul Revere” in 1860.

In the midst of these commemorations of liberty and resistance to British oppression, Anna has chosen an advertisement that reminds us that freedom had varied meanings to different people in early America.  Edward Oats had seen the Stamp Act enacted and repealed, only to be replaced by the Declaratory Act and the Townshend Act.  If he read the newspaper in which he advertised “A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES,” he had been exposed to news from throughout the colonies about efforts to resist Parliament by consuming goods produced in the colonies rather than imported from England.  He would have also encountered the series of “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” outlining the limits of Parliament’s authority.

Even as white Americans grappled with these political issues, they bought and sold enslaved men, women, and children, often acknowledging the skills they possessed yet obstinately refusing to acknowledge their humanity.  These “SLAVES” and “wenches,” however, had their own ideas about liberty.  As other advertisements in newspapers throughout the colonies indicate, many slaves seized their freedom by running away from the masters who held them in bondage.  As we once again celebrate the milestones of April 19, this advertisement for “A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES” reminds us to take a broad view of the revolutionary era in order to tell a more complete story of the American past.

April 5

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

Apr 5 - 4:5:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 5, 1768).

“BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768, to be sold by the Printer.”

Published in the lower right corner of the first page of the April 5 issue, this advertisement for “BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768” made an unseasonably late appearance in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Readers throughout the colonies were accustomed to a certain rhythm when it came to printers advertising almanacs in newspapers. Some commenced as early as September, seeking to gain an advantage over competitors by announcing that their almanacs would soon go to press.  They peddled the promise of a product that did not yet exist, but primed consumers to contemplate the version they offered before encountering any others.  The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall as the new year approached.  The advertisements usually continued for the first few weeks of January but then tapered off by the time February arrived. After all, more and more of the contents became outdated every week.  Yet Charles Crouch still opted to publish an advertisement for almanacs in his newspaper in early April 1768.  More than a quarter of the year had passed, but Crouch tested whether he could create a market for leftover copies that he had not managed to sell.

Many eighteenth-century printers sought to generate revenues beyond job printing, newspaper subscriptions, and advertising fees by publishing and selling almanacs.  Doing so was a savvy investment of their time and resources since colonists from the most humble households to the most grand acquired these popular periodicals each year … but only if printers accurately estimated the market for almanacs.  Not printing a sufficient number meant turning customers away. Even worse, it could mean losing their business in future years if they purchased another almanac and developed loyalty toward its contents, author, or printer.  On the other hand, printing too many almanacs could undermine any profits if a printer ended up with a significant surplus.  That Crouch was still advertising “BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768” in April suggests that he did indeed have an unacceptable surplus crowding the shelves or storage space at his printing shop.  Indirectly, it also testifies to the utility of almanacs in the eighteenth century.  Prospective customers may not have dismissed the almanacs simply because a portion of the calendar and astronomical calculations had already passed. Instead, some may have instead focused on the other information contained within the pages of almanacs, information that remained useful throughout the year.  Among their many contents, almanacs typically contained lists of colonial officials, dates for holding courts ands fairs, cures and remedies for various maladies, and amusing anecdotes.  That being the case, Crouch took a chance that he might find buyers for some of his remaining almanacs even if readers did not expect to see them advertised at that time of the year.

March 29

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

Mar 29 - 3:29:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 29, 1768).

“He intends to open School … she will undertake to teach the Girls their Needle.”

In preparation for opening a school in Charleston, Daniel Stevens placed an advertisement in the March 29, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He advised “the Public, and his Friends in particular” that he would teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, establishing a curriculum that set his school apart from the “British Academy on the Green” that Osborne Straton promoted in another advertisement in the same issue. Osborne taught English, Latin, and French as well as drawing, “Poetry, Rhetoric, [and] Logic.” Instead of “Writing” and “Arithmetic,” he taught “Writing in the Mercantile and Law Hands” and “The various useful and practical Branches of the Mathematicks.” Straton implied that he welcomed only boys as “Day Scholars,” but he tutored “Gentlemen or Ladies” in their homes on selected afternoons.

Stevens, on the other hand, invited readers to send both boys and girls to his school, where he provided a more modest and practical education. To that end, his advertisement included a short section in which Katharine Stevens announced “that she will undertake to teach the Girls their Needle.” As Straton cornered the market when it came to a genteel education, Daniel Stevens offered a different sort of enhancement to his curriculum, an enhancement that readers who could not translate the Latin quotations sprinkled throughout Straton’s advertisement may have considered much more useful and important.

That enhancement depended on the contributions of Katharine Stevens, presumably Daniel’s wife (but possibly a sister, daughter, or other female relation). The wording of the advertisement presents the school primarily as Daniel’s venture, but Katharine likely acted as more than a mere assistant in the endeavor. Even if she did not teach the academic subjects, she did participate in the instruction of the female students. In the process, she also supervised the children at the school, contributing to good order within the classroom. Some parents of prospective students may have been reassured simply by Katharine’s presence, assuming that it signaled more care and attention than Daniel could deliver by himself.

Both the copy and the format of this advertisement position Katharine as subordinate to Daniel. He sought pupils for his school; she taught a gendered skill, sewing, to only some of his students, the girls. Yet that description likely belied a more equal partnership that guided this joint venture in both planning and execution. At the very least, Daniel Stevens relied on the contributions made by Katharine Stevens when marketing his (their?) new school. She provided instruction in an area that he did not possess skill or expertise, an addition to the curriculum intended to make the school more attractive to prospective students and their parents.

March 22

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

Mar 22 - 3:22:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 22, 1768.)

“MATTHIAS HUTCHINSON, CAHIR-MAKER, who served his time to Mr. HART.”

Matthias Hutchinson published an advertisement in the March 22, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal “to acquaint the public, and his friends in particular, that he has opened a shop in Queen-street.” Hutchinson, a “CHAIR-MAKER,” proclaimed that he would pursue his occupation “in all its branches,” signaling to prospective customers that he was prepared to undertake jobs involving any aspect of constructing chairs. He also advanced some of the most common appeals made by merchants, artisans, and shopkeepers in their advertisements for consumer goods and services during the eighteenth century. He promised fair prices (“reasonable terms”) and efficient service (“quickest dispatch”).

In addition to those marketing strategies, Hutchinson also adopted an appeal most frequently deployed by artisans: he promoted his qualifications, especially his training. He did not introduce himself to the public merely as a “CHAIR-MAKER” but instead as a “CHAIR-MAKER, who served his time to Mr. HART.” In other words, Hutchinson had completed an apprenticeship in Hart’s workshop. He assumed that readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal were already familiar with Hart’s work and depended on his former master’s reputation as he attempted to cultivate his own professional identity among prospective customers in Charleston and beyond. Hutchinson considered this particularly imperative, opting to establish his credentials before he even mentioned his location or made appeals to price and customer service. Those credentials also enhanced his credibility when he assured potential clients that they “may depend on having their work done in the neatest and strongest manner.” His chairs were both attractive and sturdy, results produced thanks to the skills that Hutchinson developed via his training by Hart.

When he established his own workshop, Hutchinson identified his apprenticeship as an advantage that prospective customers would value when considering whether to entrust their business to the newcomer. Having labored in Hart’s workshop, he had participated in the production of chairs associated with his former master, contributing to the senior artisan’s reputation. Now Hutchinson sought to mobilize Hart’s reputation as a testament to his own qualifications and skill by noting that he had “served his time to Mr. HART.” More than any other appeal to prospective customers, Hutchinson made that the focal point of his identity as an artisan and entrepreneur.

March 15

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

Mar 15 - 3:15:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 15, 1768).

“A fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.”

James McCall stocked and sold a variety of imported merchandise “at his store in Tradd-street” in Charleston. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he attempted to incited demand for his wares by placing an advertisement that listed many of them in a dense paragraph, everything from “neat Wilton carpeting” to “shot of all sizes” to “coffee and chocolate.” His inventory included groceries, clothing, housewares, and much more.

For the most part McCall did not make special efforts to promote any particular items, with one exception. Deploying typography strategically, he did draw attention to his “fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.” Very few words in his advertisement appeared in all capital letters; most of those that did were names: his own name that served as a headline, the name of the ship and captain that transported the goods, and the name of the English port of departure. In the main body of the advertisement, the list of items for sale, the first word appeared in all capitals, as was the convention for all advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Otherwise, the words “GARDEN SEEDS” about midway through the list of goods were the only words in all capitals in the body of McCall’s notice.

Although advertisers usually wrote copy and left it to compositors to determine the graphic design elements of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, deviations from the standard appearance of notices within particular publications suggest that advertisers could and did sometimes request specific typography for certain aspects of their notices. Such appears to have been the case for McCall’s advertisement since the compositor would have had little reason to randomly set “GARDEN SEEDS” in all capitals. On the other hand, McCall had particular interest in drawing attention to such seasonal merchandise. In other advertisements, he developed a habit for singling out a specific item to promote to prospective customers. For instance, the previous August he included “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE” in a list-style advertisement that did not feature any other items in all capitals.

McCall could have chosen to highlight these items by listing them first or writing a separate nota bene to append to his advertisements. Instead, he opted to experiment with variations in typography to accentuate his “GARDEN SEEDS” and “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE.” Although rudimentary compared to modern understandings of graphic design, his choices indicate some level of understanding that the appearance on the page could be just as effective as the copy when it came to delivering advertising content to consumers.

March 8

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

Mar 8 - 3:8:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Addition to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 8, 1768).

“They carry on the Taylors Business in all its Branches.”

David Maull and John Wood’s advertisement was one of nearly a dozen that appeared in the two-page Addition to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal published by Charles Crouch on March 8, 1768. It accompanied the regular four-page issue of that newspaper and a two-page Supplement. Crouch distributed supplements so often that many readers may have come to expect them as standard, made necessary by the number of advertisements submitted to the printing office. Indeed, the supplements usually contained advertising exclusively, even when advertisements accounted for nearly half of the space in regular issues.

The Addition, however, did not follow this pattern. Only two of the six columns (three on each side of the halfsheet) were filled with advertising. The ninth of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the Inhabitants of the BRITISH COLONIES” occupied nearly the entire first page. In it, the “FARMER” explained the necessity of local representation in firmly established assemblies. The Addition also included news from Boston and Philadelphia as well as a poem, “The Batchelor’s Reasons for taking a Wife.”

What Crouch termed an Addition his counterparts in other cities and towns usually called an Extraordinary in their efforts to distinguish such publications from the more common supplements often distributed with the standard issues of their newspapers. Whatever the nomenclature, Crouch’s Addition of March 8, 1768, further establishes a pattern. During the period of the imperial crisis between the imposition of the Stamp Act in 1765 and the outbreak of military hostilities in 1775, the colonies alternately experienced periods of intense discord with Britain and periods of relative calm. In early March 1768 the Townshend Act had been in effect for just over three months. Colonists had commenced non-importation agreements at the beginning of the year. From New England to Georgia, newspapers reported discontent and political outrage, often in supplements and extraordinary issues that proliferated during those times that the imperial crisis intensified.

At most times advertising, especially the revenue it generated for printers, facilitated the dissemination of news and editorial items. Supplements devoted to advertising made delivering the news and other content possible. During periods of conflict, however, publishing the news sometimes led to the broader or more frequent distribution of advertising. Such appears to have been the case with Crouch’s Addition from March 8, 1768. As he went about publishing Dickinson’s “LETTER IX” and news from Boston and Philadelphia, the printer needed to fill an entire halfsheet. The poem took up half a column. Two of the advertisements promoted the printer’s own wares, but the others had previously appeared as paid notices. Perhaps those who placed them paid for this insertion as well. Even if that were the case, the Addition upended the usual relationships between news and advertisements in colonial newspapers. In this case, publishing the news led to readers being exposed to more advertising rather than the usual situation of advertising bringing the news.

March 1

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

Mar 1 - 3:1:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 1, 1768).

“He makes jumps and stays … in the newest fashion, either in the English or French manner.”

John Burchet presented himself to consumers in Charleston as a “STAY and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON and PARIS.” He established his former places of residence and employment not merely by way of introduction but also to strengthen one of the appeals he advanced in his advertisement. Burchet announced to prospective clients that he made garments “in the newest fashion, either in the English or French manner.” Although he did not elaborate on his time in the English and French capitals, he leveraged the connection to assure customers that they could rely on him to outfit them in “the newest fashion” rather than trends that already declined in popularity. He implied that he had special insight into la mode on the other side of the Atlantic.

Keeping up with the current styles in England and France was important to residents throughout the colonies, but perhaps especially to the gentry and middling sorts aspiring to join their ranks in the largest urban ports. Although the size of Charleston, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia paled in comparison to the metropolis of London, the better sorts in those cities wished to imagine themselves as cosmopolitan as their peers across the ocean. Anxious that they would be seen as backwater provincials, they adopted new fashions – both clothing and housewares – at a speed that often surprised European visitors to the colonies. Some shopkeepers and members of the garments trade emphasized their correspondence with counterparts in England as a means of keeping abreast of the newest trends. Burchet, however, suggested that he offered something even better: why settle for an American staymaker who imitated the styles popular in Europe when it was possible to hire one “from LONDON and PARIS” who had direct knowledge from his time in those cities? This marketing strategy did rely on both the staymaker and the customer suspending their disbelief to some extent. After all, having once lived and worked in London and Paris did not give Burchet immediate access to fashions there. He relied on transatlantic correspondence, just like his competitors. Yet he marshaled the cachet of his origins, prompting clients to imagine visiting his shop for measurements and fittings and ultimately wearing garments made by an artisan “from LONDON and PARIS.” Burchet’s stays and other wares might have yielded the same appearance as those made by others, but his personal narrative added value to the clothing he made.