January 7

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 7, 1772).

“They will be put up in small Lots for the better Conveniency of private Families.”

Samuel Gordon planned to leave South Carolina in February 1772.  In advance of his departure, he advertised that he would sell a variety of goods at auction on January 10.  To entice bidders, he listed many of those items, including “a great Variety of blue and white enameled Dishes and Plates,” “a great Number of Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate Cups and Saucers,” “Decanters and Wine Glasses,” and “an Assortment of Table Knives and Forks.”  He concluded the list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate far more choices awaited those who attended the auction.

Gordon did not want prospective bidders to assume that he was attempting to get rid of merchandise that had lingered on the shelves at his “IRISH LINEN WARE-HOUSE” in Charleston.  He asserted that he had recently imported the goods “in the HEART-OF-OAK, who arrived here the Twentieth of December Instant, from LONDON.”  In other words, he acquired his inventory three weeks before the auction.  Colonizers had an opportunity to purchase new goods shipped from the cosmopolitan center of the empire for bargain prices at auction.

Yet they did not need to wait until the day of the auction if any of the textiles, housewares, and other items interested them.  In a nota bene, Gordon stated that he “continues to sell any of the above Goods at a very low Advance, till the Day of the Sale.”  He invited customers to visit his warehouse to examine the merchandise and select what they wished to purchase rather than take chances bidding against others at auction.  He offered low prices to make this option as attractive as the prospects of a good deal at auction.  Gordon also explained that any remaining inventory that went to auction “will be put up in small Lots for the better Conveniency of private Families.”  That meant that items would be bundled together.  Consumers who wished to purchase only specific items needed to buy them before the auction.

In his efforts to liquidate his merchandise before leaving the colony, Gordon sought to incite interest in new goods recently received from London.  He scheduled an auction for colonizers hoping for deep discounts via low bids, but also continued sales at his warehouse for others who wanted the security of making purchases without bidding against competitors.  Offering colonizers both means of acquiring his goods had the advantage of maximizing his revenue while also clearing out his inventory.

November 12

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

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

“RUN-AWAY … six Angola negro men.”

“LIBERTY … excellent Accommodations.”

In the fall of 1771, John Edwards and Company sought freight and passengers for the Liberty, soon departing Charleston for Bristol.  In an advertisement in the November 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Edwards and Company promised “excellent Accommodations” for passengers.  Two aspects of the advertisement helped draw attention to it:  the name of the ship, “LIBERTY,” in capital letters and a large font as well as a woodcut of a ship at sea.  Wind seemed to fill the sails and unfurl the flags, suggesting a quick and comfortable journey.  The advertisement for freight and passage aboard the Liberty appeared two notices below another advertisement that also incorporated a woodcut.  That image, however, depicted an enslaved man on the run.  He seemed to move in the opposite direction across the page in relation to the ship adorning the advertisement for the Liberty, testifying to the very different conceptions of liberty among enslavers and enslaved people in South Carolina in the era of the American Revolution.

Francis Yonge placed that advertisement to offer a reward for the capture and return of not just one enslaved man but instead “six Angola negro men” who had “RUN-AWAY” from his plantation at the end of October.  Yonge purchased the men a few months earlier, suggesting that they had only recently arrived in South Carolina and “cannot as yet speak English.”  Readers could also identify them by the clothing they wore, blue jackets and breeches made of “negro cloth” with their enslaver’s initials sewn “in scarlet cloth … upon the forepart of their jackets.”  Yonge selected the rough cloth for its low costs, not for its comfort.  Such callousness would have been familiar to the six men from Angola by the time Yonge outfitted them at his plantation.  After all, they had survived the Middle Passage on a ship that did not offer “excellent Accommodations” for its human cargo, unlike the Liberty that carried passengers from South Carolina to England.  As was so often the case in early American newspapers, advertisements that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans and African Americans appeared in stark contrast to other advertisements, editorials, and articles that promoted, in one way or another, the liberty that white colonists demanded for themselves.

October 29

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 29, 1771).

“NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.”

As was often the case, the October 29, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal overflowed with advertising.  The first page consisted of the masthead and more than a dozen advertisements, but no news items.  The second page did include those “freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic,” promised in the masthead.  The shipping news from the customs house continued on the third page, but two dozen advertisements filled the vast majority of it.  Nearly two dozen more appeared on the final page, along with a brief column identifying Charles Crouch as the printer at the bottom of the last column.  Crouch received so many advertisements at his printing office on Elliott Street that he issues a two-page supplement that contained about three dozen more advertisements, including Joseph Atkinson’s oversized notice that spread over more than half a page.  Thirteen advertisements about enslaved people ran among the other notices.

To help readers navigate the contents of the newspaper, Crouch inserted headers to identify “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.”  The first appeared at the top of the first column on the first page.  When advertising commenced once again on the third page, the “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” header ran once again, directing readers to notices they did not encounter in previous issues.  Midway through the page, however, Crouch transitioned to advertisements already inserted at least once without providing a different header.  Newspapers of the era tended to feature relatively few headlines and headers, so an effort to identify “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” made Crouch’s publication distinctive even though he did not devise other markers to aid readers as they perused the advertising.  Similarly, neither Crouch nor any other printer in the colonies organized advertisements according to purpose or genre.  Instead, advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, advertisements offering rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves, real estate advertisements, and a variety of other kinds of notices ran alongside each other in an undifferentiated amalgamation.  A header for “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” provided some guidance for readers, but it was a rudimentary classification system.

October 23

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

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

“ALL Persons indebted to the Printer of this Paper …”

The masthead for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal proclaimed that its pages “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.”  The newspaper also disseminated a lot of advertisements, on some occasions more advertising than other content.  The October 22, 1771, edition, for instance, consisted primarily of advertisements.  They filled the entire front and back pages.  News appeared on the second page and overflowed into the first column on the third, but “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” comprised the remainder of that page.  Charles Crouch received so many advertisements at his printing office that he published a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising.

Those advertisements represented significant revenue for Crouch, but only if advertisers actually paid for the time and labor required to set the type and for the space that their notices occupied when they ran week after week.  Many advertisers, as well as subscribers, were slow to pay, prompting Crouch to insert his own notice that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer of this Paper, whose Accounts are not discharged by the first Day of January next … may rely on having them put into the Hands of an Attorney at Law, or Magistrate, as the Case may require.”  He made an exception for “those of his good Customers who have been punctual in their Payments,” but otherwise extended “no Indulgence” to others.

Colonists who pursued all sorts of occupations frequently placed similar advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers throughout the colonies, but Crouch had an advantage when it came to placing his notice in front of the eyes of the customers that he wanted to see it.  As printer, he determined the order of the contents in his newspaper.  He strategically placed his notice as the first item in the first column on the first page, immediately below the masthead, making it more likely that readers would notice it even if they merely skimmed other advertisements or looked for the news.  Other advertisers usually did not choose where their notices appeared in relation to other content.  As part of the business of operating printing offices and publishing newspapers, Crouch and other printers often made the placement of their own notices a priority.  After all, the financial health of their newspapers served not only themselves but also subscribers who kept informed about current events, advertisers who wished to share their messages with the public, and entire communities that benefited from the circulation of information.

October 22

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

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

“Several scandalous and malicious written bills stuck up in many public places about town.”

William Tweed was angry.  As he strolled through the streets of Charleston in the fall of 1771, he discovered that an anonymous antagonist had posted small broadsides, written by hand rather than printed, that attacked him.  In response, he turned to the public prints to achieve some sort of remedy.  In an advertisement in the October 22 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he expressed his frustration that “several scandalous and malicious written bills” had been “stuck up in many public places about town, tending to injure his character and reputation with the public.”  To remedy the situation, he offered a generous “One Hundred Pounds reward” to “Whoever will discover the author thereof, so that he may be brought to justice.”

Tweed meant business.  He placed the same advertisement in the South-Carolina and American Gazette on October 21 and in the South-Carolina Gazette on October 24.  In the course of three days, it ran in each newspaper published in the city, maximizing the number of readers likely to see it.  Considering the size of the reward that Tweed offered, he probably did not think twice about how much it cost to run the advertisement simultaneously in three newspapers.

Tweed likely removed the handwritten bills wherever and whenever he encountered them, but his advertisements may have called additional attention to the accusations they made against him.  Newspaper readers who had not otherwise been aware of the bills may have sensed a good story, one that Tweed did not commit to print, and asked their friends and associates if they knew more about what had transpired than appeared in the advertisements.  Even as Tweed attempted to leverage the power of print for damage control, he may have given the handbills new life and greater reach as colonists gossiped about what occurred.  On the other hand, discovering the author of those missives gave him a better chance to defend himself and rehabilitate his character and reputation.  That, apparently, was worth the risk of drawing attention to the incident in a series of newspaper advertisements.

October 16

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 15, 1771).

“JOSEPH ATKINSON … HAS imported a new and general ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN MANUFACTORIES.”

Joseph Atkinson’s advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal almost certainly caught the attention of readers.  After all, it comprised nearly two-thirds of the front page of the October 15, 1771, edition.  Immediately below the masthead, it filled the first two columns before news from London in the remaining column.  In addition, Atkinson’s name served as a headline, printed in larger font than even the name of the newspaper in the masthead.

Other graphic design elements also demanded notice.  Atkinson’s name and an introduction to the imported goods available at his store near the New Exchange in Charleston ran across two columns, making that portion of the advertisement even more distinctive.  Most of the notice, however, was divided into two columns that matched the width of others throughout the rest of the issue.  In those columns, Atkinson listed his merchandise.  Instead of dense paragraphs of text common in many advertisements of the period, he placed only one or two items on each line.  That left a significant amount of white space, having the simultaneous effects of making the list easier to read and separating it visually from other content.  A line of ornamental type ran between the two columns, an additional flourish.

Atkinson’s advertisement served as a catalog for prospective customers.  Indeed, the size and format suggest the possibility that it did not appear solely in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Instead, the merchant may have hired Charles Crouch, the printer, to produce handbills or broadsides to distribute or post around town.  In that case, Crouch would have streamlined his efforts in creating marketing materials for Atkinson, choosing to set type just once in a format that fit the newspaper but also lent itself well to printing handbills and broadsides.  Unfortunately, such items were more ephemeral than newspapers, making them much less likely to have survived to today.

October 8

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 8, 1771).

“Yorkshire STUFFS for Negro [Women’s] Gowns.”

The partnership of Powell, Hopton, and Company announced the sale of “A Cargo of One Hundred and Thirty-three HEALTHY and PRIME NEGROES” recently arrived from Gambia in an advertisement in the October 8, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Elsewhere in the same issue, an anonymous advertiser offered to hire out an enslaved woman as a wet nurse “by the month,” instructing interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.  Both the unnamed advertiser and Powell, Hopton, and Company sought to generate revenues by participating in the slave trade.

John Davies also stood to profit from the slave trade, though not from selling or leasing enslaved people.  Instead, he peddled goods to enslavers.  In his advertisement, Davies hawked “SUNDRY MERCHANDIZE” imported from London, calling special attention to “a large ASSORTMENT of Yorkshire STUFFS for Negro [Women’s] Gowns.”  Other merchants and shopkeepers placed extensive advertisements that listed dozens of items available at their stores and warehouses, hoping to entice consumers with the many choices available to them.  For Davies and his prospective customers, however, choice was largely irrelevant.  The enslaved women who would wear garments made of the textiles Davies sold were not consumers; they did not do the shopping or select the cloth according to their own tastes and budgets.  Davies did not need to make the same marketing appeals to the enslavers who purchased his “Yorkshire STUFFS” as other advertisers made to prospective customers.

Davies received his merchandise from London via the Magna Charta, a vessel named for a royal charter understood as protecting individual English freedoms.  The tension between liberty and enslavement contained within his advertisement apparently did not register with Davies as he attempted to earn his livelihood through supplying enslavers who bought his goods and also purchased the human cargo that arrived in Charleston on ships from Africa.  The slave trade had so many tentacles that colonists did not have to buy and sell enslaved people in order to profit from it.

October 1

GUEST CURATOR:  Carl Allard

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

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

“RUN-AWAY … a negro man named JACK.”

One part of the mission of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project is to understand the lives of enslaved people through information gathered from “RUN-AWAY” advertisements. In late September 1771, an enslaved man named Jack liberated himself by running away from Meyer Moses, a colonist who bore the name of the biblical figure who liberated the enslaved Israelites yet ironically sought to return Jack to bondage. This advertisement not only details the fascinating biography of Jack, but also remains a testimony to hope. Jack’s escape, a struggle against immense opposition, runs parallel to what we know of his medical history. The ad states Jack was, “much pitted in the face with the small pox, one of his feet frost-bitten.” According to Elizabeth Fenn, medical data from that era suggests the mortality rate of smallpox was quite high; if the hemorrhaging pustules overlapped, one stood a 60 percent chance of dying.  Certainly, Jack’s self-liberation was just the latest in a series of struggles that he had overcome. The advertisement reveals that Jack “speaks good English.” This skill, as David Waldstreicher notes, might have been a powerful tool to secure passage on a ship, as the advertisement stated Jack planned on doing.[1] Waldstreicher also observes that self-liberated people, such as Jack, were often self-fashioning. Clothing choice, such as the “soldier’s coat” Jack wore, was central to the success of enslaved people pursuing freedom, allowing them to try to blend in as free.[2]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

For the next three months, the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project will feature work undertaken by students who enrolled in my Research Methods: Vast Early America course at Assumption University in Spring 2021.  Required of all History majors in the spring of their junior year to prepare them to pursue their own projects under the direction of a faculty mentor in the capstone seminar in the fall of their senior year, Research Methods focuses on important skills:  accessing and interpreting primary sources and understanding and evaluating secondary sources.  Students complete an historiographical essay for their final project in Research Methods, but throughout the semester they complete smaller projects that help them develop their skills.

To that end, I invite my students to serve as guest curators for the digital humanities projects I have created.  As guest curator, Carl Allard, the author of today’s entry, was responsible for navigating four databases of digitized eighteenth-century American newspapers to create an archive of issues originally published between September 26 and October 2, 1771.  From there, he selected an advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project.  He conducted research to identify secondary sources beyond those we examined in class and then drafted a short entry.  I reviewed that draft and offered suggestions for revisions.  Carl then set about editing and resubmitting his entry.  As he worked on his entry, he also made contributions to the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, composing the tweets to accompany the advertisements that appear on the project this week.  He selected a key quotation from each advertisement and inserted a citation that included the name of the newspaper and publication date.  Throughout the process, he adhered to filename conventions and other methodologies not usually visible to readers and followers but imperative for the behind-the-scenes production of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  As a result, his classmates, my research assistant, and I could all easily access and consult data Carl contributed to the projects as we each completed our own duties in presenting them to the public.

Each student whose work will be featured in the next three months developed the same skills and made similar contributions.  In that regard they were not merely students but junior colleagues who assumed significant responsibilities in the ongoing production of these digital humanities projects.  They did not simply learn about the past; instead, they spent the semester “doing history” as they prepared to once again “do history” this semester in their capstone seminar.  I very much appreciate the hard work and dedication of each of the guest curators from my Research Methods class.

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[1] David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways: Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 56, no. 2 (April 1999): 259-260.

[2] David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways,” 253.

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.