August 12

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week (or last week)?

Aug 12 - 8:2:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 2, 1770).

“The Price of FLOUR.”

The new semester will soon begin.  With it, undergraduate students will once again make contributions to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  That work gives them experience working in digital archives.  As every historian knows, the archives, including digital archives, sometimes present mysteries to be solved and problems to figure out.  That is one of my favorite parts of working with undergraduates on these digital humanities projects:  they develop sufficient familiarity with digital archives that they recognize inconsistencies in how information is presented and then investigate how to explain or resolve those inconsistencies.

Such is the case with the August 9, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette available via Accessible Archives.  Before looking at that issue more closely, I believe that it is important to acknowledge that the inconsistencies present in the digital presentation of this newspaper are the result of the sort of human error that makes its way into any cataloging project.  Yet archivists, catalogers, and others who work in the archives or contribute to the production of digital archives are not alone in introducing errors into the presentation, organization, and citation of historical sources.  Historians and other scholars who rely on the careful work done by archivists make their own errors that they then have to unravel, often with the help of archivists who generously lend their own expertise.  Throughout the production of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, for instance, I gather significant numbers of digitized primary sources from multiple databases and attempt to impose order on them with consistent filename conventions.  However, no matter how carefully I go about collecting and organizing these materials, I sometimes introduce mistakes through simple human error.  That being the case, the examination of the South-Carolina Gazette that follows is not intended as an indictment of the work done by archivists and others in making that newspaper accessible to readers, but instead a celebration of the occasional quirkiness of the archive.  This is an example of a mini-mystery easily solved and resolved, even by novice researchers who are having their first experiences in the (digitized) archive.

Accessible Archives’s digitized representation of the August 9, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette consists of nine pages.  In and of itself, that should raise a red flag for anyone with rudimentary familiarity with eighteenth-century newspapers.  Most consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  When printers issued supplements, some had six or eight pages, but, in general, newspapers tended to have an even number of pages.  Printers did not usually leave any space blank by circulating supplements printed on only one side.  So, the nine pages in the August 9 issue raises questions.  Eight of those pages contained two columns, but the second page included three.  Readers with greater experience working with digitized newspapers would recognize at a glance that the pages with two columns and the page with three columns were printed on sheets of different sizes; novice researchers should at least notice the difference in format.  Apparently, Peter Timothy, the printer, did not have access to larger sheets for three columns per page on four pages and instead opted to print two columns per page on eight pages using smaller sheets.  Even if readers are not certain of the origins of the questionable page, they can figure out that the page with three columns does not belong with the August 9 issue.  Readers with more experience also note that the page with three columns has a colophon at the bottom, a feature reserved for the final page rather than the second or any other page.  (Note the colophon immediately below the advertisement in the image above.)  A news item in the first column includes this dateline:  “CHARLES-TOWN, AUGUST 2.”  This suggests that the orphan page most likely belongs with the previous edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, the issue published on August 2, 1770.  Sure enough, Accessible Archives includes it as the final page of that issue.

How did it end up as part of the August 9 edition in the archive of digitized newspapers I downloaded and compiled for easy reference?  My first thought was that I had perhaps not been careful enough in naming the digital file.  As a user of the archive, had I introduced incorrect information through human error when I gathered research materials to consult at a later time?  Talk to anyone who works in a research library and you will hear stories of scholars contacting them weeks, months, or even years later for more information about sources because the scholars have questions about their own inadequate notes and citations.  When I consulted Accessible Archives, I discovered that their August 9 edition includes the extra page.  In this case, the human error was not my own, though it certainly has been on other occasions.  Somehow the digitized image of the fourth page of the August 2 edition was inserted twice in the digital archive, once in the appropriate place as the final page of the August 2 issue and once as the second page of the August 9 issue.  Thanks to a variety of context clues – odd number of pages, discrepancy in the number of columns, colophon in an unexpected place, dated news items – figuring out where the page belonged was fairly straightforward for someone with extensive experience using archives of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers.  Novice researchers, such as undergraduate students in my classes, would have been able to note that one of the pages in the August 9 edition did not belong, even if they did not yet understand where the page should have appeared in the digital archive.  In my experience, when undergraduates spot this sort of minor idiosyncrasy in the digital archive, it enhances their confidence as researchers.  Their initial confusion motivates them to figure out the problem and consult with me when they encounter something that does not accord with their expectations after their experiences working with a digital archive that is otherwise consistently organized.  For me, the minor inconvenience caused by a small human error in the much more expansive digital archive is worth the teachable moment as undergraduates learn to navigate how primary sources have been cataloged and presented for consumption.  Even when I’m not working with undergraduates, this sort of mini-mystery can be a pleasure to solve.

This example merits one additional comment about the difference between using the digital archive and consulting original documents in an archive.  The remediation of the August 2, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette made it possible for one of the pages to inadvertently get inserted a second time as part of the issue published a week later.  It would have been impossible for readers to encounter such an error when consulting the originals, though they very well could introduce their own errors when taking photographs and notes.  Consulting digital archives sometimes presents its own challenges.  Historians and other scholars cannot be oblivious to the good work done by archivists of various sorts or else they will not be able to recognize mysteries to be solved on those rare occasions that human error introduces discrepancies into the archive.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (July 26, 1770).

“LIBERTY.  A POEM”

“A NEGRO CARPENTER.”

On July 26, 1770, at least thirty-one advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children appeared in newspapers published throughout the thirteen colonies that declared independence from Great Britain later in the decade.  Those advertisements ran in newspapers in every region of colonial America, not just the southern colonies with the largest populations of enslaved people.  In New England, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury carried such advertisements, as did the New-York Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal in the Middle Atlantic.  In the Chesapeake, the Maryland Gazette and Rind’s Virginia Gazette ran more of these advertisements.  Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette almost certainly did as well, but the July 26, 1770, edition has not been digitized for consultation by scholars and other readers.

In the Lower South, the South-Carolina Gazette also circulated advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children, including one that offered a “NEGRO CARPENTER” and a “young NEGRO WENCH” for sale.  That advertisement ran immediately below an advertisement for “LIBERTY. A POEM. Dedicated to the SONS OF LIBERTY in SOUTH-CAROLINA” offered for sale in the printing offices where Peter Timothy published the South-Carolina Gazette and Charles Crouch published the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, another newspaper that regularly distributed advertisements offering enslaved people for sale or offering rewards for the capture of enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from colonists who attempted to hold them in bondage.

As the Slavery Adverts 250 Project demonstrates, advertisements about enslaved people were ubiquitous in newspapers printed throughout the colonies.  The same newspapers that carried those advertisements also documented the events and debates of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.  As printers shaped public discourse about how Parliament abused the colonies, they simultaneously profited from publishing advertisements that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.  David Waldstreicher offered an overview in “Reading the Runaways:  Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic” in 1999.[1]  In 2020, Jordan E. Taylor provides a much more extensive examination in “Enquire of the Printer:  Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807.”[2]  Colonial printers facilitated the slave trade and played an integral role in the surveillance of Black bodies in eighteenth-century America.

Those activities occurred within the same pages of newspapers that ran articles and editorials … and advertisements for consumers goods … that advocated “LIBERTY” for white colonists.  Sometimes advertisements about enslaved people and editorials about liberty appeared on different pages, but considering that most newspapers of the era consisted of only four pages (or six when they included a supplement) they were always within close proximity.  Such was the case for an advertisement for a “Likely young Negro Girl” that ran in the supplement that accompanied the March 26, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal.  The supplement also included letters from “A TRUE PATRIOT” and “POPULUS” that warned that Parliament actively eroded American liberties.  In other instances, as Taylor demonstrates, advertisements about enslaved people ran next to articles and editorials that demanded liberty for white colonists.  Sometimes advertisements delivered the news, such as a notice about a “new Non-Importation Agreement” that ran immediately above an advertisement offering an enslaved man and woman for sale in the January 25, edition of the New-York Journal.

Other times, advertisements about consumer goods and commerce played slavery and liberty in stark juxtaposition.  Consider an advertisement for a “Likely Negro LAD,” a skilled cooper, that ran immediately above Nathaniel Frazier’s advertisement for “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS” in the October 3, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, Massachusetts.  Frazier assured prospective customers and the entire community that he acquired those goods prior to the nonimportation agreement adopted to protest the duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts.  Frazier offered white colonists an opportunity to defend American liberties and practice politics via their choices about consumption at the same time that an “Enquire of the Printer” advertisement reduced an enslaved cooper to a commodity to be traded in the marketplace.

The paradox of liberty and enslavement was vividly apparent in the advertisements that ran in the South-Carolina Gazette 250 years ago today.  In a single glance, readers encountered an invitation to purchase an ode to “LIBERTY” dedicated to the Sons of Liberty and a notice that perpetuated the enslavement of a Black carpenter and a young Black woman who possessed several domestic skills.  This example provides a particularly stark demonstration of unevenly applied ideologies of liberty in the era of the American Revolution and the founding of the nation.  Eighteenth-century readers regularly encountered such contradictions in the contents of newspapers.

**********

[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): 243–272.

[2] Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer:  Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies:  An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020):  287-323.

July 12

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

Jul 12 - 7:12:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (July 12, 1770).

“SIMON FRANKS, by an Advertisement … forth that I, MARGARET-JACOB-ENNER FRANKS, his Wife, eloped for him.”

On July 10, 1770, Simon Franks placed a short advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to warn others not to extend credit to his wife, Margaret.  In it, Simon declared that Margaret “eloped from her said Husband, without any just Cause.”  In turn, he ran the advertisement “to forewarn all Persons from trusting her, as I am determined to pay no Debts of her contracting.”  Such notices frequently appeared in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  Simon’s advertisement followed a familiar formula.

Such advertisements rarely garnered any sort of response in the public prints.  Wives often “eloped” from their husbands, often as a result of abuses they suffered within the household and not, as Simon claimed, “without any just Cause.”  Yet they rarely told their side of the story in newspaper advertisements of their own, in part because husbands exerted control over family finances and put purveyors of goods and services, including printers, on notice not to allow wives to make any charges.  Margaret apparently had access to cash or friends intervened on her behalf.  She did not even wait a week to publish her response in the next issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Instead, two days later her own advertisement, more than twice the length of Simon’s notice, ran in the South-Carolina Gazette.

Margaret referred readers back to her husband’s advertisement “in Mr. CROUCH’s last Paper” and provided a short summary of Simon’s accusations and instructions about cutting off her credit.  She then went about setting the record straight, taking action in a way relative few “runaway wives” did in eighteenth-century America.  She was determined “to shew the Public a true State of my supposed Elopement.”  She explained that “my now being absent from him, was occasioned by his most cruel and inhuman Treatment to me.”  She cataloged a series of abuses that stemmed from “his always getting in Liquor, putting me in Fear of my Life.”  The “severe Threats” led to “Blows” and eventually to “turning me out of Doors, in the Dead of Night.”  Even more shocking, this left Margaret and “a poor helpless Infant” from a previous marriage “exposed to the Inclemency of the Weather.”  Her situation prompted Margaret to seek a “Peace Warrant” from a magistrate in order to “live from [Simon] undisturbed.”

According to Margaret, her husband did not tell the full and complete story.  He attempted to cast her in an unfavorable light when her had been the one who had given “just Cause” for her to depart from his household.  Formulaic runaway wife advertisements hinted at more complicated stories of marital discord; they did not narrate events from the perspectives of the wives.  Margaret Jacob Enner Franks was one of the relatively few women to respond to such an advertisement in the public prints, defending her reputation and providing the community with a more complicated picture of what had occurred in the Franks household.  In so doing, she shifted attention back to the misconduct of her husband.

July 8

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

Jul 8 - 7:5:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (July 5, 1770).

“LIBERTY. A POEM.”

Current events were not confined to the news and editorials in colonial newspapers published during the era of the American Revolution.  Consider the July 5, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Multiple advertisements addressed the tensions between Parliament and the colonies in one way or another.  In his advertisement for “a tolerable Assortment of Goods,” but only those that did not violate the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of the duties imposed on certain goods by the Townshend Acts.  He maintained “a constant Supply of such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”  Ann Mathewes and Benjamin Mathewes did not abide by the nonimportation agreement; as a result, they found themselves the subject of a lengthy advertisement that documented their transgressions and cautioned “against having any commercial Dealings whatever” with them until they brought themselves back into compliance with the resolutions.  Until then, “their Actions must declare them to be obstinate and inveterate Enemies to their Country, and unworthy of the least Confidence or Esteem.”

In contrast, another advertisement celebrated those colonists who defended the rights of the colonies.  T. Powell published and sold “LIBERTY. A POEM” by Rusticus, likely a reprint of a poem published in Philadelphia two years earlier (which I will confirm once libraries and archives open to researchers once again).  Powell dedicated this edition to “the SONS OF LIBERTY in SOUTH-CAROLINA,” honoring those who had organized and enforced the boycott of British goods.  Peter Timothy, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, printed the poem on Powell’s behalf and sold it at his printing office, but it was also available at the office where Charles Crouch printed the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Timothy and Crouch competed with each other for subscribers and advertisers, but they promoted a common cause in selling “LIBERTY.  A POEM” and influencing colonists to consider the politics of the moment at every possible opportunity.  For readers of the South-Carolina Gazette who did not purchase their own copies, the advertisement alone resonated with meaning as they connected it to the other contents of the newspaper.  Those readers who did acquire copies brought the poem into their homes to further imbibe the sentiments it expressed.  Either way, this advertisement and others encouraged colonists to consider how consumption and commerce, the purpose of so many advertisements, intersected with politics and current events.

June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:7:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (June 7, 1770).

“American manufactured, BROWN and mixed coloured THREAD STOCKINGS.”

Advertisers considered “Buy American” a powerful appeal that would resonate with consumers even before the American Revolution.  The number and frequency of newspaper advertisements encouraging readers to “Buy American” increased during the decade of the imperial crisis, especially at times when colonists subscribed to nonimportation agreements as a means of exerting economic leverage to achieve political goals.  Goods produced in the colonies offered an attractive alternative to those made elsewhere and imported.

William Hales apparently considered “Buy American” such a compelling appeal that he made it the centerpiece of the brief advertisement he inserted in the June 7, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  In its entirety, his advertisement announced, “American manufactured, BROWN and mixed coloured THREAD STOCKINGS, very good.  A few Dozen Pair, to be SOLD, by WILLIAM HALES.”  The phrase “American manufactured” served as both headline and the most important descriptor of the stockings, as though Hales expected making such an appeal by itself might be enough to convince prospective customers to make a purchase.  For those anxious that domestic manufactures might be inferior in quality to imported goods, he asserted that the stockings were indeed “very good,” but did not provide further elaboration.  Bales attempted to keep attention focused primarily on the fact that the stockings were “American manufactured.”  The compositor also did Hales a favor by positioning his advertisement at the top of the column, making the “American manufactured” headline all the more visible to readers and perhaps even implicitly suggesting that the advertisement took precedence over any that appeared below it in the same column or elsewhere on the page.

Hales certainly wished to sell the stockings that he advertised, but it is possible that he had additional motivations for inserting his notice in the South-Carolina Gazette.  He announced to the entire community his interest in producing goods in the colonies, enhancing his own standing and reputation.  His advertisement also served as encouragement for readers to make other purchases of “American manufactured” goods.  Readers could not have missed the political implications of his appeal, especially since the same notice concerning violations of the nonimportation agreement that appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal two days earlier also ran in this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Perhaps the political statement inherent in announcing “American manufactured” stockings for sale was just as important to Bales as selling those stockings.

May 4

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

May 4 - 5:4:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (May 4, 1770).

“All American Manufactures.”

Thomas Shute’s advertisement occupied a privileged place in the May 4, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  It appeared in the first column of the first page, immediately below the “PRESENTMENTS OF THE GRAND-JURORS.”  A separate headline, “New Advertisements,” introduced Shute’s notice.  Considering that Shute sold “All American Manufactures,” the placement of this advertisement may have been quite deliberate on the part of Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette.

Shute’s commercial activities addressed political concerns that had been widely reported in newspapers and discussed among colonists for several years.  When Parliament imposed duties on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea, colonists responded by adopting nonimportation agreements for a vast array of goods as a means of exerting economic pressure to achieve political ends.  At the same time, they embraced “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to imported goods, also arguing that producing and purchasing such items provided a variety of benefits.  Producing domestic manufactures provided employment for colonists; purchasing those wares addressed a trade imbalance with Britain and kept specie in the colonies rather than sending it across the Atlantic.

Shute offered an assortment of “American Manufactures” to consumers in South Carolina, all of them imported from Philadelphia rather than from London and other ports in England.  Pennsylvania had long been a source for many of the agricultural items, such as flour, bread, and ham, but Shute also emphasized goods more often associated with manufacturers on the other side of the Atlantic, including “Sundry Kinds of CAST IRON,” “EARTHEN WARE,” and “HORSE COLLARS.”  Shute made a brief appeal to quality, stating that his inventory “may be depended upon as good,” to reassure prospective customers that investing in domestic manufactures did not require them to accept inferior merchandise.

By the time Shute’s advertisement appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette, a partial repeal of the Revenue Act had already been approved by Parliament on March 5 and received royal assent on April 12.  Duties on tea remained in place, but not the duties on other imported goods.  It took some time for word to arrive in the colonies.  Once it did, colonists withdrew from their nonimportation agreements.  For the moment, however, Shute deployed a marketing strategy that gained popularity throughout the colonies over the course of several years.

April 22

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

Apr 22 - 4:19:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (April 19, 1770).

“FENCING, WITH BROAD AND SMALL SWORDS.”

When fencing master P. Wallace arrived in Charleston, he placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette to inform prospective pupils that he offered lessons with “BROAD and SMALL SWORDS.”  Having just arrived from Philadelphia, he acknowledged that he was “a Stranger” in the colony, but he hoped that would not dissuade potential students from availing themselves of his services.  To that end, he asserted that “his Knowledge … will be sufficient to recommend him, and that he shall be able to give Satisfaction to those who may please to employ him.”  Whatever reputation he had earned in Philadelphia did not transfer to Charleston, so he relied on “Merit” to “find Encouragement” among prospective pupils.

In addition to addressing students, Wallace’s advertisement also served as an introduction to the entire community, especially those already proficient in fencing.  To demonstrate his “Knowledge in that noble Science.”  Wallace issued a challenge to “any Gentleman who professes being skilled in the Art of Defence,” proclaiming that “would be glad to have an Opportunity to be proved” by them.  The newcomer sought to orchestrate a spectacle that would not only entertain his new neighbors but also establish his reputation and create word-of-mouth endorsements of his skill, provided that he performed well when others accepted his challenge.

This strategy also had the advantage of securing introductions to men of status who had already cultivated their own skills in “that noble Science” of fencing and would likely know others who wished to learn.  To accept his challenge, “Gentlem[e]n who profess being skilled in the Art of Defence” had to seek out Wallace.  The fencing master likely anticipated that they would bring friends and acquaintances, some of them prospective pupils, to any demonstrations.  Following those demonstrations, both challengers and observers could sign up for lessons as well as recommend Wallace to others in the market for instruction with the sword.

Wallace exuded confidence in his advertisement.  To some, he might even have appeared overconfident or arrogant, but that very well could have been calculated to convince others to accept his challenge.  Creating a spectacle had the potential to generate additional opportunities for the newcomer.

April 4

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

Apr 4 - 4:4:1770 South-Carolina Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1770).

SHIP-CHANDLERY.”

William Price deployed typography to attract attention to his advertisement for “BEST Bridport CANVAS, and sundry other Articles” in the April 4, 1770, supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette.  A decorative border surrounded the headline for his advertisement, “SHIP-CHANDLERY,” making it one of only two advertisements in the supplement with that additional flourish.  The other announced “SALES by the Provost-Marshal,” an advertisement that was also a regular feature in the South-Carolina Gazette.  Its headline often appeared within a decorative border, which may have given Price the idea for enhancing his advertisement.  All of this suggests that Price made arrangements with the printer or compositor to spruce up his notice, though most advertisers merely supplied copy and left format to those who labored in the printing office.  Price may not have specified which printing ornaments should enclose his headline, but he most likely did offer some direction about the visual composition of his advertisement.

The border provided visual variation in a newspaper that consisted almost entirely of text.  Some advertisements included different fonts and font sizes to draw attention, as did Price’s notice, but consistencies among them suggest that compositors made such decisions, not advertisers.  Very few visual images appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.  In the April 4 supplement, woodcuts accompanied only five of the thirty-five advertisements.  Three of those were real estate notices, two with woodcuts depicting a house and one with a woodcut showing a tree and a field.  An advertisement about a stray horse had a woodcut of a horse.  An advertisement describing an enslaved man who escaped featured a crude woodcut of a dark-skinned person that conflated characteristics associated with Africans and indigenous Americans.  All of those woodcuts belonged to the printer, as did woodcuts of ships at sea.  Price could have chosen one of those, but they were usually associated with vessels seeking freight and passengers, not ship chandlers looking to outfit ships before they departed from port.  He could have commissioned a woodcut depicting his merchandise, but he may not have considered that worth the expense, especially if he did not suspect that canvas or cordage would translate well via that medium.

The border that enclosed “SALES by the Provost-Marshal” and decorative type often used to separate “New Advertisements,” “Advertisements,” and, sometimes, news items from the content that appeared immediately above it suggested an alternative to prospective advertisers who wanted some sort of visual component in their notices.  As they perused the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette they encountered various means of creating a distinctive format for their advertisements even when they consisted almost entirely of text.  The pages of eighteenth-century newspapers may look fairly uniform to twenty-first-century eyes, but contemporary readers surely noticed the many variations in type, especially in the advertisements.

April 1

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

Apr 1 - 3:29:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (March 29, 1770).

“ASSORTMENT of GOODS, Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson informed consumers in and around Boston that they stocked “A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants)” in an advertisement in the March 29, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  On the same day, James McCall took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette to announce that he carried an “ASSORTMENT of GOODS” imported in the Sea Venturefrom Bristol “Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.”  This marketing strategy was less common in the newspapers published in Charleston than in Boston, but not unknown.

In both cities, purveyors of goods believed that asserting that they acquired their goods according to the terms of nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of import duties Parliament imposed on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea would incite demand.  They offered colonists the opportunity to continue participating in the consumer revolution without violating the political principles that inspired the “RESOLUTIONS” or the “late Agreements.”  Yet their newspaper notices did more than reassure prospective customers.  McCall intended to safeguard his own reputation, as did Smith and Atkinson.  They wanted all readers and, by extension, the entire community to know that they abided by the nonimportation agreements.  Making such declarations not only amounted to good business sense but also aided in maintaining their status and relationships.

In Charleston and Boston, both advertisers and prospective customers spoke a common language of consumption that was inflected with politics.  T.H. Breen makes in this argument in The Marketplace of Revolution:  How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence.  At the nexus of consumer culture and print culture, newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services played an important role in developing and propagating the language of consumption.  This yielded what Benedict Anderson termed imagined communities – communities of readers and communities of consumers – that made colonists in faraway places like Boston and Charleston feel as though they shared a common identity.

December 10

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

Dec 10 - 12:7:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (December 7, 1769).

“LONDON MAGAZINE.”

Nicholas Langford, “Bookseller, on the Bay,” inserted an advertisement for the London Magazine in the December 7, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. At a time when many colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest taxes that Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea, most continued to seek redress of grievances rather than political separation from the most powerful empire in the world. Even as they came to think of themselves as Americans with unique concerns within that empire, most still embraced their British identity, not just politically but also culturally. Langford had a reasonable expectation that he would find subscribers for the London Magazine on the eve of the 1770s.

Commencing publication in 1731, the London Magazine had a long history and a notable reputation. According to Langford, the “present Proprietors … are resolved to spare no Cost to continue its Pre-eminence” by “collecting from their extensive Correspondence, such Pieces of Literary Knowledge and Amusement, as may best deserve the Public’s Notice.” They also composed original pieces, “each taking upon him that Department which best suits his Genius.” This sort of cultural production did not have a counterpart or competitor in the colonies. Lewis Nicola had recently tried to launch the American General Magazine, placing subscription notices in several newspapers throughout the colonies, but the magazine quickly folded. Like most other American magazine published before the Revolution, it lasted less than a year. The first issue appeared in January 1769 and the last in September. Nicola modeled the magazine after successful publications produced on the other side of the Atlantic, but did not manage to cultivate a roster of subscribers extensive enough to make the American General Magazine a viable venture. Consumers with the resources to afford magazines and the leisure time to read them had well-established alternatives, including the London Magazine with its “Copper-Plate Embellishments.” Langford also offered The Critical Review “for any Gentleman who may be desirous of having it with the Magazine.”

As colonists expressed their disdain for Parliament and its various abuses, many also continued to embrace their British identity. The politics of the period did not prevent them from marketing or consuming cultural productions that emanated from the center of the empire. For some, staying informed by reading the London Magazine did not seem incongruous with participating in acts of political resistance that included boycotting a vast array of consumer goods imported from Britain.