November 6

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

Nov 6 - 11:3:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (November 3, 1768).
“All the above are fashionable, new, and good.”

Like her male counterparts, shopkeeper Catherine Rathell ran lengthy advertisements that listed all sorts of goods, especially textiles, adornments, apparel, and accessories, that she “Just imported from London” and sold at low prices. In the process of enumerating her inventory, Rathell also offered further descriptions of several items. For instance, she stocked “a large and fashionable assortment of ribands [ribbons], caps, egrets [decorative feathers], plumes, feathers, and fillets [headbands]” as well as “a neat assortment of garnet and paste, hoop, and other rings.” As these examples make clear, Rathell emphasized variety and consumer choice in her marketing efforts. Her customers did not have to be content with a narrow range of options shipped across the Atlantic. Instead, they could choose which items they liked best, even when it came to accessories like fans. Rathell sold “a very neat and genteel assortment of wedding, mourning, second mourning, and other fans.” In addition, visitors to her shop would encounter “many other articles too tedious to insert” in a newspaper advertisement.

Yet choice was not the only appeal this shopkeeper made to prospective customers. After concluding her list she underscored that “all the above goods are fashionable, new, and good.” Quality was important, but when it came to the sorts of wares that Rathell peddled fashion may have been even more important. Her customers did not have to choose from among castoffs that had lingered on shelves and not sold in London. Rathell’s merchandise was “new” as well as “fashionable.” Note that she described her assortment of fans as “genteel.” She offered the most extensive description for “breast flowers, equal in beauty to any ever imported, and so near resemble nature that the nicest eye can hardly distinguish the difference.” Here Rathell combined appeals to quality and fashion into a single description of artificial flowers intended to adorn garments according to the latest styles.

In making appeals to choice, fashion, and quality, Rathell advanced some of the most popular marketing strategies deployed by shopkeepers throughout the colonies in the middle of the eighteenth century. T.H. Breen has argued that colonists from New England to Georgia experienced a standardization of consumer culture in terms of the goods available to them. They also often experienced a standardization of advertising. Although some advertisers did introduce innovations into their marketing efforts, many relied on the most familiar means of promoting their goods to the public. Rathell’s advertisement was more than a mere announcement that she had goods for sale, but she reiterated the sorts of appeals known far and wide in colonial America.

April 20

GUEST CURATOR: Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 20 - 4:20:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (April 20, 1767).

“A Large & beautiful assortment of Silks.”

Silk imports were common during the eighteenth century. According to Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles at Colonial Williamsburg, “Many Virginia women favored gowns made of lustring, a crisp, light silk.” This is noteworthy because Jane Eustis ran a shop – and sold an “assortment of Silks” – in Boston and advertised in the Boston Gazette. This shows the far reach of the silk trade in eighteenth-century America. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen presents the idea of standardization of consumer culture, seen here with the silks.[1]

Some people bought silks as a way to denote social status. In addition, much of the clothing worn in the American colonies was typically not light. In the warmer months this could cause many issues regarding the heat. Baumgarten notes, “One Virginia woman related in her diary that she did not bother to get dressed immediately on a particularly ‘sulterry’ day; she remained ‘up stairs in only shift and petticoat till after Tea.” This is fascinating because of the stark difference compared to modern ideas of modesty and appropriate ways to dress in the heat.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Jane Eustis advertised “Silks, Cap Laces, and a great Variety of other Goods.” Although she did not provide an extensive list of those “other Goods,” her advertisement concluded with a promise that “The Particulars of which will be in our next.” Why was Eustis’s advertisement truncated?

Perhaps Eustis had not had time to compile a list of “The Particulars.” Other advertisers, including William Fisher, indicated that their wares had “just arrived from LONDON” on the same vessel that carried Eustis’s merchandise. Instead of listing the goods, most offered some sort of variation of “A Fresh Assortment of English GOODS.” John Symmes, a goldsmith, did insert a short list, but his was very specialized merchandise of the sort that he might have placed detailed orders or may have otherwise known or anticipated in advance exactly what associates in London had shipped. Shopkeepers who carried general merchandise, like Eustis and Fisher, may not have known all “The Particulars” of what had been dispatched to them by contacts in London until they unpacked the crates and barrels. An initial advertisement for a “great Variety” of goods at least informed prospective customers that they carried new merchandise.

Alternately, Eustis may have submitted a longer advertisement to Edes and Gill, only to have the printers run out of space to print it in its entirety. While possible, that seems less likely given that Eustis’s advertisement appeared on the same page as another that extended more than a column. If Edes and Gill were rationing space, why not abbreviate Frederick William Geyer’s extensive list to free up room for at least some of Eustis’s “Particulars”? Even if the printers did not wish to displace Geyer, a regular advertiser, they could have shortened lengthy list advertisements placed by other shopkeepers. In addition, they also issued a two-page supplement with even more advertising for the week. This also suggests that Eustis had not yet generated the copy for “The Particulars” that were supposed to appear in the next issue.

A week later, no advertisement by Jane Eustis appeared in the Boston-Gazette. Two weeks later, that newspaper ran a new advertisement, though it lacked “The Particulars” that had been promised: “Just Imported in Capt. Skillings, and to be sold by Jane Eustis By Wholesale and Retail, at her Shop the North Side of the Town-House, A great Variety of India and English Goods.” By then Eustis certainly had a chance to compile a list of her new inventory. She may have decided that a shorter advertisement was sufficient for her purposes. She may have determined that a longer advertisement exceeded her budget and decided against it. Whatever the circumstances, her initial advertisement presented a bit of a mystery. It would be fascinating to know more about the factors that influenced Eustis’s decisions about advertising her wares.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.

February 17

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

feb-17-2171767-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 17, 1767).

“Men, women, boys and girls worsted, cotton, thread, and silk stockings.”

Thomas Radcliffe’s lengthy advertisement filled more than two-thirds of a column in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but it could have been published in any of the nearly two dozen newspapers printed in colonial America in 1767. Radcliffe promoted his “large and neat Assortment of Goods” that he “sold on the most reasonable Terms.” He listed scores of specific imported items included in his inventory, yet concluded with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc. etc.”) to suggest an even more vast array of goods customers would encounter in his shop. In so doing, he emphasized that customers could make their own choices based on personal tastes and budgets. The appeals he made to consumers matched appeals other advertisers made in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and throughout the colonies.

Yet it was not only Radcliffe’s marketing strategies that would have looked familiar to visitors from other colonies who read his notice in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Shopkeepers throughout the colonies would have hawked the merchandise he stocked, a result of so much of it being imported from London and other English ports. T.H. Breen has labeled this the standardization of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Unique markets or regional tastes did not develop.

As a result, the letter by the pseudonymous Anthony Afterwrit published in the Providence Gazette just a few days before Radcliffe’s advertisement made its way into print hundreds of miles to the south could have appeared in any of South Carolina’s newspapers. The Afterwrit character might have expressed dismay at the bounty of goods offered to colonial shoppers, especially the “women’s fashionable hats, shades, handkerchiefs and scarfs” and “new fashionable stuffs for ladies gowns” intended the catch the attention of women, like his wife, interested in using conspicuous consumption to attest to their social status. Radcliffe’s advertisement even concluded with a “compleat set of tea china,” one of his wife’s acquisitions that Afterwrit explicitly lamented. Afterwrit conveniently ignored, however, merchandise marketed directly to men, such as “men’s silk, worsted and cotton caps” and “gentlemen’s watch chains.”

That demonstrates yet another aspect of colonial commerce common throughout the colonies: editorials that complained about feminized luxury achieved via consumption that appeared in the same newspapers that ran advertisements that marketed all sorts of goods to both female and male consumers.

November 18

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-18-11181766-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 18, 1766).

“Coarse Shoes for Negroes.”

In this advertisement published in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Godfrey and Gadsden offered an assortment of goods from Bristol, England. For this entry, I decided to focus on the listing for “coarse Shoes for Negroes.”

My first question about this listing was why Godfrey & Gadsden chose the word “coarse” to describe shoes for slaves. I quickly discovered in my research that “coarse” was a very common description in advertisements for not only slave shoes, but for jackets, shirts, pants, and blankets, all created specifically for slaves. In Slavery in Alabama, James Benson Sellers writes, “The slave’s clothing was usually of a coarse quality, suitable for long, hard wear, as well as for protection against the weather.”[1] Slave shoes and clothes were created to stand the test of time, not for fashion or comfort. In “Fashion and Appearance: Men’s Clothing,” Travis Jacquess writes, “Slave shoes were notoriously uncomfortable and made of materials such as cardboard, thin leather, and wooden soles.”[2]

This listing also advertises “Men’s neat Shoes” for sale. Seeing the two items, “Men’s neat Shoes” and “coarse Shoes for Negroes” directly next to each other reminds us of how class distinctions could be presented through fashion in colonial America.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Mary and her peers began the semester by reading T.H. Breen’s groundbreaking article, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776.”[3] In addition to providing an overview of early American economic history, Breen explains the importance of examining consumer culture in colonial America. In so doing, he provides a foundation on which to build for students preparing to contribute to the Adverts 250 Project.

In “Empire of Goods,” subsequent articles, and, eventually, a book (The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence), Breen argues that colonists experienced a standardization of consumer culture throughout the eighteenth century. He claims that colonists from New England to Georgia had access to the same consumer goods imported from England and other faraway places. Even though colonists lived quite a distance from each other, they participated in the same marketplace because merchants and shopkeepers made available the same goods for them to purchase. As a result, consumers throughout the colonies had a common experience that united them culturally, thus facilitating subsequent political unity in the face of abuses by Parliament.

Breen relies on newspaper advertisements to make this argument. As my students and I have pursued the Adverts 250 Project over the past year we have seen for ourselves that, by and large, the same imported goods were indeed advertised in newspapers from throughout the colonies. However, there has been one notable exception: “coarse Shoes for Negroes” and similar descriptions of the same product. Especially as we have simultaneously constructed a parallel project, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, that requires scanning all newspaper advertisements for words like “slave,” “negro,” and “mulatto,” we have noticed that advertisements for shoes for slaves appeared exclusively in newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South, regions that by the 1760s were slave societies rather than societies with slaves. In the absence of large populations of enslaved men, women, and children, merchants and shopkeepers in New England and the Middle Atlantic did not tend to advertise “coarse Shoes for Negroes,” even if they may have stocked and sold them.

As a result, we have concluded that Breen offers a convincing argument about the standardization of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America, but with at least one important caveat. Whether they owned slaves or not, colonists in the Chesapeake and Lower South were exposed regularly to advertisements for shoes and clothing explicitly associated with slaves in stark contrast to the apparel marketed for white consumers. Slavery caused some regional differences in consumer culture to creep into newspaper advertising.

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[1] James Sellers, Slavery in Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1950), 99.

[2] Travis Jacquess, “Fashion and Appearance: Men’s Clothing” in The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia, ed, Merril D. Smith (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2015), 284.

[3] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 467-499.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 21, 1766).

INGLIS and HALL, have just imported … A NEAT ASSORTMENT of India and English chintzes.”

This is the first time the Adverts 250 Project has featured an advertisement from the Georgia Gazette. Although I make every effort to select advertisements from as many different newspapers, cities, colonies, and regions as possible, but the Georgia Gazette, which commenced publication in 1763, was not previously available for inclusion in this project due to political considerations from the period.  It had been suspended in November 1765 in response to the Stamp Act and did not resume publication until May 21, 1766.

Examining newspapers from more than one region sometimes demonstrates striking differences, such as the sheer number of advertisements for runaway slaves that appeared in the Virginia Gazette compared to publications from New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies.

Today’s advertisement, however, demonstrates an important similarity among advertisements throughout the colonies. At a glance, this advertisement resembles others placed by shopkeepers in other regions. It could have appeared anywhere in the colonies and it would have looked familiar to readers. They would have recognized the variety of merchandise offered for sale.

T.H. Breen has previously described this as the standardization of consumer culture in colonial America. Even as consumers encountered greater amount of choice in the marketplace, the goods that were available in Georgia were largely the same goods available in Boston. Merchants and shopkeepers throughout New England, the Middle Atlantic, the Chesapeake, and the Lower South imported and sold the same items. As a result, this gave residents throughout the colonies a shared experience and a shared language of consumer culture. It helped to tie them together as a community, Breen argues, that facilitated conversations about political rights, especially concerning commerce and taxation within the British Empire. Colonists used consumer culture as one starting point for understanding their position in the empire.

This advertisement, almost indistinguishable from advertisement that appeared in newspapers in colonies far away, testifies to those shared experienced and that common language of consumer culture.