August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:26:1767 Photo Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 26, 1767).

“INGLIS and HALL have just imported …”

Inglis and Hall were among the most frequent advertisers of consumer goods in the Georgia Gazette in 1767. Their multiple advertisements, however, remain hidden when relying on certain technologies, especially keyword searches in online databases, to uncover them.

Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database makes the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project possible. In many ways, it is an invaluable resource, but no database is perfect. Current technologies, as cutting edge as they may be compared to previous methods of conducting historical research, sometimes constrain or skew the process. In some instances, for example, keyword searches of newspapers uncover far fewer results than examining individual issues page by page, column by column, in chronological order. Inglis and Hall’s advertisement makes for an interesting case study.

As part of the research process for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I download a copy of every American newspaper published 250 years ago that day. This already requires a clarification: I only download those that have been digitized. Some are not yet available in digital format for online consultation; others have not survived into the twenty-first century and will never be available for consultation, neither original copies nor digital surrogates.

The most efficient way to download this material from America’s Historical Newspapers involves downloading an entire issue all at once. This process results in a multipage PDF of the newspaper. It transforms the digital photo seen in the online database into a format that can sometimes be more difficult to read. Note how the photo of Inglis and Hall’s advertisement above differs from the PDF rendering below. It is possible to download photos of individual pages. Given that most newspapers were four pages, but many were six when they included an advertising supplement, this method would take at least four times as long. For the purposes of this project, it is not practical to download photos rather than PDFs of the newspapers.

Aug 26 - 8:26:1767 PDF Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 26, 1767).

Next I print hard copies of every page of every newspaper so I can mark on them and more easily consult them than if they remained strictly in digital format. Despite the comparatively poor visual quality of the PDF version, once I have printed hard copies I can work back and forth between the PDF and the more clear (but not always crisp) photos in the database when necessary.

In the case of Inglis and Hall’s advertisement, I can make out what it says in the PDF version, but I consider the photo easier to read (and more attractive and accessible for readers of the Adverts 250 Project). Still, I have to work at decoding the advertisement. Given that this takes me some effort, imagine how confusing it must be for OCR software. In fact, OCR cannot accurately read Inglis and Hall’s advertisement, not even the slightly clearer photo.

I assumed that would be the case. To test my suspicions I ran a keyword search for Inglis and Hall, limiting the year to 1767. The database turned up only two instances of Inglis and Hall advertising in the Georgia Gazette in 1767. One appeared in the January 21 issue. The database also flagged an earlier iteration of today’s advertisement in the August 19 issue, one that was much easier to read. The keyword search did not, however, identify the August 26 advertisement, yet I knew it existed because I had a hard copy originally drawn from the database sitting next to my computer. I also knew from experience reading the Georgia Gazette that Inglis and Hall advertised more than twice in 1767.

Aug 26 - 8:19:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 19, 1767).

This means that there are certain questions that keyword searches cannot address given current technological constraints. For instance: How frequently did Inglis and Hall advertise in the 1760s? Determining the answer to that question requires an older method of research, examining the newspaper page by page. The online database certainly facilitates that process, eliminating the need to consult original copies of the Georgia Gazette in archives, yet the keyword search does not always eliminate portions of the research process it was intended to streamline. Researchers cannot depend on keyword searches to be exhaustive.

As an historian, I regularly consult original copies of newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society and other archives, microfilms of newspapers, digital surrogates in databases like Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, and hard copies that I have generated from my own photos and the materials available via databases. Each of these formats is unique and has its virtues, as well as its shortcomings. None of them replaces the others. Instead, historians must recognize the limitations and devise strategies for effectively and efficiently utilizing the various resources available to them.

November 7

GUEST CURATOR: Carolyn Crawford

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

“To Be Sold at Public Vendue … One Quarter part of a Saw-Mill.”

In this advertisement, Benjamin Estes and Henry Estes, two landowners, promoted the sale of “ONE Hundred Acres of good farm LAND” and “Forty-five Acres of good Land” at a “Public Vendue,” otherwise known as an auction. Both of the landowners stated that their land would be sold to the highest bidder at the inn owned by Gideon Warren, in the town of Berwick. Benjamin Estes was the owner of the hundred acres, which included a house, a barn and “Twenty Ton of HAY.” On the other hand, Henry Estes was selling forty-five acres that included a house, a barn, large bundles of hay, and perhaps, most importantly, a sawmill, an important piece of technology.

Over time, technology has dramatically changed. According to the historians at the Ledyard Up-Down Sawmill, “the first water-powered sawmills in New England were built near Berwick, Maine, in the 1630s.” For the next two centuries or so these sawmills used “a wooden waterwheel with a crank connected by the ‘pitman’ arm to a wooden sash (frame) in which was mounted a straight saw blade.” According to Barnes Riznik, “This so-called pitman arm was propelled by an iron crank fixed into the end of the waterwheel shaft.”

During the colonial period, water was used as a source transportation and power. These sawmills “needed to have a dam and millpond to impound water for dry periods and to regulate flow; a millrace to carry water to the wheel itself; a sluice with a gate called a penstock to put the water onto the wheel; and a tailrace to carry off the spent water.” It wasn’t until the 1830s that the sawmills transitioned to circular saws which improved the size and sharpness of the blades. By doing so, the blades were able to produce a larger amount of equal pieces at a rapid rate. Overall, the sawmill technology was beneficial because it allowed for expansion and production to continue and grow.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Although the Adverts 250 Project focuses primarily on advertisements for consumer goods and services, each guest curator may select one advertisement that explores some other aspect of life in colonial America. Real estate advertisements seem to be among the most popular. Carolyn has chosen one today, just a few days after Ceara Morse examined a real estate advertisement from the Georgia Gazette. The tracts of land offered for sale in the two advertisements were located about as distant from each other as was possible within the thirteen colonies that became the United States. Despite their differences, advertisers from Berwick, Maine, and Sunbury, Georgia, crafted advertisements that underscored the profits that buyers could earn from the land offered for sale. The dwellings seemed secondary to the resources and ability to earn a livelihood associated with each piece of land.

Benjamin Estes offered “good Farm LAND” that produced significant amounts of hay that could generate revenue for the new owner. Likewise, Henry Estes indicated that his “good Land” yielded nearly as much hay, even though his tract was slightly less than half the size. The hay, however, was not the only resource Henry Estes planned to auction. He also advertised “One Quarter part of a Saw-Mill.” In other words, Estes sold a share of a sawmill; the purchaser would become the new partner alongside one or more other owners. This presented a different sort of opportunity than farming, but one that Henry Estes considered attractive.

The graphic design elements of the advertisement suggest that the seller believed the sawmill merited as much attention as the farmland. Four lines of the advertisement were set in larger type, one announcing the “Public Vendue,” two listing the acreage of the land, and one devoted to the sawmill. Each of these underscored resources associated with the property for sale and the ability to convert those resources into financial security.