July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 26, 1769).

“Who has for sale, all sorts of garden seeds and flower roots.”

Colonists placed advertisements in newspapers for a variety of reasons. Some marketed consumer goods and services. Many published legal notices. Others made announcements and shared news. In the July 26, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, John Martin and James Martin advertised rum, wine, and sugar available at their store on Habersham’s Wharf in Savannah. Morgan and Roche also addressed consumers, informing them that they pursued “the TAYLOR BUSINESS in all its branches.” Among the legal notices, the executors of John Luptan’s estate announced that they would conclude settling accounts and “pay out what remains … to the heirs” on January 1. Another from the Commissioners of his Majesty’s Customs warned about the consequences of smuggling and doctored ship manifests that did not make “true reports of their cargoes.” James Wilson declared that his wife, Jane, “eloped” from him and since she placed herself beyond the authority of his household he would not pay “any debts of her contracting.” Among advertisements that also delivered news, the Trustees for the Presbyterian Meeeting House advised those who pledged to make contributions that “one fifth of the subscription money is immediately wanted” and requested payment. Another stated that “SIX NEGROES … three men, two women, and one girl” escaped from Thomas Young and might be headed towards some of the Sea Islands.

Each of those advertisers had a specific purpose in mind when placing their notices in the public prints, but other advertisers used the space they purchased to pursue more than one goal. Robert Hunter, for example, asserted that recently “several trespasses” occurred at Good Hope and Spring Gardens. To prevent further disturbances and theft, Hunter advised the public that intruders could expect to encounter “guns, dogs, or other snares.” Only after delivering this warning did Hunter briefly promote “all sorts of garden seeds and flower roots” that he offered for sale, a secondary purpose for his advertisement. A similar advertisement ran in the Georgia Gazette a year earlier, that one also lamenting trespassers and theft at Spring Gardens and signed by Robert Winter. It also concluded with a brief note that “Said Winter has all sorts of garden seeds to dispose of.” (Perhaps either “Robert Hunter” or “Robert Winter” was a misprint in one of the advertisements.) In both instances, the advertiser seized an opportunity to encourage sales of seeds, drawing attention to that enterprise after first rehearsing an interesting story about trespassers and threats of “guns, dogs, or other snares.” Stories of intruders and theft implicitly testified to the value of the plants at Good Hope and Spring Gardens, making the seeds all the more attractive to prospective buyers. Hunter leveraged unfortunate events in his efforts to encourage sales.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 3, 1766).

“BUTTON GWINNETT.”

It’s Founders Chic day at the Adverts 250 Project! Today’s advertisement was inserted in the Georgia Gazette a decade before Button Gwinnett became one of the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence, one of only three signers from Georgia.

Over time Gwinnett has become famous (sort of) for not being famous. He certainly did not become a household name like other signers of the Declaration, especially John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. This was in large part due to his late entry in politics (he did not become an outspoken advocate of American rights until 1775, the year that fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord) and he died in 1777 (in a duel with a political rival over a failed invasion of East Florida, controlled by the British).

Gwinnett was not a man of letters, unlike so many other founders who left behind extensive correspondence. As a result, only fifty-one copies of his signature (including the one on the Declaration of Independence) are known to exist, making Gwinnett’s signature much more rare, valuable, and sought after than those of his much more famous and influential counterparts who signed the Declaration. (Learn more about the scarcity of Gwinnett’s signature at “Radiolab,” 7:50-14:40.) Gwinnett has remained so unknown compared to other signers that “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” even broadcast a spoof “musical” featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer and star of “Hamilton: An American Musical.”

In today’s advertisement Button Gwinnett issued a cranky warning against others trespassing on his land and stealing his hogs and cattle. He threatened to prosecute offenders and offered a reward to anyone who provided evidence that contributed to a conviction.

This advertisement certainly did not have the historical magnitude of the Declaration of Independence. However, it provides a glimpse of the daily life and concerns of one of the (minor) founders. In 1766 Gwinnett had no way of knowing that he would someday sign the document that officially severed America’s political ties to Great Britain. It’s easy to put the founders on pedestals, but it might be more helpful to remember that they were also men sometimes consumed with ordinary concerns (like “disorderly people” who trespassed on their land). Asserting that only the most exceptional political philosophers have shaped the American experience and that they were inherently more intelligent and more virtuous than subsequent generations implicitly suggests that everyday people, the common folk who comprise the vast majority of the population, cannot even hope to live up to the examples set by the most famous founders. Button Gwinnett, on the other hand, demonstrates that we are all capable of practicing thoughtful citizenship, whether we have penned influential works of political philosophy or not.