November 16

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

Nov 16 - 11:16:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 16, 1768).

“About THIRTY VERY LIKELY SLAVES.”

Inglis and Hall’s advertisement for “About THIRTY VERY LIKELY SLAVES” ran in the Georgia Gazette for a second time on November 16, 1768. It briefly noted that more than two dozen slaves had “Just arrived from the West-Indies” and were “To be sold on reasonable Terms.” The notice included a crude woodcut that depicted two adults and a child, though this did not necessarily reflect the composition of the human cargo hawked by the prominent merchants. It appeared in three consecutive issues before being discontinued.

Unlike most advertisements that ran for multiple weeks, it included a slight revision to the copy, the addition of a date: “Nov. 9, 1768.” That date indicated when the notice first appeared in the Georgia Gazette, not the date Inglis and Hall wrote the copy. Given the production time required for setting type and operating the printing press by hand, the merchants would have submitted their advertisement at least a day before the publication date of the issue in which it first appeared. According to the shipping news in the November 9 edition, the slaves likely arrived in Savannah aboard the “Schooner Friendship” from Grenada on November 4 or aboard the “Ship Industry” from Antigua on November 8, the same day that the “Schooner Liberty” arrived from Charleston.

Why add a date to the advertisement? That may have been done at the behest of Inglis and Hall, especially if they wished to make clear to prospective buyers that the slaves they offered for sale had not languished in Savannah for an extended period. John Graham and Company placed an advertisement for “A Parcel of Choice Healthy GUINEY and GOLD COAST NEW NEGROES” in the November 16 issue. Perhaps aware of the competition, Inglis and Hall did not want their advertisement mistaken as one that had appeared for weeks or even months. After all, the notices concerning runaway slaves included some dated July 6 and August 11. Alternately, the compositor may have simply neglected to include the date in the first insertion and rectified the error for the next issue. The updated advertisement, however, at least raises the possibility that Inglis and Hall made an intervention based on new information that came into their possession after it first appeared in the Georgia Gazette.

October 22

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

Oct 22 - 10:22:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 22, 1768).

“The Snow TRISTRAM … WILL be ready to sail in 14 Days.”

In the late 1760s Joseph Russell and William Russell advertised frequently in the Providence Gazette. Unlike most advertisers throughout the colonies, they sometimes ran multiple advertisements in a single issue, a tactic that enhanced their prominence as local merchants and gave their enterprises even greater visibility. Such was the case in October 1768. On October 1 they placed a new advertisement for “a neat and fresh Assortment of GOODS” that they had just imported “in the Ship Cleopatra.” It appeared in all five issues published in October. On October 15 they inserted a new advertisement that solicited passengers and cargo for the Tristram, scheduled to sail for London in fourteen days. In the same advertisement the Russells seized the opportunity to hawk their “stout Russia DUCK, best Bohea TEA, [and] an neat Assortment of Irish LINENS.”

That advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette on two more occasions, but never with updated copy. It ran in the October 22 edition, still proclaiming that the Tristram “WILL be ready to sail in 14 Days.” Anyone interested in arranging “Freight or Passage” needed to pay attention to the date listed at the end of the advertisement: “October 15, 1768.” The advertisement made one final appearance on October 29 – the day the Tristram was supposed to set sail – still stating that the ship would depart in fourteen days. It may have still been possible to book passage, but unlikely that Captain David Shand took on additional cargo at that time. The Russells, however, continued to peddle textiles and tea along with the assortment of other merchandise promoted in the companion advertisement published elsewhere in the issue.

The Russells provided enough information for prospective clients to determine the sailing date of the Tristram even though they did not revise the copy as the date approached. Listing the date they submitted the advertisement to the printing office was an imperative component because once the type had been set the notice would run without changes until it was discontinued. Very rarely did advertisements undergo any sort of revision in colonial America. Instead, they were eventually replaced with new advertisements comprised of completely different copy, if advertisers wished to continue at all. This meant that advertisements that ran for any length of time might include outdated portions, an aspect that likely contributed to skepticism of marketing efforts by readers.

September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (September 19, 1768).

“ABSENTED himself … a negro fellow named BROMLEY.”

Throughout the summer of 1768 Thomas Shirley inserted the same advertisement in all three newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina. Dated June 8, Shirley’s notice had two parts. In the shorter first portion Shirley described a yawl either “DRIFTED or STOLEN from the Brigantine Prince-of-Wales, Thomas Mason, Master.” He offered a “TWO DOLLARS reward” for its return. In a much lengthier second portion Shirley described Cyrus and Bromley, two enslaved men, who had “ABSENTED themselvesfrom the Schooner Mary, John Doran, Master.” Shirley did not suspect that the runaways had stolen the yawl but instead reported that he suspected “they went off in a Canoe for Ponpon, where Bromley has a wife who belongs to William Harvey.” Shirley provided approximate ages and heights for both fugitives. He also noted that Cyrus “has both his ears cropt” and “his cheeks branded,” likely as punishment for prior acts of disobedience. The enslaved man must have earned some notoriety in the area. Shirley determined that he was “so well known as to need no further description.” As for Bromley, Shirley indicated that he sometimes went by the name Chippenham and “speaks good English.” He concluded by offering rewards for the capture and return of the runaways as well as rewards for information leading to the conviction of anyone who provided them assistance.

That advertisement appeared for the last time in early September. Starting with the September 19 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, a much shorter notice replaced it. Shirley no longer advertised the missing yawl or the infamous Cyrus, but he continued to seek the capture and return of Bromley. He offered a little more information to help readers recognize the fugitive, noting the clothing he wore when he made his escape: “a seaman’s jacket, trowsers and check shirt.” Shirley also stated that Bromley was “well known in Charles-Town and Winyaw, having sailed a considerable time with Captain Henry Richardson.”

What promoted theses revisions to an advertisement that ran for nearly three months? Had Cyrus been captured? Did Shirley receive information indicating that Cyrus was somehow beyond his reach? Had something else happened that caused Shirley to cease advertising Cyrus? The new advertisement no longer mentioned Bromley’s wife in Ponpon. Why not? Had she undergone so much interrogation and surveillance that Shirley determined that his assumption that Bromley would make his way to her was a false lead? What kinds of experiences did she have after her husband and an accomplice fled from Shirley? Perhaps the slaveholder placed too much emphasis on Bromley’s possible attempt to seek refuge with his wife. In the new advertisement he acknowledged that Bromley previously experienced a fair amount of mobility when hired out as a sailor with Captain Richardson. That may have given Bromley more room to maneuver and make good on his escape rather than placing his wife in greater danger by drawing her into a conspiracy.

Like every other runaway advertisement, this one tells a truncated story filtered through the perspective of the slaveholder who composed and placed the notice in the public prints. Unlike most other runaway advertisements, this one provides a second chapter, yet it still raises as many questions as it answers. It does confirm that Bromley continued to elude Shirley, at least for the moment, but it does not definitively reveal anything more about Cyrus or Bromley’s unnamed wife.

June 2

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

Jun 2 - 6:2:1766 (page 4) Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 2, 1766).
Jun 2 - 6:2:1766 (page 2) Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 2, 1766).

“HAs just imported from London in Capt. Coffin and Capt. Marshall, a fresh and neat Assortment of Goods.”

Fredrick William Geyer wanted to make sure that readers of the Boston Post-Boy were aware of the “fresh and neat Assortment of Goods which he is determined to sell exceeding cheap for Cash only by Wholesale or Retail.” He was so anxious for potential customers to know that he could supply them with “a fresh Assortment of English & India GOODS” that he placed two advertisements in the June 2, 1766, issue of the Boston Post-Boy. One appeared on the second page and the other on the fourth page. Whether by design or coincidence, if a reader held open the broadsheet newspaper to peruse its contents one of Geyer’s advertisements would have been visible.

The advertisement from the second page appears to be an updated version of the one from the fourth page. In the latter, Geyer announced that he had just imported goods via the vessel captained by Shubael Coffin. The other advertisement indicated that he had just received goods shipped by “Capt. Coffin and Capt. Marshall.” According to the shipping news from the Boston Custom House published in this issue of the Boston Post-Boy, “Marshall from London” entered port on May 31. The previous issue, published a week earlier, indicated that Coffin’s ship had just arrived, which probably prompted Geyer to compose the shorter notice (which also appeared in the previous issue, making it as current as possible for a weekly publication). He later updated his advertisement to underscore that he really did sell goods “fresh” from London. (He used the word “fresh” in both advertisements.)

The appeal in Geyer’s advertisement required active reading on the part of potential customers. It worked best if consumers engaged with different parts of the newspaper – the shipping news and the advertisements – simultaneously in order to reach the intended conclusions.