December 17

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

Georgia Gazette (December 17, 1766).

The advertisement concerning the sale of negroes … was printed in the last page of this paper by mistake.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, issued a retraction of one of the advertisements that appeared in the December 17 issue: “The advertisement concerning the sale of negroes, &c. belonging to the estate of Mr. William Smith, deceased, was printed in the last page of this paper by mistake.”

That advertisement by Matthew Roche, the Provost Marshal, would have looked familiar to readers of the Georgia Gazette. Dated “12 Nov. 1766,” it had appeared in previous issues in order to give interested parties sufficient advance notice that slaves, cattle, horses, and fifty acres of land that included a “handsome dwelling house, garden, tan-yard, and several other convenient buildings” would be auctioned “on Tuesday the 16th day of December, 1766.”

That’s right: December 16, the day before the issue was dated and distributed for public consumption. Johnston did not publish the retraction because the sale had been canceled but instead because it truly had been printed “by mistake,” a mistake made in the office of the printer.

That Johnston overlooked this advertisement, not noticing that the new issue included an outdated advertisement until after the broadsheet had already been printed on one side, raises some interesting questions about advertisements that ran for more than a few weeks. Did advertisers contract and pay to have those advertisements repeatedly inserted? Or, did some advertisements serve as filler, published gratis, when printers lacked other content?

Johnston may have been distracted with filling the final page with advertisements already set in type; that would explain how he overlooked the date of the auction of William Smith’s estate. The same issue included other advertisements that ran for months (not just for weeks): Donald Mackay’s advertisement for a runaway slave (dated “5th August, 1766”) and the sale of Baillie’s Island by the executors of Colonel Kenneth Baillie (first published in November 1766 and repeated well into 1767). Mackay and Baillie’s executors may very well have arranged for their advertisements to appear so many times.

If they did not, however, that suggests that printers sometimes used advertisements for their own purposes in constructing complete issues of their newspapers. While it may be tempting to argue that some advertisers repeated their notices frequently because they believed in the power of advertising (or, in the case of Mackay, because he really wanted to retrieve Maria, “a TALL SLIM LIKELY NEGROE GIRL”), it is also important to question whether the advertisers themselves were indeed responsible for how frequently their notices appeared.

October 29


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

Georgia Gazette (October 29, 1766).


I chose this advertisement because it dealt with a material whose impact on society I did not know a lot about overall: leather. This short advertisement attempted to sell “A PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” I did realize that throughout history leather played a role, but did not fully understand its importance in the colonial world. Obviously there was demand for it. But why was leather in demand? I engaged in some research to find out more about it. According to Colonial Williamsburg, leather was used for myriad of items: equestrian equipment, fashion items and storage products. It even was used for luxury items like “ fur and leather hand muffs” and “razor cases.”

The importance of equipment used in harnessing horses cannot be overstated. During the colonial period the primary mode of travel, other than walking, was horseback or a horse drawn vehicle. There would have been thousands of colonists using horses to travel across towns or colonies. None of that travel would have been possible without bridles, saddles, harnesses, and other leather goods. That is one of the main reasons leather was a commodity that was worth selling. It was a necessary component of colonial travel, as well as a resource used in fashion. A colonist reading this advertisement would have recognized the value of leather goods.



Megan has selected an advertisement that differs from many other advertisements for consumer goods and services in one significant aspect: “MATT. ROCHE, Prov. Mar.” signed this notice. Roche was not a producer, supplier, or retailer. Instead, he was a local official, a provost marshal (a law enforcement officer roughly equivalent to a sheriff). As part of their own institutional history, the U.S. Marshals Service states that “as soon as the colony of Georgia was founded in 1733, the office of provost marshal was established.” Other colonies, including Virginia, also had provost marshals. Their duties included collecting fines, apprehending and transporting criminals, and, most significantly for the purposes of understanding this advertisement, “taking inventory of a deceased person’s estate.”

Roche did not seek to sell his own goods or make a profit from transactions with customers. That was not his way of earning a living. Instead, in his official capacity he participated in settling the estate of “the late Mr. William Smith.” Note that Roche did not have his own shop, auction house, or warehouse for dispersing the “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” Instead, those interested in purchasing this commodity needed to seek it out at “Joseph Pruniere’s store adjoining his house.” Notice as well that Roche did not announce an ongoing sale. The “PARCEL” had been divided into lots that were to be sold on a specific date (“Tuesday the 4th of November, 1766”) at a specific place. This was an auction intended to quickly and efficiently liquidate the deceased Smith’s inventory of sole leather in order to move forward with settling his estate. Roche inserted an announcement of the sale in the Georgia Gazette, but he did not attempt to incite demand by resorting to any particular appeals to entice buyers, unlike shopkeepers whose livelihoods depended on attracting customers.

Most likely many colonists eventually wore shoes constructed from this “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER,” but the path from producer to consumer took unanticipated turns along the way.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:31:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 31, 1766).

“He is to be spoke with at the London, Coffee-House, at the usual Hours.”

William Smith was a busy businessman. He sold an assortment of goods at his star on the “North Side of Market-street Wharff” and also “acts in the Capacity of a Broker, and will assist any Person in the Purchase or Sale of all Sorts of Merchandise” as well as a variety of other services.

Smith concluded his advertisement by informing potential customers and clients that “He is to be spoke with at the London Coffee-House, at the usual Hours, or at his Store aforesaid.” Rather than conduct business exclusively at his store, Smith spent time at the London Coffee House, an establishment where merchants and others gathered to make deals and settle accounts. Auctions of all kinds of merchandise (including slaves) took place just outside the coffeehouse. The proprietors provided newspapers printed in Philadelphia and other cities for patrons to keep up on political events and follow the shipping news. Men gathered at the London Coffee House to do business, talk politics, and gossip. It was Philadelphia’s exchange.

Philadelphia’s entrepreneurs so regularly gathered at the London Coffee House that Smith did not need to specify when he would be present beyond stating “at the usual Hours.” A dozen years after William Bradford first opened it in 1754, the London Coffee House was an integral part of the commercial landscape in colonial Philadelphia. More than two hundred merchants had contributed funds toward its construction, but an even greater number of people gathered there regularly over the next several decades. Smith did not need to specify that the London Coffee House was the corner of Front and High (present-day Market) Streets. Everybody in Philadelphia knew where it was, and visitors to the city could easily locate it by asking any local they encountered.

Jul 31 - London Coffee House
London Coffee House (lithograph by W.L. Breton:  Philadelphia, 1830).  Library Company of Philadelphia.