October 13

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

Oct 13 - 10:13:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 13, 1767).

“THE famous new-invented STOMACH PILLS, prepared by JAMES SPEEDIMAN.”

Colonial shopkeepers and apothecaries frequently advertised a variety of imported remedies, especially patent medicines with names widely recognized by consumers. The “new-invented” pills for stomach ailments “prepared by JAMES SPEEDIMAN” did not have that advantage. Since they were mostly unfamiliar to local customers, William Williamson had to put special effort into marketing them in the fall of 1767.

He first established that patients in other places, especially England, had embraced Speediman’s “STOMACH PILLS.” The proprietor had been granted “HIS MAJESTY’S ROYAL LETTERS-PATENT.” In addition, Williamson assured potential customers that “those Pills are found effectual” by patients on the other side of the Atlantic. They had earned a positive reputation and were “approved of in Great-Britain.” Williamson mobilized both bureaucratic approbation and public consensus as endorsements of Speediman’s pills.

Yet local consumers did not need to trust solely William’s representation of how the pills had been received in England. He reported that he had brought a few boxes to South Carolina the previous year, “upon Trial” for his customers. After he distributed them, “they proved so beneficial to sundry Persons who used them” that patients wanted more of them and made “very frequent Applications” for them. This convinced Williamson to acquire a greater quantity, which had just arrived in port. Although Williamson did not provide testimonials, he did suggest that local consumers could verify that Speediman’s pills had worked for them.

In order to sell these stomach pills, Williamson also created a sense of exclusivity. He noted that Speediman made them available to him “by particular Appointment,” selecting him – “and him only” – to sell the pills in South Carolina. To substantiate the authenticity of the pills, Williamson delivered them with “printed Directions” that had been “signed with the Proprietor’s own Hand.” Advertisers sometimes indicated that other medicines came with printed directions and other marketing material, but rarely did they have such an immediate connection to “the Proprietor.” This also contributed to forging an aura of exclusivity.

William Williamson had a relatively new product, one not yet familiar to most consumers in his local marketplace. Colonists were already familiar with other patent medicines, with other brands, and their effects so he needed to convince them to give Speediman’s stomach pills a chance. To do so, he stressed that their effectiveness had made them popular in England, but emphasized that they were not yet widely available in South Carolina. Due to an exclusive contract, local consumers could obtain them only from him.

July 28

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

Jul 28 - 7:28:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 28, 1767).

“GERMAN-TOWN manufactured fine THREAD STOCKINGS.”

American colonists participated in networks of trade that crisscrossed the Atlantic. Many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers promoted goods imported from England and other faraway places, but others resulted from a vibrant coastal trade that connected Britain’s North American colonies. As part of that coastal trade, merchants shipped agricultural surpluses, especially wheat, from the Middle Atlantic to the Southern colonies. Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers published in Charleston regularly encountered advertisements for flour and other goods transported from Philadelphia. For instance, in the July 28 edition Godfrey and Gadsden advertised ‘PHILADELPHIA FLOUR, and BAR IRON.” Similarly, Greenland and Jordan announced that hey had “just imported … from PHILADELPHIA” several commodities, including flour, milk, beer, and bar iron.

William Williamson’s advertisement differed from others that marketed goods that originated in Philadelphia and its hinterland. Rather than selling agricultural goods and raw materials produced in the region, Williamson “IMPORTED … fine THREAD STOCKINGS” made in Germantown. Although several competitors advertised clothing, textiles, and adornments imported from London, colonists were in the process of developing their own industries as alternatives, especially in the wake of the Stamp Act and other attempts at taxation and regulation emanating from Parliament. Still, consumers were accustomed to goods imported from Europe; domestically produced stockings and other items were less familiar. Merchants and shopkeepers worked to convince skeptical customers that such products would not disappoint. Williamson testified to the quality of his stockings, underscoring their “durableness” for potential customers who might have been inclined to place more trust in imported wares.

Williamson did not make an explicit “Buy American” appeal in this advertisement, though that sort of marketing strategy had emerged during the Stamp Act crisis two years earlier and became more common as the relationship between Britain and the colonies deteriorated. Instead, he offered consumers an alternative to imported goods without engaging in overt political rhetoric. In that regard, his advertisement educated colonists about the possibilities of American manufactures, paving the way for a turn to homespun during subsequent nonimportation agreements. The availability of durable “GERMAN-TOWN manufactured fine THREAD STOCKINGS” helped colonists imagine the possible alternatives to relying on imports from Britain. They could depend on each other not only for agricultural surpluses and raw materials but also for finished products.