April 4

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

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

Essex Gazette (April 4, 1769).

“His usual Assortment of West-India and English GOODS.”

British goods were popular in the colonies because Britain was the mother country. Colonists often preferred British products over American ones as they were better quality. British products became so popular that the colonists became British in a process that T.H. Breen calls the Anglicization of consumer culture. However, something happened that made British goods fall out of favor. “Parliament managed to politicize these consumer goods,” Breen states, “and when it did so, manufactured items suddenly took on a radical, new symbolic function.”[1] When this happened, no patriotic American would admit to buying any British goods because buying British goods was seen as unpatriotic at best and traitorous at worst. By watching who bought which goods, the colonists could find other patriots and determine who were loyalists. Colonists who were neutral could not remain neutral, as they were almost always forced to pick a side when making decisions about what to buy. The consumer revolution came before the American Revolution and became part of that movement. Breen argues that it was important for the Revolution to succeed since it gave the colonists common concerns about the politics of buying consumer goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to promoting the “usual Assortment of West-India and English GOODS” in this advertisement, Francis Symonds also invited “both Gentlemen and Ladies” to enjoy the entertainment at “the BELL, near SALEM.” The Bell, named for the wooden sign in the shape of a bell that Symonds used to identify his establishment, was one of the most popular taverns in the vicinity, according to D. Hamilton Hurd’s History of Essex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men.

Published in 1888, Hurd’s History of Essex County identifies several events from the era of the American Revolution associated with the Bell. “Here was the appointed rallying place of the minute-men of the Revolution,” Hurd proclaims, “and from this corner they started out across the fields on their hurried march to Lexington.” Not long after, “the regiment commanded by Col. Timothy Pickering halted for refreshment” at the Bell “on the way to Bunker Hill.”

As notable as Hurd considered these events, one other captured my interest: “It was at the Bell tavern that the heroine of the novel, ‘Eliza Wharton, or the Coquette,’ … spent her last days and gathered about the tragic ending of her unfortunate life a veil of mystery and romance which long gave her a place among the memories of the simple and kindly villagers.” Hurd referred to Hannah Foster’s The Coquette (1797), one of the most popular American novels of the eighteenth century. In the late nineteenth century, Hurd claimed Foster’s novel was “a work almost forgotten, but of great interest to a former generation.”[2] The Coquette is anything but “almost forgotten” today. This morality tale is standard reading for anyone interested in early American literature or the history of the early republic, especially the histories of women, gender, and sexuality during the era. Scholars in these fields have recovered Foster’s work in the time since Hurd compiled his History of Essex County in 1888.

This provides an excellent example for students in my Revolutionary America class, the same students currently serving as guest curators, of the sort of primary source that may have been overlooked at one time but now, as the result of asking new kinds of questions and expanding the scope of our study of the past, provides valuable insights into life in early America. This is especially important to me as I strive to achieve one of my goals for my Revolutionary America course. I crosslist the course with the Women’s Studies Program and make a commitment to incorporating the experiences and perspectives of women from diverse backgrounds. It just so happens that Aidan selected an advertisement featuring the Bell Tavern on the same day we are discussing Linda Kerber’s classic “Republic Mother”[3] and Mary Beth Sievens’s “Female Consumerism and Household Authority in Early National New England,”[4] drawing lines both historical and historiographical from one to the other. In preparation for the class, I prepared primary sources and an overview of The Coquette to enrich our conversations. It was serendipity indeed that Aidan selected an advertisement related to The Coquette to examine today.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 76.

[2] D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Essex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis and Company, 1888), 1021.

[3] Linda Kerber, “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment – An American Perspective,” American Quarterly 28, no. 2 (Summer 1976): 187-205.

[4] Mary Beth Sievens, “Female Consumerism and Household Authority in Early National New England,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 4, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 353-371.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 11
Georgia Gazette (October 21, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, A Likely Young NEGROE WNECH, Who can wash, and is very handy in a house.”

The October 21, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette included thirteen advertisements that involved enslaved men, women, and children in some way. Seven advertisers sought to sell slaves. Two offered rewards for the capture and return of runaway slaves. Another two described suspected runaways that had been captured and requested that their masters claim them. One employment notice outlined the responsibilities of an overseer who would “take charge of about 20 negroes to be employed in planting rice and provisions.” The final advertisement proposed hiring out (or renting out) a “LIKELY NEGROE GIRL,” a good seamstress, by the month or year.

Among these thirteen advertisements, five featured enslaved women and girls. Women may have been largely (but not completely) absent from the advertising pages when it came to operating businesses and promoting their entrepreneurial activities to consumers, but enslaved women and girls appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers regularly. Practically every day in the 1760s at least one newspaper published somewhere in the colonies included at least one advertisement that featured enslaved women or girls, making slavery advertisements perhaps the most voluminous source for examining women’s history printed in colonial newspapers. Although not written from the perspective of enslaved women and girls, they still reveal much about their experiences.

Some reveal more than others. One simply stated: “TO BE SOLD, A VERY FINE, STOUT, YOUNG, and HEALTHY WENCH. For particulars apply to THOMAS HAMILTON.” In addition to the enslaved seamstress who could be hired out, another short advertisement offered a “NEGROE WENCH, Who can wash, and is very handy in a house.” A real estate advertisement for a farm concluded by noting the seller also had “TWO YOUNG NEGROE WENCHES … who are very handy at any kind of house work, and are good sempstresses.” These mentions were brief, but they still aid in understanding and reconstructing the experiences of enslaved women and girls. For instance, these advertisements indicate that enslaved women and girls often engaged in domestic labor rather than working in the fields. Not all of them were drudges within the home but instead developed valuable skills.

Other advertisements told much more elaborate stories about enslaved women and girls, especially advertisements for runaways that often included physical descriptions, described clothing, commented on personality traits, and acknowledged relationships with other slaves. Sometimes they tracked known or suspected movements, speculating on which friends or relatives runaways might approach for aid. No advertisements of that sort appeared in the October 21, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette, but they had in the past and they would again. That publication, like most of its counterparts throughout the colonies, frequently ran advertisements about enslaved women and girls, advertisements of various lengths and with assorted purposes. As a result, enslaved women and girls likely appeared in colonial newspapers more often than other women. The attempts to keep them in bondage also yielded a more prominent and extensive record of their experiences in the public prints. Enslaved women could never be out of sight to anyone who read the newspaper, either in the eighteenth century or today.

February 20

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

feb-20-2201767-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 20, 1767).

“Choice Indigo.”

I chose this advertisement because I didn’t know what indigo was or how it was used. After some research, I learned that it is a plant used in making blue dyes.

According to James Bitler, “plants of the genus Indigofera, known as indigo, provided a stronger, richer blue and replaced woad blue in Western Europe.” As a result, American colonists learned to cultivate a commodity considered superior to what was produced in Europe.

South Carolina and Georgia became major exporters of indigo in the mid eighteenth century. In 1744, a woman who grew up in Charleston, Eliza Lucas (who became Eliza Lewis Pinckney that same year), shipped six pounds of indigo to Great Britain, introducing the use of indigo from South Carolina to the country. As a result, the indigo business expanded in both South Carolina and Georgia. Bitler notes that exports expanded from Lucas’ six pounds in 1744 to five thousand pounds in 1745. Once the British government became aware of the profit the indigo business had to offer, they placed a bounty on indigo to encourage more production. As a result, South Carolina and Georgia greatly increased their indigo exports, greatly increasing their profit.

I found this advertisement interesting because I did not realize the importance of indigo as an export during the colonial and revolutionary periods. I was surprised to learn that the exportation of indigo was a major business in South Carolina and Georgia.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

John Adams’ stark advertisement for “Choice Indigo, TO BE SOLD … At his Shop at the Sign of the State House” belies the role that a female entrepreneur played in turning indigo into a staple crop in South Carolina and Georgia. Historians of consumer culture have long noted that advertisements for tobacco, rum, and, especially, sugar disguise the means of production, although colonists certainly realized that these commodities they desired and enjoyed so much were inextricably linked to the unfree labor of slaves on distant plantations. Advertisements for indigo conceal both the role of slaves in its production and the contributions of a young woman, Elizabeth (Eliza) Lucas Pinckney, in transforming indigo into a viable and profitable colonial export.

Born in Antiqua in the British West Indies in 1722, Lucas was raised on one of her family’s sugarcane plantations, though she also attended a boarding school in London for a portion of her youth. In 1738, Colonel Lucas moved his family to South Carolina, though he was unable to join them at that time. At the age of sixteen, she oversaw Wappoo Plantation in her father’s absence. She assumed the role of head of household and overseer of the family’s plantation when her mother died shortly after arriving in South Carolina.

Lucas’ letters indicate that she especially enjoyed studying botany when in London, making it no surprise that she experimented with growing ginger, cotton, and alfalfa before turning to indigo. In the process of cultivating and improving strains of the indigo plant, she incorporated the knowledge and skills of enslaved Africans who had previous experience growing the crop in the West Indies and Africa.

As Shannon has noted above, the quantity of indigo production and exports exploded in South Carolina and Georgia after Lucas’ successful efforts in 1744 and her willingness to share her seeds and methods with other planters. As far as staple crops went, indigo was second only to rice in South Carolina. It became a major part of the colonial economy, enriching many planters. In the period before the American Revolution, indigo accounted for one-third of the total value of South Carolina’s exports.

John Adams’ advertisement does not even hint at the role Eliza Lucas Pinckney played in shaping the colonial economy or the reverberations her work throughout transatlantic networks of trade. With a little bit of effort, however, economic history and women’s history merge to create a richer narrative of American history.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s letters and other papers have been digitized. For a trial subscription, visit The Digital Editions of Eliza Lucas Pinckney & Harriott Pinckney Horry, 1739-1830.