TOM DILLARD: Early and aggressive advertising


It is difficult to research 19th century Arkansas newspapers. Not only can they be difficult to read due to the wear and tear of time, there is a constant temptation to waste considerable hours browsing through advertisements.

Getting lost in those commercials is a great way to spend an hour or two, but it takes its toll with deadlines. However, it can also give surprising glimpses into the lives of the early Arkansans.

Arkansas began as a sparsely populated county within the Missouri Territory in 1819, followed within months by the creation of a newspaper, the Arkansas Gazette. Although Arkansas initially had a small population and the Arkansas Post, its colonial-era territorial capital, never amounted to more than one village, the Gazette has no shortage of advertisers.

The first issue of the Gazette, published on November 20, 1819, contained a number of advertisements and paid notices, the largest of which was intended for new commission merchants Lewis & Thomas. This ad consisted of a detailed list of dozens of items ranging from dry goods to groceries, hardware and of course liqueurs. None of the advertisements include the prices.

I was interested in the relatively small supply of groceries. Coffee and sugar were included, two very popular commodities at the border. Sugar was available in the form of granules and bread; the latter was conical, and small pliers called pincers were used to break up the pieces. Many mountains in Arkansas and around the world are named Sugarloaf Mountain, a testament to the common use of the sugar cone.

While Lewis and Thomas offered rice, no mention was made of flour or cornmeal. A relatively large selection of spices have been listed, including pepper, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg. Many “Queensware” dishes and ceramic objects must have brought joy to many women who are struggling to settle in a raw new country. Likewise, the store offered fabrics and textiles, including German and Irish linens.

There is no doubt that the store’s large hardware department was busy as it offered almost everything but glass to build a log house: axes, nails, augers, hinges, locks and bolts. And to help unwind after a long day chopping logs, Lewis and Thomas have announced the availability of 80 barrels of “fine whiskey”, a barrel of “4th proof whiskey” and a barrel of peach brandy. Tobacco products included loose tobacco and “segars”.

The availability of such a large inventory spoke of the arrival eight months earlier, on March 31, 1820, of the first steamboat to dock at the Arkansas Post. This was 13 years after Robert Fulton’s Clermont launched the commercial steamboat era in 1807. The arrival of the steamboat further opened Arkansas to national and international markets.

It is interesting to compare the Lewis & Thomas advertisement of 1819 with that published in 1827 by Montgomery & Cotten of the Arkansas Post. One difference was the increase in the offerings of liquors and wines. In addition to “top-notch Old Ohio whiskey”, thirsty residents could purchase French cognac and brandy as well as “Holland Gin”. The wines included a “long cork” Bordeaux.

Another difference is the presence of seafood in the Montgomery & Cotten advertising. These were kept – probably pickled – but were not canned as they were offered in barrels and barrels. A barrel of “No. 1 mackerel” was available, along with 12 barrels of salmon and three barrels of oysters.

After extensive reading of early Arkansas eating habits, I am convinced that oysters had a special appeal in pre-war Arkansas. In 1824, Gazette founder William E. Woodruff, who likely ate oysters as a child on Long Island, reprinted a call from the Utica, NY newspaper, for more oyster shipping to “the land of the west “where” no seaside item meets an easier sell … than oysters and clams. “

A Gazette ad from July 1832 showed that pickled oysters were even available in 1832 at Fort Gibson, well upstream of the Arkansas River beyond Fort Smith.

That same issue of the Gazette contained an advertisement for a new gunsmith business in Little Rock. Christian Brumback, a German immigrant, announced that his “five excellent workers … will continue to work as gunsmiths, blacksmiths and wagon makers in all their various branches.”

Brumback would later earn a footnote in the history of the Arkansas militia when as a regimental commander he wore an ostentatious uniform featuring lots of golden lace and topped with a bicornuate hat filled with feathers of ‘ostrich.

Many merchants accepted farm or country produce instead of cash payment, which was extremely helpful on the Arkansas border. Byrd & Dugan, commissioned merchants from Little Rock, could be paid in cash, beaver, otter and bear skins, bear oil, tallow, and beeswax. Transactions of this nature continued into 20th century Arkansas.

Among the most common advertisements in early Arkansas newspapers were legal services. On July 23, 1828, Chester Ashley announced that he “will henceforth attend the Mississippi County Courts regularly.” Ashley would become a United States Senator and among the wealthiest people in the region.

The Washington Telegraph ran advertisements for numerous attorneys throughout Southwest Arkansas, including a January 1862 notice that Thomas GT Steel was practicing law in Paraclifta, Sevier County. Members of the Steel family are still in the legal profession.

With the number of ads offering enslaved human beings for sale to the highest bidder, reading Arkansas’ pre-war newspapers can be painful. The July 23, 1828 issue of the Gazette features side-by-side ads for awards, one for $ 50 for a stolen horse, the other for $ 10 for the capture of a runaway slave named Jess.

An 1857 real estate sale ad in the Washington Telegraph in southwest Arkansas, the only state newspaper to continue to appear throughout the Civil War, featured a Lafayette County plantation filled with eight pairs of oxen, 25 cows, 3000 bushels of corn, 25 mules and horses, and “25 or 30 negroes probable.”

Nothing symbolizes the cruelty of slavery more than the sale of slaves. We do not know the fate of these people, who have been described as “for the most part very young, raised on the Red River, perfectly acclimatized and made up of families – men, women and children”. While silver was preferred, the seller would be prepared to extend the payment for 12 months “with 10 percent interest from the date”.

Tom Dillard is a retired historian and archivist who lives and reads old newspapers in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at [email protected]


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