March 31

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 31, 1766).

“Augustus Deley, … CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO.”

I find it interesting that this advertisement starts by stating that the advertiser “CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO, in all its Branches.” This makes me wonder if something happened to cast doubt in the minds of his customers about whether they would be able to continue purchasing their tobacco from him or not. This advertisement has the air of someone reassuring his customers that he was indeed still in business.

The fact that Deley mentioned that he needed sufficient notice from those wishing to purchase large quantities of tobacco makes me think that he was not a minor tobacconist. To have customers purchase large amounts of tobacco must have occurred often enough for him to specifically ask those who wished to purchase those amounts to let him know beforehand. It must have been inconvenient for him to have a customer come in and take most of his supply because afterward he would have to potentially turn other customers away while he waited for a new shipment.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Augustus Deley certainly wanted residents of Hartford and its hinterland to know that he continued to sell tobacco, that he was still in business, but his advertisement also alluded to a notice that he posted in the Connecticut Courant nearly three months earlier. Perhaps Deley had recently moved to Hartford and was settling in. After all, his earlier advertisement announced that he was a “Tobaconist (from New-York),” but he dropped that description in his updated advertisement. He may have become an increasingly familiar face in Hartford, but he likely wanted to let potential customers not yet aware of his shop or uncertain of its success that he did indeed “CONTINUE to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO.”

Among the various updates to his advertisement, Deley listed a location: “At the Sign of the Black Boy, Near the North Meeting-House in Hartford.” It was no coincidence that a tobacconist set up shop “At the Sign of the Black Boy.” After all, slaves provided the labor involved in cultivating tobacco in the Chesapeake colonies. Just as many trade cards or tobacco wrappers from the era featured images of enslaved men and women at work on plantations or interacting happily with white masters and overseers, Deley selected a shop sign that reduced a “Black Boy” to the colonial equivalent of a mascot or a brand to market his product.

March 30

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Mar 30 - 3:27:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 27, 1766).

TO BE SOLD, By Adam Collson, Under the TREE of LIBERTY.”

The “TREE of LIBERTY” is a symbol famous to this day for the events that took place under it less than a year before this advertisement. It became a landmark in colonial Boston in the decade before the Revolution. On August 14, 1765, the elm tree near the commons became famous. A gathering of colonists dissatisfied with the Stamp Act hung an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the newly appointed stamp commissioner of Boston. The rebellious political leaders of the day named it the Liberty Tree and during the era of the American Revolution, many protests and demonstrations began or were conducted under it.

By setting up shop under the “TREE of LIBERTY,” Collson let potential customers know that he supported the actions that had taken place there. If others wanted to support those actions as well, they could buy “Fleece Wool” from him under the “TREE of LIBERTY.” Just buying and selling fleece made a political statement in this situation because of the political symbolism attached to this particular tree.

Visit Mapping Revolutionary Boston to learn more about the “TREE of LIBERTY” and other eighteenth-century landmarks.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Once again, Mary has chosen an advertisement that mobilized politics in the service of marketing consumer goods. Like Monday’s advertisement that indicated Barnabas Clarke’s shop was located “Near Liberty-Bridge,” Adam Collson incorporated recent protests against the Stamp Act into the directions he gave potential customers.

Under the TREE of LIBERTY” offers an explicit political message, but Collson’s wares may have also resonated with colonists angered by the Stamp Act. What would colonists have done with “Fleece Wool” once they purchased it? In order to eventually transform this raw material into textiles (perhaps to substitute for those many colonists refused to import from England), the fleece would have been spun into yarn or thread on a spinning wheel, itself a symbol of industry. The colonists valued their spirit of industriousness as they opposed the oppressive acts of Parliament.

Furthermore, as the imperial crisis developed over the next decade, colonists of various backgrounds found themselves involved in a variety of acts of resistance. Some demonstrated in the streets. Some expressed their political opinions via the choices they made as consumers. Women, barred from formal political participation, took up the American cause by sitting at their spinning wheels and transforming “Fleece Wool” and other raw materials into the thread that was then woven into homespun.

Both yesterday and today Mary selected advertisements that contain layers of meaning not always readily apparent to modern readers but which likely resonated with colonists who were very familiar with the relationship between politics and consumption in the age of the Stamp Act.

March 29

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Mar 29 - 3:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 28, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD by John Sparhawk, AT KITTERY POINT, Good HEMP-SEED.”

Hemp was a valuable commodity in eighteenth century America because it was used to make the ropes that were on every ship in this period. According to Ben Swenson at Colonial Williamsburg, all of the colonies grew hemp because of its ability to grow virtually anywhere. By the eighteenth century, the colonies of Virginia and Maryland grew the most hemp, but for farmers in New Hampshire it was still a valuable crop.

Farmers were profit driven and the best way to grow hemp to get nice long fibers to be used for ropes was to plant them close together. This limited the amount of female flowers the plants were able to produce, which is location of the greatest concentration of THC. (Colonists did know about the hallucinogenic properties of hemp.) Besides rope, hemp was used to make cloth for clothes and sacks, paper, and bed ticking, which kept the feathers or straw of the mattress from poking through. The cloth made from hemp grown in the colonies was especially valued when the colonists began to boycott goods from England. The growing and processing of hemp was already so well established that colonists were easily able to either grow more hemp or set aside a larger amount for the production of homespun.

The processing of hemp was difficult; after it was cut and rotted the waste had to be removed from the desired long fibers. The hemp needed to be rotted because it would loosen the fibers from the woody interior and the bark. The process of breaking the hemp separated the fibers from much of the waste. Afterward it needed to be beaten and scraped, then combed to remove the rest of the waste from the strands. Only then was the hemp suitable to be processed into its final product.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

At first glance today’s advertisement appears rather bland, but Mary’s analysis demonstrates why it is an appropriate sequel to yesterday’s featured advertisement for Barnabas Clarke’s shop “Near Liberty-Bridge” in Portsmouth. The two appeared on the same page of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Sparhawk’s about two-thirds of the way down the second column and Clarke’s filling the top half of the third and final column.

Clarke explicitly invoked many colonists’ sentiments about their relationship to Parliament when he listed the location of his shop, which would have called to mind the protests against the Stamp Act that occurred quite recently, less than three months earlier. Sparhawk, on the other hand, did not make reference to such difficulties, but, given the ubiquity of hemp in the colonial world, most colonists would have been aware that it was a resource for creating homespun. Sparhawk’s advertisement played off what colonists knew about nonconsumption and nonimportation even as it encouraged consumption of an alternate product. As the article from Colonial Williamsburg cited above explains, in the coming years newspapers increasingly encouraged growing and using hemp as a means of resistance as the imperial crisis intensified.

Mar 29 - Slave Ad 3:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 28, 1766).

Given that the advertisements for yesterday and today each had connections to colonists’ understanding of liberty, it is worth noting a third advertisement that appeared on this page of the New-Hampshire Gazette, immediately to the right of Sparkhawk’s advertisement and a bit below Clarke’s. While Clarke peddled his wares “Near Liberty-Bridge” and Sparhawk offered a product that could help colonists reduce commercial ties with an oppressive England, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette could purchase “A Negro Boy, about Fifteen Years of Age.” Once again, slavery and freedom were intertwined in the advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

March 28

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 28 - 3:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette.gif
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 28, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD By Barnabas Clarke, Near Liberty-Bridge.”

This advertisement caught my eye because it mentioned Liberty Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Almost yearly, I have visited Portsmouth, but have never heard of a Liberty Bridge. It turns out that the Liberty Bridge got its name in the year 1766 in connection with the Liberty Pole. On March 22, 1765, King George III signed the Stamp Act, which did not go into effect until November of that same year. It was later repealed on March 18, 1766, because of the strong opposition it met.

On January 6, 1766, a group of men who called themselves the Sons of Liberty made an effigy of George Grenville, the author of the Stamp Act, paraded it around, and burned it. To commemorate this event they erected a Liberty Pole bearing a flag with “LIBERTY, PROPERTY, and NO STAMPS.” On January 20, the Boston Evening-Post wrote up a story a few weeks after the event.

Mar 28 - 1:20:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (January 20, 1766).

The Liberty Bridge was the bridge that crossed what used to be Puddle Dock, which has since been filled in. The Liberty Pole did not get its official marker or a permanent pole until 1824. But the Liberty Bridge was notable enough and recent enough to be prominently displayed in this advertisement. People of the region would also have known exactly where this landmark was and would have been able to find the shop.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Even as Barnabas Clarke sold goods imported from England, the location he listed in his advertisement testified to the place he believed he and his fellow colonists inhabited in the British Empire. This place was not exclusively a geographic location but rather a sense of identity. “Near Liberty-Bridge” told potential customers where to find Clarke’s shop, but it also indicated the customary rights and privileges that Clarke and other colonists asserted they possessed. Mary selected an advertisement that, once again, demonstrates that advertising and consumption took on a political valence and encouraged colonists to think about the meanings of goods – social, cultural, and political – in the era of the American Revolution.

The Stamp Act had been repealed on March 18, 1766, ten days before this advertisement appeared, although it would take several weeks for word to arrive in the colonies. When that happened, colonists would also learn that the repeal of the Stamp Act had been accompanied by passage of the Declaratory Act, which asserted that Parliament had the authority to oversee and regulate the colonies. Liberty Poles and Liberty Bridges would continue to serve as potent symbols to colonists.

Nov 24 - 11:22:1765 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 22, 1765).

This advertisement also suggests how quickly colonists reconceived their surroundings. I have previously featured two advertisements Barnabas Clark(e) published in the New-Hampshire Gazette, one on November 1765 and the other in December 1765.* Both predated the activities of the Sons of Liberty on January 6, 1766, that Mary described. Protests by the Sons of Liberty were significant in their own right, but perhaps became increasingly effective as colonists remembered, commemorated, and incorporated them into their daily lives, including listing the location of their shops as “Near Liberty-Bridge.”

Dec 28 - 12:27:1765 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 27, 1765).

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*These two advertisements appeared via #Adverts250 on Twitter, prior to this blog launching on January 1, 2016.

March 27

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 27 - 3:27:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 27, 1766).

“At Store No. 14 on Long-Wharf.”

In the eighteenth century, Boston was one of the leading port cities in the colonies and Long Wharf was the center of shipping for the city. Before Faneuil Hall became the main marketplace for Boston, it was Long Wharf. The wharf was built of wood and stone over the defensive wall that used to encircle the harbor. Work on this new wharf began in 1710 and when it was finished, Long Wharf was 1,586 feet long and 54 feet wide. There was enough room for fifty ships to dock on the wharf and unload their cargo right into the warehouses on the wharf without the need for smaller intermediary ships. Both warehouses and shops were on the wharf, therefore the public and businesses owners made their way to the wharf for goods and commerce.

John and William Powell were in a great location, not just for the customer traffic but because they had lower transportation costs than other stores. It is likely that they received their shipments directly from the ships that transported their goods. In addition, they may have had a warehouse attached or nearby their shop for close storage of their goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I appreciate the way that Mary used this advertisement to investigate the infrastructure for commerce in Boston during the eighteenth century. However, it caught my eye for a different reason (which has been one of the great pleasures of collaborating on this project with my Public History students: the different questions, perspectives, and interpretations).

John and William Powell sold “Philadelphia Flour” at their store on Long Wharf. Both their merchandise and the format of their advertisement differ from many others that have been featured here. Some advertisements for consumer goods adhered to a formula: a headline announcing that goods had been “just imported” from London or another English or European city in a particular vessel and were being sold by a particular shopkeeper at a particular place, all followed by a list (length varied) of the “assortment of goods” for sale. The format and the language often followed a standardized pattern.

John and William Powell’s advertisement, however, contained none of those aspects. (The three items for sale hardly count as a short list, not when compared to other advertisements of the era.) The “Philadelphia Flour” that they sold had not been imported from across the Atlantic. Instead, it was part of a coastal trade in which the colonies supplied each other with the resources they produced. Pennsylvania, “the best poor man’s country,” and other Middle Atlantic colonies produced grains that they shipped to other colonies in North America as well as to the Caribbean and English ports.

Advertisements from the 1760s often trumpeted imported goods that colonists could purchase as expressions of their identity, but other commercial notices announced the availability of basic necessities, many of them produced in neighboring colonies.

Interview with Guest Curator Elizabeth Curley

Elizabeth Curley has completed her second and final week as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project.  As we say farewell to her, let’s take a few moments to find out more about her  behind-the-scenes contributions to this project.

Adverts 250:  This was your second week as guest curator. How did it compare to the first time? Did you make any changes to your research or writing process based on what you learned the first time?

Elizabeth Curley:  My second time as guest curator was much less stressful on one side, and much more stressful on another side. This time I had my process down and I knew how I wanted to procced with gathering my information. I got a whole new cycle of advertisements to research and to interpret. The first week I had no idea of where to do research, how much research to do, what I wanted to say. The second week I had all that knowledge and was able to put it to good use. The analogy that comes to my mind to describe the feeling is that I was no longer a freshman running around on the first day of my first semester wondering where the heck all my classes were. By my second week as guest curator I was the sophomore laughing at all the freshman running around on the first day!

Adverts 250:  What is the most important or most interesting thing that you learned about early American history throughout the process of working on this project?

Elizabeth Curley:  Early American history is not nearly recorded or taught enough about. The whole time I was doing this project I would get a piece of information, then research it, then was left with another question, which would lead me to a source, which wouldn’t be creditable. So I would have to find a creditable source which led me to one little piece of information, which would lead me to another why question. It was horrible. It was at the same time the most exhilarating and stressful process.

Obviously when the colonial Americans were living their lives they did not know we would care so much (except the founding fathers: they definitely knew we would care). They did not record or keep enough information for my liking. Coming from the Lexington, Massachusetts, public school system, when it comes to colonial American history I considered myself at an advantage. Then I started researching these advertisements. At very turn I wanted more information, and I was lucky if I could find it.

Adverts 250:  What is the most important thing you learned about “doing history” as a result of working on this project?

Elizabeth Curley:  Doing history is not easy; it’s actually very hard. It is not something you can turn off easily once its been turned on either. For two weeks my mind has been connecting things learned in my Public History class with my education class and with my art class. It’s exhausting, but it puts a whole new wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. Doing history is being mindful and active with knowledge. As a college student, I take in so many fact a day then only take them out of my head when I have to, but when you’re doing history you can not do that. You must place all the factors together, and involve yourself beyond remembering the information. If you do the Advert 250 Project without actively involving yourself, you’re doing a project your professor assigned to you, not doing history.

Adverts 250:  What is your favorite advertisement from your two weeks as guest curator? Why?

Elizabeth Curley:  I couldn’t pick a favorite, to be honest. All the advertisements I worked on had some type of personal connection to me, which made me like all of them. However, the top three have all been in my second week for sure. The advertisement about Harvard Library was so interesting just because I never knew about that, and finding it out made me feel like I was finding out a secret. The advertisement about James Askew was so interesting because I can be completely honest with the fact that I knew nothing about Pennsylvania before, and all the other interesting information I found out about colonial bankruptcy was fun too, even though it did come out with the advertisement. My advertisement about Elizabeth Clark and the Boston seed merchants was so fascinating because it was about Boston: a city that I proudly declared myself from and part of.

Adverts 250:  Is there anything else you would like to share with visitors to the Adverts 250 Project?

Elizabeth Curley:  The Adverts 250 Project was both the best and the worst two weeks of my life. Ask my roommates and they will tell you I was sometimes miserable. There were at least three days I spent at least five hours (on the third floor of our school library in a small room, in complete silence) on just the next day’s advertisement. I ran through a whole pack of post-its to mark connections and make notes, and they were everywhere: in my bed, next to my toothbrush, on top of the fan above our stove (don’t tell my RA). I will agree with them too. I was miserable so much so I forgot to eat two of those times (and I never forget food).

But I would not have traded it for the world. Personally, I was so much more into the advertisements the second week that the research was overwhelmingly exciting and rewarding. Between finding sources, answering the questions I had, chasing answers and then compiling all the information was like a process of fulfilling destiny. I was making information that might never connect come together. Even if no one ever saw it, I was putting it there. If I was not already so in love with being a future teacher, I would look into being a history researcher for the rest of my life. This was truly one of the most rewarding projects of my life.

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Thank you, Elizabeth.  You have made some very impressive contributions to the project!

March 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Mar 26 - 3:24:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (March 24, 1766).

“A General Assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”

In this advertisement, Philip Godfrid Kast sold something a little different. Imported from the last ships from London (which is a way to guarantee their freshness), he sold “a general assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.” I have never seen a pharmaceutical advertisement when looking through colonial newspapers for the Adverts 250 Project, which is why I chose this advertisement for today.

Kast characterizes his drugs as “Chymical” (which is the historical spelling of “chemical”) and “Galenical” (which is a medicine made from natural ingredients – plant or animal components – rather than synthetic components). Most prescription medications made today are of the chemical sort, since over time they have been proven to help more, and can be developed further to help more people.

What else further interested me was that this was a “dual” advertisement almost. Philip Godfrid Kast advertised for himself in Salem as well as for Dr. Stephen Huse in Haverhill, Maassachusetts. This is interesting because those towns are around twenty miles apart. Is it possible that these were the only two shops on the North Shore of Massachusetts that sold pharmaceuticals other than the port of Boston? Also, I noticed that Huse had the label of “Dr.” whereas Kast did not. This makes me wonder if they could possibly have been business partners or maybe Kast was more like a pharmacist today and Huse was more like a doctor today. Or maybe colonial Americans did not care as much about getting their medicines from such an official.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I intended to feature this advertisement (from a previous issue of the Boston Post-Boy) last week before my Public History students resumed their guest curator duties, but when Elizabeth submitted her list of proposed advertisements for this week I held off for a bit. I figured it would be much more interesting to see what each of us thought was interesting and important about this advertisement.

What originally drew me to this advertisement? In early January I included another advertisement from Kast in my analysis of the featured advertisement of the day. The Kast advertisement I used, however, was a trade card rather than a newspaper advertisement. I posted it because the trade card included an image of Kast’s “Sign of the Lyon & Mortar.” Most colonial shop signs have been lost to time, but trade cards provide an alternate form of preservation of the image if not the material object.

Philip Godfrid Kast Trade Card
Philip Godfrid Kast’s trade card engraved by Nathaniel Hurd in Boston in 1774 (American Antiquarian Society).

All of the advertisements that Elizabeth examined this week have told us something about consumer culture and life in eighteenth-century America, but in at least one aspect some of her advertisers themselves were extraordinary. Recall that Mary Symonds, the milliner from Philadelphia, also issued a trade card for her business. (Elizabeth also included a trade card from William Breck, whose shop “at the Golden Key” was located near the shop promoted in the featured advertisement on another day.) Very few retailers, merchants, producers, or suppliers distributed trade cards in colonial America. Only a small fraction of newspaper advertisers experimented with advertising campaigns that utilized multiple media. I’ve been hoping that some of my students would have an opportunity to examine some of those advertisers, but I never would have guessed at the outset of this project that any of them in any single week would encounter two or more advertisers who used trade cards to supplement their newspapers advertisements.

March 25

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Mar 25 - 3:24:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (March 24, 1766).

“Just imported in the Cornelia, Capt. Harvey, (via New-York) …”

This advertisement by merchant John Dockray caught my attention because of the fact that the goods came to the colonies via New York City before being sold in Newport, Rhode Island. The Cornelia, commanded by Capt. Harvey, was the ship that brought Dockray’s merchandise to New York. At this time Newport, itself a bustling port, was still smaller in size and population compared to New York or Boston.

The advertisement lists many different everyday goods for everyday people. Dockray clearly characterized these goods as “WINTER GOODS,” the uppercase letters and the placement made that the prominent and eye-catching feature. Due to the fact that it was March, colonists’ winter stores would be getting low as the season came to an end. With spring arriving soon, people would be getting ready for planting, farming, and other occupations.

Dockray also said that the store was attached to his house, which allowed for easy management and control.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth’s final observation, that Dockray operated his business in “his Store adjoining to his House,” allows us to further consider some of the ramifications of the work that she did yesterday when she located the general area where several colonists sold their wares using addresses from newspaper advertisements and trade cards in combination with maps of Boston from the period.

John Dockray’s situation was not unique. In yesterday’s featured advertisement Elizabeth Clark announced that she sold seeds “At her Shop near the Mill Bridge, BOSTON.” Clark most likely resided at the same location. In the featured advertisement from two days ago, William Symonds indicated that he sold his wares “at his house, the corner of Market and Second streets, opposite the Quaker Meeting-house” in Philadelphia. In the portion of the advertisement devoted to Mary Symonds’s millinery business, she reiterated that her merchandise was “in the corner shop in said house.”

Colonial Americans who lived in urban ports – like Newport, Boston, and Philadelphia – often tended to work at the same location where they lived, whether shopkeepers or artisans, unlike today’s practice of residing at one location and working elsewhere. An artisan’s workshop, for instance, might be on the first floor of the domicile, with the family residing upstairs. Or portions of a house could have been set aside for running a shop, as was the case with Mary Symonds.

As a result, the addresses included in colonial advertisements help us to reconstruct more than just the commercial landscape of early American cities and towns. In many instances they also tell us where a variety of people lived, helping us to better understand who lived in which neighborhoods and what kinds of relationships – social as well as economic – developed there.

Review of Don N. Hagist’s “The Stamp Act Riots Heard ‘Round the World”

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending a public lecture, “The Stamp Act Riots Heard ‘Round the World,” presented by Don N. Hagist at the Newport Historical Society. Hagist, an independent scholar, is the author of several books about the era of the American Revolution, including The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers Behind the Photographs; British Soldiers, American War: Voices of the American Revolution; and General Orders, Rhode Island: December 1776 – January 1778. He has also compiled four hundred advertisements in a volume that may be of particular interest to regular visitors here: Wives, Slaves and Servant Girls: Advertisements for Female Runaways in American Newspapers, 1770-1783.

For this presentation, Hagist set about exploring how the world heard about protests against the Stamp Act that took place in Newport, Rhode Island. To do so, he consulted American and British newspapers, demonstrating how local history telescoped out to tell a much larger story about the initial acts of resistance to Parliamentary authority and how protests in Newport were viewed on both sides of the Atlantic.

If we want to know about the reception the Stamp Act received in Newport, why not go to the Newport Mercury directly? Hagist deftly explained how changes in demographics and communications made reading newspapers in the eighteenth century much different than reading them in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Even a busy port like Newport was a small town compared to today’s standards, and keep in mind that newspapers were published once a week. There was little need for the local printer to provide extensive details about events that happened in town. Either local residents witnessed the protests against the Stamp Act themselves or they heard about them via word of mouth before the next issue of the local newspaper was published. Hagist explained that colonists consulted newspapers to learn about what was happening in faraway places, not their own neighborhoods. Indeed, news items were usually organized geographically, with items from London, the metropolitan center, and the English provinces appearing first, followed by news from other countries in Europe, then news from around the Atlantic world and the globe, and finally news from other colonies in British mainland North America.

As a result, the most extensive newspaper coverage of public demonstrations against the Stamp Act in Newport appeared not in the Newport Mercury but instead in publications printed in other cities. According the Hagist, the September 2, 1765, issue of the Newport Mercury, the first to appear after local residents made effigies, built a gallows, hanged and burned the effigies, and threatened the local stamp agent and forced his resignation in late August, mentioned these events, but not in nearly as much detail as the edition of the Boston Evening-Post, also published on September 2. (Here we see how printing a newspaper only once a week allowed for information to travel some distance and thus appear in print “simultaneously” as “the freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”)

The Boston Evening-Post devoted an entire column to providing extensive details about recent events in Newport. On the same day, the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, also offered coverage of the protests in Newport. Even though readers were treated to only half a column, this still exceeded the amount of detail in the Newport Mercury. In its September 6 issue, the New-Hampshire Gazette reprinted the coverage from the Boston Evening-Post. Printers continued a practice common in the colonial era: spreading news by borrowing generously from newspapers they received from their counterparts in faraway places. Reprinting news items verbatim was a standard practice, for all kinds of events and not just the protests against the Stamp Act.

Hagist then demonstrated that coverage of the protests in Newport crossed the Atlantic. The earliest report he found appeared in the London Chronicle on October 5, 1765, indicating that letters received from Boston included accounts of a “dangerous mob” in Newport. Over the course of the next month, an assortment of newspapers in London and other cities in Great Britain offered further coverage of the protests in Newport. This was news, but not “big news,” Hagist argued. One reprinting of the coverage from the September 2 Boston Evening-Post appeared between news from the continent and theater notices. Hagist explained that riots and other forms of political violence were much more common in the eighteenth century than today. Although we may think of the Stamp Act protests in Newport and elsewhere as exceptional, early modern newspaper printers and readers did not always think that they merited special attention.

Still, as time passed many London newspapers continued to insert items about the protests in Newport, sometimes rehashing information previously published when it came via a new source on one of the most recent ships to arrive at a port in England. The conclusion that Hagist reached next may have been the most surprising material for his audience: not everybody in London and the rest of England agreed that the Stamp Act was a good idea. Some sympathized with the colonists. British printers inserted the entire text of colonial charters in their newspapers so readers could decide for themselves if the traditional rights and privileges of colonists to govern themselves had been violated.

Hagist also offered one item of particular interest to me: an advertisement in which a London printer and bookseller announced that he sold about half a dozen pamphlets opposing the Stamp Act, each printed in Newport. This demonstrated both the flow of ideas and the flow of printed goods across the Atlantic. During the question-and-answer period I challenged Hagist on his interpretation of that advertisement, asking if he might have been too generous in asserting that such advertisements demonstrated any particular sentiment toward the colonists’ plight rather than opportunistic printers seeking to make a profit off of a political controversy. He acknowledged that the profit motive was indeed present, even a driving force, but argued that making a profit and engaging in an open exchange of ideas and rigorous debate were not mutually exclusive. (I’ve made similar arguments about a variety of advertisements featured here and that I have examined elsewhere, so it’s not surprising that his answer satisfied me.)

Hagist concluded, as I will now, with a brief summary of his presentation. Newspaper coverage of the Stamp Act protests in Newport was accurate. He did not find evidence of exaggerated rumors. The event, like other demonstrations occurring throughout the colonies, was major news in the American press. It was also considered news in Great Britain, but not accorded the same importance. It merely appeared alongside other news from the colonies, though over time it did spark additional debate in English newspapers. In general, coverage in British newspapers was remarkably balanced, defying modern expectations.

Over the past three months I have attempted to demonstrate that the content and appeals of many of the advertisements featured here were shaped by the events, especially continuing opposition to the Stamp Act, covered elsewhere in colonial newspapers. It’s necessary to examine the advertisements in the context of the news items in order to achieve a complete picture of how attempts to market various goods would have resonated with potential customers. Don N. Hagist’s lecture provided some of that context in a lively presentation that clearly engaged a standing-room-only audience at the Newport Historical Society last night.

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If you’d like to learn more about Don N. Hagist’s work, visit his blog:  British Soldiers, American Revolution.

March 24

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 24 - 3:24:1766 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 24, 1766).

Elizabeth Clark placed this advertisement to sell an assortment of seeds. She got her supplies “per Capt. Freeman” from London. The timing makes perfect sense, because April showers bring May, June, July, and August crops. With it being late March the planting season was right upon colonists in Boston and the rest of Massachusetts.

 

Anyone who frequently visits the Adverts 250 Project might notice that this advertisement seems repetitive. To be honest I had to review my work from my first week as guest curator in February. The historical impact that woman of the past have on women of the present and future interests me greatly so I try to pick advertisements that feature primarily woman if I am able. On February 17, I featured an advertisement from Lydia Dyar, who also sold garden seeds and had gotten them from Captain Freeman. In his additional commentary Prof. Keyes also pointed out an advertisement from yet another woman, Susanna Renken, who both sold seeds and bought them from Captain Freeman. All three of these woman posted similar advertisements, for mostly the same product, and bought their goods from the same man.

Two of them seem to have had shops in the same vicinity: Mill Creek. Susanna Renken states that her shop is “near the Draw Bridge” and Elizabeth Clark advertised that she was located “near the Mill Bridge,” which was located on Mill Creek. This trade card helped further convince me that these two woman shops were near each other because William Breck had a shop “at the Golden Key near the draw-Bridge Boston.”

Mar 25 - William Breck Trade Card
William Breck’s trade card (Paul Revere, engraver, ca. 1768).  This trade card is part of the American Antiquarian Society’s Paul Revere Collection.

Nathaniel Abraham, who also regularly advertised in the Boston newspapers, listed “Sign of the Golden Key, in Ann-street” as his location too.

 

Mar 24 - Nathaniel Abraham - 2:20:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 20, 1766).

This map shows that Ann Street intersected Mill Creek.  The drawbridge crossed Mill Creek.  Elizabeth Clark, Susanna Renken, William Breck, and Nathaniel Abraham had shops located near each other.

Mar 24 - Detail of Map
Detail of A Plan of the Town of Boston.
Mar 24 - Map of Boston.jpg
A Plan of the Town of Boston with the Intrenchments &ca. of His Majesty’s Forces in 1775, from the Observations of Lieut. Page of His Majesty’s Corps of Engineers, and from Those of Other Gentlemen (1777?).  Library of Congress.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I am impressed with the way that Elizabeth mobilizes several different primary sources –newspaper advertisements, trade cards, maps – in a preliminary attempt to reconstruct neighborhoods and marketplaces in Boston in the 1760s. This is work that historians and scholars in related fields have undertaken on a grander scale.

I appreciate that Elizabeth draws attention to an aspect of eighteenth-century advertisements that has not yet received much attention here: when examined systematically the locations listed in the advertisements help us to understand not only the geography of early American towns and cities but also relationships of various sorts.

More than two decades would pass before publication of the Boston Directory, the city’s first directory that listed the occupations and residences of its inhabitants, in 1789. That and subsequent city directories from Boston and other urban centers in early America have been invaluable to historians, but such sources do not exist for earlier periods.

Elizabeth has discovered on her own – and helps to demonstrate – that newspaper advertisements provide more information than just lists of goods or attempts to convince potential customers to make purchases. They include valuable information about where people worked and where they lived, details that fill in some of the blanks for an era before city directories.