April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:28:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (April 28, 1766).

“May depend on having their commands executed with expedition, and in the neatest manner.”

Breechesmaker John Baster understood the importance of customer service, and he wanted potential customers to know that he would treat them well if they called on him. He promised that his clients “may depend on having their commands executed with expedition, and in the neatest matter.” In other words, he did the job quickly but well, not sacrificing quality for speed.

In choosing to use the word “commands” rather than “orders” or “instructions,” he also established the relationship between artisan and customer. Whether elite, middling, or more humble, all customers could expect deference from Baster throughout their commercial interaction, regardless of their relative status and relationship to each other beyond his shop at the Sign of the Buck and Breeches.

Baster thanked former customers for their patronage (letting potential customers know that others had visited his shop) before stating that he “only requests the continuance of it, no longer than he makes it his study to please.” This convoluted passage was the eighteenth-century method of assuring customers that he understood that if he failed to offer good customer service that he realized that they would seek out other breechesmakers. Not only did he realize that was the case, he expected it.

Customer service is a major aspect of running a retail enterprise today, but colonial Americans understood its value as well, though they may have expressed it differently.

April 29

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

Apr 29 - 4:28:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766).

“Just published, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, CONSIDERATIONS upon the RIGHTS of the COLONISTS.”

When the Stamp Act was repealed a major political crisis came to a close (though the simultaneous passage of the Declaratory Act signaled that not all was resolved between Parliament and Britain’s colonies in North America). Colonial merchants imported goods from Britain. Advertisers encouraged consumers to purchase those goods.

Printers and booksellers continued to market other wares that had been for sale during the Stamp Act crisis: books and pamphlets about the “RIGHTS of the COLONISTS to the PRIVILEGES of British SUBJECTS.” Such items had been advertised frequently before the Stamp Act went into effect in 1765 and continuing through its repeal in the spring of 1766. The Stamp Act may have been repealed, but existing stock of these pamphlets did not disappear. Printers and booksellers needed to sell the leftovers in order to profit or at least break even on their investments. Surplus pamphlets did not suit their needs.

So they continued to advertise. Today’s featured advertisement was not the only one of its kind in the April 28, 1766, issue of the Newport Mercury. Other notices promoted books and pamphlets that advanced a similar political position. They appeared in the same issue that reprinted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” from the Boston Gazette (which we saw also reprinted in the New-Hampshire Gazette earlier this week) celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act.

Apr 29 - Advertisement Extraordinary
Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766).

In all fairness, decisions to continue selling and marketing pamphlets about the “RIGHTS of the COLONISTS” did not necessarily depend solely on financial considerations to the exclusion of sincere political anxieties. Although the immediate crisis was over, the Declaratory Act dampened the colonists’ victory. Astute printers and booksellers likely realized that Parliament and the colonies would continue to experience tensions. By selling pamphlets like the one from today’s advertisements, printers and booksellers performed a civic duty that kept their fellow colonists informed and helped to frame future debates and discourse.

Reflections on Working with Guest Curators, Once Again

The semester is coming to a close and the guest curators from my Public History class have completed their responsibilities. In a series of interview questions, they each reflected on their experiences once again at the end of a second week guest curating. I would like to do the same now that the classroom project has concluded (for the moment: guest curators will return as part of future courses).

Working with my students on this collaborative project has been immensely rewarding, one of my favorite endeavors in nearly a decade of teaching. Why? There are several reasons. For one, this has been the most effect method for incorporating my own research into the classroom. In the past I’ve brought eighteenth-century advertisements to class to analyze as primary sources or assigned chapters I’ve written to supplement other readings about the confluence of commerce, culture, and politics in early America. While I will continue to do so, neither of those approaches allowed the sustained inquiry that guest curating the Adverts 250 Project for a week fostered and required.

I also believe that this was an effective method of instruction because students played such an important role in shaping the outcome. Although I did set some basic parameters (establishing a methodology for which issues of colonial newspapers should be consulted and insisting that they had to select advertisements for consumer goods and services, with only one exception each week), the guest curators chose the advertisements that interested them. This engaged their creativity, but it also gave them ownership of the work they were doing. For many assignments – in history and other disciplines – they respond to a prompt provided by a professor. They research and write about something that professor has specified they must investigate. For this project, however, they had much more freedom to choose what interested them.

One student was especially interested in women’s history. Whenever possible, she selected advertisements placed by women. That turned out to be just a starting point. As she examined those advertisements she learned a lot about the communities in which those women lived and the culture, politics, and economics that shaped their lives. The advertisements led her to a variety of primary and secondary sources that enriched her understanding of eighteenth-century America more broadly. She developed better research skills, tracking down maps, trade cards, and paintings from the period. Throughout the process, she enthusiastically learned about early America because her curiosity propelled her forward. I could have designed a series of readings and document exercises to impart similar knowledge, but the sense of discovery involved with locating and choosing which sources to consult enhanced the learning experience by giving the student both authority and responsibility for shaping her inquiry in the manner she desired and found most compelling.

The collaborative nature of this project also contributed to its success as a classroom exercise. I tell all of my students that I expect them to be junior colleagues throughout the semester, that we will investigate the past together. The extent to which students actually accept my invitation to become junior colleagues depends in part on the individual and in part on the type of class. Due to their previous experience, greater exposure to primary and secondary sources, and the projects they are expected to produce, seniors conducting their own research in the capstone seminar are much more likely to comport themselves as junior colleagues than students in introductory survey courses.

For this project, students could not avoid acting as junior colleagues, in large part because we interacted so extensively beyond the classroom. During the past semester I had more sustained contact with my Public History students than with any other students in any course I previously taught, with the exception of a student who researched and wrote a senior thesis under my direction and the possible exception of some of the best and most ambitious seniors in the research seminar. One at a time, the guest curators were immersed in the Adverts 250 Project for an entire week, which meant working closely with me.

Each student selected a slate of proposed advertisements and then met with me to have them approved. Most received my blessing, but I explained why some were rejected and gave advice for making new selections. Once an advertisement was approved, the guest curator independently conducted research on some aspect of it, though I sometimes made suggestions or provided context that I thought would be helpful. Writing a rough draft followed the research stage. Guest curators sometimes met with me in my office to review their drafts; other times we had conversations via email. Some drafts required a bit of polishing before being posted online, but others needed more extensive revisions. I made suggestions for revising prose and reorganizing material. I identified occasional historical errors, flagged incorrect assumptions, and challenged interpretations. I suggested additional sources to consult and explained why some online sources were problematic. We worked together on writing, research, and information literacy skills. Most entries went through more than one draft.

Then came another collaborative element of the project. Once a student’s entry was ready, I contributed my own “additional commentary” about the advertisement. Sometimes I expanded on the theme the guest curator had developed. Sometimes I addressed another aspect of the advertisement that interested me. In both instances I analyzed the advertisement selected by the student. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the guest curators did not always select the advertisements that I would have chosen, but each of their advertisements was significant in its own right. I believe that letting them take the lead, putting them in a position of authority in which I applied my expertise to the material they had selected, helped my students to conceive of themselves truly as junior colleagues.

There’s one more explanation for why this project was such a successful part of my Public History class: I worked with good students. Part of me fears attempting to replicate this experience in a future class with a different cohort of guest curators! As much as this method of instruction aided my students in learning and achieving their potential, it’s imperative to acknowledge that I benefitted from working with good students, each of them simultaneously smart, responsible, conscientious, and hard working. This experiment could have had a very different outcome this semester. I’m grateful that the guest curators took it seriously and, as a result, made such significant contributions to the Adverts 250 Project.

April 28

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

Apr 28 - 4:28:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (April 28, 1766).

“TAKEN out of the Shop … two Beaver Hatts supposed to be Stolen.”

Advertisements did not always serve a single purpose in the eighteenth century, as we saw last week in a notice that seemed to squeeze two separate advertisements – one for a sloop and the other for an enslaved woman – together into a single square. Neither seemed to be the primary purpose for the advertisement; instead, an auctioneer placed relatively equal emphasis on both sales.

Lazarus LeBaron, however, did have a purpose when he placed his notice. He proclaimed that a thief had stolen “two Beaver Hatts” from his shop and warned readers against “any suspicious Person” selling similar hats. LeBaron was agitated and he wanted justice, offering a reward to “any Person that can give Information so that the Person who took them may be convicted.” His indignation was apparent.

His demeanor in the notice made the nota bene that much more jarring: “Hatts of all Sorts made and Sold at the above Shop.” As long as he was paying for an advertisement in hopes of recovering his stolen goods, LeBaron likely figured that he might as well attempt to attract some business in the bargain. Even if the pilfered hats never turned up, perhaps the nota bene might have yielded new business to offset the loss and the price of the notice. Still, promoting his shop seemed to be an afterthought relative to his crusade to track down “any suspicious Person” who had absconded with his “Beaver Hatts.”

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:25:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766).

Some of Portsmouth’s retailers regularly advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette throughout the winter of 1765 and 1766 while the Stamp Act was still in effect, but it tended to be the same advertisers week after week. In April, the residents of Portsmouth received word of the repeal of the Stamp Act. The news was first published in the April 18 issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The newspaper published the following week included several new advertisements from retailers who had not marketed their wares during the winter, including Nathaniel Barrell.

This could simply have been a matter of not needing to advertise. Perhaps Barrell and his counterparts had a surplus of goods in stock before the winter or before the Stamp Act went into effect, making it less necessary to advertise. Indeed, throughout the series of non-importation and non-consumption agreements in the decade prior to the Revolution merchants and retailers seized opportunities to clear out surplus wares.

Perhaps Barrell and his counterparts advertised wares recently imported from England after a lull in transatlantic voyages during the winter months. The same vessels that brought news that the Stamp Act had been repealed also brought consumer goods in their cargo holds. This may have simply been a matter of timing.

On the other hand, it is also possible that news about the Stamp Act played a role in Barrell’s decision to advertise in the April 25 issue. With tensions between England the colonies reduced, he may have had more room to maneuver in the public prints and the marketplace, announcing boldly in the first line of his advertisement that he carried goods “Imported from LONDON.” Given his own politics or the views of neighbors and acquaintances who were also his customers, he might have identified the shift in attitudes toward England in the wake of recent news as a signal that he could promote goods imported from London.

It very well could be that all three of these factors, to greater or lesser degrees, played a role in Barrell’s decision to advertise in the April 25 issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:25:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766).

“RUN away from his Master … a NEGRO Man named Neptune.”

John Moody placed this advertisement when “a NEGRO Man named Neptune” – almost certainly not the name bestowed on him by his parents when he was born – ran away. This advertisement stands in stark contrast to the one featured yesterday, though both came from the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Yesterday’s “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” encouraged readers to put on all kinds of displays upon receiving word that the Stamp Act had been repealed. This advertisement, however, asserted that black bodies should be on display and encouraged readers to take note of any “NEGRO Man” they encountered. Black bodies were figuratively on display in the crude woodcut that could have been any enslaved man. Black bodies were literally on display – scrutinized closely – any time readers attempted to assess if a black man fit the description in the advertisement. “Neptune” could change his clothing, but the fugitive could not disguise certain physical characteristics: “lost two of his Toes, and can’t move his Under Jaw.” Determining if a black man fit this description could require sustained observation; these are not attributes that would necessarily be noticed at a glance. While many colonial Americans engaged in public spectacles to celebrate the end of the Stamp Act, “Neptune” likely did all he could to avoid becoming a public spectacle, but today’s advertisement encouraged colonial Americans to think of all black bodies as some sort of public spectacle to be observed and scrutinized.

April 25

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

Apr 25 - 4:25:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766).

“ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary.  …  Repeal of the Stamp-Act.”

This “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” hailed the “Repeal of the Stamp-Act” and encouraged other patriotic Britons to do the same. In particular, the advertisement encouraged a variety of public displays” “general Illuminations, Ringing of Bells, Bonfires, Firing of Guns, or other Fire-Works” to be conducted “in Duty and Loyalty to our most gracious SSEVERIGN” and “in Respect, Love and Gratitude to his patriotic MINISITRY.”

This advertisement helps to demonstrate that the American Revolution did not take place as soon as Parliament passed the first act intended to better regulate colonial commerce and raise revenues after the Seven Years War. Most colonists did not immediately clamor for political independence from Great Britain. Instead, that decision took place only after a lengthy process that extended more than a decade as colonists and Parliament acted and reacted to each other.

In the spring of 1766, however, colonists were overjoyed to return to what they considered their rightful place in the global British Empire. Once “that detestable Act” – a measure also described as “unconstitutional” – was repealed, opponents in Britain’s North American colonies encouraged “Rejoicings and Exhibitions of joy thro-out this Continent” but also desired that “all whom it may concern, in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America” would join in their celebrations. In saluting the “Great GEORGE and PATRIOT PITT” along with the king’s “patriotic MINISTRY” colonists signaled that they considered themselves Britons and wished to be part of the British Empire. Only in the wake of greater disruptions and the “Contempt of an infernal, atheistical, Popish and Jacobite Crew” over the course of the next decade would revolution be fomented. The crisis had been averted – temporarily – but the promulgation of the Declaratory Act at the same time the Stamp Act was repealed suggested that “Rejoicings and Exhibitions of joy” might not last long.

**********

Take note of the first and last lines of this advertisement: “From the Boston Gazette, April 21.” and “P. S. All Printers throughout this Continent are desired to publish this Advertisement.” Just as printers had shared and reprinted news of the Stamp Act and protests against it throughout 1765 and into 1766, they also exchanged and shared news of its repeal. This advertisement, originally printed in Boston four days earlier, was inserted in the very next issue of Portsmouth’s New-Hampshire Gazette. This was how news went viral in eighteenth-century America