May 13

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

May 13 - 5:12:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 12, 1766).

It appears that James Morton’s primary purpose in placing this advertisement was to inform customers who had purchased goods on credit that they needed to visit his shop to make payment because he was preparing to leave town. The nota bene, however, tells an additional story of marketing innovation and maximizing the returns on what he spent to insert this announcement in the local newspaper.

Since he had purchased space in the newspaper to encourage customers in “settling their Accounts,” he diversified his message by using a small portion of it to “sell what few Goods he has on Hand,” but for cash rather than credit. This more or less amounted to an eighteenth-century “going out of business” sale. Morton looked to get rid of his remaining stock, figuring that some return on his investment was better than none. To draw customers to his sale he promised that they could purchase the remaining goods “at prime Cost.” In other words, they would get a deal.

An Evening of Poetry at the American Antiquarian Society: Review of Citizen Poets of Boston

The American Antiquarian Society sponsors a robust series of Public Programs each fall and spring. I was especially interested in the most recent entry, last week’s “The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems” by Paul Lewis (English, Boston College), because it originated as a class project that relied significantly on digital humanities resources. Lewis was joined for the evening by Harrison Kent and Alexandra Mitropoulos, former students who worked on the project as undergraduates.

The title for the evening’s event came from the recently published The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems, 1789-1820 (University Press of New England, 2016), an anthology of mostly anonymous poems published in literary magazines in the era of the Early Republic. The book, however, was not the original goal of the advanced undergraduate seminar that located and identified the poems; instead, it evolved out of an exhibition, “Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History.” Lewis and his students originally sought to examine “poems so bad they were delightfully amateurish” that still managed to make their way into print in the decades immediately after the Revolution and ratification of the Constitution, but their research took them in new directions as they discovered a treasure trove of forgotten and overlooked poetry that was good, interesting, and told local stories.

May 13 - Citizen Poets
The Citizen Poets of Boston

Lewis, Kent, and Mitropoulos explained that 427 magazines were published in the United States during the early national period. Most magazines incorporated at least some poetry as a standard feature, but many did so quite extensively. More than 30,000 poems appeared in those magazines. Lewis and his students were especially interested in Massachusetts (and primarily Boston, the center of magazine publication in the commonwealth during the period), combing through 59 magazines to identify and examine over 4500 poems.

This is a project that would not have been possible even a decade ago, at least not as a collaborative research project in an upper-level undergraduate seminar. It relied on intense archival work – digital archival work using the American Periodical Series and similar resources. The American Periodical Series includes digitized images of magazines printed from the colonial period to the turn of the twentieth century. Gathering digital surrogates for the original magazines together in one place eliminates several of the obstacles that researchers in earlier generations faced. Images of each page are readily available, making it unnecessary to travel to distant libraries and historical institutions. In effect, digital sources bring the archives to researchers, including students who otherwise would not have such extensive access to primary sources. (This assumes that an educational institution has the funds to purchase a subscription to the American Periodical Series and similar databases of early American primary sources. Many smaller colleges and universities do not, but that digital divide is a topic for another time. Still, I want to be clear that although digitized sources make new projects and pedagogy possible, unequal access means digitization is not a panacea.)

Lewis and his students were able to consult the 59 magazines printed in Massachusetts in the early national period relatively easily, though the project was still labor intensive even with the digital resources. As they identified and sifted through more than 4500 poems they decided to focus on poetry that revealed life in early Boston. Doing so required learning about publication and republication practices of the era. For instance, in efforts to fill their pages editors often inserted material copied directly from British periodicals in the absence of international copyright laws. Lewis and his students discarded those poems. They also discovered that editors frequently issued invitations to readers to submit their own poetry, invitations that anonymous poets eagerly accepted. Since magazine distribution was relatively limited during the period – most circulated primarily within the city of publication – these poems often revealed much about local culture in Boston. (Lewis suggested that other teams of scholars and students could pursue similar projects in Philadelphia, New York, and other urban centers.) In addition to inviting readers to submit original poetry, editors also solicited poems in response to other poems, creating conversations among readers from issue to issue. The anonymous poets often learned whether their work had been accepted or rejected in the pages of the magazines themselves; rather than communicating privately with these “citizen poets,” editors created a feature, “Acknowledgments to Correspondents,” in which they praised or disparaged the poems submitted to them.

Who were these citizen poets? Lewis and his students explored the democratizing effects of publishing poetry by anonymous authors in the literary magazines of the Early Republic. Although most of the authors cannot be identified definitively, many were surely women. Quite possibly some were non-whites. Anonymous publication allows – then and now – for imaginative readings of the identity of those citizen poets since their gender, race, and class remained hidden. The “citizen” in citizen poet accordingly refers to anybody who chose to participate in the conversations and debates pursued in verse rather than the more narrow confines of who was eligible to vote in the early national period. Poetry elicited broad civic participation as a variety of readers made contributions to public discourses. For instance, provocatively misogynistic poems generated responses. Lewis and his students documented poems and “anti-poems” that responded to each other over the course of several issues. Many poems expressed the hopes and anxieties of various Boston residents as they contemplated their role in early American society, including a poem about a young seamstress preparing for her marriage. She hoped that her husband would sometimes “let me wear the breeches.” Whether written by a woman or not, this poem indicates that everyday Bostonians grappled with the social roles and political rights of women in the era of the Early Republic.

Lewis and his students underscored that these forgotten poems reveal lively, open, and engaged interactions among readers. They offer glimpses of everyday life – relationships between men and women, labor and occupations, politics, family life, entertainment and pleasures – that might seem foreign to modern readers. In that regard, the poems in The Citizen Poets of Boston are a valuable resource for scholars, teachers, and students. However, I am just as interested in the process: the methodology that made that anthology possible. Using digitized sources to pursue such an extensive project helped to make possible a model of professor-student collaborative work that fulfilled some of the best ideals of scholars incorporating their own research into the classroom to create richer educational experiences. The digital revolution helps to make possible a greater array of “hands-on humanities” projects that engage both scholars and students and ultimately yield significant results.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (May 12, 1766).

“William Fisher, In CORNHILL, HAS imported a general Assortment of English Goods which he sells at the cheapest Rates.”

Today’s featured advertisement appears fairly short and relatively basic when compared to many of the more extensive advertisements that crowded the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers. William Fisher’s advertisement, however, was not unique. Many advertisers opted for this sort of short commercial notice. Some may not have been able to afford more space in the newspaper. Others may not have been as innovative in their thinking, compared to their competitors, about how to incite demand among potential customers. Some may have depended on networks of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to sustain their shops, believing that an abbreviated advertisement served as sufficient reminder of the wares they offered for sale.

I’ve chosen this advertisement to feature today as a means of correcting an oversight. In the process of selecting advertisements to examine I have privileged some and disproportionately excluded others, especially the plethora of short commercial notices that were familiar to colonial readers.

I’ve also selected this advertisement because even though it is short enough to fit entirely in a modern tweet it still incorporated three common marketing appeals that tell us about eighteenth-century consumer culture. Fisher made an appeal to price when he noted that “he sells at the cheapest Rates.” He expected that low prices would help to attract customers. He also stressed that he offered choices to his customers, “a general Assortment.” Upon visiting his shop customers could expect to make purchases based on their own tastes rather than accept whatever happened to be in stock. Fisher may not have found it necessary to pay to print an exhaustive list of his merchandise. Other shopkeepers already did so, which meant that Fisher could depend on readers already being familiar with what was available in Boston. Finally, he stated that he had “imported … English Goods.” Consuming wares imported from England helped colonists feel connected to fellow Britons on the other side of the Atlantic. Though they resided thousands of miles away, they shared a British identity.

William Fisher’s advertisement seems deceptively short considering how much it tells us about early American consumer culture.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:9:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 9, 1766).

“He proposes to begin the publication of a NEWSPAPER on Friday next.”

William Rind was preparing to publish a newspaper. In fact, he was a week away from launching a rival newspaper to the Virginia Gazette published by Alexander Purdie and Company. Rind also published his newspaper in Williamsburg on Fridays, but to avoid confusion he named it Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to distinguish it from its competitor as much as possible. (I wonder if Purdie and Company engaged in similar sarcasm as they set type for this advertisement promoting a rival publication, an advertisement that appeared in their own newspaper.)

Rind needed to estimate how many copies of the first and subsequent issues he should print. His advertisement included a call for “those Gentlemen with whom he has left subscription papers, to return the lists of those who have already signed.” What did he mean by subscription papers? To assess and encourage interest in his newspaper Rind, like others who printed books and periodicals in the eighteenth century, first distributed another form of advertising known as subscription papers or subscription notices: printed announcements that included a prospectus describing the purpose and intentions of the proposed publication as well as a list of terms for subscribing (such as cost and frequency of publication). Rind likely made arrangements with local merchants and shopkeepers to post his subscription papers. The subscription papers may have had space for new subscribers to write their names; alternately, the merchants and shopkeepers aiding Rind may have kept lists of their own. Whichever method was employed, Rind called on “those Gentlemen with who he has left subscription papers” to forward the lists of subscribers to him.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:9:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 9, 1766).

“AGNES … is a fair straight made lusty Mulatto, and has small breasts.”

When the Virginia Gazette made its debut in the Adverts 250 Project a week ago, I opted to feature a genre of advertisements – those seeking the return of runaways – rather than a particular advertisement. Accompanied by crude woodcuts, runaway advertisements were easy to identify at a glance. I remarked how startling it seemed to see nine runaway advertisements on a single page of the Virginia Gazette. As David Waldstreicher has argued, slavery, commerce, and print culture were bound together in eighteenth-century America.

Runaway advertisements presented an alternate means of placing black bodies on display in early America, first by describing them in great detail and then by encouraging readers to carefully surveil the black men and women they encountered. In the case of Agnes (also known as Agie), this amounted to more than noticing her garments (“a striped red, white, and yellow calamanco gown, a short white linen sack, petticoat of the same, a pair of stays with fringed blue riband, a large pair of silver buckles”). It also included attention to physical features, such as “a small scar over one of her eyes.”

Yet the descriptions could sometimes be far more intimate and invasive, especially as white colonists characterized black and mulatto women’s bodies. According to today’s advertisement, Agnes was “a fair straight made lusty Mulatto, and has small breasts.” Even as the advertiser acknowledged one of the essential aspects of Agnes’ womanhood, he deprived her of the consideration and deference that would have been shown to most white women (especially middling and elite white women) when describing them in conversation or in print. Calling specific attention to the size of Agnes’ breasts served to further commodify her rather than humanize her.

N.B. Notice that this advertisement states that Agnes ran away in the middle of January, yet it was published nearly four months later in early May. I hope that she made good on her escape permanently.

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 9, 1766).

Stephen Hardy, TAYLOR from LONDON.”

Stephen Hardy did not indicate how long he had lived and worked in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but his advertisement made it clear that he had migrated from London.

In yesterday’s advertisement blacksmith Daniel Offley played on the fact that he had lived in Philadelphia and practiced his trade there for many years. His familiarity with, as well as service to, the community, Offley stated, justified potential customers choosing him over his competitors.

In contrast, it likely worked in Stephen Hardy’s favor if he had only recently crossed the Atlantic to take up residence in New Hampshire. Portsmouth was a small city in 1766 – barely a village compared to the booming population of London. Colonists in Portsmouth and throughout the colonies felt anxious that they lived in tiny backwater outposts of the empire.

By underscoring that he was from London (and presumably trained there in the tailoring trade), Hardy linked himself, his business, and the “Gentlemen’s Cloaths of all Sorts, Ladies Riding Habbits, &c.” he made and sold with the cosmopolitanism of the empire’s metropolitan center of fashion and culture.

In the decades before the Revolution, several English travelers registered their shock – and sometimes annoyance – that colonists dressed in the latest London fashions. Engaging a “TAYLOR from LONDON” would have helped colonial consumers assert their identity as Britons and as genteel participants cognizant of the latest trends in the heart of the capital and cultural center of the empire.

May 8

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

May 8 - Wharton 5:8:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 8, 1766).
May 8 - 5:8:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 8, 1766).

“ANCHORS manufactured in America.”

“I have for some time carried on the business here.”

Daniel Offley and Charles Wharton were competitors when it came to selling anchors in Philadelphia. Both of these advertisements appeared in the May 8, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal, but the dates affixed to each suggest the course of conversations that took place, certainly in the public prints but possibly face-to-face with potential customers as well. Wharton’s advertisement had been running since late March, but Offley’s appeared for the first time in the May 8 issue. (Guest curator Maia Campbell previously featured the same advertisement from Wharton, which also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette.)

Wharton incorporated two powerful appeals into his short advertisement. He pledged to sell anchors “at a half penny per lb. cheaper than any other person can or will sell at in this city.” Considering that anchors weighed hundreds or even thousands of pounds, this presented significant savings. Wharton also announced that he his anchors were “manufactured in America.” Like a good number of other merchants, retailers, and artisans in the mid 1760s, he embarked on the first “Buy American” campaign in response to the Stamp Act. (Keep in mind that in March, when the advertisement first appeared, the colonists were not yet aware that the Stamp Act had been repealed – just two days before the date on the advertisement.)

Wharton, a wealthy merchant from a prominent family, sold anchors, but Offley, a smith, “MADE and SOLD” anchors as a significant part of his livelihood. His advertisement suggests that he found it difficult to compete with the well-connected Wharton (though he never named his competitor), but he offered extensive explanations and justifications in order to convince potential customers to purchase his anchors even though they cost more.

Offley stated that he did not have access to the same resources as the manufacturer of anchors “sent to this place” from elsewhere in the colonies. If he could get “shanks, made out of the loop directly from the pig-iron at the forges” he could afford to sell his anchors at the lower price. However, Offley asserted that he made anchors of a higher quality, emphasizing “the care I always take to have them made well.” He also stated that he had “for some time carried on the business here” and practiced it “to the greatest perfection that it has been brought to here.” In addition, he promised that “one of my anchors of four hundred weight, will hold as much as one of the others of five hundred.” In other words, he sold a superior product that made it unnecessary to buy heavier anchors, thus more than covering the half penny per pound discount offered by his competitor.

In addition, Offley repaired anchors, a service not offered by Wharton. He doubled down on his skills as an artisan when he threatened that he would not “mend nor repair any of those that is advertised American made.” Offley warned that if potential customers bought their anchors from Wharton that he had no intention of making repairs at some later time. Instead, he would turn them away.

Wharton advanced a “Buy American” appeal that likely resonated with many readers, but Offley thought about production and commerce on an even more local scale. He had established himself as a smith in Philadelphia, as had others. He did not appreciate a merchant like Wharton infringing on business that he felt should go to local artisans, no matter if Wharton sold products “manufactured in America.” Offley pleaded that “if this branch of manufactory be taken away from this place, it may be a long time before it may be regained.” This would be a loss for “the number of hands that may be employed in it.” In addition, Offley was interested in “keeping the cash in our own province, circulating amongst the laborious part of mankind.”

That final sentence suggests that status played a role in these competing advertisements. Wharton and Offley both saw value in products “manufactured in America,” but the merchant and the artisan ultimately had different goals. Offley suggested that Wharton sought merely to line his own pockets, but purchasing anchors made locally by “the laborious part of mankind” would serve the greater good.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:5:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 5, 1766).

“He upholds and warrants their Performance for one Year.”

Isaac Heron made, sold, and repaired watches. He was proud of his work and stood behind, as the assurances in this advertisements demonstrate. This was not only a point of pride in a job well done, however, but also a strategy for encouraging potential clients to visit his shop.

Heron offered several guarantees in his advertisement. If he repaired a watch, he pledged that it would work correctly for at least a year (though he excluded accidents and “Mismanagement” on the part of the owner). For watches that he made and sold, he guaranteed that they would work correctly for several years. The greater the value of the watch, the longer the period before this warranty expired.

To prove that these were not hollow promises, Heron called on former customers from the past year to bring in their watches if his work had failed. Just as he expected “to receive his Money when earn’d,” he acknowledged his obligation to “Rectify” any of his work that did not live up to the promises he had made.

From start to finish, Heron stressed that his customers “may depend on their [watches] being carefully repair’d, justly charg’d for, and return’d” in a (ahem) timely manner.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:5:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 5, 1766).

“He has as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS.”

Thomas Green’s notice that he intended to open a school does not look much different from other advertisements offering similar services in the decade prior to the Revolution, at least not until the final sentence. After rehearsing the subjects to be taught and assuring parents that their “Scholars” and “small Readers” that he would instruct his charges “with the greatest Alacrity,” he also announced that “He has, as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS, &c. at a reasonable Rate.”

How did Green earn his living? Was he primarily a shopkeeper who sought to supplement his income by trying his hand at teaching? Or was he a teacher or tutor who sold some imported goods on the side to help make ends meet when he his school was not fully enrolled? This advertisement does not offer any definitive answers, but Newport was a small enough town in 1766 (even though it ranked as one of the most significant ports in British mainland North America) that most readers would have been familiar with his occupation(s). In his reference to retailing imported goods, he noted he did so “as usual,” suggesting that readers were already aware of his business activities.

As many American towns and cities continued to grow throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, the residents increasingly lived among strangers. “THOMAS GREEN, In Banister’s Row” did not seem to think of himself as a stranger to others in Newport. Just the opposite, his advertisement suggests that he believed the majority of residents were at least acquainted with him in some fashion.

A Student’s Review of the Hildebrands’ “Ballads from Boston”


I attended the performance by David and Ginger Hildebrand with a somewhat unique perspective. For me, their performance was the conclusion of a semester long project that had included the identification, transcription, and analysis of fifteen ballads about piracy and privateering from the Isaiah Thomas Broadsides Ballads Project. My independent study entailed focusing on the themes of peace and conflict while examining the ways pirates were viewed in the Early Republic. While my main goal for the project was to gain an in-depth understanding of piracy in the early nineteenth century, one of my main motivations for choosing this method of investigation was that I hoped to gain a greater understanding of what life was like in New England at the time.

May 6 - Capt Kidd
The Dying Words of Capt. Robert Kidd: A Noted Pirate, Who Was Hanged at Execution Dock, in England” (Boston: Nathaniel Coverly, ca. 1810-1814). Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project, American Antiquarian Society.

While the scholarly literature yielded some information on this topic, it was not until I began the main transcription and analysis of the ballads did I find myself truly understanding what life in the Early Republic may have been like. I think Americans tend to have a romanticized view about the time, and we tend to think of the citizens of the country at that time united as a whole, rather than as individuals (as we are today). We focus on the prominent names like Adams, Madison, Hamilton, and Jackson. We often don’t have time to dive into the lives of the “common folk” like Nathaniel Coverly, the printer of the ballads in the collection.

Through this project, however, I felt I was able to connect to Coverly on a more personal level. As I pored over the documents that he had created, I began picking up on little nuances that may have slipped the eye of many a reader of his ballads, but would have been conscious decisions made by Coverly in the printing of the documents. For example, it appears as though Coverly had a shortage of capital letters “A” and “T,” because frequently in his documents they are replaced by capital italicized “A”s and “T”s. As I began to find small “errors” like these, I felt like I was beginning to look past Nathaniel Coverly the historical printer, and was starting to see Nathaniel Coverly the man. I found myself imagining a hardworking man and perhaps his apprentices in the Early Republic setting type, trying to make sure the pieces fit and that they weren’t going to make any errors. I found myself beginning to stand in his shoes.

That is why I think events like these are so important. The Hildebrands were able to transport their listeners back in time through their style, their knowledge, and their performances. As I sat under the dome in Antiquarian Hall, and I listened to them performing the pieces printed by the man I feel I’ve come to know a little bit, I found myself imagining what it must have been like to have been in his shoes in the early 1800s. I pictured myself standing in his shop printing the very same ballads that were being sung outside his window by the common folk of Boston. Through the narrations and adept performances of the Hildebrands, I felt as though I was truly experiencing nineteenth-century entertainment as it was meant to be. It was one of the few times I’ve felt like I’ve truly understood what life may have been for an everyday person during a time in history.

Much of my undergraduate education in history has focused on looking past the main story. It has dealt with understanding the daily events and life of those who have been traditionally overlooked by the common narratives. By combining the understanding I have been able to gain through the in-depth examination of Coverly’s works with the performance by David and Ginger Hildebrand, I feel as though I’ve never understood part of the daily life of typical Bostonians any better. In addition to the entertainment value inherent in performances such as these, the knowledge that comes from them is what truly makes them valuable.


Andrew Lampi is a senior at Assumption College, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Peace and Conflict Studies. Much of the work for his minor has focused on historical events, and he particularly enjoys learning about and working on projects focusing on Colonial, Revolutionary, and Early Republic America. Outside the classroom, Andrew is an avid outdoorsman who also enjoys a great book. He has transcribed more than fifteen documents for the Isaiah Thomas Broadsides Ballads Project, most of them as a independent capstone research project for his minor, and hopes to contribute to the project in the future.  Tomorrow, Andrew will represent his class as valedictorian at Assumption College’s commencement exercises for the Class of 2016.