August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:30:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 30, 1766).


“Still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS …”

“The Partnership … being now expired …”

“TO BE SOLD … A FARM containing seventy acres of good land …”

“READY MONEY given for Linen Rags of any Sort …”

Aug 31 - 8:23:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 23, 1766).

Rather than examine a single advertisement, today’s entry explores the day-to-day operations of the printing trade by examining the advertisements and news items that appeared in the final pages of two consecutive issues of the Providence Gazette: August 23 and 30, 1766. At a glance, these two pages look nearly indistinguishable from each other, thanks in part to the way that Thompson and Arnold’s oversized advertisement draws the eye. But it is not merely the repetition of that particular advertisement that creates the perception of two nearly identical pages. In addition, all five advertisements in the August 30 issue were repeated from in the same configuration that they appeared in the August 23 issue. Finally, the Providence Gazette’s colophon runs across the bottom of each page. New content appeared only in the first column: an extract from the Gentleman’s Magazine and a report about a trial and execution in New Jersey had been replaced with reports of bandits in western Massachusetts and slaves attaching their masters in New Hampshire.

Here we see that printing advertisement offered several advantages to the men and women who printed newspapers. Not only did these notices generate revenue, once set in type they also streamlined the production of newspapers from week to week. In an age when all type was set by hand, printers benefited from inserting advertisements for multiple weeks. In most instances individual advertisements moved around the page, though it is clear from their format that the type had not been reset. Today we see a more extreme example: none of the advertisements moved at all. For the ease of the printer, they likely stayed in the form, reducing the amount of time and labor necessary to produce the new issue.

The following week the first column of the final page of the Providence Gazette once again included new content, as did the second and third columns on the upper third of the page, but Thompson and Arnold’s oversized advertisement had been shifted to the bottom. The printer once again benefited from reprinting content that subscribers expected to see more than once in their newspapers. At the same time, the printer realized that she could not be too repetitive or risk alienating readers who also demanded new content and desired the “freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”

August 30

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

Aug 30 - 8:30:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 30, 1766).

“Tin-ware, Knives and Forks, Pen-knives, Cuttoe ditto, Raisors, Gimblets.”

Reading an eighteenth-century advertisement can sometimes feel like deciphering a foreign language. Often that is the case when encountering an array of textiles (such as the “Sagathies, Camblets, Bearskins, Duffles, Thicksetts, Half-thicks, Baizes, Callimancoes, Shalloons, Tammies” listed in today’s advertisement), but some advertisements included other sorts of merchandise that modern readers likely have difficulty identifying.

For instance, the portion of today’s advertisement that lists metal goods and hardware includes “Tin-ware, Knives and Forks, Pen-knives, Cuttoe ditto, Raisors, Gimblets.” Taking into account the non-standardized spelling of the eighteenth century, “Raisors” were razors, but what did Nathaniel Greene mean by “Cuttoe ditto” and “Gimblets”?

Carpenters may recognize the gimblet as a hand tool similar to an auger, except smaller. Its size made it ideal for drilling small holes without splitting wood. A variety of colonial artisans may have been especially interested in purchasing gimblets for their workshops, but the tool probably had practical use in many homes as well.

Aug 30 - Gimlet
A Gimblet (“Augers, Gimlets, and Braces,” Colonial Williamsburg).

Deciphering “Cuttoe ditto” requires reading this item as part of a larger phrase: “Pen-knives, Cuttoe ditto.” The “ditto” indicates that readers should substitute the word knives.

So, Greene sold cuttoe knives, but what were those? It seems that question generates some amount of uncertainty, which Steve Rayner and Jim Mullins have addressed in “Cuttoe Knives Revealed” at “Of Sorts for Provincials” (supplemented with eighteenth-century trade cards and illustrations). Rayner and Mullins reach the conclusion that cuttoe knives were clasp knives (also called spring knives), not to be confused with the larger cutteau de Chasse (a variety of short sword) also produced and sold in the eighteenth century.

While this advertisement presents a bit of a mystery for modern readers, Rayner and Mullins consulted other advertisements to answer some of their questions. In particular, three newspaper advertisements printed in the 1760s clarified what kind of knife Greene sold. An advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post (June 23, 1760) listed “cutteau and all other sorts of clasp knives,” another in the Boston News-Letter (March 25, 1762) included “spring Knives & Cutteau ditto,” and one in the Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 9, 1768) mentioned “cutteau pocket knives.” The last two distinguished the cutteau knives from penknives.

Cuttoe knives may be unfamiliar to modern readers, but potential customers in eighteenth-century Providence would have readily recognized this product when they encountered it in Greene’s advertisement.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (August 29, 1766).

“RUN away … a short squat young Mulatto fellow.”

Amos Legg, an enslaved “young Mulatto fellow,” seemed determined to escape from bondage. In an advertisement alerting readers of the Virginia Gazette that Legg had made his escape, William Meredith also reported that “Sometime past he was taken up by Capt. Dawson of Norfolk, in Jamaica, and brought home.” Legg must have been a particularly recalcitrant slave, one who did not allow the setback of having been captured and returned to his master deter him from making a subsequent attempt to seize his own liberty in an age when Virginia’s gentry protested what they considered “enslavement” via infringements on their liberty by Parliament.

Like other genres of advertisements, those for runaways often followed a general formula and included stock language (just as they often included a stock image of an enslaved person). Advertisements for runaways frequently warned “masters of vessels” against giving passage to suspected runaways attempting to put as much distance between themselves and their masters as possible. That Legg had previously made it to Jamaica from Virginia indicates that masters had real cause to worry about such possibilities.

This advertisement tells a story of the resilience of one man who refused to accept his enslavement, but it also reveals the tenuous position of runaways. No matter how far away from their masters they managed to get, they were never completely free or safe. Their everyday experience included the possibility of capture and return, compounded by threats of punishment for the audacity of having made an escape at all. A sharp-eyed captain had taken up Amos Legg hundreds of miles from Virginia. How many other advertisements about runaway slaves resulted in men and women being returned to their masters after an all-too-brief respite from bondage?

August 28

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

Aug 28 - 8:28:1766 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (August 28, 1766).

“In your Paper of the 15th ult. I Advertised a Conditional SALE of my Houshold Furniture, &c.”

John Evitts packed so much into his open letter to Jonas Green, the printer of the Maryland Gazette, a letter reprinted in its entirety as an advertisement, that it is difficult to know where to start.

Let’s start by having a look at the genre of this advertisement. Although advertisements were not grouped together with other similar advertisements in the eighteenth century (legal notices with other legal notices; runaway slaves with other runaway slaves; consumer goods with other consumer goods), they did fall into several broad categories easily recognizable by readers. Advertisers occasionally played with form and genre by dividing the advertising space they purchased into two sections and submitting copy that pursued two different purposes, but within the distinct sections of such advertisements they usually relied on standard or formulaic wording.

To some extent, John Evitts departs from that practice, perhaps as the result of his advertisement originating as a letter (itself an interesting transformation of genre). His notice combines aspects of standard advertisements for vendue sales with aspects of standard advertisements for runaway wives (although it does not name his wife), but those elements comprised only the last two of four paragraphs. Either or both of the third and fourth paragraphs would not have appeared out of place as standalone advertisements.

Evitt’s letter-cum-advertisement, however, included much more. In the second paragraph he provided details about his ongoing dispute with his wife. While it might have seemed questionable to air private affairs in the public prints, Evitts may have felt that he had nothing to lose. After all, he was certain “that many of yours” were already aware of “the unhappy Difference subsisting between my Wife and me.” Annapolis was not a big town. Word got around. Perhaps Evitts felt he was better served to address gossip directly in the newspaper. It also gave him an opportunity to score some points. Despite the personal embarrassment he may have experienced from making a public acknowledgment about the disharmony in his household, his letter was calculated to diminish the reputation of his wife (at least from his rendition of events, which may or may not have matched what actually happened). Evitts stated that he had “endeavoured for a Reconciliation,” but that his wife “absolutely refused.” Furthermore, she responded with “insulting Language,” hardly becoming of a woman in the eighteenth century. In addition, he ahd been “insulted by her Friends.” Most advertisements for runaway wives were as formulaic as the third paragraph, but Evitts provided more details elsewhere in his advertisement.

It seems that Evitts was preparing to sell his house and his “Houshold Furniture, &c.” as a result of the discord with his wife. He had advertised this sale several weeks earlier, but, unfortunately for him, it “has not succeeded to my Wish and Expectation.” One of the most difficult parts of studying eighteenth-century advertising concerns the reception and effectiveness of commercial notices. Did they work? Very rarely did advertisers give any sort of indication about the results their marketing efforts generated. In this case, however, Evitts did report a rather disappointing result. It was possible that his advertisement was not especially effective, but, given the very public nature of the squabble with his wife, it was also possible that neighbors and other residents did not want to insert themselves into the Evittses’ domestic antagonisms. Whatever the explanation, Evitts retained hope that advertising could yield successful results. He sent the subsequent advertisement, the fourth paragraph of his open letter, desiring that it “may prove more effectual” than the first.

August 27

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

Aug 27 - 8:27:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 27, 1766).


James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, advertised a “FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA,” a resource that would have been particularly valuable to readers of his newspaper. Although Johnston likely printed the “COMPLETE SETS of ALL the LAWS of this PROVINCE” promoted elsewhere in his advertisement, the map most certainly had been imported from England.

In fact, the map had been produced in London nearly a decade earlier by mapmaker William Gerard de Brahm and engraver Thomas Jefferys. Historians of cartography have described the 1757 map as the most important map of South Carolina and Georgia created during the colonial period. In The Southeast in Early Maps (1958), William P. Cumming noted, “For the first time, for any large area of the southern colonies, a map possesses topographical accuracy based on scientific surveys.”

Aug 27 - Map
William Gerard de Brahm, Map of South-Carolina and Part of Georgia, engraved by Thomas Jeffreys (London: 1757).  Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps.

The advertisement made clear that the map had been carefully constructed by collating surveys conducted by William Bull, Captain Gascoign, Hugh Bryan, and William de Brahm (though it did not indicate that de Brahm had been appointed surveyor general of Georgia in 1754). The map accurately included the variety of features listed in the advertisement (“the whole sea coast, all the islands, islets, rivers, creeks, parishes, townships, boroughs, roads, and bridges” as well as the boundary lines of several plantations), making it a vast improvement over previous maps.

Johnston cannot be credit with composing copy that promoted the most useful and important features of the map. The entire description in the advertisement came directly from the title printed on the map itself. De Brahm had already embedded the necessary marketing text on the product itself!

August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:26:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (August 26, 1766).

“George Beattie, From LONDON … works next Door to Mr. Jepson’s the Tinman.

George Beattie seems to have been a metalsmith who produced a variety of relatively small objects for his customers, from “Pocket Books, with the newest fashioned Locks and Clasps” to “Tooth & Ear-Pickers” to “several other Articles in the Toy way.” He also “mends broken China,” most likely using metal rivets.

(Yes, Ear-Pickers! I confess that I was previously unaware of this accouterment for personal hygiene before reading this advertisement. I was delighted to discover Historic Jamestowne’s description of ear pickers and brief history of their use in the early days of settlement in Virginia. Apparently styles varied, from plain and completely utilitarian to ornate pieces intended for display and personal adornment.)

Aug 26 - Ear Picker
Silver Ear Picker.  Historic Jamestowne.

In the headline of his advertisement, Beattie announced that he was “From LONDON,” perhaps expecting that this would give him and the merchandise he made some cachet by being associated with the cosmopolitan center of the British Empire. He did not mention how long since he had left London and took up residence in Boston, perhaps purposefully so. He left it to potential customers to make their own assumptions about how recently he plied his trade in the capital city, but he planted the idea that he had a connection to the cosmopolitanism of London that perhaps competitors who had spent their entire lives in the colonies lacked. He doubled down on his association with the metropole when he concluded his advertisement with a promise that customers could expect “to be served as reasonably as in London.” He did not make comparisons to local vendors; instead, he positioned his the quality, fashion, and price of his wares as equivalent to those in the most important city in the empire.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 25, 1766).

“All Customers … may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.”

In an age of online shopping, modern consumers are accustomed to the convenience of purchasing goods to be delivered directly to their homes without visiting stores to examine the products they are buying. In the evolution of shopping, this seems like a natural progression from catalog shopping, which has been a popular means of distributing merchandise to consumers for more than a century.

Both means of acquiring goods have been considered simultaneously disruptive and revolutionary, but such narratives obscure continuities with consumer culture in earlier eras. Consider, for instance, this brief advertisement for “All Sorts of West-India Goods, and Grocery” placed by John Jenkins. He informed “All Customers, in Town and Country” that they “may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.” In effect, Jenkins offered an early variation of mail order delivery. Customers wrote to inform him which items they wished to purchase. In turn, he had the items delivered to them. While such an arrangement was not a standard business practice mentioned in most advertisements, it was common enough in the 1760s that customers would have readily recognized this service.

Jenkins’s advertisement does differ in one significant way from others by merchants and shopkeepers who solicited orders through the post: its brevity. Most such advertisements included much more extensive lists of the goods that had been imported and were available for sale. Jenkins, on the other hand, did not specify any particulars. He did not name any specific merchandise. Why not? Could he not afford a lengthier advertisement? How effective was such a truncated advertisement? Did potential customers write to him in hopes he stocked the items they desired? Jenkins certainly offered a convenience to his customers, but it may have been negated by not providing enough information about his wares to guide customers in making their choices.