August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 21, 1766).

“A Parcel of healthy SLAVES, men, women, boys, and girls.”

This advertisement reveals a hidden history of slavery that has been largely forgotten in the United States, forgotten because it is both convenient and comfortable to overlook, forgotten because it disrupts familiar narratives about when and where Americans traded slaves and owned enslaved men, women, and children. In particular, the slave trade and the presence of slaves are associated with colonies in the Chesapeake and the Lower South. Most people tend to think of those colonies that became the northeastern United States as territories that never practiced slavery or profited from the slave trade.

This story has not been completely overlooked. Many historians of early America have devoted their careers to uncovering and examining the histories of both the presence of enslaved peoples in northern colonies as well as the networks of trade and commerce that inextricably tied northern colonies and their economic welfare to participation in the transatlantic slave trade. In addition to the work of these specialists, other historians have increasingly integrated slavery in the northern colonies and states into the larger narrative of American history they include in their publications for fellow scholars and in the course content they deliver to students. Many public historians have also sought to address slavery conscientiously and responsibly in their efforts to present the past to audiences beyond traditional classroom settings.

Yet it seems fair to continue to describe this as a hidden history, an intentionally overlooked history. The students who enroll in my early American history courses every year are more likely than not to assume that slavery was not a part of the New England experience. In a variety of forums, public historians report that they regularly encounter visitors either unaware of the history of slavery in northern colonies or willfully resistant to acknowledging its existence alongside the stories they want and expect to be told.

Today’s advertisement, however, makes clear that slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were indeed part of everyday life and commerce in places other than Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. Today’s advertisement announced that “A Parcel of healthy SLAVES, men, women, boys, and girls” were “Just imported, from the river Gambia” and would be “sold upon low terms, by James and William Harvey, merchants” in Philadelphia. Even in Pennsylvania, “The quality of the slaves from the abovementioned river, is so well known, that nothing further is necessary to recommend them.” In other words, colonists in the north had a more than passing awareness and familiarity with slaves and the transatlantic slave trade.

The advertisement does not mention that this “Parcel of healthy SLAVES” consisted of 100 men, women, and children. Nor does it mention that 120 had been loaded on the Ranger off the coast of Africa, but twenty had died during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic. Those numbers come from other sources that have been compiled at Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. Those sources also reveal that the Ranger sailed directly from Africa; it did not make stops in other American ports. These men, women, and children were always intended for sale in one of the northern colonies, not any of the colonies in the Chesapeake or Lower South that operated on a plantation economy.

Today’s advertisement is just one piece of evidence, but it is not the only piece. Slavery was a significant part of the colonial experience throughout the colonies, not just in the southern colonies. It is part of American history that cannot be overlooked, at least not if we want to be honest and truly understand the past that has led to the present.

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 20, 1766).


When she set up shop in Savannah, Jean Campbell wanted readers of the Georgia Gazette to know that “she intends to carry on the MILLENARY and MANTUA MAKING BUSINESS.” It appears that this was a new endeavor for Campbell, making it especially necessary that she advertise her services to potential customers who would not otherwise have known that she made hats and dresses. Furthermore, Campbell may have been a recent arrival in the city. Note that she did not specify an address for her shop (which may have been her residence as well), but instead stated that “She may be heard of by applying to the printer.” Especially if she were a single woman, Campbell may have been hesitant to publicly announce her location, for reasons of both safety and propriety. If she had lived in Savannah for any amount of time she could have depended on many residents knowing where to find her without directing them to the printing office. After all, the town was not that large in 1766; those who lived in the city became familiar to others who also lived there for any length of time.

In addition, if she had previously operated a “MILLENARY and MANTUA MAKING BUSINESS” in Savannah she might have been able to depend on a network of customers, especially other women, to continue to patronize her as well as spread the word through their social networks. In general, women advertised much less often than men in eighteenth-century America. They did not place commercial notices in newspapers as frequently as their numbers merited, into taking into consideration that women were less likely to operate businesses than men. Campbell may have placed this advertisement as a necessity, at least until she forged relationships with neighbors and customers in Savannah.

August 19

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

Aug 19 - 8:18:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (August 18, 1766).

“DANCING IS Taught by the Subscriber, in a genteel and easy Method.”

John Trotter and other dancing masters regularly advertised their services in colonial America’s largest urban ports in the decade before the Revolution, hoping to catch the attention of the elite as well as middling folks aspiring to join the ranks of the better sorts. Their prospective pupils may have resided in distant outposts of the British Empire like New York and Philadelphia, but those colonists strived to achieve the same cosmopolitanism as metropolitan London. Learning to dance or to speak French or (for men) to fence were considered marks of gentility, evidence that the colonial elite understood and achieved sophistication in their own right despite the distance that separated them from the centers of fashion, culture, and commerce in the Europe.

Trotter’s advertisement was relatively spared compared to the details included in notices placed by other dancing masters. He did not explicitly play on the anxieties of his potential customers in the same manner as some of his competitors (warning, for instance, that if readers did not learn the newest and most fashionable steps that they would be publicly embarrassed at social gatherings), but he may not have considered it necessary to be quite so heavy-handed. He may have assumed from the discourses surrounding him, both in conversation and in print, that the customers he wished to attract already experienced the sort of anxiety about their social position and identity that would prompt them to engage the services of a dancing master.

Trotter did offer his services to both “Gentlemen and Ladies.” He did so at two locations, “his House in Chaple-Street, next Door to the Play-House, and at Mrs. Demot’s on Flatten-Barrack-Hill.” Being able to take lessons at Mrs. Demot’s may have been especially important for female pupils. Dancing involved close contact, a certain level of intimacy that could be misconstrued or the cause of gossip that could call into question someone’s character as well as damage reputations, especially if those lessons took place within the privacy of Trotter’s house. Male students might be willing to meet him there, but it’s likely that women preferred to have their lessons at Mrs. Demot’s where they would have a female chaperone. Given the necessity of a reputation for good character required to pursue his occupation, Trotter may also have preferred that female students had their lessons at “Mrs. Demot’s on Flatten-Barrack-Hill.”

August 18

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

Aug 18 - 8:18:1766 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 18, 1766).

“The Store of Habijah Savage on the Long Wharff was broke open.”

Earlier this week the Adverts 250 Project featured an announcement that Simon Rhodes placed in the New-London Gazette. In late July 1766, a thief or thieves broke into his home in Stonington, Connecticut, and stole two silver watches and a pair of silver buckles. He offered a description of the missing items, warned against anybody purchasing the stolen goods, and offered a reward for their return and the capture of the culprits.

In today’s advertisement, Habijah Savage offered a similar story out of Boston. In this case, however, the thieves “broke open” Savage’s store, rather than his house, and made off with a significant amount of merchandise, amounting to “Forty Pounds Lawful Money.” This was a quite a loss for Savage’s business. Indeed, his list of stolen merchandise was as extensive as those that frequently appeared in advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers seeking to sell new goods and auctioneers sponsoring vendue sales.

Despite Savage’s announcement about the theft in the public prints, it seems unlikely that he would have been able to recover all (or any) of the stolen goods. For the most part, they were fairly common items that would have been easily absorbed into an underground economy that paralleled the more legitimate means of acquiring goods. In a fascinating chapter on “The Informal Economy” in Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York, Serena R. Zabin has traced how many marginalized colonists – the poor, slaves and free blacks, women – participated in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century through alternative means that worried authorities and elites. This was an economy that incorporated crime and threatened to disrupt traditional social and economic hierarchies.

The goods stolen from Habijah Savage’s store likely became part of that informal economy. Who might have ended up wearing that “new Beaver Hatt” or making clothes from the “English Stone Sleeve Buttons” and assorted textiles?

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:15:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (August 15, 1766).

“Some excellent pieces of sculpture in relieve of Lord CAMDEN and Mr. PITT.”

In the wake of the American Revolution, a variety of artists created and marketed items that commemorated American statesmen and military heroes and depicted significant events. In so doing, they participated in creating a national culture that celebrated the new republic while uniting geographically dispersed citizens in common acts of consumption and veneration. They helped to cultivate a sense of patriotism rooted in a distinct American identity.

Prior to the Revolution, artists also produced and sold items that shaped national identity and allegiance. In the summer of 1766, colonists in Virginia could purchase “some excellent pieces of sculpture in relieve of Lord CAMDEN and Mr. PITT” created by a “Celebrated artist in London.” Camden and Pitt were British politicians who had gained popularity in the colonies due to their opposition to the Stamp Act, arguing that it was not constitutional to impose taxes on the colonies without their consent and that consent was only possible with representation. Camden was one of the few who opposed the Declaratory Act as well. From the perspective of Americans who opposed the Stamp Act, Camden and Pitt truly understood the appropriate and just relationship between Great Britain and the colonies. The advertisement for the sculpture in relieve pieces described them as “names which will be ever dear to AMERICA,” but offered no further explanation. None was needed. Any colonists who read the newspaper or listened to discussions taking place in public places already knew of the accomplishments of Camden and Pitt.

This advertisement and the works it marketed envisioned American political and cultural identity in complicated ways. Americans still thought of themselves as Britons in 1766. At the time, few wanted to sever ties; instead, they sought to benefit from all the protections and advantages that were supposed to be inherent in being part of the British Empire. By purchasing sculpture in relievo pieces of Camden and Pitt and displaying them in their homes, colonists could confirm their allegiance to Britain and the ideals of its political system while simultaneously affirming their particular concerns as Americans. They did not need to prioritize one over the other. The two found themselves in balance rather than opposition to each other, a situation that would change dramatically over the course of the next two decades.

August 16

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

Aug 16 - 8:15:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 16, 1766).

“His Stay is intended to be very short.”

George Strange offered “A fresh Assortment of English GOODs” for sale “At a Store on Mr. Allcock’s Wharfe near Spring Hill in Portsmouth.” At first glance, Strange used formulaic language common in many advertisements placed by shopkeepers in the eighteenth-century. However, describing the location as “a Store” rather than “his Store” departed from the usual convention. From the perspective of regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, nothing else would have looked out of the ordinary throughout the remainder of the advertisement (a fairly standard list of wares “Just imported from England) until the final sentence. “His stay is intended to be very short,” Strange warned.

It appears that George Strange did not reside in Portsmouth, unlike other shopkeepers who advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette. He would not have had his own shop already familiar to locals but instead probably rented a store on the wharf for a brief time. What was Strange’s story? Why did he set up shop in Portsmouth only temporarily? Had he traveled directly from England? Or had he been to other port cities before Portsmouth? Where was he headed next? He offered to “barter Goods for white Pine BOARDS that are fit for the English Markets.” Was a port in Great Britain his next destination? Or would he visit other American ports and attempt to sell any goods not purchased in Portsmouth? This advertisement raises as many questions about commercial culture in a colonial port as it answers.

If George Strange was indeed a stranger in Portsmouth, placing an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette may have been even more imperative for conducting his business than advertising was for local shopkeepers already known to the city’s residents. He needed to attract new customers to his location as quickly and efficiently as possible. His advertisement, more extensive than any other for consumer goods in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, certainly would have made his presence known to readers and potential customers.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 15, 1766).

“STOLEN out of the Subscriber’s House in the Night … Two silver Watches.”

As a general rule, most advertisements featured on the Adverts 250 Project promoted consumer goods and services. As its primary purpose, the project explores how eighteenth-century advertising incited consumer demand and convinced colonists to purchase an expanding array of goods and services.

Today’s advertisement, however, demonstrates that buying new goods from shopkeepers and merchants was not the only way that colonists could participate in the consumer economy. Some purchased used goods (which were sometimes advertised, but also changed hands in an informal economy that did not rely on public commercial notices), but others resorted to theft to obtain the items they desired or intended to sell for their own gain.

In Simon Rhodes’ case, a thief made off with “Two Silver Watches” and “a pair of Silver wrought Buckles with Steel Chapes and Tongues.”

Rhodes wanted his watches and buckles back, so much so that he paid to insert this advertisement in the New-London Gazette at least three times. (It appeared on August 15, 22, and 29. It may have appeared in earlier issues, but they are no longer extant.) He also offered a reward of five dollars to anybody who captured “the Thief or Thieves, so that the above things may be had, and he or they brought to Justice.” At the very least, Rhodes wanted to make it difficult for the thief or thieves to benefit from the crime. He requested that if any readers noticed his stolen property “offered for Sale” that “they may be stopped.” In addition, his descriptions of the stolen goods, including their flaws and repairs, were designed to make it more difficult to sell them.

August 14

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

Aug 14 - 8:14:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 14, 1766).

“Mr. Garner, from his approved Conduct in the teaching of Youth, having had many Solicitations to open an Academy …”

Joseph Garner was a well-known teacher who regularly advertised his schools and academies in Philadelphia’s newspapers. Although he addressed the topics students could expect to learn under his tutelage, he also emphasized the environment in which they would study. Students needed to be in surroundings, Garner suggested, that would contribute to their intellectual and moral growth.

Consider his description of the boarding school and its amenities in today’s advertisement. “The House is very extensive,” he proclaimed, so extensive “as to admit of many Boarders, without interrupting each other in their private Studies.” Pupils undertook those studies in “very elegant” rooms. Such surroundings lent themselves well “to the Design of carrying polite Literature into Execution.”

Garner understood that the youth he instructed also needed respite from their studies on occasion. To that end, the “commodious House” had “a large Yard, fit for the Relaxation of Youth after School Hours.” He assured parents of prospective students that this yard was “well inclosed.” Garner safeguarded the children entrusted to his care from the perils of the city, “where Vice is only too often so predominant.” Even when his pupils took a break from reading “polite Literature,” Garner provided an environment that nurtured morality and virtue rather than allowing them “the Liberty of the Streets.” In other words, he kept a close eye on his charges and did not allow them to potentially find trouble as they went gallivanting around the busy port city.

Garner also sought other teachers to assist instructing students. His list of qualifications placed greater emphasis on personal attributes than expertise. In addition to being “well versed in the Languages,” teachers also needed to be “of moral Behaviour, and unexceptionable Character.”

For Garner and the parents who enrolled their children in his academy, the purpose of education was more than the accumulation of knowledge. It was also intended to shape youth into moral men.

August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:13:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 13, 1766).

“BLank bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading …”

Like other colonial newspapers, the Georgia Gazette consistently ended with a colophon that gave the particulars concerning publication: it was printed “by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah. Also like other colonial newspapers, the colophon announced a variety of printed goods for sale. Johnston solicited advertisements and subscriptions for the Georgia Gazette, but he supplemented that revenue with job printing: “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”

Regular readers may have grown accustomed to seeing the colophon and largely ignored its contents. It would have been harder to skip over this advertisement, strategically positioned as the final item in the final column on the final page (and immediately above the colophon). Whether reading the advertisements intensively or merely skimming over them, this one would have left a lasting impression among most readers thanks to its placement on the page.

The “&c.” (an eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) in the colophon covered an array of printed items, but Johnston elaborated on them in this advertisement. In total, he listed a dozen kinds of printed blanks, forms intended to streamline a variety of economic transactions and legal interactions. Even this extensive list, however, ended with another “&c.” Blank forms, whether printed or online, are part of everyday life in the twenty-first century, but this advertisement suggests that colonial Americans were not strangers to filling out, handling, and reading forms themselves. It also indicates that the work done by printers facilitated diverse commercial and legal activities as their printed blanks passed from person to person within and beyond their communities.

August 12

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

Aug 12 - 8:11:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 11, 1766).

“DIRECTIONS for making calcined or PEARL ASHES.”

Advertisements associated with the potash industry appeared quite regularly in colonial newspapers. Some advertisers wanted to buy it, offering a good price in exchange for potash. Others supplied some of the equipment, such as oversized kettles, necessary for producing potash. Although not necessarily directly involved in potash production, printers also published advertisements that indicated they stood to profit from it all the same. Some sold “Justices Blank Certificates” used in the packing and regulation of potash, while others peddled instruction manuals to those who wanted to participate in the industry or improve on their previous efforts.

Such was the case with a short pamphlet (less than twenty pages) devoted to “DIRECTIONS for making calcined or PEARL ASHES, As practised in Hungary, &c.” Samuel Hall, the printer of the Newport Mercury, sold the pamphlet at his shop “on the North Side of the Parade,” but the imprint on the pamphlet itself indicated that it was “Printed for and sold by JOHN MEIN, at the London Book-store” in Boston. Both printers (and quite likely others throughout New England that exchanged stock with Mein) looked to make a profit from indirect involvement in the potash trade through the sale of ancillary products.

Aug 12 - Potash Pamphlet
Directions for Making Calcined or Pearl Ashes, as Practised in Hungary, &c. with a Copper-plate Drawing of a Calcining Furnace (Boston:  John Mein, 1766).  Boston Public Library.

Both the advertisement and the title page of the pamphlet underscored that it included “a Copper-Plate Drawing of a calcined Furnace.” This would have certainly increased the expense of producing the pamphlet and, ultimately, the cost to the customer, but such an investment could be readily justified. The accompanying image likely offered valuable insight into the text, making it more comprehensible. Art historian Nancy Siegel has argued that engraved images that accompanied eighteenth-century cookbooks were imperative in demonstrating the meaning of the text to readers. The same would have been true for an instruction manual detailing equipment and processes for producing potash, especially for readers not already well versed in the subject. After all, the directions in the pamphlet were “founded on the most extensive Knowledge of Pearl Ashes—a Knowledge acquired by long Practice, Experience and Success. The advertisement warned readers that this was “the only Means to establish Matters of Fact.” It concluded by jeering that “plausible Theories” were “little better than ingenious Amusements.”

In other words, both the text and the engraved copperplate drawing merited attention from anybody serious about potash production. Both were worth the expense.