January 21

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

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Georgia Gazette (January 21, 1767).

“He will undertake to fair-copy and engross any deeds.”

Patrick Poulson turned to the advertising section of the Georgia Gazette in his attempts to attract clients in early 1767. He assured readers that he possessed all the necessary skills of a clerk, copyist, and bookkeeper. He could “fair-copy and engross any deeds or instruments whatsoever” and “post and settle merchants books of accompt” as well as “any other business in the way of a scrivener.” In making his pitch, he adapted familiar appeals concerning quality to fit his own profession: he promised “exactness” in the work he did and the documents he created. Attending to legal and financial matters demanded a special attention to detail.

Poulson gave “Publick Notice” to all readers of the Georgia Gazette, seeking clients among local merchants as well as shopkeepers and artisans in Savannah and farmers in the countryside. Considering literacy rates of the period, some among the lower sorts in particular may have possessed special need of his services when it came to producing copies of legal documents. Regardless of their status or occupation, colonists who read Poulson’s advertisement may not have been able to write. The two skills were taught separately in colonial schools, with greater numbers of people learning how to read than to write or do calculations. Schoolmasters often listed the familiar triad of reading, writing, and arithmetic together when they described their curricula in newspaper advertisements, but that did not result in each student developing all three skills to the same extent.

Even colonists who possessed basic writing skills may have turned to Poulson to draft copies of particularly important documents, including various sorts of contracts or deeds that secured their property. His ability to “fair-copy and engross” documents meant that he created formal records in clear, attractive, and possibly large script for clients and witnesses to affix their signatures and, when appropriate, any necessary seals. When he promised prospective customers that “their business shall be dispatched with exactness,” Poulson did not refer to accuracy alone. He also meant the attractiveness and readability of the documents he produced.

Summary of Slavery Advertisements Published January 15-21, 1767

These tables indicate how many advertisements for slaves appeared in colonial American newspapers during the week of January 15-21, 1767.

Note:  These tables are as comprehensive as currently digitized sources permit, but they may not be an exhaustive account.  They includes all newspapers that have been digitized and made available via Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, and Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers.  There are several reasons some newspapers may not have been consulted:

  • Issues that are no longer extant;
  • Issues that are extant but have not yet been digitized; and
  • Newspapers published in a language other than English (including the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote).

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Slavery Advertisements Published January 15-21, 1767:  By Date

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Slavery Advertisements Published January 15-21, 1767:  By Region

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Slavery Advertisements Published January 21, 1767

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter:  @SlaveAdverts250.

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Georgia Gazette (January 21, 1767).

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Georgia Gazette (January 21, 1767).

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Georgia Gazette (January 21, 1767).

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Georgia Gazette (January 21, 1767).

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Georgia Gazette (January 21, 1767).

January 20

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

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Supplement to the South-Carolina and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

“A great Variety of handsome Pictures … amongst which are several of their Majesties.”

George Parker advertised “a general Assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” recently imported on “Vessels from LONDON and BRISTOL.” His merchandise included “a great Variety of handsome Pictures … amongst which are their Majesties, both plain and in Colours.” Not only did Parker stock goods from the metropolitan center of the British Empire, he also promoted memorabilia that celebrated George III, the ruler and personification of Britain.

In preparation for the work they will be doing on the Adverts 250 Project, yesterday the students in my Revolutionary class read and discussed T.H. Breen’s landmark article, “Baubles of Britain,” and my own chapter, “A Revolution in Advertising.”[1] (Based on the quality of that conversation, I have high expectations for their contributions to this project.) In its consideration of both the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century and the political revolution that began in the 1760s, Breen’s article provided a foundation for consumer culture studies that will be one of the main themes throughout the semester. Drawing on Breen’s narrative, students articulated the close connections between England and the colonies created by consumption practices as well as the politicization of decisions about what to import and purchase (or not import and purchase).

Any time I teach a course that covers the American Revolution, whether an introductory survey or an upper-level seminar, I have a responsibility to emphasize change over time. Many students, like many Americans more generally, think of the events of the revolutionary era as happening simultaneously rather than as a process that unfolded over years. This advertisement helps me to demonstrate that point. Published after the Stamp Act controversy, boycotts of imported British goods, and the repeal of the despised legislation, this advertisement demonstrates an “ASSORTMENT of GOODS” from London found their way to the colonies once again, including “Pictures … of their Majesties” intended to be displayed in public and private spaces.

The goods offered for sale in this advertisement suggest that throughout the 1760s shopkeepers and their customers engaged in resistance to British policies, but they had not yet moved to outright revolution and determination to sever political ties with Britain. Transitioning from resistance to revolution was a long and complicated process. Elsewhere on the same page as Parker’s advertisement, Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, advertised several items he sold, including “Dr. FRANKLIN’s Examination before an August Assembly, relating to the American Stamp-Act.” Advertisements that celebrated colonists’ British identity and others that critiqued Parliament’s overbearing regulation of the colonies appeared side by side.

Americans had not yet made the decision to declare independence – and would not do so for almost another decade. After making that transition, as I argued in my own chapter that my students read and discussed yesterday, American merchandisers offered new sorts of memorabilia that celebrated the new nation, its leaders and heroes of the Revolution, and important events in achieving independence. No longer did advertisements hawk “Pictures … of their Majesties” but instead promoted a variety of prints and medals depicting George Washington and other patriots. Advertisers encouraged a new sort of veneration intended to unite citizens throughout the nation, just as veneration of “their Majesties” via purchasing and displaying prints had been intended to strengthen British identity and unity throughout the British Atlantic world a few decades earlier.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.

Carl Robert Keyes, “A Revolution in Advertising: ‘Buy American’ Campaigns in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in Danielle Coombs and Bob Batchelor, eds., Creating Advertising Culture: Beginnings to the 1930s, vol. 1, We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life … And Always Has (New York: Praeger, 2013), 1-25.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 20, 1767

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter:  @SlaveAdverts250.

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 19 (New Style) in 1749 (or January 8, 1748/49, Old Style). It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

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Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831).

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

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Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

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Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 268th birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

January 19

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

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New-York Mercury (January 19, 1767).

“SKATES, OF different sizes.”

Hubert Van Wagenen sold a variety of goods – from “Ironmongery and Cutlery” to textiles and “sundry sorts of other Dry-goods” – at his store “at the Golden Broad-ax” in New York, but he highlighted one item in particular to attract the attention of potential customers: “SKATES, OF different sizes.” Van Wagenen enumerated his merchandise in a typical list advertisement, but he set apart “SKATES” as the only word on the first line, printed in a larger font so as to serve as a headline that invited readers to further explore his other wares.

By the late colonial period ice skating was a popular pastime in New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies, especially among the gentry. Along with dancing and fencing, skating allowed the better sorts to demonstrate grace, power, and agility. According to Nancy Struna, both men and women among the gentry and the middling sort aspiring to join the gentry “expected to play and display their prowess in such endeavors in the middle decades of the eighteenth century.”[1] To that end, they engaged in selected sports and other physical activities that simultaneously evoked pleasure and allowed them to demonstrate skill and discipline through their personal comportment. Physical improvement was as important an element of refinement as learning and manners.

Unlike some of his competitors, Van Wagenen did not make explicit appeals to gentility when describing any of the goods listed in his advertisement. He did not, for instance, use the word “fashionable” or underscore that he imported goods that reflected the latest tastes in London. He may not have considered any of that necessary. Realizing that readers likely considered skating a genteel leisure activity, the shopkeeper had an alternate means of associating gentility with his shop. By listing “SKATES” first and using them to headline his advertisement, he set the tone for how readers should imagine the housewares, textiles, and accessories he also sold.

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[1] Nancy L. Struna, People of Prowess: Sport, Leisure, and Labor in Early Anglo-America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996) 121.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 19, 1767

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter:  @SlaveAdverts250.

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Boston Evening-Post (January 19, 1767).

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Boston Post-Boy (January 19, 1767).

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New-York Gazette (January 19, 1767).

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New-York Gazette (January 19, 1767).

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New-York Gazette (January 19, 1767).

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New-York Mercury (January 19, 1767).

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New-York Mercury (January 19, 1767).

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New-York Mercury (January 19, 1767).

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New-York Mercury (January 19, 1767).

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New-York Mercury (January 19, 1767).

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New-York Mercury (January 19, 1767).

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South Carolina Gazette (January 19, 1767).

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South Carolina Gazette (January 19, 1767).

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South Carolina Gazette (January 19, 1767).

January 18

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

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Providence Gazette (January 17, 1767).

A Quantity of good Cheese, to be sold … ON the West Side of the Great Bridge.”

When Caleb Harris announced that he sold a “Quantity of good Cheese … ON the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence,” he invoked a landmark familiar to residents of the town, one that other advertisers in the Providence Gazette frequently used to direct potential customers to their businesses as well. In the same issue, for instance, Thompson and Arnold advertised “their Shop near the Great Bridge, in Providence.” Where was the Great Bridge?

Rhode Island Currency provides a brief history of the Great Bridge, as well as images of Great-Bridge Lottery Tickets printed and distributed in October 1790. The Great Bridge connected the confluence of Westminster and Weybosset Streets to Market Square. (See a map drawn in 1790 by a student at the College of Rhode Island, now Brown University.) A bridge had originally been constructed at that site in 1711. The first span measured only twelve feet wide, but in 1744 the Great Bridge was widened to eighteen feet. In the early 1790s the Great-Bridge Lottery funded a further expansion of the bridge to fifty-six feet. According to Welcome Arnold Greene, the “eastern abutment was extended forty feet into the river to allow room for a proposed ‘Water Street’ to pass over.”

As Providence became an even more prosperous and populated port city in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the crossing at the site of the original Great Bridge continued to expand. Over the years city planners joined together several bridges into a single decking that covered approximately two acres of the Providence River. In the process, the appearance of downtown Providence transformed significantly. What had originally been the modest Great Bridge of the colonial era became the 1147-feet-wide Crawford Bridge, recognized as the “widest bridge in the world” by the Guinness Book of World Records.

The Crawford Bridge no longer exists. In efforts to revitalize the downtown district in the 1990s, Providence removed the Crawford Street Bridge, uncovering the Providence River and its tributaries, the Woonasquatucket and the Moshassuck. (This allowed for creation of the popular WaterFire festival that takes place throughout the year, though mostly in warmer months, in Providence.) Half a dozen or so smaller bridges allow traffic and pedestrians to cross the river and its tributaries.

Although the Great Bridge itself no longer exists, residents and visitors to Providence experience a riverfront that today more closely resembles its appearance during the colonial era than it did throughout most of the twentieth century. Urban renewal actually returned aspects of the city to its eighteenth-century past.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston.  Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.”  Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well.  Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

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Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729.  In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention.  Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

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Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising.  Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade.  The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling slaves as well as notices offering rewards for runaways.

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An advertisement for slaves from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736)

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies).  The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

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General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries.  This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741).  Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising.  Happy 311th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!