May 31

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

May 31 - 5:31:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 31, 1768).

“Will sell two or three Negro Shoemakers.”

John Matthews, a cobbler, placed a variation of the same advertisement in all three newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina, for several weeks in the spring of 1768. In each, he announced that because he was “intending to decline Shoemaking” he wished to sell “two or three Negro Shoemakers.” These enslaved artisans already had significant experience. Matthews explained that “they have done all my business for nine Years past.” Apparently the cobbler took on the role of manager of the workshop while the “Negro Shoemakers” labored on his behalf. To further enhance their value for potential buyers, Matthews boasted that in terms of skill they “are at least equal to any Negroes of the Trade in this Province.” In so doing, he implicitly made an unfavorable comparison to white shoemakers even as he credited the abilities of the enslaved artisans who had “done all [his] business” for nearly a decade. Matthews indicated that the “eldest of them” was only twenty-two, suggesting that they had been working in his shop since their early teens.

Slaveholders in South Carolina and beyond frequently associated particular skills with the enslaved men and women they advertised for sale. Another advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in the spring of 1768, for instance, listed “sawyers, mowers, a very good caulker, a tanner, a compleat tight cooper, [and] a sawyer, squarer and rough carpenter” among “A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES.” In addition, that advertisement included an enslaved woman who was “a washer, ironer and spinner.” Beyond agricultural labor, enslaved men and women possessed a variety of specialized skills. Many of them were artisans whose skills rivaled their white counterparts (even if slaveholders could not quite acknowledge such expertise). In urban centers and on plantations, slaves practiced a variety of trades. As a result, they contributed far more to colonial economies than just their labor. Slaveholders benefited from the knowledge and skill possessed the “Negro Shoemakers” and other artisans they held in bondage.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 31, 1768

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

May 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 1
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 31, 1768).

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May 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 2
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 31, 1768).

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May 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 3
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 31, 1768).

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May 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 1
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 31, 1768).

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May 31 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement Slavery 2
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 31, 1768).

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury (May 30, 1768).

At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.”

To adorn many of the advertisements for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” Gerardus Duyckinck commissioned perhaps the most impressive woodcut that accompanied any advertisements in newspapers published throughout the American colonies in the 1760s. In an advertisement that extended approximately two-thirds of a column, Duyckink promoted the “Medley of Goods” he sold “At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot” in New York, yet it was not the amount of space the notice occupied on the page that distinguished it from others. The intricately carved woodcut likely replicated his shop sign, depicting a looking glass in an ornate frame suspended below an urn. A larger rococo frame, equally ornate, enclosed most of the copy, including a nota bene that instructed potential customers how to read the list of merchandise contained in the notice: “The above advertisement, being only the Heads, which consists of a Variety of Articles, almost every particular in each Branch can be commanded at the above Store.” In other words, Duyckinck did not publish an exhaustive list of his wares. Instead, he used a series of headers to categorize the items among his inventory, truly a “Medley of Goods.”

Prospective customers first encountered Duyckinck’s elaborate woodcut in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal. It ran for several weeks before Duyckinck discontinued it. In the spring of 1768 it reappeared, with evidence of wear and significantly revised copy in the cartouche, but this time in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury. While the printers of both newspapers had some standard woodcuts – images of horses, houses, ships, and slaves – among their type, specialized images belonged to the advertisers. Some advertisers, like clockmaker Burrows Dowdney, invested in multiple woodcuts in order to insert them in more than one newspaper simultaneously. Duyckinck may not have considered this an option; given the amount of detail evident in his woodcut, the cost for commissioning others may have been prohibitive. Instead, he rotated the image from newspaper to newspaper, placing it before the eyes of as many readers and prospective customers as possible. Doing so likely yielded the best possible return on his investment in an innovative means of making his newspaper advertisements distinctive from anything else that appeared in the public prints.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 30, 1768

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

May 30 - Boston Evening-Post Slavery 1
Boston Evening-Post (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - Boston-Gazette Slavery 1
Boston-Gazette (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - Boston-Gazette Slavery 2
Boston-Gazette (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - Connecticut Courant Slavery 1
Connecticut Courant (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 1
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 2
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 3
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy Slavery 1
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Postboy (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - Newport Mercury Slavery 1
Newport Mercury (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 1
South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 2
South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 3
South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 4
South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 5
South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 6
South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1768).

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May 30 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 7
South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1768).

May 29

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

May 29 - 5:26:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 26, 1768).

“Said Humphreys makes, and has now on Hand, a large Quantity of good Sickles, Scythes.”

Stephen Paschall and Benjamin Humphreys jointly placed an advertisement in the May 26, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. In it, they promoted several items they both manufactured, including “Screws for Clothiers, Timber-Carriages, Tobacconists, [and] Packing” and “Iron Work for Grist-Mills, Saw-Mills, and Fulling-Mills.” In addition, Paschall announced that he made and sold bellows for blacksmith forges on Market Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Similarly, Humphreys marketed sickles, scythes, and other cutlery that he made and sold at the corner of Ninth and Market Streets.

Their advertisement included a visual image uniquely associated with Humphreys’s business: a woodcut of a sickle mounted on a handle suspended from a scythe blade. This image likely approximated a sign that marked Humphreys’s workshop. That would explain why a single link connected the two blades. Each blade also bore the name HUMPHREYS, identifying the artisan but also marking his place of business. Humphreys did not advise prospective customers that his workshop was located at the Sign of the Scythe and Sickle, but given that he expressed concern that his “Distance from Market” might “discourage his Friends, and others” from visiting his shop he may have considered it most important to list the cross streets by name and allow the woodcut to speak for itself in terms of the sign that marked his location. Relatively few American shop signs that predate the Revolution survive, but woodcuts that accompanied newspaper advertisements suggest some of the marketing images colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of cities and towns.

For modern researchers, this image raises a cautionary tale about the shortcomings of consulting digital surrogates to the exclusion of original sources. I downloaded a PDF of the entire May 26, 1768, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database. As the image above reveals, the photography and remediation of the original source make it difficult to discern that the name HUMPHREYS does indeed appear on the blades. This was a detail I overlooked the first time I read the advertisement and only noticed when I gave the woodcut additional scrutiny. To determine whether I had mistaken the shading of the blades with a depiction of the artisan’s name, I visited the American Antiquarian Society to examine an original issue. The photograph below confirms that the name HUMPHREYS appears quite legibly, much more so than the digital surrogate suggests. In many ways, working with microfilm and digital images can be much more efficient than consulting originals. Both formats provide greater access while also preserving original documents. But they must be used judiciously. Sometimes examining the original yields information otherwise unavailable, as was the case with Benjamin Humphrey’s woodcut in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

May 29 - 5:26:1768 Detail AAS Pennsylvania Gazette
Detail of Paschall and Humphreys Advertisement in May 26, 1768 edition of Pennsylvania Gazette. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 28, 1768).

“No Purchaser will fail of being pleased with their Prices.”

When John Innes Clark and Joseph Nightingale opened a new shop at “the Sign of the FISH and FRYING-PAN” in Providence, they placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to encourage readers to buy their wares. They assured prospective customers that they would enjoy the many choices available to them among their “large Assortment of English and India Piece Goods” as well as stationery and hardware.

The partners also proclaimed that consumers would also appreciate their prices. They explained that they “bought at the cheapest rate” and imported their wares directly from London, reducing the shipping costs in comparison to goods that first passed through Boston, New York, or Newport. Clark and Nightingale passed along the saving to their customers, pledging that their merchandise “will be sold cheap.” They were so certain of the bargains they offered that “they flatter themselves no Purchaser will fail of being pleased with their Prices.” Realizing, however, that skeptical readers knew that advertisements contained all kinds of hyperbole, the partners invited potential customers to “call and examine” in order to confirm for themselves that Clark and Nightingale offered good deals for the money. The partners aimed to get potential customers through the door to increase the possibility of making sales. Once they had entered the shop, customers were met with “Constant and courteous Attendance.” Eighteenth-century shopkeepers were in the process of transforming shopping into an experience rather than a chore.

At a glance, Clark and Nightingale’s advertisement might appear to be little more than dense text, especially to readers accustomed to twenty-first-century marketing methods. On closer examination, however, this advertisement – like so many others in eighteenth-century newspapers – reveals that merchants and shopkeepers did more than merely announce the availability of goods to meet the incipient demand of consumers. Instead, they crafted appeals intended to convince colonists to make purchases and to buy from particular retailers for specific reasons. Many eighteenth-century advertisements do make generic appeals to price, but others devote significant effort to explaining how the sellers could offer low prices. Clark and Nightingale included an additional innovation: they challenged customers to examine their prices, compare to their competitors, and determine for themselves that they did indeed encounter bargains when they shopped at “the Sign of the FISH and FRYING-PAN.”

Slavery Advertisements Published May 28, 1768

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

May 28 - Providence Gazette Slavery 1
Providence Gazette (May 28, 1768).

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May 28 - Providence Gazette Slavery 2
Providence Gazette (May 28, 1768).