May 31

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

May 31 - 5:31:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 31, 1770).

“The LIFE and CONFESSION of HERMAN ROSENCRANTZ; Executed in the city of Philadelphia.”

True crime!  James Chattin hoped to capitalize on interest in current events when he hired Joseph Crukshank to print The Life and Confession of Herman Rosencrantz.  An advertisement in the May 31, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, presumably placed by Chattin, provided an overview of Rosencrantz’s story.  Just a few weeks earlier he had been “Executed in the city of Philadelphia, on the 5th day of May, 1770, for counterfeiting and uttering the bills of credit of the province of Pennsylvania.”  To incite greater interest and achieve a greater return on his investment, Chattin declared that the Confession was “Taken from his own mouth, in one of the cells of the goal [jail], a short time before he was executed,” the words of a man condemned to die for his crimes.  Chattin also asserted that he published the Confession, a short pamphlet, at Rosncrantz’s request “as a warning to all others.”

While that may have been Rosencrantz’s motivation for dictating his Confession, Chattin likely hoped to earn a profit by publishing and distributing this story of the consequences of a life misled.  He proclaimed that it was “SOLD by the Booksellers in Philadelphia” and had already gained such popularity, the “sale of 2000 of this interesting piece,” to require “that a new impression should be struck off.”  Chattin intended that “Hawkers, Pedlars, and others that buy to sell again” would acquire and distribute the new edition of the pamphlet.  He offered “good allowance,” a discount for purchasing by volume, to retailers and peddlers.  Chattin’s claim that 2000 copies had already sold was most likely inflated to suggest to prospective customers that they stood to miss out on something that had enthralled a good portion of their community.

Chattin also traded on the spectacle of the entire affair, from Rosencrantz’s life that led to his conviction for counterfeiting to his confession delivered in jail to his execution.  The pamphlet also included “an Account [of] his CONFEDERATES,” though much of that part of the narrative was pure imagination.  In The Death Penalty: An American History, Stuart Banner notes that “in a last-minute effort to gain favor” the condemned man “named so many innocent people as his accomplices that the publisher of his confession felt compelled to clear their names in an appendix.”[1]  The false accusations, an attempt to buy time, added to the spectacle.

Chattin aimed to create the eighteenth-century equivalent of a bestseller, trumpeting that he already sold 2000 copies of the account of this extraordinary event.  He invited hawkers and peddlers to disseminate the pamphlet even further beyond the city of Philadelphia, spreading Rosencrantz’s “warning to others” while generating greater revenues.

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[1] Stuart Banner, The Death Penalty: An American History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 61.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 31, 1770

Guest Curator: Jenna Smith

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.

From compiling an archive of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers to identifying advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children in those newspapers to preparing images of each advertisement to posting this daily digest, Jenna Smith served as guest curator for this entry. Working on this project fulfilled her senior capstone requirement for completing the major in History at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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

May 31 1770 - Maryland Gazette Supplement Slavery 1
Supplement to the Maryland Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 1770 - Maryland Gazette Supplement Slavery 2
Supplement to the Maryland Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 1770 - Maryland Gazette Supplement Slavery 3
Supplement to the Maryland Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - New-York Journal Slavery 1
New-York Journal (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - New-York Journal Slavery 2
New-York Journal (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement Slavery 1
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement Slavery 2
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement Slavery 3
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Pennsylvania Journal Slavery 1
Pennsylvania Journal (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 1
South-Carolina Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 2
South-Carolina Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 3
South-Carolina Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 4
South-Carolina Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 5
South-Carolina Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 6
South-Carolina Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 7
South-Carolina Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 8
South-Carolina Gazette (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 1
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 2
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 3
<astyle=”color: #808000; text-decoration: underline;” href=”https://research.history.org/DigitalLibrary/va-gazettes/VGSinglePage.cfm?issueIDNo=70.R.24&page=4&res=LO”&gt;Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 4
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 5
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 6
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 7
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 31, 1770).

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May 31 - Virginia Gazette Rind Slavery 8
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 31, 1770).

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

“BOXES of MEDICINES made up, as usual, on the shortest Notice.”

After the partnership of Carne and Wilson dissolved in 1770, apothecary Robert Carne placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to advise prospective customers that he “now carries on the Business at the Old Shop on the Bay.”  He intended to provide the same services without disruption, asserting that his shop “will continue to be supplied as amply and regularly as at any time heretofore” and that clients could depend that “their Orders will be speedily and punctually executed.”  In effect, Carne promised good customer service.

That service extended to provisioning customers with “BOXES of MEDICINES,” which Carne “made up, as usual, on the shortest Notice.”  Apothecaries and druggists in Charleston and other towns sometimes noted that they offered the convenience of putting together such boxes.  The contents consisted of a variety of the most popular medicines and supplies to prepare purchasers for the most common maladies.  In some advertisements, apothecaries noted that they produced different sorts of boxes, some for families, some for country doctors whose patients might not have access to the same range of medications available in urban ports like Charleston and Philadelphia, and some for plantation owners and overseers to tend to the illnesses of enslaved workers.

These boxes provided customers with the convenience of making a single purchase rather than shopping for the many components individually.  That also benefited the apothecaries who furnished the “BOXES of MEDICINES.”  Carne and others could include a variety of tinctures and nostrums that clients did not yet need and might never need yet wished to have on hand.  This inflated sales and generated additional revenues in a manner easily framed as a supplementary service that primarily benefited customers.  As Carne entered a new stage of his career, it made sense for him to draw special attention to these boxes in a note at the conclusion of his advertisement, complete with a manicule to direct the attention of “the Publick in general, and his Friends in particular.”  Such boxes stood to produce greater profits than individual orders.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 30, 1770

Guest Curator: Jenna Smith

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.

From compiling an archive of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers to identifying advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children in those newspapers to preparing images of each advertisement to posting this daily digest, Jenna Smith served as guest curator for this entry. Working on this project fulfilled her senior capstone requirement for completing the major in History at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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

May 30 - South Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 1
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

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May 30 - South Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 2
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

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May 30 - South Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 3
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

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May 30 - South Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 4
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

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May 30 - South Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 5
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

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May 30 - South Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 6
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

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May 30 - South Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 7
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

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May 30 - South Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 8
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

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May 30 - South Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 9
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

May 29

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

May 29 - 5:29:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

“ALL Kinds of Blanks used in this Province, and good Writing Paper, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, regularly inserted advertisements for goods available at his printing office into his newspaper.  Consider the May 29, 1770, edition.  Under a heading for “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” on the second page, Crouch ran a notice that called on “all Persons indebted to him” to settle accounts.  It further advised that he “has plenty of Hands” employed in his printing office and “will undertake any kind of Printing-Work, which will be executed with the greatest Care and utmost Dispatch, and on reasonable Terms.”  On the fourth page, Crouch ran an advertisement for “BLANK QUIRE BOOKS, ruled and unruled, and Blank Receipt Books” as well as a pamphlet concerning “An Act for regulating and ascertaining the Rates of Wharfage of Ships and Merchandize.”  That notice was interspersed among others that advertisers paid to have inserted.

Several other advertisements merit notice for their particular placement on the page.  One briefly informed readers: “JUST PUBLISHED and to be sold by the Printer hereof, A new CATECHISM for CHILDREN.”  Another advised prospective customers that “A Second EDITION of THOMAS MORE’s ALMANACK, for the present Year, may be had at Crouch’s Printing-Office in Elliott-street.”  A third, similarly short, announced, “ALL Kinds of Blanks used in this Province, and good Writing Paper, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”  These three advertisements were particularly noticeable because they concluded the first three pages of that issue.  The advertisement for the “CATECHISM for CHILDREN” appeared at the bottom of the final column of the first page.  It was the only advertisement on that page, conveniently placed to bring the third column to the same length as the first two.  The advertisement for the almanac and the advertisement for the blanks and paper appeared in the lower right corners of the second and third pages, respectively.  Only the fourth page did not conclude with one of Crouch’s advertisements.  Instead, the colophon occupied that space.  Arguably, it served as an advertisement as well.  Crouch used the colophon to promote the services he provided: “CHARLES-TOWN: Printed by CHARLES CROUCH, in Elliott-Street; where all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care and Expedition.”  As readers perused the newspaper, the last item they encountered on every page was a short advertisement that promoted some aspect of Crouch’s business.  Both the placement and the repetition likely made them more memorable.

Eighteenth-century printers frequently used their newspapers to promote other aspects of their business, including books, stationery, and blanks for sale as well as job printing.  Their access to the press allowed them to place their notices in advantageous places to garner additional attention from readers.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 29, 1770

Guest Curator: Jenna Smith

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.

From compiling an archive of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers to identifying advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children in those newspapers to preparing images of each advertisement to posting this daily digest, Jenna Smith served as guest curator for this entry. Working on this project fulfilled her senior capstone requirement for completing the major in History at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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

May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 1
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 2
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 3
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 5
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 6
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 7
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 8
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 9
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 10
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

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May 29 - South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 11
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

“THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”

At first glance the advertisement did not look much different than others that offered books and pamphlets for sale: “Very lately published in the City of Philadelphia, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, two Discourses by a Layman of the Church of England.”  Hugh Gaine inserted that notice in the May 28, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He offered further description of the “Discourses,” stating that they contemplated “the two following Texts; Matt. xv. 15. 25, Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord help me; Isaiah xlv. 15. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Saviour.”  Gaine likely drew directly from the title page in composing that portion of the advertisement.

That part of the advertisement could have stood alone.  It provided the same amount of information as others placed by printers and booksellers in colonial American newspapers.  It was in the second portion that the printer made a sales pitch that distinguished this particular advertisement from others for books and pamphlets that ran in the same issue and in other newspapers.  Gaine informed prospective readers that “THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”  Purchasing it, he suggested, was an act of charity and an expression of concern for the public good.  If that was not enough to influence readers to buy the pamphlet, then they could consider it an opportunity to practice philanthropy at a bargain.  Gaine asserted that even though the pamphlet sold for eight pence in Philadelphia, he charged only “the small Sum” of four pence for each copy.  He ran a half-price sale.

Though brief, Gaine’s advertisement contained two marketing strategies that the printer expected would resonate with prospective customers: a bargain price and an opportunity to aid the less fortunate.  That he sold the pamphlet also enhanced Gaine’s own reputation, demonstrating that he supported efforts to benefit the prisoners in Philadelphia. Eighteenth-century advertisements should not be dismissed as simple because they were short or lacked striking visual elements.  In a few short sentences, Gaine made a powerful case for purchasing the pamphlet.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 28, 1770

Guest Curator: Jenna Smith

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.

From compiling an archive of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers to identifying advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children in those newspapers to preparing images of each advertisement to posting this daily digest, Jenna Smith served as guest curator for this entry. Working on this project fulfilled her senior capstone requirement for completing the major in History at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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

May 28 - Boston Evening-Post Slavery 1
Boston Evening-Post (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - Boston Evening-Post Slavery 2
Boston Evening-Post (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - Boston Evening-Post Slavery 3
Boston Evening-Post (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - Boston Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 1
Boston Gazette and Country Journal (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - Boston Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 2
Boston Gazette and Country Journal (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury Slavery 1
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 1
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 2
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 3
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 4
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 5
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 6
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 7
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 8
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy Slavery 1
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy Slavery 2
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (May 28, 1770).

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May 28 - Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser Slavery 1
Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser (May 28, 1770).

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:24:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 24, 1770).

The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.”

John Crosby, who sold citrus fruits “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons,” and George Spriggs, “Gardner to JOHN HANCOCK,” were fortunate.  Their advertisements were the last two that appeared in the May 24, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  At the bottom of the third column on the final page, Richard Draper, the printer, inserted a brief notice that “The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.”  Unlike Crosby and Spriggs, some advertisers did not see their notices in print in that issue.

Draper had too much content to include in the standard four-page edition that week.  He may have considered producing a two-page supplement, as eighteenth-century printers often did in such situations, but perhaps he did not have sufficient advertisements to fill the space.  Alternately, lack of time or other resources may have prevented him from distributing a supplement that week.  Compared to other issues, the May 24 edition contained relatively few advertisements.  They comprised just over two columns, less than an entire page in a publication that often delivered just as much advertising as news.

Like other newspaper printers, Draper had to strike a balance between news and advertising.  Subscribers expected to receive the news, not just advertising, but advertisers contributed significant revenue to the operation of colonial newspapers.  Advertisers expected to put their notices before the eyes of readers.  They wished to reach as many readers as possible, which meant that printers could not alienate subscribers by skimping on the news or else risk their newspapers becoming less attractive venues for placing advertisements because subscription numbers decreased.  This was especially true in the larger port cities where printers published competing newspapers.  When it came to attracting both subscribers and advertisers, Draper contended with the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in 1770.  Delaying advertisements by a week on occasion was unlikely to convince his advertisers to post their notices in other newspapers, but it was not something that Draper could do on a regular basis and expect to maintain his clientele of advertisers and attract new ones.

May 26

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

May 26 - 5:26:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 26, 1770).

“POT-ASH, PEARL-ASH, and SALTS.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell were among the many merchants in New England who sought to acquire potash, pearl ash, and salts in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Potash production was a significant industry in the region in the second half of the eighteenth century.  Colonists produced pot ash, salts that contain potassium in water-soluble form, by leaching wood ashes and then evaporating the solution in potash kettles, leaving behind a white residue.  Potash and related commodities were used in making soap and gunpowder.  Starting in the 1760s, according to Carl Bridenbaugh, “potash became a staple commodity of New York and New England.”[1]

For several weeks in the spring of 1770, the Russells inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to announce “CASH given for Pot-Ash, Pearl-Ash, and Salts,” a familiar refrain that appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New London, Portsmouth, and other towns in New England.  In the May 26 edition, their advertisement happened to run next to the “PRICES CURRENT in PROVIDENCE,” a list of the going rates for a variety of commodities traded in the town.  The prices current included potash at 30 pounds per ton, the more refined pearl ash at 40 pounds per ton, and black salts at 26 pounds per ton.  Any readers who heeded the Russells’ call for potash and related commodities could easily determine if the merchants offered a fair price.

Lists of prices current appeared in many colonial newspapers, a regular feature in some but not as frequently in others.  Readers could work back and forth between advertisements and the prices current to envision a more complete picture of local commerce.  Similarly, they could compare the shipping news, another feature of many colonial newspapers, to advertisements for consumer goods that indicated the ship and captain that delivered the merchandise.  The record of vessels arriving and departing port aided in determining how recently merchants and shopkeepers received their wares.  Advertisements in colonial newspapers did not necessarily stand alone.  Instead, colonists could engage in active reading that took into consideration delivered in both advertisements and other features in newspapers, including the shipping news and lists of prices current.

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[1] Carl Bridenbaugh, The Colonial Craftsman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950), 105.