What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Character of … George Whitefield … worthy a place in every House.”
By October 12, 1770, newspapers published in Boston and Salem, Massachusetts; Portsmouth, Rhode Island; Newport and Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, New Haven, and New London, Connecticut; New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania informed readers of the death of minister George Whitefield at Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770. Coverage originated in Boston on the day after Whitefield’s death and then radiated outward as other newspapers published their own articles but mostly reprinted items that originally ran in one of the five newspapers printed in Boston.
It did not take long for commemoration to turn to commodification inspired by the influential minister’s death. Almost immediately, printers notified the grieving public that they intended to publish Whitefield memorabilia. Whether or not they had heard Whitefield preach while he was still alive, consumers could purchase broadsides that featured his words or documented his life and good works. Through the marketplace they could acquire a connection to one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals of the Great Awakening.
Such advertisements continued to supplement news coverage in the October 12, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Between news items, poetry honoring the preacher, and advertisements for memorabilia, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle devoted an entire column to Whitefield, out of only twelve columns over four pages that comprised the entire issue. The Fowles inserted three items reprinted from the October 8 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. A longer news article, a poem dedicated to Whitefield, and a shorter news article all ran in the order that they appeared in the Boston newspaper. The Fowles included another poem, that one taken from the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.
Immediately following those items, they ran an advertisement for two commemorative broadsides. One featured “A Hymn composed by the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD, and intended to be sung over his Corps.” Printers in Boston and Salem had already advertised a similar piece of memorabilia. The Fowles also advertised an item that had not yet been marketed in the public prints, a broadside about “The Character of the late worthy, pious, learned and Reverend George Whitefield.” The Fowles stressed that this memorial was “properly put in mourning,” meaning that thick black borders enclosed the text and separated the columns. It also featured an image of Whitefield’s coffin with “the Names of the Bearers, placed on each side of it.” (Examine the Library of Congress’s copy of this broadside.) In an effort to incite demand and increase sales, the Fowles proclaimed that this broadside in memory of Whitefield was “worthy a place in every House.” Consumers could demonstrate their rectitude and continue to be instructed by the minister and his good example after his death.
Like other printers who produced and marketed similar broadsides, the Fowles participated in the commodification of Whitefield’s death. Such a significant event presented an opportunity to increase revenues in their printing office by publishing and selling commemorative items.