What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“THE two First PARTS of the LIFE of the late Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”
News of George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, quickly spread. Articles about the passing of one of the most famous and influential ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening appeared in several newspapers published in Boston the following day. Coverage then radiated out to newspapers published in other towns in New England and then beyond. A little over three weeks later, newspapers printed in Charleston delivered the news to residents of South Carolina, reprinting articles that first appeared in Boston’s newspapers.
Coverage of Whitefield’s death was not limited to news articles. Printers inserted poems in memory of the minister as well as advertisements for commemorative items, broadsides featuring images, hymns, and verses that celebrated Whitefield. Such commodification commenced almost immediately in New England. An article in the October 4, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter ended with a notice of a “FUNERAL HYMN” written by Whitefield with the intention that it would be “sung over his Corpse by the Orphans belonging to his Tabernacle in London, had he died there” was on sale at Green and Russell’s printing office. All five newspapers published in Boston as well as the Essex Gazette in Salem and the New-Hampshire Gazette in Portsmouth soon ran advertisements for various commemorative broadsides.
Yet the rapid commodification of Whitefield’s death was not confined to New England. Two newspapers, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, broke the news on October 8, just a week after it first appeared in Boston’s newspapers. Both publications reprinted items from other newspapers and inserted extracts of letters received from correspondents in Massachusetts. In its next issue, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy included its first advertisement that sought to capitalize on the minister’s death. Garrat Noel, a bookseller who frequently advertised his wares, placed a notice that highlighted two publications related to Whitefield before listing various other titles he offered for sale. He informed prospective customers that he carried “THE two First PARTS of the LIFE of the late Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, written by himself,” works originally published three decades earlier that now resonated with consumers in new ways in the wake of the minister’s passing. Noel also had in stock “Mr. WHITEFIELD’S Collection of HYMNS, The Thirteenth Edition.” Whitefield’s death allowed for new marketing opportunities for popular items already in the bookseller’s inventory.
Noel’s advertisements ran for several weeks, coinciding with continued coverage of Whitefield’s death as all three newspapers in New York continued to reprint items from other newspapers to give their subscribers and other readers more information about the minister’s death and funeral. Noel almost certainly hoped that those news articles would help to incite interest in the books he offered for sale, coverage of current events buttressing his marketing efforts. It was hardly a coincidence that he began highlighting books related to Whitefield so soon after such momentous news about the minister arrived in New York and appeared in the public prints.