What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Sermon occasion’d by the sudden and much lamented Death of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”
In the wake of George Whitefield’s death on September 30, 1770, printers, booksellers, and others quickly sought to capitalize on the event by publishing and selling commemorative items dedicated to the memory of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening. This commodification included producing new broadsides with images, poems, and hymns as well as marketing books originally published years earlier that were already in stock but gained new resonance. Throughout the past month, the Adverts 250 Project has been tracking many of those publications to demonstrate the extent of the simultaneous commemoration and commodification that took place in the weeks after colonists learned of Whitefield’s death. Advertisements hawking Whitefield memorabilia ran in newspapers published in Boston, New York, Portsmouth, and Salem almost as soon as the news appeared in the public prints.
A notice for yet another item, Heaven the Residence of the Saints, ran in the October 25, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. The advertisement, reiterating the lengthy title, explained that this pamphlet was a “Sermon occasion’d by the sudden and much lamented Death of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.” Ebenezer Pemberton, “Pastor of a Church in Boston,” delivered the sermon on October 11. Just two weeks later, Joseph Edwards informed consumers that they could purchase copies of the sermon from him. Daniel Kneeland printed that first edition for Edwards, but other printers recognized the prospective market for the pamphlet. It did not take long for Hugh Gaine to reprint his own edition in New York or for E. and C. Dilly to commission a London edition, that one also featuring the “Elegiac Poem” composed by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet, and frequently advertised and sold separately in the colonies.
New coverage of Whitefield’s death continued in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter with a short article about Whitefield’s “PATRIOTISM” taken from the October 19, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Such articles, however, were not the sole extent of news about the minister. Advertisements for commemorative items served as an alternative means of marking current events … and purchasing memorabilia gave consumers an opportunity to be part of those events as they joined others in mourning the death of Whitefield and celebrating his life.