What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”
The death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, received attention throughout the American colonies. From New England to Georgia, newspapers reported the minister’s death. Colonists participated in collective acts of mourning, reading poems dedicated to the Whitefield’s memory reprinted from newspaper to newspaper and listening to sermons honoring the minister and his legacy. The various sorts of eulogies for Whitefield, whether poems or sermons, very quickly converted to commodification of his death as printers and booksellers advertised commemorative items for consumers to purchase. Within days of the minister’s death, printers suggested that funeral sermons would soon go to press. Two months later, newspaper advertisements continued to promote such items.
For instance, the November 30, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette once again informed readers that they could purchase “THE Rev. Jonathan Parson’s SERMON … A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD” either at the printing office in Portsmouth or the post office in Newburyport, Massachusetts. This was a truncated version of an advertisement that ran in the two previous issues. The more extensive notice extended nearly two-thirds of a column. It included an excerpt from the sermon, a preview to incite interest among prospective customers. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, dispensed with the excerpt, but they included other Whitefield content as a means of maintaining interest in the minister’s death and generating sales. The final page of the New-Hampshire Gazette often included poetry in the upper left corner. The Fowles inserted two poems in the November 30 edition, one of them “A short POEM On the Death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.” As a result, coverage of the minister’s death continued beyond the portion of the newspaper devoted to advertising. The Fowles may have published the poem, at least in part, as a means of suggesting that popular interest in Whitefield’s death remained high, hoping that this would induce readers to consider purchasing the sermon advertised for sale elsewhere on the same page. Collective mourning could potentially yield greater interest in collective acts of commemoration through purchasing commodities associated with the minister’s death.