What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Collection of HYMNS … By that eminent and illustrious Servant of Christ, the late Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”
More than ten weeks after his death on September 30, 1770, news about George Whitefield and his legacy continued to appear in newspapers throughout the colonies. Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, was a celebrity. Very quickly, Newburyport, the site of his death, and Boston squabbled over the site of Whitefield’s burial. When news arrived in Georgia, the colonial assembly passed resolutions to raise funds to have the minister’s remains moved to the orphanage he founded there. Over the course of several weeks, printers reprinted those resolutions from one newspaper to another. They finally began appearing in newspapers in New England in the middle of December. Others honored Whitefield in other ways. Several colonists named their children after the minister. On December 15, the Providence Gazette reprinted news from Boston newspapers that announced “a child of Mr. George Trott was baptized by the Rev. Dr. Byles, by the name of George Whitefield.”
Whitefield appeared elsewhere in that issue as printers devised other means of memorializing him. Almost as soon as the public learned of the minister’s death, printers and booksellers began producing, marketing, and selling commemorative items. Their efforts included two subscription notices, one for “A Collection of HYMNS for social Worship” by Whitefield and another for an annotated bible that included an endorsement that the minister penned for an earlier edition. Both of those subscription notices ran in the December 15 edition of the Providence Gazette, accounting for two columns of the final page. Like other newspapers printed in the colonies, the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Two columns represented a significant portion of the content made available to readers that week and an even larger proportion of the advertising since paid notices filled five of the twelve columns in that issue. The news update about a child named after Whitefield, only three lines, was exceptionally brief compared to the extensive advertisements that contributed to the commodification of the minister’s death and attempts to capitalize on it. Mourning the loss of the minister was not the only reason that Whitefield continued to appear in the public prints, not when there was money to be made.