What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Speedily will be published … The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”
Most of the final page of the April 13, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette consisted of advertisements. They filled two of three columns, but John Carter, the printer, devoted the first column to news reprinted from London newspapers published in early January. That content featured an item originally published as an advertisement that Carter considered newsworthy for readers of the Providence Gazette. “Speedily will be published,” the reprinted advertisement announced, “The works of the REV. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, … containing his sermons and tracts on various subjects.” The volume also included “a complete collection of his letters, never before printed, written to his most intimate friends, and to several persons of distinction in England, Scotland, Ireland and America, revised and prepared by himself for the press.” In addition, the book contained a biography of Whitefield and an engraved portrait, the image taken “from an original painting.”
In reprinting this advertisement, Carter updated readers about the reaction to Whitefield’s death on the other side of the Atlantic. Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770. News quickly spread via the colonial press. Almost as quickly, printers, booksellers, and others marketed funeral sermons delivered in memory of the minister as well as poetry that celebrated his life and lamented his death. The Providence Gazette carried advertisements for several of those items. Commodification and commemoration became inextricably linked in the pages of American newspapers as colonists mourned Whitefield’s death. That impulse, however, was not confined to the colonies. As soon as colonial newspapers began printing accounts of reactions to Whitefield’s death in England, they also noted the publication of funeral sermons and other memorabilia. In this case, Carter did not publish additional news about Whitefield from the London newspapers but instead treated an advertisement about “The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” as news in and of itself. In so doing, he revealed to readers that the intersections or print culture, consumer culture, and mourning they experienced took similar shape among their counterparts in England. Near and far, reprinting this advertisement suggested, people mourned the minister by purchasing commemorative items.