What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”
After fading from American newspapers for a time during the first few months of 1771, George Whitefield once again became a subject of interest in the spring. 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. For the next three months, newspapers from New England to Georgia printed and reprinted news of his death and reactions to it in various towns throughout the colonies. Those same newspapers also carried advertisements for an array of commemorative items produced in memory of the minister. Eventually, both coverage of his death and marketing of memorabilia tapered off. The renewed interest in Whitefield in the spring of 1771 coincided with the arrival of ships carrying news from England. Printers now had access to coverage of Whitefield’s death in England, coverage that they shared with colonial readers.
Sometimes that coverage took the form of reprinting advertisements that ran in the London press. John Carter did so in the Providence Gazette on April 13 with an item about “The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” among the news from London. Six days later, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle included the same item in the New-Hampshire Gazette, either drawing it from newspapers they received from London or reprinting it from the Providence Gazette. Readers of their newspaper learned that Whitefield’s sermons and letters, along with an engraved portrait, “Speedily will be published” and sold in London. Like many other American printers, the Fowles seized the opportunity to produce and market commemorative items in the wake of receiving news about Whitefield from the other side of the Atlantic. In an advertisement on the next page of the April 13 edition, they announced that “Next Monday will be published, and sold at the Printing Office … The last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD, which came in the last Ships from London.” More than six months after the minister’s death, the Fowles estimated sufficient interest in Whitefield to justify not only additional news coverage but also yet another commemorative item. They believed that demand existed or could be incited for copies of Whitefield’s will among local consumers who had already been offered a variety of memorabilia in the fall.