What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Sermon, on the death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, preached by JOHN WESLEY.”
In the months following his death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, the commemoration and commodification of George Whitefield became a minor industry as printers and booksellers produced and marketed commemorative items. Advertisements for funeral sermons, poems, hymnals, and other memorabilia appeared in newspapers from New Hampshire to South Carolina before the end of the year. In the following spring, another round of advertising coincided with vessels bringing news – and new merchandise – from England. Printers in several colonies created and sold American editions of Whitefield’s will and a funeral sermon delivered by John Wesley.
This new round of marketing began on March 21 with an advertisement in the New-York Journal. John Holt, the printer of that newspaper, announced his plan to publish the “celebrated Sermon … on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. George Whitefield … By JOHN WESLEY.” A week later, he ran a new advertisement advising readers that they could purchase the sermon at his printing office or from bookbinder George Leedel. A few weeks later, consumers in other colonies soon encountered similar advertisements for Whitefield commemorative items. On April 19, John Fleeming advertised his own edition of Wesley’s sermon in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury. On the same day, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, advertised that they planned to publish the “last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD,” a timely piece that “came in the last Ships from London.”
The marketing of new Whitefield memorabilia expanded to another colony yet again on April 22 with John Dunlap’s advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. He informed prospective customers that Wesley’s sermon “Just came to hand.” He most likely sold Holt’s American edition. His advertisement also promoted “the Deserted Village, a Poem by Dr. GOLDSMITH.” Holt advertised those two titles together on March 28. Dunlap carried them at “the Newest Printing-office, in Market-street, Philadelphia,” a few weeks later. The widespread production and marketing of Whitefield commemorative items testified to the minister’s celebrity in the colonies. That process also revealed the extent that printers, booksellers, and others saw his death as an opportunity to generate revenues through commodification that doubled as mourning.