What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Wesley’s SERMONS, on the Death of … GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”
In the fall of 1770, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, extensively covered the death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening. In addition to news coverage, the Fowles published poems written in memory of the minister and vigorously advertised a variety of commemorative items. Whitefield died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30. For the next several months, the Fowles regularly printed and reprinted news accounts, memorials, and advertisements related to his death.
They commenced advertising Whitefield memorabilia again in the spring when vessels from England arrived in American ports. Those vessels carried newspapers that reported on public reaction to Whitefield’s death on the other side of the Atlantic. They also carried new commemorative items already marketed in England, including Whitefield’s will and the funeral sermon preached by John Wesley. The Fowles were the first printers to advertise both items in their newspaper. On April 19, they advertised “The Last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD,” stating that it “will be published” in a few days. The Fowles indicated that they printed their own edition rather than acquiring copies of an American edition that Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, published after receiving an English edition in “the last Ships from London.”
A week later, the Fowles once again advertised Whitefield’s will, updating “will be published” to “Just published.” In a separate advertisement they informed prospective customers that “Rev. Mr. Wesley’s SERMONS … preached at [Whitefield’s] Tabernacle, and Tottenham Court Chapel … to a very crouded and afflicted Audience” had “Just come to Hand.” In this case, they probably sold an American edition that John Fleeming advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter a week earlier. Just as John Holt printed copies in New York and distributed them to printers and booksellers in other towns, so did Fleeming. As these commemorative items became more widely available and advertisements in newspapers proliferated, colonists experienced another round of the commodification of Whitefield’s death. These items from England counted as news since they delivered information previously not available in the colonies, but they also represented opportunities for printers and booksellers to generate revenues as they participated in rituals of mourning for an early American celebrity.