May 2

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 2, 1771).

“A Sermon … By the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD.”

Following the death of George Whitefield in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, printers, booksellers, and others marketed a variety of items to commemorate the loss of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Such commemoration also amounted to a commodification of Whitefield and his death.  The first wave of marketing lasted for three months as news traveled from New England to Georgia and then news of local reactions spread from colony to colony in all directions.  A second wave of marketing commenced in the spring when ships arrived with news of how the minister’s death had been received in England.  Those same vessels carried copies of Whitefield’s will and the sermon delivered in his memory by John Wesley.  Colonial printers soon produced and marketed American editions.

The renewed attention presented an opportunity for others to generate revenues by selling Whitefield memorabilia.  On May 2, 1771, bookseller Thomas Bromfield placed an advertisement for “A Sermon preached at the Tabernacle in Moorfields, London … By the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  John Fleeming’s advertisement for his edition of Wesley’s sermon ran in the supplement that accompanied the standard edition, also encouraging consumers to take interest in the deceased minister.  This was not the first time that Bromfield placed a notice in the public prints, but it was his first endeavor with advertising a single title rather than a list of books and pamphlets available at his shop on King Street.  He apparently saw a chance to take advantage of existing interest as well as incite further demand for items connected to Whitefield.  Bromfield noted that the sermon had been published after the minister’s death, making it yet another item produced in simultaneous acts of commemoration and commodification.  He also added words of encouragement for prospective buyers.  “As the Author of this Sermon was highly esteemed by most People in these Parts,” Bromfield stated, “it is hoped [the sermon] will have a speedy Sale.”  The bookseller gave consumers a gentle nudge, but also suggested that they needed to act quickly or risk not acquiring the sermon.

Whitefield’s death had been one of the major news stories of 1770.  That event continued to reverberate many months later as printers, booksellers, and others added new items to the assortment of memorabilia produced immediately after the minister’s death.  Their marketing efforts meant that Whitefield remained a subject of interest in the public prints.

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