What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield.”
George 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. Newspapers in Boston published the news the following day. Newspapers in other colonies reprinted those accounts as soon as they came to hand. Almost as quickly, printers, booksellers, and others inserted advertisements for various commemorative items, including funeral sermons, poems in memory of the minister, and works written by Whitefield. Once vessels crossing the Atlantic delivered the news to England and returned to the colonies, printers advertised even more Whitefield memorabilia, including his last will and testament and the sermon John Wesley preached in his memory. As broadsides, pamphlets, and books, the simultaneous commemoration and commodification of Whitefield took place via print.
Yet that commemoration and commodification was not confined to print. Advertisers also marketed “Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield.” Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, was the first to do so, inserting a brief notice in the May 14, 1771, edition of his newspaper. Hall did not elaborate on the medals, stating only that they “may be had at the Printing-Office next Thursday or Friday.” He did not mention the images or inscriptions that appeared on either side, nor did he specify the artist or place of production. Artists produced several medals on the occasion of Whitefield’s death, many of them dated to 1770, but Hall did not indicate which medals consumers could purchase at his printing office. Given his experience marketing other commemorative items, he may not have considered it necessary to provide elaborate descriptions of the medals in newspaper advertisements, especially if those other items met brisk demand among consumers who wished to mourn the famous minister through acquiring goods associated with him. Many months after Whitefield’s death attracted notice throughout the colonies, new commemorative items continued to hit the market. One of the most significant news events of 1770 continued to receive attention in the public prints as advertisers hawked a variety of Whitefield memorabilia.