May 25

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

Providence Gazette (May 25, 1771).

“A SERMON on the Death of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

George Whitefield’s afterlife in American newspapers continued in an advertisement published in the May 25, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  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.  The news appeared in several newspapers printed in Boston the following day.  It did not take long for printers in other towns to reprint accounts of the minister’s death.  Almost as quickly, printers, booksellers, and others advertised sermons preached in Whitefield’s memory and other commemorative items.  Half a year later, a second round of marketing Whitefield memorabilia commenced when ships from England arrived with word of how his death had been received there.  Those ships also carried items published in London, including Whitefield’s last will and testament and a sermon by John Wesley.  Colonial printers then produced and advertised American editions.

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, participated in the commodification of George Whitefield.  Carter advertised several books as well as assorted stationery for sale at his printing office, deploying Whitefield’s name to draw attention to the notice he ran in his own newspaper.  John Wesley’s “SERMON on the Death of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” appeared first in the advertisement, under the headline “JUST PUBLISHED (in Boston).”  Carter apparently stocked John Fleeming’s edition, first advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on April 19.  John Holt, printer of the New-York Journal, previously advertised the first American edition on March 21.  Both printers distributed copies to associates in other towns, expanding the prospective market for the sermon and increasing the number of advertisements in the colonial press.  John Dunlap advertised Holt’s edition of Wesley’s sermon in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on April 22.  On April 26, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, advertised Fleeming’s edition of the sermon.  As advertisements for Wesley’s sermon appeared in newspapers in several colonies, advertisements for other items commemorating Whitefield, including a medal, continued to present consumers with opportunities to honor the minister by acquiring memorabilia.  Carter’s advertisement for Fleeming’s edition of Wesley’s sermon further intensified the commodification of Whitefield that took place in the colonies in 1770 and continued well into the following year.

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