August 31

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

Providence Gazette (August 31, 1771).

“A few of Mr. Wesley’s Sermons on the Death of the Rev. George Whitefield.”

Eleven months had passed since George Whitefield died on September 30, 1770, while visiting Newburyport, Massachusetts, when John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, once again advertised “A few of Mr. Wesley’s Sermons on the Death of the Rev. George Whitefield.”  The death of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening was one of the most significant news stories of the year.  Coverage originated in Boston’s newspapers the day after Whitefield’s death and then spread to newspapers throughout the colonies.  From New England to Georgia, printers inserted stories reprinted from one newspaper to another to another.  They also provided original coverage of local reaction, noting funeral sermon delivered in the minister’s memory and children named after Whitefield at their baptisms.

In addition to commemorating the minister, printers and others also quickly turned to producing and marketing items that commodified his death.  Almost immediately, printers in Boston announced that they would publish funeral sermons.  In the next several weeks, they advertised broadsides with verses memorializing Whitefield (including one penned by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet) as well as funeral sermons and other books and pamphlets associated with the minister. Marketing tapered off by the end of the year, only to be rejuvenated in the spring when vessels arrived carrying news of reaction to Whitefield’s death in England.  Those ships also carried pamphlets published in London, including John Wesley’s funeral sermon in memory of the deceased minister.  A new round of advertising Whitefield memorabilia, including notices about a medal, commenced.

That also lasted only a couple of months, though printers and booksellers did occasionally continue to include Whitefield items among the many other goods they listed in their advertisements.  Carter did so when he advertised a variety of stationery items, books, and pamphlets in the August 31, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  He concluded with an entry for Wesley’s sermon, calling attention to it with three asterisks.  No other item in his notice featured any sort of similar adornment.  Even as Whitefield memorabilia became one item among a more extensive inventory, rather than the subject of its own advertisement, it still received special treatment to distinguish it from other merchandise.

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