May 25

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

May 25 - 5:25:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 25, 1770).

I the Subscriber now carry on the Hatting Business.”

Witnessing the sense of accomplishment that undergraduate students experience when they work with digitized primary sources is one of my favorite parts of having them serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when they enroll in my Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Slavery in America, Public History, and Research Methods courses.  Much of that sense of accomplishment comes from learning to read eighteenth-century newspapers, a more difficult task than some initially expect.

Consider this advertisement from the May 25, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette.  It is not indecipherable, but it does require some effort to read, even for those with experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers.  The quality of the printing and the paper, including text bleeding through from the other side of the page, makes the advertisement more difficult to read than the crisp and clear text in books and articles students are more accustomed to reading.  They discover that historians must work with primary sources of varying condition.  The deviations in spelling compared to twenty-first century standards also present a minor challenge, including “Hatts” for “Hats,” “Furr” for “Fur,” and “chuse” for “choose” in this advertisement.  Shifts in the meaning of words over a quarter of a millennium also allow opportunities to consider context in the process of understanding what advertisers said when they used language that now seems strange.  In this advertisement, William Capron described himself as “I the Subscriber,” but he did not mean that he paid to receive the newspaper.  Instead, he deployed the common eighteenth-century usage of the word “subscriber” to mean “a person who signs his or her name to a document,” in this case the advertisement itself.

Perhaps the most significant sense of achievement for many students comes from decoding the “long “s” that they initially mistake for an “f” in eighteenth-century newspapers and other primary sources.  In this advertisement, Capron addressed his “former Customers, present Creditors, and the Public in general,” but to students with less experience reading such sources this phrase initially appears to say “former Cuftomers, prefent Creditors, and the Public.”  “Hatting Business” looks like “Hatting Bufinefs” and “too short for spinning” looks like “too fhort for fpinning.”  That Capron’s advertisement appeared in italics further compounds the difficulty for some readers.  For my part, I’ve become so accustomed to the “long s” that I no longer notice it.  When I began working with students on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, however, I quickly became aware that I took for granted how easily others with less experience reading eighteenth-century newspapers would adapt to the “long s.”  As an instructor, I’ve learned to take more time and to make more allowances for students to become comfortable with that particular element of eighteenth-century print culture.  I also reassure them that they will eventually recognize the “long s” merely as an “s.”  They might not even realize when the transition happens!

Primary sources of any sort are the cornerstone of college-level history courses.  In the absence of special collections and research libraries with original documents, access to digitized primary sources allows me to replicate the experience of working with materials from the eighteenth century.  In the process, students get a better sense of what how historians “do” history as they encounter and overcome these and other challenges.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:24:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 24, 1770).

“AN entire Assortment of all Kinds of DRUGS.”

In eighteenth-century American newspapers, compositors did not organize advertisements according to category or classification.  Advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, advertisements concerning runaway servants and enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage, and notices placed for a variety of other purposes appeared one after the other.  This required active reading on the part of subscribers in their efforts to locate advertisements of interest.

Occasionally, however, compositors did cluster together certain kinds of advertisements.  When the female seed sellers of Boston placed their advertisements in the spring, compositors working for several of the newspapers published in that city often tended to place their notices in a single column in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Similarly, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Gazette often arranged legal notices placed by the sheriff one after the other during the same period, though this may have been prompted in part from receiving them all at once.  Still, notices placed by different sheriffs often tended to appear in succession in a single column.  Whatever the explanation, these examples were exceptions rather than standard practice.

Did compositors sometimes experiment with grouping other advertisements according to their purpose?  That may have been the case in the May 24, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Advertisements appeared on the third and fourth page of the standard issue as well as both pages of the supplement.  Advertisements placed by apothecaries and druggists could have been dispersed throughout the issue, yet three of them ran together in the upper left corner of the final page.  Robert Bass, apothecary, advertised “AN entire fresh Assortment of all Kinds of DRUGS [and] … a great Variety of Patent Medicines.”  Duffield and Delany, druggists, promoted their “fresh and general Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”  John Day and Company listed some of the items available among their “LARGE and general assortment of the very best Drugs” at their “Medicinal Store.”  Due to their placement one after the other, readers could easily consult and compare these advertisements.

Yet if that were the intention of the compositor, it was not fully realized.  Further down the column, separated by four advertisements (a real estate notice, another for horses and a carriage for sale, one for grocery items, and the last for hardware), another advertisement announced that John Gilbert, physician and surgeon, had opened “AN APOTHECARY’S SHOP.”  A newcomer to the city, Gilbert focused on establishing his credentials rather than providing a list of medicines similar to those that appeared in the advertisements by Bass, Duffield and Delany, and John Day and Company.  On the previous page, Isaac Bartram and Moses Bartram, apothecaries, ran an advertisement that more closely resembled those placed by their competitors.

The cluster of advertisements placed by apothecaries and druggists in the May 24,1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette was notable because such placement was unusual.  Elsewhere in the same issue and its supplement, the compositor arranged legal notices together, but not all of them.  No particular organizing principle seems to have guided the placement of other advertisements, except for fitting them to the page to achieve columns of equal length.  Perhaps the cluster of advertisements for Robert Bass, Duffield and Delany, and John Day and Company was a mere coincidence.  Alternately, it may have been a rudimentary attempt at classifying and organizing at least some of the advertisements for the benefit of readers.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 23, 1770).

“RUN AWAY … BEN … of the Guiney country … TOM … very sensible and artful … his wife … BELLA.  DUBLIN … of the Ebbo country, marked on the cheeks.”

This is the last advertisement from the Georgia Gazette that will be featured on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  James Johnston founded the Georgia Gazette and printed it from April 7, 1763, through at least February 7, 1776, with a hiatus from late November 1765 through late May 1766 due to the Stamp Act.  The newspaper ultimately ceased publication due to the Revolutionary War.  Although Johnston published the Georgia Gazette from 1770 through 1776, for some of those years either no copies are extant (1771) or very few have survived (1772 and 1773), according to Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820.  Complete or extensive coverage exists for 1770, 1774, and 1775, but no copies published after May 23, 1770, have been digitized.  As a result, the Georgia Gazette will no longer be part of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.

This is unfortunate.  Printed in Savannah, the Georgia Gazette provides a glimpse of advertising in a smaller port city compared to the newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Established in 1732, Georgia was the only one of the thirteen colonies that eventually declared independence founded in the eighteenth century.  The contents of the Georgia Gazette present a city and a colony that had not yet reached the same maturity as others.  As the only newspaper regularly published on Wednesdays, it was frequently featured on this project.  Its contents document life in a southern colony, including the high proportion of advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children.  That will be the most significant loss relating to the missing or unavailable issues of the Georgia Gazette from June 1770 through May 1776.  The intersections of advertising, commerce, and culture can be examined in newspapers published in other colonies, but the stories of enslaved people that appeared only in the Georgia Gazettewill no longer play a significant role in demonstrating the ubiquity of advertising about enslaved Africans and African Americans in the early American press.

This also means that stories of courage, resistance, survival, and enslaved people seizing their own liberty during the era of the American Revolution will be truncated as the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Projectcontinue.  Consider today’s advertisement, the last one drawn from the Georgia Gazette.  The people known as Ben, Tom, Bella, and Dublin by those who enslaved them made their escape from Alexander Wylly in 1770.  The advertisement tells only a portion of their stories.  Ben “of the Guiney country” endured the Middle Passage and spoke “indifferent English.”  Tom and Bella were a couple.  Dublin “of the Ebbo country” bore ritualized scars on his cheeks, a testament to his African origins even after he learned to speak English.  Did these four escape together, perhaps led by the “very sensible and artful” Tom?  Their story, refracted through Wylly’s rendition of it, is incomplete … but it is more of their story than we would otherwise know about Ben, Tom, Bella, and Dublin.  Stories of Black people who were bought and sold and stories of Black people who escaped from those who held them in bondage appeared among the advertisements in every issue of the Georgia Gazette.  The Slavery Adverts 250 Project seeks to uncover those stories and make them more visible to both scholars and the general public.  The coming silence due to missing and unavailable issues of the Georgia Gazette will unfortunately suggest an absence of those stories, an absence that did not actually exist.

May 22

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

May 22 - 5:22:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette, and Country Journal (May 22, 1770).

“A Few Bales of well bought WHITE PLAINS.”

When he prepared to go to press with the May 22, 1770, edition, Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, found that he had too much content to fit into a standard four-page issue.  To remedy the situation, he also produced a two-page supplement comprised entirely of advertisements.  That was not unusual, but one of the decisions Crouch made about the format of that supplement differed from the approach usually taken by printers and compositors throughout the colonies.  In an effort to fill every square inch of space on the page, Crouch included three advertisements that deviated from the standard width for columns in his newspaper.

Understanding this strategy first requires a closer look at the entire supplement.  Crouch did not have enough material to fill two sides of a half sheet, the most common format for supplements.  Instead, he used a smaller sheet, one that was wide enough for only two columns with generous margins.  Regular issues had three columns.  To take advantage of the empty space, Crouch selected shorter advertisements to rotate perpendicular to the rest of the text.  Those he inserted in several columns.  This was a common trick for printers and compositors.  It saved the time and effort of resetting type by arranging in a different configuration several advertisements that previously appeared in the newspaper.

Crouch could have left space on either side of these advertisement.  Instead, he positioned them with margins as narrow as if they appeared in the regular columns.  This left empty space at the bottom of the page, but it was not wide enough for an advertisement of the same width.  Here Crouch’s method departed from the usual practice.  Rather than adjust the margins, he instead inserted advertisements that were narrower than any of the other columns throughout the standard issue or the supplement.  Doing so required resetting type for advertisements that previously ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Crouch chose to expend the time and effort rather than surrender the otherwise empty space.  He made use of every last inch of the smaller half sheet when he published this particular advertising supplement.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (May 21, 1770).

“JOHN GORE, jun. Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BostonNorth-American Manufactures.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, John Gore, Jr., consistently associated his business with the patriot cause by describing its location in relation to the Liberty Tree in Boston.  In an advertisement in the May 21, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, for instance, he listed his address as “Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston,” and did not provide any additional information, not even the name of the street, to assist prospective customers in finding his shop.

The first portion of Gore’s advertisement listed a variety of textiles and adornments, presenting consumers an array of choices.  Gore did not explicitly state that he acquired these items before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  Perhaps he hoped that readers would reach that conclusion because he so prominently made a connection between the Liberty Tree and his shop.  In the second portion of his advertisement Gore made a distinction between imported wares and those produced in the colonies.  In a header that appeared in larger font than most of the rest of the notice, Gore declared that he stocked “North-American Manufactures.”  That portion of his inventory included “black, pompadore, light and dark mix’d chocolate and drab colour’d Cloths,” “fine Teeth Horn Combs,” and the “best of Lynn Shoes.”  He also carried hose “equally as fine as any Imported from London.”  His customers did not need to fear accepting inferior goods when they selected among the “North-American Manufactures” he presented to them.

The headers in Gore’s advertisement told a story that did not require readers to peruse the rest of the advertisement.  Anyone who quickly looked over the page would see “JOHN GORE, jun. Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BostonNorth-American Manufactures.”  Even if they did not choose to examine the advertisement more closely, they likely remembered the association among the shopkeeper, his location, and his merchandise produced in the colonies.

May 20

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

May 20 - 5:17:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 17, 1770).

“Their ware is equal if not superior to any made in America or imported.”

Odgens, Laight, and Company, proprietors of the Vesuvius Air Furnace in Newark, New Jersey, placed an advertisement in the May 17, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal to inform prospective customers that they produced and sold “all kinds of hollow ware, and other castings.”  Their inventory included forge hammers and anvils, pots, kettles, griddles, “iron stoves for work-shops and ships cabins,” and a variety of other items.  Descriptions of some of their wares testified to their quality, such as “jamb and hearth plates neatly fitting each other,” yet Odgens, Laight, and Company made more extensive appeals to quality as well.

The partners proclaimed that “their metal is of the best quality” and underscored that “the construction of their furnace” as well as “manner of working and moulding” was “the most improved.”  Accordingly, they could claim that the items they manufactured at the Vesuvius Air Furnace were “equal if not superior to any made in America or imported.”  The comparison to imported goods held particular significance.  As colonists adopted nonimportation agreements to protest duties on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea that Parliament levied via the Townshend Acts, they also advocated supporting “domestic manufactures” as an alternate means of acquiring goods they needed and desired.  Even though colonists declared their support for goods made in the colonies, newspaper advertisements suggest that consumers experienced some skepticism that those goods matched imported wares in terms of quality.  Artisans and other who promoted domestic manufactures in the late 1760s and early 1770s frequently reassured prospective customers that they would not have to sacrifice quality in service to following their political principles.  In addition to asserting that their wares were “equal if not superior” to imported goods, Ogdens, Laight, and Company singled out their hammers and anvils, explaining that “the metal … is excellently well tempered, and found on repeated trials to be in general superior English hammers.”  They did not elaborate on who conducted those “repeated trials.”  That claim echoed marketing strategies frequently invoked by other artisans:  proclaiming that others with specialized knowledge of the product vouched for it.

Ogdens, Laight, and Company offered consumers an opportunity to demonstrate their support for the American colonies in their altercation with Parliament by purchasing goods made in the colonies rather than imported from England.  In so doing, they joined other advertisers in the New-York Journal and throughout the colonies who offered domestic manufactures to prospective customers.  The appeals they made in their advertisements resonated with the news that appeared elsewhere in the newspapers.

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 19, 1770).

“The COLLEGE about to be built in this Colony, shall be erected in the Town of Providence.”

On behalf of the “Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work” of erecting a building to house Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in Providence, Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes regularly inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette throughout the first several months of 1770.  They called on “all who already Subscribers” (or benefactors) and “those who may incline them to become such” to inform the committee of the funds they wished to pledge or “an Account of such Materials fit for the Building, as they would choose to furnish in Lieu of their Subscriptions.”  The fundraising effort was ongoing.

When this notice ran in the May 19 edition of the Providence Gazette, it coincided with news about the college.  Colonial newspapers ran little local news.  Since newspapers were generally published once a week, printers assumed that most local news spread by word of mouth before they had a chance to go to press.  The most momentous local news, however, did appear in the public prints.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, considered news about Rhode Island College significant enough to include in his newspaper.  A short article informed readers that “Monday last the first Foundation Stone of the COLLEGE about to be erected here was laid by Mr. JOHN BROWN, of this Place, Merchant, in Presence of a Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution.– About twenty Workmen have since been employed on the Foundation, which Number will be increased, and the Building be completed with all possible Dispatch.”

This brief article and the committee’s advertisement each informed the other, telling a more complete story for readers.  The news article also provided further publicity that aided the committee in their fundraising.  It was not too late to make a contribution and join that “Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution” as a supporter of the college and, by extension, the civic welfare of the town of Providence.  The committee continued to welcome new benefactors.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 18, 1770).

“That there may be no Cause of a single Complaint, any Person may have any Alteration without further Expence.”

The feud continued!  For more than a year watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet traded barbs in the advertisements they placed in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The rivalry ran almost as soon as Simnet arrived in the colony, having previously spent more than two decades as a watchmaker in London.  The newcomer had been quiet for a few months, but in the middle of May 1770 he placed an explosive new advertisement.  Both Simnet and Griffith usually relied on innuendo, rarely naming their competition but instead making pointed comments that readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have known how to interpret after being exposed to the series of advertisements the two watchmakers inserted in the public prints.  In his newest advertisement, however, Simnet began with innuendo and then escalated his attack by naming Griffith in a nota bene at the conclusion.

Simnet sarcastically informed prospective customers … and the entire readership of the New-Hampshire Gazette … that “All who please to apply, may depend on being faithfully and punctually served, with such Watches as Mr. Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith can make, and mending in general as perform’d by that Genius, without any Charge, and welcome.”  In other words, anyone who bought a watch or had it repaired by Griffith would certainly discover it was defective.  Rather than rely on the work of “that Genius,” they should instead bring their watches to Simnet, who would fix the problems caused by Simnet and do it for free.  That was the consolation he could provide to those who had been duped by that charlatan Griffith.

Such accusations built on the insinuations that appeared earlier in the advertisement.  Simnet proclaimed “that most of the WA[T]CHES he has been employed on, had before pass’d through the Hands of the best Performers hereabouts” and even though they had been subjected to such care still “they were in bad Condition, and never had been properly repaired.”  Even in recognizing the supposed “best Performers hereabout,” Simnet denigrated Griffith’s skill.  He went on to say that prior repairs had not been worth the money charged, especially since the “best Performers” used inferior materials.  Simnet then offered to make “any Alteration without further Expence” to benefit customers who had previously been the victims of watchmakers who did not possess his expertise.  He had thoroughly made his point by then; the nota bene was an even saucier addition.

The compositor for the New-Hampshire Gazette decided to have some fun with the placement of Simnet’s advertisement, inserting it immediately below Griffith’s most recent notice.  Although Griffith pledged that his clients would be served “cheaper than by any other Watchmaker,” he had otherwise ignored Simnet.  His competitor’s newest advertisement revived the rivalry, likely to the amusement of the compositor and many readers.

May 17

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

May 17 - 5:17:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 17, 1770).

“At the Sign of the Crown and Shoe.”

Many shopkeepers and artisans adorned their places of business with imaginative signs, both painted and carved.  Although relatively few of those signs survive in museums and other collections today, newspaper advertisements provide a more complete accounting of their presence in early America.  Those advertisements reveal some of the visual culture that colonists encountered as they traversed the streets in port cities in the eighteenth century.

In the May 17, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Richard Dickinson, a “Silk and Stuff Shoemaker,” identified his shop in Philadelphia with “the Sign of the Crown and Shoe.”  Dickinson may have intended that this image communicate something regal about the shoes he made for his customers, that they were fit for a king.  Yet the shoemaker may have had another purpose in mind as well.  In his biography of shoemaker George Robert Twelves Hewes, historian Alfred F. Young explains that shoemakers ranked fairly low in the hierarchy of occupations in eighteenth-century America, just a step above seamen.  In pairing the crown and shoe on his sign, Dickinson may have endeavored to express the dignity that he found in his work, humble as his occupation may have seemed to his clients and others.

In the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Jacob Reiser, “Tinman,” informed “his Customers in particular, and the Public in general” that he moved to a new location.  Although Reiser did not have a sign of his own, he made use of one displayed by a neighbor to give directions to his new shop.  Customers could now find him on Race Street, “next Door to the Sign of the Green-Tree, between Second and Third-streets.”  Unlike Dickinson’s sign, the “Sign of the Green-Tree” did not readily divulge what kind of business operated at that location.  It does, however, evoke images of how the sign might have appeared.  While Reiser’s advertisement did not reveal what kind of tree was depicted or how elaborately, it does testify to the presence of such visual images and their utility in navigating the streets of Philadelphia.

Shop signs served many purposes in eighteenth-century America.  They marked specific locations, but they could also be used as landmarks in giving directions to other places.  The images on some shop signs became logos of sorts, associated with particular shopkeepers or artisans.  Sometimes they represented the trade pursued at the location they marked, but other times they depended on a striking image that did not necessarily correspond to a specific occupation.  Collectively, they contributed to the visual culture of everyday life in early American cities.

Welcome, Guest Curator Jenna Smith!

Jenna SmithJenna Smith is a 2020 graduate of Assumption College. She double majored in History and Political Science. Jenna has taken a variety of history courses that cover different periods and parts of the world ranging from the ancient Middle East to the modern United States. Her true passion when researching and learning history is focused on the human element of every time period.  She finds deep satisfaction and gratitude when hearing people’s stories or reading about them. Jenna earned a spot on the Dean’s List at Assumption College every semester. She lived and studied in Rome, Italy, and Berlin, Germany, during her time as an undergraduate at Assumption.  Her passion for travel and connecting with different cultures was shown through her Study Abroad Ambassadorship. Jenna was also a History, Political Science, and Writing tutor at the Academic Support Center on campus. During her last semester at the school, she also participated in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Model Senate Project where students recreated significant Senate debates that have occurred throughout the history of the United States. Jenna served as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project during the Fall 2019 semester as part of her senior capstone seminar.  She composed tweets for advertisements republished by the project during the fall and conducted the research and prepared the entries for six weeks in May and June 2020. The Assumption College History department presented her the Achievement in Public History award in 2020.

Welcome, guest curator Jenna Smith!