November 24

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 22, 1771).

“Proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”

Numerous merchants and shopkeepers regularly placed advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter as well as the other newspaper published in Boston in the early 1770s.  While the shopkeepers aimed their notices at consumers, some merchants address both retailers and consumers.  William Bant, for instance, stocked a “large and general Assortment of GOODS … to sell by Wholesale and Retail.”  Not every advertiser identified their intended customers so explicitly; some instead made more specific appeals that invited both retailers and consumers to purchase their merchandise.

John Adams and Company advertised a “complete Assortment of Cream-colour’d China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware” as well as groceries and a “small Assortment of English Goods” available at their shop near the Old South Meeting House.  Adams and Company informed prospective buyers that they sold their wares “very low for Cash – with proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”  In other words, retailers who bought in volume received discounts.  Similarly, William Bant concluded his extensive advertisement that listed dozens of items with a nota bene that alerted “Traders and Shopkeepers” that they “may be supplied with Assortments of the foregoing Articles, upon as good Terms, as at any Store in Town.”  Bant hoped to entice retailers by offering to match the prices set by his competitors.

In another advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Smith and Atkinson made it clear that they intended to deal with retailers exclusively.  They acquired a “Large and General Assortment of European and India Goods … on the very best Terms,” allowing them to sell their merchandise “(by Wholesale only) at such Prices as shall give full Satisfaction to those in Town and Country who purchase their Assortments here.”  In addition, they encouraged retailers who imported goods on their own to supplement their inventories and “compleat their Assortments” by selecting from among the items Smith and Atkinson had on hand.

Readers encountered numerous advertisements for consumer goods in just about every issue of newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s.  Merchants and shopkeepers hoping to sell directly to consumers placed the majority of those advertisements, but not all of them.  William Bant, John Adams and Company, and Smith and Atkinson were among the many merchants who sold imported goods wholesale, designing marketing materials aimed at retailers rather than consumers.

November 23

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

Providence Gazette (November 23, 1771).


Colonists in Rhode Island held lotteries to fund a variety of public works projects in the early 1770s.  After receiving approval from the colonial legislature, the sponsors kept readers informed about the progress on those projects and promoted the lotteries via newspaper advertisements.  The November 23, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, contained four advertisements about lotteries conducted to fund various projects, including “repairing and rebuilding the BRIDGE over Pawtucket River,” “reparing the ROAD … in I,” “purchasing a PARSONAGE, for the Use of the PRESBYTERIAN or CONGREGATIONAL SOCIETY, in the Town of Providence,” and “building a STEEPLE to the Church in Providence, and purchasing a CLOCK to be affixed therein, for the Use of the Public.”  A fifth notice indicated that the “Managers of the Warwick Bridge Lottery” would draw numbers on December 6.

In three of those advertisements, the sponsors explained the benefits of the projects to encourage colonists to participate.  The directors of the lottery for Whipple’s Bridge noted that “keeping of Bridges in Repair” served “the Good of the Public in general.”  Residents of Providence, they continued, “more especially” had an interest in maintaining this particular bridge because “the Road over said Bridge leads directly to several large Towns in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay.”  Similarly, the directors of the lottery to fund repairs to the road in North Providence hoped to “meet with every Encouragement in the Sale of their Tickets” because “this Road leads directly through the Colony.”  In both instances, the sponsors asked colonists to do their part in supporting infrastructure that facilitated travel and the circulation of information and goods throughout the colony and beyond.

The General Assembly appointed John Smith, a merchant, to serve as manager of the lottery for building a steeple and adorning it with a clock.  In the advertisement outlining the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” to support those projects, Smith opined that it was “universally allowed, that Steeples are in a particular Manner ornamental to a Town,” but that was not the only reason colonists, even those not affiliated with that particular church, should support the lottery.  “Reasons of a more important Nature,” he declared, “induce him to believe, that the Public-spirited, of all Denominations, will afford it every Assistance” … because “the former Church Steeple … was serviceable to Navigation as a Landmark.”  All residents of Providence would benefit from a new steeple, just as they would benefit from a town clock.  “The Utility of a Town-Clock,” Smith declared, “must appear obvious to every one.”  That being the case, he decided not to “offend the public Understanding, by offering Arguments to evidence its Usefulness.”  Smith believed that colonists needed less convincing about that part of the project.

The sponsors of the lotteries encouraged readers to follow their progress, noting that “the Prizes will be Published in the Providence Gazette, and punctually paid off.”  They also cautioned that any prizes not claimed within a specified period, six months or one year depending on the lottery, “will be deemed generously given to the Public” for the further maintenance of the projects they funded.

November 22

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

Connecticut Journal (November 22, 1771).

“Whoever will bring said Saddle to the Printers hereof … shall be fully rewarded.”

Most likely the type for the rest of the newspaper had already been set when the copy for a notice about a missing saddle arrived at the printing office of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  That would explain the unusual placement of an advertisement that ran in the right margin of the November 22, 1771, edition.  The advertiser, eager to recover lost property, apparently felt some urgency to publish the notice and did not want to wait an entire week until the next issue.  To accommodate the advertiser, the compositor placed the notice in the only empty space still available, the margin.  As a result, the text ran perpendicular to the masthead and the three columns containing news.  To make it fit, the compositor also divided the advertisement into four short columns, the first two featuring three lines and the last two with two lines.  Each of those short columns was the same width as the standard columns, allowing the compositor to gather all of them together to republish the advertisement in the next issue without having to start over with setting the type.

It was a common strategy deployed by printers and compositors throughout the colonies when they wanted to work additional items into newspapers, though most such notices usually appeared on the second or third pages rather than on the first.  The advertiser may have negotiated for a spot most likely to attract attention in hopes of recovering a “SADDLE, not entirely new, yet whole and sound” that had been “LOST out of the Shop of Captain John Mix.”  The notice offered a reward to whoever brought the saddle to the printing office (rather than the shop where it had been lost or perhaps stolen) or provided information about where it could be found.  Beyond publishing the advertisement, the printers of the Connecticut Journal would play a role in recovering the saddle if anyone wished to collect the reward.  They facilitated the transaction, just as they did for the sale of a “Likely, strong NEGRO LAD” described in an advertisement placed by an unnamed enslaver who instructed interested parties to “Enquire at the Printing Office.”  Squeezing the advertisement about the missing saddle into the newspaper as soon as they received it was one of multiple services offered by the printers.  They not only agreed to broker information in print but also to act as agents on behalf of the advertiser if anyone brought any leads or the saddle itself to the printing office.

November 21

GUEST CURATOR:  Victoria Ostrowski

New-York Journal (November 21, 1771).

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

“An apprentice-lad … named Richard Sweetman.”

In the fall of 1771, Elijah Weed and Samuel Simpson placed an advertisement describing two runaways, Thomas Jones, an indentured servant, and Richard Sweetman, an apprentice.  The advertisement mentioned that Sweetman was sixteen years old and learning to be a shoemaker.  This stood out to me because it was so different from the experiences of teenagers today.  At sixteen, most teenagers go to high school before embarking on their jobs.  Some receive vocational training and others go to college.  They do not become apprentices at age sixteen or younger, bound to masters who teach them a trade until they turn twenty-one years old.  According to an article about “Colonial Teenagers,” children “grew into adulthood more quickly than they do today, and by the time a child entered their teen years, they were already on a path toward their life’s occupation.”  In addition, “young men usually learned their trade through some form of apprenticeship.”



Although he had not yet completed his apprenticeship, Richard Sweetman acquired sufficient skill that Elijah Weed and Samuel Simpson described the runaway as “a stuff-shoe-maker by trade.”  Their advertisement did not elaborate on the reasons that Sweetman fled, but the “sour countenance” that they attributed to him may have been the result of dissatisfaction with the treatment that he received from the master who was supposed to provide training, lodging, food, and other necessities during the time of his apprenticeship.  If Weed or Simpson had been cruel or negligent, Sweetman might have decided to depart.

Weed and Simpson cataloged a variety of items that Sweetman took with him, many of them garments that almost certainly did not belong to him.  He may have taken them with the intention of disguising himself or selling or trading them.  He also carried “sundry cordwainers tools” that he likely stole.  Rather than sell or trade those items, he may have thought that he could support himself by making and repairing shoes once he arrived in a place that he believed that Weed and Simpson would not locate him.

For their part, however, Weed and Simpson cast their net widely.  They resided in Philadelphia, but placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal to alert readers there and throughout the region to keep to keep their eyes open for a runaway apprentice who may have been traveling with an indentured servant with a distinctive walk due to one leg being shorter than the other.  The power of the press worked to their advantage.  Their advertisement did not reveal any of Sweetman’s grievances that might have prompted him to run away, but it did enlist the assistance of readers who could engage in surveillance of strangers they encountered in hopes of detecting the apprentice and earning a reward for his capture.


Welcome, Guest Curator Victoria Ostrowski

Victoria Ostrowski is a senior at Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts. She is an Elementary Education and History major. She has studied abroad in Rome, Italy, where she was able to immerse herself in the history and culture of Italy. She wants to continue to travel and learn about the history of Europe. She also likes to work out, hang out with friends, and paint. She has two German Shepherds who love to go on trips to the park. At Assumption, she is part of the Education Club as well as the Alumni Club.

Welcome, guest curator Victoria Ostrowski!

November 20

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (November 18, 1771).

“I am no servant.”

As soon as the Pennsylvania Packet commenced publication in late October 1771, William Henry Stiegal placed advertisements to promote the American Flint Glass Manufactory at Manheim in Lancaster County.  That advertisement ran for several weeks.  Stiegal soon supplemented it with another notice, that one offering “FIVE PISTOLES REWARD” for “a certain servant man, named FELIX FARRELL, by trade a Glass Blower” who ran away from the factory.  Stiegal described Farrell and promised the reward to whoever “secures him in any of his Majesty’s [jails].”  It was one of many advertisements for runaway servants that ran in newspapers printed in Philadelphia that fall.

Most went unanswered, but Felix Farrell published a response to set the record straight.  Readers encountered both Stiegal’s notice claiming Farrell ran away and Farrell’s response in the November 18 edition.  Farrell acknowledged Stiegal’s advertisement, but warned that he was “no way desirous of having any person plunge himself into an expensive law-suit.”  He then filled in details that Stiegal overlooked in his notice, stating that he and other men migrated to Pennsylvania “to pursue the business of making glass-ware.”  They were “pleased with the civility” that Stiegal demonstrated to them when they first arrived, especially since they were “strangers in America.”  Stiegal convinced them “to enter into articles of agreement with him.”  The relationship, however, turned sour, at least according to Farrell.  He reported that Stiegal “forfeited the covenant on his part” by not paying the promised wages.  That meant that Farrell had “a right to leave his employ and to bring action against him” rather than “drudge and spend my whole life and strength” upholding a broken contract.

Most significantly, Farrell declared, “I am no servant.”  He did not reach that conclusion on his own, but had instead “taken the opinion of an eminent gentlemen of the law” who examined the articles of agreement between Stiegal and Farrell.  Furthermore, Farrell warbed that “no person can be justified in apprehending me.”  Anyone who attempted to do so “will subject himself to an action of false imprisonment.”  Farrell retained a copy of the articles of agreement, asserting his willingness to publish them for consideration in the court of public opinion as well as pursue more formal legal proceedings if Stiegal continued to harass him.

The power of the press usually operated asymmetrically when it came to runaway advertisements in eighteenth-century America.  Wives who “eloped” from their husbands usually did not publish responses.  Enslaved men and women who liberated themselves did not place notices, nor did most indentured servants.  Felix Farrell was one of those rare exceptions, someone who had both the resources to pay for an advertisement and firm enough standing not to place himself in further jeopardy by calling additional attention to himself.

November 19

Who placed an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Essex Gazette (November 19, 1771).

“Priscilla Manning, At her Shop a few Doors above Capt. WEST’s Corner.”

Advertising accounted for one-third of the contents of the November 19, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  A substantial number of notices promoted consumer goods and services available in Salem, Massachusetts.  George Deblois advertised “excellent BOHEA TEA” as well as “English & Hard-Ware GOODS.”  Similarly, John Appleton carried “the very best Bohea Tea” and a “fine Assortment of English and India, Scotch and Irish GOODS.”  In an advertisement that extended almost an entire column, Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., listed dozens of items from among the “large and general Assortment of English and India Goods” that he imported “in the last Ships.”  He called special attention to “Bohea TEA, (warranted good).”  John Andrew informed prospective customers that he stocked an “Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” at his shop “At the Sign of the Gold Cup,” though he did not mention tea.

Priscilla Manning joined these merchants and shopkeepers in advertising the merchandise she sold to consumers.  Her inventory included “Bohea, Hyson & Souchong TEAS” as well as a “general Assortment of English and India GOODS.”  Manning had been operating a shop “a few Doors above Capt. WEST’s Corner” for at least two years, according to advertisements in the Essex Gazette, but her name would disappear from the pages of that newspaper in 1772 when she married George Abbot.  Historian Donna Seger has traced Manning’s life and career, noting that Abbot apparently took over Manning’s shop.  Advertisements in the Essex Gazette bore his name and made reference to “his shop a little above Capt. West’s Corner.”  When Abbot died in 1784, Manning “re-opened her shop … and built a big new house—both in her name.”  She almost certainly continued to work in the shop during those twelve years that her husband’s name appeared in the public prints, eclipsing her contributions to the family business.  Given that Manning was a woman of business in her right before her marriage and after the death of her husband, it raises questions about how many wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, and other female relations worked in the shops advertised by Deblois, Appleton, Sparhawk, and Andrew.  Which women, known to customers and the community but unnamed in the notices, came to mind when eighteenth-century readers perused those advertisements?

November 18

GUEST CURATOR:  Kaden McSheffrey

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Boston-Gazette (November 18, 1771).

“Ran-away … a Negro Man Servant named CROMARTE.”

This advertisement from the Boston-Gazette in November 1771 offers a reward for “Negro Man Servant named CROMARTE, commonly called CRUM” who “Ran-away” from Samuel Fitch.  At first, Fitch calls Cromarte a “Negro Man Servant” and does not mention the word “slave.” At the end of the advertisement, however, he calls Cromarte a “Slave for Life” when he warns “Masters of Vessels and others” not to help him. This is interesting because many people are not aware that slavery was present in the northern colonies in the eighteenth century; most people assume that slavery happened only in the southern colonies. It is clear that this is an advertisement about an enslaved man in Boston in 1771. Cromarte’s experience was part of a longer story. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, “John Winthrop (the founder of Boston) … recorded on 26 February 1638 that the Massachusetts ship Desire had returned from the West Indies carrying ‘some cotton, and tobacco, and negroes, etc.’”  Slavery was part of Massachusetts history from the earliest days of English settlement.



In Slavery and American History: The Tough Stuff of Memory (2006), James Oliver Horton tells a story of a tourist in Boston shocked to learn about slavery and the slave trade in New England.  “I thought we were better than that,” the tourist lamented.  Reflecting on this encounter, Horton notes that “confronting the contradiction between the American ideal and the reality of American history can be disturbing.”  He continues with an assertion: “The first task for the public historian is to attempt to address popular ignorance of slavery’s diversity, longevity, complexity, and centrality.”[1]  Fifteen years later, historians and others continue to work toward that goal.  They have made some progress, especially in the wake of the 1619 Project, though that work has also met with backlash.

I teach at a regional university.  Most of my students grew up in New England.  They arrive in my classes assuming, as many Americans do, that slavery was limited to southern colonies and states.  When they serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, they see for themselves the extent that slavery thrived throughout the colonies, including in New England, during the era of the American Revolution.  They do not merely read an article or listen to a lecture about slavery in the region; instead, they encounter accounts of enslaved people repeatedly as they examine newspapers from the period.  My students must grapple with the diversity, complexity, and centrality of slavery in the era of the Revolution, intensively examining a relatively short period does not necessarily address the longevity of slavery in New England.  In doing independent research to identify primary and secondary sources to help him analyze his selected advertisement, however, Kaden incorporated the longevity of slavery in Massachusetts into his work as guest curator, identifying the first documented reference to the sale of enslaved people in the colony more than 130 years before Cromarte, a “Slave for Life,” liberated himself from Samuel Fitch in Boston in the fall of 1771.


[1] James Oliver Horton, “Slavery in American History: An Uncomfortable National Dialogue,” in Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory, eds. James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton (New York: New Press, 2006): 37-38.

Welcome, Guest Curator Kaden McSheffrey

Kaden McSheffrey is a senior majoring in History and minoring in Marketing at Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Kaden grew up on the South Shore of Boston, in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and spends a lot of his time in Vermont, where some of his family lives. His main historical interests include the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and World War II. Outside of the classroom, Kaden has an obsession with sports and a love for music as well.

Welcome, guest curator Kaden McSheffrey!

November 17

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

New-York Journal (November 14, 1771).

A large and neat assortment of Dry Goods.”

William Wikoff advertised a “large a neat assortment of Dry Goods, suitable to the season” in the November 14, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal.  He attempted to entice prospective customers to his shop by demonstrating the range of choices he made available to them, listing everything from “Devonshire kerseys” to “Mens and womens, and childrens gloves & mits” to “Wire and mould shirt buttons” to “Table and tea spoons.”  His inventory appeared in two columns with one or two items per line, arranged in two columns, to make it easier to peruse.  It looked quite different than most of the advertisements for imported consumer goods that ran in the Providence Gazette the same week.  Several advertisers in that town declared that they stocked too much merchandise “to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement,” deploying a different strategy for invoking choice as a reason to visit their stores.

Even though he concluded his list by claiming that he has “many other articles, too tedious to mention,” Wikoff decided on a more common means of making an appeal about consumer choice in his advertisement, one that many of his competitors used in their advertisements in the same issue of the New-York Journal.  On the same page as his notice, John Morton, John J. Roosevelt, and George Webster all ran advertisements that listed dozens of items arrayed in two columns.  Henry Remsen and Company and Abeel and Byvanck also listed their wares, though they did not resort to columns but instead published dense paragraphs that required even more active reading on the part of prospective customers.  Elsewhere, John Amiel, Hallett and Hazard, Robert Needham, Thomas Pearsall, Daniel Phoenix, Robert Sinclair, Samuel Tuder, and Kelly, Lott, and Company all inserted lists of goods arranged as columns, while William Neilson and Henry Wilmot opted for paragraphs that took up less space (and cost less since advertisers paid by the amount of space rather than the number of word).  Gerardus Duyckinck placed two advertisements for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” also known as the “Medley of Goods,” that listed his inventory and deployed unique formats.

In yesterday’s entry, I argued that many merchants and shopkeepers in Providence simultaneously deployed an uncommon strategy for suggesting consumer choice in the fall of 1771.  They proclaimed that they carried “a Variety of well assorted GOODS” but asserted that the choices were so vast that they could not print them in newspaper advertisements.  Today, I offer examples of more common formats that traders in other cities used to catalog their merchandise to demonstrate the choices consumers would encounter in their shops.  In each case, advertisers did more than announce they had goods on hand and expect that was sufficient to attract customers.