Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

benjamin-franklin
Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-19-161736
Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children as well as notices offering rewards for those who escaped from bondage.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-slave-19-161736
Advertisement for an enslaved woman and an enslaved child from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

general-magazine
General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 314th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Slavery Advertisements Published January 17, 1770

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Jan 17 1770 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 1
Georgia Gazette (January 17, 1770).

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Jan 17 1770 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 7
Georgia Gazette (January 17, 1770).

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Jan 17 1770 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 2
Georgia Gazette (January 17, 1770).

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Jan 17 1770 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 3
Georgia Gazette (January 17, 1770).

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Jan 17 1770 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 4
Georgia Gazette (January 17, 1770).

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Jan 17 1770 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 5
Georgia Gazette (January 17, 1770).

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Jan 17 1770 - Georgia Gazette Slavery 6
Georgia Gazette (January 17, 1770).

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (January 16, 1770).

“At William Scott’s STORE, North Side of Faneuil-Hall, Boston.”

William Scott made sure that he placed his advertisement for various textiles and “a great Variety of English, Irish and Scotch Goods” before the eyes of as many consumers in Boston and its environs as possible. His notice ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on January 11. Four days later it also appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, Scott refrained from inserting his advertisement in the Boston Chronicle, a newspaper notable for its Tory sympathies as well as strident critiques and demeaning caricatures of patriot leaders. Perhaps Scott did not wish to have his store on the north side of Faneuil Hall associated with the rhetoric espoused in the Boston Chronicle.

Though he declined to advertise in that notorious newspaper, Scott did place his notice in a fifth publication that week. On January 16, it ran in the Essex Gazette, printed in Salem by Samuel Hall. For all intents and purposes, Salem was part of the same media market as Boston. Until relatively recently, it did not have its own newspaper. Hall began publishing the Essex Gazette in August 1768, less than a year and a half earlier. That newspaper certainly did not entirely displace those printed in Boston; they served the entire colony and circulated far beyond the bustling port. Even though prospective customers who read the Essex Gazette likely would have seen his advertisement in any of Boston’s several newspapers, Scott followed through on his strategy of saturating the market with his notice. It may even have garnered greater attention in the Essex Gazette since that newspaper carried far less advertising than any of its counterparts from Boston. In each of the other newspapers, Scott’s advertisement was nestled among dozens of others. In the January 16 edition of the Essex Gazette, it was one of only ten advertisements, all of them appearing in the far right column on the last two pages.

Several advertisers in Boston regularly inserted notices about consumer goods and services in multiple newspapers published in that city. William Scott, however, was one of the first to experiment with placing advertisements in publications that radiated outward from the colony’s largest port.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 16, 1770

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Jan 16 1770 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 1
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 16, 1770).

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Jan 16 1770 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 2
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 16, 1770).

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Jan 16 1770 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 3
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 16, 1770).

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Jan 16 1770 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 16, 1770).

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Jan 16 1770 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 5
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 16, 1770).

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Jan 16 1770 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 6
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 16, 1770).

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Jan 16 1770 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Slavery 7
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 16, 1770).

January 15

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

Jan 15 - 1:15:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 15, 1770).

“Dealers will meet with the usual encouragement.”

As colonists greeted a new decade, the “proprietors of the CHINA WORKS, now erecting in Southwark” took to the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advertise their new enterprise. They sought to provide consumers an alternative to the porcelain “manufactured at the famous factory in Bow near London, and imported into the colonies and plantations.” In addition to bolstering the colonial economy, the proprietors likely had an eye on the politics of the day, especially the nonimportation agreements adopted to protest the duties on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea imposed by the Townshend Acts. While they eschewed goods made in England and transported across the Atlantic, American consumers were primed to acquire similar wares produced in the colonies, especially if they had a reasonable expectation of similar prices and quality. To that end, the proprietors assured prospective customers that “the clays of America are productive of as good PORCELAIN” as the merchandise that came from Bow. Furthermore, they intended to “sell upon very reasonable terms.” Indeed, they reiterated both points, concluding the notice by proclaiming that their wares were “warranted equal to any in goodness and cheapness, hitherto manufactured in or imported from England.”

The proprietors addressed multiple audiences in their advertisement. They called on skilled workmen to seek employment as well as “such parents as are inclined to bind their children” as apprentices to contact them as soon as possible. The advertisement served as a general notice to consumer, but the proprietors included notes specifically for retailers. They pledged to “take all orders in rotation, and execute the earliest first.” More significantly, they aimed to convince merchants and shopkeepers that stocking up on this porcelain would be a good investment that yielded profits because the proprietors would not undersell them when dealing directly with consumers. They asserted that “Dealers will meet with the usual encouragement,” implying discounts for merchants and shopkeepers who purchased by volume. The proprietors then explicitly stated that dealers “may be assured that no goods under thirty pounds worth will be sold to private persons, out of the factory, at a lower advance than from their shops.” Considering that pledge was the only copy throughout the entire advertisement that appeared in italics, the proprietors intended for retailers to take notice. After all, they stood to achieve significantly larger transactions with merchants and shopkeepers who then assumed the risk of dispersing the porcelain to consumers.

The imperial crisis of the late 1760s and early 1770s helped to frame the entrepreneurial activities of colonists who launched new commercial endeavors, the “domestic manufactures” so often invoked in public discourse when discussing the trade imbalance with Britain and the duties on certain imported goods. Yet those who answered the call to produce goods in the colonies realized that it was not enough merely to make them available to consumers. The “proprietors of the CHINA WORKS” and other entrepreneurs realized that they needed to convince both consumers and retailers to embrace their wares in practice as well as in the ideology that circulated in conversations and in the press. Newspaper advertisements allowed them to make a case that emphasized cost, quality, and employment opportunities. Others went into even greater detail, outlining procedures designed to persuade them to stock “domestic manufactures” in their own shops.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 15, 1770

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Jan 15 1770 - Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy Slavery 1
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy Slavery 2
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury Slavery 1
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury Slavery 2
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury Slavery 3
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury Slavery 4
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury Slavery 5
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury Slavery 6
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy Slavery 1
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy Slavery 2
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (January 15, 1770).

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Jan 15 1770 - Pennsylvania Chronicle Slavery 1
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 15, 1770).

January 14

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

Jan 14 - 1:11:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 11, 1770).

“Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any incumberance.”

Richard Norris, “STAY-MAKER, from LONDON,” made a variety of appeals to prospective customers in an advertisement he inserted in the January 11, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. When it came to making stays (corsets) and other garments, he promised high quality (“the neatest and best manner”) and low prices (“the most reasonable rates”). He proclaimed the superiority of his work compared to local competitors, stating that his stays were “preferable to any done in these parts, for neatness and true fitting.”

Norris developed two appeals in even greater detail. In one, he emphasized his London origins and continuing connections to the empire’s largest city. Despite political tensions between Parliament and the colonies, London remained the metropolitan center of fashion. Norris assured prospective clients that “he acquires the first fashions of the court of London, by a correspondent settled there.” Although the staymaker had migrated to the colonies, he maintained access to the latest styles in the most cosmopolitan of cities in the British Atlantic world. He also underscored that he constructed stays according to “methods approved of by the society of stay-makers, in London,” implying that his training and experience in that city ranked him above any of his rivals in New York.

While most of these appeals focused on Norris and his abilities, the other strategy that he developed in greater detail targeted female readers of the New-York Journal. He attempted to incite demand for his services by prompting women to feel “uneasy in their shapes.” He made a special point of exhorting “young ladies and growing misses” to question whether they were “inclin’d to casts and risings in their hips and shoulders,” compelling them to imagine that their bodies were misshapen. Young women could hide such imperfections from observers by wearing the stays that Norris made and sold, even though they would retain the knowledge that there was supposedly something wrong or undesirable about their bodies. In eighteenth-century America, quite like today, advertisers often relied on provoking anxieties among consumers, especially young women, and offering to reduce those anxieties as a means of promoting their products.

January 13

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

Jan 13 1770 - 1:13:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 13, 1770).

“The COLLEGE about to be built in this Colony.”

Providence, Rhode Island, is now known as the home of Brown University, but that is not where the university has always been located. In 1770, six years after its founding, Providence became the permanent home of what was known as the Rhode Island College in its early years, later Brown University, in 1770. In March 1764, the Rhode Island General Assembly approved the charter for the “College or University in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” The Rhode Island College was only the seventh college founded in the colonies. Founded by Baptists, admission to the college was open to students of other denominations. According to “Brown’s History: A Timeline” on the university’s website, the corporation that would run the new college first met in Newport in September 1764. At that meeting, “Rhode Island Governor Stephen Hopkins (who would be a signer of the Declaration of Independence) was elected Chancellor.” James Manning served as the first president of the college, from 1765 until his death in 1791. He was also the college’s “first (and initially only) professor. He offered classes in the parsonage of the Baptist Church in Warren. The college held its first commencement in Warren in September 1769, not long before moving to Providence.

In preparation, Stephen Hopkins and John Brown, acting “in Behalf of the Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work” of erecting an edifice for the college in the city placed an advertisement in the January 13, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette to request that those who had already pledged funds and others who might be inclined to do so consider donating “such Materials fit for the Building, as they would choose to furnish in Lieu of their Subscriptions.” The move to Providence was not a foregone conclusion, but such “Materials fit for the Building” and “Subscriptions” had helped to convince the Corporation. According to the “Brown’s History: A Timeline,” Warren, Newport, and other communities in Rhode Island vied to become the permanent home of the college; the members of the Corporation “heard arguments in favor of the city’s central location, availability of materials and workers, number of libraries, and money pledged to support the effort.” The newspaper notice placed by Hopkins and Brown incorporated two of those factors. A variety of primary sources tell the story of the founding and first years of the Rhode Island College. Among those, newspaper advertisements testify to some of the fundraising efforts undertaken to establish the college in the city that has now been its home for 250 years.

January 12

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

Jan 12 1770 - 1:12:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 12, 1770).

“SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country.”

Watchmaker John Simnet returned to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette early in 1770, placing a short advertisement in the January 12 edition. Brief but bold, Simnet’s newest notice proclaimed, “WATCHES. SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country. —- Parade, PORTSMOUTH.” Simnet reminded readers of the services he provided, but left it to them to fill in the details.

Considered alone, this advertisement may not seem particularly interesting. Simnet did boast of his skill, declaring himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” but he did not do much else to promote his business and attract clients … or so it would seem at a glance. This advertisement, however, must be considered in the larger context of an advertising campaign that Simnet had waged for the past year and his ongoing feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with both Simnet’s previous advertisements, those placed by Griffith in response, and the professional (and seemingly even personal) animosity between the two watchmakers. That animosity likely manifested itself in interactions beyond the public prints, so colonists did not necessarily need to read all of the advertisements to know that Simnet and Griffith did not get along and regularly denigrated each other.

Simnet’s assertion that he was the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country” was more than bravado about his skill. It was also an insult intentionally directed at Griffith. Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire after more than two decades working as a watchmaker in London. He received his training and served clients in the largest city in the empire. He frequently suggested that other watchmakers, especially Griffith, could not match his skill, insinuating that Griffith often did more harm than good when tasked with repairing clocks and watches. In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant who was just as likely to steal watches from the residents of Portsmouth as repair them.

Simnet’s advertisement communicated far more than its eleven words might suggest to casual readers unfamiliar with his prior marketing efforts. The watchmaker did more than invite prospective clients to hire his services; he also perpetuated a feud with a rival by trumpeting his own skill and, by implication, demeaning the abilities of his primary competitor.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 12, 1770

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Jan 12 1770 - New-London Gazette Slavery 1
New-London Gazette (January 12, 1770).

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Jan 12 1770 - New-London Gazette Slavery 2
New-London Gazette (January 12, 1770).