January 18

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 18, 1771).

“A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”

When George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died on September 30, 1770, it did not take long for printers, booksellers, and others to market commemorative items that celebrated the life of the minister and mourned his passing.  Within a week, advertisements for merchandise ranging from poems to hymns to funeral sermons began appearing in colonial newspapers.  While the commodification of Whitefield’s death was concentrated in New England, consumers in other regions also had opportunities to purchase memorabilia.

Those advertisements ran regularly for several months, but then tapered off at the end of the year.  As part of that process, printers and booksellers incorporated Whitefield commemorative items into advertisements promoting other items for sale.  For instance, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet inserted an advertisement for four pamphlets in the January 7, 1771, edition of their newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post.  “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD” was the third of those four items.  Previously, Whitefield commemorative items merited advertisements of their own in the Boston Evening-Post.

Such was the case in a brief advertisement in the January 18 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle advised prospective customers that “A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”  Whitefield’s death and the ensuing commemorations and mourning rituals were no longer breaking news, so the Fowles, like the Fleets, devoted less advertising space to marketing memorabilia.  Yet they still had inventory available, surplus copies that diminished any potential profits gained from the commodification of the minister’s death.  Advertising excess copies of almanacs in January was an annual custom for printers throughout the colonies.  The Fowles folded their Whitefield commemorative items into that practice, attempting to draw on remaining demand without giving over a significant amount of space to their advertisements.

January 17

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 17, 1771).

“Each articles will be put up singly, and in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Both the size and format of Richard Tidmarsh’s advertisement on the final page of the January 17, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal likely attracted attention.  Rather than appearing in a single column, it ran across two columns.  It also extended half a column, creating a large rectangle of text that seemed to dominate the page even though it accounted for about one-third of the content.

Tidmarsh, a druggist, announced an upcoming auction of “DRUGS, MEDICINES, and SHOP FURNITURE” in advance of his departure from the colony “by the first spring vessels.”  He listed the items up for sale, in effect publishing an auction catalog as a newspaper advertisement.  That list made the format of his advertisement even more distinctive.  The introductory material extended across two columns, but the list of items for sale ran in three narrow columns that also did not correspond to the width of any columns that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  To help prospective buyers navigate the list, Tidmarsh arranged entries for medicines in alphabetical order.  In the final column, he inserted headers in capital letters for sections enumerating “PERFUMERY,” “PATENT MEDICINES,” and “SPARE UTENSILS and FURNITURE.”  In the introduction, the apothecary explained his rationale for selling items separately rather than as a whole.  He envisioned that “practitioners, as well as Gentlemen of the trade, will have an opportunity of being supplied with such articles as they may be out of.”  Tidmarsh apparently did not anticipate any buyers for his entire inventory, but did anticipate demand for the various drugs and medicines on their own.  He offered credit to buyers who purchased a sufficient quantity and promised that the “whole of the stock of MEDICINES and DRUGS are of the first quality.”  To guide prospective buyers through the auction, he asserted that each article would be sold “in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Tidmarsh advertised an eighteenth-century version of a “going out of business” sale.  In an effort to liquidate his inventory before leaving Philadelphia, he organized an auction that would allow buyers to acquire medicines “of the first quality” at bargain prices compared to retail and perhaps even wholesale transactions.  He published an auction catalog in the public prints, its organized columns guiding prospective bidders through both the items for sale and the order.  He also encouraged participation by offering credit to those who purchased in sufficient quantities.  The unusual format of the apothecary’s advertisement also drew attention to the upcoming auction, helping to generate interest and incite bidders to attend.

January 16

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 14, 1771).

“Said Morton has to dispose of, a large and very neat assortment of gilt and plain frame looking-glasses and sconces.”

Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in Hanover-Square,” printed the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, one of several newspapers published in the city in the early 1770s.  On many occasions, Gaine devoted more space to disseminating advertising than news articles, letters and editorials, prices current, and shipping news from the customs house.  Such was the case for the January 14, 1771, edition.

Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, that issue consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, but Gaine distributed paid notices throughout his newspaper.  The first two columns on the first page of the January 14 edition contained advertising.  News accounted for most of the third and fourth columns, but five short advertisements concluded the fourth column.  News filled the first three columns of the second page before giving way to advertising in the final column.  On the third page, readers encountered news in the first two columns and advertising in the last two.  The final page consisted entirely of paid notices.  Overall, nine of the sixteen columns, more than half of the issue, delivered advertising to readers.

Yet that was not all.  Gaine had so many advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue that he also published a two-page supplement to accompany it.  With the exception of the masthead, that supplement contained nothing but paid notices, another eight columns of advertising.  Considered together, this amounted to seventeen of the twenty-four columns in the standard issue and supplement.  More than two-thirds of the content that Gaine delivered to subscribers and other readers that week consisted of advertising.

For many newspaper printers in eighteenth-century America, advertising generated revenues that rivaled or surpassed subscription fees.  For Gaine, that was almost certainly the case, thought the volume of advertising also suggests impressive circulation numbers.  Advertisers would not have chosen to insert their notices in his newspaper if they were not confident that they would reach the general public.

January 15

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

Essex Gazette (January 15, 1771).

“A POEM on the Execution of William Shaw.”

True crime!  News of the murder of Edward East circulated widely in New England.  The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter was among the first publications that presented the news to the public.  A short article in its September 27, 1770, edition reported, “We hear from Springfield, that one Edward East, was murthered in the Gaol at that Place, by William Shaw and George French, who wounded him in several Parts, on the 17th of this [month], of which Wounds he died the next Day.”  As was common practice at the time, several newspapers reprinted this news over the course of several weeks.

On October 12, the Connecticut Journal provided updates in a longer story, reporting that a “jury by their verdict declared” Shaw “to be guilty” of murder, “whereupon the sentence of death was passed upon him.”  The execution was scheduled for November 8.  At the same time, the jury did not find enough evidence to convict French as an accomplice but instead “returned a verdict in his favour.”  On November 19, the Boston Evening-Post noted that Shaw’s execution was delayed until December 13, but did not provide an explanation.  The Connecticut Journal reported on Shaw’s execution in its December 18 edition.  “On which solemn occasion,” the editor declared, “an affecting sermon was delivered by the Rev. MOSES BALDWIN … to an audience of many thousands collected from all the adjacent towns as spectators of the awful scene.”  Newspapers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island all reported on the execution.

Advertisements for commemorative items soon appeared as well, including one for “A POEM on the Execution of William Shaw” in the January 7, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  On January 10, an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter promoted another commemorative item, “A SERMON intitled, The Ungodly condemned in Judgment; Preached at Springfield, December 13th 1770.  On Occasion of the Execution of WILLIAM SHAW, for Murder, By MOSES BALDWIN.”  Printers and booksellers in other places also advertised and sold the poem and the sermon.  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette in Salem, for instance, advertised the poem on January 15.  These advertisements helped to deliver news of current events while offering consumers opportunities to learn more.  For those who were not among the “many thousands” who heard the sermon and witnessed the execution, the commemorative items served as a proxy in addition to as supplement for coverage in newspapers.

January 14

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 14, 1771).

“A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON.”

Commemoration and commodification of the American Revolution occurred simultaneously, the process beginning years before the first shots were fired at Concord and Lexington on April 19, 1775.  The Boston Massacre took place on March 5, 1770.  A week later, the town meeting appointed James Bowdoin, Samuel Pemberton, and Samuel Warren to a committee charged with preparing an account of that infamous event.  The committee quickly prepared A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston and presented it to the town meeting on March 19.  The town meeting accepted the account and ordered it printed immediately.  The Short Narrative quickly became available to consumers, its imprint declaring that it was “Printed by Order of the Town of Boston, and Sold by Edes and Gill, in Queen-Street, and T. & J. Fleet, in Cornhill.”  Other commemorative items quickly hit the market as well.  On March 26, Paul Revere advertised his “PRINT containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-Street.”  A week later, Henry Pelham announced a similar print, “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power,” available for purchase at local printing offices.

Months later, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, occasionally advertised the Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre.  On January 14, 1771, they reminded readers of one of the most significant events of the previous year when they once again ran advertisement for the Short Narrative.  An advertisement for another book likely prompted them to market the Short Narrative approved by the town meeting once again.  They inserted their advertisement immediately below John Fleeming’s notice that he would soon publish “The Trial of William Wemmes, James Hartegan, William McCauley, Hugh White, Matthew Killroy, William Warren, John Carrol, and Hugh Montgomery, for the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, & Patrick Carr, on the Evening of the 5th March 1770.”  Following a vigorous defense by John Adams, a jury acquitted six of those soldiers and found the other two guilty of manslaughter.  The latter managed to reduce their sentences from death to having their thumbs branded by pleading benefit of clergy.  Fleeming, the printer who offered an account of the trial to the public, had formerly published the Boston Chronicle, noted for its Tory sympathies, in partnership with John Mein.  That newspaper ceased publication in 1770, shortly after angry colonists chased Mein out of town.

The account of the trial and its outcome ran counter to the version of events depicted in the Short Narrative and the prints produced by Pelham and Revere.  It became another entry in the propaganda battle of competing stories presented in newspapers, prints, and pamphlets, published in both Boston and London, following the Boston Massacre.  It could hardly be considered a coincidence that the Fleets just happened to advertise the Short Narrative once again just as Fleeming announced publication of a pamphlet about the trial of the soldiers, especially since their advertisement appeared immediately after Fleeming’s notice.  The Fleets did not censor Fleeming from advertising in their newspaper, but they did insist on having the last word in hopes of shaping the narrative for the public.

January 13

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

South-Carolina Gazette (January 10, 1771).

“The most effectual Medicine that has ever yet been offered to the Public, for the Cure of an inveterate Scurvy.”

John Norton, surgeon and proprietor of “Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops,” and Thomas Powell, his local agent in Charleston, deployed a variety of marketing strategies in an advertisement that ran in the January 10, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Filling almost an entire column, the advertisement included a recitation of the various maladies that the patent medicine supposedly cured, two testimonials from former patients, an overview of the patent medicine’s reputation in England and Ireland, and a notice that Powell was the only authorized seller.  Eighteenth-century advertisements for patent medicines often included one or more of these various elements, but this particular advertisement was notable for incorporating all of them.

Norton and Powell billed Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops as the “most effectual Medicine that has ever yet been offered to the Public, for the Cure of an inveterate Scurvy, Leprosy, and pimpled Faces … so as never to return again.”  In addition, the patent medicine cured sores, ulcers, and hemorrhoids, purified blood, and “prevents malignant Humours of every Kind from being thrown upon the Lungs.”  Yet that was not all, according to Norton and Powell, who proclaimed that the drops were effective “in eradicating every Disorder incident to the Human Body, proceeding from the Scurvy, or Foulness of the Blood.”

The lively commentary did not end there.  Norton and Powell inserted two testimonials, one from Joseph Feyrac, “late Lieutenant-Colonel to His Majesty’s 28th Regiment of Foot in Ireland,” and the other from John Good, “late Surgeon to His Majesty’s Sloop Ferris.”  Feyrac’s lengthy testimonial accounted for half of the advertisement.  He went into detail, describing the “Particulars of my Distemper” and other treatments he had endured.  He experienced temporary relief after consulting “an old Woman” who administered “Juice of Herbs, preceded by violent Bleedings.”  He traveled to Bath, but “found a bad Effect from the Waters.”  Feyrac described several times that he was incapacitated for a month or more.  A physician and a surgeon provided various treatments, but those also produced only temporary relief.  Feyrac was “Low in Spirits” when he happened to read one Norton’s advertisements in the English press.  He asked others who had taken Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops about their experiences, discovering that the remedy “had performed a great Number of Cures, in all the Disorders” mentioned in the advertisements.  When Feyrac took the medicine himself, he began experiencing relief within a week.  Several months later, he reported that he was “well recovered; my Strength is returned, my Spirits good.”

Good’s testimonial was much shorter, simply declaring the “valuable Drops” had “entirely cured me of a dangerous and obstinate Fistula.”  Some of the value of this testimonial no doubt derived from Good’s former service as “Surgeon to His Majesty’s Sloop Ferris.”  His own experience tending to patients likely enhanced his standing in recommending this patent medicine.  Good also framed his testimonial as a service to the public, stating that making it public “may be the Means of doing Service to the Community in general.”

Such stories contributed to the reputation Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops earned in England in Ireland.  The drops were so effective “in all Disorders occasioned by the Scurvy, that even Numbers of the Faculty” of the Corporation of Surgeons in London “have been induced to seek Relief from the known Virtues of this excellent Medicine.”  In addition, Norton brandished his credentials, stating that he “was regularly brought up in the Practice of Surgery.”  He also stated that the king had granted “His Royal Letters Patent” to Norton for “the preparing and vending” of the patent medicine.

Given the reputation and success of Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops on the other side of the Atlantic, Norton and Powell hoped to create demand in the colonies.  Their advertisement noted that Norton appointed Powell as “the sole Vendor … in the Southern Colonies of AMERICA.”  Consumers could purchase the drops “with printed Directions for using them” from Powell only.  Such exclusivity served as a form of quality control and guarded against counterfeits, increasing consumer confidence.

From descriptions of the maladies the patent medicine cured to testimonials from patients who recovered after taking the drops to commentary about their reputation, Norton and Powell provided prospective customers with a variety of reasons to purchase Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops.  They combined multiple marketing strategies into a single advertisement as they attempted to make a convincing case to consumers.

January 12

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

SlaveryProvidence Gazette (January 12, 1771).“A Likely strong Negro Man.”

On January 12, 1771, an advertisement for a “Likely strong Negro Man, about 28 Years of Age,” ran in the Providence Gazette.  It was just one of dozens of advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children that appeared in newspapers published throughout the colonies during the week of Sunday, January 6, through Saturday, January 12.  From New England to South Carolina, newspapers contributed to the perpetuation of slavery by publishing advertisements about buying and selling enslaved people, notices that described enslaved people who liberated themselves and offered rewards for their capture and return, and advertisements about suspected “runaways” who had been committed to jails in northern colonies and workhouses in southern colonies.

Newspaper printers, including John Carter of the Providence Gazette, generated revenues from publishing at least seventy-one such advertisements.  They appeared in newspapers in every region:  six advertisements in five newspapers in New England, eleven advertisements in four newspapers in the Middle Atlantic, twenty-five advertisements in three newspapers in the Chesapeake, and twenty-nine newspapers in the Lower South.  This tally almost certainly undercounts the total number of newspaper advertisements concerning enslaved people published that week.  Two of the four pages of the January 8 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal are missing.  Portions of the January 10 edition of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette are so damaged as to be illegible.  No copies of the Georgia Gazette from 1771 survive, though other sources confirm that newspaper continued publication throughout the year.  This census of newspapers notices concerning enslaved men, women, and children provides only the minimum number of such notices that readers throughout the colonies encountered that week.

That being the case, these advertisements were a familiar sight, a part of everyday life in the colonies … and not just colonies in the Chesapeake and the Lower South.  In New England, the Boston Evening-Post, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, the Massachusetts Spy, the New-Hampshire Gazette, and the Providence Gazette all carried advertisements concerning enslaved people.  In the Middle Atlantic, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal did as well.  Today it may seem striking to some to glimpse an advertisement about the sale of a “Likely strong Negro Man” in the pages of the Providence Gazette in the early 1770s, that advertisement did not seem out of place to readers in Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England and other colonies when it was published.

January 11

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

New-London Gazette (January 11, 1771).

To be Sold by Garret Noel, at New-York … and at the Printing-Office in N. London.”

Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, augmented revenues by selling books, pamphlets, and almanacs in addition to newspaper subscriptions and advertising.  Two advertisements in the January 11, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette promoted items available at his printing office, “Ames’s Almanack” and “A Review Of the Military Operations in NORT[H]-AMERICA.”  Much of the advertisement for the latter consisted of the extensive subtitle that summarized the contents of the book.  It covered a portion of the conflict now known by several names, including the French and Indian War, the Seven Years War, and the Great War for Empire, “From the Commencement of the FrenchHostilities on the Frontiers of Virginia, in 1753, to the Surrender of Oswego, on the 14th of August 1756.”  That narrative was “Interspersed with various Observations, Characters, and Anecdotes, necessary to give Light into the Conduct of American Transactions in general; and more especially into the political Management of Affairs in New-York.”

First published in London in 1757, the Review of the Military Operations in North America was reprinted in New England in 1758 and, again, in New York in 1770.  Alexander Robertson and James Robertson printed the more recent edition that Green sold.  The advertisement in the New-London Gazette provided an overview of the network of printers and booksellers throughout the colonies who cooperated in distributing the book to consumers, listing eight individuals or partnerships in eight towns from Boston to Charleston.  Other advertisements for books printed in the colonies sometimes included similar lists, creating the impression of a community of readers that extended far beyond the local market.  Residents of New London who obtained copies at Green’s printing office joined readers who acquired theirs from Garret Noel’s bookshop in New York or from “Mr. Stephens, at the Coffee-House” in Charleston.  Printers and publishers often could not generate sufficient demand to justify producing American editions for local markets, so they strove to create regional or continental markets via networks of agents and associates as well as subscription notices and newspaper advertisements disseminated widely.

January 10

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 10, 1771).

“AN exact List of Blanks and Prizes in Fanueil-Hall Lottery, to [be] seen at the Printing-Office.”

Printing offices were hubs for disseminating information in eighteenth-century America.  Many were sites of newspaper production, printing and reprinting news, letters, and editorials from near and far.  Many printers encouraged readers and others to submit “Articles of Intelligence” for publication in the colophons that appeared on the final pages of their newspapers.  Every newspaper printer participated in exchange networks, trading newspapers with counterparts in other towns and colonies and then selecting items already published elsewhere to insert in their newspapers.  Newspaper printers also disseminated a wide range of advertising, from legal notices to advertisements about runaway apprentices and indentured servants or enslaved people who liberated themselves to notices marketing consumer goods and services.  In many instances, newspaper advertisements did not include all of the relevant information but instead instructed interested parties to “enquire of the printer” to learn more.  Accordingly, not all of the information disseminated from printing offices did so in print.  Some printers also worked as postmasters.  Letters flowed through their printing offices.  Printers did job printing, producing broadsides, handbills, and pamphlets for customers, further disseminating information at the discretion of their patrons rather than through their own editorial discretion.  Many printers sold books, pamphlets, and almanacs posted subscription notices for proposed publications, and printed book catalogs and auction catalogs.

Yet that was not the extent of information available at early American printing offices.  Colonists could also visit them to learn more about the results of lotteries sponsored for public works projects.  An advertisement in the January 10, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, for instance, informed readers of “AN exact Lost of Blanks and Prizes in Fanueil-Hall Lottery, to [be] seen at the Printing-Office opposite to William Vassell’s, Esq; the head of Queen-street.”  Other newspapers published in Boston that same week carried the same notice but named “Green & Russell’s Printing-Office.”  The printers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy also played a role in disseminating information about a lottery that helped to fund a local building project.  Eighteenth-century newspapers sometimes included lottery results, the “Blanks” or ticket numbers and the corresponding prizes, but those could occupy a significant amount of space.  Rather than incur the expense of purchasing that space in newspapers, the sponsors of lotteries sometimes instead chose to deposit that information at printing offices, sites that collected and disseminated all sorts of information via a variety of means.  Printers served as information brokers, but they did not limit their efforts and activities to printed pages dispersed beyond their offices.  Sometimes colonists had to visit printing office or correspond with printers via the post in order to acquire information that did not appear in print.

January 9

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 7, 1771).

“ADDRESS To those who possess a PUBLIC SPIRIT.”

When bookseller Robert Bell inserted a notice about upcoming auctions in the January 3, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal, he devoted the second half of the advertisement to promoting an American edition of William Robertson’s multivolume History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V.  He addressed the “real friends to the progress of Literary entertainment, and to the extension of useful Manufactures in a young country.”  Bell advanced a “Buy American” marketing strategy during the period of the imperial crisis that ultimately culminated in the American Revolution.

Later that week, he continued his advertising campaign with another notice in the January 7 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Bell included some of the copy from the earlier advertisement in this much lengthier iteration.  Both versions highlighted the phrase “THE LAND WE LIVE IN” by printing it in all capitals and centering it on a line of its own within the advertisement, drawing attention to Bell’s proposition that consumers who purchased this work also contributed to the “elevation and enriching” of the colonies.  He enhanced that argument with a headline that described the entire advertisement as an “ADDRESS To those who possess a PUBLIC SPIRIT.”  Potential customers, Bell asserted, had an opportunity to engage in acts of consumption that possessed political significance.

At the same time, the bookseller declared that the American edition was a bargain compared to imported alternatives.  He charged “the moderate price of One Dollar each Volume” for the three volumes, noting that the “British edition cannot be imported for less than Twelve Dollars.”  Colonists could acquire the work at a significant savings, a reward for their role in creating a distinctive American marketplace for the production and consumption of books.  Only the first volume had gone to press, so the advertisement also served as a subscription notice.  Bell encouraged “Gentlemen who have rationality enough to consider they will receive an equivalent” to an imported edition to sign on as subscribers, simultaneously flattering and cajoling prospective customers.

Bell informed the “Encouragers of printing this Grand Historical Work” that they “may depend upon ebullitions of gratitude,” but that was only an ancillary reason for purchasing Robertson’s biography of Charles the Fifth.  He presented their own edification and their responsibility for promoting domestic manufactures in the colonies as the primary reasons for buying the first volume and subscribing for the subsequent second and third volumes.