February 23

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

Feb 23 - 2:23:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 23, 1770).

“(Advertisements omitted will be in our next.)”

The February 23, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette concluded with two brief notices from the printer: “(Advertisements omitted will be in our next.)” and “The Eastern Post not returned.”  Both of these concerned the production of the newspaper, especially the contents that appeared and those delayed.

In compiling the news and editorials that appeared in their newspapers, eighteenth-century printers liberally appropriated material from other newspapers that they received through networks of exchange with their counterparts in other cities and towns.  Quite simply, they literally reprinted items from one newspaper to another, often, but not always, with an attribution to either the original source or the source in which they encountered it.  The February 23 edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included a lengthy essay by “Junius” drawn “From the LONDON Evening-Post, Dec. 19.”  That issue also contained a letter “To the FREEHOLDERS, FREEMEN, and INHABITANTS of the Colony of New-York; and to all the Friends of LIBERTY in North-America” from Alexander McDougall who was confined in “the New Gaol [Jail] in New-York.”  The printer did not indicate how he came into possession of the letter, whether he reprinted it from another newspaper.  That edition of the New-London Gazette did not feature news from Boston, one of the centers of patriot activism, that the printer might have chosen if the “Eastern Post” had returned with newspapers and letters.  As in any other colonial newspaper, the news items presented to readers were contingent on which sources the printer recently received.

In contrast, printers sometimes made decisions to exclude advertisements, even advertisements with type already set.  To accommodate the two lengthy items in the February 23 edition of the New-London Gazette (together they accounted for eleven of the twelve columns), the printer opted to delay publication of some of the advertisements that might otherwise have appeared.  The notice about “Advertisements omitted” invited readers to consult the next issue for the information contained in legal notices, advertisements promoting consumer goods and services, and notices about servants and slaves who escaped, but it also served as a communication to the advertisers that their notices had not been overlooked or forgotten.  Such notices appeared fairly regularly in eighteenth-century newspapers, suggesting that advertisers generally did not make contracts for their advertisements to appear in specific issues.  Most expected that their notices would run for a set number of weeks (as the issue numbers at the end of advertisements in some newspapers indicate), but also anticipated some fluidity in the printer delivering on this service.  Although some advertisements were time sensitive, in most instances advertisers appear not to have specified particular dates but instead the number of weeks that their advertisements should run.  Printers exercised their own discretion in terms of when newspaper advertisements appeared in print.

February 22

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

Feb 22 - 2:22:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (February 22, 1770).

“He has engaged Two exceeding good Workmen.”

While eighteenth-century artisans frequently promoted their own training and other credentials, relatively few devoted space in their newspaper advertisements to acknowledging the skill and experience of subordinates who worked in their shops.  William Faris, a clock- and watchmaker in Annapolis, however, incorporated several employees into the advertisement he placed in the February 22, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  Indeed, he said little about his own contributions to the business in favor of convincing prospective customers that he hired skilled artisans capable of executing their orders.

Faris opened his advertisement by announcing that “he has engaged Two exceeding good Workmen.”  He noted that one “has been a Finisher several Years to the celebrated Mr. Allen,” expecting that name to resonate with consumers familiar with clock- and watchmakers.  Faris leveraged the reputation of another artisan, perhaps even a competitor, to enhance the standing of his own business.  Having competent workmen in the shop allowed Faris to branch out.  He informed prospective customers that he also “executes any Orders he may be favoured with for Chair Work,” an endeavor made possible by hiring “a good Workman” who has produced “several Dozens of very neat black Walnut Chairs.”

In the midst of acquainting the public with his skilled staff, Faris also noted, though briefly, that “he still carries on” activities closely aligned with making clocks and watches.  He pursued the “Gold, Silversmiths and Jewellers Businesses,” doing that work “in the neatest and Best Manner.”  His own skill and experience made him qualified to assess the abilities of the workmen he employed.  By listing the several tradesmen who worked alongside him, Faris conjured images of a busy and bustling shop, one where customers could depend on the proprietor having sufficient assistance to see to their orders “faithfully” and “with the utmost Dispatch.”  At the same time, Faris assured them that they did not have to worry about inferior work undertaken by those he employed.  He vouched for their skill and experience.  Many colonial artisans disguised labor done by others in their shops when they advertised, but Faris sought to mobilize his workmen to his advantage when wooing prospective customers.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:21:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 21, 1770).

“The Taylor’s Business is carried on in all its branches.”

When Jonathan Remington, a tailor, moved to a new location early in 1770, he placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette so prospective clients would know where to find him.  Although he devoted much of the notice to giving directions, he also incorporated, though briefly, several marketing appeals.  “The Taylor’s Business,” he proclaimed, “is carried on in all its branches, in the genteelest manner, and with the utmost dispatch.”  Remington deployed formulaic language, though its familiarity to consumers may have been an asset.  Such brevity may have also allowed the tailor to keep down the costs of advertising while still promoting several aspects of his services.

In that single sentence, he communicated that he possessed a range of skills associated with his trade, declaring that he was qualified to pursue “all its branches.”  Prospective clients need not worry that they might present him with requests too difficult or beyond his experience.  He also made a nod to fashion, asserting that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.”  That appeal also implied the quality of his work.  Prospective customers would not look as though they had visited a second-rate tailor.  They could don his garments and confidently go about their daily interactions with other colonists without fearing that careful observation resulted in damaging judgments.  Remington’s pledge to tend to clients “with the utmost dispatch” testified to the customer service he provided.

Remington also attempted to attract new customers by leveraging his former customers as evidence of his abilities.  He expressed gratitude to “his friends and good customers for their past favours, and hopes for the continuance of them.”  In making that acknowledgment, Remington sought to maintain his current clientele while implicitly extending an invitation to new customers to visit him at his new location.  He reported that his services were already in demand, hoping to incite additional demand among readers of the Georgia Gazette who had not previously employed his services.  He played on consumer psychology that demand, or even the appearance of demand, could create additional demand.

Although not extensive, Remington’s advertisement delivered several marketing appeals intended to make his services attractive to prospective clients.  He relied on standardized language that allowed him to deliver messages grounded in the consumer culture of the period in relatively few words.

February 20

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

Feb 20 - 2:20:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 20, 1770).

“The said Wines are still in the Possession of Captain Livingston.”

The “NEW ANNOUNCEMENTS” in the February 20, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journalcommenced with a notice placed by the “GENERAL COMMITTEE” responsible for overseeing adherence to the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of duties that Parliament levied on certain imported goods via the Townshend Acts.  The committee noted that Patrick Muir had imported some goods from Scotland and “refused to store or re-ship” them.  The bulk of the advertisement, however, concerned a “Parcel of Wines” from Tenerife on the Hope, captained by Alexander Livingston.

That was a much more convoluted story.  The committee became aware of an “industriously spread” rumor that John Tuke ordered the wine at the behest of Wilson, Coram, Wayne, and Company despite the fact that those merchants were “Subscribers to the Resolutions” who had pledged to support the nonimportation agreement.  In response, Tuke made a statement in which he declared “the above Report is absolutely false, having never made use of those Gentlemen’s Names.”  He did acknowledge, however, that “the Wines were bought on my own Account” even though he was also “a Subscriber to the General Resolutions.”  Tuke assumed responsibility and expressed his “utmost Concern” that the wine had been shipped to Charleston.  A nota bene inserted by the committee reported that the wine was “still in the Possession of Captain Livingston.”  Tuke had not taken possession of it or attempted to sell it.

Did Tuke profess “utmost Concern” because a misunderstanding resulted in the wine being delivered by mistake or because he had been caught and now realized the error of his ways?  His statement did not make that clear, but it did attempt to unequivocally clear Wilson, Coram, Wayne, and Company.  As Tuke worked to ameliorate any damage done to his own standing in the community, he also sought to restore the reputations of prominent merchants who had been pulled into the controversy.  It was bad enough to find his dealings under so much scrutiny; he did not need to alienate himself from Wilson, Coram, Wayne, and Company by continuing to call unwarranted attention to them.  Instead, he did what he could to exonerate those merchants and shift the focus solely to himself.

Relatively little local news appeared in colonial newspapers, in part because most were published once a week so anything of consequence spread via word of mouth before it could appear in print.  In some instances, however, advertisements carried news and supplemented coverage that ran elsewhere in the newspaper.

February 19

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

Feb 19 - 2:19:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 19, 1770).

“List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”

In the third week of February 1770, many printers continued to advertise almanacs, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that counted against any profits they might earn on the venture.  In contrast, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, advertised that they had plans within the next few days to publish their “North-AmericanALMANACK, AND Massachusetts REGISTER, For the Year 1770.”  They either identified demand, even that far into February of the new year, or believed that they could incite sufficient demand to merit the expense of pursuing the project.

In presenting this edition of their almanac to the public, Edes and Gill focused on the contents of the “REGISTER.”  They listed the contents, including useful reference material from tables of colonial currencies to descriptions of “Public Raods, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” to dates of “Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England.”  Many of the contents had a decidedly political tone, making it clear that Edes and Gill marketed this almanac and register to supporters of the patriot cause.  The printers led the list of contents with “A Prospective View of the Town of Boston the Capital of New-England; and the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry.”  This woodcut, fashioned by Paul Revere, depicted eight British warships delivering troops to be quartered in Boston.  In addition to that frontispiece, the almanac and register also contained an overview of many of the other sources of tension between the colonies and Britain, including a “List of the Importers and Resolves of the Merchants &c. of Boston” and a “List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”  More than just a handy register of practical information, this was a primer in patriot politics.  Even items intended for amusement had a political flair, such as “Liberty Song” and “A New Song, to the Tune of the British Grenadier, by a SON OF LIBERTY.”

It was rather late in the year for Edes and Gill to publish an almanac, but they apparently considered it a good time to disseminate patriot propaganda.  The “Judgment of the Weather, Suns and Moon’s Rising and Setting,” and other material commonly contained in almanacs did not receive much notice in their advertisement.  Instead, they emphasized contents related to colonial grievances, presenting consumers with new opportunities to participate in acts of resistance by purchasing items that documented the events unfolding around them.  By bringing those narratives into their homes, colonists would become better informed and perhaps even more politicized in favor of the patriot cause.

February 18

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

Feb 18 - 2:15:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (February 15, 1770).

“All of which were imported before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers frequently incorporated details about how they came into possession of their imported goods into their efforts to convince consumers to purchase them.  Many newspaper advertisements began with a recitation of which vessels had transported the wares across the Atlantic along with the names of the captains and the ports or origin.  This formulaic introduction to advertisements for consumer goods often began with the phrase “just imported,” meant to signal to prospective customers that purveyors of goods did not expect them to purchase inventory that had been lingering on their shelves or in their storehouses for extended periods.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, however, many advertisers abandoned that marketing strategy in favor of another.  When the duties placed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea via the Townshend Acts motivated colonists to protest by boycotting a broad array of goods imported from Britain, the phrase “just imported” took on a different meaning, one with political overtones.  Once nonimportation agreements were place for months, the newness of goods no longer had the same value.  Items “just imported” from London and other English ports lost their cachet when they became symbols of both British oppression and the complicity of any who dared to violate community standards by continuing to import and sell such goods.

Many advertisers developed a new marketing appeal contingent on the politics of the period.  They underscored that they did indeed sell goods that arrived in the colonies many months earlier, perhaps grateful that conspicuously adhering to nonimportation agreements presented an opportunity to sell surplus inventory that had indeed lingered on their shelves or in their storehouses longer than was healthy for balancing their own accounts.  Whatever their motives, they harnessed politics in their attempts to drum up business, informing prospective customers that they acquired their wares in advance of the boycotts going into effect.  Such was the case for William Bant who had “yet on Hand a few English Goods” in February 1770.  He made sure that consumers knew that all those items “were imported before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”  He did his patriotic duty … and prospective customers did not have to worry about shirking theirs when they visited his shop.

February 17

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

Feb 17 - 2:17:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 17, 1770).

Providence.”

This semester I am teaching my department’s Research Method’s course, an upper-level class required for all History majors before they enroll in the capstone research seminar in their senior year.  Teaching that class has allowed for many opportunities to introduce students to the primary sources at the center of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project as well as the various resources that allow historians to access those sources.  In particular, we have learned how to navigate several databases of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers, each with a different interface and internal logic.

Throughout the process, I have cautioned students that they must be careful when consulting these databases.  If they encounter something that deviates from what they expected to find, then they need to ask why.  Historians must often act as detectives, interrogating what happened in the past but also interrogating the manner in which sources have been presented to them.  This is in part because no matter how careful any historian or archivist or librarian or cataloger who contributes to the production of these databases it is impossible to exclude human error from the process of making historical documents available for scholars, students, and others to consult.

Feb 17 - Providence Gazette Calendar
Calendar of Issues of Providence Gazette for February 1770 Available via America’s Historical Newspapers.

Consider the February 17, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  When consulting the calendar of issues available via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers it appears that either John Carter did not publish the Providence Gazette on that day or no extant copies have yet been digitized for the database.  Yet the February 17 edition is indeed in the database, just not in the place that users expect to find it.  Anyone going through the Providence Gazette in order, issue by issue, as is the methodology for this project, would discover that the February 17 edition has been digitized and made available as part of the February 10 edition.  In fact, the calendar indicates that multiple copies of the February 10 edition are available.  Upon closer investigation however, it turns out that the first copy is the standard four-page issue for February 10 and the second copy comes in two parts, a two-page Supplement to the Providence Gazette for February 10 and the standard four-page edition of the Providence Gazette for February 17.  The database has complete coverage of the Providence Gazette, just not organized as expected or labeled correctly.

This is a minor inconvenience for historians and other users of the database, but it does effectively demonstrate that readers must be careful when examining their sources.  The date appears at the top of each page of the Providence Gazette, alerting database users that the issue they expected to find is not the issue they acquired.  I advise students that America’s Historical Newspapers rarely deviates from its internal logic, but no database or other method of cataloging historical sources is perfect.  Just as we carefully examine and ask questions of our sources, we must also carefully examine and ask questions of the methods for making those sources accessible to us.

February 16

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

Feb 16 - 2:16:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 16, 1770).

“A choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines.”

As was a common practice for colonial printers, Timothy Green often inserted multiple advertisements in the newspaper that he published.  The February 16, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included two advertisements placed by Green.  One announced that he sold the “Connecticut Colony Law-Book.”  The other advised prospective customers of a “choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines, Just come to Hand, and TO BE SOLD” by the printer. Green aimed to supplement revenues generated in his printing office.

Patent medicines might seem like unlikely merchandise for a printer to peddle, but after job printing, blanks, books, and stationery wares printers throughout the colonies advertised such nostrums and elixirs more than any other kind of goods and services.  Selling patent medicines seems to have been a side business frequently associated with printers.  In addition to advertising patent medicines in the newspapers they published, some printers also listed them in the book catalogs they distributed and in advertisements in the almanacs they printed.

Stocking and selling patent medicines may have been a relatively easy endeavor for printers.  Green marketed “Turlington’s Balsam of Life,” “Anderson’s Pills,” “Hooper’s Female Pills,” “Daffy’s Elixir,” “Dr. Hill’s Essence for Sore Eyes.” “Bateman’s Drops,” “Godfry’s Cordial,” and several other familiar medicines that purported to alleviate or eliminate specific symptoms.  Many consumers already knew the advantages of “Stoughton’s Elixir” versus “Locker’s Pills,” so Green did not have to play the role of apothecary in making recommendations.  Many patent medicines came in packaging with printed directions; Green did not have to offer instructions when he sold those items.  Printers who sold patent medicines did not take on the responsibilities associated with apothecaries.  Instead, they invited customers to participate in the eighteenth-century version of purchasing over-the-counter medications.  Selling patent medicines did not require much additional time or labor, making them attractive as an alternate source of revenue for printers who ran busy printing offices.

February 15

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

Feb 15 - 2:15:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 15, 1770).

“The Sons of Liberty in general, might there commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.”

As the fourth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act approached, the Sons of Liberty in New York prepared to commemorate the occasion. They encountered some obstacles, however, in planning their celebration. Newspaper advertisements first announced one plan, then later clarified a different one.

The first public notice appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy on Monday, February 5.   Advertisements in both newspapers extended a brief invitation: “THE sons of LIBERTY, are desired to meet at the house of Mr. De La Montanye’s, on Monday the 19th day of March next, to celebrate the repeal of the detestable and inglorious STAMP-ACT.” A slightly longer version appeared in the New-York Journal three days later. It advised that the “friends to Liberty and Trade, who formerly associated together at Barden’s, Jones’s and Smith’s to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Are requested to meet for that purpose on Monday the 19th of March next, at the house of Mr. Abraham De La Montagnie.”

Plans for a celebration were off to a good start, except that apparently no one had consulted with de la Montaigne about gathering at his house. He inserted his own advertisement in the February 8 edition of the New-York Journal in response to “AN Advertisement having appeared in last Monday’s papers, inviting the Sons of Liberty to dine at my house … to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.” De la Montaigne did indeed plan to host a celebration, but not for those who had placed an advertisement without his knowledge. He asserted that his establishment had already been booked “by a great number of other gentlemen” and, as a result, he “shall not be able to entertain any other company than those gentlemen and their connections who engaged my house for that day.” The compositor thoughtfully positioned the two advertisements, with their conflicting information about an upcoming gather of the Sons of Liberty, one after the other.

A week later the organizers announced a new plan to “commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.” When they discovered that de la Montaigne’s house was not available, a “Number of the Sons of Liberty in this City” set about “purchasing a proper House for the Accommodation of all Lovers of freedom on that Day, and for their Use on future Occasions, in the Promotion of the Common Cause.” They acquired a “Corner House in the Broad-Way,” appropriately located “near “Liberty-Pole.” In contrast to the event slated for de la Montaigne’s house, the celebration at this corner house was open “without Discrimination” to “all the Sons of Liberty … who choose to commemorate that Glorious Day.” In addition, the advertisement extended an invitation to “Sons of Liberty” to meet at the house on Tuesday evening as well, presumably to continue organizing against abuses inflicted on the colonies by Parliament.

This series of advertisements in New York’s newspapers demonstrates some disorder when it came to marking the anniversary of such an important event at a time when colonists in that city and elsewhere worked for the repeal of the Townshend Acts that infringed on their liberty much like the Stamp Act had done. One cohort of celebrants confined their event to a small number of gentlemen, while organizers of another event emphasized that all were welcome to participate in the “Promotion of the Common Cause.” Who participated in these two commemorative events? Was the one at de la Montaigne’s house limited only to the better sorts who claimed leadership of the Sons of Liberty? Did patriots from humble backgrounds plan and participate in the commemoration at the corner house “near Liberty-Pole”? Did participants in the two events share a vision of what they hoped to accomplish in their struggle against Parliament? These advertisements suggest that New Yorkers may have attached different meanings to the repeal of the Stamp Act and what they hoped to accomplish as they pursued further resistance efforts in the early 1770s.

February 14

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

Feb 14 - 2:14:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 14, 1770).

“Messrs. JOHN SKETCHLEY, & Co.”

Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, apparently experienced a disruption in his paper supply in February 1770, perhaps as a result of the duties imposed on imported paper by the Townshend Acts. His newspaper usually featured four columns per page. The February 14 edition did have four columns per page, but the fourth column was narrower, with the contents rotated so that the text ran perpendicular to the other three. Printers and compositors often deployed this strategy when forced to print newspapers on paper of a different size than usual. It allowed them to insert as much content as possible while efficiently using type already set. Notably, advertisements that ran in the previous issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette comprised the entirety of the material rotated to fit on the page for the February 13 edition.

This evidence allows me to confidently state that Wells used broadsheets of two different sizes in February 1770. I cannot make this claim, however, as the result of comparing the actual dimensions of those sheets. The Adverts 250 Project relies primarily on databases of eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized to allow for greater access. Indeed, this project would not be possible without the resources made available by Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, Accessible Archives’s South Carolina Newspapers, Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, and the Maryland State Archives’s Maryland Gazette Collection. Each of these databases allows for significantly enhanced access to the content of eighteenth-century newspapers. In the process, however, they negate some of the material aspects of those newspapers, including any indication of size. Each issue becomes the size of the computer screen or whatever size users make them as they zoom in and out to observe various details.

That means that readers must relay on visual cues to make determinations about the relative size of newspaper pages. This makes it impossible to compare, say, the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to the Connecticut Courant, but it is possible to make comparisons among various issues of a particular newspaper. The mastheads for the February 7 and February 14 editions of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette do not match. Wells or a compositor who worked in his printing office reset the type, adjusting the masthead to fit a smaller broadsheet. In combination with the advertisements rotated to fit a narrower fourth column, this confirms that Wells used a smaller sheet. Careful attention to the format reveals the reason for the unusual appearance of the February 14 issue, something that would have been readily apparent when examining the original copies. Scholars who rely on digital surrogates, however, have to develop strategies for making assessments about the relative sizes of pages and explain why printers and compositors made certain decisions about how to format advertisements and other content.