May 28

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

Pennsylvania Journal (May 28, 1772).

“CATHERINE DESSENER … came and stole away said boy.”

Beyond the articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in eighteenth-century newspapers, advertisements often relayed news, gossip, or a combination of the two.  In a notice that ran in the May 28, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Thomas King relayed the story of a child that he had sheltered for more than five years and the child’s mother who “stole away said boy.”  Like advertisements about wives who “eloped” from their husbands, apprentices and indentured servants who ran away from their masters, and enslaved people who liberated themselves from their enslavers, King’s notice relayed the perspective of the advertisers and included only the details he chose to share with readers.  The mother, Catherine Dessener, might have given quite a different account had she placed her own advertisement.

According to King, Dessener left her son, Johannes, with him when the child was “only ten weeks old.”  Over the course of the next five and a half years, Dessener “made no satisfaction for [King’s] trouble of maintaining her child.”  King did not specify the details of any agreement he and Dessener reached when he agreed to shelter Johannes or how often he and the child had contact with Dessener while Johannes resided in his household.  He did warn others “not to take an indenture on said child, or entertain him at their peril.”  He might have been worried about Dessener earning the trust of another colonizer and then absconding with Johannes again … or he might have already had a claim on the child as an apprentice or servant when he reached an appropriate age.  King did not address issues that could have prompted Dessener to flee with her child, such as the quality of the food, clothing and shelter he provided or the treatment the child received in the King household.

King presented a straightforward story of a generous patriarch who welcomed a child of little means into his home, only to have the mother take advantage of the situation for years.  Whether or not that was accurate, King’s version framed the narrative for the public.  Dessener and her friends and relations may have circulated an alternative account via word of mouth, but they did not have the benefit of the power of the press that King purchased when he paid to place an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal.

May 27

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 25, 1772).

“Shoemakers may be supplied with tools of every kind used in their business.”

A silhouette of a shoe adorned Robert Loosely’s advertisement in the May 25, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but it was not footwear that the “Shoe Maker” aimed to sell.  Instead, he hawked “Shoemakers Tools, A general assortment lately imported from London.”  His inventory included “BEST London made cast steel knives,” “Pincers of all sizes, Shoe rasps and files of the best kind, Hammers of all sizes,” “An assortment of awl blades and tacks,” “Bend soles,” and much more.  The “&c. &c. &c” (or “etc. etc. etc.”) at the end of his list indicated that he named only a portion of his merchandise.

Loosely leveraged his training and experience as a shoemaker to convince others who followed the occupation that he was indeed qualified to assert that he provided them with “the best goods, on the most reasonable terms.”  He explained that he “served his apprenticeship in England, and for some years carried on a considerable trade there.”  That made him familiar with the equipment and supplies required to make shoes and boots.  He drew on experience in selecting which “Shoemakers Tools” to import and sell, unlike merchants and shopkeepers who treated those tools as general merchandise alongside so many other items they stocked.  Loosely underscored that during his time working in England he “became acquainted with the most reputed manufacturers of tools and leather.”  As a result, he “flatters himself he has it in his power to serve those that please to apply to him.”

Artisans with training or experience in England frequently gave those credentials in their newspaper advertisements when they migrated to the colonies, but they usually did so to convince prospective customers to purchase their wares or prospective clients to engage their services.  Loosely adapted that strategy to his own purposes, signaling to fellow artisans that they could depend on him to supply them with the best tools and materials to use in their own workshops.

May 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Kelsey Savoy

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

Essex Gazette (May 26, 1772).

“Every Article in the Apothecary Way.”

Nathaniel Dabney owned a shop called “Head of HIPPOCRATES” in Salem, Massachusetts. In an advertisement from the Essex Gazette on May 25, 1772, Dabney announced he had a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, Medicines, Groceries, Instruments,” and more, indicating that he ran an apothecary shop. An apothecary shop in 1772 and modern pharmacies are very similar.  That inspired me to find out more about medicine in the colonies during the eighteenth century.

Individuals who ran apothecary shops, who sold or administered medicines, did not require any education or licensure, nor did physicians. In “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Whitefield J. Bell, Jr., notes that “only one in nine Virginia physicians of the eighteenth century had attended a medical school.”[1] Physicians and apothecaries often learned from experience instead of formal training.  This began to change in the colonies in 1772, the year Dabney posted this advertisement. Bell details the Medical Society of New Jersey dedicated to getting legislation passed that required physicians to obtain licensure by the courts to practice “after examination by a board of medical men.” The society’s goal was “to discourage and discountenance all quacks, mountebanks, imposters, or other ignorant pretenders to medicine, and not to associate professionally with any except those who had been regularly initiated into medicine.”[2] Requiring training for physicians was an improvement that colonists enacted during the era of the American Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kelsey astutely observes that many eighteenth-century apothecary shops and twenty-first century retail pharmacies have much in common.  Neither of them exclusively carried drugs and medicines, though selling remedies of all sorts gave those establishments their primary identity.  Nathaniel Dabney (or Nathanael Dabney in other advertisements) made that clear when he selected Hippocrates, a physician from ancient Greece widely considered the “Father of Medicine,” to identify his shop.

In his newspaper notice, Dabney commenced the list of merchandise available at “the Head of HIPPOCRATES” with a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, [and] Medicines” and cataloged several familiar patent medicines from his “Assortment” of goods.  He sold “Turlington’s original Balsam of Life,” “Bateman’s Pectoral Drops,” “Dr. Walker’s Jesuits Drops,” “Anderson’s and Locker’s Pills,” and “Hooper’s Female [Pills],” as well as other patent medicines less commonly mentioned in newspaper advertisements.  Those nostrums were the over-the-counter medications of the day.  Customers could consult with the apothecary of they wished, just like customers ask pharmacists in retail stores for advice today, but many also selected patent medicines based on their reputation and common knowledge about the maladies they supposedly relieved.

Yet Dabney, like other apothecaries, hawked other goods.  His apothecary shop, like modern retail pharmacies, doubled as a convenience store where customers could acquire groceries, home health care equipment and supplies, and a variety of other items.  In his advertisement, Dabney promoted “Groceries,” including cinnamon, cloves, raisins, and “Flour of Mustard, by the Dozen or single Bottle.”  He also had supplies for the “Clothiers Business” and the “Painters Business,” mostly items for producing colors.  In addition, Dabney sold medical instruments to physicians, a practice not followed by most modern retail pharmacies that focus on providing care to consumers.  All the same, a visit to the Head of Hippocrates in 1772 likely would not have been that much different from a visit to CVS, Rite Aid, or other retail pharmacy today.

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[1] Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 31, no. 5 (September-October 1957): 444.

[2] Bell, “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” 453.

May 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 25, 1772).

“ALLEN … will sell … at a very little more than the Sterling Cost.”

Jolley Allen made his advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter easy to recognize in the spring of 1772.  Each of them featured a border comprised of ornamental type that separated Allen’s notices from other content.  Allen previously deployed this strategy in 1766 and then renewed it in the May 21, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Four days later, advertisements with identical copy and distinctive borders ran in three other newspapers printed in town.  Allen apparently gave instructions to the compositors at the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Those advertisements had copy identical to the notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, but the compositors made different decisions about the format (seen most readily in the border of Allen’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy).  Allen’s advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, however, had exactly the same copy and format as the one in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  For some of their advertisements, newspapers in Boston apparently shared type already set in other printing offices.

That seems to have been the case with Andrew Dexter’s advertisement.  He also included a border around his notice in the May 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The same advertisement ran in the Boston Evening-Post four days later.  It looks like this was another instance of transferring type already set from one printing office to another.  The compositor for the Boston Evening-Post may have very carefully replicated the format of Dexter’s advertisement that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, but everything looks too similar for that to have been the case.  In particular, an irregularity in closing the bottom right corner of the border suggests that the printing offices shared the type once a compositor set it.  They might have also shared with the Boston-Gazette.  Dexter’s advertisement also ran in that newspaper on May 25.  It had the same line breaks and italics as Dexter’s notices in the other two newspapers.  The border looks very similar, but does not have the telltale irregularity in the lower right corner.  Did the compositor make minor adjustments?

It is important to note that these observations are based on examining digitized copies of the newspapers published in Boston in 1772.  Consulting the originals might yield additional details that help to clarify whether two or more printing offices shared type when publishing these advertisements.  At the very least, the variations in Allen’s advertisements make clear that he intentionally pursued a strategy of using borders to distinguish his advertisements in each newspaper that carried them.  The extent that Dexter meant to do the same or simply benefited from the printing offices sharing type remains to be seen after further investigation.

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Left to Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (May 21, 1772); Boston-Gazette (May 25, 1772); Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1772); Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 25, 1772).

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Left to Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772); Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1772); Boston-Gazette (May 25, 1772).

May 24

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

“Send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”

The supplement that accompanied the May 21, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included “PROPOSALS FOR PUBLISHING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A MAP of the INTERIOR PARTS OF NORTH-AMERICA.  By THOMAS HUTCHINS, Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Royal American Regiment, and Engineer.”  Hutchins explained that the map depicted a region “which must soon become a most important and very interesting part of the British empire in America.”  It included “the great rivers of Missisippi and Ohio, with the newest smaller streams which empty into them” as well as “Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan.”  Hutchins asserted that the map “accurately delineated” the region, “a great part of the country and most of the rivers and lakes … laid down from surveys, corrected by the observation of latitudes, carefully executed by himself” during the Seven Years War and “since the final treaty with the western and northern Indians in 1764.”  The map also incorporated “every considerable town of the various Indian Nations, who inhabit these regions.”  The “extent of their respective claims,” Hutchins noted, “are also particularly pointed out.”  Land speculators and settler colonizers certainly had their eyes on those “respective claims,” despite the Proclamation Line of 1763 that reserved that territory for indigenous peoples.

Hutchins declared that he would publish and deliver the map “as soon as the Subscribers amount to a number adequate to defray the unavoidable expence of the publication.”  Like so many others who wished to publish books and maps, he did not intend to assume the financial risk without assurances that the project would meet with success.  To that end, he invited “those in SOUTH-CAROLINA who may think proper to encourage” publishing the map to “as soon as possible, send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”  Powell, Hughes and Company acted as local agents for subscribers.  Hutching did not, however, restrict his marketing efforts to newspaper notices.  He also distributed broadside subscription proposals that featured almost identical text.  Measuring approximately thirteen inches by eight inches, a copy at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania includes blank space to insert the name of a local agent who could have posted the subscription notice in a retail shop or printing office.  That accounts for the first variation in the text compared to the advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette, an invitation for subscribers to “send their names to [blank]” rather than “send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”  A short paragraph unique to the broadside notice followed that blank: “WE the Subscribers do agree to pay Lieutenant THOMAS HUTCHINS, or Order, for the above-mentioned Map and Analysis, ONE PISTOLE, on the receipt thereof, according to the Number affixed to our respective Names.”  Additional blank space provided room for subscribers to add their names and indicate how many copies they wished to order.  The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s copy does not have any manuscript additions; no subscribers signed it to reserve their maps.

Newspaper advertisements provided the best opportunity to circulate subscription notices to the greatest number of prospective customers, but they were not the only means of inciting interest in books and maps.  Hutchins and other entrepreneurs also distributed broadsides to local agents to facilitate recording the names of subscribers.  I suspect that a greater number of those broadsides circulated in early America than survive today, increasing the frequency that colonizers encountered advertising media.

Broadside Subscription Proposal with Space for Subscribers to Add Names. Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

May 23

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

Providence Gazette (May 23, 1772).

“At the Sign of the BOOT, SHOE and SLIPPER.”

Joseph Gifford, a cordwainer, placed an advertisement in the May 23, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette to inform prospective customers that he “NOW works in the Shop of Mr. THOMAS BURKET … on the main Street” and “makes and sells Boots, Half-Boots, Spatterdashes, Half-Spatterdashes, Shoes and Pumps of all Kinds.”  To help clients find the shop, he clarified that “the Sign of the BOOT, SHOE and SLIPPER” marked its location.

Gifford was not the only advertiser who referenced a shop sign in giving directions, though not all of them matched their emblems so closely to their occupations.  Jones and Allen sold “ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” at the Sign of the Golden Ball on the west side of the Great Bridge.  Thurber and Cahoon stocked a similar inventory at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes on Constitution Street.  In the North End of Providence, Edward Thurber carried a “fine Assortment of Grocery, Hardware, and Piece GOODS” at the Sign of the Brazen Lion.  One advertisement for a “fine assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” did not name the purveyor of those items or give any directions other than stating that the goods were “At the GOLDEN EAGLE.”  Anyone who resided in Providence for any length of time knew that Joseph Russell and William Russell, two of the city’s most prominent merchants, had a store at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.  Further directions were not necessary.  Even the colophon at the bottom of the final page of the newspaper made reference to a device that marked the location of the printing office.  Subscribers, advertisers, and others could find John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, “at Shakespear’s Head, in King-Street, opposite the Court-House.”

Many more merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others marked their businesses with decorative signs, creating a rich visual landscape of advertising in colonial Providence and other towns.  In many instances, those signs were synonymous with the proprietors of those businesses.  Relatively few signs from the era survive, but newspaper advertisements testify to some of the sights that colonizers saw as they traversed the streets.

May 22

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

Connecticut Journal (May 22, 1771).

Mrs. SMITH takes this Method to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary.”

When Joseph Smith relocated from New York to New Haven, he took to the pages of the Connecticut Journal to “acquaint the Public, That he has open’d a Store … and has for Sale a Variety of fancy’d GOODS, proper for the Season.”  He then listed a variety of textiles, including “Flower’d and plain Sattins of all colours,” “Strip’d Camblets,” and “Flower’d and strip’d Muslins.”  He also carried accessories, such as “Black & white Silk & Thread Laces for Caps,” “Feathers & Flowers of all Colours,” and “All Kinds of Trimings for Cloaks.”  In addition to enumerating dozens of items, Smith asserted that he stocked “sundry other Articles too tedious to mention.”

Although Smith presented himself as the primary purveyor of these goods, the advertisement revealed that his wife also contributed to the family business.  In a brief note that followed the catalog of merchandise, she addressed prospective customers.  “Mrs. SMITH takes this Method,” she declared, “to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary either plain or fashionable, such as Caps, Hats, Bonnets, Cloaks, Childrens Jockies, &c.”  She provided an ancillary service that enhanced the retail business.  She undoubtedly assisted her husband in serving customers, making recommendations about what was “plain or fashionable,” and taking care of other aspects of running the store, but her contributions did not end there.  She was an entrepreneur in her own right, even if the advertisement emphasized Joseph as the proprietor and only made reference to her skills and labor at the very end.  Still, Mrs. Smith gained greater visibility in the public prints than most wives, daughters, and other female relations who aided male heads of households in operating their businesses.  Elsewhere in the same issue of the Connecticut Journal, Hubbard and Atwater, Isaac Beers and Elias Beers, and Paul Noyes advertised various goods, from medicines to textiles to leather breeches.  None of their notices mentioned anyone other than the proprietors of their businesses, but all of them almost certainly benefited from invisible labor provided by women.  Even in what appeared as a postscript to a much longer advertisement, Mrs. Smith gained greater public recognition as an entrepreneur than most other women did for their contributions to their family businesses.

May 21

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772).

“He will sell … at a very little more than the Sterling Cost.”

In an advertisement in the May 21, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Jolley Allen announced that he adopted “an entire New Plan” for selling the “very LARGE and NEAT Assortment of English and India GOODS” at his shop on Marlborough Street.  He declared that he would sell “HIS WHOLE Stock in Trade…, either by Wholesale or Retail, at a very little more than the Sterling Cost and Charges.”  In other words, he did not mark up the prices significantly over what he paid to his suppliers.  Allen expressed his confidence that “the Advantages that may arise to his Customers, will be equal if not superior to their purchasing at any Wholesale or Retail Shop or Store in Town or Country.”  He was determined to beat his competitors.

The graphic design for Allen’s advertisement may have helped attract attention to his “new Plan” for selling imported goods.  A border comprised of ornamental type enclosed the notice, setting it apart from the news and other advertisements on the page.  That brought this advertisement in line with some that he previously published.  He did not always incorporate a distinctive design element, but he more regularly did so than most advertisers.  Sometimes ornamental type flanked his name in the headline of his advertisement.  On other occasions he opted for borders.  Both strategies appeared in more than one newspaper, suggesting that Allen gave specific instructions to the compositors rather than leaving the format to their discretion.

Curiously, Allen’s advertisement was not the only one in the May 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to feature a border.  Andrew Dexter’s advertisement had the same format, though a different printing ornament formed the border.  This was not a standard format in that newspaper or any other newspaper published in Boston at the time.  So how did two advertisements in the same issue happen to include borders?  Did one advertiser overhear the other giving directions to the compositor when dropping off copy to the printing office?  Or was it a coincidence?  Whatever the explanation, the borders made their advertisements distinctive enough compared to the rest that readers likely took note of both of them.

May 20

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

Pennsylvania Packet (May 18, 1772).

“RUN AWAY … a Negro Man, named PETER.”

This advertisement testifies to both the mobility of enslaved people who liberated themselves by fleeing from their enslavers and the efforts of enslavers to capture and return to bondage fugitives seeking freedom.  Peter, “a Negro Man … of a yellow complexion,” escaped from Patrick Simpson’s plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, in the late spring or early summer of 1771.  Nearly a year later, an advertisement describing Peter ran in the Pennsylvania Packet.  The dateline in the advertisement indicated that it had originated in New York, not Charleston.  Hallett and Hazard, merchants who presumably operated on behalf of Simpson, informed readers that they would receive “TEN DOLLARS REWARD” for apprehending Peter and securing him “in any [jail] in Pennsylvania or New-Jersey” and notifying local agents in Philadelphia or Princeton.

What prompted Simpson to believe that Peter might have made it to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or any of the neighboring colonies?  The advertisement described him as a “sensible, plausible fellow” and indicated that he spoke “very proper E[n]glish.”  Peter may have been able to pose as a free man as he made his way north, especially if it was obvious from his speech that he was “country born” rather than “new” from Africa.  When Simpson could not locate Peter in South Carolina, he might have suspected that he made his way to another colony.

In his attempt to capture and once again enslave Peter, Simpson enlisted the aid of both local agents and the general public.  Hallett and Hazard in New York, Peter Wikoff in Philadelphia, and Peter Gordon in Princeton all assisted Simpson, but the advertisement also called on others to engage in surveillance of Black men they encountered to assess if any of them matched the Peter’s description.  That meant observing their physical characteristics, their clothing, and their comportment as well as assessing their speech.  John Dunlap, the printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, also aided Simpson, earning revenues when he published the advertisement.  Capturing Peter was not simply a local matter, one confined to newspaper notices published in South Carolina and readers in that colony.  Instead, Simpson relied on an extensive apparatus as he sought to once again deny Peter his liberty.

May 19

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

Connecticut Courant (May 19, 1772).

“New, New, New GOODS!”

Less is more.  Caleb Bull, Jr., adopted that theory for his advertisement in the May 19, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Extending only four lines, the advertisement proclaimed, “New, New, New GOODS! AT CALEB BULL jun’s. Store in HARTFORD.”  He did not include any of the standard appeals to price or quality.  He did not attempt to convince genteel customers that he carried fashionable textiles, garments, and housewares.  He did not provide a list of dozens or scores of items to demonstrate the choices available to consumers.  He did not promise exemplary customer service.  In short, he did not deploy most of the marketing strategies that commonly appeared in newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century.

That does not necessarily mean, however, that Bull’s advertisements did not catch the attention of prospective customers.  After all, he composed innovative copy with the repetition of “New, New, New” on the first line.  Most advertisers did not incorporate such repetition as a means of engaging readers, though sometimes their lists of merchandise concluded with “&c. &c. &c.”  In repeating the abbreviation for et cetera, they underscored that they had far too many goods to fit into an advertisement.  Bull relied on a similar principle, but he did not reserve the repetition for the end of his notice.  Instead, “New, New, New” served as his primary marketing strategy, signaling to prospective customers that his inventory had not lingered on the shelves.  Bull challenged readers to visit his store to see these “New, New, New GOODS” for themselves.

The typography made his advertisement notable, most of the content in larger fonts than appeared in other advertisements on the same page.  Other notices featured dense paragraphs in smaller fonts.  Readers likely absorbed Bull’s advertisement at a glance, even if they casually skimmed the advertisements, but other notices required greater effort to read.  As a result, “New New, New GOODS” may have been enough to make Bull’s advertisement memorable and effective,