September 25

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

Connecticut Courant (September 25, 1770).

“My Husband has attempted by an Advertisement to ruin my Character.”

Advertisements warning against extending credit to runaway wives were a standard feature in American newspapers in the eighteenth century.  The one that Benoni Griffen, Jr., inserted in the September 10, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant resembled so many others that appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia.  “Whereas Martha the Wife of me the Subscriber,” Griffen proclaimed, “hath for some Tome past, behaved herself in a very Disorderly Manner, by endeavouring to run me in Debt, THESE are Therefore to want all Persons not to Trust of Credit her on my Account, as I will pay no Debt she may Contract after this Date.”  Like Griffen’s notice, most advertisements concerning runaway wives did not provide further details about the alleged “Disorderly” conduct.

Most also did not garner a response.  Usually husbands had the last and only word in the public prints.  Yet Martha objected to how Benoni described her to friends, acquaintances, and strangers in the pages of the Connecticut Courant. She inserted her own advertisement, more than twice the length of his, to set the record straight.  Martha accused Benoni of attempting to “ruin my Character,” but she asserted that she could “produce the fullest Proof that my Conduct has been prudent and blameless, especially with Respect of running my Husband in Debt.”  Furthermore, she had a very different tale to tell about which spouse had treated the other poorly.  Martha complained that Benoni’s “Temper and Conduct and Disposition has been extremely Ill.”  Indeed, he had abandoned her and “a Family of small Children” more than once.  During his most recent escapade, he had been away for almost two years, leaving Martha and the children “in bad Circumstances.”  When he finally appeared again was not a free man but instead “a bound Servant.”  Martha found it irritating that Benoni warned against extending credit to her on his behalf because she and her father had so often paid off his debts.  Benoni’s shenanigans became so notorious that the town’s selectmen intervened.

Martha did not expect that Benoni’s advertisement had influence anyone who actually knew the couple.  “[W]here he and I are known,” she stated, “‘tis beyond his Power to injure my Character.”  Yet not all readers knew Martha and Benoni.  It was for the benefit of “Strangers” that she ran her own advertisement to dispute her husband’s version of events.  He used the public prints to defame her.  In turn, she inserted an advertisement in the same newspaper to defend her reputation.  Martha and other women who absconded from their husbands and became subjects of newspaper advertisements asserted their will in a manner considered unbecoming of their sex, further compounding any offenses they supposedly committed within their households.  Martha’s challenges to her husband’s authority, however, did not end there.  She continued to exercise her own will, publishing an advertisement that portrayed Benoni as an unsavory character incapable of fulfilling his responsibilities as husband and head of the household.

September 24

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 24, 1770).

“He has made a considerable Improvement in the Construction of those Shears.”

When he started a new business in 1770, Cornelius Atherton placed an advertisement to alert prospective customers.  He deployed several appeals to entice them to purchase the clothier’s shears that he manufactured.

Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury learned that Atherton claimed his shears were “equal in Goodness to any imported, and are sold upon as good Terms.”   New York’s merchants had resumed trading with their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic earlier in the year, following the repeal of most of the duties imposed on imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  Entrepreneurs like Atherton, however, did not surrender to the influx of manufactured goods from England, often perceived as being higher quality, but instead defended their role in the American marketplace.  A movement to encourage “domestic manufactures” accompanied the nonimportation agreements adopted in the late 1760s.  Atherton and others who made goods in the colonies heeded that call and then continued to promote their wares when trade resumed.  When it came to quality and price, Atherton proclaimed, his clothier’s shears could not be beat by imported alternatives.  He hoped that would be “an Inducement” to buy from him.

If that was not sufficient, Atherton offered another reason.  He devoted the second half of his advertisement to describing an innovation in the construction of his shears.  Emphasizing innovation was the most innovative part of his advertisement.  Atherton explained that he “has made a considerable Improvement in the Construction of these Shears, so that they may be taken a part with a Screw, to be ground without putting them out of their proper Order.”  This required “additional Workmanship” (that did not make the shears more expensive than imported ones), but resulted in “great Conveniency” when it came to maintenance and durability.  This innovative construction made Atherton’s shears “something higher than the Common.”  Such ingenuity merited attention from prospective customers.

In as short advertisement for clothier’s shears made in the colonies, Atherton brought together multiple marketing appeals.  He resorted to some of the most common, quality and price, but expressed them in comparison to imported alternatives.  In turn, this supported an implicit “Buy American” argument that would have been familiar to consumers in the late 1760s and early 1770s because it had been so frequently made, both implicitly and explicitly, in the public prints, including in advertisements.  Atherton may have considered the innovation in constructing his shears the most compelling of the appeals he presented to prospective customers.  That innovation contributed to quality and durability while also yielding greater convenience for his customers.

September 23

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 20, 1770).

“POOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1771.”

With the arrival of fall in 1770 came the season for advertising almanacs for 1771.  A few advertisements for almanacs appeared in various newspapers during the summer months, but they had not yet become regular features.  In late September, those advertisements began appearing in greater numbers.  Newspaper readers would have been accustomed to the seasonal pattern, expecting to encounter more and more advertisements for almanacs in October, November, and December and then a gradual tapering off in the new year as printers attempted to rid themselves of surplus stock before the contents became obsolete.  Almanacs were big business for printers, both those who published newspapers and those who did not.  These inexpensive pamphlets found their way into households from the most grand to the most humble.  Readers could select among a variety of titles, likely choosing favorites and developing customer loyalty over the years.

The compositor of the Pennsylvania Gazette conveniently placed four advertisements for six almanacs together in the September 20, 1770, edition.  The first announced that Hall and Sellers had just published the popular Poor Richard’s Almanack as well as the Pocket Almanack.  That advertisement, the longest of the four, appeared first, not coincidentally considering that Hall and Sellers printed the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The printers accepted advertisements from competitors, but that did not prevent them from giving their own advertisement a privileged place.  In the other three advertisements, local printers hawked other almanacs.  John Dunlap published and sold Father Abraham’s Almanack.  From Joseph Crukshank, readers could acquire Poor Will’s Almanack.  William Evitt supplied both the Universal Almanack and Poor Robin’s Almanack.  Hall and Sellers took advantage of their ability to insert advertisements gratis in their own newspaper by composing a notice twice the length of the others.  They listed far more of the contents as a means of inciting demand among prospective customers.

This was the first concentration of advertisements for almanacs in the fall of 1770, but others would soon follow in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  If the advertising campaigns launched in previous years were any indication, readers could expect to see even more elaborate notices than the one published by Hall and Sellers as well as many others that simply made short announcements that almanacs were available from printers and booksellers.  Such advertisements were a sign of the season in eighteenth-century America.

September 22

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

Providence Gazette (September 22, 1770).

Cutting his throat, and stabbing him in the belly.”

The advertising section of the Providence Gazette in the early 1770s sometimes read like a late nineteenth-century police blotter.  Consider the September 22, 1770, edition.  Among the advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, and one advertisement offering a good price for a flying squirrel, several other advertisements relayed stories of thefts and worse crimes.

The first recorded a theft, its tone suggesting unpleasant consequences for the thief.  An anonymous advertiser suggested that the “Person who took a new Beaver Hat out of the Court-House” on the previous Thursday evening “will do well to leave it” at the printing office for the owner to retrieve.  By doing so, the thief “may thereby prevent the disagreeable Circumstance of a personal Application.”  Whether or not the advertiser actually knew the identity of the thief, he suggested that he did.  The prospect of a “personal Application” suggested retribution for refusing to voluntarily return the hat.

In an advertisement that had already been running for many weeks, Seth Wetmore of Middletown, Connecticut, described how his house “was broke open … by some Person or Persons unknown” at the beginning of July.  The burglars absconded with a variety of clothing and other personal articles.  Wetmore suspected that they may have been the same men who escaped from the jail in New Haven the previous night, John Armstrong and John Galloway, and their accomplice, James Burne.  Wetmore offered a reward for the return of his goods “or the greater Part of them” and the capture of the “Felons” over and above the reward offered by the jailer.

In the most disturbing of these advertisements, Charles Keen of Providence described the depraved acts of “notorious offenders … instigated by the devil.”  An “evil-minded person or persons” had entered his pasture in the dead of night and attempted to kill his horse.  The unfortunate horse had been “peaceably feeding and fettered” when the perpetrators set about “cutting his throat, and stabbing him in the belly, with a large knife, or other weapon.”  The horse initially survived the ordeal, but Keen suspected that he could still die of the wounds.  Keen offered a substantial reward to anybody “who will make such discovery of any person or persons that were guilty of the above wicked act.”

When it came to crime reporting, from a hat nicked at the courthouse to a brutal attack on a horse in the middle of the night, the advertisements in this issue of the Providence Gazette carried far more news than the rest of the newspaper.

September 21

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

New-London Gazette (September 21, 1770).

“The Paper will then be one of the cheapest of its Size, printed in America.”

Newspaper printers collected two revenue streams: subscriptions and advertising.  Most did not, however, frequently note in print how much they charged for either subscriptions or advertising.  A few inserted such information in the colophon on the final page of each issue, but even those printers tended to list the prices for one or the other but not both.  Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, was among those printers who did not regularly publish his prices for either subscriptions or advertising.  In a notice in the September 21, 1770, edition, however, he informed readers that he was raising the price for subscriptions.

Following an “Enlargement” of the New-London Gazette to a larger sheet, Green determined that “the Labour and Expence of Paper is so greatly Augmented” that he could not continue to operate the newspaper at the current rates except at “a manifest Loss.”  Accordingly, he planned to raise the price by eight pence per year, bringing the total to six shillings and eight pence.  This represented an increase of eleven percent, yet Green presented it as “so small that it’s presumed no one will think much of allowing it.”  To further convince current subscribers and future customers that they should not think much of the new price, Green explained that the New-London Gazette would still be “one of the cheapest of its Size, printed in America.”  Compared to other newspapers, the New-London Gazette was still a bargain at a total of eighty pence per year.  Still, Green realized that not all subscribers would be satisfied with this explanation.  He pledged that “Some further Improvements will shortly be made in the Paper,” though he did not offer any particulars.  He concluded by pledging “the greatest Care constantly taken to render” the New-London Gazette “beneficial to the Customers.”

Apparently Green did not consider it necessary to raise his rates for advertising to help defray the expenses of acquiring larger sheets and setting more type for the enlarged New-London Gazette.  Even if he at least listed his current rates, that would have revealed the relative prices for subscriptions and advertising.  Still, notices like this one help to reconstruct some of the expenses incurred by readers who subscribed to newspapers in eighteenth-century America.

September 20

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

South-Carolina Gazette (September 20, 1770).

“Such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”

As summer turned to fall in 1770, Brian Cape advertised “a tolerable Assortment of Goods” for sale in the South-Carolina Gazette.  This unusual description, “a tolerable Assortment,” had at least two meanings.  Like their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the merchants of South Carolina enacted nonimportation agreements to protest duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  Cape assured prospective customers that he carried “such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”  In that sense, his merchandise was “tolerable” according to the standards adopted by the community.  It was also “tolerable” in the sense that it was as extensive as could be expected under the circumstances.  Consumers grew accustomed to vast arrays of choices in the eighteenth century.  Nonimportation agreements constrained those choices, but Cape suggested that the ability and pick and choose had not been eliminated at his shop.

He also vowed that prospective customers would not encounter exorbitant prices for his “tolerable Assortment of Goods” as the result of scarcity caused by the nonimportation agreement.  Indeed, scarcity may have been a relative term since many merchants and shopkeepers seized the opportunity to sell inventory that had lingered on their shelves and in their storerooms.  Cape asserted that he sold his wares “at moderate Prices” that were fair to consumers.  He also included a nota bene that offered a special bargain: “Ten per Cent will be discounted for ready Money.”  In other words, he rewarded customers who paid in cash rather than credit with significant savings.  Credit was one of the primary features that made the consumer revolution possible in the eighteenth century, yet it could be tricky to manage.  Merchants and shopkeepers frequently placed advertisements calling on customers to settle accounts or face legal action.  Cape presented an opportunity to avoid future troubles by paying with “ready Money” from the start.

Compared to modern marketing campaigns, eighteenth-century advertisements have sometimes been dismissed for being so straightforward as to be merely announcements of goods for sale.  That approach underestimates the appeals that advertisers worked into their notices in their attempts to entice customers to visit their shops.  Cape addressed both price and politics in his advertisement in 1770, incorporating issues that resonated with consumers at the time.

September 19

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

Newport Mercury (September 17, 1770).

“The ACADEMY in LEEDS … in England.”

Readers of the Newport Mercury likely recognized many or even most of the names that appeared among the advertisements for goods and services in the early 1770s.  Such advertising tended to be local in nature, though local could be broadly defined since colonial newspapers tended to serve regions rather than just the towns where they were printed.  One of two newspapers printed in Rhode Island, for instance, the Newport Mercury served all of the southern portions of the colony.  The Providence Gazette provided news and advertising throughout the north.  Thomas Green, Paul Mumford, Gideon Sisson, and Nicholas Tillinghast all ran businesses in Newport and placed advertisements in the Newport Mercury.  John Borden operated a ferry between nearby Portsmouth and Bristol.  He also placed advertisements in the Newport Mercury.

Most advertisements did not come from places outside of the region that the Newport Mercury served, though occasional exceptions did find their way into the pages of that newspaper.  A. Grinshaw’s notice in the September 17, 1770, edition was one such exception.  Grinshaw, a schoolmaster, promoted his “ACADEMY in LEEDS, Which is pleasantly situated in the County of York, in England.”  He made arrangements from the other side of the Atlantic to place his advertisement in the Newport Mercury, hoping to attract pupils for his boarding school from among the merchant elite who resided in the busy port.  The appearance of Grinshaw’s advertisement raises questions about printing and bookkeeping practices.  Colonial printers frequently ran notices calling on their customers, including advertisers, to settle their accounts or face legal consequences.  Did Solomon Southwick, the printer of the Newport Mercury, extend credit to an advertiser so far away?  Or did he insist that Grinshaw pay in full before printing his advertisement?  Did Grinshaw deal directly with Southwick?  Or did he work through an associate who traveled between England and the colonies?  Did Grinshaw ever see his advertisement in print?  Did that even matter to him?  Did the schoolmaster find a receptive audience in Newport?  Did he gain any new students as a result of placing it?  Other sources may reveal the answers to some of these questions, but the advertisement itself does not.

September 18

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 18, 1770).

“He is in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS, for whom the highest Wages will be given.”

The September 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal included multiple advertisements offering enslaved men, women, and children for sale.  One advertisement, for instance, concerned a “Young Country-born” woman “with her first Child, two Years old.”  This young woman, “an extraordinary good Washer and Ironer,” was pregnant with another child.  Other advertisements described enslaved people who possessed a variety of skills for sale with and without members of their families.

Yet buying and selling enslaved people was not the only means of distributing and exploiting their labor in the public prints.  Several “for hire” advertisements also ran in that issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Rather than purchase enslaved people outright, colonists frequently “hired” or rented their services from their enslavers.  In so doing, they acquired the labor they needed but without making as much of an investment.  One advertisement proclaimed, “WANTED ON HIRE, A Sprightly NEGRO BOY, who has been used to wait on a Gentlemen, and attend at Table.”  The advertiser did not sign the notice but instead instructed that anyone looking to hire out an enslaved servant should “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.  John Savage placed a similar advertisement, though he stated that he wanted an enslaved man “who was handy about a House” and an enslaved woman who was a good domestic servant “ON HIRE, OR TO PURCHASE.”  Thomas Fell, a tailor, informed the public that he was “in want of two NEGRO MEN TAYLORS, for whom the highest Wages will be given.”  Those wages, however, did not go to the enslaved tailors.  Instead, their enslavers collected the wages.  If they wanted to feel magnanimous, the enslavers could dole out a portion of those wages to the enslaved tailors who did the work.  Doing so might salve their consciences, yet the tailors remained enslaved and exploited.

This system of hiring out enslaved workers for short periods – days, weeks, months, or a year – supplemented the slave trade in early America.  In the colonial and revolutionary eras, it occurred throughout the colonies.  It later continued into the nineteenth century in all areas that did not abolish slavery.  Gabriel, the enslaved man executed for organizing a failed uprising in Richmond, Virginia, in 1800, hired out as a blacksmith.  Frederick Douglass hired out as a caulker in shipyards in Baltimore in the early nineteenth century.  Newspaper advertisements help to tell the stories of many other enslaved men and women who were hired out in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

September 17

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

Boston-Gazette (September 17, 1770).

“To be sold one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”

Abigail Davidson was one of several women in Boston who placed newspaper advertisements offering seeds for sale in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Their advertisements usually ran in multiple newspapers starting late in the winter and continuing through the spring.  Most of these female seed sellers, including Davidson, did not place advertisements for seeds or other goods at any other time during the year.  That made Davidson’s advertisement in the September 17, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette all the more notable.

Rather than marketing seeds exclusively, Davidson offered trees, bushes, and “all Sorts of dried Sweet Herbs” as well.  She proclaimed that she had “a large Collection of the best Sorts of young graffed and innoculated English Fruit Trees.”  That work had been done “by William Davidson, deceased.”  Abigail did not comment on her relationship to the deceased William, but expected that prospective customers were familiar with his reputation for horticulture.  She did not previously mention a husband, son, brother, or other male relation in her advertisements, but perhaps a recent death in the family prompted her to assume greater responsibilities that had her placing advertisements in the fall in addition to the spring.  Widows who operated family businesses following the death of their husbands frequently made reference to their departed spouses in their newspaper advertisements as a means of offering reassurance to prospective customers that the quality of their goods and services continued uninterrupted.

Davidson was determined to attract customers and set her prices accordingly.  In a nota bene that concluded her advertisement, she declared that she sold her trees, bushes, and seeds “one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”  In other words, she offered a deep discount to her customers.  If she feared the family business might lose customers following the death of William, this strategy stood to preserve those relationships as well as entice new customers interested in significant savings.  Davidson combined William’s reputation and bargain prices in her marketing efforts.

September 16

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

New-York Journal (September 13, 1770).

“The best Clubs, and the greatest Entertainments in this City, were at the above Tavern.”

Samuel Fraunces was one of the most illustrious tavernkeepers of his day.  His fame continues into the twenty-first century, due in part to the quality of the services he provided to guests in eighteenth-century America and in part to the continued operation of Fraunces Tavern as a restaurant and museum at the corner of Pearl Street and Broad Street in New York.  Fraunces advertised the various taverns he operated in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  More than a decade later, he hosted George Washington’s farewell to his officers at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

Fraunces ran an advertisement in the September 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal to announce the opening of his newest venture, the “QUEEN’s-HEAD TAVERN, Near the Exchange.”  He attempted to downplay the necessity of placing an advertisement even as he promoted the various services and amenities available at his tavern.  He emphasized that during his “many Years” of operating a tavern “the best Clubs” met at his establishment and experienced “the greatest Entertainments.”  Given the reputation he had built, Fraunces “flatters himself the Public are so well satisfied of his Ability to serve them, as to render the swelling of an Advertisement useless.”  Its only purpose, he declared, was to “assure his former Friends and the Public in general, that every Endeavour will be used to give them the highest Satisfaction.”

Yet other “swelling” embellished Fraunces’s advertisement as he attempted to attract patrons.  He noted renovations taking place; the tavern was “now fitting up in the most genteel and convenient Manner.”  He also inserted a nota bene to inform prospective customers that he provided take-out and delivery options for those “who live at a convenient Distance.”  Fraunces concluded with a manicule directing attention to a short note explaining that the “House at the Gardens will be duly attended as usual.”  He referred to another venture that he operated simultaneously, Vauxhall Garden, a restaurant, tavern, and pleasure garden named after the popular site in London.

Fraunces had indeed established his reputation as restaurateur and tavernkeeper before opening the Queen’s Head Tavern in the fall of 1770, yet he did not consider his past success sufficient for attracting patrons to his new enterprise.  Instead, he inserted an advertisement to spread the word about his newest venture, amplifying his reputation in the process.