April 17

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 17, 1771).

“Grand Feast of Historical Entertainment … XENOPHONTICK BANQUET.”

Robert Bell advertised widely when he published an American edition of William Robertson’s History of the Reign of Charles the Fifth in 1771.  Though he printed the three-volume set in Philadelphia, he placed advertisements in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  In seeking subscribers in advance of publication and buyers after the books went to press, Bell did not rely on the usual means of marketing books to consumers.  Instead, he adopted a more flamboyant style, an approach that became a trademark of his efforts to promote the American book trade in the late eighteenth century.

For instance, Bell announced “the Completion of the grand Feast of Historical Entertainment” with the imminent “Publication of the third Volume of Robertson’s celebrated History of Charles the Fifth” in an advertisement in the April 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  He invited “all Gentlemen that possess a sentimental Taste” to participate in “this elegant XENOPONTICK BANQUET” by adding their names to the subscription list.  In continuing the metaphor of the feast, Bell invoked Xenophon of Athens, an historian and philosopher considered one of the greatest writers of the ancient world.  The phrase “XENOPHONTICK BANQUET” appeared in all capitals and a slightly larger font, as did “HISTORY,” the headline intended to draw attention to the advertisement.

Essex Gazette (April 16, 1771).

The previous day, a very similar advertisement ran in the Essex Gazette.  It featured “HISTORY” and “XENOPHONTIC BANQUET” in capital letters and larger font.  Most of the text was identical as well, though local printers adjusted the instructions for acquiring copies of the book.  The version in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette directed subscribers to “any of the Booksellers in Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, or to ROBERT WELLS,” bookseller and printer of the newspaper, “in Charlestown.”  The variant in the Essex Gazette also mentioned “Booksellers in Boston, New-York, [and] Philadelphia,” but also listed local agents in seven other towns, including Samuel Orne in Salem.  Wells also inserted a note that he sold writing paper and trunks in addition to the first and second volumes of Robertson’s History.

Published just a day apart in Charleston, South Carolina, and Salem, Massachusetts, these advertisements with such similar copy and format created a near simultaneous reading experience in towns located hundreds of miles distant.  Reprinting news accounts from one newspaper to another to another had a similar effect, though it took time to disseminate news in that manner.  Bell engineered an advertising campaign without the same time lapse as coverage of the “freshest Advices” among the news accounts.  Among the imagined community of readers and consumers in South Carolina and Massachusetts, the simultaneity of being encouraged to purchase an American edition of Robertson’s famed work was much less imagined than the simultaneity of keeping up with current events by reading the news.

April 16

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

Connecticut Courant (April 16, 1771).

“All gentlemen passengers, [who are] inclined to favour him with their custom[, will] meet with good usage, from their humb[le ser]vant.”

From the early spring through the late fall, Jeremiah Lord operated a “Passage-Boat” or ferry that transported passengers along the Connecticut River and crossed the Long Island Sound, connecting the inland village of Middletown, Connecticut, and the coastal towns of Saybrook, Connecticut, and Sag Harbor, New York.  The passage boat sailed from Middletown on the first and third Monday each month and returned from Sag Harbor the following Thursday, “winds and weather permitting.”  Each passenger paid “half a Dollar” if on foot and twice as much if transporting a horse.

Though dated “March 1771,” Lord’s advertisement first appeared in the Connecticut Courant, printed in Hartford, on April 9.  It then ran for two more weeks.  That it appeared more than once allows historians and other modern readers to discover many of the details obscured in the April 16 edition as a result of collection and preservation practices.  Many eighteenth-century newspapers currently in the collections of research libraries have not been preserved as single issues but instead have been bound together with others.  Depending on the size of the newspaper and its frequency of publication, those volumes include six months, an entire year, or even more issues.  Because they have been bound, the newspapers can no longer be laid flat.  For newspapers with generous margins, this does not matter, but for this with narrow margins it means that often some of the text has been absorbed into the binding.  Often this affects only a small portion of the text, perhaps the last couple of letters at the edge of the column, but in other instances even more text remains hidden by the binding.  Such is the case with the rightmost column on the first and last pages and the leftmost column on the second and third pages of the April 16 edition of the Connecticut Courant.

Modern readers interested in advertising overcome this obstacle by examining other issues.  Advertisements ran multiple times, their placement on the page usually changing.  Lord’s advertisement, for instance, did not appear in the column adjacent to the binding in the April 9 and April 23 editions.  It is more difficult to recover the contents of news accounts, letters, and other items usually printed only once.  Even when most of the print remains legible, other aspects of the production or preservation of historical newspapers conceal portions of the contents.

April 15

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

Boston-Gazette (April 15, 1771).

“The most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers often included introductory remarks about the origins of their imported goods in their newspaper advertisements.  In the April 15, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, for instance, William Jones advertised goods “JUST IMPORTED In the Ship LYDIA, JAMES SCOTT, Master, from LONDON.”  Similarly, Hugh Tarbett marketed goods “Imported in the Snow Jenny, Hector Orr, Master, from Glasgow.”  Both followed a format familiar to both advertisers and readers.  Samuel Eliot did so as well, announcing that he carried goods that he “has now IMPORTED in the Ships just arrived from LONDON.”  Eliot added an additional note that he sold those goods “after a long Suspension of Business by his strict Adherence to the late Non Importation Agreement.”  John Hancock did the same.  Like Jones and several others who advertised in that issue, Hancock received goods via the Lydia.  He proclaimed that he offered those items to customers “after the most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement during its Continuance.”

Eliot and Hancock both signaled their support of the patriot cause and suggested that consumers should purchase goods from them, now that trade with Britain commenced again, because they had faithfully obeyed the boycotts enacted in protest of duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  Hancock’s version of events, however, did not match coverage in the Boston Chronicle in the summer of 1769.  The committee of merchants who oversaw compliance with the nonimportation agreement singled out John Mein, loyalist printer of the Boston Chronicle, for continuing to import and sell British goods.  In turn, Mein published an exposé of prominent merchants who publicly claimed to support the nonimportation agreement yet continued to receive goods from Britain.  On August 21, 1769, he listed the cargoes of several ships, the owners of those vessels, and the merchants who ordered and received the goods.  That coverage included a “Manifest of the Cargo of the Brigantine Last Attempt, … Owner, JOHN HANCOCK,” a “Manifest of the Cargo of the Brigantine Lydia, … Owner, JOHN HANCOCK,” and a “Manifest of the Cargo of the Brigantine Paoli, … Owner JOHN HANCOCK.”  Mein called on the “PATRIOTIC GENTLEMAN” who owned those vessels to provide the public with more information.  Over the next two months, Mein continued his critique of Hancock and other patriot leaders.  In late October, he published character sketches that included one for “Johnny Dupe,” a jab at Hancock for duping the public by continuing to profit from importing goods despite claiming to support the boycott.  Not long after that, a mob attacked Mein.  He fled Boston, leaving the Boston Chronicle in the hands of his partner, John Fleeming.  The newspaper folded less than a year later.

Hancock’s claim that he sold an “Assortment of Goods” received from London only after “the most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement during its Continuance” was a polite fiction, at best.  He attempted to deploy patriotism as part of his marketing strategy, asking supporters of the American cause to endorse his version of events despite evidence to the contrary published in the Boston Chronicle two years earlier.  After all, that incident resulted in the disgrace and flight of a loyalist printer, not the prominent merchant and vocal supporter of the patriot cause.  When it came to marketing, image mattered, perhaps even more than reality.

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The Massachusetts Historical Society provides access to the August 21, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle via their online collections.

April 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (April 11, 1771).

“A POEM. By Doctor GOLDSMITH, author of THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD and THE TRAVELLER.”

In the spring of 1771, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers in Philadelphia, published the first American edition of “The Deserted Village,” a poem penned by Oliver Goldsmith.  Later that year, John Holt published another edition in New York.  As they prepared their edition for press, the Bradfords also alerted the public that they would soon have copies available for sale at their printing office.  They placed an advertisement to that effect in the April 14 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the newspaper they published.

As many printers did when they inserted advertisements for other goods and services in their own newspapers, the Bradfords took advantage of their position to give their notice about “The Deserted Village” a privileged place.  It was the first advertisement in the April 14 issue, appearing immediately below the shipping news that listed vessels that arrived and departed in the past week.  That increased the likelihood that readers interested primarily in news would at least skim the advertisement even if they passed over the rest of the paid notices that appeared on the same page.  That the title of the poem ran in large capital letters, surrounded with plentiful white spice compared to the dense text in most other advertisements, most likely also drew eyes to the Bradfords’ notice.

The printers did not offer much additional information about this publication.  They did not describe the material qualities of the paper or type used in production, nor did they incorporate blurbs promoting the work to refined readers.  Some booksellers adopted those strategies in their advertisements, but many did not.  To incite demand, the Bradfords did introduce one innovation intended to resonate with consumers.  They noted that Goldsmith was also the “author of THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD,” a popular novel, and “THE TRAVELLER,” another poem.  Both works enjoyed great popularity on both sides of the Atlantic.  Perhaps the Bradfords did not consider it necessary to elaborate on their edition of “The Deserted Village,” but instead expected Goldsmith’s popularity sufficient recommendation for prospective customers to acquire their own copies of the poem.

April 13

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

Providence Gazette (April 13, 1771).

“Speedily will be published … The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Most of the final page of the April 13, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette consisted of advertisements.  They filled two of three columns, but John Carter, the printer, devoted the first column to news reprinted from London newspapers published in early January.  That content featured an item originally published as an advertisement that Carter considered newsworthy for readers of the Providence Gazette.  “Speedily will be published,” the reprinted advertisement announced, “The works of the REV. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, … containing his sermons and tracts on various subjects.”  The volume also included “a complete collection of his letters, never before printed, written to his most intimate friends, and to several persons of distinction in England, Scotland, Ireland and America, revised and prepared by himself for the press.”  In addition, the book contained a biography of Whitefield and an engraved portrait, the image taken “from an original painting.”

In reprinting this advertisement, Carter updated readers about the reaction to Whitefield’s death on the other side of the Atlantic.  Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  News quickly spread via the colonial press.  Almost as quickly, printers, booksellers, and others marketed funeral sermons delivered in memory of the minister as well as poetry that celebrated his life and lamented his death.  The Providence Gazette carried advertisements for several of those items.  Commodification and commemoration became inextricably linked in the pages of American newspapers as colonists mourned Whitefield’s death.  That impulse, however, was not confined to the colonies.  As soon as colonial newspapers began printing accounts of reactions to Whitefield’s death in England, they also noted the publication of funeral sermons and other memorabilia.  In this case, Carter did not publish additional news about Whitefield from the London newspapers but instead treated an advertisement about “The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” as news in and of itself.  In so doing, he revealed to readers that the intersections or print culture, consumer culture, and mourning they experienced took similar shape among their counterparts in England.  Near and far, reprinting this advertisement suggested, people mourned the minister by purchasing commemorative items.

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 12, 1771).

“A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”

In the April 12, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted a short notice informing prospective customers that “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston, are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.”  Readers knew that the Fowles referred to an account of the trial of the soldiers involved in the Bloody Massacre or Preston’s Massacre, as the Boston Massacre was known at the time.  John Fleeming, the printer of the volume, began advertising it in the Boston Evening-Post in the middle of January.  It did not take long for advertisements to appear in other newspapers in New England and as far away as South Carolina as a network of printers and booksellers received copies to sell in their local markets.  Indeed, the Fowles alerted readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that they carried the book at their printing office in Portsmouth on January 25.

Nearly three months later, they still had “A few of the TRIALS” available.  They ran the advertisement once again, though regular readers knew that the Fowles’ copies had not “just come to Hand.”  The placement of the advertisement suggests one of the reasons the printers decided to promote the book once again.  It appeared at the bottom of the final column on the last page.  Immediately to the left ran another notice inserted by the printers: “BLANKS of most sorts, &c. With a Number of Books, Sold at the Printing Office.”  In addition to inviting consumers to acquire goods from the Fowles, these advertisements also completed two of the three columns on the final page of the April 12 edition.  One of them extended three lines and the other only two, making them a convenient sort of filler that did not require the compositor to set additional type.  Creating columns of the same length played a role in the Fowles’ decision to advertise an account of the “TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”  The printers sought to inform consumers about recent events, commemorate the Bloody Massacre, and generate revenues, but those were not the only factors that explained the timing of this advertisement.  The mundane details of setting type to complete a page contributed as well.

April 11

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

New-York Journal (April 11, 1771).

“A CONCERT … For the Benefit of a respectable but distressed Family of ORPHANS.”

An advertisement in the April 11, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal invited readers to participate in a philanthropic venture intended to aid children in need.  On the following Wednesday, the advertisement announced, “A CONCERT Of Vocal and Instrumental MUSICK For the Benefit of a respectable but distressed Family of ORPHANS” would take place at Bolton’s Tavern.  Those who wished to attend could purchase tickets in advance.

Altruism, however, did not seem to be the sole motivation for planning or attending this concert.  Those involved in the venture performed their status (or the status they aspired to achieve) in the community at the same time that the musicians performed for their entertainment.  The newspaper notice declared that “several LADIES of DISTINCTION” determined that the “Family of ORPHANS” merited assistance.  Readers who purchased tickets and attended the concert could join the ranks of those elite patrons of unfortunate orphans, at least temporarily during the performance at Bolton’s Tavern.  The concert presented an opportunity to be seen by others who also supported the cause and would later remember who else attended.  Indeed, the advertisement challenged “every Person of Sensibility and Benevolence” to come to the aid of the orphans by attending the concert.  Participating in this endeavor “For the Benefit” of an impoverished family also accrued benefits to those who purchased tickets.

The advertisement also commented on the status of the orphans whose plight inspired “LADIES of DISTINCTION” in New York to intervene on their behalf.  Those orphans, the advertisement assured readers, were indeed deserving of such charity, being “respectable but distressed.”  That phrase paralleled the invocation of “Sensibility and Benevolence” deployed to describe those who might attend the concert.  Both phrases suggested that philanthropy involved more than giving to others who found themselves in adverse conditions.  Instead, the circumstances of how this “Family of ORPHANS” came to require charity as well as the ability of benefactors to discern who warranted assistance (and who did not deserve their attention) each shaped attitudes and expectations about the concert at Bolton’s Tavern.

April 10

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 10, 1771).

“Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.”

Elisabeth Russel, John Giles, and William Russel, the executors of Alexander Russel’s estate, harnessed the power of the press in fulfilling their duties.  In the spring of 1771, they ran an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, calling on “ALL Persons indebted to the Estate … to make immediate Payment, and all Persons having Demands thereon to bring them in.”

The estate notice also attended to the continuation of the business that Alexander operated before his death.  “THE SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS,” the executors announced, “is carried on as heretofore, under the Direction of a proper Person.”  Furthermore, “Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.”  In similar circumstances, some widows took over managing the family’s business, continuing responsibilities they previously pursued and expanding others.  After all, they made significant contributions before their husbands died, even if their names never appeared in advertisements.  Husbands tended to be the public face, but wives provided various kinds of labor, including keeping ledgers and interacting with customers, that did not receive the same recognition and notice.

When it came to the managing the Russels’ “SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS,” however, the widow did not assume all of the responsibilities previously undertaken by her husband.  Instead, the executors assured prospective clients that “a proper Person” oversaw the day-to-day operations.  Yet they did not erase the widow.  They made clear that “Mrs. Russel” was now the proprietor.  The employees were “her Hands.”  She appreciated customers who continued to hire their services.  This formulation positioned the widow as both a proprietor who took appropriate steps in maintaining the business and an object of sympathy who merited consideration following the death of her husband.  Her livelihood depended, at least in part, on the family’s business remaining a viable enterprise.  In the interests of both her customers and herself, the executors suggested, the widow made responsible decisions.  Prospective customers could have confidence that the Russel family’s business, now headed by Elisabeth, maintained the same quality and continued uninterrupted in the wake of Alexander’s death.

April 9

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

Essex Gazette (April 9, 1771).

“It may be had also of Doctor Kast, or Miss Priscilla Manning, at SALEM, and of Mr. Dummer Jewett at IPSWICH.”

Daniel Scott operated “the Medicine-Store, at the Sign of the Leopard” in Boston.  In an advertisement in the January 21, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, he promoted a “compleat Assortment” of imported “Drugs and Medicines, Chymical and Galenical” as well as patent medicines.  In the following months, he turned his attention to marketing “Dentium Conservator, Or the Grand Preserver of the Teeth and Gums,” a medicine that he prepared at his shop.  For several weeks he placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, hawking the “excellent Powder” and asserting that it was “the best adapted for preserving the Teeth and Gums, and preventing them from aching, of any Preparation offered to the Publick.”  He also advertised artificial teeth and other dentistry services.  The apothecary concluded his advertisement with a reminder that he also carried a variety of medicines beyond the “Dentium Conservator.”

Scott did not confine his advertising to newspapers in Boston.  He also placed notices in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  For the most part, those advertisements replicated the copy that ran in the Boston Evening-Post, but the apothecary made one addition.  In a nota bene, he informed prospective customers of local agents who carried the “Dentium Conservator” and sold it on his behalf: “It may be had also of Doctor Kast, or Miss Priscilla Manning, at SALEM, and of Mr. Dummer Jewett at IPSWICH.”  Philip Godfrid Kast, another apothecary, operated a shop at the Sign of the Lion and Mortar.  Manning peddled a variety of wares, mostly textiles, but apparently supplemented those revenues through her association with Scott and his “Dentium Conservator.”  Both Kast and Manning previously advertised in the Essex Gazette.  Jewett was likely also a familiar figure to readers of that newspaper.  The following year the governor appointed him justice of the peace for Essex County.

Scott could have chosen to produce and sell his “Dentium Conservator” exclusively at his shop in Boston.  Instead, he recruited associates in other towns, distributed his product to them, and assumed responsibility for marketing in an effort to increase sales.  The patent medicines that Scott stocked at his shop bore names familiar to customers.  His “Dentium Conservator,” on the other hand, did not benefit from an established reputation.  Scott intended that the combination of advertising in newspapers published in Boston and Salem and designating local agents to sell his product in Ipswich and Salem would enhance both the visibility and the reputation of his “Dentium Conservator.”

April 8

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 8, 1771).

“Rider from Boston to Northampton, Deerfield, &c.”

Silent Wilde’s advertisement in the April 8, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post testified to the dissemination of that newspaper to subscribers who lived far from its place of publication.  Wilde described himself as a “Rider from Boston to Northampton, Deerfield, &c.”  He served towns in the western part of the colony, one hundred miles and more from the bustling port city.  Only six newspapers were printed in the colony at the time, five of them in Boston and one in Salem.  For residents of Northampton, Deerfield, and other towns, the Boston Evening-Post was a local newspaper.

The printing office of the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, was closer than Boston, but that newspaper did not carry nearly as much news about Massachusetts matters, including coverage of the governor and the colonial assembly, as the Evening-Post and other newspapers from Boston.  The issue of the Evening-Post that carried Wilde’s advertisement, for instance, devoted two out of three columns on the front page to news with a “BOSTON, APRIL 4” dateline.  The printers evenly divided the second page between news from London and news from Boston, including exchanges between the governor and the assembly.  The Connecticut Courant reprinted news from Boston publications, but that newspaper’s coverage of Massachusetts politics and current events was not nearly as extensive as what appeared in the newspapers published in that colony.  As was the case in most colonies, newspapers printed in the largest city served as both local and regional publications, disseminating news to the far reaches of the colony.

Wilde ran his advertisement in the Evening-Post, but he indicated that he “carried the Boston News-Papers.”  His “Engagement with the Printers” to serve subscribers in western towns likely included Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, and the Massachusetts Spy.  The names of those publications suggested both local and regional coverage of news and dissemination of newspapers.  It took some time for those publications to reach residents of Northampton, Deerfield, and other towns, but they eventually read the same news and advertising, as packaged by the printers, as residents of Boston.