September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 19, 1769).

“At the Sign of the Green Dragon.”

When Henry Sanders opened a “House of Public Entertainment” in Marblehead, Massachusetts, late in the summer of 1769, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to invited “Gentlemen, Strangers and others” to experience his hospitality. He informed prospective patrons that they could find the tavern “near the Wharf of the Hon. Robert Hooper, Esq.” In addition to naming a landmark he assumed readers found familiar, Sanders noted that “the Sign of the Green Dragon” marked the precise location.

Like many other colonial tavernkeepers, as well as a good number of shopkeepers and artisans, Sanders adopted a device to represent his business and then displayed it on a sign and incorporated it into his newspaper advertisements. Over the years, those advertisements have become the sole evidence of the existence of some of the signs on display in the streets of colonial cities and towns. Although some were memorialized in letters or diaries and others mentioned in news items when they were connected to momentous events, newspaper advertisements provide the most complete catalog of eighteenth-century shop signs.

Such signs served several important purposes in early America. Standardized street numbers had not yet been developed in the late 1760s, though some of the largest cities would begin to institute them in the final decade of the eighteenth century. Sanders did not have the option of directing “Gentlemen, Strangers and others” to a particular number on a specific street. As we have seen, he instead relied on landmarks, a wharf already familiar to prospective patrons to get them to the general vicinity and a sign that marked his exact location. Once the sign had been erected for sufficient time, locals could incorporate it into the directions they gave for finding other people and businesses. The sign also doubled as the name of his establishment and likely became a logo that visitors and passersby associated with the tavern. Whether the sign depicted a dragon that was fierce or friendly the advertisement does not reveal, but it does hint at the visual culture colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of cities and towns in the eighteenth century. Almost certainly even more signs marked all sorts of businesses than those that appear in newspapers advertisements from the period.

September 18

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

Sep 18 - 9:18:1769 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 18, 1769).

“DANCING MASTER.”

Advertisements in the September 18, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle reminded readers that more than one dancing master taught lessons in the city that fall. Martin Foy and Mr. Tioli placed notices that conveniently appeared on the same page. Indeed, the compositor may have had a little fun when choosing the layout for the page, positioning both advertisements at the top of their respective columns but on opposite sides as though they were facing each other before commencing a dance … or perhaps a duel, considering that Foy taught “Gentlemen the use of the small sword” in addition to the latest steps. Whatever the compositor’s intent, the placement of the advertisements clearly put Foy and Tioli in competition with each other.

Even though they were rivals for students, both dancing masters emphasized the environment in which they provided their lessons. Foy ran his school “at the assembly room,” noting that the “room will be illuminated” in the evenings when he provided lessons for men who could not attend during the day due to their other commitments. Tioli taught at his home, where he set aside a room “excellently adapted for the purpose.” Yet it was not only the place of instruction that concerned the dancing masters. Tioli also assured prospective pupils that he would “make it his particular study to preserve the greatest order and decorum” during lessons. When several students gathered, the dancing school became a cacophony of movement and physical interactions, which helps to explain why both dancing masters instructed men and women separately. Even during lessons segregated by sex, Foy and Tioli recognized the prospect for misbehavior and mischievousness, whether horseplay or gossip, and insisted on their students acting with propriety. They imposed order when necessary. Foy promised his “fidelity” in conducting lessons “in a regular and polite manner.”

Personal comportment was an important aspect of both dancing well and appearing in genteel company to dance and socialize with others. Many colonists devoted considerable time to learning to dance in order to make the best possible impression on friends and neighbors when they attended public events. Learning the steps – and, equally important, how to do them gracefully – for a dance that lasted a few moments could require hours of instruction and practice, significantly more time for lapses in conduct and demeanor resulting from distractions during lessons composed entirely of male or female students who might feel unfettered when gathered in groups and not observed by members of the opposite sex. Instructing men and women separately avoided certain kinds of opportunities for discomfort among pupils, but doing so meant dancing masters potentially faced other sorts of allegations of impropriety at their schools. To that end, dancing masters advertised that they made great effort “to preserve the greatest order and decorum” at their schools.

September 17

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

Sep 17 - 9:14:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 17, 1769).

“As cheap … as he did before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”

According to an advertisement he inserted in the September 14, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal, Peter T. Curtenius sold a vast assortment of merchandise at his shop “At the Sign of the Golden Anvil.” He listed an array of textiles, accessories, and accouterments among “many other Articles in the Dry-Good Way,” but he also stocked housewares, hardware, and even a few books and grocery items. In many ways, his lengthy list of the wares he made available resembled other advertisements emphasizing consumer choice that had been running in American newspapers for the better part of two decades.

Yet Curtenius’s advertisement was also the product of a particular moment. It opened and closed with a nod to the politics of the period. In 1769 New Yorkers, like many other colonists, participated in a nonimportation agreement as an economic protest against the taxes levied on imported paper, tea, glass, and other items by the Townshend Acts. Before he even described his inventory to prospective customers, Curtenius pledged that he set prices “as cheap … as he did before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.” In other words, the shopkeeper did not take advantage of the situation to engage in price gouging. Curtenius suggested that as supply of imported goods dwindled that colonists could expect prices to rise, but he pledged to shield his customers from that aspect of the market. This may not have been solely an altruistic sacrifice on his part if he happened to have surplus goods in stock and welcomed an opportunity to rid himself of merchandise that had been taking too long to sell before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.

Curtenius concluded his advertisement with a list of “Goods made at the New-York Air Furnace,” including pots, kettles, and stoves of various sorts. As an alternative to importing goods from Britain, discontented colonists embraced “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies. Instead of consuming imported wares, they encouraged the conspicuous consumption of items made locally. The proprietors of the New-York Air Furnace frequently advertised their products, as did shopkeepers like Curtenius who intermixed politics and commerce. Curtenius assured prospective customers of the quality of the items produced at the New-York Air Furnace, asserting that the hammers in particular “have been found on Proof, to be superior to English Hammers.”

At a glance, the format of Curtenius’s advertisement did not look different from others that regularly appeared in the New-York Journal and other newspapers published throughout the colonies. On closer inspection, however, colonists discovered that Curtenius engaged with the politics of the imperial crisis as a means of marketing his merchandise. He promised that he did not inflate his prices while simultaneously offering consumers alternatives to some of the items they previously imported.

September 16

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

Sep 16 - 9:16:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 16, 1769).

“Will be read, The BEGGAR’s OPERA.”

Many advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers encouraged colonists to participate in consumer culture, promoting an array of goods to acquire and services to obtain. Other advertisements invited colonists to participate in popular culture, promoting various kinds of spectacles and performances ranging from fireworks displays to viewing exotic animals when their proprietors arrived in town for limited time only. An advertisement in the September 16, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette announced a performance of The Beggar’s Opera “at Mr. Hacker’s Assembly-Room” two days later.

This was not, however, a full-scale production of the ballad opera. Instead, it featured a single performer, “a Person who has read and sung in most of the great Towns in America.” Even though the advertisement indicated that the opera “will be read” by an individual rather than performed by a larger cast, it also assured prospective viewers that “All the Songs will be sung.” The ballad opera lent itself well to such treatment. Originating in England in the early eighteenth-century, ballad opera intermixed spoken dialogue with music in the popular style. The Beggar’s Opera, written by John Gay in 1728, included music drawn from broadsheet ballads, church hymns, and folk tunes familiar to general audiences. Viewers in Providence and “the great Towns in America” may have hummed or even sang along with the itinerant performer who read the dialogue for their entertainment.

To draw an audience to Hacker’s Assembly Room, the advertisement promised a spectacle. The lone performer “personates all the Characters, “including Polly Peachum and Lucy Lockit, “and enters into the different Humours or Passions, as they change from one to another, throughout the Opera.” The advertisement invited prospective viewers to witness this extravaganza. Those who saw it would join the ranks of audiences in other “great Towns in America,” enjoying an experience that they could discuss with others for days after the performance concluded. If this rendition of The Beggar’s Opera became the talk of the town, readers of the Providence Gazette could not afford to miss it. To guarantee themselves a spot in Hacker’s Assembly Hall, they had to purchase a ticket in advance. After all, the advertisement made clear “No Person to be admitted without a Ticket.”

September 15

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

Sep 15 - 9:15:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 15, 1769).

Some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.”

As summer turned to fall in 1769, Christopher Smieller took to the pages of New-London Gazette to defend his reputation and mitigate damage already done to his business. The baker had become aware of a vicious rumor about his bread. In a lengthy nota bene at the conclusion of even lengthier advertisement, he expressed his outrage that “some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.” Smellier could not let this slander pass unremarked. Instead, he offered “a Reward of Two Dollars to any Person who will inform me of such Defamers that they may be prosecuted according to law.” In order to rehabilitate his standing in the community, he also made provision for witnesses to observe him as he went about his business: “I will permit any two or three honest Men to stay with me 24 Hours, who may inspect every Article put into my Bread.”

Combatting gossip circulating about unsavory additions to his bread may have prompted Smieller to insert other aspects of his lengthy advertisement. It opened like many other advertisements for consumer goods, listing his wares. Smieller also advanced an appeal to price, stating that he sold loaf and ship bread, gingerbread, cakes, and pies “as cheap as in any of the neighbouring Governments.” In other words, his prices in New London were as good as prospective customers could find in Massachusetts, New York, or Rhode Island. He doubled down on this assertion later in the advertisement, proclaiming the he baked ship bread “as good and as cheap as in any Part of America.”

Smieller tied the prices he charged for bread to the prevailing prices for flour. He made allusion to “sundry Persons who call themselves Bakers” who had been overcharging the residents of New London and making it unaffordable for them to buy bread. To demonstrate that he charged fair prices, Smieller specified how much a loaf of bread weighed and the corresponding price at the current price for flour. He explained that he would adjust the price per loaf as his own costs for flour fluctuated, but that he would hold his profit consistent. He hoped current and prospective customers would patronize his business out of appreciation for his commitment to keeping prices low by earning “so very small” profits on his bread. Smieller might not otherwise have outlined the expenditures and profits for his business, but defending himself against the rumor that he put soap and potash in his bread may have motivated him to devise other methods of convincing the people of New London to purchase from him.

September 14

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

Sep 14 - 9:14:1769 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (September 14, 1769).
“RUN away … a Mulatto slave.”

The digitization of historical sources has made them much more widely accessible to scholars and the general public. Anyone with an internet connection, for instance, can access this advertisement from the September 14, 1769, edition of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette. Colonial Williamsburg has made the entire issue, along with hundreds of other newspapers published in Williamsburg from 1736 to 1780, available via their Digital Library.

These sources, however, sometimes obscure portions of the past even as they provide greater illumination for other parts. Everyday use damaged some sources even before they found their way into an archive or library. Others have suffered the ravages of time. Poor photography has contributed to the illegibility of some digital surrogates.

Consider today’s featured advertisement. At a glance, readers can identify it as an advertisement for a runaway thanks to the mostly legible first two words as well as the muddy outline of a woodcut depicting a fugitive. Although such woodcuts most often accompanied advertisements about enslaved people who escaped, they sometimes appeared in notices about indentured servants and convict servants. Readers with experience examining similar advertisements might spot the word “Mulatto” on the second line and then reasonably extrapolate it to “Mulatto slave.” Most of the rest of the advertisement is illegible, except for the name of the advertiser at the end. Who was the slaveholder who sought the return of an enslaved person who attempted to escape from bondage? Thomas Jefferson.

Like most other eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, especially runaway advertisements, this notice ran for multiple weeks. Sometimes this allows readers the opportunity to read the same advertisement in another issue, but in this case other insertions are not much more legible. Jefferson’s advertisement first ran on September 7. Look for it near the top of the third column on the third page. A portion of the page was cut out at some point. What remains of Jefferson’s advertisement is only partially legible, but not his name on the final line. The advertisement ran again on September 21, the first item in the final column on the final page. The digital image of this insertion is more legible; an experienced reader could carefully transcribe most of the advertisement. The advertisement is accessible, but not easy to read. This time the fault appears to lie with poor photography rather than the vagaries of time damaging the page.

Due to the prominence of the enslaver who sought the return of his human property, this advertisement has been transcribed and made widely available by the National Archives. The presentation includes the complete text, but not an image, of the advertisement. Other content from the September 14 edition of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette, including an advertisement for “sundry SLAVES” to the right of Jefferson’s notice, remains inaccessible via digital surrogates. Other extant copies may be much more legible, but readers who rely on digitized sources do not have ready access to those. Digitization of historical sources helps to tell a more complete story of the past, but the digitization does not necessarily make any source readily accessible.

September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:13:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (September 13, 1769).

“JAMES OLIPHANT, JEWELLER.”

When he moved to a new location in September 1769, jeweler James Oliphant ran an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to inform prospective customers where to find him. In marketing his wares to consumers in Charleston, he provided a catalog of several services provided by colonial jewelers. In addition to making and selling jewelry, Oliphant “engraves and enamels a variety of patterns of motto rings and lockets, forms hair for them into cyphers, sprigs, flowers, trees, knots or another device.” He also “engraves coats of arms upon seals, plate,” and other items. As he listed these services he advanced some of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements. Clients acquired “the newest fashions” at his shop “upon the most reasonable terms.” Oliphant used fashion and price to encourage conspicuous consumption among “his friends and customers.”

While Oliphant’s advertisement gave an overview of the jewelry made and sold in his shop, it did not necessary reveal the contributions of every worker who labored there. Oliphant took credit for all items produced in his shop, but he may have had enslaved assistants who crafted “the newest fashions” and made it possible for him to charge “the most reasonable terms.” Another advertisement in the same issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated that was the case for jeweler John-Paul Grimke. In a lengthy notice, Grimke announced his plans to retire. He scheduled an auction to liquidate his jewels, plate, watches, and other merchandise … as well as two “NEGRO BOYS” who worked in his shop. The two had been “brought up to the Jewellers Trade” and possessed many skills. They could “make Gold Rings and Buttons, engrave them very neatly, and do many other kinds of work.” Grimke offered a one-month trial period for prospective buyers who wished to assess their skills.

Throughout the eighteenth century, artisans who advertised products from their workshops often told incomplete stories about who made or contributed to making jewelry, furniture, shoes, or other items. Journeymen, apprentices, and enslaved laborers often worked alongside artisans who marketed everything produced in their shops as their own creations. Prior to his retirement, Grimke was the public face for his shop, but enslaved youth made significant contributions to his business. Oliphant did not disclose in his advertisement whether his business also benefited from the skilled labor of enslaved artisans. The “newest fashions” worn by the residents of Charleston may have been crafted, all or in part, by workers held in bondage.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 12, 1769).

“GLOVES of our own Manufacture.”

Throughout the colonies advertisers launched “Buy American” campaigns in the late 1760s. Some adopted this marketing strategy during the Stamp Act crisis, but even greater numbers resorted to it when colonists received word that the Townshend Acts would impose new duties on certain imported goods, including paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea. Colonists were already concerned about a trade imbalance with Britain, prompting some to encourage “domestic manufactures” or the production and consumption of goods in the colonies. The Townshend Acts exacerbated the situation, inciting merchants, shopkeepers, and others to draft new nonimportation agreements. They hoped that this method of economic pressure would serve their political goals, just as nonimportation agreements played a role in convincing Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. As long as nonimportation was in effect, domestic manufactures were an especially attractive alternative to goods delivered from across the Atlantic.

William Pool banked on this when he advertised gloves in the September 12, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. He proclaimed that he sold “GLOVES of our own Manufacture, done in the neatest Manner.” Although he did not explicitly compare the quality of these gloves made in the colonies to those imported from Britain, he assured prospective customers that they need not worry about purchasing inferior goods. Other artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants who placed “Buy American” advertisements made similar claims, anticipating what consumers might think about their wares. Pool further described his gloves, stating that they were “such as are generally made use of for Funerals by such Persons as are esteemed Friends to America.” Here he invoked a popular custom in New England: families of the deceased often distributed gloves to mourners at funerals. This ritual caused some controversy, an act of such conspicuous consumption that some critics found it distasteful. Yet those who continued the ritual did not want the gloves they passed out to reflect poorly on them or the departed. Once again Pool offered assurances, letting prospective customers know that they could distribute these gloves with confidence. He made this pledge to colonists as consumers and, perhaps more significantly, as “Friends to America.” In so doing, he expressed an obligation to provide patriots with merchandise of the best quality. They had earned such treatment through their political allegiances.

September 11

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

Sep 11 - 9:11:1769 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (September 11, 1769).

“Every Part of the Workmanship is AMERICAN.”

Bookseller Garrat Noel frequently inserted advertisements in newspapers published in New York in the late 1760s. In an advertisement that appeared in the September 11, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, he promoted a “great Variety of Books and Stationary” available at his shop, highlighting three of them that he considered of special interest to prospective customers. The first was a political tract. The title also served as an overview of its contents: “BRITISH Liberties, or, the Free-born Subject’s Inheritance; containing the Laws that form the Basis of those Liberties, particularly Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, and Habeas Corpus Act, with Observations thereon, also an introductory Essay on y, and a comprehensive View of the Constitution of Great Britain.”

The contents of the other two books were distinctly American. A travel narrative looked westward to the “Frontiers of Pennsylvania” and the prospects of “introducing Christianity among the Indians, to the Westward of the Alegh-geny Mountains.” It included a brief ethnography, described as “Remarks on the Languages and Customs of some particular Tribes among the Indians,” while also presenting indigenous Americans as a problem to be solved. The book featured “a brief Account of the various Attempts that have been made to civilize them.” Considered together, the tract on “BRITISH Liberties” and the travel narrative told the story of an ideal North America, at least from the perspective of colonists who desired westward expansion facilitated by compliant Indians and a Parliament that knew the boundaries of its authority on that side of the Atlantic.

Noel also marketed a third edition of a “TREATISE concerning RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS,” by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the influential revivalist minister who had played a significant role in the movement now known as the Great Awakening. Not only written by an American author, “every Part of the Workmanship” of the book “is AMERICAN.” Noel began his advertisement with a political tract and returned to politics in his efforts to sell the final book he highlighted. Most of his “great Variety of Books” had likely been imported from Britain, even those by American authors, but this one had been produced in the colonies. American compositors set the type. American binders secured the pages. Noel concluded his advertisement with another nod to the “domestic manufactures” that became so popular during the nonimportation movement that colonists joined to protest the taxes levied by the Townshend Acts. He offered a “fresh Assortment of PICTURES, framed and glazed in America.” The prints themselves almost certainly came from Britain, but Noel chose to emphasize the portion of the product made locally. This achieved symmetry in his advertisement, balancing the concern for the “BRITISH Liberties” of colonists with an opportunity to defend those liberties by purchasing a book and framed prints made, all or in part, in America. As much as was possible with his current inventory, Noel invoked a “Buy American” strategy to resonate with the politics of the day.

September 10

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

Sep 10 - 9:7:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 7, 1769).

“But few of them have yet had time to be perfected in their minuets.”

During the first week of September 1769, Peter Vianey announced that he “Continues to teach MUSIC, FENCING and DANCING” to the residents of New York. The dancing master periodically placed advertisements in the city’s newspapers as a means of both cultivating his reputation and attracting new clients. In this particular notice, he announced that he would open his “public Dancing School” on the first Monday of October. He also taught private lessons, either at the school or in the homes of pupils.

In addition to publishing his advertisement as an act of self-promotion, Vianey offered another means of enhancing his reputation. He suggested that others could observe the benefits of his instruction in his students. The dancing master declared that “he teaches in the style of the best masters in Europe, and their manner is discoverable in his scholars.” Here Vianey walked a careful line. He expressed confidence in both his own ability and the achievements of his student, yet he hedged his bets when it came to sweeping expressions of approbation for the latter. He asserted that “few of them have yet had time to be perfected in their minuets.” Should any of his pupils falter when observed by others, Vianey supplied an explanation that did not negatively reflect on his instruction: his students made good progress but needed more practice. Furthermore, he guarded his position as an expert by making it clear that he could accurately assess the level of skill exhibited by his students; he was not so blinded by his own regard for his abilities as a dancing master that he could not recognize that his students had not “perfected” their steps. Indeed, his continued employment depended on being the master of his craft, no matter how well his pupils learned to dance. For any of his current and former pupils who encountered his advertisement, Vianey’s acknowledgment that they were not yet “perfected in their minuets” served to coax them to continue under his tutelage in order to remedy such shortcomings. As he coached “Ladies and Gentlemen” in the refined comportment of dancing, Vianey had to demonstrate the benefits of his instruction yet also avoid making his lessons obsolete. He presented himself as a master who always had more to teach, no matter the accomplishments of his pupils.