November 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 30, 1770).

“A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

The death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, received attention throughout the American colonies.  From New England to Georgia, newspapers reported the minister’s death.  Colonists participated in collective acts of mourning, reading poems dedicated to the Whitefield’s memory reprinted from newspaper to newspaper and listening to sermons honoring the minister and his legacy.  The various sorts of eulogies for Whitefield, whether poems or sermons, very quickly converted to commodification of his death as printers and booksellers advertised commemorative items for consumers to purchase.  Within days of the minister’s death, printers suggested that funeral sermons would soon go to press.  Two months later, newspaper advertisements continued to promote such items.

For instance, the November 30, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette once again informed readers that they could purchase “THE Rev. Jonathan Parson’s SERMON … A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD” either at the printing office in Portsmouth or the post office in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  This was a truncated version of an advertisement that ran in the two previous issues.  The more extensive notice extended nearly two-thirds of a column.  It included an excerpt from the sermon, a preview to incite interest among prospective customers.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, dispensed with the excerpt, but they included other Whitefield content as a means of maintaining interest in the minister’s death and generating sales.  The final page of the New-Hampshire Gazette often included poetry in the upper left corner.  The Fowles inserted two poems in the November 30 edition, one of them “A short POEM On the Death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  As a result, coverage of the minister’s death continued beyond the portion of the newspaper devoted to advertising.  The Fowles may have published the poem, at least in part, as a means of suggesting that popular interest in Whitefield’s death remained high, hoping that this would induce readers to consider purchasing the sermon advertised for sale elsewhere on the same page.  Collective mourning could potentially yield greater interest in collective acts of commemoration through purchasing commodities associated with the minister’s death.

November 29

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 29, 1770).

“He may take the LIBERTY of craving the continuance of their favours.”

John Mason, an upholsterer who ran a shop at the Sign of the Crown and Cushion in Philadelphia, had a habit of injecting politics into the newspaper advertisements he placed in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He often emphasized the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY” in notices offering his services to consumers.  For instance, in an advertisement in the August 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he requested “LIBERTY to inform his friends and customers that he has removed his PROPERTY” to a new location.  He then provided a short history of mattresses to argue that those he stuffed with wool were superior to others stuffed with straw or feathers, but after that bit of frivolity he concluded with a jeremiad about Parliament imposing duties on certain imported goods.  He proclaimed that “Liberty is the Common Cry” due to the Townshend Acts that would “Deprive [colonists] of our Liberty and property.”  Nearly a year later, he placed an advertisement for paper hangings “(not lately imported),” mattresses, and trimmings in the July 19, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  He concluded with a poem that decried New York for abandoning liberty by discontinuing the nonimportation agreement before Parliament repealed all of the duties on imported goods.

A few months later, Mason placed a new advertisement in the November 29, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He once again accentuated the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY,” though this time he did not include more extensive commentary about the current political climate in Pennsylvania and the rest of the colonies.  In this instance, he declared that he “presumes he may take the LIBERTY of craving the continuance” of the “favours” of his “friends and customers in general” in his efforts “dispose of his PROPERTY.”  Along with “FURNITURE CHECKS,” the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY” were the only words in all capitals in the body of Mason’s advertisements.  Accordingly, they likely attracted attention, priming readers to think about current events as they perused Mason’s notice, especially those already familiar with the outspoken upholsterer’s politics.

At the conclusion of his notice, Mason testified that “it is the distinguishing character of noble and generous minds to employ the industrious.”  He then pledged “his utmost endeavours to give general satisfaction.”  Although not as explicitly political as the short sermons in some of his earlier advertisements, Mason may have intended for that statement to resonate with conversations about encouraging domestic manufactures as alternatives to imported goods.  He suggested that his prospective customers had both an obligation and an opportunity; they had an obligation to support “industrious” colonists and an opportunity to demonstrate their “distinguishing character” and “noble and generous minds” by doing so.  Given the contents of the rest of the newspaper as well as the pattern the upholsterer established in his marketing, readers likely recognized Mason’s message in this advertisement even without a more elaborate lecture about politics.

November 28

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

Boston-Gazette (November 26, 1770).

“Stolen … a large Chesnut Canoe … taken away by Mr. Wait’s Negro.”

In the fall of 1770, Samuel Clark placed an advertisement about a stolen canoe in the Boston-Gazette.  That “large Chesnut Canoe, about 14 Feet long,” was connected to advertisements that appeared in newspapers in four colonies, though those notices were concerned with Pompey, also known as Pomp, an enslaved man who liberated himself, rather than a stolen canoe.

When Pompey made his escape, Aaron Waitt, his enslaver, ran a series of advertisements in Essex Gazette, Providence Gazette, New-London Gazette, and New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Waitt sought the assistance of newspaper readers in New England and New York in capturing and returning Pompey to bondage.  To that end, Waitt offered a description of the young man, including his approximate age, height, and clothing.  To help identify this fugitive seeking freedom, Waitt noted that Pomp had “a large Scar on one Part of his Forehead.”  The enslaved man, “a Leather-Dresser by Trade,” spoke “good English.”

Waitt knew something of Pompey’s movements.  He reported in his advertisements that Pompey had been spotted “on board the Sloop Free Mason, John Rogers, Master,” which departed from East Greenwich, Rhode Island, for New York and then the Carolinas on October 18.  Waitt suspected that Pompey would disembark in New York.  From there he could either remain in the bustling urban port or seek out other places to elude capture.  Waitt placed advertisements in newspapers published in both New York and Connecticut in anticipation of both possibilities.

Considered together, Waitt’s advertisements provided more information about Pompey’s means of liberating himself than most eighteenth-century newspaper notices about enslaved men and women who, from the perspective of their enslavers, “ran away.”  Yet Waitt’s advertisements document Pompey’s plans only after he made it to Rhode Island and continued his venture from there.  Clarke’s notice about a stolen canoe presents additional information about the initial portion of Pompey’s journey to freedom.  He conjectured that his canoe had been “taken away by Mr. Wait’s Negro of Salem,” referencing current events as reported in newspaper advertisements circulating at the time.

Although placed for the purposes of surveilling Black bodies and returning Black people to colonists who purported to own them, newspaper advertisements can also be used to reconstruct some of the experiences of enslaved people.  Pompey did not have an opportunity to record his own narrative in print, but, unintentionally, Waitt and Clarke told a story of a determined man who took advantage of various resources.  Pompey appropriated a canoe to put some distance between himself and his enslaver, then he boarded a ship heading to one of the busiest ports in the colonies to make it even more difficult for Waitt to lay hands on him.  Printers who published Waitt’s advertisements became accomplices in his endeavor, but in the process they inadvertently recorded the story of Pompey’s courage, ingenuity, and resistance.

November 27

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

Essex Gazette (November 27, 1770).

“At the Sign of the Lion and Mortar.”

In the fall of 1770, Philip Godfrid Kast, an apothecary, placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform potential customers that he carried “a general Assortment of Medicines” at his shop “At the Sign of the Lion and Mortar” in Salem, Massachusetts.  Purveyors of goods and services frequently included shop signs in their newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, usually naming the signs that marked their own location but sometimes providing directions in relation to nearby signs.  On occasion, they included woodcuts that depicted shop signs, but few went to the added expense.  Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements provide an extensive catalog of shop signs that colonists encountered as they traversed city streets in early America, yet few of those signs survive today.

Kast did not incorporate an image of the Sign of the Lion and Mortar into his newspaper advertisements in the fall of 1770, but four years later he distributed a trade card with a striking image of an ornate column supporting a sign that depicted a lion working a mortar and pestle.  Even if the signpost was exaggerated, the image of the sign itself likely replicated the one that marked Kast’s shop.  Nathaniel Hurd’s copperplate engraving for the trade card captured more detail than would have been possible in a woodcut for a newspaper advertisement.  Absent the actual sign, the engraved image on Kast’s trade card provided the next best possible option in terms of preserving the Sign of the Lion and Mortar given the technologies available in the late eighteenth century.  Trade cards, however, were much more ephemeral than newspapers and the advertisements they contained.  That an image of the Sign of the Lion and Mortar survives today is due to a combination of luck, foresight (or accident) on the part of Kast or an eighteenth-century consumer who did not discard the trade card, and the efforts of generations of collectors, librarians, catalogers, conservators, and other public historians.  Compared to woodcuts depicting shop signs in newspaper advertisements, trade cards like those distributed by Kast even more accurately captured the elaborate details.  Those shop signs contributed to a rich visual landscape of marketing in early America.

Philip Godfrid Kast’s Trade Card, Engraved by Nathaniel Hurd, Boston, 1774 (American Antiquarian Society).

November 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 26, 1770).

“Those Customers who live in the Country are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”

Extensive credit played an important role in fueling the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans all extended credit to their customers.  Printers did the same, often for periods of years rather than merely weeks or months.  Newspaper printers regularly inserted notices into their publications to call on subscribers, advertisers, and others to pay their debts.  In some instances, they stated that their ability to continue disseminating the news depended on customers paying their overdue bills.  More often, they threatened legal action against those who did not settle accounts by a specified date.

On November 26, 1770, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, once again joined the chorus of printers who inserted such notices in their newspapers.  They requested that “All Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been 12 Months standing … to make immediate Payment.”  Although they did not suggest taking anyone to court, they did express some exasperation with those who had not heeded previous notices.  “Those Customers who live in the Country,” the Fleets implored, “are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”

To increase the likelihood that those customers at least saw the notice, the Fleets deployed a couple of strategies.  First, they made it the first item in the first column on the first page.  It appeared immediately below the masthead and immediately above news items rather than interspersed among other advertisements.  Even if they only skimmed the contents to find items of interest, readers who perused that issue of the Boston Evening-Post were likely to spot the Fleets’ notice.  To help call attention to it and underscore its importance, the Fleets included several manicules.  A manicule on the first line directed attention to the notice.  A line composed of seventeen manicules beneath the advertisement seemed to insist that readers take note of what appeared above them.  Although the Fleets did not threaten to sue recalcitrant customers, they used other means to suggest they were serious about receiving overdue payments.

November 25

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

South-Carolina Gazette (November 22, 1770).

“He already makes what is called QUEEN’S WARE, equal to any imported.”

When Parliament imposed duties on certain goods imported into the American colonies in the late 1760s, colonists responded by adopting nonimportation agreements.  They reasoned that they could practice politics via commerce, refusing to purchase all sorts of goods from Britain until Parliament repealed the duties on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea.  Concurrently, colonists sought to address a trade imbalance and strengthen local economies by encouraging the production and consumption of goods made in the colonies.  They set about encouraging “domestic manufactures.”  Newspaper editorials called on entrepreneurs to produce goods.  Newspaper advertisements called on consumers to purchase those goods and, especially, to select them over imported alternatives.

It was in that context that John Bartlam “opened his POTTERY and CHINA MANUFACTORY” in Charleston in 1770.  There he made and sold “what is called QUEEN’S WARE,” describing it as “equal to any imported.”  Consumers did not have to sacrifice quality when they expressed their political principles in the marketplace.  Bartlam was ambitious.  He proposed that he could “supply the Demands of the whole Province” if given the opportunity by consumers in South Carolina.  That required that consumers recognize their duty to give “suitable Encouragement” to entrepreneurs who produced “domestic manufactures.”  Bartlam offered another means for colonists to support both his enterprise and, by extension the American cause.  He requested that “Gentlemen in the Country, or others” send him “Samples of fine Clay upon their Plantations” so he could identify sources for the materials he needed to expand production.  Production and consumption, Bartlam suggested, were not the only means of encouraging “domestic manufactures.”

In addition to providing an alternative to imported goods, Bartlam’s business also provided training and employment for colonists.  In his advertisement he announced that he needed five or six apprentices.  He also had openings for “Good WORKMEN, in any of the different Branches” associated with producing pottery and china.

Bartlam did not explicitly invoke the Townshend Acts or nonimportation agreements in his advertisement that ran in the November 22, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, but that was hardly necessary.  News items elsewhere in the issue discussed the “General Resolutions” adopted by inhabitants of the colony.  Other advertisements condemned “NON-SUBSCRIBERS” who refused to abide by the nonimportation agreements.  Bartlam did not need to rehearse the history of the dispute between colonists and Parliament.  Readers, both prospective customers and potential suppliers of materials, already understood the politics embedded in Bartlam’s advertisement.

November 24

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

Providence Gazette (November 24, 1770).

Many other articles not enumerated.”

Consumer choice was a key element of Nicholas Tillinghast and William Holroyd’s advertisement in the November 24, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The partners informed the public that they stocked “a Variety of Articles, both of wet and dry Goods,” at their new shop at the Sign of the Elephant.  To help prospective buyers imagine the choices available to them, Tillinghast and Holroyd provided a list of some of their many wares, naming everything from “WOOLLEN and linen cloths” to “best French brandy.”  They placed special emphasis on “an assortment of stationary ware,” cataloging “writing paper by the ream, account books of different sizes, ink cake, red and black ink powder, wafer, quills and pens ready made, ink stands, sand boxes, pounce boxes, [and] pencils.”  In addition to all of those accessories, Tillinghast and Holroyd carried “many other articles not enumerated.”  While the list helped prospective customers imagine some of the wares available at the Sign of the Elephant, promising even more items than would fit in the advertisement challenged them to consider what else they might encounter when visiting the shop.

Purveyors of goods often deployed these marketing strategies in newspaper advertisements in the second half of the eighteenth century.  Elsewhere in the same issue of the Providence Gazette, Clark and Nightingale promoted a “COMPLEAT Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” at their store at the Sign of the Fish and Frying Pan.  Other advertisers provided lists of merchandise, though all of them were short in comparison to what appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Still, merchants and shopkeepers in Providence attempted to entice prospective customers by presenting them many choices intended to incite demand.  Many advertisers throughout the colonies concluded their lists with one or more “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that consumers would discover many other goods when visiting their shops.  Tillinghast and Holroyd deployed a variation, “many other articles not enumerated,” that delivered the same message.  Along with price and quality, consumer choice was among the most common marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.  Merchants and shopkeepers invited consumers to be make a pastime of shopping by considering the many choices available and contemplating the power they possessed in making selections for themselves.

November 23

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 23, 1770).

“Any Gentleman Practitioner may be served … by Letter as well as if present.”

Joseph Tilton advertised a “compleat and general Assortment of the best Drugs and Medicines” in the November 23, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Now available at his shop in Exeter, these nostrums had recently been imported from London.  Tilton listed a variety of popular patent medicines, including Stoughton’s Elixir, Lockyer’s Pills, and Walker’s Jesuit Drops, as well as grocery items often incorporated into homemade remedies.  For instance, he stocked cloves, mace, nutmeg, and ginger.  He supplemented these wares with medical equipment, including lancets and “Surgeons Needles,” and other merchandise, not unlike modern retail pharmacies that carry over-the-counter medications, home health care supplies, and food and convenience items.  For some of his merchandise, Tilton offered bargains, stating that he sold them “cheaper than can be bought in this Government.”  In other words, consumers would not find better deals anywhere in the colony.

To expand his clientele, Tilton did not require customers to visit his shop in Exeter.  In a nota bene, he advised that “Any Gentleman Practitioner, may be served with Dispatch, and their Medicines well secured, by Letter as well as if present.”  Tilton provided mail order service to physicians who desired it, an accommodation apparently worth the effort if it enticed them to choose him to supply their medicines and equipment.  He promised that such orders would not languish in his shop; instead, he would fill them and send them as quickly as possible.  Visiting Tilton’s shop in person would not achieve faster service, nor would it result in better packaging for transporting medicines.  Prospective customers did not need to worry that they would not be able to oversee how the bottles, boxes, and packets were bundled.  Tilton pledged they would be “well secured” and arrive intact.

Tilton incorporated convenience into his business model.  He advertised an array of merchandise, from patent medicines to medical supplies to groceries, for consumers to acquire at one location.  He also provided mail order service as an alternative to shopping in person.  Eighteenth-century advertisements have sometimes been depicted as mere lists of goods, little more than announcements.  Many, however, contained marketing efforts intended to convince consumers to make purchases and choose the advertiser over competitors.

November 22

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 22, 1770).

“LIBERTY.”

“To be sold … A Healthy active young NEGRO MAN.”

Liberty and enslavement were intertwined in the 1770s, a paradox that defines the founding of the United States as an independent nation.  As white colonists advocated for their own liberty and protested their figurative enslavement by king and Parliament, they continued to enslave Africans and African Americans.  Even those who did not purport to be masters of Black men and women participated in maintaining an infrastructure of exploitation.  The juxtaposition of liberty and enslavement regularly found expression in the pages of newspapers during the era of the American Revolution as news items and editorial letters rehearsed arguments made by patriots and advertisements encouraged consumers to factor political considerations into the choices they made in the marketplace while other news items documented fears of revolts by enslaved people and other advertisements offered Black men, women, and children for sale or announced rewards for capturing enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from those who held them in bondage.

Such contradictory items always appeared within close proximity to one another, especially considering that newspapers of the era usually consisted of only four pages.  In some instances, the juxtaposition should have been nearly impossible for readers to miss.  Consider two advertisements that ran in the November 22, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the newspaper, inserted a short notice about “LIBERTY.  A POEM” available for sale at their printing office.  Immediately below that notice appeared John Bayard’s advertisement offering a “Healthy active young NEGRO MAN” and an enslaved woman for sale.  The word “LIBERTY” in the Bradfords’ very brief notice appeared in all capitals and such a large font that it could have served as a headline for the next advertisement, an exceptionally cruel and inaccurate headline.  Both advertisements represented revenues for the Bradfords, the first potential revenues of potential sales and the second actual revenues paid by Bayard to insert the advertisement.

Examining either advertisement in isolation results in a truncated history of the era of the era of the American Revolution.  The advertisement for “LIBERTY.  A POEM” must be considered in relation to the advertisement for a “Healthy young NEGRO MAN” and woman to tell a more complete story of the nation’s past, even when some critics charge that the inclusion of the latter is revisionist and ideologically motivated.  It is neither.  Instead, it is a responsible and accurate rendering of the past.  The Bradfords positioned these advertisements together on the page 250 years ago.  We cannot separate them today.

November 21

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 19, 1770).

“SCONCES.”

The partnership of Abeel and Byvanck regularly advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in 1770.  While it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, the fact that they repeatedly placed new advertisements advising consumers about the merchandise they offered for sale suggests that they considered advertising a good investment.  Like other merchants and shopkeepers, they often listed items currently in stock, though sometimes they instead merely emphasized that shoppers had many choices among a “general Assortment” or “very large ASSORTMENT.”

Most purveyors of consumer goods tended to place a single advertisement to promote all of them.  Such advertisements often attracted attention due to the amount of space they occupied on the page.  Abeel and Byvanck, on the other hand, experimented with placing multiple advertisements in a single issue.  Rather than the length of their notices drawing the eye, instead it was the repetition intended to attract attention.  Abeel and Byvank’s enterprise became more memorable as a result of repeatedly encountering their advertisements.

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 19, 1770).

Readers of the November 19, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury spotted advertisements placed by Abeel and Byvank on the first and last pages.  An advertisement for ironmongery ran on the first page followed by another for looking glasses on the final page.  In addition to placing multiple advertisements, the partners also relied on headlines in oversized fonts drawing the eyes of prospective customers.  The word “SCONCES” in the notice about looking glasses appeared in a font larger than any other on the page.  Similarly, the word “NAILS” used a font that dwarfed any other on the first page except for the title of the newspaper in the masthead.  In each instance, the large font helped to create white space that further distinguished Abeel and Byvanck’s advertisements from news items and other advertisements on pages that consisted of dense paragraphs of text.

Viewed through twenty-first-century eyes, Abeel and Byvanck’s advertisements do not appear particularly sophisticated.  Considered in the context of eighteenth-century advertising practices, however, their notices possessed elements that made them notable.  Placing multiple advertisements in a single issue helped to establish name recognition, enhancing their reputation as purveyors of goods through repetition.  Savvy choices about font size increased the likelihood that readers would spot their advertisements and take note that Abeel and Byvanck actively participated in the marketplace, especially as it was represented on the printed page.