November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 28, 1770).

“Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

With a little over a month until the new year arrived, the number of advertisements for almanacs in colonial newspapers increased in late November 1769. Some printers and booksellers published elaborate notices, including a full-page advertisement for the New-England Almanack in the Providence Gazette, but others opted instead for brief notices. Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, chose the second method. The final advertisement in the November 28, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette announced that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

By “Low’s Almanack” Hall meant An Astronomical Diary: or, Almanack for the year of Christian Æra, 1770 … Calculated for the Meridian of Boston, in New-England … but May Indifferently Serve Any Part of New-England, written by Nathanael Low, a “Student in Physic.” Hall did not produce the almanac in his printing office. The imprint indicated that it was “Printed and sold by Kneeland & Adams, in Milk-Street” in Boston, yet “Sold also by the printers and booksellers.” Hall served as a local agent and retailer for “Low’s Almanack, for 1770.”

Kneeland and Adams pursued their own advertising campaign, inserting a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on October 26 to inform prospective customers that the almanac would soon be available. “TO-MORROW will be Published,” they proclaimed, “An ASTRONOMICAL DIARY; Or, ALMANACK … By NATHANIEL LOW.” Their advertisement provided a preview of the contents as a means of enticing consumers to choose this almanac rather than the any of the others published in Boston. It contained the usual astronomical information, such as “Sun and Moon’s rising and setting” and “Moon’s Place,” as well as guides to “Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” and “Courts in the four New-England Governments” and other useful reference information for the region. Other items were calculated to be both “very entertaining and instructive,” such as a “Dialogue between Heraclitus and Democritus, suited as near as possible to the Complexion of the Times” and a “brief Essay on Comets.” Yet Kneeland and Adams promised even more, concluding their list with a promise of “many other Things useful and entertaining” in the almanac.

Hall did not go to nearly the same lengths to promote “Low’s Almanack, for 1770” in his newspaper. Given the networks of exchange among newspaper printers, he would have seen advertisements for other almanacs, even if he did not happen to notice Kneeland and Adams’s advertisement for this particular almanac. In general, advertisements in the Essex Gazette, whether inserted by the printer or placed by others, tended to be streamlined compared to many that appeared in other newspapers. This may have made them easier for readers to navigate, but it limited the amount of information available to consumers.

November 27

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

Nov 27 - 11:27:1769 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 27, 1769).

“The above Agreement was signed by almost all the Merchants in this City.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers regularly carried several types of content. Most included news, editorials, and advertisements. Some often included a poem on the final page. Others included shipping news from the customs house or a list of prices current for commodities among the news items. Some items, however, did not neatly fit in any particular category. This notice that ran in the November 27, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was part news, part editorial, and part advertisement.

The notice offered an overview of recent developments concerning nonimportation agreements adopted by many colonists in an effort “to defeat the iniquitous Purposes of the oppressive Act of Parliament, imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, [and] Tea.” Such measures had been adopted widely in “all the middle Colonies of America, except the Colony of Rhode-Island.” This so angered that merchants of New York that most signed an additional agreement, that one targeting “any Person or Persons dwelling and residing in the said Colony of Rhode-Island,” pledging not to do business with them “until they shall fully come into the Agreement subscribed by the Merchants of Boston, New-York and Philadelphia, not to import Goods from Great-Britain until the Act imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, Tea, &c. is repealed.” In addition, New York’s merchants demanded that their counterparts in Rhode Island place in storage goods they recently imported and not sell them until after new goods arrived in the wake of the repeal of the Townshend Acts. Not only did they seek to compel Rhode Island to fall in line with the nonimportation agreement, they also sought to level the playing field when it came time to return to business as usual if they managed to make Parliament relent.

Usually such items appeared among the news and editorials in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but for some reason it was situated among the advertisements in the November 27, 1769, edition. News and editorials filled the first two pages and spilled over to the third. The remainder of the third page and the entire fourth page consisted entirely of advertisements, with the exception of this notice sandwiched between two advertisements for real estate. The compositor could have just as easily placed it among or at the end of the news that ran on the same page, but instead chose to transition from the news to a dozen advertisements before inserting this notice. Why? Was it a paid notice? Did the printer not consider it news? Did the printer suspect that it would garner greater attention in the section of the newspaper intended primarily for advertisements? Its place in the issue deviated from the order otherwise imposed on the various contents. Whatever the explanation, this notice demonstrates that even in newspapers that usually adhered to a particular structure or organization for news items, editorials, and advertisements, colonists sometimes encountered news among the paid notices. Advertising often served as an important supplement to news and editorials when it came to staying informed about current events in the era of the American Revolution.

November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:23:1769 South-Carolina Gazette Additional Supplement
Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (November 23, 1769).

“New Advertisements.”

In the fall of 1769 Peter Timothy did good business when it came to publishing advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette. Consider the November 23 edition. Advertising appeared on every page. Indeed, the space devoted to advertising eclipsed the space for news items. A headline directing readers to “New Advertisements” appeared at the top of the first column of the first page. The other two columns consisted of news items. The second page also delivered news, but two “New Advertisements” ran at the bottom of the last column. Timothy divided the third page evenly between news items (including a list of prices current in Charleston and the shipping news from the customs house, branded as “Timothy’s Marine List”) and more “New Advertisements.” The final page consisted entirely of advertisements. Overall, paid notices compromised half of the standard issue, which likely suited Timothy just fine since advertising usually generated greater revenue than selling subscriptions.

Yet even giving over that much space to advertising in the standard issue did not allow Timothy to disseminate all of the advertisements submitted to his printing office. A two-page Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette accompanied the November 23 edition. Except for the masthead, it consisted entirely of advertisements, though the “New Advertisements” headline that ran three times in the standard issue did not appear in the supplement. Timothy may have made a concerted effort to give new content, whether news or advertising, a privileged place in the standard issue. Still, even by publishing the supplement Timothy did not gain sufficient space to include all of the advertisements for the week. He went to the extraordinary step of printing and distributing an Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette. Printed on a smaller sheet, this two-page supplement featured only two columns per page. It still allowed Timothy to circulate an additional sixteen advertisements. The “New Advertisements” headline ran at the top of the first column on the first page, though the notices were repeats from previous editions. Did Timothy deploy that headline indiscriminately? Or did he use it strategically in an attempt to draw readers weary of advertisements into the Additional Supplement rather than dismiss it as content they had already perused in recent weeks?

Timothy very nearly had more advertisements than he could publish in the South-Carolina Gazette. Assuming that advertisers actually settled accounts in a timely manner, Timothy operated a booming business at his printing office. The volume of paid notices testified to both the extensive circulation of the newspaper and colonists’ confidence in the effectiveness of advertising. Some colonial newspapers, such as the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, the New-York Journal or General Advertiser, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, and the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, positioned their purpose as twofold right in the masthead. Timothy very well could have billed the South-Carolina Gazette as an Advertiser.

November 24

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

Nov 24 - 11:24:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 24, 1769).

“HAIR ROLLS for LADIES.”

A very short advertisement in the November 24, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed readers of “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood in Portsmouth.” Although brief, this advertisement demonstrated the reach of fashion beyond the major port cities to smaller towns in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman documents clothing and hairstyles favored by the elite in the largest urban port, but such styles were not confined solely to places like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Williams and Stanwood made “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES” available to the better sorts (and anyone else willing to pay their fees) in Portsmouth and its hinterlands.

Haulman offers a description of styles adopted by ladies in Philadelphia. “At tea tables, assemblies, and even in city streets, ladies’ hoops grew wider, and heads appeared larger with high rolls. Fashionable hairstyles for women began to grow in the late 1760s, and with them rose the ire of social critics.”[1] The high roll became popular at the same time that many colonists participated in nonimportation agreements as a means of resisting the duties that Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, tea, and other good in the Townshend Acts. Women who chose high rolls to express themselves emulated fashions “that English ladies all too eagerly copied from their French counterparts.”[2] For many, the high roll became a symbol of luxury that contradicted the spirit of sacrifice that patriots practiced when they abided by nonimportation agreements. Furthermore, the high roll testified to continued cultural dependence on and deference to England. As Haulman notes, residents of Philadelphia “asserted the city’s, and their own, stylish, cosmopolitan character through fashion even as the imperial ties that engendered those cultural forms began to unravel.”[3]

Such inconsistencies did not occur only in Philadelphia, though they may have been most visible in large port cities. Hairdressers, wigmakers, and others did not limit their efforts to market high rolls and other fashionable styles to the gentry in urban centers. Instead, colonists in Portsmouth as well as nearby towns and villages had access to “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood.” Opportunities to purchase (or not) such items as well as other garments and goods allowed them to express their own personal style and political principles while grappling with any incongruities between the two.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 638.

[2] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 638.

[3] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 640.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:22:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 22, 1769).

“These pills are an infallible cure.”

An unnamed advertiser placed a notice for “Dr. HAMMOND’s SPECIFICK PILL” in the November 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, informing prospective customers that “Any person may be informed where these pills are to be sold by applying to the printer of this paper.” The advertisement listed a variety of maladies that the pills cured, including leprosy, scurvy, yaws, venereal disease, and even “pimpled faces.” The remedy was gentle, safe for “women with child, or persons of the most delicate constitutions.” The advertiser described this “new Medicine” as “one of the greatest ever offered to the Publick” and promised that they provided a “CERTAIN cure.”

All of this probably sounded too good to be true to many colonists. After all, readers regularly encountered advertisements for patent medicines in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Those who marketed pills and potions often claimed that they cured all kinds of diseases, deploying the most hyperbolic language in making their promises. To address some of the concerns of skeptics, this advertisement reported that the pills came with “printed directions, and signed by the author, Thomas Hammond, M.M. Bristol.” Furthermore, the advertisement directed “the dubious” to take into account “the great success this medicine has met with in Barbados, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and Granada,” apparently expecting that word of mouth recommendations from the Caribbean had reached colonists in Georgia. If that were not convincing enough, readers could also take into consideration “many great cures” attributed to Dr. Hammond’s pills in England “which have been continually inserted in the newspapers. Even if skeptical customers could not check those newspapers, the advertisement suggested that merely stating that such evidence existed should satisfy any concerns. Savvy customers likely remained suspicious of the claims made in the advertisement, despite the purported proof of the efficacy of Dr. Hammond’s pills, but some may have been eager enough to find some sort of relief for their symptoms that they allowed themselves to be convinced, or at least experience some hope, that the pills would indeed work for them. The many layers of claims made in the advertisement served to wear down any distrust by “the dubious,” just as similar repetitions of claims about miracle drugs sold via infomercials in the twenty-first century attempt to do for modern consumers.

November 21

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

Nov 21 - 11:21:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 21, 1769).

“Meet at the King’s-Arms Tavern in Salem.”

The King’s Arms Tavern in Salem was more than just a place for colonists to eat, drink, and socialize. It was also a place for men to gather to conduct business of various sorts, sometimes mercantile but other times political.   Two advertisements in the November 21, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette called on colonists to attend meetings at the King’s Arms Tavern.

The first concerned a meeting to be held that day. Dated November 13, it originally ran in the previous issue, giving a week’s notice about a meeting for the “Gentlemen of the Committees, chosen by the Towns of Salem, Marblehead and Gloucester, on the Affair of the Fishermen, paying to Greenwich Hospital.” This matter concerned “allowances” of six pence a month that according to laws passed by Parliament in the early eighteenth century seamen were expected to pay to support the Greenwich Hospital in England. Since that institution provided for the widows and children of seamen, Parliament deemed it only fair that seamen should provide the funds for its operation. It was sometimes possible, however, to receive exemptions.[1] For the maritime communities of Salem, Marblehead, and Gloucester, this represented an important political issue, one that predated the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and other legislation passed by Parliament after the Seven Years War,

The second advertisement announcing a meeting at the King’s Arms Tavern gave only one day’s notice. It informed the “Merchants and Traders of this Town, who are Importers of British Manufactures, &c. from Great Britain” of a gathering at the tavern in the evening of the following day. Presumably this meeting concerned nonimportation agreements enacted in protest of the duties imposed on paper, glass, tea, and other goods imported from Britain.

Both of these meetings had political overtones, indicating that colonists gathered at the King’s Arms Tavern, like so many other taverns in colonial America, to practice politics. Taverns were not establishments devoted solely to entertainment. Instead, they were places for exchanging information and formulating plans to take political action. As the events that led to the American Revolution unfolded, meetings in taverns played a significant role, rivaling those gatherings held in colonial assemblies. Power emanated from both venues, not just the one with elected representatives.

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[1] Allyn B. Forbes, “Greenwich Hospital Money,” New England Quarterly 3, no. 3 (July 1930): 519-526.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:20:1769 Boston-Gazette
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (November 20, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD BY Harbottle Dorr …”

Harbottle Dorr is not a household name today, but Dorr remains well known among historians of early America, especially those who study either the role of the press in the American Revolution or the participation of ordinary people in efforts to resist the various abuses perpetrated by Parliament.

Dorr placed an advertisement for nails and “a good Assortment of Braziery, Ironmongery and Pewter Ware” in the supplement that accompanied the November 20, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. At the time, Dorr, a merchant and a member of the Sons of Liberty was doing far more than just advertising in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers. He was also collecting, annotating, and indexing them as a means of constructing his own narrative of the imperial crisis. As the Massachusetts Historical Society notes in its online collection of those newspapers, Dorr sought “to form a political history.” (Visit The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. to explore the newspapers and indexes that Dorr arranged into four volumes.) “Dorr was well-versed in the heated politics of the day,” the Massachusetts Historical Society continues, “and he annotated many newspaper pages with his opinions, cross-references to articles elsewhere in his collection, and sometimes noted the identity of anonymous contributors to the newspapers.” His index filled 133 pages and included 4,969 terms.

Dorr’s index included advertisements, including this entry: “Advertisement of H.D., about discouraging the Importers &c.” That entry referenced an advertisement that Dorr placed in the Boston Evening-Post on September 3, 1770. Much more extensive than the brief notice that ran nearly nine months earlier in the Boston-Gazette, it offered political commentary that encouraged consumers to encourage production of goods in the colonies by choosing them over imported alternatives. “It is presumed,” Dorr declared, “preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here, (not only on patriotic Principles, and to discourage the PRESENT Importers,— but) as they really are better in Quality than most English Nails, being far tougher.”

In chronicling the advertising landscape in colonial America in 1769, I have frequently chosen advertisements that implicitly or explicitly commented on the Townshend Acts and the nonimportation agreements adopted in Boston and other cities and towns. I have argued that both advertisers and readers looked beyond news items and editorials when considering the politics of the period. In his annotations and index, Dorr confirms that he did indeed view advertisements for consumer goods as a political tool, not just a means of marketing his wares. His “political history” of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution included advertisers and the messages they communicated to colonial consumers.

November 19

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

Nov 19 - 11:16:1769 Advert 1 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 16, 1769).

No Subscriber can purchase any NEGROES, or OTHER GOODS, or MERCHANDIZE WHATEVER.”

On July 22, 1769, colonists who attended “a GENERAL MEETING of the Inhabitants of Charles-Town, and of the Places adjacent … unanimously agreed” to an “ASSOCIATION” for the purpose of “encourage[ing] and promot[ing] the Use of NORTH-AMERICAN MANUFACTURES” as an alternative to imported goods. They did so in protest of “the abject and wretched condition to which the BRITISH COLONIES are reduced by several Acts of Parliament lately passed.” In particular, residents of Charleston had the Townshend Acts in mind, objecting to attempts to regulate trade and impose duties on imported paper, tea, glass, and other products. Like their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, they adopted several resolutions that disrupted trade, seeking to use commerce as a toll to achieve political ends. In one resolution, they proclaimed that they would not “import into this Province any of the Manufacturers of GREAT-BRITAIN.” The Association and its resolutions received front page coverage in the August 3, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.

Several months later, the “General Committee” charged with oversight of the resolutions published reminders in the South-Carolina Gazette, inserting their own notices alongside the multitude of advertisements that regularly appeared in that newspaper. Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, showed his support from the start by making subscription papers available “to be signed” at his printing office. As various deadlines specified in the resolutions passed, he further aided the cause by giving one of the notices from the General Committee a privileged place in the November 16, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. Under the headline “New Advertisements,” it was the first to appear in that issue, serving as a reminder and setting the tone for the other advertisements on the following three pages. The General Committee proclaimed that it gave “Notice that agreeable to the Resolutions entered into by the Inhabitants of this Province on the 22d of July last, no Subscriber can purchase any NEGROES, or OTHER GOODS, or MERCHANDIZE WHATEVER, of or belonging to any resident that has REFUSED or NEGLECTED to sign the said Resolutions within ONE MONTH after the Date thereof: Of which it is expected all Persons concerned, will take due Notice.” This particular measure put pressure on colonists who did not join the movement.

Nov 19 - 11:16:1769 Advert 2 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 16, 1769).

The General Committee posted another notice on the following page. This time, Timothy positioned it in the middle of the page, surrounded by other advertisements. In it, the General Committee asserted “that the time is expired, during which the Subscribers, to the Resolutions of this Province, could purchase any Kind of European or East-India Goods, excepting COALS and SALT, from any Master of Vessel, transient Person, or Non-Subscriber: And that the time is also expired, for purchasing or selling NEGROES from any Place except such as may arrive directly from the Coast of Africa: And it is hoped, that every Person concerned, will strictly adhere to the Resolutions.” The final line was both reminder and threat. Merchants and shopkeepers as well as consumers needed to exercise care in their commercial transactions. Advertisers who promoted merchandise “just imported … from BRITAIN” (as William Simpson stated in his advertisement on the same page) faced a new commercial landscape in which they needed to demonstrate when they had ordered and acquired their goods or else face consequences for not abiding by the resolutions adopted by the Association. The inventory in shops and the goods colonists wore and used came under new scrutiny, but so did advertisements for those items since anything inserted in the public prints allowed for easy surveillance by concerned colonists interested in whether merchants and shopkeepers violated the nonimportation resolutions.