January 12

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

Jan 12 1770 - 1:12:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 12, 1770).

“SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country.”

Watchmaker John Simnet returned to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette early in 1770, placing a short advertisement in the January 12 edition. Brief but bold, Simnet’s newest notice proclaimed, “WATCHES. SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country. —- Parade, PORTSMOUTH.” Simnet reminded readers of the services he provided, but left it to them to fill in the details.

Considered alone, this advertisement may not seem particularly interesting. Simnet did boast of his skill, declaring himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” but he did not do much else to promote his business and attract clients … or so it would seem at a glance. This advertisement, however, must be considered in the larger context of an advertising campaign that Simnet had waged for the past year and his ongoing feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with both Simnet’s previous advertisements, those placed by Griffith in response, and the professional (and seemingly even personal) animosity between the two watchmakers. That animosity likely manifested itself in interactions beyond the public prints, so colonists did not necessarily need to read all of the advertisements to know that Simnet and Griffith did not get along and regularly denigrated each other.

Simnet’s assertion that he was the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country” was more than bravado about his skill. It was also an insult intentionally directed at Griffith. Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire after more than two decades working as a watchmaker in London. He received his training and served clients in the largest city in the empire. He frequently suggested that other watchmakers, especially Griffith, could not match his skill, insinuating that Griffith often did more harm than good when tasked with repairing clocks and watches. In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant who was just as likely to steal watches from the residents of Portsmouth as repair them.

Simnet’s advertisement communicated far more than its eleven words might suggest to casual readers unfamiliar with his prior marketing efforts. The watchmaker did more than invite prospective clients to hire his services; he also perpetuated a feud with a rival by trumpeting his own skill and, by implication, demeaning the abilities of his primary competitor.

January 11

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

Jan 11 1770 - 1:11:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (January 11, 1770).

“THE MARYLAND ALMANACK, FOR THE YEAR 1770.”

The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project draw their contents from several databases of eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized to make them more accessible to the scholars and the general public. Readex has made most of the newspapers included in the projects available through its America’s Historical Newspapers collection. Although extensive, that collection is not comprehensive. For the period investigated in the projects so far, 1766-1770, America’s Historical Newspapers provides broad coverage of New England, the Middle Atlantic, and Georgia. That collection has complete or nearly complete runs of newspapers printed in those places. However, it includes only occasional issues of newspapers from the Chesapeake and the Lower South.

Fortunately, digitized copies of eighteenth-century newspapers from those regions are available via other databases. Accessible Archives has two collections relevant to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project: South Carolina Newspapers and The Virginia Gazette. The projects regularly draw from issues of the South-Carolina Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, all published in Charleston during the late 1760s and early 1770s. Rather than consult the various publications all known as the Virginia Gazette, including Alexander Purdie and John Dixon’s Virginia Gazette and William Rind’s Virginia Gazette, via Accessible Archives, the projects instead rely on the digitized copies made available by Colonial Williamsburg via its Digital Library. Scholars and the general public can both access Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library free of charge, compared to the individual or institutional subscriptions required to examine the newspapers digitized by Readex and Accessible Archives. This means that the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project can provide links to the source material so readers can view advertisements in the larger context of an entire page or an entire issue.

Today’s featured advertisement comes for “THE MARYLAND ALMANACK, FOR THE YEAR 1770” comes from the Maryland Gazette, drawn from the Archives of Maryland Online series created and maintained by the Maryland State Archives. That series “currently provides access to over 471,00 historical documents that form the constitutional, legal, legislative, judicial, and administrative basis of Maryland’s government.” Those documents include the Maryland Gazette Collection, incorporating several newspapers of that name published between 1728 and 1839. Like Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, scholars and the general public can access Archives of Maryland Online for free. The Maryland Gazette Collection is new to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, expanding the coverage of both of the projects and providing a more complete portrait of the role of the press, especially advertising, in promoting consumer culture and perpetuating slavery in eighteenth-century America.

I am excited to add the Maryland Gazette to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. This will benefit readers and followers, but it will also benefit the undergraduates at Assumption College who work on these projects as part of the requirements for my upper-level History courses. Each database of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers has a different interface. As students learn how to navigate each of them, they enhance their information literacy skills … and sometimes their problem solving skills as well. Sometimes errors get introduced when creating online repositories. Other times the databases replicate errors made in classifying and cataloging at a library or archive. These minor issues are usually easily resolved, but they allow undergraduates working with digitized primary sources for the first time important opportunities to play detective and, in the process, achieve a better understanding of both historical sources and research methods.

In short, adding the Maryland Gazette Collection to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project will enhance both my research and my teaching by adding newspapers from another colony and resources from another database of digitized primary sources.

January 10

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

Jan 10 1770 - 1:10:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 10, 1770).

“Messrs. JOHN SKETCHLEY and CO. of GOSPORT.”

Most advertisements for goods and services in colonial newspapers came from local providers, though local did not necessarily mean close proximity to the printing office. Newspapers served not only the towns and cities where they where they were published but also entire colonies or regions. Newspapers printed in Philadelphia, for instance, served colonists in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland. Similarly, the Georgia Gazette served residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony. In large part this was because it was the only newspaper printed in the colony in 1770. With the exception of subscription notices for books and magazines, very few advertisements in colonial newspapers originated from beyond the region that any particular newspaper served.

Most of the advertisements in the January 10, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette came from Savannah, though the partnership of Williams and Mackay did insert a notice concerning “Their Trading House in Augusta.” Merchants and shopkeepers in Sunbury also placed advertisements in the Georgia Gazette on occasion, but the newspaper received few notices from neighboring South Carolina or beyond.

John Sketchley and Company of Gosport, England, placed one of those rare advertisements, addressing it to “their friends in the Carolina Trade.” They informed colonial merchants who traded rice, one of the staple commodities produced in the Lower South, that they made significant additions and improvements to their “THREE COMMODIOUS STOREHOUSES, built with brick and tile.” They further described their wharf in Gosport as “one of the most convenient in England for large ships, as well as small vessels.” Furthermore, Sketchley and Company pledged to serve their clients “with the greatest care, diligence, and dispatch.” By placing an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette, they hoped to divert vessels departing from Savannah to their wharf and storehouses in Gosport rather than sailing for other British ports. Due to the distance, placing their advertisement in the Georgia Gazette required more coordination than most that ran in that newspaper, but Sketchley and Company apparently considered it worth the investment in time and effort. In the process, the colonial press made the British Atlantic world just a little bit smaller with an advertisement that integrated commercial interests in Georgia and southern England.

January 9

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

Jan 9 1770 - 1:9:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 9, 1770).

“BRIAN CAPE … continues the business as usual.”

The end of the decade saw an end to the partnership between shopkeepers Edward Griffith and Brian Cape. Early in 1770, the shopkeepers turned to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to announce that their “co-partnership” had “expired with the last year.” Not only were they going their separate ways, Griffith was retiring or “declining trade.” Their advertisement thanked patrons who had “favoured them with their custom” and called on anyone indebted to the partnership to settle accounts “as soon as convenient.” Since Cape continued in business, the partnership also took the opportunity to encourage existing customers “to transfer” their patronage to him.

Cape placed a separate but related advertisement that reiterated the notice signed by both partners. The compositor of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal conveniently placed them together and even formatted them to look like one continuous advertisement. Perhaps Cape had submitted copy for both advertisements to the printing office simultaneously. Despite the repetition, Cape’s request for “friends of his late co-partnership” to “favour him their custom” benefitted from appearing immediately after the notice signed by both Griffith and Cape that made the same plea. Griffith endorsed his former partner, making clear that even as they concluded their partnership that he recommended Cape to customers who could expect the same level of service from Cape alone.

Customers could also expect the same quality and variety of goods in Cape’s shop that the partners had formerly provided. Cape had purchased “their STOCK OF GOODS.” He offered an overview of this “neat Assortment,” listing a variety of merchandise from “FASHIONABLE broad cloths, with trimmings” to “sets of table and tea china” to “Ben Kenton’s best porter in bottles and barrels” to “a few of the most useful family and plantation medicines.” For those who previously shopped at Griffith and Cape’s “store on the Bay,” he demonstrated that they could continue to acquire the same goods from him “on as good terms as any in town.” At the same time, he published a rich catalog of goods for prospective customers who had not made purchases from Griffith and Cape. Even as he sought to maintain his existing customer base, Cape invited new customers to browse his wares and buy from him rather than any of his competitors in the bustling port of Charleston.

January 8

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

Jan 8 1770 - 1:8:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 8, 1770).

“Hart’s Vendue Store.”

Relatively few eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements featured visual images. Most that did relied on woodcuts of ships, houses, horses, or people that belonged to the printer for repeated use in various advertisements, but some advertisers did commission woodcuts that appeared exclusively in their notices. Oftentimes such woodcuts depicted their shop signs, creating consistent marketing iconography, but that was not always the case. Whether or not tied to shop signs, unique woodcuts stood to attract more attention to advertisements than they would have garnered without visual images.

Readers of the January 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle could hardly have overlooked the advertisement for an auction house, Hart’s Vendue Store, with its exceptionally large woodcut depicting a hand ringing a bell enclosed in a frame. Even though it was not the only visual image, it dominated the page, in large part due to its size. The woodcut occupied more space than the copy for the advertisement! The frame formed a square with the length of each side the same as the width of the column in which the advertisement ran. Woodcuts that the printer supplied, including one of a ship in the advertisement immediately to the left of the one for Hart’s Vendue Store, were much smaller icons. They usually appeared in the upper left corner of advertisements, with copy to the right and continuing below. In featuring such a large visual image, Hart invested not only in commissioning the woodcut but also in the space required to publish it in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. It more than doubled the amount of space filled by the advertisement. Hart may have considered it very well worth the investment if the woodcut managed to distinguish his advertisement and attract bidders to his auction house. Footman and Jeyes placed an advertisement for their “New VENDUE-STORE” on the same page. It lacked visual images. Indeed, the entire advertisement filled the same amount of space as Hart’s woodcut alone.

In the process of mobilizing a visual image, Hart’s advertisement may have engaged readers in other ways as well. Did colonists hear the ringing of the bell when they saw the woodcut? Did they imagine someone walking through the streets of Philadelphia proclaiming that they should visit Hart’s Vendue Store and participate in “the Sales of a large and very neat ASSORTMENT of Merchandize” on Tuesday afternoon? Did the woodcut evoke some of the sounds of the colonial city, prompting readers to imagine that they were already part of the sales that would soon take place?

No other advertisement in that issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle compared to the notice for Hart’s Vendue Store. The image of the hand and bell may look crude by model standards, but the size of the woodcut and its inclusion in the advertisement at all would have been notable to colonial readers.

January 7

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

Jan 7 1770 - 1:4:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 4, 1770).

“At the sign of the Sugar-loaf, Pound of Chocolate, and Tea Cannister.”

In late 1769 or early 1770, Robert Levers opened a shop on Second Street in Philadelphia. There he sold “a large and general assortment of GROCERY GOODS,” many of which he listed in an advertisement in the January 4, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. His inventory included “raisins and currants, figs, pepper and ginger, alspice, nutmegs, cloves, mace, cinnamon, [and] rice.” He also stocked Portuguese wines, French brandy, rum distilled in the colonies, and other spirits.

Yet those were not the items that received top billing Levers’s advertisement. His list commenced with “HYSON green and bohea teas, loaf and lump sugar, muscovado sugars, by the barrel or pound, [and] coffee and chocolate.” Levers likely chose to place those items first because they were so popular with consumers, but they also happened to correspond to the wares depicted in his shop sign. Before making his pitch – an appeal to consumer choice, an appeal to price, a catalog of goods to demonstrate consumer choice, a statement of appreciation to former customers, an appeal to quality, and another appeal to price – Levers first informed readers that he was located at “the sign of the Sugar-loaf, Pound of Chocolate, and Tea Cannister.” That sign conjured an evocative image of some of the most popular commodities in Philadelphia and throughout the colonies.

Like most signs that marked eighteenth-century shops, Levers’s sign no longer exists except in newspaper advertisements. Those advertisements constitute a partial catalog of the iconography deployed to mark retail shops, taverns, and artisans’ workshops. They also hint at the visual landscape colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of cities and towns. The “sign of the Sugar-loaf, Pound of Chocolate, and Tea Cannister” helped Levers direct customers to his shop in an era before standardized street numbers. It suggested to passersby what kind of merchandise they could expect to find within the shop. It also aided colonists in navigating the streets of the bustling port city. One need not have any business with Levers to use his shop sign as a landmark in giving or following directions.

Levers noted that he had “lately opened shop.” His newspaper advertisement helped achieve visibility for his new enterprise, but so did his shop sign. He did not limit his marketing efforts to the public prints. Instead, his sign served as a visual invitation for colonists to visit and remember his shop.

January 6

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

Jan 6 1770 - 1:6:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 6, 1769).

NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK … 1770.”

In the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in the new year, John Carter continued promoting “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770.” He once again ran an advertisement that had been continuously appearing in the pages of the Providence Gazette for the past two months. Such was the lot for printers throughout the colonies. Most who published almanacs began each new year with surplus copies that became less useful with each passing week. Many attempted for weeks or even months to rid themselves of those extras rather than have them count against potential profits.

To that end, lengthy advertisements listing the various contents of almanacs served Carter and other printers well. Printers emphasized that these reference volumes contained not just the astronomical calculations for each day but also reference items, informative essays, and entertaining anecdotes that readers could enjoy throughout the year. Carter, for instance, attempted to entice customers with a list of contents that included “Courts in the New-England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method,” “a curious Essay on Comets, with some Remarks on the extraordinary one that appeared in August and September last,” and “a beautiful Poem on Creation.” Even though the dates would pass for predictions about the weather and calculations for high tide, the other contents of the almanac retained their value and justified purchasing a copy days, weeks, or even months after the first of the year.

Carter’s first advertisement for 1770 included a modification that he made to the notice after it ran for a month. On December 2, 1769, he added a note at the end: “A considerable Allowance is made to those who take a Quantity.” In other words, the printer offered a discount for buying in volume to booksellers, shopkeepers, and others. He continued to offer this bargain in early January. Because such an investment became increasingly risky for retailers with each passing week, it became all the more imperative to underscore the many and varied features of the New-England Almanack. Carter aimed his advertisement at both consumers and retailers, perhaps even more eager to sell to “those who take a Quantity” than to customers who wished to acquire only a single copy.

January 5

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

Jan 5 1770 - 1:5:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 5, 1770).

“Ran away last Wednesday … an Apprentice Boy.”

The format and placement of Benjamin Mackay’s advertisement suggests that it was a late addition to the new edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Mackay reported that his apprentice, John Bowler, “Ran away last Wednesday” on January 3, 1770. The aggrieved master scrambled to insert an advertisement in the next issue of the colony’s only newspaper, published just two days later on Friday, January 5. Failing to do so would have forced Mackay to wait another week to alert the community by disseminating information about the runaway apprentice in print since the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other American newspapers published in the early 1770s, appeared only once a week.

Mackay apparently delivered his advertisement to the printing office too late for inclusion in any of the next issue’s twelve columns, three on each of four pages. The compositor had already set the type … but that did not mean that there was not any space for Mackay’s new and urgent advertisement. Compositors sometimes placed short advertisements and news items in the margins, an innovative strategy used only occasionally to include additional content. Mackay’s advertisement ran on the third page of the January 5 edition, running in the bottom margin across all three columns. The unique format possibly attracted the attention of some readers, but it also limited the number of details that Mackay could publish in that particular advertisement. Brevity allowed for speedy publication, but forced Mackay to carefully select which information to circulate to other colonists.

With more time to plan, he remedied that situation in the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He published another advertisement, nearly three times the length, that provided a much more extensive description of Bowler, including his approximate age, notable physical characteristics, and description of his clothing. In addition to offering a reward for apprehending and returning the apprentice, that second advertisement warned others against “entertaining or carrying off” Bowler.

That Mackay published a second advertisement at all suggests that the first was not successful, at least not in the short time between its publication and the compositor preparing the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Still, it had no chance of success if it had not appeared in the January 5 issue at all. By resorting to an innovative format for the advertisement, the compositor helped Mackay distribute time-sensitive information in the public prints as quickly as possible.

January 4

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

Jan 4 1770 - 1:4:1770 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (January 4, 1770).

“To be SOLD … A Healthy likely Negro.”

When the new year began in 1770, colonists in New York had access to four newspapers printed in their bustling port city. Hugh Gaine published the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on Mondays, the same day that James Parker circulated the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy. On Thursdays, John Holt distributed the New-York Journal. Commencing in May 1769, Alexander Robertson and James Robertson released a new issue of the New-York Chronicle on Thursdays. All four newspapers carried advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children, who comprised a significant portion of the population. According to the New-York Historical Society, “As many as 20 percent of colonial New Yorkers were enslaved Africans. … Almost every businessman in 18th-century New York had a stake, at one time or another, in the traffic of human beings.” Gaine, Parker, Holt, and the Robertsons certainly had a stake, generating revenue from advertisements offering enslaved people for sale and from notices describing those who escaped, the advertisers hoping that colonists would recognize, capture, and return “runaways” for a reward.

This advertisement seeking to sell a “Healthy likely Negro Wench, about Thirteen Years of Age,” appeared in the January 4, 1770, edition of the New-York Chronicle. As in so many other advertisements of this type, the seller did not include their name but instead instructed interested parties to “enquire of the Printers.” When they acted as information brokers in response to such enquiries, the Robertsons and other printers became even more enmeshed in the slave trade.

Yet the Robertsons ceased offering such services, not necessarily out of any moral compunction but instead because the New-York Chronicle closed down. The January 4 edition is the last known issue and, quite probably, the last issue of that newspaper. The newspaper did not survive an entire year, but the printers still managed to play a role in facilitating the slave trade in the colony. This advertisement offering a thirteen-year-old girl for sale ran on the final page of the January 4 edition. The New-York Chronicle helped to perpetuate slavery until the newspaper’s very end. New Yorkers then had one less place to insert advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children, but the disappearance of the New-York Chronicle likely made little difference in that regard. Three other newspapers continued to publish those advertisements, further embroiling colonial printers in maintaining and bolstering the slave trade. Gaine’s New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury tended to carry the most advertisements concerning enslaved people, but the others published them as well. As the 1770s dawned in New York, none of the city’s newspaper printers refused such advertisements and the fees associated with them.

January 3

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

Jan 3 1770 - 1:3:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 3, 1770.)

“The whole taken from the Boston Chronicle, in which they were first published.”

Newspaper printers participated in networks of exchange in eighteenth-century America, liberally reprinting articles, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another. Items originally published in, for example, Philadelphia’s newspapers found their way into newspapers printed in other colonies, both north and south. Over time, information radiated outward from the original place of publication. “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” penned by Pennsylvania lawyer and legislator John Dickinson, originally ran as a series of essays in newspapers printed in that colony, but printers from New England to Georgia reprinted the essays over the course of several months as they came into possession of them.

Although the most common, this was not the only means of acquiring coverage of current events published in newspapers in faraway colonies. Sometimes printers collected together several news items and republished them as pamphlets. At least four printers issued their own edition of the popular series of “Letters from a Farmer” in 1768. A couple of years later, an advertisement in the January 3, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette informed readers that they could purchase a different pamphlet, A State of the Importations from Great-Britain into the Port of Boston, from the Beginning of Jan. 1769, to Aug. 17th 1769. The entire narrative came directly “from the Boston Chronicle, in which they were first published.” John Mein and John Fleeming, printers of the Boston Chronicle, had collected together a series of articles that ran on the front page for several months.

The advertisement in the Georgia Gazette merely reiterated the lengthy title of this pamphlet, adopting a common marketing strategy in the eighteenth century when titles sometimes provided detailed overviews of the contents of books and pamphlets. Prospective customers learned that it included “the Advertisements of a Set of Men who assumed to themselves the Title of ‘All the Well Disposed Merchants,’ who entered into the a solemn Agreement, (as they called it) not to import Goods from Britain, and who undertook to give a ‘True Account’ of what should be imported by other persons.” Even the notation about “The whole taken from the Boston Chronicle, in which they were first published” appeared on the title page.

This pamphlet collected together lively coverage of recent events in Boston, including Mein’s accusations that prominent merchants played the part of patriots in public while secretly violating the nonimportation agreements for their own benefit. Mein, a Loyalist who resented such hypocrisy, named several of these “Well Disposed Merchants,” taking particular aim at John Hancock. His essays drew the ire of Boston’s patriots and led to violence, especially when Mein published insulting caricatures of many of Boston’s patriot leaders. By the time the advertisement for A State of the Importations ran in the Georgia Gazette, Mein had fled Boston to escape an angry mob.

James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, did not have enough space in the pages of his newspaper to reprint all of Mein’s explosive essays about Boston’s “Well Disposed Merchants.” Selling the pamphlet that collected them together, however, provided an alternative for sharing items that originally appeared in Boston’s newspaper with notorious Loyalist sympathies. Even if readers did not agree with Mein’s politics, they might have been curious to examine for themselves the spectacle that led to his flight from Boston.