April 8

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 8, 1771).

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

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

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

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

April 7

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

Pennsylvania Journal (April 4, 1771).

“Spencer has already given convincing proofs of his abilities.”

In the spring of 1771, Brent Spencer, a “Coach & Coach Harness MAKER,” opened a new shop on Lombard Street in Philadelphia.  In an advertisement in the April 4 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he noted that he drew on his experience “in all the branches of Coach, Chariot, Phaeton, and Chaise making” gained in London and Dublin.  Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, he intended that prospective customers would associate his time in those cities with superior skill and training.

That was one way of attempting to establish a reputation in a new place, but Spencer did not ask consumers merely to take his word.  Instead, he declared that he already had work on display in the local marketplace.  Spencer asserted that he had “already given convincing proofs of his abilities, in executing some of the principal Carriages now running in this city and province.”  He did not name his clients, but he did suggest that some of the most prominent residents of Philadelphia and its environs previously hired him.  Anyone who had admired or otherwise taken note of carriages already traversing the streets of the busy port city, Spencer suggested, had likely seen some that he constructed.

Given that he already cultivated a clientele among the better sorts, Spencer gave their peers and those who aspired to their ranks an opportunity to acquire one of his carriages.  Immediately following his comment about making “some of the principal Carriages” in the city, he noted that he “has now for sale a coach body and a waggon body, both of new construction.”  Prospective customers did not need to settle for secondhand carriages that may have previously belonged to friends or acquaintances, not when Spencer could outfit them with carriages that observers would recognize as new.

Spencer concluded his advertisement with assurances about customer service and low prices, two more reasons for consumers to purchase coaches from him.  In a short advertisement, he established his experience working in two of the largest cities in the empire, suggested that readers already glimpsed his carriages on the streets of Philadelphia, and promoted new carriages available at his shop.  Even for the most affluent colonists, purchasing a carriage was a major investment.  Spencer offered many reasons to choose his workshop over others in the city or imported alternatives.

April 6

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

Providence Gazette (April 6, 1771).

Consider his Misfortunes, and to favour him with their Custom.”

When Elisha Brown resumed “his former Right and Estate in the GRIST-MILL” that he once operated, he took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to increase his chances of success.  He outlined his plans for running the mill, but also attempted to play on the sympathies of prospective clients in an advertisement that first ran on April 6, 1771.  He acknowledged that he was back in business thanks to “the Favour and Assistance of many of his Creditors, and some of his Friends” and requested “the Favour of his former Customers … to consider his Misfortunes, and to favour him with their Custom.”  Brown did not elaborate on those “Misfortunes,” apparently believing the community was already familiar with them and would respond to his plea that they once again entrust their grain to him for processing.

To serve his customers, Brown planned “to give constant Attendance” at the mill from sunrise until nine o’clock at night.  He would “make their Meal good” as well as replace any bags lost by mistake, but specified that he needed customers’ assistance in bringing him grain that was “clean and dry” in well-marked bags.  Achieving customer satisfaction depended in part on the care that clients took in preparing their grain for the mill, yet the miller also played an important role in the process.  Brown aimed “to please his Customers,” but resumed operations on a trial basis.  He pledged that if he “should be so unfortunate as not to please them” he would “procure some other Person to tend said Mill to their Satisfaction.”  Brown hoped to earn the approbation of his clients on his own, but he recognized that the success of the business might ultimately depend on hiring an associate.

In the process of informing the community that he once again operated his mill, Brown constructed a narrative of redemption to encourage clients to avail themselves of his services.  He already benefited from the “Favour and Assistance” of creditors and friends who overlooked his “Misfortunes” and now called on former customers and prospective new ones to do the same.  He asked them to give him an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment and competence during a trial period, intending to win their trust and return business.

April 5

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 5, 1771).

“… till she behaves more like an obedient Wife.”

From New England to Georgia, runaway wife advertisements frequently appeared in early American newspapers.  Aggrieved husbands warned the public against extending credit to wives who departed their households.  Although these advertisements framed the women as spouses who abandoned both their household responsibilities and good social order, they also testified to one means at women’s disposal for exercising power in a society that granted so much authority to husbands.  Almost certainly, women were not always solely to blame when marital discord that became so severe that wives fled from husbands.  Men shaped the narrative when they published runaway wife advertisements, but they told only part of the story.

Such advertisements ran so often in colonial newspapers that they sometimes featured standardized or formulaic language, as in the case of Samuel Richardson’s notice in the April 5, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  “I forbid all Persons,” he stated, “trusting my Wife, Mary Richardson, any Thing on my Account.”  Although the conflict in the Richardson household may have attracted attention, the wording that Samuel chose did not merit particular notices.  Benjamin Wills, on the other hand, opted for language that did not regularly appear in this genre of advertising.  “Edea, the wicked Wife of me the Subscriber,” he proclaimed, “makes a constant practice of squandering away my Substance, and spends the most of her Time in running from House to House, chatting about those Things of neither Advantage nor Profit, running me in Debt, wherever she can get credit, and takes no care of my House nor Family.”  Benjamin catalogued specific grievances against his wife in the process of informing the community that he would “pay no Debts contracted by her … till she behaves more like an obedient Wife.”

Benjamin resorted to more colorful language than what appeared in most runaway wife advertisements.  Was this evidence of greater discord in the Wills household compared to others with husbands who placed such advertisements?  Did literacy play a part in the variations that made Benjamin’s advertisement so different from the standardized language of Samuel Richardson’s notice?  Wills signed his advertisement with “his + Mark,” an indication that he did not write it, though he very well may have dictated it.  Wills may have been able to read even if he could not sign his name, but he may have been familiar with runaway wife advertisements without regularly reading them and absorbing the formulaic wording.  He understood their function even if he did not replicate their usual form.  Realizing that such notices usually leveled accusations against willful wives, he may have done his best to explain why he found it necessary to publish the advertisement even though he did not have ready access to the usual words and phrases.

That Wills signed with “his + Mark” raises questions about the production of his advertisement.  Did he visit the printing office?  If so, did the printers offer any assistance in choosing the language or did they merely transcribe what Wills dictated?  Did Wills instead entrust someone in the town of Lee with transcribing the advertisement for him and then sent it to the printing office in Portsmouth?  If so, the printers did not have the opportunity to suggest the standardized words and phrases that so often appeared in runaway wife advertisements.  The variations in Wills’s advertisement may have been the result of his level of literacy and the process of producing the notice for publication.

April 4

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 4, 1771).

“Too many Articles to be enumerated.”

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently published extensive advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Those advertisements served as catalogs of their inventory, listing all sorts of goods they offered for sale.  Both the length and the number of entries communicated the array of choices available to consumers.  In the April 4, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, Joshua Gardner inserted an advertisement that filled half a column.  In a dense paragraph, he enumerated scores of “ENGLISH GOODS,” everything from textiles and trimmings to housewares and hardware.  Like many of his peers, he concluded with a promise of “sundry other articles” that would not fit in his advertisement.

Other advertisers did not describe the scope of their wares in such detail.  Some, like Ebenezer Storer, merely stated that they had on hand an “Assortment of GOODS” and invited prospective customers to visit their shops to see for themselves.  Others provided a preview of their merchandise, but dismissed the long lists published by competitors.  Margaret Newman and Robert Hall both took that approach.  Newman promoted her “neat Assortment of English & India GOODS” as well as an “Assortment of Paper Hangings, Felt Hats, Cutlery Ware,” and textiles.  Reiterating “Assortment” underscored choices for consumers, so many choices that a newspaper advertisement could not contain all of them.  Newman proclaimed that she could not even attempt to list her goods because they “Consist[ed] of too many Articles to be enumerated.”  In his advertisement for a “fresh Parcel of Garden Seeds” and a “Collection of the Best Kind of Fruit-Trees,” Hall insisted that he had “too many Sorts to be inserted in an Advertisement.”  Most of his competitors who placed advertisements in the same issue listed dozens of seeds or trees.

Both Newman and Hall suggested that they carried the same variety of goods as their competitors who published long lists of merchandise.  Their insistence that they had “too many Articles to be enumerated” even implied that they might offer more choices than their competitors who provided extensive accounts of their inventory, such a vast array that they could not select only some to appear in their advertisements.  Publishing shorter advertisements may have been motivated by financial concerns, but advertisers like Newman and Hall devised ways of making the length work to their advantage.

April 3

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

“RD. SAUSE. CUTLER.”

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery … or a means of capitalizing on a competitor’s marketing efforts.  On March 4, 1771, Bailey and Youle, cutlers from Sheffield, ran a newspaper advertisement notable for a woodcut that included their names and depictions of more than a dozen items available at their shop.  Four weeks later, another cutler, Richard Sause, inserted a strikingly similar advertisement in the same newspaper, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Like Bailey and Youle, his notice began with a woodcut that included his name and images of various items in his inventory.  He also listed those items and more, including “oyster knives, razors, scissors; pocket, pruning and pen knives; …[and] corkscrews.”  In addition to the assortment of merchandise represented in both image and text, Sause also stocked “sundry other things too tedious to mention.”

Sause further enhanced his woodcut by incorporating his name into the depictions of a table knife and a sword, a modification not present in Bailey and Youle’s image of their wares.  The table knife appeared in the upper left and the sword in the lower right, making it likely that viewers would encounter items branded with Sause’s name first and last as they glanced at the depictions of many kinds of cutlery.  Sause’s woodcut also featured a greater number of items, testifying to the many choices he offered to consumers.  In the copy that accompanied the image, he twice invoked variations of the phrase “other articles too tedious to mention,” deploying language not present in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement.  Using his competitor’s notice as a model, Sause devised improvement for his own.

It seems unlikely that Sause produced this advertisement without having seen the notice that Bailey and Youle placed in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Furthermore, whoever carved the original woodcut probably carved the second, given the similarities between several pieces of cutlery depicted in each.  Bailey and Youle continued running their advertisement when Sause’s notice first appeared, the similarities between the two all the more apparent because they were the only images that appeared anywhere in the April 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and its supplement, with the exception of the masthead.  When Bailey and Youle published an advertisement that increased their visibility in the marketplace, Sause took notice and shamelessly replicated their efforts.

Detail from Bailey and Youle’s advertisement, Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

April 2

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

“He will likewise dispose of at private sale, all his household furniture.”

In the spring of 1771, Sampson Neyle took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise what amounted to an eighteenth-century version of a moving sale.  He advised readers that he planned “to embark for England in few weeks” and planned to sell his belongings before departing.  He also called on “all persons who have accounts against him” to seek payment before he left Charleston.  Colonists frequently placed such advertisements in advance of making transatlantic trips.  They almost always mentioned settling accounts, but only some of them offered items for sale.

Neyle listed an assortment of “household furniture” for prospective buyers, including “a neat mahogany desk and book-case, cloaths press, shaving stand, chairs, tables, bedstead, [and] feather beds.”  He also intended to part with housewares like china and glass.  To make these items more attractive, Neyle suggested that even they were secondhand that they had been barely used.  He proclaimed, in italics to draw notice, that most of those items “were new about five months ago.”  Neyle’s moving sale presented an opportunity for buyers to benefit from bargains on slightly used consumer goods compared to what they would pay artisans and retailers for new items.

Yet Neyle also attempted to manage that discount and his own proceeds by first offering his belongings “at private sale.”  Only if necessary would he sponsor a “public sale.”  Here he likely made a distinction between one-on-one transactions with buyers and an auction.  A “private sale” of any or all of the items allowed Neyle to set prices and negotiate with buyers based on how much interest they demonstrated.  At an auction, however, he would have to settle for the highest bid … and anything that did not sell via “private sale” likely would not achieve a higher bid at auction.  In addition, sponsoring an auction also meant paying a vendue master, further eroding Neyle’s bottom line.

Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal encountered many invitations to participate in the consumer revolution.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans placed advertisements for all sorts of new goods, but other advertisers offered secondhand items as well.  Neyle and others who advertised moving sales expanded the number of ways that colonists could acquire goods, not unlike the many estate notices that listed used furniture and housewares for sale.

April 1

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 1, 1771).

“At the Black Boy and Butt.”

Two advertisements in the April 1, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post featured Black bodies on display, either as part of a device that marked the location of a shop or in the description of an enslaved man who liberated himself by fleeing from his enslaver.  In each instance, an advertiser laid claim to a Black body for his own purposes and benefit.

Jonathan Williams sold “Good Madeira,” other imported wines, and cider at his shop “in Cornhill.”  To help customers identify his business, Williams marked the location with a sign, “the Black Boy and Butt,” that depicted a Black child and a large cask.  Like other purveyors of goods and services who included shop signs in their advertisements, Williams presented an image intended to represent his business, a precursor to the modern logo.  In this instance, that image commodified not only wine through the depiction of the cask but also Black men, women, and children through the depiction of the “Black Boy.”  Both wine and enslaved Black people arrived in Boston and elsewhere in the colonies via networks of trade that crisscrossed the Atlantic.  Colonial consumers very well knew that commerce depended in large part on enslaved labor and the transatlantic slave trade.  In placing a Black boy and a cask on display, Williams’s shop sign encapsulated that relationship.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (April 1, 1771).

Elsewhere among the advertisements in that issue, Hugh McLean of Milton provided a description of “a Negro Man, named Peleg Abby” and offered a reward to “Whoever will apprehend said Runaway.”  According to McLean, Abby was “about 26 Years of Age” and “about Five Feet Six Inches high.”  To help readers recognize the fugitive who sought his freedom so they could return him to bondage, McLean also documented the clothes Abby wore when he departed and other clothes he took with him.  McLean placed the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, but that version also included a generic woodcut of a Black man on the run.  The image helped draw attention to that advertisement at the same time that McLean asked readers to take careful note of the age, height, and clothing of all Black men they encountered in order to discern if any of them might be the enslaved man he sought to recover.

Black people were a common sight in Boston and its hinterlands in the colonial period on the eve of the American Revolution.  Descriptions of Black bodies, sometimes accompanied by nondescript woodcuts, were also subjects of interest in the public prints, frequently appearing in newspaper advertisements published in the bustling port city.  Their presence testified to the extent that both culture and commerce, even in New England, were enmeshed the transatlantic slave trade and the perpetuation of slavery in the colonies.

March 31

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 28, 1771).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the SPY are also taken in by Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker.”

Most newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s did not have extensive colophons.  Consider, for example, those newspapers published at the time that Isaiah Thomas relaunched the Massachusetts Spy on March 7, 1771.  The colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter simply stated, “BOSTON: Printed by R. DRAPER.”  Similarly, the colophon for the Boston Evening-Post read, in its entirety, “BOSTON: Printed by T. and J. FLEET.”  The Boston-Gazette also had a short colophon, “Boston, Printed by EDES & GILL.”  Limited to “Printed by GREEN & RUSSELL,” the colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy did not even list the city.  All of those colophons appeared at the end of the final column on the last page.

In contrast, Thomas adopted a style much more often (but not universally) deployed in newspapers published in other cities and towns.  Extending across all four columns on the final page, it provided much more information about the Massachusetts Spy for readers, prospective subscribers and advertisers, and others who might have business with the printing office.  He included his location, “UNION-STREET, near the Market,” and listed the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence” annually.  He also noted that he sought advertising, but did not specify the rates.  In addition, Thomas stated that “Articles of Intelligence … are thankfully received.”  In other words, he solicited contributions to print or reprint in the Spy.  Like other newspaper printers, he accepted job printing as a means of supplementing the revenues from subscriptions and advertising.  Thomas proclaimed that he could produce “Small Hand-Bills at an Hour’s Notice.”  He provided all of the services available in other printing offices.

Thomas included an additional enhancement in his colophon, one that not only did not appear in other newspapers published in Boston but also did not appear in other newspapers published throughout the colonies.  He listed local agents who accepted subscriptions for the Spy in towns beyond Boston: “Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker, and Mr. W. Calder, painter, in Charlestown; Mr. J. Hillier, watch-maker, in Salem; Mr. B. Emerson, Bookseller, in Newbury-Port; and Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgewater.”  That portion of the colophon reflected advertisements Thomas placed in other newspapers prior to relaunching the Spy.  It testified to a network the printer established for gathering sufficient subscribers to make his newspaper a viable enterprise.  The list also made it more convenient for prospective subscribers to order their copies of the Spy.  Those who lived in any of the towns listed in the colophon could deal directly with the local agents rather than dispatch letters to the printing office in Boston.

When it came to publishing a newspaper in Boston, Thomas was a newcomer in the early 1770s.  All of the other newspapers in circulation had been established for many years.  Perhaps the printers believed that their newspapers and their printing offices were so familiar to readers that they did not need extensive colophons providing a lot of information.  Thomas chose a different model, one much more common in newspapers published in other places.  In the process, he added his own innovation, listing local agents, in order to gain greater advantage of the portion of each issue that he surrendered to the colophon.

March 30

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

Providence Gazette (March 30, 1771).

“He continues to carry on the Sail-making Business.”

In an advertisement in the March 30, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, John Sinkins advised readers that “he continues to carry on the Sail-making Business, in all its Branches, in the cheapest and neatest Manner.”  His notice was one of only a few that promoted goods and services.  Others placed advertisements for a variety of reasons, many of them delivering news of various sorts.  The notice that Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer of the colony, placed on behalf of the General Assembly concerning the conversion of “Old Tenor Bills” into “Treasurer’s Note or Notes” appeared once again, alerting readers to take action before July 1.  An advertisement concerning “a fifth Packet-Boat” to transport mail between Falmouth and New York that ran in newspapers throughout the colonies found a place in the Providence Gazette again.

Many of the advertisements focused on real estate, including one from Thompson and Arnold that described two houses in Providence, a “Lot of excellent Land on the main Street,” and several acres of salt marsh for sale.  Sylvanus Sayles sought to sell or lease a farm in North Providence, while John Andrews had a farm in Coventry to sell and a house in Providence to lease.  Moses Lyon and Hezekiah Carpenter both placed notices about other properties, as did an anonymous advertiser who instructed anyone interested in a “Large Brick DWELLING-HOUSE” in East Greenwich to “enquire of the Printer” for “further Particulars.”  Elizabeth Arnold, administratrix for her deceased husband, ran an estate notice that called on “all Persons who are indebted” and “all Persons who have just Demands” to settle accounts.  She also noted that she had a “large and commodious Lot directly opposite the Court-House” to lease.  James Seamans also ran an estate notice concerning Mary Jenckes, “late of Providence, deceased, and Widow of the late William Jenckes, Esq; of Pawtucket.”

John Jenkins continued to hawk a “NEAT Assortment of QUEEN’s WARE,” while Joseph Russell and William Russell sold garden seeds and Abiel Wood accepted orders for “North-American LUMBER.”  Along with Sinkin’s advertisement for sails, these advertisements comprised a small fraction of the paid notices that appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  Purveyors of goods and services certainly attempted to harness the early American press in their efforts to generate sales, but many other kinds of advertisements ran alongside their notices.  Those other notices relayed a variety of news and updates about local events that did not appear elsewhere in the newspaper.