October 9

What was (not) advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 9, 1771).

“Advertisements omitted this Week, will be inserted in our next.”

Nearly three dozen advertisements appeared in the October 7, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but William Goddard, the printer, did not have enough space to publish all of the notices submitted to his printing office on Arch Street in Philadelphia.  Neither did he have room for all of the news.  The final column of the third page concluded with a brief note advising that “Advertisements omitted this Week, will be inserted in our next.  Also a Variety of Intelligence which we are now obliged to postpone, in order to oblige our advertising Customers.”

Colonial newspapers generated revenue along two trajectories:  subscriptions and advertising.  Subscribers purchased access to the “freshest advices, foreign and domestic,” as the mastheads for many newspapers described the news. Advertisers, in turn, purchased access to readers.  They sought to place their notices before the eyes of as many readers as possible.  Printers sometimes commented on how many subscribers received their newspapers as a means of encouraging prospective advertisers to place notices.  In making decisions about what to publish, printers had to balance news and advertising in order to satisfy both subscribers and advertisers.  Displeasing one constituency or the other had the potential to negatively affect revenues.

Printers regularly informed readers that they postponed advertisements, a means of assuring advertisers that their notices would indeed soon appear.  Most printers, however, did not often explicitly comment on their endeavors to serve their advertisers, making Goddard’s note about “oblig[ing] our advertising Customers” all the more remarkable.  He revealed to readers, subscribers and advertisers alike, that publishing advertisements sometimes took priority over “a Variety of Intelligence” that he might otherwise have published.  While he framed this as a service to customers who placed notices, the revenues those advertisements represented could not have been far from his mind.  Goddard was willing to delay some advertisements until the next edition, but not too many of them as he aimed to please both subscribers and advertisers.

October 8

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 8, 1771).

“Yorkshire STUFFS for Negro [Women’s] Gowns.”

The partnership of Powell, Hopton, and Company announced the sale of “A Cargo of One Hundred and Thirty-three HEALTHY and PRIME NEGROES” recently arrived from Gambia in an advertisement in the October 8, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Elsewhere in the same issue, an anonymous advertiser offered to hire out an enslaved woman as a wet nurse “by the month,” instructing interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.  Both the unnamed advertiser and Powell, Hopton, and Company sought to generate revenues by participating in the slave trade.

John Davies also stood to profit from the slave trade, though not from selling or leasing enslaved people.  Instead, he peddled goods to enslavers.  In his advertisement, Davies hawked “SUNDRY MERCHANDIZE” imported from London, calling special attention to “a large ASSORTMENT of Yorkshire STUFFS for Negro [Women’s] Gowns.”  Other merchants and shopkeepers placed extensive advertisements that listed dozens of items available at their stores and warehouses, hoping to entice consumers with the many choices available to them.  For Davies and his prospective customers, however, choice was largely irrelevant.  The enslaved women who would wear garments made of the textiles Davies sold were not consumers; they did not do the shopping or select the cloth according to their own tastes and budgets.  Davies did not need to make the same marketing appeals to the enslavers who purchased his “Yorkshire STUFFS” as other advertisers made to prospective customers.

Davies received his merchandise from London via the Magna Charta, a vessel named for a royal charter understood as protecting individual English freedoms.  The tension between liberty and enslavement contained within his advertisement apparently did not register with Davies as he attempted to earn his livelihood through supplying enslavers who bought his goods and also purchased the human cargo that arrived in Charleston on ships from Africa.  The slave trade had so many tentacles that colonists did not have to buy and sell enslaved people in order to profit from it.

October 7

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 7, 1771).

“High Gaine has for sale, a great variety of books.”

Although some colonial printers reserved the final pages of their newspapers for advertising, not all did so.  In many newspapers, paid notices could and did appear on any page, including the front page.  Such was the case in Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Consider the issue for October 7, 1771.  Gaine divided the first page between news items and advertising, filling the first two columns with the former and the last two with the latter.  He did the sane on the second page.  On the third page, he arranged news in the first column and into the second, but the bottom half of the second column as well as the remaining two columns consisted entirely of advertising.  Gaine gave over the entire final page to paid notices.

In general, Gaine placed news and advertising next to each other, but, like other printers who followed that method, he did not intersperse news and advertising on the page.  He delineated space intended for news and space intended for advertising rather than having paid notices appear among news items and editorials … with one exception.  He inserted an advertisement for books, stationery, and other items available at his printing office among the news on the third page. That advertisement appeared below a death notice for “Mrs. Cooke, Wife of the Rev. Mr. Cooke, Missionary at Shrewsbury,” and above the shipping news from the New York Custom House.  A line of ornamental type then separated the news (and Gaine’s advertisement) from the advertisements that completed the column and filled the remainder of the page.  In choosing this format, Gaine increased the likelihood that readers perusing the newspaper for news and skipping over the sections for advertising would see his own advertisement.  He was not the only colonial printer who sometimes adopted that strategy, leveraging his access to the press to give his own advertisement a privileged place.  Gaine inserted other advertisements elsewhere in the October 7 edition, most of them short notices intended to complete a column, but he exerted special effort in drawing attention to his most extensive advertisement by embedding it among the news.  His customers who purchased space for their notices did not have the same option.

October 6

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 3, 1771).

“Fifes, Violins, Powder, / Lead, Shott, / Steel, &c.”

Gilbert Deblois used graphic design to increase the likelihood that his newspapers advertisements would attract the attention of prospective customers interested in the “very large Assortment of Winter Goods” available at his shop on School Street in Boston in the fall of 1771.  Rather than publish a dense block of text like most of his competitors who advertised, he instead opted for arranging the copy in the shape of a diamond.  The shopkeeper did so consistently in three newspapers printed in Boston, starting with the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on September 30 and then continuing in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on October 3.  The unique design likely made his advertisement notable for readers who saw it once and even more memorable for anyone who encountered variations of it in two or three newspapers.

In most instances, advertisers were responsible for generating the copy for their notices and then compositors determined the format.  On occasion, however, advertisers like Deblois made special requests, submitted instructions, or possibly even consulted with printers and compositors about how they wanted their advertisements to appear.  The compositors at the first two newspapers who ran Deblois’s advertisement took different approaches.  In the Boston Evening-Post, the text ran upward at a forty-five degree angle and formed an irregular diamond that filled the entire space purchased by the shopkeeper.  In contrast, the compositor for the Boston-Gazette used the same copy but arranged it in lines of increasing and then decreasing length to form a diamond surrounded by a significant amount of white space.  Though different, both sorts of diamonds made Deblois’s advertisements much more visible in the pages of the newspapers.  The advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury followed the latter design, but the compositor did not merely copy it from the Boston-Gazette.  The advertisement published on October 3 had a longer list of goods that the compositor had to accommodate in the design.

The copy itself did not distinguish Deblois’s advertisements from others that appeared in any of the newspapers published in Boston, but intentional choices about the format made his notices distinctive.  Deblois stocked the same merchandise “Just Imported from LONDON” as his competitors, but he used innovative design to generate interest among consumers who had many choices.

October 5

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

Providence Gazette (October 5, 1771).

“Some evil-minded Person or Persons have attempted to destroy a new Store.”

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, did not include much local news in the October 5, 1771, edition of his newspaper.  Of the twelve columns spread over four pages in that issue, only two-thirds of a column featured news under the heading “PROVIDENCE.”  Such was the case in most colonial newspapers, most of them a weekly publication schedule.  Local news tended to spread by word of mouth before printers took their newspapers to press.

Even as printers like Carter made their own editorial decisions about which news to feature and which to exclude, advertisers paid to highlight certain events in the notices they placed.  As a result, advertisements often delivered news or elaborated on stories already in circulation.  Consider, for instance, an advertisement placed by the partnership of White, Allen, and Waterman.  According to that notice, “some evil-minded Person or Persons have attempted to destroy a new Store … by putting Fire through one of the Windows” and setting a barrel on fire.  Fortunately for the proprietors, that barrel contained “some Bayberry-Wax” and the fire “was happily extinguished by the running of the Wax.”  The partners offered a reward to “Whoever will give Information of the villainous Author or Authors of this wicked and diabolical Act, so that he or they may be legally convicted.”

Among the other advertisements in that issue of the Providence Gazette, readers encountered estate notices placed by executors, calls for creditors of colonists who presented petitions related to an Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors to appear in court, and an announcement that the proprietors of the Providence Library would meet the following week to conduct business vital to the continued operations of that institution.  Such local news that ran as advertisements, interspersed among notices for consumer goods and services, filled more space than the “PROVIDENCE” news selected by the printer.  Readers interested in all of the “freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic” promised in the masthead needed to peruse the advertisements in addition to the other contents of the newspaper.

October 4

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 4, 1771).

“N.B. Said Griffith / continues to carry one / the Goldsmith’s Business as usual.”

Like many other advertisements for consumer goods and services that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers, William Knight’s notice in the October 4, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured a dense paragraph of text that listed the many items available at his shop.  George Taylor, a tailor, published an advertisement similar in appearance, though shorter.  Each included the advertiser’s name in larger font for a headline and capitalized a few key words to guide readers through the content, but neither relied on graphic design to capture the attention of prospective customers.

The format of David Griffith’s advertisement, on the other hand, distinguished it from most others in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It included formulaic language, such as “Just Imported from LONDON” and “A large Assortment of English Goods,” but either Griffith or the compositor decided to break many of the phrases and sentences into shorter lines and center them.  “Just Imported from LONDON,” for instance, occupied three lines as “Just / Imported / from LONDON.”  A nota bene at the end of the advertisement informed readers that “Said Griffith continues to carry on the Goldsmith’s Business as usual, at the same House, Likewise, as low as is done or can be had in this Town, or Boston, &c.”  Text that could have fit in three lines extended over nine, some of them featuring only one or two words, to create an irregular shape with copious white space.  The design gave Griffith’s advertisement a very different appearance compared to Knight’s notice immediately to the right.

Yet Griffith was not committed to innovative graphic design as a matter of principle or consistent marketing strategy.  His advertisement advised that “The Particulars” about the imported goods “will be in our next” newspaper.  The format of that advertisement replicated Knight’s advertisement and so many others, a dense paragraph of text that listed dozens of items.  That advertisement extended an entire column and overflowed into a second column.  Purchasing the space that would have allowed for a more innovative format may have been prohibitively expensive.  Between the two advertisements, Griffith demonstrated what was possible and what was probable when it came to graphic design for eighteenth-century newspaper notices.

October 3

GUEST CURATOR:  Katerina Barbas

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

New-York Journal (October 3, 1771).

“A Woman of good character … may hear of a place by inquiring of the Printer hereof.”

This advertisement highlights traditional gender roles for European colonists in colonial America. European gender roles constituted that the ideal family was led by a man who was in charge of his family and represented it beyond the home, while a woman performed domestic work and ran the household. These European gender roles were brought to the colonies in the new world. According to an article on National Geographic’s website, white women in colonial America had responsibilities within the household such as cooking, cleaning, sewing, making soap and candles, and caring for and educating children, which was their primary role. Seeking a “woman of a good character” required that the woman be an exceptional role model, because she would be supporting the emotional and moral development of the children and prepare them for adulthood. A woman who responded to this advertisement would have been responsible for teaching young girls in the family how to perform household tasks in order to prepare them for the traditional role as wife and mother.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Among the many legal notices and advertisements for consumer goods and services that colonists paid to insert in the New-York Journal, a variety of employment advertisements appeared as well.  Many of them featured labor undertaken by women.  In the advertisement Katerina chose to feature today, an unnamed advertiser sought a woman willing to move fourteen miles from the busy port to serve as a “nursery maid” for a family in the countryside.  In another advertisement in the October 3, 1771, edition, another anonymous advertiser offered work for a “Careful woman who understands washing, cooking … and is willing to do all work in a middling family.”  That advertisement concluded with a nota bene proclaiming that “None need apply without being able to produce a good character from reputable people.”  In other words, candidates needed to produce references before entering the household.  The family in the countryside seeking a nursery maid also likely requested similar assurances.

In both instances, the prospective employers relied on John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, to act as a broker.  The family in the countryside informed prospective nursery maids that they “may hear of a place by inquiring of the Printer hereof.”  Similarly, the “middling family” instructed women with appropriate references that they “may hear of employment by applying to the printer.”  Holt disseminated some information in print, but, at the request of advertisers, reserved some details only for readers who contacted the printing office.  That was also the case for a “likely healthy Negro” woman offered for sale.  An unnamed enslaver described the woman as “an excellent thorough Cook” who could “pickle and preserve.”  The advertisement did not say much else about the woman except that she was “about 24 Years of Age.”  Like so many other advertisements, it declared, “for Particulars, inquire of the Printer.”  In this instance, Holt became not only an information broker but also a broker of enslaved labor.  He actively facilitated the slave trade, first by running the advertisement in his newspaper and then by collaborating with enslavers who bought and sold the “likely healthy Negro” woman.

Colonists turned to the public prints as a clearinghouse for acquiring workers, female as well as male.  Advertisements offering employment to women maintained expectations about the roles they fulfilled within families, like cooking, cleaning, and caring for children.  Some of those advertisements offered women new opportunities with employers of their choosing, but others merely perpetuated the enslavement of Black women.  Gender played an important part in shaping the experiences of women who applied to the advertisement Katerina selected for today, but it was not the only factor that defined their role in New York and other colonies.

October 2

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (September 30, 1771).

“Choice Bohea, Souchon, and Hyson Tea.”

In the fall of 1771, Gilbert Deblois deployed graphic design to distinguish his newspaper advertisements from those placed by his competitors.  On September 30, he ran an advertisement with a unique format in the Boston Evening-Post.  The text ran upward at forty-five degree angles, creating an irregular diamond that filled the entire block of space he purchased in that issue.  That same day, he ran an advertisement featuring the same copy arranged in another distinctive format in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette.  The text once again formed a diamond, that one created by centering lines of text of progressively longer and then shorter lengths.  In contrast to the advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post, this one incorporated a significant amount of white space into Deblois’s notice.

That these advertisements appeared simultaneously in two newspapers published in Boston demonstrated that Deblois carefully coordinated an advertising campaign intended to attract attention with its unusual typography.  The compositors at the Boston Evening-Post and Boston-Gazette would not have independently decided to experiment with the format of Deblois’s advertisements.  Instead, the shopkeeper must have worked with the compositors or at least sent instructions to the printing offices to express his wishes for innovative graphic design.

In most instances, advertisers submitted copy and left it to compositors to produce an appropriate format.  Advertisements that ran in multiple newspapers often had variations in font size, capitalization, and italics according to the preference of the compositors, even as the copy remained consistent.  On occasion, however, advertisers assumed greater control over the design of their notices, creating spectacles on the page.  Both of Deblois’s notices demanded attention from readers because they deviated visually so significantly from anything else in the newspaper.  Deblois did not have to commission a woodcut or include a variety of ornamental type in his notices in order for them to stand out from others.  He achieved that by working with the compositors to determine what they could accomplish solely by arranging the text in unexpected ways.

October 1

GUEST CURATOR:  Carl Allard

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 1, 1771).

“RUN-AWAY … a negro man named JACK.”

One part of the mission of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project is to understand the lives of enslaved people through information gathered from “RUN-AWAY” advertisements. In late September 1771, an enslaved man named Jack liberated himself by running away from Meyer Moses, a colonist who bore the name of the biblical figure who liberated the enslaved Israelites yet ironically sought to return Jack to bondage. This advertisement not only details the fascinating biography of Jack, but also remains a testimony to hope. Jack’s escape, a struggle against immense opposition, runs parallel to what we know of his medical history. The ad states Jack was, “much pitted in the face with the small pox, one of his feet frost-bitten.” According to Elizabeth Fenn, medical data from that era suggests the mortality rate of smallpox was quite high; if the hemorrhaging pustules overlapped, one stood a 60 percent chance of dying.  Certainly, Jack’s self-liberation was just the latest in a series of struggles that he had overcome. The advertisement reveals that Jack “speaks good English.” This skill, as David Waldstreicher notes, might have been a powerful tool to secure passage on a ship, as the advertisement stated Jack planned on doing.[1] Waldstreicher also observes that self-liberated people, such as Jack, were often self-fashioning. Clothing choice, such as the “soldier’s coat” Jack wore, was central to the success of enslaved people pursuing freedom, allowing them to try to blend in as free.[2]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

For the next three months, the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project will feature work undertaken by students who enrolled in my Research Methods: Vast Early America course at Assumption University in Spring 2021.  Required of all History majors in the spring of their junior year to prepare them to pursue their own projects under the direction of a faculty mentor in the capstone seminar in the fall of their senior year, Research Methods focuses on important skills:  accessing and interpreting primary sources and understanding and evaluating secondary sources.  Students complete an historiographical essay for their final project in Research Methods, but throughout the semester they complete smaller projects that help them develop their skills.

To that end, I invite my students to serve as guest curators for the digital humanities projects I have created.  As guest curator, Carl Allard, the author of today’s entry, was responsible for navigating four databases of digitized eighteenth-century American newspapers to create an archive of issues originally published between September 26 and October 2, 1771.  From there, he selected an advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project.  He conducted research to identify secondary sources beyond those we examined in class and then drafted a short entry.  I reviewed that draft and offered suggestions for revisions.  Carl then set about editing and resubmitting his entry.  As he worked on his entry, he also made contributions to the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, composing the tweets to accompany the advertisements that appear on the project this week.  He selected a key quotation from each advertisement and inserted a citation that included the name of the newspaper and publication date.  Throughout the process, he adhered to filename conventions and other methodologies not usually visible to readers and followers but imperative for the behind-the-scenes production of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  As a result, his classmates, my research assistant, and I could all easily access and consult data Carl contributed to the projects as we each completed our own duties in presenting them to the public.

Each student whose work will be featured in the next three months developed the same skills and made similar contributions.  In that regard they were not merely students but junior colleagues who assumed significant responsibilities in the ongoing production of these digital humanities projects.  They did not simply learn about the past; instead, they spent the semester “doing history” as they prepared to once again “do history” this semester in their capstone seminar.  I very much appreciate the hard work and dedication of each of the guest curators from my Research Methods class.

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[1] David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways: Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 56, no. 2 (April 1999): 259-260.

[2] David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways,” 253.

September 30

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

Boston Evening-Post (September 30, 1771).

“A very large Assortment of Winter Goods.”

Most advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers consisted text unadorned with images, though some did feature woodcuts depicting ships, houses, enslaved people, horses, or, even less frequently, shop signs.  Despite the lack of images, advertisers and compositors sometimes experimented with graphic design in order to draw attention to newspaper notices.  Some of those efforts were rather rudimentary.  In the September 30, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post, for instance, Hopestill Capen’s name served as the headline for his advertisement.  That was not unusual, but the size of the font was.  Larger than the names of any other merchants and shopkeepers who placed advertisements in that issue, the size of Capen’s name demanded attention for his advertisement.  Thomas Lee pursued a similar strategy with a headline proclaiming “SILKS” in a large font.

Capen and Lee may or may not have consulted with the printer or compositor about those elements of their advertisements.  They may have submitted the copy and left the design to the compositor.  Gilbert Deblois, on the other hand, almost certainly gave instructions or even spoke with the compositor concerning the unique format of his advertisement.  The text ran upward at a forty-five degree angle, distinguishing it from anything else that appeared in the pages of the Boston Evening-Post.  Deblois hawked a “very large Assortment of Winter Goods, with every other Kind imported from Great-Britain.”  In so doing, he used formulaic language that appeared in countless other advertisements in the 1760s and early 1770s.  Yet he devised a way to make his message more interesting and noticeable.  That likely required a greater investment on his part.  Advertisers usually paid for the amount of space their notices occupied, not by the word, but in this case setting type at an angle required extraordinary work on the part of the compositor.  Reorienting Deblois’s advertisement was not merely a matter of selecting a larger font, incorporating more white space, or including ornamental type for visual interest.

Deblois carried many of the same goods as Capen, Caleb Blanchard, and Nathan Frazier, all of them competitors who placed much longer advertisements listing the many items among their merchandise.  Rather than confront consumers with the many choices available to them at his shop, Deblois instead opted to incite interest for his “large Assortment of Winter Good” using graphic design to draw attention to his advertising copy.  The unique format of his advertisement made it stand out among the dozens that appeared in that issue of the Boston Evening-Post.