May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 16, 1770).

“WILLIAMS and MACKAY’s Copartnership will expire in June next.”

It would have been nearly impossible for readers of the Georgia Gazette not to know that “WILLIAMS AND MACKAY’s Copartnership will expire” in June 1770.  The partners ran an advertisement to that effect in every issue for several months.  They commenced their efforts to notify “all indebted to that concern” to settle accounts in the January 3 edition of the Georgia Gazette.  That advertisement, the first item on the first page, bore a dateline at its conclusion: “Augusta, 1st January, 1770.”  The following week they published a slightly revised version, adding “Pack Horses, Indian Debts” to the list of items they continued to sell at “Their Trading House in Augusta.”  Doing so required resetting the type for the second half of the advertisement, but the compositor left the first half intact.

That advertisement ran for thirteen weeks before Williams and Mackay updated it again.  (I am assuming that it appeared in the March 14 edition.  The fourth page, usually reserved for advertisements in the Georgia Gazette, is missing from the digitized copy available via America’s Historical Newspapers).  Throughout that time, that advertisement advised that they sought to sell the trading house itself, “which may be entered upon the first of April next.”  Apparently, they did not find any purchasers by that time.  On April 11, they further revised the copy to state that the trading house “may be entered upon immediately.”  This required resetting type in the second half of the advertisement once again.  At that time, the dateline also disappeared from the advertisement.

For at least twenty consecutive weeks one iteration or another of Williams and Mackay’s advertisement ran in the Georgia Gazette.  It may have continued past the May 16 edition, but those issues have not survived.  America’s Historical Newspapers includes the first two pages of the May 23 edition, but by that time this advertisement had migrated to the last two.  That’s the end of both known copies of the Georgia Gazette and digitized editions that make them more accessible.  Inserting their advertisement that many times would have been a significant investment for Williams and Mackay.  For James Johnston, the printer, this advertising campaign yielded revenues that supported the dissemination of the news that appeared elsewhere in the Georgia Gazette.  Regular readers likely became accustomed to seeing the advertisement over the course of nearly half a year.  By inserting it so often, Williams and Mackay increased the chances that even those who read the Georgia Gazette only sporadically would see their notice.

May 15

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

May 15 - 5:15:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 15, 1770).

“Said HILLER has to sell, a Variety of Watch Chains, Strings, Keyes, Seals.”

When Joseph Hiller, a clock- and watchmaker, set up shop in a new location, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to alert “the Public and his Customers in general, and those of them in the County of ESSEX in particular.”  Hiller had not only moved to a new location, he also moved to a new town.  He explained that he formerly operated a shop on King Street in Boston, but now customers could find him at “a Shop opposite the Court-House, on the Exchange, in SALEM.”  He hoped to retain those customers that he could, especially those who resided close to his new location, but he also aimed to attract new clients in Salem and its environs who may not have been previously inclined to seek out his services in Boston but would now consider his shop a viable option given its proximity.

To that end, he proclaimed that he would “execute all Sorts of CLOCK and WATCH WORK with such Accuracy, Fidelity and Dispatch, as to merit the Approbation of his Employers.”  Previous customers were already familiar with Hiller’s skill and service, so that portion of the advertisement served as an introduction to those who had not previously hired him.  He deployed appeals that artisans commonly incorporated into their advertisements, “Accuracy” testifying to the quality of his work and “Fidelity and Dispatch” applying to the customer service he provided.  While Hiller’s advertisement was not particularly innovative, it did demonstrate that he was competent, at least in how he represented his business in print.  Prospective clients could test those claims for themselves.

In an additional effort to entice customers into his new shop, Hiller appended a nota bene advising that he did more than make and repair clocks and watches.  He also carried a variety of accessories associated with his business: “Watch Chains, Strings, Keys, Seals.”  Selling these items supplemented the revenues that Hiller earned from his primary occupation; purchasing them allowed consumers to express their own tastes in embellishing their clocks and watches.  That Hiller made them available at all may have aroused the curiosity of prospective customers, encouraging them to visit his new shop to examine the accessories even if they did not wish to purchase a clock or watch or arrange for repairs.  As a newcomer in Salem, Hiller offered various reasons for consumers to make a call at his shop.

May 14

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

May 14 - 5:14:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 14, 1770).

“She has had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”

Mary Morcomb did not indicate how recently she had arrived in New York in her advertisement, but it was recently enough that she described herself as a “Mantua-Maker, from London.”  After migrating to the colonies, she hoped to establish a new clientele.  To that end, she informed readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that she made “all sorts of negligees, Brunswick dresses, gowns, and every other sort of lady’s apparel.”  In addition, she extended her skills working with textiles to “cover[ing] UMBRELLOES in the neatest and most fashionable manner.”  Invoking her London origins testified to her access to the latest styles and taste, reassuring prospective customers that she did indeed produce both garments and umbrellas, a new and exotic accessory in the early 1770s, in the “most fashionable manner.”

As a newcomer who could not depend on a reputation established through interacting with clients and acquaintances over time, Morcomb instead attempted to accelerate the process.  She claimed that she already “had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”  Those ladies, Morcomb reported, were satisfied with the garments she made for them and had “declared their approbation of her work.”  This was a secondhand testimonial, delivered by the provider of the goods and services, yet Morcomb hoped it would be sufficient to garner “encouragement from the ladies, in her business.”  She concluded by pledging that if prospective clients put their trust in her that they “May depend upon having their work done with all possible care and dispatch.”

In her effort to attract new customers, Morcomb deployed strategies often used by artisans, especially those in the garment trades, who only recently arrived in the colonies.  Many emphasized their connections to cosmopolitan cities where they had access to the latest fashions and then suggested that this already translated to serving select clients in their new location.  Although unfamiliar to many residents in their communities, Morcomb and other artisans attempted to incite demand by asserting that their services were already in demand.  Prospective customers should be eager to hire them, they proposed, because they had already successfully demonstrated their proficiency at their trades.

May 13

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

May 13 - 5:10:1770 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (May 10, 1770).

“WATT’S PSALMS … with a PREFACE of twenty four pages.”

John Mein and John Fleeming, printers of the Boston Chronicle, also printed and sold “WATT’S PSALMS WITH HIS HYMNS AND SPIRITUAL SONGS.”  Given the popularity of Isaac Watt’s Psalms, American printers produced several editions in the eighteenth century and booksellers imported others from London.  To incite demand for their edition, Mein and Fleeming sought to distinguish it from others.

They began by supplementing the title of the book with additional notes.  In writing the copy for advertisements for books, printers and booksellers often simply listed the title and extensive subtitle that doubled as a table of contents.  That preview gave prospective customers a glimpse of what they would encounter when they purchased and read books themselves.  In this case, however, Mein and Fleeming further embellished the subtitle of Watt’s Psalms: “IMITATED in the language of the NEW-TESTAMENT, and applied to the Christian state and worship, with a PREFACE of twenty four pages, being a Discourse on the right way of fitting the PSALMS of DAVID for Christian Worship.”  The underlined portion identifies deviations from the title page, which instead reads: “with the preface, or an enquiry in to the right way.”  Mein and Fleeming then described the contents of those twenty-four pages in greater detail before giving the same treatment to the “NOTES at the end of the PSALMS.”

The printers had good reason to be so particular.  They concluded their advertisement by proclaiming, “This is the only Edition of Dr. WATTS’s PSALMS and HYMNS printed in AMERICA, with the large Preface and Notes.”  They sought to underscore the value of their edition compared to others produced by local printers, drawing attention to the twenty-four pages in the preface as well as the notes and “proper directions for SINGING” that followed the hymns.  Although infamous loyalists, they appropriated the “Buy American” strategy deployed by supporters of the patriot cause in service of selling their edition of Watts’s Psalms.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 12, 1770).

“B L A N K S.”

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement for printed blanks into his own newspaper in 1770, using one element of his business to promote another.  Even when he did not run his notice for “BLANKS,” each edition concluded with a colophon that listed more than just Carter’s name and the place of publication.  It also advised readers that “all Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed on reasonable Terms, with Fidelity and Expedition” at Carter’s printing office at “the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head” in Providence.  The advertisement for “BLANKS” often supplemented the perpetual advertisement for job printing at the bottom of the final page of the Providence Gazette.

Carter catered to a variety of prospective customers, producing blanks (or forms) for “Apprentices Indentures,” “Bills of Lading,” “Bonds of several sorts,” and “Long and short Powers of Attorney,” to name just a few.  He also carried “various Kinds of Blanks for the colony of CONNECTICUT” for anyone tending to legal or commercial matters in the neighboring colony.

This advertisement moved around within the pages of the Providence Gazette.  Eighteenth-century printers often saved advertisements for their own goods and services for the bottom of columns, bringing those columns to the desired length after first inserting news and paid notices submitted by their customers.  Perhaps to increase the likelihood that readers would take note of it, Carter moved his advertisement around the page from week to week.  In the May 12, 1770, edition it occupied a privileged place as the first advertisement.  It also appeared in the center of the page, drawing the eye due to the amount of white space created by listing only one item per line.  Both the news and the other advertisements on the page consisted of dense paragraphs with little variation of font sizes.  Carter’s advertisement with its headline, “B L A N K S” in the largest font on the page, and ample white space positioned at the center of the page would have been nearly impossible for readers of the Providence Gazette to overlook.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 11, 1770).

“May be had … till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails.”

The colophon for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated that it was published by Robert Wells “at the Old Printing-House, Great Stationary and Book Shop.”  Like many other eighteenth-century printers, Wells simultaneously operated several affiliated enterprises from his printing office.  An advertisement in the May 11, 1770, edition of his newspaper alerted prospective customers to an item for sale among the books and stationery at his shop, “A PLAN of the CITY of NEW-YORK by Capt. Ratzer, Engineer.”

The advertisement declared that this map was “most elegantly engraved,” but that was not the only marketing strategy deployed to incite demand among consumers.  The advertisement also proclaimed that the map was available for a limited time only.  Customers could acquire their own copies for one dollar each “till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails, in which will be returned all the Copies then unsold.”  None would be held in reserve at the printing office to sell in the future.  Anyone potentially interested in this map, the advertisement warned, needed to visit Wells’s shop to examine the map and make a decision about purchasing it as soon as possible or else they would miss the opportunity to obtain it easily from a local bookseller.

May 11 - 10:15:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 15, 1770).

In its notes on Plan of the City of New York, in North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library cites two states of the map, the first “undated but about 1770” and the second from 1776.  Furthermore, the “attribution of 1770 for the first state of the map is based on a ‘New-York Gazette’ advertisement for the map in October 1770,” according to Margaret Beck Pritchard and Henry G. Taliaferro.  Although available for purchase in two of the largest urban ports in the colonies in 1770, there are “only two known examples of the map in the first state” today.  The advertisements aid historians in telling a more complete story of the production and distribution of the Plan of the City of New York in the late colonial era.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:10:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 10, 1770).

Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China.”

Like many other colonial shopkeepers, George Ball published an extensive list of his merchandise in an advertisement he placed in the May 10, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  Most advertisers who resorted to similar lists grouped all of their wares together into dense paragraphs of text.  A smaller number, like Ball, used graphic design to aid prospective customers in differentiating among their goods as they perused their advertisements.  Ball formatted his advertisement in columns with only one, two, or three items per line, just as Abeel and Byvanck, John Keating, and Jarvis Roebuck did elsewhere in the same issue.  Ball, however, instituted a further refinement that distinguished his notice from the others.  He cataloged his merchandise and inserted headers for the benefit of consumers.

Ball offered several categories of merchandise:  “Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China,” “Brown China,” “White China,” “White Stone Ware,” “Delph Ware,” “Plain Glass Ware,” “Flower’d Glass,” “Iron Ware from England,” and “Queen Pattern Lamps.”  These headers appeared in italics and centered within their respective columns to set them apart from the rest of the list.  The goods that followed them elaborated on what Ball had in stock, allowing prospective customers to more easily locate items of interest or simply assess the range of goods Ball offered for sale.  His method could have benefited from further refinement.  The items that followed “Queen Pattern Lamps” were actually a miscellany that did not belong in any of the other categories.  Ball might have opted for “Other Goods” as a header instead.  Still, his attempt to catalog his merchandise at all constituted an innovation over the methods of other advertisers.

In most instances, eighteenth-century advertisers submitted copy and compositors determined the layout.  However, advertisements broken into columns suggest some level of consultation between advertisers and compositors, at the very least a request or simple instructions from one to the other.  Ball’s advertisement likely required an even greater degree of collaboration between advertiser and compositor.

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 9, 1770).

“No Part of the Cargo will be sold but in the Yard on the Day of Sale.”

It was the first advertisement readers encountered as they perused the May 9, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  John Graham informed the residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony that the Cavendish had recently arrived “from SIERRALEON on the Windward Coast” with “A CARGO” of 200 “Young and Healthy SLAVES.”  This “CARGO,” humans reduced to commodities, would be offered for sale in less than a week.  Graham asserted that the Africans experienced a “short Passage” across the Atlantic, suggesting that they had not had enough time to become ill while aboard the Cavendish.  Such advertisements never mentioned how many perished during the Middle Passage. Furthermore, neither Graham nor other enslavers worried much about the health of the enslaved Africans for their own sake.  Instead, Graham offered these assurances to convince prospective buyers of the value of the “CARGO” and bolster prices.

In addition to the usual information that appeared in advertisements of this sort, Graham added a final note: “That those who propose to become Purchasers may have an equal Chance, no Part of the Cargo will be sold but in the Yard on the Day of the Sale.”  In other words, prospective buyers could not arrange for private sales and select the best of this “CARGO” in advance of the sale open to all bidders on the designated day.  This starkly underscored the interests of those who participated in the slave trade while ignoring the humanity of the young Africans offered for sale.  For those who invested in the voyage, it tended to their interests by increasing the likelihood that multiple buyers would seek to outbid each other when they could select from among the entire “CARGO,” thus maximizing profits.  For prospective buyers, it tended to their interests as consumers, alerting them that they would not be deprived of the opportunity to examine all of the merchandise and choose their favorites, as if the Africans who arrived on the Cavendish were no different than textiles, housewares, hardware, and other goods imported to Savannah on other ships and then put on display in the town’s shops.  The note at the end of Graham’s advertisement addressed the desires of prospective purchasers, further obscuring the fact that the enslaved Africans were also imbued with desires of their own.

May 8

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

May 8 - 5:8:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 8, 1770).

“Negro Boy … can work in the Iron Works, both at Blooming and at Refining.”

Advertisements concerning several enslaved men and women ran in the Essex Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on May 8, 1770.  A notice in the latter offered for sale a “NEGRO FELLOW who is a good Sawyer and Caulker.”  On the same page, another advertisement sought to sell an enslaved woman who “is a very good Sempstress.”  In the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, Massachusetts, an advertisement for a “Negro Boy, 20 Years old,” indicated that the young man “can work in the Iron Works, both at Blooming and at Refining.”  These enslaved people each possessed specialized skills beyond agricultural labor and domestic service.  Advertisements that described enslaved men and women published in newspapers from New England to Georgia testified to the range of skills they acquired and the many contributions they made to commercial life and economic development in the colonies.

Although historians of early America have long known this, misconceptions of enslaved men and women working solely in the fields and in plantation houses have deep roots in the popular imagination … and in the education many students receive before enrolling in college-level history courses.  Such misconceptions have proven stubbornly difficult to dislodge.  When I invite students to work as guest curators for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project in my various courses, they most frequently express surprise at two aspects of slavery in early America:  that it was a common practice throughout the colonies rather than confined to southern colonies and that enslaved people had far more occupations than agricultural labor.  Yet the misconceptions are so ingrained that even after being introduced to evidence to the contrary, some students continue to resort to those misconceptions as their default understanding of the experiences of enslaved people.  Correcting this is an iterative process.  Students have to be exposed to this information multiple times.  Sometimes I have to ask them if they would like to reformulate statements they make in class or in written work in order to take into account the evidence they have examined in advertisements and other primary sources, gently nudging them to embrace what they have learned and disregard their prior misconceptions.  Working as guest curators on the Slavery Adverts 250 Project facilitates the process of reimagining early America and learning about the many and varied experiences of enslaved people rather than relying on misconceptions that circulate in popular culture.  As guest curators, students encounter advertisement after advertisement describing enslaved people as artisans or otherwise highlighting their specialized skills.  That evidence is much harder to overlook than if I presented them with a couple of representative advertisements.  Similarly, scrolling through the Slavery Adverts 250 Project feed and seeing advertisement after advertisement is intended to have the same effect for both students and the general public.  Advertisement after advertisement in that feed mentions the skills possessed by enslaved men and women, making it difficult to maintain assumptions to the contrary.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 7, 1770).

“Mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city.”

Upon the occasion of moving to a new location, jeweler and goldsmith James Bennet placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He informed former and prospective customers that he no longer ran a shop on Maiden Lane.  Instead, the “public in general” could find him at his new shop at “the house next to Mr. Peter Goelet’s, the sign of the Golden Key, near the Old-Slip Market, Hanover-Square.”  In an era before standardized street numbers, Bennett provided plenty of landmarks to help customers find his new location.

He opened his advertisement by expressing appreciation for “those ladies and gentlemen who have been so kind as to favour him with their custom.”  He hoped that they would continue as customers.  Acknowledging their prior support for his business also alerted prospective new customers that even though he set up shop at a new location this was not a new endeavor.  Bennett already had experience pursuing his trade in New York.  In thanking former customers, he also sought to demonstrate demand for his services among readers who had not yet visited his shop at any location.

To further capture their interest, he briefly described his services, stating that he continued “to make, mend, [and] sell … all sorts of jewellery and goldsmith’s work.”  He embellished that rather plain overview with a much more enticing offer, claiming that he “makes mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city, and with the greatest expedition.” An advertisement for a jeweler and goldsmith moving from one location to another was pretty standard fare among the notices that ran in colonial newspapers.  A declaration about the lowest prices possible for a popular piece of jewelry, on the other hand, challenged consumers to visit his shop to see for themselves.  If that managed to get customers through the door, it gave Bennett opportunities to secure other sales.  Even if readers were skeptical of his claim, they could not know for certain unless they investigated on their own.  Rather than merely announce that he moved to a new location, Bennett enticed prospective customers with a bold claim intended to grab their attention.