April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Bohane

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

“New Rice by the Cask.”

Thomas Walley sold “New Rice by the Cask” at his “Store, on Dock-Square.” Rice was one of the most profitable goods cultivated in colonial America. According to James M. Clifton, settlers from Barbados and other colonies in the West Indies introduced rice to South Carolina. Colonists there had much to learn about rice, doing so through trial and error. The earliest mention of rice shipment recorded was in 1692, but after that point it became a staple crop, one that supported much of the economy for the entire colony.[1] In order to reduce the amount of strenuous labor required to produce this popular commodity, colonists in South Carolina sought to perfect machines and mills that could aid in processing rice.[2] Unfortunately, this proved quite unsuccessful and remained a challenging process throughout the colonial period. Rice crops became more profitable, however, with the labor of black slaves who worked on plantations and knew how to properly cultivate rice.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “New Rice by the Cask,” Thomas Walley also peddled a variety of other goods. He emphasized textiles and “all sorts of Groceries,” such as tea, olive oil, and mustard. The assortment of fabrics available at his store included “homespun check,” cloth that had been woven in the colonies rather than imported from England. Walley did not explicitly link his products to the imperial crisis that had intensified six months earlier when the Townshend Act went into effect, but he did offer prospective customers the opportunity to participate in a larger coordinated effort to resist Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue without the consent of the colonies. Several months before Walley’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, the Boston Town Meeting (followed by many others) had voted to use commerce as leverage in the political dispute with Parliament. They pledged to encourage “American manufactures” rather than continue their dependence on imported goods. In so doing, they acknowledged that in order to change their consumption habits that they first needed to modify the amount of goods produced in the colonies.

Just as this advertisement obscures the role of enslaved labor in producing “New Rice by the Cask,” it also obscures the role women played in this political strategy. Barred from participating in the formal mechanisms of government, women pursued other avenues when it came to participating in resistance efforts during the imperial crisis that culminated in the Revolution. American women produced Walley’s “homespun Check,” first spinning the thread and then weaving it into checkered cloth. Women also made choices about which goods to consume, their decisions extending to entire households. Women who purchased homespun could make very visible political statements by outfitting every member of their families in garments made from that cloth. The meanings of consumption increasingly took on political valences in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. In that realm, women often exercised as much power as men as they exercised their judgment in selecting which goods to acquire and which to reject. Their decisions reverberated beyond the point of purchase; everyday use of clothing, housewares, groceries, and other goods advertised in newspapers and sold by merchants and shopkeepers became laden with political significance.

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[1] James M. Clifton, “The Rice Industry in Colonial America,” Agricultural History 55, no. 3 (July 1981): 267.

[2] Clifton, “Rice Industry,” 278.

April 20

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Bohane

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

Apr 20 - 4:20:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 20, 1768).

“Alexander Findlay & James Seyour, A.M. DESIGN TO OPEN SCHOOL.”

Alexander Findlay and James Seymour advertised a school where they taught “BRANCHES of LITERATURE” as well as “several PARTS of the MATHEMATICKS.” Today it seems hard to imagine a world without public schools considering that most students attend public schools rather than private ones. However, throughout the colonial period and into the nineteenth century, private schools, like the one featured in this advertisement, were often the only option for education outside the home in many places.

According to Robert A. Peterson, education began at the home, typically as the responsibility of the mother, and, as the children grew older, became the father’s task. In Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, E. Jennifer Monaghan explains that “religious motives underlay reading instruction in colonial America, while secular motives led to writing instruction.” The most commonly read books were the Bible, a primer, and a hornbook. As children in southern colonies grew older, their schooling prepared them for their eventual roles in plantation life. Boys advanced further in subjects such as math, Greek, Latin, science, and navigation. Girls learned the duties of the mistress of the plantation, such as basic arithmetic to handle household expenses.

Today many people argue that without public schools the job of educating future generations would simply not get done, but colonists did not have the same access to widespread public education that Americans now take for granted.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Although Alexander Findlay and James Seymour sought children and youth as students at their school “in the lower End of Broughton-Street” in Savannah, they also suggested that they provided adult education as well, at least when it came to writing.  As Mary notes, they taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as some more advanced subjects, promising that their methods would “do all possible justice to those who will please to commit their children to their care.”  However, they concluded their advertisement with a nota benethat reiterated that they offered writing instruction:  “They also design to teach Writing at the same place between the hours of twelve and one.”  Assuming that their young pupils took a break from their studies at midday, Findlay and Seymour had an opportunity to teach adults who wished to learn or further develop a particular skill without enrolling for the entire curriculum.

Even though today most people link the ability to read and the ability to write because they have been taught simultaneously or in quick succession in elementary schools, that was not the case in the colonial period.  Reading and writing were considered different skills utilized for different purposes.  Learning to read granted colonists access to the Bible and other devotional literature, whereas learning to write (and do arithmetic) opened up the world of commerce to them.  Accordingly, colonists considered reading the more vital skill.  Many of those who perused the Georgia Gazettemay well have been able to read Findlay and Seymour’s advertisement and the other content yet did not possess the ability to make notes in the margins, write a note asking for more information, or otherwise use quill and ink in their daily lives.  Like the Latin and Greek that the schoolmasters proposed to teach, writing was not a necessity in colonial society, but it was certainly useful for those who acquired the skill.  For adults who had not previously learned to write as part of their education, Findlay and Seymour offered a chance to obtain that skill in brief lessons without pursuing the rest of the relatively extensive curriculum at their day school.

April 19

GUEST CURATOR:  Anna MacLean

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

Apr 19 - 4:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 19, 1768).

TO BE SOLD … A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES.”

In this advertisement from the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Edward Oats announced that he intended to sell “A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES.” The slaves originally belonged to the estate of Mary Frost. This advertisement shocked me with how this group of enslaved men and women were characterized as merchandise to be purchased. In addition, the details associated with the process astounded me. Edward Oats wrote that “Twelve months credit will be given, paying interest, and giving approved security, the property not to be altered till the conditions are complied with.” This set of terms and conditions sounds comparable to buying furniture or appliances in the twenty-first century.

Furthermore, I was intrigued with the advertisement because the author chose to incorporate the many skills held by individuals among this group of slaves. They included “sawyers, mowers, a very good caulker, a tanner, a compleat tight cooper, a sawyer, squarer and rough carpenter.” In the midst of my research I observed that slaves tended to be sold in parcels, or large groups, in the southern colonies more frequently than in the northern colonies. Often, the skills and talents of slaves were highlighted by newspaper advertisements as a method of attracting buyers, especially plantation owners. According to Daniel C. Littlefield in “The Varieties of Slave Labor,” eighteenth-century plantation owners “tried to maintain self-sufficiency based on the varied skills of their slaves.” Although the vast majority of African slaves were purchased specifically for agricultural work, enslaved peoples also found themselves performing a number of skilled functions to guarantee overall efficiency on plantations.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Although Edward Oats and the readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal had no way of knowing it, within a decade April 19 would become one of the most important days in American history. Seven years after the publication of this advertisement armed hostilities broke out between colonists and Britain at Concord and Lexington in Massachusetts, initiating a new phase in the imperial crisis and eventually resulting in the Declaration of Independence and a war that lasted the better part of a decade.

Americans continue to commemorate April 19 today.  In Massachusetts it is known as Patriots’ Day, a state holiday observed on the Monday that falls closest to April 19.  The Boston Marathon takes place on Patriots’ Day.  This year residents of Massachusetts received an extension on filing their taxes until Tuesday, April 17 because the traditional tax day, April 15, fell on a Sunday, followed by Patriots’ Day on Monday. Beyond Massachusetts, Americans have been celebrating the 243rd anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride and the battles at Concord and Lexington, though historians have turned to social media and other public history platforms to offer more complete and nuanced portraits of events than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow etched in popular memory in the poem he composed about the “midnight message of Paul Revere” in 1860.

In the midst of these commemorations of liberty and resistance to British oppression, Anna has chosen an advertisement that reminds us that freedom had varied meanings to different people in early America.  Edward Oats had seen the Stamp Act enacted and repealed, only to be replaced by the Declaratory Act and the Townshend Act.  If he read the newspaper in which he advertised “A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES,” he had been exposed to news from throughout the colonies about efforts to resist Parliament by consuming goods produced in the colonies rather than imported from England.  He would have also encountered the series of “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” outlining the limits of Parliament’s authority.

Even as white Americans grappled with these political issues, they bought and sold enslaved men, women, and children, often acknowledging the skills they possessed yet obstinately refusing to acknowledge their humanity.  These “SLAVES” and “wenches,” however, had their own ideas about liberty.  As other advertisements in newspapers throughout the colonies indicate, many slaves seized their freedom by running away from the masters who held them in bondage.  As we once again celebrate the milestones of April 19, this advertisement for “A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES” reminds us to take a broad view of the revolutionary era in order to tell a more complete story of the American past.

April 18

GUEST CURATOR:  Anna MacLean

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

Apr 18 - 4:18:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (April 18, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD … BEST HYSON TEA.”

An advertisement in the April 18, 1768, issue of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy announced “BEST HYSON TEA” in addition to “Mustard, Raisins, Currants, Figs, Chocolate, with other Kinds of Grocery.” I felt compelled to select this advertisement because it sounds absurd to conceptualize a time when America didn’t “run on Dunkin’” coffee (a testament to marketing in modern America). However, by similar means, tea drinkers in colonial America looked forward to the caffeine buzz found in their kettles and teacups.

Hyson tea, characterized by Oliver Pluff & Co. as having a long twisted appearance, was a favorite among American colonists. According to the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, during the first half of the eighteenth-century tea was a costly luxury that only a small percentage of the colonies’ population could afford. By the middle of the century, tea was in high demand throughout the colonies and costs decreased making it an everyday beverage for the vast majority. Over time, the American colonies had evolved into a province of tea drinkers.

Yet drinking tea was far more than a hobby in colonial America but rather an “instrument of sociability,” according to the review of Rodris Roth’s “Tea Drinking in 18th-Century America” on Colonial Quills. An invitation to drink tea was an invitation to a social event, perhaps a small, informal gathering or maybe an elegant dinner party.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to the “other Kinds of Grocery” that he sold at his shop on Beaver Street in New York, Isaac Noble also advertised “all Kinds of French Liquors” and listed eight varieties.  Since Anna chose to examine one of Noble’s wares that remains popular today (even if it has not retained the cultural currency it enjoyed in eighteenth-century America), I decided to take a closer look at some of these other beverages that colonial Americans drank but that might be less familiar to consumers today.

The Oxford English Dictionarydescribes “Parfaite Amour” as “a sweet liqueur of Dutch origin, flavoured with lemon, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander, and coloured red or purple.”  In addition to the taste, colonists may have been entertained by the color!  Several other items on Noble’s list appear to have been liqueurs as well, including “Anise,” “Essence of Tea,” “Essence of Coffee,” and “Oil of Hazle Nuts.”  While it may be fairly easy to imagine the flavor and composition of each of those “French Liquors,” the “Oil of Venus” presents more of a challenge.  One Household Encyclopedia published in the middle of the nineteenth century includes recipes for both Oil of Jupiter and Oil of Venus.  It describes Oil of Venus as brandy infused with caraway, anise, mace, and orange rinds and mixed with sugar.  Published nearly a century after Noble’s advertisement appeared in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy, that recipe may not have been the same as the “Oil of Venus” colonists drank, but the mixture of spices does appear consistent with methods for distilling the “Parfaite Amour” listed immediately before it.  The nature of the “Free Mason’s Cordial” remains more elusive, but it turns out that the “Usquebaugh” was not as exotic as the name might suggest. The Oxford English Dictionary indicates “usquebaugh” is an Irish and Scottis Gaelic word for whisky.  Like tea, usquebaugh/whisky remains a popular beverage today, even if the average person does not consume either in the same quantities as colonists did in the eighteenth century.

The various “Kinds of French Liquors” advertised by Noble may not seem readily identifiable to twenty-first-century consumers, at least not by the names used to describe them in the eighteenth century, but several continue to be sold and consumed today. As a result of advances in marketing practices, some are now better known by specific brand names rather than the general descriptions deployed in the colonial era.

April 16

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 16, 1768).

“To be SOLD … tea kettles, skillets, spiders, &c.”

This advertisement probably seems strange to many modern readers, especially the reference to “spiders” for sale. According to Alice Ross, the term “spider” refers to a “three-legged, long-handled frying pan” commonly used during the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.  The Oxford English Dictionary describes a spider as “a kind of frying-pan having legs and a long handle.” Until the kitchen stove came about, all cooking in a home was done on the only source of heat: the fireplace. The spider skillet’s legs allowed the user to place the cookware right on top of a burning fire. Before the cooking stove, cookware often had either legs or special rungs to hang pots over the fire. Given its function, most families with a hearth or fireplace most likely had a spider skillet. Ross notes that an advertisement published in the Pennsylvania Packet in 1790 mentioned spider skillets, but this advertisment demonstrates the use of spider skillets nearly a quarter century earlier. Although “spiders” are now unfamiliar to most consumers, they are still used for outdoor excursions, such as camping.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to spider skillets, Amos Atwell sold “a variety of other articles, of American and European manufacture” at his shop “On the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.”  A blacksmith as well as a retailer, Atwell likely made some of the items listed in his advertisement.

Yet he did not publish his notice solely for the purpose of selling goods.  He also indicated that he wished “to hire a journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Like other artisans who placed employment advertisements, Atwell stressed that he would consider candidates who “can be well recommended for virtue and sobriety,” but he was interested in more than just the credentials and reputation of any journeyman blacksmith that he might welcome into his shop.  Atwell sought assistance “extending this branch of American manufacture,” echoing a common theme from news reports published in the Providence Gazetteand throughout the colonies for the past several months.  Due to an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by new taxes levied by the Townshend Act, colonists had resolved to import fewer English goods in favor of consuming goods made in the colonies.  Meeting demand, however, required significantly increasing production in the colonies.  As an act of resistance, colonists pledged to promote domestic manufactures.

In hiring a journeyman “capable of extending this branch of American manufacture” Atwell signaled his stance to prospective consumers.  He was not the only advertiser in the April 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette who did so. In the same column as his notice, cutlers Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark proclaimed that they recently established their shop with the expectation of receiving “due Countenance from the Well-wishers to American Manufactures” during “a Time when the setting up and extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.”  Bucklin and Clark made their argument much more explicitly than Atwell did, perhaps priming readers to recognize the similar, yet more subtle, appeal made by the blacksmith.  Prospective customers should patronize his shop, Atwell implied, because he was heeding the call to increase American production and, in turn, reduce dependence on imported goods.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 15 - 4:15:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 15, 1768).

“A few Cask choice Jamaica Sugar & Coffee.”

It is without question that coffee is far more popular drink in the United States than tea, but this was not always the case. During the colonial period, tea was the more preferred caffeine-oriented commodity due to its easy preparation, yet this is not to say that the coffee industry was absent from American culture at the time. Colonists imported some of their coffee from Jamaica, but it was never indigenous to that island; instead, in 1728 Sir Nicholas Lawes brought it over from Haiti. Jamaica’s warm climate made coffee cultivation plentiful and profitable. Approximately 12 million pounds of coffee was exported during the colonial era, making the Jamaican trade one of the largest providers of coffee to the British Empire. Unlike the roasted coffee beans or grinds sold today, usually only the recently picked and pre-roasted coffee beans were sold in colonial America, meaning that the purchaser would have to the roasting, grinding and brewing themselves.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Coffee, tea, and chocolate comprised a trio of exotic hot beverages popular in colonial America.  Many colonists drank these beverages at home, but men also gathered in public venues to consume them together.  As Kurt notes, tea became the most popular of those drinks – and arguably the most emblematic of the early American experience – but the venues that served them were known as coffeehouses.  Like many other aspects of English culture, colonists transported the concept of the coffeehouse across the Atlantic.

Men gathered in coffeehouses for a variety of purposes.  Some conducted business at these establishments.  Merchants and other traders met to make deals and settle accounts over a hot cup of coffee.  Both New York and Philadelphia had a Merchants’ Coffee House prior to the American Revolution, the name suggesting the type of clientele each sought to attract. Customers also gathered to discuss news and politics.  To that end, the proprietors provided several amenities, especially newspapers and pamphlets for their clients to peruse.  In addition to local newspapers, they also subscribed to publications from other cities, broadening the array of sources available to their patrons.  News concerning politics spread as men in coffeehouses read newspapers from near and far, often aloud to their companions, and then discussed current events and editorial pieces, including the “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” that circulated in the wake of the Townshend Act. Merchants also visited coffeehouses to consult newspapers in hopes that the information they contained would guide them in making sound business decisions.

Yet men met at coffeehouses for reasons other than business and politics.  Coffeehouses were centers of sociability.  Customers gathered to converse with one another. As much as many of them liked to think of their discussions with friends and acquaintances as enlightened exchanges, they also tended to engage in gossip as well.  Women were excluded from coffeehouses, from conducting business, from discussing politics, from conversations that took place there, but that did not mean that one of the vices most frequently attributed to women – gossip – was absent from those homosocial spaces.  Men managed to trade stories, both fanciful and snide, without the influence of women, though they liked to pretend otherwise.

Coffee was more than a commodity sold for consumption within the household in eighteenth-century America.  Colonists also gathered in public spaces to drink this hot beverage together as they conducted business, debated politics, and socialized.  Like taverns, coffeehouses were important venues for exchanging information and ideas and, in turn, shaping American commerce and politics, in the era of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution.

April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Karpowich

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 14, 1768).

“Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivaled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in the laws of Great Britain and the true interest of the COLONIES.”

In the April 14, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette David Hall and William Sellers published an advertisement for a pamphlet containing a popular and widely read set of letters written by John Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator from Pennsylvania. They are titled “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.” According to the introductory notes in the “Online Library of Liberty” compiled by the Liberty Fund, Dickinson penned them under the name of “A Farmer” due to the fact that they were quite controversial. In these letters, he spoke out against the British Parliament and discussed the sovereignty of the thirteen colonies. The “Letters” famously helped unite the colonists against the Townshend Acts. These acts were passed largely in response to the failure of the Stamp Act. Dickinson argues in his letters that the taxes laid upon the people with these laws were for the sole purpose of gaining revenue from the colonies. Parliament was not trying to regulate trade or the market. This meant that they were illegal and should not have been passed. This pamphlet was meant to collect all of the “Letters” to help spread Dickinson’s arguments, showing that there was already growing discontent in the colonies in the late 1760s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Hall and Sellers did not merely make an announcement that they had “Just published” a pamphlet that collected together all twelve of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.”  Not unlike modern publishers, their marketing efforts included a testimonial that described the significance of the title they offered for sale. Indeed, they devoted nearly half of the space in their advertisement to an endorsement reprinted from the Boston Chronicle.  In so doing, Hall and Sellers advised potential customers that “Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivalled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in thelawsof Great-Britain, and the true interest of the COLONIES.”  Colonists unfamiliar with the “Letters” were encouraged to purchase the pamphlet and read them.  Colonists who had already read them as they appeared in newspapers were encouraged to acquire the pamphlet and continue referring to the wisdom provided by “such an able adviser, and affectionate friend.”

The testimonial from the Boston Chronicle also indicated that the “Letters” “have been printed in every Colony, from Florida to Nova-Scotia.”  For several months in late 1767 and early 1768, printers up and down the Atlantic coast reprinted this series of twelve essays.  For some this meant an essay a week over the course of three months, but others published supplementary issues that sped up publication of the “Letters” as they simultaneously disseminated other news and advertising.  Not all newspapers had finished the project at the time Hall and Sellers published the pamphlet that collected all of the “Letters” together.  The day before their advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, James Johnston published “LETTER X” in the Georgia Gazette.  Once the pamphlet was ready for sale, printer-booksellers in several colonies began promoting it in their own newspapers.  A network of printers participated in distributing Dickinson’s “Letters” twice, first as editorial content in newspapers and then as pamphlets that conveniently collected the essays into a single volume.  As Zach notes, Dickinson’s reasoned arguments aided in uniting many colonists in opposition to abuses committed by Parliament, but the dissemination of his work depended on the active involvement of colonial printers.