May 29

GUEST CURATOR: Julia Tardugno

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (May 29, 1772).

“The very best of BOHEA TEA.”

This advertisement immediately struck me because tea was such an important symbol during the time of the American Revolution. Parliament’s taxed tea was through the Indemnity Act of 1767, one of the notorious Townshend Acts. When the Townshend Acts went into place, the colonists were so furious that they resorted to nonimportation agreements in which they no longer purchased goods from Britain. On October 28, 1767, a town meeting took place at Faneuil Hall in Boston to discuss the Townshend Acts and their negative impact on the colonies. A broadside distributed after the meeting said that colonists decided to meet “That some effectual Measures might be agreed upon to promote Industry, Economy, and Manufacturers; thereby to prevent the unnecessary Importation of European Commodities, which threaten the Country with Poverty and Ruin.” This petition to start the nonimportation agreements was voted on unanimously and the residents of Boston listed the items that they vowed not to purchase imported goods. Instead, they would encourage “Manufacturers” in the colonies. That included “Labrador tea.” The colonists felt strongly about implementing the nonimportation agreements at first, but they put an end to the boycotts in 1770 after Parliament repealed most of the taxes on imports. The tax on tea remained. The colonists canceled the nonimportation agreements two years prior to William Elliot’s advertisement about Bohea tea, a popular consumer good. That did not mean that colonists stopped worrying about the taxes on tea. In 1773, they participated in the Boston Tea Party. Tea became an even more important symbol of the American Revolution as a result of the Boston Tea Party, but that is not the whole story.



William Elliot was not alone in marketing tea to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette in the spring of 1772.  Jeremiah Libbey listed tea alongside two other beverages, coffee and chocolate, in an advertisement that also promoted an “Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS.”  In another advertisement, David Cutler and J. Cutler provided an extensive list of their “General Assortment of GOODS that came in the last Ships from London.”  The groceries they stocked included “Bohea Tea, Coffee, [and] Chocolate.”  John Penhallow published an even more extensive catalog of “GOODS … Just Imported from LONDON.”  Like his competitors, he sold “choice Bohea Tea.”  Colonizers in Portsmouth and other towns had plenty of options when it came to purchasing tea.  Throughout the colonies, merchants and shopkeepers supplemented their other inventory with tea.

The ubiquity of tea makes it an ideal commodity for examining a variety of interlocking topics in my Revolutionary America class.  We discuss trade and commerce; consumer culture and rituals that helped build a sense of community; and boycotts, politics, and protests.  I introduce students to the traditional narrative about tea and taxes, but we also take into consideration details that complicate that narrative.  As Julia notes, colonizers rescinded the nonimportation agreements when Parliament repealed the duties on most imported goods even though the tax on tea remained in place.  Some colonizers advocated for holding firm until they achieved all of their goals, but most merchants wanted to resume trade and bring an end to the disruption in transatlantic commerce.  We examine how women participated in politics as consumers, especially as consumers of tea, when they made decisions about whether they would purchase imported goods.  In October 1774, women in Edenton, North Carolina, formalized their position by signing a petition in which they resolved to boycott tea and other imported goods.  In response, engraver Philip Dawe created a print that critiqued those women who did not seem to know their place … and, by extension, their male relations incapable of exercising proper authority within their households.  We also read Peter Oliver’s account of the “Origins & Progress” of the American Revolution, including his accusation that women devised various strategies for gathering together to drink tea and cheating on the boycott.  In addition, we discuss T.H. Breen’s descriptions of colonizers destroying tea at public gatherings and enforcing compliance with boycotts.  Many students initially view tea as a quaint vestige of the eighteenth century, associating it primarily with the Boston Tea Party.  Throughout the semester, we repeatedly return to tea so they gain a better understanding of the intersection of colonial culture and politics during the era of the American Revolution.

May 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Kelsey Savoy

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

Essex Gazette (May 26, 1772).

“Every Article in the Apothecary Way.”

Nathaniel Dabney owned a shop called “Head of HIPPOCRATES” in Salem, Massachusetts. In an advertisement from the Essex Gazette on May 25, 1772, Dabney announced he had a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, Medicines, Groceries, Instruments,” and more, indicating that he ran an apothecary shop. An apothecary shop in 1772 and modern pharmacies are very similar.  That inspired me to find out more about medicine in the colonies during the eighteenth century.

Individuals who ran apothecary shops, who sold or administered medicines, did not require any education or licensure, nor did physicians. In “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Whitefield J. Bell, Jr., notes that “only one in nine Virginia physicians of the eighteenth century had attended a medical school.”[1] Physicians and apothecaries often learned from experience instead of formal training.  This began to change in the colonies in 1772, the year Dabney posted this advertisement. Bell details the Medical Society of New Jersey dedicated to getting legislation passed that required physicians to obtain licensure by the courts to practice “after examination by a board of medical men.” The society’s goal was “to discourage and discountenance all quacks, mountebanks, imposters, or other ignorant pretenders to medicine, and not to associate professionally with any except those who had been regularly initiated into medicine.”[2] Requiring training for physicians was an improvement that colonists enacted during the era of the American Revolution.



Kelsey astutely observes that many eighteenth-century apothecary shops and twenty-first century retail pharmacies have much in common.  Neither of them exclusively carried drugs and medicines, though selling remedies of all sorts gave those establishments their primary identity.  Nathaniel Dabney (or Nathanael Dabney in other advertisements) made that clear when he selected Hippocrates, a physician from ancient Greece widely considered the “Father of Medicine,” to identify his shop.

In his newspaper notice, Dabney commenced the list of merchandise available at “the Head of HIPPOCRATES” with a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, [and] Medicines” and cataloged several familiar patent medicines from his “Assortment” of goods.  He sold “Turlington’s original Balsam of Life,” “Bateman’s Pectoral Drops,” “Dr. Walker’s Jesuits Drops,” “Anderson’s and Locker’s Pills,” and “Hooper’s Female [Pills],” as well as other patent medicines less commonly mentioned in newspaper advertisements.  Those nostrums were the over-the-counter medications of the day.  Customers could consult with the apothecary of they wished, just like customers ask pharmacists in retail stores for advice today, but many also selected patent medicines based on their reputation and common knowledge about the maladies they supposedly relieved.

Yet Dabney, like other apothecaries, hawked other goods.  His apothecary shop, like modern retail pharmacies, doubled as a convenience store where customers could acquire groceries, home health care equipment and supplies, and a variety of other items.  In his advertisement, Dabney promoted “Groceries,” including cinnamon, cloves, raisins, and “Flour of Mustard, by the Dozen or single Bottle.”  He also had supplies for the “Clothiers Business” and the “Painters Business,” mostly items for producing colors.  In addition, Dabney sold medical instruments to physicians, a practice not followed by most modern retail pharmacies that focus on providing care to consumers.  All the same, a visit to the Head of Hippocrates in 1772 likely would not have been that much different from a visit to CVS, Rite Aid, or other retail pharmacy today.


[1] Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 31, no. 5 (September-October 1957): 444.

[2] Bell, “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” 453.

May 18


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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 18, 1772).


This advertisement features an item that many of us probably take for granted in the twenty-first century.  Umbrellas first appeared in England in the 1760s.  In the eighteenth-century, the umbrella stirred up a lot of social attention.  According to Kate Haulman, “Though large and clumsy by modern standards, the umbrellas of the late eighteenth century were brightly colored items of fashion made of oiled silk, stylistic spoils of empire hailing from India.”  Umbrellas were popular for the upper class, especially women, leading to a lot of controversy surrounding their use.  “Some regarded umbrellas as ridiculous and frivolous, serving no purpose that a good hat could not supply. Others called them effeminate, appropriate only for use by women.”  In this advertisement, Isaac Greenwood of Boston emphasized women and girls as customers for his “UMBRILLOES.”  When umbrellas debuted in colonial America they were a controversial and uncommon accessory that “received positive and negative attention.”[1]



By the time this advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette in the spring of 1772, Isaac Greenwood was already familiar to many of the residents of Boston.  They may have spotted women and girls carrying his umbrellas as they traversed the streets of the city.  Readers of the Boston-Gazette saw his advertisements, many of them featuring a distinctive woodcut that depicted a woman carrying an umbrella.  Greenwood first included that image in an advertisement that ran in the May 20, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Over the course of the next year, he periodically ran additional advertisements that featured the woman with the umbrella.

In that time, he sought to expand his clientele by offering even smaller umbrellas for young girls.  In May 1771, he declared that “Ladies may be supplied with all Sizes, so small as to suit Misses of 6 or 7 Years of Age.”  A year later, he revised the copy to state that “Ladies may be supplied with all Sizes, so small as to suit Misses of 4 or 5 Years of Age.”  Eager to sell his product, Greenwood took a position in the debates about umbrellas.  They were appropriate for women and even young girls.

Greenwood was not the only artisan in Boston who advertised that he made and sold “UMBRILLOES.”  In the June 12, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette, his advertisement appeared next to one placed by Oliver Greenleaf.  Greenwood gave his customers the option of buying finished products or the supplies to construct their own umbrellas, informing “Those Ladies whose Ingenuity, Leisure and Oeconomy leads them to make their own, [that they] may have them cut out by buying the Sticks or Frames of him.”  In extending that offer, he suggested that umbrellas were not as frivolous as some of the critics claimed.  Rather than luxury items that merely testified to conspicuous consumption, umbrellas made by female consumers had the potential to demonstrate some of the virtues that women possessed.  Since any umbrella could have been made through the “Ingenuity” and “Oeconomy” of the woman who carried it, Greenwood might have intended to reduce critiques of all ladies with umbrellas in an effort to increase sales by making his product less controversial.


[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 632.

May 12


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

Essex Gazette (May 12, 1772).

“The handsomest Horse in America.”

This advertisement describes “The famous Bellsize Arabian,” a horse considered “the handsomest Horse in America.” During the eighteenth century, horse racing was a popular sport throughout the colonies. According to Mehmet Samuk, “horse racing was separated by strong lines of class and race.”  In 1674, a court in Virginia fined a tailor who planned a race because horse racing was supposed to be “exclusive to only rich gentlemen.”  Even though that was the official position of the court, horse racing became popular among the general public in almost every colony by the time of the American Revolution.

Rich gentlemen were not the only people who participated in the races. It was not uncommon for the owners of the horses to employ enslaved people, free black people, and poor white people as jockeys. Samuk states that “African Americans eventually emerged as some of the most talented and experienced trainers of racing horses,” another contribution to American commerce and culture beyond working on plantations.



In addition to the prestige associated with racing horses, some colonizers also sought to earn money by breeding horses with notable pedigrees.  They placed newspaper advertisements offering stallions to “cover” mares.  Such was the case with Amos Mansfield of Danvers, Massachusetts, and an Arabian horse named Bellsize Arabian (or Belsize Arabian, according to the list of “Historic Sires” compiled by Thoroughbred Heritage).  Mansfield placed an advertisement in the May 12, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette to inform readers that the horse “will cover this Season.”

To incite interest, Mansfield detailed Belsize Arabian’s pedigree.  “He is a Son of the famous Horse called Moresah,” Mansfield declared, “and his Mother is of the best Race that the great Sultan or Emperor Muley Abalah ever had.”  He further explained that Belsize Arabian was “both by Sire and Mother of the best Blood and true Araback Race in all Barbary.”  By 1772, the horse already had a reputation for “covering” mares, first in England and then in New England.  Even if prospective clients were not familiar with all the details in the horse’s pedigree, Mansfield likely expected that the connection to the Sultan of Morocco would resonate with them.  For just “a Guinea a Colt,” colonizers could have Belsize Arabian “cover” their mares.

Mansfield attempted to increase the chances that readers would take note of his advertisement by including an image of a horse.  The woodcut did not depict Belsize Arabian in particular.  Instead, the printer provided a generic image that could have adorned any advertisement about horses.  Nonetheless, it was the only image that accompanied an advertisement in that issue of the Essex Gazette, almost certainly drawing eyes to the pedigree that Mansfield considered so important.  Some customers who engaged the services of Belsize Arabian might have been interested in racing horses, but other may have been content with displaying the offspring of “the handsomest Horse in America.”

May 4


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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 4, 1772).

“Be cautious, there are many … counterfeit watches … so bad they cannot be rendered useful.”

John Simnet, a clock- and watchmaker, created this advertisement.  It displays a competitive market in 1772. Simnet emphasizes his “Term of Apprenticeship to Mr. Webster, Exchange Alley, London.”  He thought that his qualifications mattered.  He also mentioned his expertise in cleaning watches and fitting glasses. These skills mattered.  In an article about clocks and clockmakers in eighteenth-century Philadelphia, Michelle Smiley states that clockmaking “was considered an intellectual profession requiring great artisanal skill and scientific knowledge.”  In addition, “the mathematical precision and mechanical intricacy of the profession put it at a superior rank to the crafts of blacksmithing and carpentry.”  In his advertisement, Simnet had a big ego about his skill and knowledge, especially being trained in England and voyaging to the colonies.  He also complained about “counterfeit Watches … so bad they cannot be rendered useful.”  He believed that colonists should be careful when buying watches from others because they might end up receiving broken merchandise.  He wanted customers to think of him as reliable, as someone who sold only good watches that worked well.  According to his advertisements, they could trust him because of his training in England.



When students in my classes submit their proposed advertisements for approval before moving to the research and writing phases of contributing the Adverts 250 Project, I often recognize the advertisers because I have already perused the newspapers to identify which notices belong in the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  I did not simply recognize the advertiser that Tyler selected for his entry.  Instead, John Simnet has become very familiar to me over the past three years as I have traced his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette in 1769 and 1770 and then in newspapers published in New York in the early 1770s.  I consider Simnet the most notorious of the advertisers featured on the Adverts 250 Project because he regularly disseminated negative advertisements that demeaned his competitors as much as they promoted his own skill, expertise, training, and experience.  In both Portsmouth and New York, he participated in bitter feuds with competitors in the public prints, sometimes demeaning character as well as their abilities.

Tyler was not yet familiar with Simnet when he selected this advertisement, one of several variations that Simnet published in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal in the spring of 1772.  He chose it because the headline for “WATCHES” caught his interest.  He wanted to learn more about clock- and watchmakers in early America.  This presented an opportunity for me to once again dovetail my teaching and my research, a pedagogical moment that could not be planned in advance when inviting students to select any advertisements they wished to feature.  They usually focus on a single advertisement, an appropriate approach for students working this intensively with primary sources for the first time.  They make all sorts of connections between their advertisements and commerce, politics, and daily life in eighteenth-century America.  Yet we have fewer opportunities to examine the advertisers and their marketing campaigns.  When Tyler chose Simnet’s advertisement from among the hundreds that he might have selected from the first week of May 1772, that gave all the students in my Revolutionary America class a chance to hear more about the clock- and watchmaker’s long history of placing cantankerous advertisements that deviated from the norms of the period.  This context better humanized Simnet, even if it did not make him particularly likeable.  Each advertisement represents a snapshot of a particular moment in the past, but I also underscored the value of examining multiple advertisements, placed over weeks or even years, as a means of constructing an even more robust understanding of the experiences of the advertisers and their world.

April 9

GUEST CURATOR: Drew Nunnemacher

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

New-York Journal (April 9, 1772).

“A Likely young Negro Girl.”

We do not know much about this “Likely young Negro Girl” advertised in the New-York Journal except that she was around 13 years old and had been “brought up in the Country” and not in New York City.  She may have been separated from her mother and other members of her family at a young age.  Even if that was not the case, being sold would separate her from family and friends.  According to Heather Andrea Williams in an article about “How Slavery Affected African American Families,” enslaved people “lived with the perpetual possibility of separation through the sale of one or more family members.”  She also states, “Young children, innocently unaware of the possibilities, learned quickly of the pain that such separations could cost.”  This advertisement was about one girl, but it helps to tell the stories of many more children and their families who were separated because of slavery and the slave trade during the era of the American Revolution.



Like his peers in my Revolutionary America class, Drew had an opportunity to select any newspaper advertisement to examine in greater detail from his week as guest curator of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  That meant that he selected from hundreds of advertisements for consumer goods and services and dozens of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children.  In total, he identified sixty advertisements about enslaved people published in newspapers from New Hampshire to South Carolina from April 3 through April 9, 1772.  The vast majority of those ran in newspapers in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, but a significant number of them, like this advertisement for a “Likely young Negro Girl,” appeared in newspapers published in Pennsylvania, New York, and New England.  Drew could have chosen any of those advertisements to research for his entry on the Adverts 250 Project.

I suspect that he decided on an advertisement about an enslaved girl published in New York in part because he and his classmates were dismayed to learn about the extent of slavery in New England and the Middle Atlantic before, during, and after the American Revolution.  They were accustomed to thinking of slavery as a southern institution in the nineteenth century, not an integral part of daily life throughout the colonies during the eighteenth century.  Working on the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, examining entire issues of approximately two dozen newspapers published in the early 1770s, allowed them to witness the reality of slavery in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  This advertisement about a “Likely young Negro Girl” was not some sort of exceptional example.  It appeared immediately below another advertisement for a “Likely Negro Man, about 20 years of age.”  The same day, the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal both carried advertisements about enslaved people.  Throughout the week, similar advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the New-Hampshire Gazette, the New-London Gazette, and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury as well as in several newspapers in the Chesapeake and the Lower South.  As an instructor, I could have gathered together examples to share with my students, but I believe that examining the primary sources themselves, seeing these advertisements in the context of the newspapers that carried them, more fully testifies to the presence of slavery and enslaved people in early America.

March 20

GUEST CURATOR: Catherine Hurlburt

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

Connecticut Journal (March 20, 1772).

“Penknives, Quills, Ink Powder, Sealing-Wax & Wafers.”

In this advertisement, James Lockwood put up for sale an array of books on various subjects, as well as different writing tools. Lockwood emphasized that these commodities were English, “JUST IMPORTED from LONDON,” which may have been enticing to some colonists. Even though in 1772 the relationship between Britain and the colonies was deteriorating, many colonists still considered themselves to be British, and having English goods was considered a sign of status throughout the colonies, making these goods more desirable.[1]

Today, some readers might find that the writing utensils pique their interest and become curious about writing in the eighteenth century. Colonists mixed their own ink from ink powder and wrote with pens made by sharpening quills with penknives. Lockwood sold all of those items that are so different from the writing tools we use today. Another interesting difference between then and now is the age at which people who learned to write began their lessons. According to Rachel Bartgis, reading education began around age four and lasted until age seven, but writing did not occur until around age nine. This is because writing with a quill took higher fine motor ability than using today’s pen or pencil. In contrast, children learn reading and writing at the same time today. In addition, colonists learned “cursive” because “print,” named after the script on the printing press, was only used for special purposes, such as labelling parcels.



In the advertisement that Catherine selected to feature today, James Lockwood updated a notice that he first published in the Connecticut Journal more than two months earlier.  He began 1772 by placing an advertisement to advise consumers in New Haven and the nearby towns that he “is now opening, at a new Store, … a great Assortment of English & India GOODS, BOOKS, and all kinds of STATIONARY.”  He pledged that he sold his merchandise “Wholesale or Retail, at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”

As Lockwood settled in at his new store, he decided to emphasize his “large and good Collection of BOOKS & STATIONARY” in his next advertisement, mentioning his “great Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” only after listing the various kinds of books he had in stock.  He did not mention any titles, but instead announced that he carried “Divinity, Law, Physic, Surgery, Anatomy, History, Voyages& Travels, Novels, Poems, Plays, Philosophy & Mathematicks, School Books, Miscellaneous Works, [and] Seaman’s Books.”  Each genre received its own line in a portion of the advertisements divided into three columns.  That made the list easier for readers to peruse and areas of interest more visible to prospective customers.  The unique format also distinguished Lockwood’s advertisement from others on the page.  The third column included the various writing implements that Catherine examined.

Lockwood continued to promote his low prices, though he further enhanced that appeal.  Rather than claiming that he set process “at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours,” he instead looked to competitors in Boston and New York.  Lockwood declared that his customers acquired books, stationery, and “ENGLISH GOODS” from him “As low as they are commonly purchased” in those larger ports.  Prospective customers did not need to travel or send away to merchants and shopkeepers in those cities.  Instead, they could find the best bargains right in New Haven.

Lockwood’s proximity to “the College in New-Haven” (now Yale University) may have inspired him to publish an updated advertisement that focused on books and stationery.  He did not rely on a single newspaper notice to attract customers to his new Store.  Instead, he tried different methods of marketing his wares and generating name recognition among readers of the Connecticut Journal.


[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 476.

March 17

GUEST CURATOR:  Matthew Holbrook

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

Essex Gazette (March 17, 1772).

“A large ASSORTMENT of Hard-Ware GOODS.”

I found that this advertisement interesting because Jacob Ashton owned a shop in Salem, Massachusetts, about 50 miles from my hometown. I connected with this advertisement because my grandfather was a carpenter who owned a small shop and sold similar materials. Jacob Ashton sold a wide variety of hardware and other goods, including nails, case knives, hammers, teaspoons and tablespoons, frying pans, knitting needles, gun powder, cinnamon, brass clocks, and just about anything in between.

In the “Meet the Carpenter” podcast from Colonial Williamsburg, master carpenter Garlin Wood explains what it was like to be a carpenter during the era of the American Revolution. In particular, he describes the differences between different woodworkers. A carpenter focused on the construction of the timber frame. A joiner used similar tools as a carpenter but focused on the finishing of the house, such as panel doors and paneling. A cabinetmaker focused on constructing furniture that belonged inside the house. Garlin describes the importance that carpenters and other woodworkers had in early America. In Colonial Williamsburg, then and now, carpenters built everything by hand and used tools such as chisels and mallets. According to Garlin, many carpenters in early America were savvy businessmen who used their trade to move into the gentry. When it comes to his work as a carpenter, he likes the idea of putting a roof over other people’s heads.



When I invite students enrolled in my classes to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project, I am always interested in which advertisements they choose to feature and which aspects of those advertisements they choose to examine in greater detail.  I appreciate that they select advertisements that I might have otherwise overlooked, that they investigate aspects that did not initially resonate for me and, in the process, demonstrate the significance of something that I might have otherwise dismissed, and that they identify a range of sources about early American history.  As guest curators, my students are junior colleagues who help me to continue learning and asking new questions about familiar sources even as I engage in mentoring and teaching them.

That was the case when working with Matt on this entry.  In his absence, I would have chosen a different advertisement in the Essex Gazette, one in which Abraham Cornish offered a guarantee on the fishhooks he made in Boston and pledged to provide two new hooks for each one found defective.  In his role as guest curator, however, Matt determined which advertisement he wanted to examine … and then demonstrated why his choice was just as sound as the one I would have made.  If I had chosen to analyze Ashton’s advertisement for “Hard-Ware GOODS,” I would have focused primarily on the range of choices he offered to consumers and the low prices that he promised.  Matt, inspired by his grandfather, instead opted to examine the kinds of work undertaken by the customers who purchased many of the items listed in Ashton’s advertisement.  He identified the various roles of woodworkers in early America, outlining the contributions of carpenters, joiners, and cabinetmakers.  To do so, he sought information from a public historian who interprets the past through re-creating the experiences of eighteenth-century carpenters at Colonial Williamsburg.  In working on a digital humanities project for his college course about the era of the American Revolution, Matt consulted the expertise of a public historian, demonstrating that no one kind of historian has a monopoly on knowledge about the past.  Matt’s experience as a guest curator, the many ways in which his contribution enhances the Adverts 250 Project, underscores why I believe it is so important to incorporate my own research and digital humanities projects into the classes I teach.

February 27

GUEST CURATOR: Charlotte Hatcher

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

Postscript to the Massachusetts Spy (February 27, 1772).

“A large Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS.”

Thomas Lee sold many fabrics and other household goods from his shop “near the Swing-Bridge” in Boston in 1772. This advertisement originally caught my eye due to the “ENGLISH GOODS” he advertised. After the Townshend Acts placed duties on glass, lead, paper, paints and tea in 1767, many colonists used social pressure to boycott goods imported from England. In a broadside issued by the town clerk of Boston in late October 1767, the notes about a town meeting listed items that colonists agreed to boycotted out of protest.  Residents of the town of Boston, according to the broadside, were encouraged to “take all prudent and legal Measures to encourage the Produce and Manufactures of this Province, and to lessen the Use of Superfluities” imported from England. The list of boycotted goods included many items that Thomas Lee advertised less than five years later. Colonists quickly resumed buying those goods as soon as Parliament repealed the duties on most of the items in the Townshend Acts and even though Parliament did not repeal the duty on tea.



Not surprisingly, we spend a lot of time examining the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century in my Revolutionary America class.  Understanding changing consumption habits provides important context for understanding political participation during the imperial crisis that eventually resulted in thirteen colonies declaring independence.  I challenge my students to think about political participation broadly, not just as voting or serving in a colonial legislature.  We discuss various ways that everyday activities, including shopping, became political statements.  Colonizers could not remain neutral when they made decisions about consumption.  They either supported colonial liberties by choosing not to purchase imported goods or they supported Parliament by ignoring the nonimportation agreements adopted by their fellow colonizers.  Merely thinking about consumption forced colonizers to think about the political implications as well the repercussions they faced from friends and neighbors for the decisions they made.

That meant that colonizers of various backgrounds participated in politics.  Affluent colonizers chose whether to curtail extravagant consumption habits, yet colonizers of more humble means also made decisions about whether to make purchases.  Men considered the politics of consumption, as did women who desired the “beautiful variety of LADIES SILKS” that Thomas Lee and other shopkeepers advertised in the 1760s and 1770s.

That political participation, as Charlotte notes, was not a steady crescendo.  By the time that Lee placed his advertisement for “ENGLISH GOODS, suitable for all seasons,” colonizers already enacted nonimportation agreements twice and then eagerly resumed consuming imported goods as soon as Parliament met their demands, first in response to the Stamp Act and later in response to the Townshend Acts.  Indeed, colonizers were so eager to once again gain access to imported goods and merchants and shopkeepers were so eager to resume business as usual that the nonimportation agreements enacted in response to the Townshend Acts lapsed even though duties on tea remained in place.  Some colonizers objected, encouraging their communities to continue the boycotts until they achieved all of their goals, but the pull of commerce and consumption was so strong among the majority of colonizers that the most strident advocates of defending colonial liberties managed to delay the resumption of trade and consumption only briefly.  Colonizers adjusted how they interpreted the politics of consumption in the wake of new developments on several occasions.


February 20

GUEST CURATOR:  Blue Gabriel

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

Massachusetts Spy (February 20, 1772).

“All sorts of Mathematical Instruments are made and repaired by the above WILLIAMS.”

As I read through all of the newspapers for my week as guest curator, I aw advertisements for perishable goods or clothing items such as linens and other fabrics. This advertisement for “MATHEMATICAL INSTRUMENTS” caught my eye because it was so different. I became more and more interested in in this “Mathematical Instrument Maker” and his life during the eighteenth century.

William Williams started making and repairing mathematical instruments and clocks in 1770, according to Silvio A. Bedini. His shop was called “The Little Admiral” because of a carved figure that marked its location. Bedini notes that Williams served in the American Revolution “as a private in Captain Mills’ company, of Col. Jeduthan Baldwin’s regiment of artificers, during the years 1777-1779.  In 1780 he served in Captain Pattin’s company of General Knox’s artillery, which was stationed at West Point.”[1]

In addition to the mathematical instruments that he made and sold, Williams also sold general goods such as “Journal Books, Ink-powder, Quills and Paper, … and plated Shoe and Knee Buckles.” The nonimportation agreement adopted by the town of Boston on August 1, 1768, restricted importing British goods in response to the duties that Parliament placed on some goods. When the nonimportation agreement ended, Williams sold imported goods.  Shopkeepers, artisans, and other colonists wanted to participate in the consumer revolution.



One of my favorite parts of inviting students in my classes to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project is seeing which advertisements they select, what part of each advertisement they choose to research in greater detail, and the sources they consult in their research.  Blue decided to focus on the biography of the advertiser, William Williams, just as Dillon Escandon did in an advertisement placed by Henry Knox, a bookseller, featured on the Adverts 250 Project a week ago.  Williams and Knox may have crossed paths in Boston prior to the American Revolution.  Blue determined that they did indeed have a connection at West Point in 1780.

Between them, Blue and Dillon researched three people mentioned in their advertisements:  Henry Knox, William Williams, and Captain Cazneau.  Their research yielded some interesting insights about how much we can learn about the advertisers whose names appeared in the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers.  Dillon had little difficulty finding information about Henry Knox, a bookseller who became a prominent general in the Continental Army and the first Secretary of War after the American Revolution.  It took a bit more work for Blue to locate biographical information about William Williams, the mathematical instrument maker.  Their research led them to a bulletin about Early American Scientific Instruments and Their Makers written by Silvio A. Bedini, curator of mechanical and civil engineering at the Smithsonian Institution, and published in 1964.  Williams was one of just over a dozen instrument makers with brief biographies in Bedini’s bulletin.  That bulletin is now available via Project Gutenberg.  Captain Cazneau was the most elusive of the people mentioned in the advertisements Blue and Dillon examined.  Dillon managed to find references to the captain in correspondence between Thomas Digges and John Adams, but very little information compared to what Bedini’s bulletin provided about Williams.  The National Archives provided access to a transcription of the letter from Digges to Adams.

Between them, Blue and Dillon demonstrated the possible outcomes of researching eighteenth-century advertisers and the people mentioned in their newspaper notices.  For some of them who achieved fame or influence, including Henry Knox, historians and scholars have already compiled extensive biographies.  Others, like Captain Cazneau, remain obscure.  Even with painstaking research, it may not be possible to recover significantly more information about Cazneau.  William Williams falls somewhere in the middle.  An historian and curator consulted a variety of primary sources, including multiple newspaper advertisements, to piece together a brief biography.  From my perspective as the instructor for Blue and Dillon’s Revolutionary America class, that may have been the most interesting case because Bedini succinctly demonstrated both how much we can learn about this mathematical instrument maker and how many different kinds of primary sources contributed to the biography he constructed.


[1] Silvio A. Bedini, Early American Scientific Instruments and Their Makers (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1964), 95.