March 15

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Georgia Gazette (March 15, 1769).

“STRAYED … AN OLD SORREL HORSE.”

In this advertisement “the subscriber,” John McLean, mentions that he had lost a few of his horses. He proceeded to describe what the horses looked like in an attempt to give people an idea how to identify them. I knew that horses played an important part in colonial society because they were often the fastest form of transportation or were the best way to transport goods from place to place. According to the International Museum of the Horse, “Both people and goods moved by horseback, as carriages and wagons could not negotiate primitive paths” in colonial America. Horses played an important role in transporting heavy goods in times of peace and war. Colonists relied on teams of horses to carry supplies for them. With horses so important, the owner put a reward out for the return of the horses, hoping to encourage honesty if someone found his horses. The advertisement also mentions how the horses were branded so this would increase the chances of the horses being returned.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Whether marketing consumers goods and services for sale, alerting readers about enslaved men and women who had escaped from those who held them in bondage, calling on creditors and debtors to settle accounts, or asking for assistance capturing stray horses, all of the advertisements in colonial newspapers generated revenues for the newspapers that printed them. James Johnston, the publisher of the Georgia Gazette, depended on these revenues to supplement those he received from selling subscriptions. Indeed, colonial printers often earned more from fees from advertisers than they did from subscribers.

The amount of advertising in the Georgia Gazette fluctuated from week to week. Johnston sometimes only had enough advertising to fill the final page, but he had far more than that for the March 15, 1769, edition. Although the first page consisted entirely of news items, advertisements appeared on all of the remaining pages. Paid notices accounted for nearly half of the content on the second page and more than half on the third page as well the entire final page. Each and every advertisement subsidized the delivery of the news that comprised the rest of the newspaper.

Johnston was so eager to bring in addition revenues from advertising (as well as subscriptions) that he inserted a note in the colophon of every issue of the Georgia Gazette. Rather than merely inform readers that the newspaper was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah, he stated that he received “Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper.” Notably, he listed advertisements first, suggesting their importance in the continued operation of the newspaper. John McLean’s advertisement concerning stray horses on the final page helped to make possible the dissemination of news from London on the first page and news from South Carolina on the third page. Many forms of media, especially those that deliver the news, rely on selling advertisements today. Although the mechanisms have changed over the course of a quarter millennium, the business model has not.

March 14

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Essex Gazette (March 14, 1769).

“CHOICE green Coffee … also blue and white China Cups and Saucers.”

This advertisement features a series of goods sold by William Vans. His merchandise included green coffee, ground ginger, rum, indigo, and china cups and saucers, all imported from faraway places around the globe. I focused on two of these goods that were extremely popular among the colonists and played an important role in colonial life.

Coffee and tea were both introduced in Europe in the early seventeenth century and became increasingly popular in the colonies in the eighteenth century. When coffee and tea became common drinks, colonists desired something other than normal cups to drink them. According to Beth Carver Wees at the Metropolitan Museum, the colonists decided to buy ceramic and silver vessels. Vans sold imported “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” along with his coffee and tea. In addition, this created business for silversmiths and was viewed as a sign as someone’s wealth if they owned a lot of accessories for drinking coffee and tea. Some of these included covered sugar bowls, cream pots, teakettles, and hot-water urns. People often bought them for the intricate design or for the shiny complexion. The establishment of coffee shops helped colonists pass along information and news, making it a lot easier to gather support when the colonies rebelled against Britain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

William Vans was not the only purveyor of “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” to advertise in the March 14, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Among the vast inventory of goods in stock at his shop, Francis Grant listed “an Assortment of China, Glass, Stone and Delph Ware.” Susanna Renken concluded her advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds” that named dozens of varieties with a brief note about “a Box of China Ware to sell” at her shop in Boston. Of the nine paid notices that appeared in that issue, one concerned real estate, one outlined legal proceedings to settle an estate, and the remaining seven promoted goods to consumers or commodities to traders. A substantial proportion of advertisers named china among their wares. Colonial retailers both served a market that demanded “China Ware” and sought to incite greater demand for such products.

As Luke suggests in his analysis of Vans’s advertisement, this was possible because both retailers and consumers recognized how certain goods complemented others. Rather than specializing solely in spices and beverages, Vans also sold china cups and saucers for drinking his “CHOICE green Coffee” and “Most excellent Bohea Tea.” Grant hawked “Loaf and Brown Sugar” along with his “Assortment of China.” Consumers did not purchase just tea or just china or just sugar. Instead, they acquired these items simultaneously. Many likely also purchased other accessories to incorporate into their coffee and tea drinking rituals from among the “all Sorts of European Goods” peddled by Vans and the “general Assortment of English and West-India GOODS” advertised by Grant. In other advertisements, Renken offered all sorts of textiles, some of which could have been used to make cloths to adorn the tables where customers drank tea or coffee sweetened with sugar and served in china. The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century occurred not only because of a proliferation in the availability of goods but also because the acquisition of one item often required obtaining other items in order to enhance the experience of consuming any of them. Advertisements in early American newspapers provide a map of the consumption habits of many colonial readers.

March 13

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Boston Chronicle (March 13, 1769).

“The Reign of his MAJESTY KING GEORGE III.”

This advertisement features an almanac sold by John Mein, who happened to be one of the printers of the Boston Chronicle. The advertisement talks about the king and refers to him as “his MAJESTY KING GEORGE III,” which was still common in 1769 because most colonists were not yet fully in favor of independence. Loyalists were still present in the colonies despite many of the colonists having turned against Parliament because of the Townshend Acts. Mein might have been trying to use this wording to appeal to the colonists and make them want to sympathize with the King again. He was not afraid to show his support for the crown, even if it made some colonists unhappy.

As I read through this newspaper, I kept on noticing John Mein’s name appearing over and over again. I did some research to see what else I could learn about him. He was indeed a loyalist who got himself into a good amount of trouble. According to Carol Sue Humphrey in The American Revolution and the Press, he was very openly opposed to the colonial violation of the nonimportation agreement and often tried to expose those who cheated while they claimed they boycotted British goods in an attempt to have Parliament repeal the taxes from the Townshend Acts.[1] Many of the colonists saw him as a threat and tried to end his schemes. After a series of arguments and some physical altercations, Mein ends up accidently shooting an innocent bystander during an exchange with some angry colonists. In order to avoid trial, he fled the colonies and headed back to Britain

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In his analysis of John Mein’s advertisement for Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanac, Luke draws on a theme that we have developed in our Revolutionary America class: the transition from resistance to revolution. Rather than assume that as soon as Parliament imposed the Stamp Act in 1765 colonists began clamoring for independence, we have instead traced how they initially sought a redress of grievances and worked for reconciliation with Parliament. Only after “a long train of abuses and usurpations,” as Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence, did colonists determine that they wished to sever political ties with Great Britain rather than remain part of its empire. By March 1769 colonists had experienced only some of those “abuses” and they did not know what kinds of “usurpations” they might encounter in the future. As Luke notes, many colonists were in the process of enacting nonimportation agreements, leveraging commerce as a means of political resistance in hopes that Parliament would repeal the Townshend Acts just as it had repealed the Stamp Act three years earlier.

Yet not everyone took up the patriot cause, not in 1769 nor in 1776. Luke and his classmates have also studied the presence of loyalists in the colonies during the imperial crisis and the war. I appreciate how he drew on our discussions from class to seek evidence of loyalist sentiment in newspapers and advertisements from the period. The advertisement he selected appeared next to another placed by John Mein and his partner John Fleeming, that one for a “REGISTER FOR NEW-ENGLAND and NOVA-SCOTIA … AND An ALMANACK for 1769.” This second advertisement extensively listed the contents of the almanac, which was a common marketing strategy intended to excite interest among prospective customers. Unlike other advertisements, however, it emphasized “BRITISH LISTS” that included “Births, Marriages and Issues of the Royal family,” an “Alphabetical List of the HOUSE of COMMONS,” and lists of “His Majesty’s most Honorable Privy Council,” among many others. Like other almanacs, Mein and Fleeming’s Register also included lists of colonial officeholders, but it placed particular emphasis on the connection to Britain. The printers used both their almanac and the advertisement to assert British identity even at a time that the rocky relationship between colonies and Parliament intensified. Perhaps they even went to such efforts because they witnessed the relationship deteriorating and wished to remind their fellow colonists where their loyalties should lie.

The Adverts 250 Project frequently traces advertisements that voiced patriot sentiments, either explicitly or implicitly, in the late 1760s, yet patriots were not the only ones who promoted their allegiances in newspaper advertisements. Some loyalists, especially bold ones like Mein, utilized advertisements in addition to other portions of the public prints to make political arguments.

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[1] Carol Sue Humphrey, The American Revolution and the Press: The Promise of Independence (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2013), 56-58.

March 12

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Georgia Gazette (March 8, 1769).

“Samuel Elbert HAS JUST IMPORTED … NEW-ENGLAND RUM.”

This advertisement features a series of items that recently had been imported into Georgia by a trader named Samuel Elbert. Some of the items included soap, “CALIMANCO SHOES,” and New England rum.

Who was Samuel Elbert? Originally I was not expecting to uncover much about this advertiser, but I learned that he was an American merchant, politician, and officer during the Revolution. According to the Georgia Historical Society, Elbert started as a merchant and served in the colonial legislature as well as being a captain of a grenadier company. However, once fighting started, he decided that he wanted to serve in the war. He received a commission as an officer because of his wealth and social status. He rose up the ranks and was promoted to brigadier general in 1783 after years of service. He was later elected governor of Georgia. It is important to know about the many different people who participated in the American Revolution. Elbert may not be as famous as other officers, but he played a major role in the southern campaigns. Like other officers and soldiers from diverse backgrounds and occupations, he helped with defeating the British.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Luke has chosen an advertisement that may look familiar to regular readers of the Adverts 250 Project. Samuel Elbert’s notice was the featured advertisement on February 22. While the methodology for this project usually requires selecting an advertisement only once, I sometimes make exceptions when I wish to explore a particular aspect of an advertisement in more detail.

Elbert’s advertisement first appeared in the February 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, notable because it was one of only two that incorporated a large gothic font for its headline. Such typography distinguished both advertisements from the others on the same page and throughout the issue. The other advertisement, an announcement that the former members of the “Ugly Club” would meet on the 25th was discontinued the following week, but Elbert’s advertisement ran once again on March 1. In that issue, Lewis Johnson, an apothecary, and William Sime, a goldsmith and jeweler, both inserted advertisements that displayed their names in the same large gothic font. Elbert, Johnson, and Sime all ran their advertisements once again in the March 8 edition, the one examined by Luke, though yet another notice deployed the same visual style, this time featuring the name of Michael Hamer, a shopkeeper.

Who was responsible for the sudden infusion of such bold typography? Was it all at the discretion of a compositor who wished to experiment with some of the types not often used in the pages of the Georgia Gazette? Or did Johnson, Sime, and Hamer notice how the unique type drew attention to Elbert’s advertisement and then request that their own notices receive the same treatment? The answers cannot be found in the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Instructions may have been submitted with the copy for those advertisements, though advertisers may have simply made verbal requests when visiting James Johnston’s printing office on Broughton Street in Savannah. In his examination of the typography of the Georgia Gazette, Ray Dilley remarks that the “large size (Great Primer, or 36 point), appears at least once as a fascinating announcement for a meeting of ‘The Ugly Club,’” but does not mention its use in Elbert’s advertisement or any that appeared in subsequent issues.[1] Nor does Lawrence speculate on why Johnston or a compositor happened to resort to that type. The advertisements themselves testify to a willingness to experiment with graphic design, but the identity of the innovator remains unknown.

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[1] Lawrence A. Alexander, James Johnston, Georgia’s First Printer: With Decorations and Remarks on Johnston’s Work by Ray Dilley (Savannah: Pigeonhole Press, 1956), 42.

March 11

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Newport Mercury (March 11, 1769).

“JOSEPH BELCHER … makes and sells Pewter Ware.”

In this advertisement Joseph Belcher attempted to sell “Pewter Ware” as cheap as he possibly could. Belcher mentions his business and how he is trying to keep it operating at a high capacity alongside managing his “Brazier and Founders Business.” He was a very busy artisan. I think that Belcher may have been selling his goods at such a good price in an attempt to convince colonists to buy American goods and not British goods while the Townshend Acts were in effect. The colonists wanted to boycott British goods and attempt to hurt the British economy and force them to weaken their grip on the colonies. They thought that the British would recall their taxes if colonists did not buy their goods and purchasing local items was the best way to do it. Consider the amount of pewter imported into the colonies: three hundred tons of pewter in the 1760s. Between 1720 and 1767 the value of pewter imported to the colonies “was greater than that of all silver, tinware, and furniture imported in the same years.” Many colonists may have considered the pewter that Belcher “makes and sells” preferable to imported goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In his advertisement in the March 11, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Joseph Belcher of Newport positioned himself as a regional purveyor of “Pewter Ware.” Belcher inserted the same advertisement in the March 6 edition of the Newport Mercury, calling on local customers to patronize his shop. When they had the option of advertising in one or more newspapers printed in their own towns, most merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans chose to confine their marketing efforts to those publications. Belcher’s decision to place his advertisement in both the Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette deviated from the common practice of the period.

As Luke notes, Belcher made appeals to both price and quantity. He sold his wares “Wholesale and Retail,” indicating that he welcomed customers who planned to stock his pewter in their own shops as well as end-use consumers who selected items for their own homes. He not only offered low prices but also pledged that his customers could acquire his products “as cheap as can be bought in Boston, or elsewhere.” His prices were not low merely in comparison to those charged by local competitors in Newport, nor in comparison to competitors throughout Rhode Island. Instead, Belcher placed himself in competition with suppliers of pewter in Boston and, presumably, New York. Entrepreneurs who placed advertisements in newspapers published in Rhode Island and Connecticut sometimes made comparisons to both cities, assuring their prospective customers that they did not need to send away to the much larger port cities to gain access to the best deals.

Like other colonial newspapers, both the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury circulated far beyond the towns where they were printed. From his shop on Thames Street in Newport, Belcher encouraged consumers in Providence and other places to submit orders by letter, stating that they “may depend on being as well used as if present.” Commerce and consumption did not require face-to-face interactions; instead, advertisements and letters facilitated the acquisition of goods in colonial America. Combining low prices, orders by letter, and advertising in newspapers published in more than one town, Belcher created a marketing strategy designed to extend his share of the market for pewter far beyond the town where he operated his shop.

March 10

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Connecticut Journal (March 10, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD … A NEGRO MAN.”

This advertisement in the Connecticut Journal offered an African American man for sale because the slaveholder no longer had any use or “Employment” for him. One of the things that shocked me about this advertisement is that is says that the man is “employed” by the advertiser. Enslaved men and women were not employed; they were owned and set to work by people who called themselves their masters. “Employment” insinuates that someone was hired and wanted to do the job they were assigned, but that was not what happened with an enslaved person. Another shocking part of this advertisement is how easily Bernard Lintot transitioned from talking about selling “A NEGRO MAN” to talking about selling horses and harnesses. This type of talk might have been commonplace for the people in the eighteenth century, but its dehumanization shocks me in the twenty-first century.

As a history major, I know that slavery was still very much a common practice in New England in the 1760s, but the average person might be shocked by this because many people often think that the northern colonies never really were involved with slavery. However, as a result of gradual emancipation laws, slavery in Connecticut did not officially end until 1848 . Connecticut made some steps in 1784, when the state passed the Gradual Abolition Act. However, this only emancipated the children born into slavery and they were only emancipated after they reached the age of twenty-five. Abolition was sometimes a slow process in the northern states, as many states passed laws outlawing slavery but those laws were not always for immediate emancipation.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Luke uses this advertisement offering an enslaved man for sale to make an argument about the past that many people never knew, have forgotten, or would prefer to ignore. As we have discussed in our Revolutionary America class, the revolutionary era was a turning point for the practice of slavery in the new nation. The northern states made efforts toward fulfilling the rhetoric of the era by abolishing slavery, though, as Luke notes, some states opted for gradual emancipation that extended the practice well into the nineteenth century. In the southern states, slavery became further entrenched, especially as westward expansion opened new opportunities to create economies dependent on forced labor. Ray Raphael refers to these diverging trajectories as “a tale of two stories” that get manipulated through the selective use of evidence when presenting the history of the American Revolution and its repercussions to general audiences.[1]

Luke’s choice of advertisement, however, was anything but selective in a misleading manner. In addition to serving as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project this week, he is also the guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. In fulfilling his responsibilities for the latter, he identified fifty-one advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children inserted in newspapers published during the week of March 10-16, 1769. Of those fifty-one advertisements, thirteen appeared in newspapers from New England or the Middle Atlantic, the colonies that became the (mostly) free states during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Two of the advertisements ran in New England newspapers, one in the New-London Gazette as well as the one Luke examined from the Connecticut Journal. Similar advertisements often appeared in newspapers from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. (Luke flagged one for a runaway “Negro Man Servant named Prince” that ran in more than one Boston newspaper, but I ultimately excluded it because the language did not make clear that that Prince was enslaved rather than a free black who had been indentured or otherwise attached to the household of the advertiser. This decision may have resulted in undercounting the number of advertisements for enslaved people appeared in newspapers in New England.) Among the other eleven advertisements, one ran in the Pennsylvania Gazette, one in the New-York Journal, two in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, and seven in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Some announced enslaved men, women, and children for sale, but others offered rewards for the capture and return of those who had escaped bondage in an era that colonists complained about their supposed enslavement by Parliament.

Overall, this means that when Luke considered the advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children he compiled for his week as guest curator of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project that he discovered that one out four – a significant minority – appeared in newspapers published in northern colonies. He used the prevalence of these advertisements to tell a story that all too often remains overlooked when we focus on the practice of slavery in nineteenth-century America but do not take into consideration the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Even then, as Luke underscores in his comparison of gradual emancipation and immediate emancipation laws, slavery continued in some northern states into the nineteenth century, in stark contrast to the rhetoric of the revolutionary era.

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[1] Ray Raphael, Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past, rev. ed. (New York: New Press, 2014), 215-216.

Reflections from Guest Curator Olivia Burke

In the twenty-first century, many people, including myself, skim over advertisements that appear in newspapers or magazines and oftentimes find them annoying. Before partaking in this project, I had little experience with interpreting advertisements nor had I given much thought to advertisements in the eighteenth century. However, as I dove into this project, I quickly began to recognize the importance of these advertisements as manifestations of culture in the eighteenth century.

In that period, print culture was an important aspect of society that I was able to see firsthand in the Adverts 250 Project. Newspapers were one of the colonists’ primary basis for communication with each other. In looking at them in the twenty-first century, they serve as a methodology in learning about everyday life in the American colonies in 1769 and the era of the American Revolution more generally. Analyzing advertisements from the newspapers printed in the colonies in 1769 improved my interpretation skills but also gave me a primary source glimpse into colonial life.

The Adverts 250 Project allowed me to “do” history. I had to not only read and understand the variety of advertisements that were printed, but I also had to do background research from credible sources to be able to get an inside look at the significance of the advertisements at this time. I took data from digital databases, primary sources, and secondary sources to be able to research and analyze each advertisement and then make it available to a variety of public audiences. Research to gain a full understanding of the topic was crucial, but I also had to keep in mind that this is a public history project. Picking advertisements that would be interesting to the general public was important. Because many others view this project daily, correct information and insightful analysis was crucial. An example of how this project allowed me to do history was the advertisement for a paint store I analyzed on March 4. In today’s society, anyone can buy a $30 can of paint and color their house white, red, blue, or tan without much thought. However, back in the eighteenth century, paint was expensive and certain colors were only available to the wealthy. It is important to look at these advertisements with an eye focused on the culture of the eighteenth century and how it differs from the twenty-first century and be able to relay that to the public.

Carl Robert Keyes and Olivia Burke examining eighteenth-century newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society. (Courtesy Assumption College Office of Communications)

I was able to go to the American Antiquarian Society to access their databases and see original editions of some of these newspapers with my own eyes. Students at Assumption College are blessed to be so close to the Antiquarian Society, where I was able to access the largest collection of early American newspapers in the world. Thanks to this research library, I was able to contribute to the Adverts 250 Project by using their collections to get a more complete view of American culture in the eighteenth century.

One of my favorite parts about this project was really digging deep into certain subjects. I used outside sources to be able to fully analyze and understand the cultural importance that a short advertisement can provide. For example, the advertisement I analyzed on March 7 was about flour of mustard. An archeological study of mustard bottles found at a Loyalist homestead in Canada showed the shift from imported British goods to goods grown and sold in the colonies and, eventually, the new nation. The advertisement proudly states “The best New-England Flour of Mustard.” Through this advertisement, we see the important shift from reliance of British goods to the colonies attempting to become more self-sustaining. However, this was also one of the most difficult aspects of the project. There are so many avenues that I could research in each ad that sometimes it was difficult to choose what part I wanted to analyze.

This brings us to another important aspect of the Adverts 250 Project that I loved.   Advertisements were a window into an emerging pride and nationalism in colonial America. As the colonists become more connected with each other through print culture, including newspaper advertisements, thoughts about revolution began to swirl. As I mentioned earlier with the mustard advertisement, colonists were trying to become self-sufficient and did not want to rely on Britain for everything. This is exhibited in advertisements in the eighteenth century newspapers that I was able to explore in the Adverts 250 Project.

The Adverts 250 Project got me thinking: in 250 years will historians look back to our society now and analyze the advertisements in our newspapers and other media? What will they tell future researchers about the early twenty-first century? Overall, this project enriched my understanding of the products and services that people in the colonial and Revolutionary periods relied upon. We can see their needs on a day-to-day basis. I was able to participate in writing history by asking the question: “why does this matter?” With each advertisement I interpreted, I was able to go deeper and discover different aspects of colonial society. I am fortunate to be able to participate in the Adverts 250 Project this semester and I hope to be able to work with Professor Keyes again in the future.

March 9

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 9, 1769).

“LEMMONS new Fruit.”

Many kinds of fruit were considered a rare luxury in the eighteenth century, primarily only available for the wealthy. This was a direct result of where fruit grew and how people got it. Colonists had two options when it came to acquiring fruit: locally grown or imported, both of which were only available in season.

Colonists enjoyed fruit they introduced to North America, like apples and peaches, as well as indigenous plants that they had added to their diet, like strawberries, cherries, and grapes. Even with this variety, colonists had to settle for what could be grown in their specific climate or a particular time of year. John Crosby advertised another kind of fruit: lemons. As Mark Ziarko explains, “Naturally, tropical species like citrus fruits and pineapples became the zenith of the colonial fruit hierarchy. If someone really wanted to demonstrate their wealth, these imported fruits were the way to go.”

Because fruit was expensive to acquire, it became a form of showing status. Fresh fruit could be displayed on a fruit dish as decoration and as a status symbol. People who could afford fruit wanted to show it off to others. Fresh fruit was not always a practical purchase because it could be expensive and did not have a long shelf life. For colonial Americans, eating fresh fruit was more than just a tasty and healthy snack; it was a way to show wealth and class.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

John Crosby set up shop “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons, South-End” in Boston. In an era before standardized street numbers, colonists relied on various landmarks, including shop signs, to give directions and indicate locations. Many merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others purveyors of consumer goods and services erected signs to mark where they conducted business. Some tied the images they selected directly to their occupation, as John Crosby, “Lemmon-Trader,” did with his “Sign of the Basket of Lemmons,” but others chose distinctive images that did not necessarily testify to the merchandise they offered for sale.

Some advertisers did not incur the expense of having their own sign painted or carved. Instead, they treated signs posted by neighbors as landmarks to help guide prospective customers to their own shops. On the same day that Crosby inserted his advertisement in the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Elias Dupee announced upcoming auctions at his “New AUCTION-ROOM” in the Boston Chronicle. Lest potential bidders confuse his establishment with any of the several other auction houses in the bustling port city, he offered extensive directions that included a shop sign: “Between the Swing and Draw-bridge, near the Golden-key, over Mr John Dupee Mathematical Instrument-maker’s shop.” Similarly, Hammatt and Brown sold imported groceries and housewares “near the Sign of the Cornfield, in Union-street.” According to his advertisement in the same issue of Boston Evening-Post as Hammatt and Brown’s notice, John Hunt hawked “a good Assortment of Ironmongery, Braizery, Cutlery and Pewter” at a shop located “next Door Northward of the Heart and Crown, in Cornhill.” The Heart and Crown happened to be the emblem that marked the printing shop operated by T. and J. Fleet, the publishers of the Boston Evening-Post. The image also appeared in the masthead of the newspaper, augmenting its familiarity to colonists in Boston.

Crosby’s advertisement does more than reveal what kinds of goods were offered for sale in Boston as spring approached in 1769. It also testifies to the sights colonists glimpsed as they traversed the streets of the city. Shop signs, like the “Basket of Lemmons,” decorated buildings while also aiding both residents and visitors as they made their way through the busy port. Some advertisers adopted the images depicted via their shop signs as brands that represented their businesses, but those signs first served other purposes in the visual landscape of Boston and other cities.

March 8

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Georgia Gazette (March 8, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … CUFFY and BERSHEBA.”

Slavery advertisements were common in eighteenth-century newspapers, especially in the Georgia Gazette and other newspapers in southern colonies,. In the advertisement, Shand and Henderson offered a monetary reward for two of their slaves who ran away: Cuffy and Bersheba. They offered twenty shillings for each of them. This was one of six advertisements concerning slavery in this issue. In the Georgia Gazette, advertisements for slaves were just as common as advertisements for tea, household goods, and property for sale.

In a chapter on “Runaway Advertisements in Colonial Newspapers,” Victoria Bissell Brown and Timothy J. Shannon discuss how colonists saw slaves as material goods, not as human beings. “One of the great advantages to reading these advertisements in their original context is to comprehend how casually colonial Americans bought and sold human laborers.”[1] Based on the look inside colonial society that newspapers give us, we are able to see how colonists in the eighteenth century did not think twice about seeing an advertisement for a runaway slave next to one for a stray horse. As revolution drew closer to becoming a reality, slavery began to decline in the north but it remained strong in the south, where advertisements like this one were very common.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Olivia notes that in addition to Shand and Henderson’s notice about Cuffy and Bersheba making their escape, five other advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children appeared in the March 8, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Two of them reported on runaways that had been captured. Two offered enslaved people for sale, wile the final one offered an enslaved woman “To be hired out” as a domestic servant. When it came to such advertisements in the Georgia Gazette, this was actually relatively few compared to most issues. That newspaper often featured a dozen or more advertisements related to enslavement. They constituted an important source of revenue for James Johnston, the printer.

Olivia challenges us to consider how unremarkable white colonists found these advertisements that appeared week after week throughout the colonial period. This certainly reveals something significant about the attitudes of most colonists, but these advertisements also tell important stories about the experiences of enslaved people. Consider not only Cuffy and Bersheba but also their counterparts in the advertisements reporting Africans and African Americans who had been “TAKEN UP” or “”Brought to the Work-house.” Cuffy and Bersheba were both approximately twenty-five years old. Both spoke “good English,” indicating that they were either born in the colonies or had been transported there quite some time ago. When they made their escape, Cuffy had “leg irons on” (and Bersheba may have as well, though the wording of the advertisement does not make it clear). Shand and Henderson made every effort to keep them around, but Cuffy and Bersehba were determined to free themselves. Sampson, Molly, and an unnamed infant were discovered “on the Indian Country Path,” making their escape from a “master [who] lives near the salt water.” Sampson “speaks such bad English as scarcely to be understood,” suggesting that he may not have been enslaved his entire life. Michael, a “TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW” who had been confined to the workhouse in Savannah definitely had not been born into slavery in Georgia. He spoke little English. The advertisement reported that he was “of the Coromantee country” and had “his country marks thus ||| on each side of his face,” referring to ritual scarification.

Each of these advertisements provides a miniature and incomplete biography of enslaved people who attempted to seize their own liberty in the era of the American Revolution. White colonists placed them for one reason, recovering their human property, but these advertisements ultimately served an unintended purpose. They testified to the agency and resistance of enslaved men and women. Although not in their own words, these advertisements tell the stories of people who had few opportunities to create documents that recorded their own experiences.

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[1] Victoria Bissell Brown and Timothy J. Shannon, Going to the Source: The Bedford Reader in American History (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004), 48.

March 7

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Essex Gazette (March 7, 1769).

“The best New-England Flour of Mustard.”

In “A Taste for Mustard: An Archaeological Examination of a Condiment and Its Bottles from a Loyalist Homestead in Upper Canada,” Denise C. McGuire provides an overview of mustard production and consumption and examines an excavation of the Butler Homestead site in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. “Flour of Mustard” was very popular in Britain. It played an important role in eighteenth-century cooking, but was also considered to have medicinal value. It also reveals changes in transatlantic trade. Initially imported in the American colonies, it was subsequently grown there. As we can see in this advertisement, flour of mustard was sold in the colonies; it even specifically states that it was “New-England Flour of Mustard,” proudly showing that the mustard was grown and produced in the colonies.

That production continued after the American Revolution, intended for local consumption as well as export. When a cache of glass bottles was discovered, the square shape led McGuire to believe that they were mustard bottles. The discoveries at the Butler Homestead show that Loyalists got their flour of mustard from American producers after the Revolution. “[E]ven two generations after the first wave of Loyalist settlement, the ability to acquire simple commodities was not always easily accessible in more remote locations.”[1] Such evidence shows that the Butler family retained commercial ties to upstate New York even after the Revolutionary War.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When she consulted me about including this advertisement among those she would examine during her week as guest curator, Olivia expressed some concern about Chloe Amour previously examined flour of mustard in another advertisement recently featured on the Adverts 250 Project. She did not wish to duplicate the work of one of her peers. I encouraged her to continue with Thomas Walley’s advertisement, especially after she revealed that she had already consulted McGuire’s article. We certainly had more to learn about this particular commodity. As we move chronologically from the imperial crisis to the early republic, our Revolutionary America class has so far focused on the politics and economics of producing, trading, and consuming goods in the 1760s through the early 1780s. By incorporating mustard bottles uncovered during an archaeological excavation of a Loyalist site in Canada, Olivia has given our class a preview of the period we will be examining later in the semester.

For my part, I’m interested in the many similarities between Walley’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette and William Chace’s advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Both named their products “New-England Flour of Mustard,” emphasizing that it had been produced locally. Walley underscored that his mustard “has been greatly admired, both for its Strength and Flavor, by all that have used it.” Similarly, Chace proclaimed that his mustard “is allowed by the best Judges to be superior both for Strength and Flavour to any imported.” In this instance, Chace more explicitly attached a political meaning to acquiring his mustard, comparing it imports that many colonists had vowed to eschew as acts of economic resistance against the Townshend Acts. Walley made a nod toward such appeals when he offered to make “An Allowance … to those that buy to sell again, in order to encourage this Manufacture.” Such discounts may have helped to move his product out the door and, eventually, into the hands of greater numbers of consumers, but they also invoked images of “domestic manufacture” so often touted in news and editorials, especially in those moments that the imperial crisis intensified. Even Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, stocked a “small Parcel of the above Mustard” to make it available to residents of Salem who might not otherwise have an opportunity to acquire it from Walley at his store in Boston. In advancing similar appeals to prospective customers, Walley and Chace demonstrated that they participated in a larger conversation about the meaning of mustard. In the late 1760s, mustard did more than merely flavor food. It was enmeshed in the politics of the period.

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[1] Denise C. McGuire, “A Taste for Mustard: An Archaeological Examination of a Condiment and Its Bottles from a Loyalist Homestead in Upper Canada,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 20, no. 4 (December 2016): 680.