May 26

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

Pennsylvania Journal (May 23, 1771).

“Frugality and Industry make Mankind rich, free, and happy.”

Politics certainly shaped accounts of current events that ran in colonial newspapers during the era of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.  Even more explicitly, politics appeared in letters and editorials that printed selected for publication.  Yet news accounts, letters, and editorials were not the only places that readers encountered politics in newspapers.  Advertisements often commented on current events and sought to convince readers to adopt political positions.

Such was the case in an advertisement about “A GOLD MEDAL” that would be awarded to “the Person that produces the best piece of Woollen Cloth, sufficient for a Suit of Cloathes, of Wool raised in Lancaster County.”  The advertisement in the May 23, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal declared that “it must be a sincere pleasure to every lover of this Country, to see the attention that persons of all denominations give, not only to the Woolen, but to other Manufactures that we stand most in need of from Foreign Countries.”  Such sentiments corresponded with an emphasis on “domestic manufactures,” producing more goods for consumption in the colonies, that arose in tandem with nonimportation agreements adopted in defiance of duties Parliament imposed on imported goods.  Many colonists argued that boycotts had the greatest chance of succeeding if American consumers had access to more alternatives produced in the colonies.  Such efforts also stood to strengthen local economies and reduce the trade imbalance with Britain.  In the process, goods acquired political meaning.  Colonists consciously chose to wear garments made of homespun, the cloth that inspired the competition advertised in the Pennsylvania Journal, as a badge of honor and a means of communicating their political allegiances and support of nonimportation agreements.  Even after Parliament repealed most of the duties and the colonies resumed trade with Britain, many colonists continued to advocate for greater self-sufficiency through domestic manufactures, as was the case for the sponsors of the content in Lancaster County.

The description of the medal awarded for the competition the previous year reflected the ideology of the patriot cause.  One side featured “the Bust of the Pennsylvania Farmer” with the inscription “Take away the wicked from before the King, and his Throne shall be established in righteousness.”  The image celebrated farmers.  The inscription lauded the king, implicitly critiquing Parliament for overstepping its authority in attempts to regulate colonial commerce.  The other side depicted “a Woman spin[n]ing, on the big wheel” with the inscription “Frugality and Industry maker Mankind rich, free, and happy.”  Like homespun cloth, the spinning wheel became a symbol of the patriot cause.  Including it on the medal testified to the important role women played in both politics and commerce, their labor in production and their decisions about consumption necessary to the success of domestic manufactures.  The inscription underscored that supporting domestic manufactures led to prosperity, freedom, and, ultimately, happiness.

The arguments contained in the advertisement about the contest to produce “Woollen Cloth” in Lancaster County echoed those made in letters and editorials that appeared elsewhere in the Pennsylvania Journal and other newspapers.  When they purchased space in newspapers, advertisers acquired some extent of editorial authority to express their views about any range of subjects.  Publishing an advertisement, like promoting the contest, gave the sponsors an opportunity to comment on politics and the colonial economy while simultaneously enlisting the support of others.

March 22

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 22, 1771).

“A Table, calculated to shew the Contents … of any Sled Load or Cart Load of WOOD.”

In March 1771, Samuel Freeman of Falmouth, Casco Bay, took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to advertise “A Table, calculated to shew the Contents (in Feet and twelfth Parts of a Foot) of any Sled Load of WOOD.”  An extended version ran on March 8.  It mentioned that the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette also sold that table at their office in Portsmouth.  In addition, it explained the purpose of such a table to readers who may have been unfamiliar with a practice from “Every City and populous Town in America …, Portsmouth only excepted.”  Even Falmouth in Casco Bay (Maine today, but then still part of Massachusetts) had regulations for appointing officials to measure loads of wood and issue certificates for buyers to consult during their transactions with sellers.  The advertisement advised that the residents of Portsmouth might wish to consider such a system at the town’s annual meeting at the end of the month.

The explanation and the commentary did not appear in subsequent iterations of the advertisement.  Instead, an abbreviated version ran on March 15, 22, and 29.  It did not mention copies of the table available at the printing office.  It looks as though Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the Portsmouth Gazette, saw an opportunity to insert an editorial, not among the news items, but instead appended to an advertisement submitted by one of their customers.  Doing so provided context for Freeman’s advertisement, but it also transformed the first iteration into more than the advertiser may have intended.  Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette were accustomed to encountering all kinds of information among the advertisements.  That publication featured a higher proportion of legal notices than most other newspapers published in the early 1770s, perhaps prompting readers to peruse the advertisements for updates about current events.  The printers did not take such liberties with Freeman’s advertisement each time it ran.  After the Fowles made their pitch in its initial appearance it reverted to the copy that the advertiser submitted to the printing office.

March 8

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 8, 1771).

Every City and populous Town in America have some Regulations with regard to Sled and Cart Loads of Wood.”

An advertisement for an ingenious “Table, calculated to shew the Contents … of any Sled Load or Cart Load of WOOD” ran in the March 8, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The helpful resource had been published in Boston, but Samuel Freeman sold copies at Falmouth in Casco Bay (or Maine, still part of Massachusetts at the time) and Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle also had a few copies at their printing office in Portsmouth.  The bulk of the advertisement, that portion printed in italics unlike all other advertisements in that issue, consisted of an explanation of the purpose of the table and an argument for adopting new policies for selling wood in Portsmouth.  It does not seem clear that Samuel Freeman composed the entire advertisement.  Instead, the printers may have seized an opportunity to advocate on behalf of a measure they considered useful.

Every City and populous Town in America,” explained the portion of the advertisement possibly penned by the Fowles, “have some Regulation with regard to Sled and Cart Loads of Wood, Portsmouth only excepted.”  With some dismay, the advertisement exclaimed that “now even Casco-Bay are regulating these Matters before us.”  How did this work and why was it important?  Looking to Boston, the advertisement explained that “Officers are appointed to Measure every Load” and then they gave each driver “a Certificate that the Load contains so much Wood.”  The driver then sold that load “agreeable to said Certificate & at the Market price.”  Adopting this system of invoking weights and measures to regulate those selling wood meant that if a drive “asks more” than the market price or “offers to sell [wood] without” the certificate “he is sure of being called to an Account.”  This policy protected consumers when they purchased a valuable resource for heating their homes, stores, and workshops.

Portsmouth did not have such a policy.  “How different this from the practice here may easily be seen,” the advertisement noted, before recommending that residents of the town might benefit from such a system.  The advertisement concluded with a suggestion that a similar policy might be “proposed to the Consideration of the Town, at the ensuing annual Meeting” at the end of the month.  The Fowles stood to benefit from printing and selling tables measuring wood, but that would not necessarily have been their only motivation in advocating for a policy that benefited all consumers.  Like many other advertisements, this one demonstrates that discourses about politics and policies were not confined to news accounts and editorials that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers.  Advertisers regularly discussed politics, endorsed nonimportation agreements, and encouraged domestic manufactures throughout the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.  In this example, however, colonists used an advertisement to garner support for a local ordinance that would bring Portsmouth in line with other towns.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:26:1770 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (July 26, 1770).
“He purposes to return to this LAND of LIBERTY.”

In the summer of 1770, William Wylie, a watchmaker, took to the pages of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette to inform the community that he would soon depart for Britain.  He made “his grateful acknowledgments to those Ladies and Gentlemen, who have hitherto employed him,” but he had other purposes for placing his advertisement.  He requested “that those who have omitted sending the money for the repairing their watches” would settle accounts before his departure.  He did not explain why he was making the voyage, but did state that he needed the money “to accomplish his design, in going to Britain.”  Wylie also pledged to return to Virginia and wanted former and prospective customers to keep him in mind for their watchmaking needs.  He hoped that loyal customers would once again hire him after his temporary absence.

Wylie also injected politics into his advertisement.  He proclaimed that he planned “to return to this LAND of LIBERTY as soon as possible,” using capital letters for added emphasis for his description of Virginia.  Paying to insert his advertisement in the newspaper also allowed the watchmaker an opportunity to express political views in the public prints as he went about his other business.  As printer and editor, Rind selected the content when it came to news, editorials, and entertaining pieces, but he exercised less direct control over the content of advertisements.  Wylie could have submitted a letter to the editor in which he extolled the virtues of “this LAND of LIBERTY,” but with far less certainty that Rind would print it than an advertisement in which the watchmaker commented on his political views in the course of communicating with his customers.  Besides, presenting a homily on politics to readers of Rind’s Virginia Gazette does not appear to have been Wylie’s primary purpose in publishing the advertisement.  All the same, he made a deliberate choice to deviate from the standard format for the type of advertisement he placed.  Nothing about the goals he wished to achieve required that he opine about politics at all, but Wylie purchased the space in the newspaper and had the liberty to embellish his advertisement as he wished.  In turn, readers of Rind’s Virginia Gazette encountered political commentary among the advertisements in addition to the news and editorials elsewhere in the newspaper.

February 23

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

New-York Journal (February 23, 1769).

“The imposition laid upon us in the use of British paper.”

Although colonial printers liberally reprinted news items and editorial pieces from newspaper to newspaper, they only infrequently reprinted advertisements. After all, advertisements usually addressed local and regional audiences. In addition, paid notices were an important revenue stream that made colonial newspapers viable ventures. As a result, printers had few reasons to reprint advertisements from the newspapers they received from their counterparts in other cities and towns. On occasion, some printers did reprint advertisements that they considered either entertaining or instructive. Such was the case for an advertisement from the February 16, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal that John Holt reprinted just a week later in the February 23 edition of the New-York Journal.

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford had inserted an advertisement offering “Ready MONEY for CLEAN LINEN RAGGS” that Pennsylvania’s “Paper Manufactory” could make into paper, thus supporting the local economy, eliminating dependence on paper imported from England, and avoiding the duties imposed by the Townshend Act. The Bradfords conceived of saving rags as a political act rather than a mundane chore, charging “Ladies” to express “their love of liberty” by taking the lead in supporting this particular act of resistance to Parliament’s overreach.

Holt eliminated any mention of the Bradfords and their “Pennsylvania Writing PAPER,” considering them irrelevant to the lesson he wished to impress on readers of the New-York Journal. He reprinted the rest of the advertisement in its entirety, along with a brief introduction: “For the Encouragement of the Paper Manufactory, the following Advertisement is copied from the Pennsylvania Journal, and being equally applicable to this Province, is earnestly recommended to the Consideration of all who desire its Prosperity and wish to preserve its Freedom.” In making this statement, Holt doubled down on the political message advanced by the Bradfords.

But that was not all Holt did. After reprinting the original advertisement, he inserted an editorial of equal length. He lamented the “great sums of money that are continually sent out of America … for the single article of paper.” He expressed dismay that colonists had not done more to encourage paper production in New York; the industry would garner “a considerable and certain profit” as well as avoid “the unconstitutional imposition exacted upon us” by the duties on imported paper. Encouraging domestic manufacture of paper would “promote the good of our country, and preserve its right and liberties.” Finally, Holt made a bid for supporting paper production in New York rather than Philadelphia, another reason to remove any mention of the Bradfords and their goods from the advertisement. He complained that “[b]esides the money sent from this province to Europe for paper, considerable sums are sent for it to Philadelphia.” He believed that approximately twenty paper mills operated in that city and its environs, compared to only a couple in New York. Not only did Holt promote paper made in America, he wanted his own colony to benefit from its production rather than import from a neighboring province.

Although Holt described this piece as an advertisement and placed it among the paid notices, it might better be considered an editorial. The political valence of the original advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal merited reprinting in the New-York Journal, but Holt enhanced it with even more extensive commentary.