May 28

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

Pennsylvania Journal (May 28, 1772).

“CATHERINE DESSENER … came and stole away said boy.”

Beyond the articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in eighteenth-century newspapers, advertisements often relayed news, gossip, or a combination of the two.  In a notice that ran in the May 28, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Thomas King relayed the story of a child that he had sheltered for more than five years and the child’s mother who “stole away said boy.”  Like advertisements about wives who “eloped” from their husbands, apprentices and indentured servants who ran away from their masters, and enslaved people who liberated themselves from their enslavers, King’s notice relayed the perspective of the advertisers and included only the details he chose to share with readers.  The mother, Catherine Dessener, might have given quite a different account had she placed her own advertisement.

According to King, Dessener left her son, Johannes, with him when the child was “only ten weeks old.”  Over the course of the next five and a half years, Dessener “made no satisfaction for [King’s] trouble of maintaining her child.”  King did not specify the details of any agreement he and Dessener reached when he agreed to shelter Johannes or how often he and the child had contact with Dessener while Johannes resided in his household.  He did warn others “not to take an indenture on said child, or entertain him at their peril.”  He might have been worried about Dessener earning the trust of another colonizer and then absconding with Johannes again … or he might have already had a claim on the child as an apprentice or servant when he reached an appropriate age.  King did not address issues that could have prompted Dessener to flee with her child, such as the quality of the food, clothing and shelter he provided or the treatment the child received in the King household.

King presented a straightforward story of a generous patriarch who welcomed a child of little means into his home, only to have the mother take advantage of the situation for years.  Whether or not that was accurate, King’s version framed the narrative for the public.  Dessener and her friends and relations may have circulated an alternative account via word of mouth, but they did not have the benefit of the power of the press that King purchased when he paid to place an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal.

January 14

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

Essex Gazette (January 14, 1772).

“Two LIGHT-HOUSES on Thatcher’s Island for the Safety of Navigation.”

Advertisements in colonial newspapers often carried important news that supplemented the contents that appeared elsewhere.  Consider, for example, an advertisement that first ran in the Essex Gazette on December 31, 1771, and then continued to appear in subsequent issues in 1772.  “WHeras the Government having at their own Charge erected Two LIGHT-HOUSES on Thatcher’s Island for the Safety of Navigation,” the advertisement informed readers, “This is to give Notice, that said LIGHT-HOUSES are finished.”  Furthermore, “the LAMPS in said HOUSES have been light ever since the 21st of this Month.”  According to the National Park Service, “The original towers [constructed in 1771] were replaced by the present 124-foot tall, twin granite towers in 1861.”  Now known as the Cape Ann Light Station, those towers are a distinctive site (and sight!) in the region.

The National Park Service also explains that Thacher Island, located about a mile offshore from Rockport, Massachusetts, gained its name “when the General Court granted it to Anthony Thacher in 1636-1637.”  Thacher and his wife were the sole survivors of a shipwreck near the island in 1635.  Over the next four decades, several other shipwrecks occurred in the area, prompting the Massachusetts colonial government to purchase the island with the intention of establishing a light station.  Only nine lighthouses operated in North America prior to the twin lights on Thacher Island.  The two towers made the site easy for mariners to identify.  The other lighthouses guided ships to entrances to harbors, making these lights the first to mark a hazardous location.  As the advertisement in the Essex Gazette noted, they contributed to “the Safety of Navigation.”  They were also the last lighthouses built before the colonies declared independence.

Readers of the Essex Gazette may very well have been aware of the construction of the lights on Thacher Island, but this advertisement confirmed for the entire community that the project had been completed and the lights now lit.  In addition, printers and merchants participated in extensive networks for exchanging newspapers and the information contained in them.  An advertisement in the Essex Gazette, the newspaper printed closest to the location of the new lighthouses, almost certainly helped in disseminating news that the lights on Thacher Island now warned vessels of treacherous waters.

October 5

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

Providence Gazette (October 5, 1771).

“Some evil-minded Person or Persons have attempted to destroy a new Store.”

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, did not include much local news in the October 5, 1771, edition of his newspaper.  Of the twelve columns spread over four pages in that issue, only two-thirds of a column featured news under the heading “PROVIDENCE.”  Such was the case in most colonial newspapers, most of them a weekly publication schedule.  Local news tended to spread by word of mouth before printers took their newspapers to press.

Even as printers like Carter made their own editorial decisions about which news to feature and which to exclude, advertisers paid to highlight certain events in the notices they placed.  As a result, advertisements often delivered news or elaborated on stories already in circulation.  Consider, for instance, an advertisement placed by the partnership of White, Allen, and Waterman.  According to that notice, “some evil-minded Person or Persons have attempted to destroy a new Store … by putting Fire through one of the Windows” and setting a barrel on fire.  Fortunately for the proprietors, that barrel contained “some Bayberry-Wax” and the fire “was happily extinguished by the running of the Wax.”  The partners offered a reward to “Whoever will give Information of the villainous Author or Authors of this wicked and diabolical Act, so that he or they may be legally convicted.”

Among the other advertisements in that issue of the Providence Gazette, readers encountered estate notices placed by executors, calls for creditors of colonists who presented petitions related to an Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors to appear in court, and an announcement that the proprietors of the Providence Library would meet the following week to conduct business vital to the continued operations of that institution.  Such local news that ran as advertisements, interspersed among notices for consumer goods and services, filled more space than the “PROVIDENCE” news selected by the printer.  Readers interested in all of the “freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic” promised in the masthead needed to peruse the advertisements in addition to the other contents of the newspaper.

August 6

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

Connecticut Courant (August 6, 1771).

Many Gentlemen are enquiring concerning the situation, circumstances, &c of Dartmouth College.”

Colonial printers sometimes blurred the lines between news and advertising.  Such was the case with an item that appeared in the August 6, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  As the last item among the news in that issue or as the first item among the advertisements, Ebenezer Watson inserted a notice that functioned as both.  “Whereas many Gentlemen are enquiring concerning the situation, circumstances, &c of Dartmouth College,” Watson announced, “this may inform the public, That A Continuation of the Narrative of the Indian Charity-School in Lebanon in Connecticut; From the Year 1768 to the Incorporation of it with Dartmouth-College, and removal and settlement of it in Hanover, in the Province of New Hampshire, 1771 is lately published.”  The notice seemed to provide an overview of the recent history of Dartmouth College, but, like many advertisements for books, it simply listed the extensive title of the publication it promoted.

Eleazar Wheelock, president of Dartmouth College, penned the volume.  Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, printed the book and, in the notice that he placed in his own newspaper, informed readers that copies “may be had at the Printing Office in Hartford.”  He exercised his prerogative as printer to place his advertisement in a place that it looked like news, likely hoping to increase the number of readers who would take note of it even if they did not peruse other advertisements.  The items that appeared after it all had a format that readily identified them as advertisements, but Watson’s notice was more difficult to distinguish from the news items that filled most of the page.

In addition to using this advertisement as a transition between news and paid notices, Watson also made a request of other newspaper printers.  In a nota bene, he declared that “If the Printers in general would be so kind as to insert the above in their respective paper, the favor will be gratefully acknowledged, and possibly the public benefited.”  In asking his counterparts in other cities and towns to reprint his advertisement, Watson continued to treat it as a news item that delivered information for the purpose of better informing the public, not merely a commercial endeavor and means of generating revenue at his printing office in Hartford.  He apparently hoped that other printers would similarly present his advertisement as news of interest to their readers.

July 27

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

Providence Gazette (July 27, 1771).

“Warwick Bridge Lottery.”

When readers perused the pages of the July 27, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, they encountered a variety of news gathered from various sources.  The first page featured editorials in the form of letters “To the PRINTER of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE” and “To the Inhabitants of the Town of Providence” as well as news from London delivered “By the Brig Diana, Captain Perkins, arrived at Boston.”  News from London continued on the second page, eventually giving way to items from Jamaica and North Carolina.  The third page consisted of items with datelines from Quebec, New York, Cambridge, and Boston along with brief updates about Providence.  On the final page, the printer devoted most of the first column to additional news from Boston, but reserved the remainder for a list of “PRICES CURRENT inPROVIDENCE” and advertisements.  Many of those advertisements delivered news that did not appear elsewhere in the newspaper.

For instance, the “Managers of the Warwick Bridge Lottery” provided a brief update on their public works project.  They encouraged readers to fund their endeavor by purchasing tickets for a drawing slated to take place “in a very short Time.”  In a much lengthier advertisement that ran week after week for several months, Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer, reported on actions taken by the colony’s General Assembly concerning “Old Tenor Bills.”  Clarke called on “all Persons possessed of said Bills, to bring them in, and have them exchanged, agreeable to said Act of Assembly.”  Clarke supplemented that notice, dated December 31, 1770, with a shorter notice dated June 20, 1771.  In another advertisement that ran  for several months, this one in multiple newspapers, Alexander Colden informed colonists that “HIS Majesty’s Post-Master General … has been pleased to add a fifth Packet Boat to the Station between Falmouth and New-York” for the purpose of “better facilitating … Correspondence between Great Britain and America.”

Some of the advertisements promoted a variety of consumer goods and services or described real estate for sale, but a significant number of them delivered news.  In order to stay informed, readers could not dismiss advertisements out of hand but instead needed to skim them for important updates that might not appear among the articles and editorials printed on the other pages of the newspaper.

April 21

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 19, 1771).

“The last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

After fading from American newspapers for a time during the first few months of 1771, George Whitefield once again became a subject of interest in the spring.  Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  For the next three months, newspapers from New England to Georgia printed and reprinted news of his death and reactions to it in various towns throughout the colonies.  Those same newspapers also carried advertisements for an array of commemorative items produced in memory of the minister.  Eventually, both coverage of his death and marketing of memorabilia tapered off.  The renewed interest in Whitefield in the spring of 1771 coincided with the arrival of ships carrying news from England.  Printers now had access to coverage of Whitefield’s death in England, coverage that they shared with colonial readers.

Sometimes that coverage took the form of reprinting advertisements that ran in the London press.  John Carter did so in the Providence Gazette on April 13 with an item about “The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” among the news from London.  Six days later, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle included the same item in the New-Hampshire Gazette, either drawing it from newspapers they received from London or reprinting it from the Providence Gazette.  Readers of their newspaper learned that Whitefield’s sermons and letters, along with an engraved portrait, “Speedily will be published” and sold in London.  Like many other American printers, the Fowles seized the opportunity to produce and market commemorative items in the wake of receiving news about Whitefield from the other side of the Atlantic.  In an advertisement on the next page of the April 13 edition, they announced that “Next Monday will be published, and sold at the Printing Office … The last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD, which came in the last Ships from London.”  More than six months after the minister’s death, the Fowles estimated sufficient interest in Whitefield to justify not only additional news coverage but also yet another commemorative item.  They believed that demand existed or could be incited for copies of Whitefield’s will among local consumers who had already been offered a variety of memorabilia in the fall.

April 13

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

Providence Gazette (April 13, 1771).

“Speedily will be published … The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Most of the final page of the April 13, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette consisted of advertisements.  They filled two of three columns, but John Carter, the printer, devoted the first column to news reprinted from London newspapers published in early January.  That content featured an item originally published as an advertisement that Carter considered newsworthy for readers of the Providence Gazette.  “Speedily will be published,” the reprinted advertisement announced, “The works of the REV. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, … containing his sermons and tracts on various subjects.”  The volume also included “a complete collection of his letters, never before printed, written to his most intimate friends, and to several persons of distinction in England, Scotland, Ireland and America, revised and prepared by himself for the press.”  In addition, the book contained a biography of Whitefield and an engraved portrait, the image taken “from an original painting.”

In reprinting this advertisement, Carter updated readers about the reaction to Whitefield’s death on the other side of the Atlantic.  Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  News quickly spread via the colonial press.  Almost as quickly, printers, booksellers, and others marketed funeral sermons delivered in memory of the minister as well as poetry that celebrated his life and lamented his death.  The Providence Gazette carried advertisements for several of those items.  Commodification and commemoration became inextricably linked in the pages of American newspapers as colonists mourned Whitefield’s death.  That impulse, however, was not confined to the colonies.  As soon as colonial newspapers began printing accounts of reactions to Whitefield’s death in England, they also noted the publication of funeral sermons and other memorabilia.  In this case, Carter did not publish additional news about Whitefield from the London newspapers but instead treated an advertisement about “The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” as news in and of itself.  In so doing, he revealed to readers that the intersections or print culture, consumer culture, and mourning they experienced took similar shape among their counterparts in England.  Near and far, reprinting this advertisement suggested, people mourned the minister by purchasing commemorative items.

March 30

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

Providence Gazette (March 30, 1771).

“He continues to carry on the Sail-making Business.”

In an advertisement in the March 30, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, John Sinkins advised readers that “he continues to carry on the Sail-making Business, in all its Branches, in the cheapest and neatest Manner.”  His notice was one of only a few that promoted goods and services.  Others placed advertisements for a variety of reasons, many of them delivering news of various sorts.  The notice that Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer of the colony, placed on behalf of the General Assembly concerning the conversion of “Old Tenor Bills” into “Treasurer’s Note or Notes” appeared once again, alerting readers to take action before July 1.  An advertisement concerning “a fifth Packet-Boat” to transport mail between Falmouth and New York that ran in newspapers throughout the colonies found a place in the Providence Gazette again.

Many of the advertisements focused on real estate, including one from Thompson and Arnold that described two houses in Providence, a “Lot of excellent Land on the main Street,” and several acres of salt marsh for sale.  Sylvanus Sayles sought to sell or lease a farm in North Providence, while John Andrews had a farm in Coventry to sell and a house in Providence to lease.  Moses Lyon and Hezekiah Carpenter both placed notices about other properties, as did an anonymous advertiser who instructed anyone interested in a “Large Brick DWELLING-HOUSE” in East Greenwich to “enquire of the Printer” for “further Particulars.”  Elizabeth Arnold, administratrix for her deceased husband, ran an estate notice that called on “all Persons who are indebted” and “all Persons who have just Demands” to settle accounts.  She also noted that she had a “large and commodious Lot directly opposite the Court-House” to lease.  James Seamans also ran an estate notice concerning Mary Jenckes, “late of Providence, deceased, and Widow of the late William Jenckes, Esq; of Pawtucket.”

John Jenkins continued to hawk a “NEAT Assortment of QUEEN’s WARE,” while Joseph Russell and William Russell sold garden seeds and Abiel Wood accepted orders for “North-American LUMBER.”  Along with Sinkin’s advertisement for sails, these advertisements comprised a small fraction of the paid notices that appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  Purveyors of goods and services certainly attempted to harness the early American press in their efforts to generate sales, but many other kinds of advertisements ran alongside their notices.  Those other notices relayed a variety of news and updates about local events that did not appear elsewhere in the newspaper.

March 2

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

Providence Gazette (March 2, 1771).

“Advertisements should be inserted in the Newport and Providence News-Papers, calling upon all Persons to bring in their Old Tenor Bills.”

Colonists often found information relayed in advertisements just as newsworthy or important as the contents of articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in early American newspapers.  Consider, for instance, an announcement by Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer of Rhode Island, on behalf of the General Assembly that ran in multiple issues of the Newport Mercury and Providence Gazette in 1771.  Clarke informed readers that “from and after the First Day of January, 1771, no Old Tenor Bills should be received in Payment for Goods sold, or paid away for any Goods bought, but that they should wholly cease passing as a Currency” in Rhode Island “and be all carried into the Treasury.”  In turn, the General Treasurer would issue “a Treasurer’s Note or Notes, for the Sums they shall deliver into the General Treasury.”  Colonists had six months to tend to this matter.  Clarke warned that “all those Persons who shall neglect to bring in their bills … shall lose the Benefit of having them exchanged.”

As part of this act, the General Assembly specified that “Advertisements should be inserted in the Newport and Providence News-Papers, calling upon all Persons to bring in their Old Tenor Bills.”  The Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette were the only newspapers published in the colony at the time.  Both ran the advertisement widely.  It appeared in the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in 1771 and then in eighteen consecutive issues of that weekly newspapers.  From January through June, it appeared in every issue except May 25 and June 1 and 15.  Curiously, it also ran in three issues in July and one in August, after the deadline for exchanging bills passed.  Perhaps Clarke or the General Assembly wanted readers to be aware they had missed their opportunity.

Not as many issues of the Newport Mercury are available via Early American Newspapers, likely the result of few extant issues in research libraries and historical societies.  For the first six months, only the editions from February 25, March 6 and 20, and June 17 and 24 are available in their entirety.  The first two pages of the May 27 issue are available, but not the last two.  Clarke’s advertisement ran in each of the issues available in their entirety.  In the February 25 edition, a notation at the end specified “(51),” matching the issue number, 651.  Printers and compositors often included such notations to keep track of when an advertisement first appeared or should last appear, aiding them in determining which content to include when they prepared new editions.  Both iterations of the advertisement for March bore “(40)” as a notation.  The advertisements published in June, in the final weeks before the deadline for exchanging bills,” both had notations for “(40 – 68).”  The “68” corresponded to the issue number, 668, for the final issue for June.  The “40,” on the other hand extended back to the middle of December, earlier than the advertisement would have initially appeared.  It may have been an estimation to remind the printer or compositor of the longevity of the notice.

Whatever the explanation for that small inaccuracy, the “(40 – 68)” notation strongly suggests that the advertisement ran consistently in the Newport Mercury over the course of the first six months of 1771.  It certainly appeared in the Providence Gazette almost every week during the same period.  The General Assembly depended on delivering news to colonists via advertisements in the colony’s two newspapers, realizing that readers would consult the notices in addition to news accounts and editorials for important information.

January 19

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

Providence Gazette (January 19, 1771).

As Advertising is attended with Expence to the College, tis earnestly requested that it need not be repeated.”

When Rhode Island College (Now Brown University) moved from Warren to its permanent home in Providence in 1770, supporters launched a fundraising campaign to erect a building.  A local committee published advertisements that simultaneously asked for donations and kept the public apprised of progress on the edifice.  Hezekiah Smith toured South Carolina and Georgia, seeking “subscribers” who pledged to make donations and providing additional information in newspapers published in Charleston and Savannah.

Construction of the building began in 1770 and continued the following year.  A new advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette on January 19.  “THE Committee for building the College,” desire all Persons who are Subscribers to pay their Subscriptions immediately, as the Workmen are now daily calling for their Money.”  The committee had amassed sufficient pledges to commence construction, but now they needed those benefactors to follow through on their commitments in order to pay the bills.  In a nota bene, the committee offered an alternative to cash donations:  “Some Inch and Quarter Plank and Floor Boards are yet wanted, and will be received in Lieu of Money, if brought immediately.”  Those supplies would not settle accounts with the workers, but they would allow them to make progress on the building.

The first time it ran in the Providence Gazette, this advertisement appeared first among the paid notices, immediately below the prices current.  That increased the likelihood that readers who perused the news but did not intend to read the advertisements would spot it on the third page even if they ignored the final page filled exclusively with advertising.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, may have given the advertisement that privileged placement in support of the committee’s efforts, but any support apparently did not extend to providing occasional free advertising.  “As Advertising is attended with Expence to the College,” the committee declared, “’tis earnestly requested that it need not be repeated.”  In its fundraising efforts, Rhode Island College encouraged philanthropy through various means, including local support, distant subscribers who met a representative dispatched to solicit benefactors, and donations of materials.  The committee did not manage, however, to leverage free advertising for their fundraising notices as an alternative to other kinds of contributions, though it is not clear if they even made such a proposal to the printer.  Carter was at least amenable enough toward the project to give the newest advertisement a strategic placement on the page.