September 15

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

Providence Gazette (September 15, 1770).

“The extraordinary Forwardness of the College Edifice.”

To make possible the move from Warren to its permanent home in Providence, Rhode Island College (now Brown University) constructed a new building in 1770.  The college launched a fundraising campaign in Rhode Island and other colonies, including South Carolina and Georgia.  Advertisements in the Providence Gazette kept the community apprised of progress on the building … and reminded “Subscribers,” those who had pledged funds or supplies for the cause, to fulfill their commitments.  In early June, for instance, a committee comprised of Stephen Hopkins, John Jenckes, and John Brown placed an advertisement calling on “ALL Persons who have undertaken to supply any of the Timber for the COLLEGE” to deliver it as soon as possible since work on the foundation was nearing completion.

A new advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette in the middle of September.  It provided an update about the building, using it as an occasion to remind subscribers of their obligations.  On behalf of the “Corporation of the COLLEGE in this Colony,” the notice trumpeted “the extraordinary Forwardness of the College Edifice” that had taken shape over the summer months.  What had been merely a foundation a few months earlier now had “Timber for the fourth Floor” in place.  Such progress meant that the college had incurred expenses.  Accordingly, the advertisement called on “the several Subscribers [to] immediately pay their Subscriptions to the Treasurer of the Corporation, or the Committee for carrying on the Building.”

This notice was part of the continued fundraising efforts of Rhode Island College, but it also served as a news item that kept readers of the Providence Gazette updated about the progress of the building.  Those who resided in town might have been aware of the status of the building based on their own observations as they went about their daily business, but others who lived elsewhere did not witness the various stages of erecting the building.  Fundraising advertisements aimed at subscribers helped keep the entire community informed.

August 18

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

Aug 18 - 8:18:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 18, 1770).

“Said Negroes are supposed to have Passes.”

In eighteenth-century newspapers, advertisements often served as a supplemental source of news.  Paid notices delivered information about current events that editors did not necessarily select for inclusion among the news articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  Advertisements about “runaways,” enslaved people who liberated themselves, fit into this category of paid notices that delivered the news.

Consider an advertisement concerning “two Negro Men,” Boston and Newport, “supposed to have gone off in Company” with each other that ran in the August 18 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The enslavers who placed the advertisement, Isaac Coit and Robert Kinsman of Plainsfield, Connecticut, provided lengthy descriptions of Boston, “a thick-set, well-built Fellow, of a middle Stature, about 30 Years of Age very black,” and Newport, “a well-built Fellow, of a lesser Size than the former, and not so clear a Black, about 24 Years of Age.”  In addition to these physical descriptions, Coit and Kinsman listed all of the clothing that Boston and Newport took with them, hoping that “a Snuff-coloured Velvet Jacket, lined with Calimanco, having Horn Buttons nearly of the same Colour” would help vigilant colonists recognize Boston or that “a Pair of Brown Fustian Breeches” would aid in identifying Newport.  The enslavers also suspected that Boston and Newport “have Passes,” though they did not elaborate on how the enslaved men had acquired those passes, whether they were literate enough to forge passes for themselves or if an accomplice provided them.  Coit and Kinsman may not have known; they “requested the Passes may be secured for the Benefit of their Masters,” perhaps in hopes of examining them to determine their origins and prevent Boston, Newport, and other enslaved people from making use of other passes in subsequent attempts to liberate themselves.

Placed for the purpose of capturing Boston and Newport in order to return them to bondage, this advertisement operated as a news report that supplemented the other contents of the Providence Gazette.  As readers perused the paid notices in the August 18, 1770, edition, they learned of impoverished colonists seeking “the Benefit of an Act … for the Relief of insolvent Debtors,” a burglary in Middletown, Connecticut, a variety of goods “STOPPED” because they were “Supposed to have been stolen,” and the efforts of Boston and Newport to seize their own liberty.  Since printers often focused on reprinting news from faraway places, local news appeared among the advertisements.

July 8

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

Jul 8 - 7:5:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (July 5, 1770).

“LIBERTY. A POEM.”

Current events were not confined to the news and editorials in colonial newspapers published during the era of the American Revolution.  Consider the July 5, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Multiple advertisements addressed the tensions between Parliament and the colonies in one way or another.  In his advertisement for “a tolerable Assortment of Goods,” but only those that did not violate the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of the duties imposed on certain goods by the Townshend Acts.  He maintained “a constant Supply of such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”  Ann Mathewes and Benjamin Mathewes did not abide by the nonimportation agreement; as a result, they found themselves the subject of a lengthy advertisement that documented their transgressions and cautioned “against having any commercial Dealings whatever” with them until they brought themselves back into compliance with the resolutions.  Until then, “their Actions must declare them to be obstinate and inveterate Enemies to their Country, and unworthy of the least Confidence or Esteem.”

In contrast, another advertisement celebrated those colonists who defended the rights of the colonies.  T. Powell published and sold “LIBERTY. A POEM” by Rusticus, likely a reprint of a poem published in Philadelphia two years earlier (which I will confirm once libraries and archives open to researchers once again).  Powell dedicated this edition to “the SONS OF LIBERTY in SOUTH-CAROLINA,” honoring those who had organized and enforced the boycott of British goods.  Peter Timothy, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, printed the poem on Powell’s behalf and sold it at his printing office, but it was also available at the office where Charles Crouch printed the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Timothy and Crouch competed with each other for subscribers and advertisers, but they promoted a common cause in selling “LIBERTY.  A POEM” and influencing colonists to consider the politics of the moment at every possible opportunity.  For readers of the South-Carolina Gazette who did not purchase their own copies, the advertisement alone resonated with meaning as they connected it to the other contents of the newspaper.  Those readers who did acquire copies brought the poem into their homes to further imbibe the sentiments it expressed.  Either way, this advertisement and others encouraged colonists to consider how consumption and commerce, the purpose of so many advertisements, intersected with politics and current events.

June 2

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

Jun 2 - 6:2:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 2, 1770).

“The Foundation is now building, and will be soon finished.”

In 1770, Rhode Island College (now Brown University) moved from Warren to its permanent location in Providence.  An advertisement that ran in the June 2 edition of the Providence Gazette advised that “ALL Person who have undertaken to supply any of the Timber for the COLLEGE, are desired to deliver the same as soon as possible, as the Foundation is now building, and will be soon finished.”  It further requested that “all those who subscribed Lime are desired to bring it immediately, as it is now much wanted.”  Three members of the committee overseeing fundraising for the construction of a new edifice to house the college signed the notice.  By then, the committee was familiar to readers of the Providence Gazette, having regularly placed advertisements encouraging prospective benefactors to contact them to make their donations to the college.

While it took the form of an advertisement, this notice delivered news about the progress of the construction of the college, providing coverage that did not always appear among the news items.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, included a short item about a ceremony for laying the foundation stone in the May 19 edition.  The advertisement placed by Stephen Hopkins, John Jenckes, and John Brown two weeks later gave an update as work continued.  Residents of Providence could make their own observations about the status of the building, but readers in other towns could not.  The committee’s advertisement helped to keep them informed.  It conveniently appeared almost immediately after news from Providence, separated only by a notice calling on those “indebted for this paper above one Year” to settle accounts.  Carter craftily inserted his own notice at the end of the news in order to draw greater attention, but the placement of the committee’s new advertisement suggested a continuation of news from Providence.  The next advertisement, promoting medicines sold by Amos Throop, more effectively signaled the transition to paid notices.  Many of the subsequent advertisements, however, were legal notices that also delivered news to readers.  News and advertising could not be easily delineated in colonial newspapers.

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 19, 1770).

“The COLLEGE about to be built in this Colony, shall be erected in the Town of Providence.”

On behalf of the “Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work” of erecting a building to house Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in Providence, Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes regularly inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette throughout the first several months of 1770.  They called on “all who already Subscribers” (or benefactors) and “those who may incline them to become such” to inform the committee of the funds they wished to pledge or “an Account of such Materials fit for the Building, as they would choose to furnish in Lieu of their Subscriptions.”  The fundraising effort was ongoing.

When this notice ran in the May 19 edition of the Providence Gazette, it coincided with news about the college.  Colonial newspapers ran little local news.  Since newspapers were generally published once a week, printers assumed that most local news spread by word of mouth before they had a chance to go to press.  The most momentous local news, however, did appear in the public prints.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, considered news about Rhode Island College significant enough to include in his newspaper.  A short article informed readers that “Monday last the first Foundation Stone of the COLLEGE about to be erected here was laid by Mr. JOHN BROWN, of this Place, Merchant, in Presence of a Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution.– About twenty Workmen have since been employed on the Foundation, which Number will be increased, and the Building be completed with all possible Dispatch.”

This brief article and the committee’s advertisement each informed the other, telling a more complete story for readers.  The news article also provided further publicity that aided the committee in their fundraising.  It was not too late to make a contribution and join that “Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution” as a supporter of the college and, by extension, the civic welfare of the town of Providence.  The committee continued to welcome new benefactors.

March 14

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

Mar 14 - 3:14:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 14, 1770).

“ORDERED, That the above Resolution be published in the next Gazette.”

In March 1770 the Union Society published a notice in the Georgia Gazette that announced its members “UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED, That a handsome PIECE OF PLATE be presented to JONATHAN BRYAN, Esquire, as a Token of the Sense we entertain of his upright Conduct, as a worthy Member of this SOCIETY, a real Friend to his Country in general, and the Province of GEORGIA in particular.”  For eighteenth-century readers in Savannah and throughout Georgia, such accolades likely needed no explanation.  Bryan played an important role in local politics as the imperial crisis intensified.

Harold E. Davis provides an overview of why Bryan received this honor from the Union Society.  First, he explains that Georgians formed a variety of private societies and organizations in the eighteenth century, not unlike their neighbors in Charleston.  (Jessica Choppin Roney examines similar civic organizations in colonial Philadelphia.)  Established in 1750, the Union Society “consisted mostly of craftsmen concerned with their interests as a class,” but over time enlarged its membership to include “men of more genteel professions.”[1]  The society supported a local school that admitted ten children a year.  “As pre-Revolutionary tensions sharpened,” Davis explains, “the Union Society became active in politics and rallied behind Jonathan Bryan, a member, when Bryan angered Governor Wright in 1769 by presiding over a meeting to discuss nonimportation of British goods.”[2]  Wright expelled Bryan from his council.  The Union Society, in turn, recognized Bryan’s advocacy with a “handsome PIECE OF PLATE” and the resolution published in the Georgia Gazette.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, advertisements for consumer goods and services increasingly invoked the politics of the period, especially nonimportation as a commercial means of achieving political ends.  Yet advertisements that hawked merchandise that arrived in the colonies before nonimportation agreements went into effect or goods produced in the colonies rather than imported were not the only sorts of notices that addressed current events and offered commentary, directly or indirectly, on the news covered elsewhere in newspapers.  Given the close reading practices required to navigate eighteenth-century newspapers, the contents of advertisements, news items, and editorials all informed the others, with advertisements sometimes becoming editorials themselves.  That was certainly the case for the Union Society’s advertisement recognizing the civic virtues demonstrated by Jonathan Bryan.

**********

[1] Harold E. Davis, The Fledgling Province:  Social and Cultural Life in Colonial Georgia 1733-1776 (Chapel Hill:  Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and University of North Carolina Press, 1976; 2012), 169-170.

[2] Davis, Fledgling Province, 170.

February 20

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

Feb 20 - 2:20:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 20, 1770).

“The said Wines are still in the Possession of Captain Livingston.”

The “NEW ANNOUNCEMENTS” in the February 20, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journalcommenced with a notice placed by the “GENERAL COMMITTEE” responsible for overseeing adherence to the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of duties that Parliament levied on certain imported goods via the Townshend Acts.  The committee noted that Patrick Muir had imported some goods from Scotland and “refused to store or re-ship” them.  The bulk of the advertisement, however, concerned a “Parcel of Wines” from Tenerife on the Hope, captained by Alexander Livingston.

That was a much more convoluted story.  The committee became aware of an “industriously spread” rumor that John Tuke ordered the wine at the behest of Wilson, Coram, Wayne, and Company despite the fact that those merchants were “Subscribers to the Resolutions” who had pledged to support the nonimportation agreement.  In response, Tuke made a statement in which he declared “the above Report is absolutely false, having never made use of those Gentlemen’s Names.”  He did acknowledge, however, that “the Wines were bought on my own Account” even though he was also “a Subscriber to the General Resolutions.”  Tuke assumed responsibility and expressed his “utmost Concern” that the wine had been shipped to Charleston.  A nota bene inserted by the committee reported that the wine was “still in the Possession of Captain Livingston.”  Tuke had not taken possession of it or attempted to sell it.

Did Tuke profess “utmost Concern” because a misunderstanding resulted in the wine being delivered by mistake or because he had been caught and now realized the error of his ways?  His statement did not make that clear, but it did attempt to unequivocally clear Wilson, Coram, Wayne, and Company.  As Tuke worked to ameliorate any damage done to his own standing in the community, he also sought to restore the reputations of prominent merchants who had been pulled into the controversy.  It was bad enough to find his dealings under so much scrutiny; he did not need to alienate himself from Wilson, Coram, Wayne, and Company by continuing to call unwarranted attention to them.  Instead, he did what he could to exonerate those merchants and shift the focus solely to himself.

Relatively little local news appeared in colonial newspapers, in part because most were published once a week so anything of consequence spread via word of mouth before it could appear in print.  In some instances, however, advertisements carried news and supplemented coverage that ran elsewhere in the newspaper.

December 2

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

Dec 2 - 12:2:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 2, 1769).

“The Shop of the Subscribers was broke open, and sundry Things stolen.”

Several advertisements relayed stories of theft in the December 2, 1769, edition of the Providence GazetteEach had previously appeared, but the thieves had not been captured nor had the stolen goods been recovered.  In a notice dated October 17, Stephen Hopkins reported the theft of a cloak and wig.  Hall and Metcalf placed their own notice, dated November 4, to report that their shop “was broke open, and sundry Things stolen from thence.”  Jabez Bowen, Sr., even deployed a headline for his advertisement: “A THEFT.”  Dated November 11, Bowen’s notice listed several items of clothing stolen when his house was “broke open.”  By December 2, the stories in these advertisements became familiar to readers of the Providence Gazette.

The thefts in these advertisements may have helped to shape the contents of other parts of the newspaper. The December 2 edition began with an item addressed to the printer of the Providence Gazette.  “At a Time when Houses, Shops and Warehouses, are so frequently broke open,” an unnamed correspondent proclaimed, “and so many Thefts and Robberies are committed, both in Town and Country, by wicked vagrant Persons, unlawfully strolling about from Place to Place, perhaps it may tend to the public Good … in your next Paper to insert the following LAW concerning VAGRANTS, that it may be more generally known.”  A statute then filled the remainder of the column, excepting two lines announcing that the printer sold blanks.

Not only did advertisements seem to influence coverage of the news, the inclusion of this law helped establish a theme that ran through the entire issue.  Readers who perused it from start to finish first encountered the statute on the first page, Bowen’s notice and Hopkins’s notice on the third page, and Hall and Metcalf’s notice on the final page.  Even if they passed over the statute quickly, encountering the advertisements about thefts may have prompted some readers to return to the first page to read the statute more carefully.  The featured advertisements often demonstrate that news items and advertisements informed each other when it came to the imperial crisis and nonimportation agreements; however, those were not the only instances of advertisements relaying news or working in tandem with news.  Other sorts of current events inspired coverage that moved back and forth between news and advertising in colonial newspapers.

November 27

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

Nov 27 - 11:27:1769 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 27, 1769).

“The above Agreement was signed by almost all the Merchants in this City.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers regularly carried several types of content. Most included news, editorials, and advertisements. Some often included a poem on the final page. Others included shipping news from the customs house or a list of prices current for commodities among the news items. Some items, however, did not neatly fit in any particular category. This notice that ran in the November 27, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was part news, part editorial, and part advertisement.

The notice offered an overview of recent developments concerning nonimportation agreements adopted by many colonists in an effort “to defeat the iniquitous Purposes of the oppressive Act of Parliament, imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, [and] Tea.” Such measures had been adopted widely in “all the middle Colonies of America, except the Colony of Rhode-Island.” This so angered that merchants of New York that most signed an additional agreement, that one targeting “any Person or Persons dwelling and residing in the said Colony of Rhode-Island,” pledging not to do business with them “until they shall fully come into the Agreement subscribed by the Merchants of Boston, New-York and Philadelphia, not to import Goods from Great-Britain until the Act imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, Tea, &c. is repealed.” In addition, New York’s merchants demanded that their counterparts in Rhode Island place in storage goods they recently imported and not sell them until after new goods arrived in the wake of the repeal of the Townshend Acts. Not only did they seek to compel Rhode Island to fall in line with the nonimportation agreement, they also sought to level the playing field when it came time to return to business as usual if they managed to make Parliament relent.

Usually such items appeared among the news and editorials in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but for some reason it was situated among the advertisements in the November 27, 1769, edition. News and editorials filled the first two pages and spilled over to the third. The remainder of the third page and the entire fourth page consisted entirely of advertisements, with the exception of this notice sandwiched between two advertisements for real estate. The compositor could have just as easily placed it among or at the end of the news that ran on the same page, but instead chose to transition from the news to a dozen advertisements before inserting this notice. Why? Was it a paid notice? Did the printer not consider it news? Did the printer suspect that it would garner greater attention in the section of the newspaper intended primarily for advertisements? Its place in the issue deviated from the order otherwise imposed on the various contents. Whatever the explanation, this notice demonstrates that even in newspapers that usually adhered to a particular structure or organization for news items, editorials, and advertisements, colonists sometimes encountered news among the paid notices. Advertising often served as an important supplement to news and editorials when it came to staying informed about current events in the era of the American Revolution.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:30:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 30, 1769).

“VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON.”

Advertising increasingly took on a political valence during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Advertisers made political arguments about which goods and services to purchase, encouraging colonists to support “domestic manufactures” and abide by nonimportation agreements intended to exert economic pressure to achieve political goals. Some advertisements included commentary on current events, blurring the line between advertisements and editorials.

Other advertisements sometimes delivered news to colonists. Consider an advertisement for a pamphlet that appeared in the October 30, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. Patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill announced that they has “Just Published … AN APPEAL TO THE WORLD; OR A VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON,” a pamphlet historians attribute to Sam Adams. The pamphlet included “certain Letters and Memorials, written by Governor Bernard, General Gage, Commodore Hood, the Commissions of the American Board of Customs, and others” as well as “RESOLVES” from “a Meeting of the Town of BOSTON.” The lengthy advertisement concluded with an excerpt “From the APPEAL to the WORLD, Page 33.” Edes and Gill gave prospective customers a preview of the contents of the pamphlet in order to entice them to purchase their own copies.

Even if readers did not buy the pamphlet, the advertisement still delivered news to them. Indeed, it looked much more like a news item than an advertisement, especially given its placement in the October 30 edition of the Boston-Gazette. It appeared on the first page, nestled between news items, spilling over from the first column into the second. Most of the advertising for that issue ran on the third and fourth pages. Edes and Gill exercised their prerogative as printers of the Boston-Gazette to give the advertisement a privileged place in their own newspaper. Yet they were not the only printers to do so. The same advertisement, including the “RESOLVES” and the excerpt from the pamphlet, ran on the first page of the Boston Evening-Post on the same day. It was also nestled between news items and spilled over from one column to the next, while most of the advertising for that newspaper also ran on the third and fourth pages. T. and J. Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, gave the advertisement the same privileged place in their own newspaper, further blurring the line between advertising and news. Even though they were rivals when it came to selling newspapers, they had an affinity when it came to politics. The Fleets used the advertisement to deliver news to their readers while simultaneously presenting an opportunity to become even better informed by purchasing the pamphlet. The worlds of commerce and politics became even more firmly enmeshed as printers and advertisers deployed advertising for partisan purposes during the era of the American Revolution.