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.

January 4

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

Connecticut Journal (January 4, 1770).

“Stop the Felons!”

Although colonial newspapers carried stories about a variety of events, much of the crime reporting appeared among the advertisements.  Rather than printers, editors, and others affiliated with newspapers writing those accounts or selecting them to reprint from publication to another, the victims of crimes composed the narratives and paid to insert them in the public prints.  This was especially true in instances of theft.

Consider a burglary that took place in late December in 1770.  Joseph Hopkins, a goldsmith, placed an advertisement in the January 4, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal.  The dramatic headline proclaimed, “Stop the Felons!”  Hopkins explained that his shop “was broke up” sometime during the night of December 27.  The “Felons” stole “sundry Pair of Stone Ear Rings, one Pair Stone Buttons, one Pair Gold [Buttons], and one Gold Ring.”  The thieves also took some cash and “likely some other Articles of Goldsmith’s Ware.”  Hopkins identified a suspect, Richard Steele, though he did not venture a guess about Steele’s partner.  The goldsmith imagined that Steele was the culprit because he had been “lately punished for breaking open Mr. Marks’s House in Derby.”  According to Hopkins, Steele bore the marks of having been punished for that crime and possibly others.  He had “both Ears crop’d” in addition to being “branded twice in the Forehead.”  The goldsmith offered a reward for apprehending either Steele or his accomplice.

The same day that Hopkins advertisement first ran in the Connecticut Journal, another advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette also reported a crime.  “THIEVES,” the headline alerted readers, before listing a variety of items stolen from Isaac Hill’s shop in Dover on December 14.  Hill did not name any suspects, but he did offer a reward to “Whoever will discover” them “so that they may be brought to Justice.”  Not every issue of every colonial newspaper carried similar advertisements, but they were so common that they did not seem out of place when readers encountered them.  The victims of crimes, especially thefts, played an important role in producing newspaper coverage.  As a result, their advertisements often reported news, supplementing the articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in newspapers.

November 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 19, 1770).

“Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days.”

Was it news or advertising or both?  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, noted that “Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days” in the November 19, 1770, edition.  This note was one of several items collected together as news from Boston.  The various items from the city amounted to more than a column, but a short section included brief reports about local deaths, ships in port, and Ames’s almanac.  The Fleets informed readers of the death of Elizabeth Langdon, widow of Deacon Josiah Langdon, and advised that the funeral and procession would take place the next day “if the Weather be fair.”  The printers also made note of the death of Mary Collson, the wife of leather dresser Adam Collson and daughter of Solomon Kneeland.  They reported that the “Glasgow Man of War arrived her from the same Place” and the “Mermaid Man of War was to Winter at Halifax.”  The Fleets concluded this list of brief updates with the note about Ames’s almanac, adorning it with a manicule to enhance its visibility.

That was the end of the news in that edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Paid notices comprised the remainder of the contents.  The Fleets did not present the notice about the almanac as a freestanding advertisement, but they did treat is as a transition from news items they selected for publication and advertisements submitted by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, auctioneers, and others.  The strategic placement may have allowed them to capture the attention of readers who perused the issue for news without intending to examine the advertisements, position it as a final news items before the advertisements commenced.  This served their own interests as entrepreneurs.  Several variations of the popular Ames’s Astronomical Diary or Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1771 hit the market in the fall of 1770, but this was probably the version with an imprint that stated it was “Printed and Sold by the Printers and Booksellers” of Boston.  Within the next several weeks, Richard Draper would advertise it in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Edes and Gill would advertise it in the Boston-Gazette, and the Fleets would advertise it in the Boston-Evening Post.  At that time, the Fleets devised a freestanding advertisement that ran among other advertisements rather than placing a notice within or adjacent to the news.

In advance of the almanac’s publication, the Fleets alerted prospective customers that an edition of Ames’s almanac would soon be available for sale at their printing office.  They used their access to the press to craft an announcement that appeared to be news even as it promoted a product that the printers had an interest in supplying to the public.  The placement of the notice as a transition between news and advertising was strategic.

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.