June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:14:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 14, 1768).

“ALL Person who are anywise indebted to the Estate of JOHN DUTARQUE, deceased, are desired to make payment.”

The “missing” Georgia Gazette from June 15, 1768, presents an opportunity to discuss methodology. Each day the Adverts 250 Project republishes an advertisement originally published in an American newspaper exactly 250 years ago that day, along with a short essay that provides historical context and analysis of the contents of the advertisement. These advertisements are drawn from databases of eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized: the Virginia Gazette from Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, newspapers published in Charleston from Accessible Archives’s South Carolina Newspapers, and an extensive array of newspapers from throughout the colonies from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers.

If no newspaper was published on a particular day (or if no newspaper published on a particular day has been digitized as part of one of those databases), the Adverts 250 Project instead features an advertisement printed sometime during the previous week. Although colonial printers clustered newspaper publications on Mondays and Thursdays in the late 1760s, at least one newspaper was published somewhere in the colonies on every day of the week except Sundays. This means that usually there is only one day of the week that the Adverts 250 Project needs to feature an advertisement not published exactly 250 years to the day.

The clustering of publications on Mondays and Thursdays means that some days offer many more choices for both newspapers and advertisements. During most weeks, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was the only [extant and digitized] newspaper printed on Tuesdays, the Georgia Gazette was the only newspaper printed on Wednesdays, and the Providence Gazette was the only newspaper printed on Saturdays. As a result, the Adverts 250 Project features an advertisement from each of these publications once a week. During the rest of the week the project draws from among more than a dozen other newspapers, attempting an informal rotation to feature as many as possible.

This methodology causes some newspapers to be featured much more often than others. Even though it carried relatively little advertising compared to some of its counterparts published in the largest port cities, the Georgia Gazette contributes an advertisement to the Adverts 250 Project once a week because it was only newspaper published in the colonies on Wednesdays in the late 1760s. (Dates that fell on Wednesdays in 1768 fall on Fridays in 2018.)

Jun 15 - Georgia Gazette Calendar
This calendar indicates which issues of the Georgia Gazette from 1768 have been digitized for Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database.

Today’s advertisement should have come from the Georgia Gazette, but the issue for June 15, 1768, is “missing.” Note the availability of other issues summarized in the calendar provided via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers. On closer investigation of some of those other issues it turns out that the June 15 edition is not missing after all. The June 8 edition is numbered 246. June 22 is numbered 247. June 29 is numbered 248, indicating that the June 22 edition is indeed numbered correctly and not the result of the printer or compositor neglecting to advance the number if there had been a June 15 edition (that would have been 247). For whatever reason, printer James Johnston did not issue the Georgia Gazette on June 15, 1768. Despite the noticeable gap in the calendar depicting publication in 1768, complete runs of the Georgia Gazette for that year have been preserved in archives and reproduced via America’s Historical Newspapers.

Rather than examine an advertisement published sometime during the previous week, the not-missing-after-all issue of the Georgia Gazette presents an opportunity to discuss the Advert 250 Project’s methodology in greater detail as well as describe the schedule of publication throughout the colonies in the late 1760s. This should give readers a better sense of why advertisements from some newspapers appear so frequently and advertisements from other newspapers are featured much less often.

Selecting Adverts: Newspapers Published this Week (250 Years Ago)

This week I would like to spend some time discussing the sources that make the Adverts 250 Project possible and my methods for selecting which advertisements to feature. Each advertisement reveals something about early American life and culture, some because they offer unique features of one kind or another and others because they are so common or formulaic that they provide a glimpse of everyday life. One of the challenges of working with some print (newspapers, broadsides, pamphlets) and manuscript (letters, diaries, journals) sources is that historical actors often considered aspects of daily life, such as their use of material culture items, so common that they did not merit comment. All too often I commiserate with fellow scholars as we wish that we could find that crucial piece of evidence, the “smoking gun,” that would tell us more about eighteenth-century attitudes and behaviors that are hidden and unknown to us today. Advertisements, however, often explicitly provide details about some of the most mundane aspects of everyday life in eighteenth-century America.

This is a project that began in my living room. Thanks to ongoing projects to photograph and digitize eighteenth-century newspapers, I am able to continue this project anywhere I have access to the Internet. To date, I have not consulted original newspapers (except to get a better quality image to accompany the link on The Octo), relying instead on the digital surrogates made available via a Readex database, “America’s Historical Newspapers.” At my request, my campus library purchased a subscription, which I use in both my own research and the classes I teach. This makes it possible for me – and my students – to access primary sources that certainly were not readily available just a couple of decades ago. There’s no need to go to an archive that houses the originals or a major research library that possesses microfilm copies. In a future post I will reflect on the benefits of both those methods. I am not trying to suggest that digital surrogates are superior to other formats. Rather, I want to acknowledge how new technologies and digital humanities projects have made this particular public history project possible.

To choose advertisements to feature I first need to identify which newspapers printed in 1766 are included in my library’s subscription to “America’s Historical Newspapers.” This amounts to fifteen newspapers from seven colonies:

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Gazette, or Weekly Post-Boy
  • New-York Journal
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (Philadelphia)

Georgia

  • Georgia Gazette (Savannah)
Jan 15 - Masthead for 1:13:1766 New-York Mercury
Masthead for New-York Mercury (January 13, 1766)

In choosing advertisements for the past week, not all of these newspapers were viable options. The Georgia Gazette, for instance, had been suspended near the end of 1765. It did not resume publication until the third week of May 1766. Other newspapers were in a similar situation, though it is worth mentioning that even if a newspaper was in operation during this period in 1766 that does not guarantee that any copies are still extant. And, even if a copy does survive, it may not have been photographed or digitized and made available in “America’s Historical Newspapers.” Such resources are often built around the collections from a particular historical society, research library, or other institution. As a result, digital surrogates available in many databases are limited to what is physically part of the collections at the institution where the project originated. This is changing over time as those overseeing a variety of digital humanities projects seek to fill in gaps and provide more comprehensive coverage, but it remains a limiting factor that anybody pursuing research using eighteenth-century sources should take into consideration.

Similarly, consumers of their research – whether fellow scholars, self-proclaimed history buffs, or general audiences – should also be aware that many of the resources that have facilitated research over the past couple of decades are not exhaustive. Impressive, yes, but a variety of factors have determined what is actually available to modern researchers: factors that range from which documents survive from the eighteenth century to decisions made by librarians and curators in cataloging and preserving those items to practical and financial considerations of project managers and their corporate partners in the process of designing and executing databases and other projects. For the Adverts 250 Project, this means that I have relatively easy access to many eighteenth-century newspapers, but certainly not every newspaper published in 1766, nor even every newspaper from that year that happens to survive.

Another factor influences which advertisements I select to feature. I confess that I do not speak or read German. Unfortunately, the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote will not be a regular part of this project. As a result, I acknowledge that I am overlooking the particular experiences of a sizable number of settlers in Pennsylvania and other Middle Atlantic colonies.

In the end, I had access to ten newspapers from five colonies as I selected advertisements to feature this past week.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury
Jan 15 - Masthead for 1:13:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Masthead for Boston Evening-Post (January 13, 1766)

While this may seem like copious sources at first glance, those who regularly work with eighteenth-century newspapers realize that this is deceptive because newspapers were not published daily in colonial America. New issues were never printed on Sundays. Indeed, each of these titles appeared only once a week. So, a list that initially suggests seventy issues (or sixty, if discounting Sundays) based on modern publication practices actually yields merely ten issues. This is certainly sufficient for this project, but I believe it is important context for readers, for the consumers of my work, especially those who do not have as much familiarity with eighteenth-century newspapers.

For my extended commentary essay next week, I will explain how I chart each issue on a calendar to gain a sense of which newspapers were being published where in the colonies on any given day of the week in 1766. Centuries after these newspapers were printed, the timing of their publications exerts significant impact on the contours of the Adverts 250 Project.