August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 8, 1769).

“ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMITLON … are requested … to make Payment.”

Colonists had many opportunities to shape the contents of eighteenth-century newspapers. Printers called on the public to submit “Articles and Letters of Intelligence,” many of them even reiterating this invitation weekly by embedding it in the colophon inserted in every issue (as was the case for William Goddard and the Pennsylvania Chronicle as well as John Carter and the Providence Gazette). Colonists also sent editorials and responses to items they saw published in the newspaper.

Colonists had other opportunities to shape the news beyond submitting editorials and “Letters of Intelligence” for printers to select or discard. Placing advertisements allowed them to distribute important information about local events which printers otherwise would not have incorporated into their newspapers. Consider the advertisements in the August 8, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Several legal notices advised readers of events taking place in Salem and elsewhere in Massachusetts. For many readers, these notices had as much impact on their daily lives as coverage of “the honourable House of Representatives of this Province” gathering to drink toasts on the occasion of “the happy Anniversary of the Birth of our most gracious Sovereign” or the list of resolutions drawn up by “merchants, planters and other inhabitants of South-Carolina” who signed their own nonimportation agreement in late July.

One legal notice advised, “ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMILTON, late of Salem, Merchant, deceased, are requested, without Delay, to make Payment of the Sums, respectively due, to Archibald Wilson, … Administrator of said Estate.” Those who did not settle accounts with Wilson could expect to suffer the consequences. The administrator stated that they would be “sued immediately” if they did not comply. Coverage of colonial legislators drinking toasts to “The KING, QUEEN, and ROYAL FAMILY” and “The Restoration of Harmony between Great Britain and the Colonies” gave readers a sense of the current political landscape in their colony. News of residents of Charleston adopting their own nonimportation agreement similar to those already in place in Boston and New York contributed made readers better informed about the intersection of commerce and politics throughout the colonies. Yet Archibald Wilson threatening to sue anyone indebted to the estate of Arthur Hamilton would have had the most immediate and consequential impact on some households that received the Essex Gazette.

Colonists could not dismiss the portion of newspapers devoted to advertising as ancillary; instead, they had to read both the items selected by the printer and advertisements submitted by fellow colonists in order to become aware of all “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic” promised in the masthead of the Essex Gazette and so many other eighteenth-century newspapers.

February 14

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

Essex Gazette (February 14, 1769).

“Will sell the Remains of Mr. Hamilton’s Goods at the lowest Prices.”

GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!!! Although Arthur Hamilton and Archibald Wilson did not make such a proclamation, this was the marketing strategy they adopted in an advertisement that ran in the February 14, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Wilson placed the advertisement on behalf of Hamilton, explaining that the merchant had “gone out of the Country.” In the wake of his departure, Hamilton had “empowered” Wilson “to settle his Affairs,” including taking legal action against any associates who neglected to pay their debts. In addition, Wilson had taken possession of “the Remains of Mr. Hamilton’s Goods.” He occupied Hamilton’s former shop, where he sold the remaining merchandise “at the lowest Prices, for Cash or short Credit.” Settling Hamilton’s affairs, including liquidating his inventory, merited setting the “lowest prices” to entice prospective customers.

Hamilton and Wilson were not the only advertisers in the Essex Gazette who ran a sale without calling it a sale. Robert Alcock had been advertising for more than a month that he intended “to clear off his Stock.” To that end, he sold textiles and other goods “greatly under the usual Prices.” In other words, he ran a clearance sale. Featuring this marketing strategy in his advertisement may have offered inspiration to Hamilton and Wilson as they considered how to best attract customers. The Essex Gazette, barely six months in publication at the time they placed their notice, contained relatively few advertisements compared to newspapers printed in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Pennsylvania. Most issues had a dozen or fewer paid notices, making each of them that much more visible to readers. Given the circulation of colonial newspapers, Hamilton and Wilson would have had access to publications from Boston and other cities, but for the purposes of advertising to their local market they likely paid the most attention to advertisements in the Essex Gazette. They did not need other merchants and shopkeepers to demonstrate that setting low prices would aid in selling Hamilton’s remaining merchandise, but they may have benefited from Alcock’s example when it came to informing the public that they had adopted this approach. Sales were not a standard element of print marketing in the eighteenth century. Hamilton and Wilson may have adopted a method of addressing prospective customer that they saw Alcock introduce in their community. Given the small number of advertisers in the Essex Gazette, they could have decided that they needed to take a similar approach in order to be competitive.