July 10

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

Providence Gazette (July 10, 1773).

“At his Shop in Killingly.”

In the early 1770s, the Providence Gazette served readers … and advertisers … in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  At the time that Asaph Wilder published his advertisement for a “general Assortment of English, Scotch and India GOODS” available at his shop in Killingly, Connecticut, about twenty-five miles west of Providence, printers published only three newspapers in his colony, the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, the New-London Gazette, and the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  In Massachusetts, five printing offices in Boston and one in Salem printed newspapers, but none to the west or south.  In Rhode Island, John Carter published the Providence Gazette and Solomon Southwick published the Newport Mercury.  That made the Providence Gazette the local newspaper for colonizers like Wilder in Killingly as well as others in towns in all three colonies.

Though Wilder kept shop in the countryside, he wanted prospective customers to know that he maintained an inventory that rivaled what they would find in Providence.  His “general Assortment” included “an Assortment of Cutlery and Hard-Ware Goods” and “a neat and elegant Assortment of Queen’s and Liverpool Ware” as well as coffee, tea, and several grocery items.  Rather than leftovers, his inventory consisted of goods “Suitable for the Season” that arrived in the colonies via “the Ships lately from London.”  Yet customers in Killingly and nearby towns did not have to pay a premium for the convenience of acquiring these items at Wilder’s shop rather than sending away for them or making a trip to Providence or another port.  The shopkeeper pledged that he “will sell at the most reasonable Rates,” either in cash or in exchange for commodities like “Beef, Pork, Butter, white Pine Shingles and Clapboards, and White Oak Staves.”  Wilder offered consumers in the countryside the same sorts of goods available to their counterparts in larger towns and cities, but made accommodations for payment tied to the local economy.  Even if some prospective customers suspected that Wilder’s selection was not as extensive as he suggested, his willingness to deal with them on such terms may have been a factor in winning their business.

July 8

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (July 8, 1773).

“He has obtained a certificate from the Queen’s Stay-Maker in London.”

Readers of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer likely noticed the image that adorned John Burchett’s advertisement in the July 8, 1773, edition.  After all, it was the only image featured throughout the issue, with the exception of a woodcut depicting a ship at sea that appeared in the masthead.  Burchett, a “STAY and RIDING HABIT-MAKER” who kept shop “at the Sign of the Crown and Stays,” led his advertisement with a woodcut that replicated that sign.

Yet Burchett did not rely on the image alone to market his goods and services.  Instead, he incorporated other appeals in his efforts to convince prospective customers to purchase stays from him.  For instance, he invoked his origins and previous experience, describing himself as “From LONDON and PARIS.”  Like others in the garment trades, Burchett suggested to consumers that they would derive additional cachet from hiring someone with connections to such cosmopolitan cities.  Most tailors, milliners, and staymakers who migrated across the Atlantic could claim roots in only one of those capitals of fashion and gentility, yet Burchett asserted ties to both.  He especially emphasized the recognition he gained in London, informing prospective customers that “he has obtained a certificate form the Queen’s Stay-Maker in London.”

That testified to the taste and quality associated with stays made by Burchett.  For those concerned about price, he declared that he “has also a good number of ready made stays of the best quality, cheaper than can be imported.”  He even gave prices so prospective customers could assess the bargains for themselves without having to visit his shop.  In addition, he proposed a payment plan meant to encourage consumers to select him over his competitors.  The staymaker pledged that “any lady who shall employ him” could pay “half cash … and the rest in dry goods.”  That put him in a position to barter with female shopkeepers and the wives and daughters of merchants and shopkeepers.

Burchett did not merely announce that he made and sold stays and then hope that customers would visit his shop at the Sign of the Crown and Stays.  Instead, he deployed an image that corresponded to the sign associated with his business as an invitation to peruse a lively narrative that included a variety of marketing strategies.  He commented on fashion and price while emphasizing his experience working in London and Paris and alternatives to paying with cash or credit.  As a result of such attention to so many aspects of his business, prospective customers could trust that the staymaker would indeed “use all possible endeavours to merit their interest.”

November 2

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 2, 1770).

“Faxson will work very cheap for Cash or other good Pay.”

In the early 1770s, Jospeh Bass sold a variety of goods at his shop next door to the printing office in Portsmouth.  He opened an advertisement in the November 2, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette by noting that he offered his wares “CHEAP for CASH,” a common refrain among shopkeepers from New England to Georgia.  Many specified that they desired cash payments because they had already extended generous amounts of credit to their customers.  Indeed, credit helped make possible the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century, but it also often put retailers and other suppliers of goods and services in precarious positions.  In the same issue that Bass advertised his merchandise, Jacob Treadwell promoted a “General ASSORTMENT of GOODS, at the very lowest Price for Cash.”  William Torrey sold loaf sugar and molasses “for Cash only.”

Yet cash and credit were not the only means of buying and selling goods available to colonists.  Many continued to barter.  James McMaster and Company, for instance, placed a notice seeking pot ash and flax seed.  In exchange, they gave “Cash, or English-Goods,” allowing those who did business with them to select from among textiles, housewares, and hardware in stock at their store.  Christopher Faxson, a tailor, also inserted an advertisement in the same edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He stated that he charged “sixteen Shillings Lawful Money” for “a plain Suit of Cloaths,” but he did not insist on cash like some of the other advertisers.  Instead, he advised prospective customers that he “will work very cheap for Cash or other good Pay.”  Faxson signaled that he would accept a variety of forms of payment, such as shop goods or produce, from clients willing to negotiate on terms.  Most advertisers preferred cash or credit for their transactions with customers, but others continued to present barter as an option, likely making for interesting bookkeeping practices.

December 20

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 20, 1768).

“He intends to carry on Business in his own Name alone.”

During the period that their partnership was in effect, Godfrey and Gadsden turned to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise the assorted goods they sold. When their partnership came to an end, they inserted a different notice in the pages of that newspaper. They first thanked their “Friends and Customers” for their patronage, but then called on “those indebted to them” to settle accounts. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, they threatened “disagreeable Consequences” for those who did not heed that request, though they did not linger on the possibility of legal action. Instead, they emphasized the many means of making payment, including accepting “Rice, Deer-Skins, and Indico … at the Market Price.”

Yet the advertisement did not just announce the expiration of Godfrey and Gadsden’s partnership. It also launched Thomas Gadsden’s new endeavor pursuing the business on his own in the new year. He sought to retain the customers that the partnership had cultivated, informing them that “he intends to carry on Business in his own Name alone … and will therefore be much obliged to them for a Continuance of their Favours.” To that end, he made several appeals. First, he emphasized consumer choice, pledging “to keep a good Assortment of such Goods as are usually imported into this Province.” He listed a few items currently available, such as “printed Linens and Cottons” and “a great variety of Linen Drapery Goods.” Not only did he offer prospective customers choices, he also sold his wares “at the most reasonable Rates.” Following the practice established with his former partner, Gadsden continued to accept rice, indigo, and deerskins at market price as payment.

Thomas Gadsden hoped to achieve a seamless transition from a partnership to a solo enterprise. That included maintaining his current customer base, yet also expanding on it if possible. His advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal informed readers of his change in circumstances, while simultaneously offering assurances that he was prepared to conduct business on his own.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 29, 1768).

“RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.”

Calls for rags regularly appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers, sometimes issued by printers and other times issued by proprietors of paper manufactories. Readers did not require any explanation that their used rags would be recycled into paper, perhaps even paper that would become issues of the very newspaper in which they encountered notices encouraging them to collect and contribute their rags.

Although they sometimes expected their fellow colonists to donate rags that had exceeded their usefulness, printers and papermakers often offered a variety of inducements to convince readers to send their rags. Sometimes they offered to pay cash. Other times they played on political sentiments, especially in the wake of the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, noting that local production of paper decreased dependence on imported paper while simultaneously bolstering the local economy. The success of such endeavors depended not only on readers acting as consumers of that paper but also as providers of the necessary supplies.

In their brief advertisement in the July 29, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, printers Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle took a different approach. They offered to barter: “RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.” The Fowles did not elaborate on which sermons or other pamphlets they traded, but they likely considered this an opportunity to achieve two goals simultaneously. In the process of acquiring a commodity essential in producing paper they could also reduce their surplus stock of pamphlets that had not sold as well as they had hoped. Two weeks earlier Robert Fowle published a lengthy advertisement that listed dozens of books as well as “a very great variety of single Sermons and other Pamphlets.” If the printers could not convince colonists to purchase these wares then they might as well offer them in trade. Operating a printing office required such flexibility.

April 9

GUEST CURATOR:  Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 9, 1768).

“Pipe Staves will be taken in Payment for a considerable Quantity of said Wine.”

Thomas Durham placed this advertisement for “Teneriffe Wine” in the New-York Journal on April 9, 1768. Durham sold a special type of wine from the Canary Islands. However, a more interesting part of the advertisement appeared in a note dedicated to forms of payment:  “Pipe Staves will be taken in Payment.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, pipe staves were “hooped together to make a cask.” In simple terms, they were the pieces of wood put together to construct a cask.

Apr 9 - Parts of Barrel
Parts of a Barrel (Courtesy Colonial Sense).

In the colonial period in America there was a system that was put in place of credits and alternatives to paying. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, “A shortage of money was a problem for the American colonies.  …  Without enough money, the colonists had to barter for goods.” This advertisement provides evidence of the barter system. Thomas Durham offered a deal in which a customer could provide staves to count as payment for the wine. This tells of the larger cycle of consumption and production in which customers were allowed to trade or barter items related to what they were trying to obtain. Economic arrangements of this sort show the diversity of ways that colonists conducted business.



Today’s advertisement appeared in a four-page supplement to John Holt’s New-York Journal, a supplement published on Saturday, April 9, 1768.  Holt, however, distributed the standard issues of the New-York Journal on Thursdays, yet he had sufficient content – news, letters to the printer, and advertisements – to justify printing and distributing what amounted to a second issue for that week.

Why this merits notice requires an overview of newspaper publication practices in the colonial period. Printers typically published one issue each week.  Each issue consisted of four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  The balance of news items and advertising varied, but among newspapers printed in the busiest urban ports – Boston, Charleston, Newport, New York, and Philadelphia – news comprised about half of each issue and advertising the other half. Printers sometimes found that they had sufficient content to require a supplement, usually two pages bearing the same date as the regular issue and distributed with it.  By the late 1760s the Pennsylvania Gazette so often included a two-page supplement that even though it clearly bore the title “Supplement” many subscribers likely expected to receive a six-page newspaper each Thursday. On occasion, however, printers distributed supplements later in the week, especially if particularly important news arrived that could not wait for the next issue.  When ships entered port with news that Parliament had repealed the Stamp Act, for instance, many printers published supplements to spread the word as quickly as possible.  In general, supplements usually amounted to two pages.

Yet the supplement that carried today’s advertisement consisted of four pages distributed later in the week than the newspaper’s usual publication day.  This happened quite frequently in 1768.  Throughout the year Holt distributed no fewer than eighteen supplements to the New-York Journal on days other than Thursday, in addition to fifty-two regular issues and sometimes additional supplements on Thursdays.  Between politics and the economy, Holt determined that his readers needed access to more information that traditional publication practices allowed. Historians of print culture and journalism often refer to an explosion of print that took place after the American Revolution as citizens of the new nation consumed greater amounts of information, believing that they could safeguard the young republic by becoming as informed as possible.  The number of newspapers expanded.  Many moved to semi-weekly, tri-weekly, and, by the end of the eighteenth century, daily publication.  John Holt’s publication schedule for 1768 serves as a precursor to that expansion of the press, a harbinger during the imperial crisis of the extensive publication and distribution of newspapers after the American Revolution.

March 29

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 29 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“Best GREEN-COFFEE … Choice Bohea TEA.”

In colonial and Revolutionary America, coffee was available, but it was less accessible than tea or alcohol. Unlike tea, coffee had to be ground, which was something most colonists did not have as much time to do. So even though tea was more expensive than coffee, it took more time and labor to make coffee than tea. As a result, many colonists typically did not make coffee at home. Colonists who did make their own coffee showed their wealth when preparing or serving it, showing their privileged status.

Those who were not even able to afford tea turned to coffee substitutes. According to Christina Regelski, slaves made their own substitute coffee using ingredients from gardens such as cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and corn.

Tea also played an important role in the American Revolution. After Britain put stricter laws on imports, tea was taxed. Many colonists decided to boycott tea and give up one of the “luxuries that they had come to treasure.”



George Turner sold “A fine Assortment of English GOODS” as well as “Groceries of all Kinds” – including the coffee and tea examined by Evan – at his shop on Queen Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. To attract customers, Turner launched some of the most common appeals used by eighteenth-century advertisers, especially appeals to price and quality, but he supplemented them with several others that found their ways into advertisements less often.

For instance, he advised “Town or Country Customers” that they could “depend upon being used as well by sending their Servants, as if present themselves.” Shopkeepers in port cities regularly indicated that they received and faithfully filled orders from customers in the countryside, an eighteenth-century version of mail order shopping. Turner put a bit of a twist on that means of selling his wares. In this case, he acknowledged that customers might send others – their servants – to shop on their behalf. Doing so potentially put customers at a disadvantage in commercial transactions, but Turner assured readers that he would treat fairly with their representatives in their absence. Potential customers need not worry about being fleeced by the shopkeeper when they sent surrogates to make purchases at his store. That he listed prices for several commodities (rum, sugar, coffee, “COTTON-WOOL”), a fairly uncommon practice in eighteenth-century advertisements, left less room for haggling or surprises at the moment of purchase. In a sense, this mechanized transactions by making it irrelevant who was actually present at the exchange.

In addition, Turner also pledged to barter provisions in exchange for “any of the above mention’d ARTICLES, at a Price proportionate to the aforesaid Prices,” even though he previously announced that he sold his wares “Cheap for CASH.” Although hesitant to extend credit, the shopkeeper did not rigidly insist that every transaction required cash. Instead, he provided potential customers an alternative.

Finally, Turner put a unique spin on his appeal to price: “It is needless to say said TURNER will Sell Cheaper than others, as that would be only questioning the Judgment of the Purchaser.” Apparently it was necessary to make this statement, but in doing so Turner turned it into a self-evident statement of fact. He also absolved himself from any possible accusations of wringing inflated prices out of customers by placing the onus on them. If they bought his wares at higher prices than those charged by his competitors, that was the result of their own poor judgment. Any attempt to question Turner’s fairness became an indictment of a customer’s own competence as a savvy consumer.

George Turner created a lively advertisement that merged some standard appeals with several uncommon arguments in favor of making purchases at his shop. At a glance, his advertisement looks similar to countless others printed in eighteenth-century newspapers, but on closer examination it reveals some of the innovative playfulness possible in advertising during the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

September 28

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

Providence Gazette (September 27, 1766).

“Said Greene, wants … Flax-Seed, for which he will pay Cash, or any of the above Goods.”

Caleb Greene posted not only what items he had to sell, but also certain commodities he wanted to acquire. This stood out to me because most of the advertisements I have examined simply listed the various goods offered at a certain shop, most of them having just been imported. However, Greene’s advertisement showed his role as a consumer; he hoped to barter for “a Quantity of good and well-cleaned Flax-Seed.” As we have seen in many other advertisements, many shopkeepers only dealt with cash, but Greene noted that he was willing to trade his freshly imported goods.

This process was widely known as barter. Although it was common, the practice of barter was often much more difficult and sometimes more costly. According to David T. Flynn in “Credit in the Colonial American Economy,” what made bartering so much more complicated was a need for a “double coincidence of wants,” which was essential for the barter to take place. In other words, “For exchange to occur in a barter situation each party must have the good desired by its trading partner.”



Colonists resorted to a variety of mechanisms for payment in their financial transactions. Sometimes they paid in cash, other times they relied on credit, and on many occasions they bartered one sort of goods for another. The first two types of transactions appeared most often in newspapers advertisements during the eighteenth century. Many shopkeepers and others who provided goods and services specified that they sold their wares “for ready Money,” as Caleb Greene did in the advertisement Nick selected for today. Sometimes they specified that they accepted cash only, signaling to potential customers that credit was not an option. The consumer revolution, however, occurred in part because merchants, shopkeepers, and customers became enmeshed in networks of credit that often originated in England and crossed the Atlantic to the colonies, extending to urban ports, towns and villages, and the colonial frontier. Advertisements sometimes specified that potential customers could purchase goods “on short credit” or offered the options of cash or credit.

To what extent did proposals to barter appear in eighteenth-century advertisements? Shopkeepers and other suggested barter less often than cash or credit, but not so infrequently that barter would have been considered uncommon or extraordinary.  (See advertisements previously featured on February 7, February 22, March 1, May 19July 14, and August 4.) Financial ledgers from the period, as well as household accounts, also suggest that many colonists continued to resort to bartering throughout much of the eighteenth century, even given the advantages offered by both cash and credit. Nick has already indicated that bartering required a “double coincidence of wants” that would have made such exchanges less attractive than cash or credit. In this advertisement, for instance, Greene did not offer to barter for just any commodities. He offered to trade “any of the above Goods” specifically for “a Quantity of good and well-cleaned Flax-Seed.” Only prospective customers in possession of that commodity were invited to barter with Greene. Despite that obstacle, placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette increased the likelihood that Greene would indeed encounter a bartering partner who possessed the commodity he desired. Although Greene’s primary purpose in placing his advertisement was to sell a variety of goods, it may have also resulted in obtaining the “Flax-Seed” he wanted thanks to a successful bartering transaction.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (August 4, 1766).

“All those who owe small trifling Debts, must discharge them before the End of August.”

Thomas Davidson wanted to settle accounts and catch up on his bookkeeping. To those ends he published an advertisement with a timetable for customers to pay their debts. Those with “small trifling Debts” had four weeks (“before the End of August”) to pay up, while others who owed more substantial amounts had nearly twice as long (“before the latter End of September next”). Davisdon warned that customers in both categories needed to be punctual or else he would take a step he considered “very disagreeable.” He threatened to sue those who did not heed his call to pay what they owed.

Davidson preferred cash, but he was more interested in settling accounts. If necessary, he was willing to accept a variety of goods that his customers presumably produced on their own farms: “Wheat, Rye, Indian-Corn or Pork.” Cash, credit, and barter all served as modes of exchange in the economy of colonial Connecticut as buyers and sellers negotiated final reckonings for their exchanges.

Although the primary purpose of Davidson’s advertisement seems to have been settling accounts, he also sought to generate more business. After warning customers with outstanding debts that he would sue them “without further Notice,” he announced that he sold “WEST-INDIA RUM, by the Hogshead, or smaller Quantity.” Apparently he did not want to find himself in a similar situation with prospective sales. He declared that he sold the rum “for Cash only.” Such was the tradeoff for purchasing the rum “very cheap.” Customers had to pay in cash.

Eighteenth-century account books, ledgers, and letters are the best sources for revealing business practices of merchants and shopkeepers, but advertisements often provide useful supplements that also demonstrate the public face that entrepreneurs presented to customers and their communities.

July 14

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

Jul 14 - 7:14:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (July 14, 1766).

“Cheap for Cash, Wheat, Rye or Indian Corn.”

Many eighteenth-century consumers bought a variety of goods – including sugar, shoes, tobacco, and handkerchiefs – on credit. Ebenezer Hazard, however, did not seem inclined to extend credit to potential customers. At least, he did not raise that as a possibility in his advertisement in the Connecticut Courant. Instead, he offered to sell this diverse assortment of goods either “for Cash” or in exchange for “Wheat, Rye or Indian Corn.”

All sorts of colonists participated in the transatlantic consumption of goods in the eighteenth century, so many that English visitors to the colonies frequently expressed dismay over how many things, the so-called “baubles of Britain,” that were present in even the most humble households in rural villages and on the frontier. Colonists of modest means found a variety of ways to get their hands on some of the same items as the elites, though perhaps not always in the same quantity or of the same quality.

Barter was one of those means. When merchants and shopkeepers like Ebenezer Barnard offered to trade the “BEST Sort of double refin’d Loaf Sugar, Calimanco Shoes, best Kippen’s Snuff, [or] Barcelona Hankerchiefs, of different Colours,” they opened the marketplace to colonists who might not otherwise have had the means to participate. Such consumers came into possession of products produced in far away places (like sugar from colonies in the Caribbean or textiles from Europe) by trading the raw materials and supplies that they produced on their own farms and in their own communities. Barnard sought to incite even greater demand by making it possible for potential customers to imagine the possibilities they might experience as a result of alternate forms of payment beyond cash and credit.