November 9

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

Providence Gazette (November 9, 1771).

“Atwell hath hired an English Workman, of exquisite Sill.”

In the fall of 1771, Amos Atwell took to the page of the Providence Gazette to let “the Town and Country” know that he “hath set up the CUTLERY BUSINESS, in all its Branches, at his Smith’s Shop.”  Residents of Providence and nearby towns knew Atwell as a blacksmith, so the “CUTLERY BUSINESS” was a new endeavor for him.  That being the case, he provided an overview of his goods and services to instill confidence that he was indeed prepared to expand his business.  Atwell carried “Case Knives and Forks, Carving Knives and Forks, Pocket and Pen Knives of various Kinds, Razors, Surgeons Instruments, &c. &c.”  Repeating “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera most commonly used in the eighteenth century) underscored the range of cutlery available at his shop.  In addition, customers could have “all Kinds of Cutlery Ware cleaned, ground, and put in the best Order.”

The blacksmith did not undertake these tasks himself.  Instead, this enterprise depended on acquiring qualified help, “for which Purpose said Atwell hath hired an English Workman.”  Atwell proclaimed that he “carries on the Blacksmith’s Business as usual,” so his new employee attended to the “CUTLERY BUSINESS, in all its Branches.”  Atwell declared that the cutler possessed “exquisite Skill” and promised that he “gives constant Attendance on the Business, and is always ready to receive and execute the Commands” of customers.  New to the town, the unnamed cutler had not yet established his own reputation among prospective clients.  That made his arrangement with Atwell mutually beneficial.  The blacksmith aimed to attract more customers now that he offered more services at his shop, while the cutler received an endorsement from an artisan well known in the community.  In their newspaper advertisements, blacksmiths and other artisans rarely mentioned the workers, free or enslaved, who labored in their shops.  These circumstances, however, demanded that Atwell acknowledge that even though he “hath set up the CUTLERY BUSINESS” that another artisan actually oversaw those services at his shop.

February 4

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

Feb 4 - 2:1:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (February 1, 1770).

“The Smith’s Shop is carried on … with the same Care and Dispatch as was in her Husband’s Lifetime.”

When Thomas Williams, a blacksmith in Prince George’s County, Maryland, passed away, his widow, Cave, served as administratrix of his estate, joined by another Thomas Williams, perhaps an adult son, as administrator. They jointly placed an advertisement in the February 1, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette, deploying standard language calling on “ALL Persons having any just Claims” against the estate to present them. At the same time they requested that anyone “indebted to the said Estate” settle accounts or else face legal action.

That advertisement featured an addendum that revealed the widow did not serve as administratrix of the estate merely in a ceremonial capacity. She assumed responsibility for her husband’s business and pledged to maintain it after his death. “The Smith’s shop,” she informed readers, “is carried on, by the Subscriber, with the same Care and Dispatch as was in her Husband’s Lifetime.” The widow most likely did not work as a blacksmith herself, though historians have identified some women who did pursue that trade in colonial America. She much more likely managed the business, continuing and expanding on contributions she made to the family business while her husband was still alive. She may have previously served in a role that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has described as “deputy husband,” taking on tasks most often associated with men but undertaken by their wives when necessary. Those tasks might have included interacting with customers and ordering supplies on behalf of the business, exercising authority presumed to belong to her husband but seamlessly transferred to her as his representative. The widow certainly had a sense of what needed to be done for the “Smith’s Shop” to serve customers and succeed. She vowed that “all Gentlemen and others may depend on their Work being done faithfully.” She also asserted that she kept on hand “a Sufficiency of Coal and Iron, so as not to disappoint any Customer.” Even if Cave Williams did not pump the bellows or pound a hammer herself, she understood the operations of her family’s blacksmith shop. She aimed to convince previous clients of that, asking for “the Continuance of their Favours,” while simultaneously attracting new customers.

October 25

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

Oct 25 - 10:25:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 25, 1768).

“WILLIAM JOHNSON, Late of the Co-partnership of TEBOUT & JOHNSON.”

To inform residents of Charleston and its hinterlands that “he carries on the Smith’s business in its various branches,” William Johnson placed an advertisement in the October 25, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He had recently opened his own shop near the city’s “Vendue-House” (or auction room), but Johnson was not a novice to the business. He introduced himself as “Late of the Co-partnership of TEBOUT & JOHNSON.”

In so doing, Johnson’s advertisement differed from many others placed by artisans and others who provided services for consumers. Those advertisers frequently indicated their trade and place of origin in an introductory line that served as a secondary headline for their advertisements. For instance, one column over from Johnson’s advertisement, Thomas Booth’s notice included his name, centered and in a larger font, as the primary headline along with “COACH, SIGN, and HOUSE PAINTER, / from LONDON” as further introduction before describing the services he offered. On the following page, another advertisement promoted the services of “GEORGE WOOD, / BOOK-BINDER and STATIONER, in Elliott-street.”

Johnson could have followed this format, but he may have reasoned that he would attract more business by taking advantage of his record of serving residents of Charleston and the surrounding area. Presumably the partnership of Tebout and Johnson had built a clientele or established a reputation in the busy port. Johnson sought to leverage his prior experience to draw former customers to his shop. Even those who had never engaged his services could have been familiar with the former partnership, making it more valuable for Johnson to list that affiliation than his occupation as the secondary headline for his advertisement. After all, anyone familiar with the “Co-partnership of TEBOUT & JOHNSON” would have known that they were smiths. Deviating from the standard format for advertisements placed by artisans allowed Johnson to place greater emphasis on an aspect of his business likely to resonate with prospective customers.

April 16


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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 16, 1768).

“To be SOLD … tea kettles, skillets, spiders, &c.”

This advertisement probably seems strange to many modern readers, especially the reference to “spiders” for sale. According to Alice Ross, the term “spider” refers to a “three-legged, long-handled frying pan” commonly used during the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.  The Oxford English Dictionary describes a spider as “a kind of frying-pan having legs and a long handle.” Until the kitchen stove came about, all cooking in a home was done on the only source of heat: the fireplace. The spider skillet’s legs allowed the user to place the cookware right on top of a burning fire. Before the cooking stove, cookware often had either legs or special rungs to hang pots over the fire. Given its function, most families with a hearth or fireplace most likely had a spider skillet. Ross notes that an advertisement published in the Pennsylvania Packet in 1790 mentioned spider skillets, but this advertisment demonstrates the use of spider skillets nearly a quarter century earlier. Although “spiders” are now unfamiliar to most consumers, they are still used for outdoor excursions, such as camping.



In addition to spider skillets, Amos Atwell sold “a variety of other articles, of American and European manufacture” at his shop “On the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.”  A blacksmith as well as a retailer, Atwell likely made some of the items listed in his advertisement.

Yet he did not publish his notice solely for the purpose of selling goods.  He also indicated that he wished “to hire a journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Like other artisans who placed employment advertisements, Atwell stressed that he would consider candidates who “can be well recommended for virtue and sobriety,” but he was interested in more than just the credentials and reputation of any journeyman blacksmith that he might welcome into his shop.  Atwell sought assistance “extending this branch of American manufacture,” echoing a common theme from news reports published in the Providence Gazetteand throughout the colonies for the past several months.  Due to an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by new taxes levied by the Townshend Act, colonists had resolved to import fewer English goods in favor of consuming goods made in the colonies.  Meeting demand, however, required significantly increasing production in the colonies.  As an act of resistance, colonists pledged to promote domestic manufactures.

In hiring a journeyman “capable of extending this branch of American manufacture” Atwell signaled his stance to prospective consumers.  He was not the only advertiser in the April 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette who did so. In the same column as his notice, cutlers Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark proclaimed that they recently established their shop with the expectation of receiving “due Countenance from the Well-wishers to American Manufactures” during “a Time when the setting up and extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.”  Bucklin and Clark made their argument much more explicitly than Atwell did, perhaps priming readers to recognize the similar, yet more subtle, appeal made by the blacksmith.  Prospective customers should patronize his shop, Atwell implied, because he was heeding the call to increase American production and, in turn, reduce dependence on imported goods.

February 9

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

Feb 9 - 2:9:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 9, 1768).

“Greatful thanks for the encouragement he has had for eighteen years past in Charles-Town.”

Experience matters. That was the central theme James Lingard presented in his advertisement in the February 9, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In the process of announcing that he had moved to a new location at the east end of Queen Street, Lingard expressed his appreciation to his former customers, noting that he had served the residents of Charleston for the past eighteen years. While merchants and shopkeepers occasionally referred to their years of experience in their attempts to entice customers, artisans most commonly made such appeals. Lingard, a blacksmith and farrier, continued a common practice among eighteenth-century artisans who placed newspaper advertisements.

Lingard enhanced his professional reputation by promoting his experience and expressing “his greatful thanks for the encouragement” he had received from those who had previously engaged his services. It would not have been possible for him to operate a shop in the busy port for nearly two decades had it not been for his skills in “the smiths and farriers business, in all its branches.” Still, it did not hurt to inform potential customers that he had honed those skills over the years and now possessed significant experience. For those who had resided in Charleston for quite some time, Lingard’s advertisement served as a reminder that he had been operating his shop for years. For newcomers to the city, however, Lingard seized an opportunity to inform them of his long history working with local customers.

Lingard likely attracted some of his business via word-of-mouth referrals built on his reputation. Turning to print could have been a strategy to prompt more referrals, presenting himself for consideration among members of “the public in general” who had not previously hired him but who might ask others if they had any experiences dealing with Lingard. In such situations, his appeals to skill and experience in his advertisement set the tone for conversations among customers.

December 5

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

Dec 5 - 12:5:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 5, 1767).

“All performed in the neatest and best manner.”

Blacksmiths Amos Atwell and Jonathan Ellis inserted an advertisement in the December 5, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette to inform readers in “the Town and Country” that they had established a partnership and were “determined to carry on a large stroke of business.” Atwell and Ellis made a variety of items for use in the home, on the farm, in workshops, and aboard ships, including “broad and narrow axes, drawing knives, carpenters adzes, all sorts of coopers tools, farming tools, … kitchen utensils, and ships iron work of every kind.”

Shopkeepers in Providence and other colonial cities and towns frequently advertised a similar array of hardware, though they often indicated that they had imported their inventory from London and other English cities. In the face of assumptions that such goods might have been superior in quality to any produced locally, Atwell and Ellis concluded their advertisement with assurances that the items they sold had been made “in the neatest and best manner.” In so doing, they adopted a marketing strategy often deployed by colonial artisans. Advertisers of all sorts made appeals to the price and quality of their merchandise, but artisans – who produced the goods they sold – supplemented those common appeals with commentary about their own skill and expertise. Those attributes associated with individual artisans, not just the features of the goods they sold, played an important role in efforts to convince potential customers to purchase their wares.

Atwell and Ellis also promised to serve their patrons “with fidelity and dispatch,” but invoking those qualities fell into the realm of customer service rather than artisanal skill and expertise. Merchants and shopkeepers also played on personal characteristics of “fidelity and dispatch” when describing how they interacted with customers, but rarely did they express the sort of intrinsic responsibility for the quality of their merchandise that artisans made part of their testament to potential patrons.

December 24

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

Georgia Gazette (December 24, 1766).

“As he is a young beginner, he hopes by close application to his business to give entire satisfaction.”

John Richards, a blacksmith, could tackle any sort of job customers brought to him: “Ship, Plantation, and Gun Work, and all Work necessary to be done about a House.” He pledged that he would complete any task “in the best manner, on the most reasonable terms, and with the quickest dispatch.” In so doing, he reiterated many of the appeals commonly made by other artisans in their advertisements: quality, price, and efficiency.

Many artisans also emphasized their years of experience, suggesting that quality and efficiency in particular derived from years pursuing their trade. Richards was not in a position to make such a claim, so he took a different tack. Describing himself as “a young beginner,” he promised to devote “close application to his business.” He acknowledged that he had not yet worked in the forge for years, but he turned that into a virtue. He had not yet established a reputation for the quality of his work among the resident of Savannah, but that meant that he would only try harder by carefully attending to his business. Realizing that sincere effort alone would not produce products customers approved, he guaranteed “entire satisfaction to all who may be pleased to favour him with their custom.” Richards encouraged potential customers to take a chance on “a young beginner” through his assurances that he would labor to conscientiously fulfill their orders until they were pleased with his work.

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin identified thirteen virtues that he cultivated in order to become a successful artisan and, more generally, a better person. Franklin listed Industry as his sixth virtue: “Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.” Franklin’s autobiography had not yet been published at the time Richards composed his advertisement, but the young blacksmith did not need a luminary to point out the value of industriousness. Richard already understood its importance and expected that potential customers who read his advertisement understood it as well.

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 9, 1766).

“A penny in the pound cheaper than done in Savannah.”

In an advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette, John Hyatt, a blacksmith from Pennsylvania, announced that he had set up shop on the plantation belonging to George Cuthbert. (Presumably this address was sufficient for potential customers to know where to find Hyatt.) Colonists were accustomed to high rates of mobility in the 1760s. New settlers were arriving from England and other parts of Europe at increasing rates after the Seven Years War ended. People who already lived in the colonies moved around, from town to town or from colony to colony, in search of new opportunities. Georgia was a long way from Pennsylvania. Hyatt was just one of many colonists who participated in internal migration within Britain’s colonies in mainland North America.

Relatively new to Georgia, Hyatt used his advertisement to promote his occupation and convince potential customers to patronize him rather than his competitors. He made many of the usual claims, promising to fulfill orders “in the neatest and best manner, with the greatest dispatch.” He also listed a variety of different kinds of work he could do – “mill work, ship work, edge tools of any kind, northward plough irons of different sorts” – and made a blanket statement about being able to complete “any other branch of country work whatsoever.” No matter the job, Hyatt wanted potential customers to know that he could handle it.

His most original appeal, however, appeared in the final line of his advertisement. He pledged that the tools, ploughs, and other goods made in his shop were “as penny in the pound cheaper than done in Savannah.” Appeals to price were common, but offering to beat competitors’ prices (and by how much) was not a standard part of advertisements in the 1760s. Potential customers might have dismissed the first series of appeals as formulaic, but Hyatt’s final appeal to specific lower prices may have convinced them to give the newcomer a chance.

January 15

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

Jan 15 - 1:13:1766 Boston- Gazette
Boston-Gazette (January 13, 1766)

“He will engage to make and mend Anvils, as good and as well as any imported.”

In the 1760s advertisers regularly indicated that they stocked and sold imported goods.  Many advertisements deployed formulaic language or structure that included references to the origins of merchandise and explicitly used the word “imported.”  Colonial artisans found themselves in competition with shopkeepers who peddled imported wares that were often superior in quality and craftsmanship to what was produced on this side of the Atlantic.

James McElroy seems to have realized that other colonists could be skeptical about such goods.  In response, he offered a variation on the first “Buy American” campaigns that emerged during the Stamp Act protests when he assured potential customers that he could “make and mend Anvils, as good and as well as any imported.”  In addition, he forged “Goldsmiths and Braziers Tools of all Sorts” and offered a guarantee (“which he will warrant”) of their quality.