October 26

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

Oct 26 - 10:26:1769 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (October 26, 1769).

“Printed in AMERICA.”

John Mein was an ardent Tory. In the late 1760s, he and John Fleeming published the Boston Chronicle, one of the most significant Loyalist newspapers. Merrill Jensen describes the Boston Chronicle as “the handsomest newspaper in America” but “also one of the most aggressive.”[1] Mein and Fleeming made it their mission to contradict and oppose the narrative promulgated by patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill in the Boston-Gazette. Mein opposed the nonimportation agreements ratified by Boston’s merchants in response to Parliament imposing duties on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea. Yet when it came to marketing the wares available at his London Book Store on King Street, Mein sometimes adopted a strategy more often associated with patriots who encouraged resistance to the abuses perpetrated by Parliament. In an advertisement that extended an entire column in the October 26, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, Mein proclaimed that he sold books “Printed in AMERICA.” In this instance, the printer and bookseller managed to separate business and politics, hoping to increase the appeal of more than a dozen titles, including several “Entertaining Books for Children,” by making a “Buy American” appeal to consumers.

In that same issue of the Boston Chronicle, Mein and Fleeming published “Outlines OF THE Characters of some who are thought to be ‘WELL DISPOSED.’” As Jensen explains, the “Well Disposed” was “a name first used by the popular leaders to describe themselves, but which their enemies had turned into a gibe.”[2] The character sketches included “Johnny Dupe, Esq; alias the Milch-Cow of the “Well Disposed” (John Hancock), “Samuel the Publican, alias The Psalm Si[ng]er” (Samuel Adams), “Counsellor Muddlehead, alias Jemmy with the Maiden Nose” (James Otis), and “The Lean Apothecary” (Joseph Warren). Jensen notes, “There were many other nicknames which contemporaries doubtless recognized.” These insults created such an uproar that Mein soon departed from Boston in fear of his life. A mob attacked him, but Mein managed to escape, first hiding in the attic of a guardhouse and eventually disguising himself as a soldier and fleeing to a British warship in the harbor. From there he sailed to England, only to discover that “London booksellers to whom he owed money had given power of attorney to John Hancock to collect from his property in Boston.”[3] On Hancock’s suggestion, Mein was jailed for debt.

Mein’s proclamation that he sold books “Printed in AMERICA” had a political valence, but the politics of the marketing appeal did not necessarily match his own politics. Instead, he appropriated a marketing strategy that resonated with prospective customers rather than reflected his own partisan position. His editorials made clear where he stood when it came to current events and the relationship between the colonies and Britain, but that did not prevent him from making a “Buy American” argument in the service of selling of wares.

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[1] Merrill Jensen, The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776 (Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing, 1968, 2004), 360.

[2] Jensen, Founding of a Nation, 361.

[3] Jensen, Founding of a Nation, 362.

September 28

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

Sep 28 - 9:28:1769 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (September 28, 1769).

Will be READ, THE BEGGARS OPERA.”

The itinerant performer who staged a one-man rendition of The Beggar’s Opera in Providence on the evening of September 18, 1769, did not linger long in that city to offer encore performances. Instead, he quickly moved on to new audiences in Boston, according to advertisements that ran in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28. Perhaps attendance at the Providence performance did not merit remaining for additional shows; alternately, the performer may have planned in advance to move from one city to the next fairly quickly, making arrangements for the venues ahead of his arrival. Whatever the explanation, he attempted to attract as large an audience as possible by inserting an advertisement in both newspapers published in Boston on Thursdays, a day before the performance “At a Large ROOM in BRATTLE STREET, formerly GREEN and WALKER’S Store.”

The performer was consistent in his messaging. Aside from the details about the location of performance and where to purchase tickets, the copy in the Boston newspapers replicated what ran in the Providence Gazette less than two weeks earlier (though the typography varied from newspaper to newspaper according to the discretion of the compositor). “Will be READ,” the notice proclaimed, “THE BEGGARS OPERA, By a Person who has READ & SUNG, IN MOST OF THE GREAT TOWNS IN AMERICA, All the SONGS will be SUNG.” The advertisement further described the performer’s delivery for the prospective audience: “He personates all the CHARACTERS, and enters into the different HUMOURS or PASSIONS, as they change from one to another throughout the OPERA.” When it came to the copy of the advertisements in the Boston newspapers, there was only one small variation. The version in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter advised, “No Person to be admitted without a Ticket.” The notice in the Providence Gazette included the same warning, a means of suggesting that the event would be so popular that readers risked missing out if they did not secure their tickets quickly. The version in the Boston Chronicle did not express the same urgency. Was the omission the fault of the performer or the compositor? The latter seems more likely considering how carefully the actor attended to marketing his performances.

These advertisements in the Providence Gazette and, later, newspapers published in Boston demonstrate some of the opportunities for colonists to participate in early American popular culture. They also suggest that even though some aspects of popular culture may have been local that others were shared throughout the colonies and beyond. The performer underscored that he had “READ & SUNG, IN MOST OF THE GREAT TOWNS IN AMERICA.” On his current tour, he presented a show already exceptionally popular in England, connecting colonists culturally to Britain even as they experienced political ruptures due to the Townshend Acts and other perceived abuses by Parliament. While the press offered one means of creating an imagined community among colonists, itinerant performers provided another way of cultivating a sense of community. This advertisement encouraged residents of Boston to participate in popular culture shared with colonists in other “GREAT TOWNS.”

August 24

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

Aug 24 - 8:24:1769 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (August 24, 1769).

“Will take back any clothes that may happen not to suit.”

When he arrived in Boston, tailor John Maud placed an advertisement in the Boston Chronicle to announce that he had “just opened SHOP” in King Street near the British Coffee House. He aimed to establish a clientele consisting of both men and women, noting that “He enages to make gentlemens clothes laced or plain in the newest fashion” and “ladies habits laced or plain.” The tailor implied that his mobility in the British Atlantic world helped him keep abreast of current styles; he formerly followed his trade in Dublin, but more recently had worked in Halifax.

Given that he was new to town, Maud had not yet established a reputation among the residents of Boston. This prompted him to publish a return policy as part of his introduction to his new neighbors and prospective clients. Maud pledged to “take back any clothes that happen not to suit,” intending to alleviate the trepidation any readers felt about working with an unfamiliar tailor.   Maud did not elaborate on what constituted legitimate grounds for returning clothes; instead, he made a blanket statement that allowed for objections about fit and fashion as well as other concerns. Presumably Maud and his customers worked out more specific terms during their transactions in his shop.

This sort of return policy was not a standard element of advertisements placed by tailors and others in the clothing trades in the 1760s. Maud apparently believed that he needed an innovative strategy to distinguish himself from other tailors who worked in Boston, tailors who had already cultivated relationships with local clients and benefited from the residents of the city seeing their garments on display as their customers went about their daily lives. To overcome that disadvantage, Maud pursued another means of making his shop competitive with others already established in the city. Offering a return policy also allowed for a second chance to serve dissatisfied customers when they made returns, giving him an opportunity to request a second chance (perhaps at reduced prices) to retain business that they might otherwise take elsewhere. Maud did not merely announce that he ran a new shop in Boston; he presented prospective clients with good reasons to hire his services.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 25, 1769).

“He hereby offers, and assures a FREE PARDON.”

In late May 1769 Major General Alexander Mackay issued a pardon to “Soldiers who have deserted from His Majesty’s Troops quartered” in Boston, provided that they returned and surrendered by the last day of June. It was not, however, a blanket pardon; Mackay did exclude nearly twenty deserters who had committed other crimes. Instead of the promise of a pardon, he offered a reward for “apprehending and securing them in any of the public Goals [jails].” To get the word out about the pardons (and the rewards for the excluded soldiers), Mackay had one of his officers, “C. FORDYCE, Major of the Brigade,” insert notices in the public prints.

Dated May 23, the notice first appeared in the Boston Chronicle and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (published on the same broadsheet and distributed with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) on May 25. Within a week, the same notice ran in all of the newspapers published in Boston, appearing in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (published in the same broadsheet and distributed with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) at the first opportunity on May 29.

Over the next several weeks, publication of the notice concerning Mackay’s pardon radiated out from Boston. It next appeared in the Essex Gazette on May 30 and then the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette on June 2. The notice soon found its way into both newspapers published in Rhode Island, running in the Providence Gazette on June 3 and in the Newport Mercury on June 5. A week later, the same notice appeared in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant. With the exception of the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven, the notice about the pardon ran in every newspaper in New England. (Copies of the Connecticut Journal for June 9 and 23 were not available for consultation. The notice may have appeared in one or both of those issues of the newspaper published at the furthest distance from Boston.)

At the same time that more newspapers featured the notice, most continued to include it in subsequent editions. It ran in every issue of the Boston Chronicle, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Connecticut Courant, the Essex Gazette, the New-London Gazette, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette from the time of first insertion through the end of June. It appeared in most issues of the Boston Post-Boy and the New-Hampshire Gazette, though it quickly disappeared from the Boston Evening-Post after only two insertions. In total, the notice ran at least fifty-one times in at least eleven newspapers published in New England over the course of five weeks. It made sense to print the notice far and wide considering that deserters were likely to leave Boston to evade capture.

Although information about the pardon could have been considered news, in each instance the notice appeared among the advertisements in every newspaper that carried it. Purveyors of consumer goods and services sometimes published advertisements in multiple newspapers in their city, but a coordinated advertising campaign of this magnitude was extraordinary in 1769. Members of the book trade sometimes inserted subscription notices among the advertisements in as many newspapers as possible, but even their efforts did not usually match the campaign created by Fordyce. He harnessed the power of the press to spread news of the pardons throughout New England, depending on both distribution networks and subsequent word of mouth to inform deserters that they would receive forgiveness if they only returned to their posts.

April 24

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Boston Chronicle (April 24, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD, the SHIP AMERICA.”

Being from Massachusetts, I have spent time in major port cities like Boston and Gloucester. Since Massachusetts resides on the coast, it developed a maritime economy that included shipbuilding. I was drawn to this advertisement because it attempted to sell a ship, not some sort of consumer good or service. In the northern colonies, such as Massachusetts, shipbuilding was a major form of commerce. According to the National Park Service, early ships were made of wood and built not just for fishing, but for trading with foreign countries. Although there was unrest with Great Britain in the colonies and boycotts were taking place in 1769, ships were still important for the economy of the colonies, as well as communication between the colonies and other places. The shipbuilding activities in Massachusetts ports had such an impact that, in addition to aiding the colonies in their victory over Great Britain, it also helped develop the ships that made the United States the major world power it has become today.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Massachusetts did indeed have a maritime economy in the eighteenth century. Residents and visitors knew that was the case when they walked the streets of Boston and Salem and other ports increasing in size and importance. Readers of the several newspapers printed in Boston and the one in Salem also knew it from the shipping news regularly published immediately before the advertisements. The placement of records from the customs house as a bridge between news and advertising underscored the importance of maritime commerce to the colony.

In the April 24, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, this advertisement for “The SHIP AMERICA” ran in the middle column of the final page, immediately to the right of a column filled entirely with shipping news. That column was not enough to contain the list of vessels that had “Entered in,” were “Outward bound,” or had “Cleared out.” The roster continued into the second column, extending through approximately one-third of it. Except for a brief advertisement for “Choice Beef in Barrels,” the shipping news moved directly to the notice about “The SHIP AMERICA,” followed by another seeking to sell a schooner, and another announcing that “THE Snow THISTLE … will clear to sail [to New York] in a few days.”

The shipping news provided a map of sorts that depicted Boston’s place in transatlantic networks of commerce and exchange. The list of ships that had “Entered in” included fifty-two vessels, arriving from Bristol, Georgia, Hispaniola, Greenock, Hull, Jamaica, London, Nova Scotia, New Haven, New London, New York, North Carolina, Philadelphia, Surinam, Turks Island, and Virginia. Another twenty-six were “Outward bound,” heading to Bay Chaleur, Maryland, London, Newfoundland, Hew Haven, New London, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Philadelphia, Quebec, Rhode Island, St. Croix, Surinam, and the West Indies. Forty-two additional vessels had already “Cleared out” on their voyages to Annapolis Royal, Canso, Hispaniola, London, Newfoundland, New Haven, New London, New Providence, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Philadelphia, Rhode Island, Virginia, and the West Indies.

The advertisement for “The SHIP AMERICA” promoted some of the vessel’s qualities, but the placement of the notice next to and below the shipping news testified to the possibilities available to anyone who might have the resources to purchase the ship or enter into partnership with other entrepreneurs.

April 17

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

Boston Chronicle (April 17, 1769).

“APPRENTICES, (Wanted for the PRINTING BUSINESS).”

On April 17, 1769, John Mein and John Fleeming, the printers of the Boston Chronicle, put this advertisement searching for three young apprentices in their own newspaper. The printers wanted apprentices between thirteen and sixteen years of age. Two would work in the “PRINTING BUSINESS” and one in “BOOK BINDING.” Young men usually started apprenticeships in their teenage years and they finished in their early twenties. Bookbinding apprenticeship were not easy, according to Ed Crews. “Mastering the trade required hard work, dexterity, attention to detail, and a willingness and ability to handle painstaking tasks. By the time they became journeymen, apprentices had learned dozens of skills, including folding pages, collating them, stitching, gluing, and techniques for decorating covers.” This shows how hard it was to be a skilled bookbinder. Most apprenticeships were strenuous and not easy, but being an apprentice to a bookbinder could open new opportunities when the apprenticeship ended. Crews says, “Bookbinders with high skills, working in the right shop, could expect satisfying jobs and pay.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Residents of Boston and its environs had access to several local newspapers in the late 1760s. The Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Boston Weekly News-Letter had all been published in one form or another for several years or even decades. In December 1767, John Mein and John Fleeming commenced publication of another newspaper, the Boston Chronicle, expanding the options for disseminating both news and advertising. According to Isaiah Thomas in his monumental History of Printing in America, the Boston Chronicle was “intended to imitate in its appearance the London Chronicle.” Like their competitors, Mein and Fleeming published one issue each week. Upon successfully concluding the first year of publication, the partners altered the size of the newspaper and began distributing new issues on both Mondays and Thursdays, making it the first newspaper published twice a week in New England.

In an overview of its contents, Thomas states that the Boston Chronicle “was well supplied with essays on various subjects judiciously selected from British authors, and it contained the celebrated letters of the Pennsylvania Farmer” by John Dickinson, a series reprinted in nearly every newspaper in the colonies in late 1767 and early 1768. Thomas also notes that the newspaper “grew daily into reputation, and had a handsome list of subscribers.” He did not, however, note how successfully Mein and Fleeming attracted advertisers for their newspaper.

Examining the pages of the Boston Chronicle reveals that no matter how “handsome” the list of subscribers, the newspaper did not publish as many advertisements as any of its local competitors, especially not in 1769. This may have been due in part to Mein’s outspoken political sympathies. “Before the close of the second year of publication,” Thomas reports, Mein “engaged in a political warfare with those who were in opposition to the measures of the British administration. In the Chronicle he abused numbers of the most respectable whigs in Boston; and he was charged with insulting the populace.” Perhaps some prospective advertisers hesitated to insert their notices in the Boston Chronicle for fear of being associated with Mein’s strident politics. Others may have made principled decisions not to advertise in the pages of his newspaper. Thomas declares that as the newspaper steadily lost its subscribers “it could neither be profitable to its publishers, nor answer the design of its supporters.”[1] Again, he does not comment on the role of advertising, especially the revenues generated from paid notices, in the demise of the Boston Chronicle.

Not only did the Boston Chronicle carry fewer advertisements than its competitors, a greater proportion of those that appeared in its pages promoted Mein and Fleeming’s endeavors, including their advertisement for apprentices “Wanted for the PRINTING BUSINESS” that appeared immediately below an advertisement for a book Mein sold at the London Book-Store. Only eight advertisements ran in the April 17, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, one quarter of them placed by the publishers. The advertisement for apprentices was not explicitly political, but the politics of the printers may have influenced how many other advertisements happened to appear on the same page.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; 1874; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 264-265.

April 3

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

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

Boston Chronicle (April 3, 1769).

“A GRAND CONCERT of VOCAL and INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC.”

Music was popular in colonial America, just like it is today. In April 1769 “A GENTLEMAN from LONDON” performed a “GRAND CONCERT” in Boston. What kind of music did colonists hear? David K. Hildebrand lists four categories: theater music, dance music, church music, and military music. In early America, colonists heard “ballads, dance tunes, folk songs and parodies, comic opera arias, drum signals, psalms, minuets, and sonatas.” Which instruments were present in eighteenth-century America? Hilbebrand says that violins (fiddles) and flutes were the most popular, “[d]rums and trumpets, trombones and French horns, cellos, violas da gamba, clarinets, oboes and bassoons, glass armonicas, hammered dulcimers, [and] organs” were all played in the colonies, “in varying numbers. Women did not usually play these instruments. Hildebrand states, “A very tight self-regulation of activity in the name of ‘maintaining reputation’ limited musical options for women.” Wealthy women played harpsichords and English guitars. To learn more, visit “What was Colonial or ‘Early American’ Music?”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Boston Evening-Post (April 3, 1769).

The promoters of a “GRAND CONCERT of VOCAL and INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC” scheduled for April 14, 1769, did not confine their marketing efforts to the pages of the Boston Chronicle. On the same day, that this advertisement ran in that newspaper it also appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, increasing the number of readers and prospective patrons that would encounter it and consider attending.

Boston-Gazette (April 3, 1769).

These advertisements demonstrate an important aspect of the division of labor and creative input in early American advertising: advertisers generated copy and compositors determined the design elements. The copy in each iteration of the “GRAND CONCERT” advertisement remained constant, suggesting that the advertiser wrote the text, copied it several times, and submitted those copies to the various printing offices around Boston. The compositors then exercised their own discretion concerning how the advertisement looked on the page when they set the type. The version in the Boston Chronicle, for instance, announced a “GRAND CONCERT,” putting those words in all capitals and a font larger than almost everything else in the advertisement. “MUSIC” appeared in the largest font, making it the focal point of the advertisement. In contrast, “Grand Concert,” this time not in all capitals, was in the smallest font used in the advertisement in the Boston-Gazette. There, “Mr. HARTLEY” and “Vocal and Instrumental Musick” appeared in the largest font. The compositor for the Boston Evening-Post adopted yet another strategy, making “A grand CONCERT” the most prominent words in the advertisement. Other variations included different uses of italics and capitalization elsewhere in the advertisements as well as a manicule that appeared in the Boston Chronicle but not in the other two newspapers.

This division was not a hard and fast rule. On occasion, similarities in graphic design in multiple newspapers suggested that advertisers provided instructions or negotiated for particular design elements, but generally they did not. Much more often, compositors made copy submitted by advertisers conform to their own graphic design preferences, creating advertisements from multiple advertisers within a single publication that looked more similar to each other than advertisements from a single advertiser in multiple newspapers. In other words, the visual qualities of an advertisement depended greatly on which compositor set the type and which newspaper published that advertisement.

March 24

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Boston Chronicle (March 23-27, 1769).

“Several BARRELS of SOAP, and a variety of European GOODS.”

In this advertisement Elias Dupee is trying to sell a few different kinds of goods, including apparel and other goods useful around the house. He points out specifically that he has several “BARRELS of SOAP” as well as “a variety of European GOODS.” This soap may have been produced in the colonies since Dupee listed it separately. This is worth noting because soap was a very large import into the colonies from Britain; the colonists preferred to import soap from overseas instead of making soap themselves. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen talks about how this was the case. He notes, “One English traveler discovered to her surprise that in rural North Carolina women seldom bothered to produce soap. It was not a question of the availability of raw materials. Good ashes could be had at no expense. But these rural women were consumers, and they preferred to purchase Irish soap ‘at the store at a monstrous price.’”[1] That the soap that Dupee advertised may have been made in the colonies points to a shift in the colonies moving towards more self-reliance at a time that they reduced imports to resist the taxes from the Townshend Acts.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Today Sean and I have deviated slightly from the Adverts 250 Project’s methodology in order to explore an aspect of early American newspaper publication that often confuses modern readers the first time they examine eighteenth-century newspapers: the date listed in the masthead and, sometimes, at the top of each page.

Consider the Boston Chronicle. The masthead for issue 78 includes this date: “From THURSDAY, MARCH 23, to MONDAY, MARCH 27, 1769.” The top of each page included the name of the newspaper and a date, “March 23—March 27.” What does this mean? When was that issue printed and distributed to subscribers? Does that date mean that it was printed on March 23 and readers should not expect another issue until March 27? Or does that date mean that the issue was printed on March 27 and covered the period since March 23? Twenty-first-century readers cannot make a determination in a glance. Sean and his peer were confused by the dates when they first encountered them, as was I when I began working with eighteenth-century newspapers.

Examining the content of issue 78 of the Boston Chronicle reveals when it was published. In particular, the dates listed in some of the advertisements prove useful, unlike the dates attached to some of the news items. For instance, news from Philadelphia was dates March 9, news from New York March 20, and news from New London March 17. The advertisement immediately below Dupee’s auction notice, however, reported that “a likely Negroe Fellow, (named CATO)” ran away from George Watson of Plymouth on March 25. That date indicates that issue 78 could not have been published on March 23. Instead, it was published on March 27 and contained all of the news, advertising, and other content for the period since the previous issue that bore the date “From MONDAY, March 20, to THURSDAY, MARCH 23, 1769.”

This example points to an aspect of working with undergraduate guest curators that I particularly enjoy: the fresh eyes that they bring to sources that have become very familiar to me. As I mentioned above, I also questioned the dates on newspapers like the Boston Chronicle when I first began examining eighteenth-century newspapers, but I have become so accustomed to that convention that I hardly remembered it until Sean and others raised questions about what appeared to be a confusing date. Over the course of this semester, as in past semesters, I have observed undergraduate guest curators achieve greater mastery of early American history, including gaining some of the expertise of print culture specialists. They have done so via exploration of primary sources they have selected on their own rather than merely responding to readings that I have gathered for them.

In the process, Sean and I decided to depart from the methodology that dictates that the featured advertisement must have appeared in a newspaper published exactly 250 years ago today. Instead, he chose one published 250 years ago this week so we could examine how colonists thought about the dates on newspapers in addition to the goods and services advertised in those newspaper.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 79.

March 23

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Boston Chronicle (March 23, 1769).

“JUST PRINTED … PSALMS of DAVID.”

Religion played an important role in the colonies. This advertisement attempted to sell a book, “PSALMS of DAVID … By the Rev. Dr. WATTS.” Watts (1674-1748) was an English educator who later became a pastor. He wrote a series of essays and poetry on theological topics. According to the Poetry Foundation, “Watts published four volumes of poetry: Horae Lyricae; Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707); Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children (1715); and The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament (1719).” In addition, “several of his Psalms are among the best-known poems in the English-speaking world. ‘Joy to the World’, for example, is Watts’s rendering of the second part of Psalm 98 in common meter.” Watts’s work is still being used today, like it was during colonial times. This advertisement for a religious book shows us how much many colonists valued religion.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

John Mein’s advertisement for Isaac Watts’s Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament was one of four notices that he inserted in the March 23, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, the newspaper that Mein published with partner John Fleeming. The others included an advertisement for the second edition of Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack, one for Mein and Fleeming’s Register for New-England and Nova-Scotia, and one in which Mein offered to purchase entire libraries or exchange books. These four advertisements comprised nearly two of the three columns of the final page of the issue.

Guest curator Luke DiCicco and I recently examined the advertisements for the Boston Almanack and the Register. When we published short summaries on Twitter, historian J. L. Bell questioned the number of advertisements placed by Mein and the amount of space that the printer occupied in his own publication. Did the Boston Chronicle lack other advertisers? Or did something else explain the disproportionate advertising related to Mein’s own ventures? After all, other printers regularly placed notices in their own newspapers, but not usually to the same extent.

Three factors likely played a role in the overabundance of advertising by the printer. The Boston Chronicle competed with several other newspapers. It had commenced publication less than a year and a half earlier, while the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Boston Weekly News-Letter had been around for years or even decades. From its inception, the Chronicle had fewer advertisements than any of the other newspapers printed in Boston. It took time to build a clientele of readers, subscribers, and advertisers. In 1769, many prospective advertisers likely considered placing their advertisements in other newspapers a better investment. Part of that may have been due to the second factor, Mein’s vocal Tory sentiments. The advertisement for the Register, especially the inclusion of “BRITISH LISTS,” celebrated the colonies’ connection to Britain at a time when many colonists engaged in resistance to abuses by Parliament, including the Townshend Acts. Some prospective advertisers may have been hesitant to hawk their wares in the Chronicle due to the political sympathies expressed by the printers, especially Mein. This hypothesis requires further research. Finally, if Mein still had surplus copies of the Boston Almanack and the Register twelve weeks into 1769 then he desperately needed to sell them. That alone may have justified giving so much space to the advertisements, especially since they promoted reference information good throughout the year, such as lists of colonial officials and the correct dates when the courts would be in session, rather than the astronomical calculations.

Mein’s advertisement for Watts’s Psalms of David was just one several that called attention to his various ventures. As printer of the Boston Chronicle, he exercised his prerogative over the content, filling much of the final page with notices related to his “LONDON BOOK-STORE” on King Street.

March 20

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Boston Chronicle (March 20, 1769).

“Wants Employment.”

This advertisement caught my eye because of the “Wants Employment” part. Someone was looking for a job that involved “Writing, either in Merchants Books or any otherwise, consisting in Penmanship” or “tak[ing] Charge of a Store.” The advertiser claimed that he was good at writing. According to E. Jennifer Monaghan in Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, students first learned “round hand,” which took several years, and “during this time the student might well be exposed to, without being expected to be fully master of, italic print and roman print.”[1] Since he mentions “Penmanship” this advertiser may have learned more than one “script.” It was difficult to learn how to write because students had so many different scripts to learn.

The end of the advertisement was in a different language. It says, “Ubi est Charitas?—Not in Town.—Honi soit qui mal y pense.” The first part is Latin for “Where is the love?” The second part is French for “Shame to him who thinks evil of it.” By inserting these quotations in other languages, the advertiser demonstrated that he was indeed well educated, the sort of person that a merchant would want handling accounts and letters. There is another aspect concerning how this advertiser tries to find a job. He says that anyone who sends him a message “shall be immediately waited on.” He is letting prospective employers know that he is punctual and eager to work.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Rather than elaborating on the advertisement that Zach has selected for today, I am devoting this entry to some comments on incorporating the Adverts 250 Project into my classes, collaborating with undergraduate guest curators, and how their work shapes the project. This is the fifth semester that I have invited students to contribute to the project to fulfill some of their course requirements. This work began in a Public History class (Spring 2016) and has continued in Colonial America (Fall 2016), Revolutionary America (Spring 2017), Public History (Spring 2018), and Revolutionary America (Spring 2019).

I ask each student to serve as guest curator for a week. They are responsible for creating an archive of all the newspapers for their week that have been digitized by Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg, and Readex. Then they select an advertisement to feature each day of the week. I specify that one of those advertisements must concern the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, giving the students an opportunity to enhance the work they simultaneously undertake as guest curators of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. The other advertisements must focus on commodities or consumer goods and services. That allows us to continue examinations of the consumer revolution that constitute a major component of readings and discussions from class. However, advertisements that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers were many and varied. Many of them had purposes other than promoting the buying and selling of goods. So I allow each guest curator to select one “exception to the consumer goods and services” rule (in addition to an advertisement concerning enslaved people) that allows them to explore other aspects of life in colonial and revolutionary America. Today Zach has chosen an employment advertisement. Recently, guest curator Olivia Burke examined a “runaway wife” advertisement. In both cases, the guest curators learned more about early American history and culture.

Undergraduate guest curators often choose advertisements that I would not have selected on my own. Sometimes this can be frustrating, especially when they pass over advertisements that I find more interesting and want to examine in more detail. Yet that is also the purpose of engaging my students as junior colleagues. They exercise the authority to determine the direction of the project during their time as guest curators. They determine their own assignments in that they choose the content that they want to include and research in greater detail. They also determine an assignment for me. Most of the time I provide further analysis of some aspect of the advertisements they examine; this entry is a rare exception in that it discusses pedagogy and methodology rather than additional aspects of early American print culture and consumer culture. When I provide additional commentary about advertisements chosen by guest curators, this allows us to continue our conversations about the advertisements they found engaging. It helps us to work together as a team, as a mentor with junior colleagues, because the students have selected the content that we all address together.

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[1] E. Jennifer Monaghan, Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 287.