February 18

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 18, 1771).

“Massachusetts-Spy.”

Just over six months after the Massachusetts Spy commenced publication in July 1770, printer Isaiah Thomas temporarily suspended the newspaper in early February 1771.  Thomas warned both current and prospective subscribers of the hiatus in a series of notices in the Spy, pledging that he would relaunch the newspaper, with improvements, in March.  He hoped that the plans he outlined would attract new subscribers.

During the time that Thomas suspended publication, he turned to other newspapers to promote the Spy and seek subscribers.  On February 18, he placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In each, he addressed “all LOVERS of NEWS, POLITICKS, TRUE LIBERTY, and the FREEDOM of the PRESS.”  He also declared that the Spy was “open to ALL Parties, but influenced by None,” though Thomas became an increasingly vocal supporter of the patriot cause.  Indeed, four years later he fled to the relative safety of Worcester and set up his press there because he feared retribution from British officials angered by coverage in his newspaper if he remained in Boston.

Rather than focus on politics in this advertisement, however, Thomas described the plan for publishing the improved Spy.  He originally intended to publish it on Tuesdays, the day after the newspaper that carried his advertisement, but reported that he would instead publish it on Thursdays “at the Request of a great Number of the Subscribers.”  In appearing to give the customers what they wanted, Thomas further enhanced the Spy by gaining “the Advantage of inserting what News may be brought by the Hartford-Post, who arrives on Wednesday Evenings.”  Like other newspapers, the Spy featured extracts of letters and items reprinted directly from other newspapers.

Thomas also listed other details, including the size and appearance of the newspaper and subscription rates.  The revitalized Spy “will be printed on Demy Paper, every Number to contain four Pages large Folio, and every Page four columns.”  While a couple of newspapers published in other towns at that time featured four columns per page, none of those published in Boston did.  In this manner, Thomas sought to distinguish his newspaper from the local competition.  If printers mentioned subscriptions rates in print at all, they most often did so in the plan of publication.  Thomas set the price at six shillings and eight pence per year, with half to be paid on delivery of the first issue and the other half paid at the end of the year.  Like other printers, he extended credit to subscribers.

The enterprising printer also gave instructions for subscribing, inviting “All those who are kind enough to encourage this Undertaking … to give in their Names as soon as they conveniently can.”  Thomas accepted subscriptions himself, but he also specified several agents in Boston.  They included fellow booksellers and printers, though none of the printers of other newspapers published in Boston.  He also had local agents in nearby Charlestown as well as the more distant Salem.  Thomas would eventually collect the “Subscription Papers” from his various agents and collate the names into a single subscription list.

Thomas envisioned significant improvements to the Massachusetts Spy, but he needed the support of subscribers to put his plans into effect.  He first outlined new aspects of his newspaper in the Spy before it temporarily halted publication, but then he turned to advertising in other newspapers to seek subscribers (and presumably advertisers) and generate interest as the public anticipated publication of the new Massachusetts Spy.

January 21

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 21, 1771).

“The Trial of … Soldiers in His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot.”

On January 14, 1771, John Fleeming announced that he would publish a pamphlet documenting the trial of the soldiers prosecuted for “the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, & Patrick Carr, on the Evening of the 5th March 1770,” an event now known as the Boston Massacre.  John Adams defended the soldiers in court, winning acquittals for six of them.  The other two, convicted of manslaughter for deliberately firing into the crowd, received reduced sentences after pleading benefit of clergy.  They avoided the death penalty in favor of branding on the thumbs in open court.  When Fleeming, a Tory sympathizer and former partner in publishing the discontinued Boston Chronicle, announced his plan to publish an account of the trial, Thomas and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, placed their own advertisement for “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE” immediately below Fleeming’s notice.  Perhaps suspicious of what might appear in Fleeming’s pamphlet, the Fleets offered an antidote.

In the next issue of the Boston Evening-Post, Fleeming inserted a more extensive advertisement to proclaim that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” an account of “The Trial of … Soldiers in His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot; For the MURDER of” the five men who died during and soon after the Boston Massacre.  The printer noted that this account had been “Taken in short Hand by John Hodgdon” and furthermore it was “Published by Permission of the Court.”  Perhaps to alleviate lingering suspicions about how much commentary he might insert or otherwise attempt to further shape the narrative in favor of the soldiers, Fleeming included a note near the conclusion of his advertisement.  “In this Publication,” he declared, “great Care has been taken to render the Evidence as accurate as possible, by comparing Mr. Hodgdon’s Copy with other Minutes taken at the Trial.”  Fleeming also listed the various contents of the pamphlet, from “The Indictments against the Prisoners” to “the Verdict returned by the Jury.”  The pamphlet provided a complete account of events associated with the trial, Fleeming assured the public.

This advertisement met with different treatment by the Fleets compared to Fleeming’s previous advertisement.  They placed it in the lower right corner of the first page, the only advertisement on that page.  In addition, the advertisement listed both Fleeming and “the Printers hereof” as sellers of the pamphlet.  Apparently the Fleets, who tended to favor the patriot cause, though not as vociferously as Benjamin Edes and John Gill in the Boston Gazette, found that the pamphlet accurately rendered the events of the trial.  They even saw an opportunity to generate revenues at their own printing office by retailing copies.  They already encouraged participation in the commodification of events related to the imperial crisis, having marketed “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE.”  Even as they endorsed Fleeming’s new publication, they also continued to run advertisements for that earlier pamphlet elsewhere in the newspaper.  Interest in Fleeming’s new pamphlet about the trial had the potential to reinvigorate demand for an account of the events that led to the trial.

January 14

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 14, 1771).

“A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON.”

Commemoration and commodification of the American Revolution occurred simultaneously, the process beginning years before the first shots were fired at Concord and Lexington on April 19, 1775.  The Boston Massacre took place on March 5, 1770.  A week later, the town meeting appointed James Bowdoin, Samuel Pemberton, and Samuel Warren to a committee charged with preparing an account of that infamous event.  The committee quickly prepared A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston and presented it to the town meeting on March 19.  The town meeting accepted the account and ordered it printed immediately.  The Short Narrative quickly became available to consumers, its imprint declaring that it was “Printed by Order of the Town of Boston, and Sold by Edes and Gill, in Queen-Street, and T. & J. Fleet, in Cornhill.”  Other commemorative items quickly hit the market as well.  On March 26, Paul Revere advertised his “PRINT containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-Street.”  A week later, Henry Pelham announced a similar print, “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power,” available for purchase at local printing offices.

Months later, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, occasionally advertised the Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre.  On January 14, 1771, they reminded readers of one of the most significant events of the previous year when they once again ran advertisement for the Short Narrative.  An advertisement for another book likely prompted them to market the Short Narrative approved by the town meeting once again.  They inserted their advertisement immediately below John Fleeming’s notice that he would soon publish “The Trial of William Wemmes, James Hartegan, William McCauley, Hugh White, Matthew Killroy, William Warren, John Carrol, and Hugh Montgomery, for the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, & Patrick Carr, on the Evening of the 5th March 1770.”  Following a vigorous defense by John Adams, a jury acquitted six of those soldiers and found the other two guilty of manslaughter.  The latter managed to reduce their sentences from death to having their thumbs branded by pleading benefit of clergy.  Fleeming, the printer who offered an account of the trial to the public, had formerly published the Boston Chronicle, noted for its Tory sympathies, in partnership with John Mein.  That newspaper ceased publication in 1770, shortly after angry colonists chased Mein out of town.

The account of the trial and its outcome ran counter to the version of events depicted in the Short Narrative and the prints produced by Pelham and Revere.  It became another entry in the propaganda battle of competing stories presented in newspapers, prints, and pamphlets, published in both Boston and London, following the Boston Massacre.  It could hardly be considered a coincidence that the Fleets just happened to advertise the Short Narrative once again just as Fleeming announced publication of a pamphlet about the trial of the soldiers, especially since their advertisement appeared immediately after Fleeming’s notice.  The Fleets did not censor Fleeming from advertising in their newspaper, but they did insist on having the last word in hopes of shaping the narrative for the public.

January 7

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 7, 1771).

“Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”

In addition to publishing the Boston Evening-Post, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet sold a variety of books at their shop at the Sign of the Heart and Crown.  Throughout the colonies, printers commonly augmented their incomes by selling books and pamphlets, mostly items that they either imported or acquired from associates in other towns alongside a few titles they produced on their own.

Such was the case in the advertisement the Fleets inserted in their own newspaper on January 7, 1771.  They concluded the notice with Jeremiah Dummer’s Defence of the New-England Charters, a pamphlet they reprinted in 1765, but they first listed titles published by others.  The Fleets devoted half of the notice to a pamphlet printed by William Goddard.  In The Partnership, Goddard detailed his disputes with “Joseph Galloway, Esq; Speaker of the Honorable House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania, Mr. Thomas Wharton, sen.,” a prominent merchant, “and their Man Benjamin Towne,” a journeyman printer.  The four men had formerly been partners in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but their disagreements led to a dissolution of the partnership in the summer of 1770 and a war of words in newspapers, handbills, and pamphlets.

The other titles available at the Heart and Crown included “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”  George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  In the wake of his death, printers and others produced, marketed, and sold a variety of commemorative items, including funeral sermons preached in memory of the minister.  For several months, advertisements for those items appeared alongside reports about reactions to the news in towns throughout the colonies and poetry composed for the occasion.  The Fleets’ advertisement, listing the funeral sermon third among four titles, marked a transition in the marketing of items commemorating Whitefield.  No longer was Whitefield the sole or even primary focus of the advertisement.  As time passed and the minister’s death became more distant in the memories of prospective buyers, the Fleets recognized that demand for such commemorative items waned.  Funeral sermons no longer had the same immediacy as when the news was fresh.  As a result, they became one item among several in booksellers’ inventories rather than items that merited advertisements of their own in the public prints.

After several months of Whitefield fervor, especially in newspapers published in New England, printers and booksellers like the Fleets recalibrated their advertising efforts.  In this case, a spirited account of a bitter feud among printers and politicians in Pennsylvania received top billing over a sermon in memory Whitefield.

December 24

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 24, 1770).

“The Royal Exchange Tavern … will be opened this Day as a COFFEE-HOUSE.”

When Abigail Stoneman opened a new coffeehouse in Boston in December 1770, she attempted to increase the visibility of her venture by advertising in multiple newspapers rather than trusting that word-of-mouth recommendations and the readership of a single publication would be sufficient to attract customers.  Having “repaired and fitted for the Reception of Company” the Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street, Stoneman announced that it now operated as a coffeehouse, though she also provided furnished lodgings “for constant or occasional Boarders.”

To spread the news widely, she placed notices in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, three of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time.  She did not insert her advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter or the Massachusetts Spy.  The latter had only recently launched and carried few advertisements, perhaps indicative of a smaller readership and, accordingly, fewer prospective customers.  Her budget for advertising may have prompted Stoneman to limit her efforts to three newspapers instead of placing notices in all four with wider distributions.

The copy and format of Stoneman’s advertisements further confirm the division of labor evident in other paid notices that ran in multiple newspapers.  The advertiser assumed responsibility for composing the copy, but the compositor exercised discretion when it came to format.  Stoneman’s advertisements featured identical copy (with the exception of a dateline that did not appear in the Boston Evening-Post, though that very well could have been a decision made by the compositor).  The format from newspaper to newspaper, however, varied.  The iteration in the Boston Evening-Post had the most recognizable headline and made use of centering for “COFFEE-HOUSE” in a larger font.  The other two iterations treated the copy as a single paragraph that lacked centering or white space to draw attention to significant aspects.

Regardless of the graphic design decisions made by compositors for the various newspapers, Stoneman informed the public that she offered hospitality at a new coffeehouse in the Royal Exchange Tavern.  Readers of multiple newspapers encountered her invitation to enjoy the new atmosphere at the Royal Exchange Tavern, repaired and remodeled as a coffeehouse.  Whether or not readers had previously visited, she welcomed them all to her new enterprise.

November 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 26, 1770).

“Those Customers who live in the Country are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”

Extensive credit played an important role in fueling the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans all extended credit to their customers.  Printers did the same, often for periods of years rather than merely weeks or months.  Newspaper printers regularly inserted notices into their publications to call on subscribers, advertisers, and others to pay their debts.  In some instances, they stated that their ability to continue disseminating the news depended on customers paying their overdue bills.  More often, they threatened legal action against those who did not settle accounts by a specified date.

On November 26, 1770, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, once again joined the chorus of printers who inserted such notices in their newspapers.  They requested that “All Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been 12 Months standing … to make immediate Payment.”  Although they did not suggest taking anyone to court, they did express some exasperation with those who had not heeded previous notices.  “Those Customers who live in the Country,” the Fleets implored, “are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”

To increase the likelihood that those customers at least saw the notice, the Fleets deployed a couple of strategies.  First, they made it the first item in the first column on the first page.  It appeared immediately below the masthead and immediately above news items rather than interspersed among other advertisements.  Even if they only skimmed the contents to find items of interest, readers who perused that issue of the Boston Evening-Post were likely to spot the Fleets’ notice.  To help call attention to it and underscore its importance, the Fleets included several manicules.  A manicule on the first line directed attention to the notice.  A line composed of seventeen manicules beneath the advertisement seemed to insist that readers take note of what appeared above them.  Although the Fleets did not threaten to sue recalcitrant customers, they used other means to suggest they were serious about receiving overdue payments.

November 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 19, 1770).

“Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days.”

Was it news or advertising or both?  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, noted that “Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days” in the November 19, 1770, edition.  This note was one of several items collected together as news from Boston.  The various items from the city amounted to more than a column, but a short section included brief reports about local deaths, ships in port, and Ames’s almanac.  The Fleets informed readers of the death of Elizabeth Langdon, widow of Deacon Josiah Langdon, and advised that the funeral and procession would take place the next day “if the Weather be fair.”  The printers also made note of the death of Mary Collson, the wife of leather dresser Adam Collson and daughter of Solomon Kneeland.  They reported that the “Glasgow Man of War arrived her from the same Place” and the “Mermaid Man of War was to Winter at Halifax.”  The Fleets concluded this list of brief updates with the note about Ames’s almanac, adorning it with a manicule to enhance its visibility.

That was the end of the news in that edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Paid notices comprised the remainder of the contents.  The Fleets did not present the notice about the almanac as a freestanding advertisement, but they did treat is as a transition from news items they selected for publication and advertisements submitted by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, auctioneers, and others.  The strategic placement may have allowed them to capture the attention of readers who perused the issue for news without intending to examine the advertisements, position it as a final news items before the advertisements commenced.  This served their own interests as entrepreneurs.  Several variations of the popular Ames’s Astronomical Diary or Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1771 hit the market in the fall of 1770, but this was probably the version with an imprint that stated it was “Printed and Sold by the Printers and Booksellers” of Boston.  Within the next several weeks, Richard Draper would advertise it in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Edes and Gill would advertise it in the Boston-Gazette, and the Fleets would advertise it in the Boston-Evening Post.  At that time, the Fleets devised a freestanding advertisement that ran among other advertisements rather than placing a notice within or adjacent to the news.

In advance of the almanac’s publication, the Fleets alerted prospective customers that an edition of Ames’s almanac would soon be available for sale at their printing office.  They used their access to the press to craft an announcement that appeared to be news even as it promoted a product that the printers had an interest in supplying to the public.  The placement of the notice as a transition between news and advertising was strategic.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (September 3, 1770).

“It is presumed preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here.”

As fall approached in 1770, the nonimportation agreement remained in effect in Boston.  Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods, but taxes on tea remained.  Although New York already resumed trade with Britain, debates continued in Boston and Philadelphia about whether that partial victory was sufficient to return to business as usual.

It was in that context that Harbottle Dorr advertised nails and other items in the Boston Evening-Post, grounding his marketing appeals in politics.  Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he listed the various merchandise available at his shop.  He prefaced his list, however, by noting that the items enumerated first were “manufactured in this Town” rather than imported from Britain.  Those goods included “choice hammered Pewter Dishes & Plates, Cod and Mackrel Lines, best Copper Tea Kettles, all sizes of Porringers, Quart Pots, [and] Basons,” yet he started with “10d.* and 20d. Nails, warranted tough.”  The asterisk directed readers to a short sermon that encouraged them to buy goods produced in the colonies that appeared at the end of the advertisement.  “*It is presumed,” Dorr lectured, “preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here, (not only on patriotic Principles, and to discourage the PRESENT Importers, –but) as they really are better in Quality than most English Nails, being far tougher.”  Dorr linked several appeals that supporters of the nonimportation agreement often combined.  Buying American goods, Dorr and others argued, was not merely a statement of political principles but also a smart choice when it came to quality.  Consumers did not need to worry about purchasing inferior goods, in this case nails, when they bought items made in the colonies.

Yet Dorr also stocked imported goods in addition to domestic manufactures, including “all sorts Pad & Door Locks,” “London Pewter Dishes and Plates,” and “good Combs.”  He emphasized, however, that those items “have been imported above THREE YEARS.”  In other words, Dorr acquired them before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  He had not violated the pact and prospective customers could purchase those items with confidence that they did not act contrary to the nonimportation agreement.

Whether selling domestic manufactures or imported goods, Dorr made politics the focal point of his marketing efforts.  Even as some merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers advocated for following New York’s lead in resuming trade with Britain, he challenged them to consider “patriotic Principles” as they made their decisions about commerce.  Perhaps sensing that it was only a matter of time before the nonimportation agreement came to an end, he also made additional arguments in favor of nails produced in the colonies, noting their superior quality.

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (July 9, 1770).

All which he will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”

In the summer of 1770, Nathaniel Tucker advertised a “large Assortment of DRUGS & MEDECINES, Chymical & Galenical,” for sale at his shop across the street from the Old South Meeting House in Boston.  His notice in the Boston Evening-Post listed several popular patent medicines, including Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Squire’s Original Grand Elixir, Fraunces’s Female Strengthening Elixir, and Dr. Bateman’s Golden Spirits.  These nostrums were so familiar to colonial consumers that Tucker did not elaborate on their efficacy.

He did, however, promote his low prices.  Tucker concluded his advertisement with a proclamation that he sold all of these items “as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”  He did not name any prices, but he did suggest to prospective customers that they would not find better bargains anywhere in the bustling port city.  Like the readers of the Boston Evening-Post, Tucker realized that consumers had many options for purchasing Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Dr. Walker’s Jesuit’s Drops, and the rest.  Apothecaries stocked them, but such specialists were not alone in making them available. Shopkeepers who sold all sorts of goods also carried patent medicines.  Even printers and booksellers frequently advertised that they sold patent medicines in addition to books, pamphlets, and stationery, a side hustle that supplemented revenues from activities more often associated with their trade.

In addition to offering low prices, Tucker implied that he would adjust those prices to reflect the local market.  Although he did not explicitly state that he matched the prices of his competitors, his assertion that he “will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston” suggested that his prices were flexible rather than fixed.  In addition to not having to worry about being overcharged, prospective customers likely had opportunities to haggle with Tucker; such encounters were opportunities for him as well, opportunities to make sales that might otherwise have gone to other purveyors of patent medicines.  Rather than simply listing the medicines at his shop, Tucker deployed price as the primary means of inciting demand for his wares.

June 13

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

Jun 13 - 6:11:170 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (June 11, 1770).

“The Coach-Making Business in all its Branches is carried on as usual.”

Adino Paddock, a coachmaker in Boston, regularly placed newspaper advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He often promoted secondhand coaches, chaises, and other sorts of carriages as an alternative to purchasing new ones, anticipating marketing strategies that became standard in the automobile industry two centuries later.  He also provided maintenance and carried accessories and equipment, such as reins and whips, realizing that ancillary services and smaller sales supplemented the revenues he earned from carriages.

As part of his marketing efforts, Paddock inserted his advertisements in multiple newspapers published in Boston.  While this increased his expenses, it also placed his notice before greater numbers of potential customers.  During the week of June 11, 1770, for instance, Paddock placed the same advertisement in three of the five newspapers printed in Boston at the time.  It appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on the same day at the beginning of the week.  It did not, however, appear in the issue of the Boston Chroniclepublished that same day or the subsequent issue distributed later in the week, but Paddock may not have considered running it there worth the investment.  Relatively few advertisements ran in the Chronicle, perhaps due to the newspaper’s outspoken Tory sympathies.  (Less than two weeks later that newspaper permanently ceased publication, though Paddock would not have known that the end was near for the Chronicle when he submitted his advertisements to the various printing offices in town.)  Paddock also declined to place his notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Perhaps running notices in the other three newspapers exhausted his budget.

Whatever his reasons for choosing some newspapers over others, Paddock did submit identical copy to the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Post-Boy, multiplying the number of readers who would encounter his advertisements.  For readers who perused more than one publication, his advertisement likely became more memorable due to its familiarity.  Paddock was not alone in adopting this strategy.  Artisans, merchants, and shopkeepers in cities with multiple newspapers often sought to increase their visibility by placing identical notices in more than one publication.