November 28

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

Boston-Gazette (November 26, 1770).

“Stolen … a large Chesnut Canoe … taken away by Mr. Wait’s Negro.”

In the fall of 1770, Samuel Clark placed an advertisement about a stolen canoe in the Boston-Gazette.  That “large Chesnut Canoe, about 14 Feet long,” was connected to advertisements that appeared in newspapers in four colonies, though those notices were concerned with Pompey, also known as Pomp, an enslaved man who liberated himself, rather than a stolen canoe.

When Pompey made his escape, Aaron Waitt, his enslaver, ran a series of advertisements in Essex Gazette, Providence Gazette, New-London Gazette, and New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Waitt sought the assistance of newspaper readers in New England and New York in capturing and returning Pompey to bondage.  To that end, Waitt offered a description of the young man, including his approximate age, height, and clothing.  To help identify this fugitive seeking freedom, Waitt noted that Pomp had “a large Scar on one Part of his Forehead.”  The enslaved man, “a Leather-Dresser by Trade,” spoke “good English.”

Waitt knew something of Pompey’s movements.  He reported in his advertisements that Pompey had been spotted “on board the Sloop Free Mason, John Rogers, Master,” which departed from East Greenwich, Rhode Island, for New York and then the Carolinas on October 18.  Waitt suspected that Pompey would disembark in New York.  From there he could either remain in the bustling urban port or seek out other places to elude capture.  Waitt placed advertisements in newspapers published in both New York and Connecticut in anticipation of both possibilities.

Considered together, Waitt’s advertisements provided more information about Pompey’s means of liberating himself than most eighteenth-century newspaper notices about enslaved men and women who, from the perspective of their enslavers, “ran away.”  Yet Waitt’s advertisements document Pompey’s plans only after he made it to Rhode Island and continued his venture from there.  Clarke’s notice about a stolen canoe presents additional information about the initial portion of Pompey’s journey to freedom.  He conjectured that his canoe had been “taken away by Mr. Wait’s Negro of Salem,” referencing current events as reported in newspaper advertisements circulating at the time.

Although placed for the purposes of surveilling Black bodies and returning Black people to colonists who purported to own them, newspaper advertisements can also be used to reconstruct some of the experiences of enslaved people.  Pompey did not have an opportunity to record his own narrative in print, but, unintentionally, Waitt and Clarke told a story of a determined man who took advantage of various resources.  Pompey appropriated a canoe to put some distance between himself and his enslaver, then he boarded a ship heading to one of the busiest ports in the colonies to make it even more difficult for Waitt to lay hands on him.  Printers who published Waitt’s advertisements became accomplices in his endeavor, but in the process they inadvertently recorded the story of Pompey’s courage, ingenuity, and resistance.

October 29

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

Boston-Gazette (October 29, 1770).

SARAH DAWSON, the Widow of JOSEPH DAWSON, Gardener.”

Compared to their male counterparts, relatively few female entrepreneurs placed advertisements promoting their commercial activities in Boston’s newspapers in the early 1770s.  With the exception of clusters of advertisements placed by female seed sellers in the spring, commercial notices constituted a primarily male space in the public prints.  Esther Harrison was one of those female shopkeepers who did run advertisements.  Her notice in the October 29, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette listed a variety of “Shop Goods cheap for Cash,” similar to advertisements placed by Benjamin Church, Archbald Cunningham, Joshua Gardner, John Gore, Jr., John Head, William Smith, Thomas Walley, and others.

Two other women joined Harrison in advertising the businesses they operated in that edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Most likely by chance rather than by design, their advertisements appeared side by side, one in each column on the final page.  Abigail Davidson and Sarah Dawson both advertised trees, shrubs, and seeds.  Unlike Harrison, Davidson and Dawson connected their businesses to men who had once operated them.  Dawson identified herself as “the Widow of JOSEPH DAWSON, Gardener, lately deceas’d.”  Davidson noted that the trees she sold had been “grafted and innoculated by William Davidson, deceased.”  In both instances, the women likely contributed to the family business before the death of a male relation but did not become the public face for the business until after.  Davidson and Dawson made reference to those male gardeners in much the same way that male advertisers often described their credentials as they sought to convince prospective customers and clients that they were qualified for the job.

Harrison, Davidson, and Dawson all ran businesses.  Their entrepreneurial activities included marketing their wares via newspaper advertisements.  Harrison presented herself as the sole proprietor of her shop, but Davidson and Dawson adopted an approach often taken by women who found themselves responsible for the family business after the death of a husband or other relation.  They identified themselves in connection to the deceased relative, mediating their commercial message through the authority and expertise of men.  Even as female advertisers, their appearance in the public prints contributed to the depiction the marketplace as a predominantly masculine space when it came to producers, sellers, and suppliers.

October 8

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

Boston-Gazette (October 8, 1770).

“All the Patenteed Medicines, too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”

Oliver Smith advertised a “compleat Assortment of the very best DRUGGS and MEDICINES” in the October 8, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  He sold his remedies individually, but also offered “Family and Ship Boxes” that packaged together “most of the Medicines generally in Use” along with directions for administering them.  These eighteenth-century versions of first aid kits allowed apothecaries to increase their sales by asking consumers to anticipate possible future needs for a variety of medicines rather than wait until they had a specific need for any particular medicine.  Smith and others marketed “Family and Ship Boxes” as a convenience for their customers, but they also amounted to additional revenue for the sellers.

Smith also informed readers that he carried “All the Patenteed Medicines, too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”  Not listing those items saved Smith both space and money.  He expected that consumers were so familiar with the array of patent medicines on the market that he did not need to name them.  This strategy also indicated confidence that he had on hand a complete inventory.  They could depend on him carrying Turlington’s Original Balsam of Life, Godfrey’s General Cordial, Walker’s Jesuit Drops, Dr. Stoughton’s Elixir, Hooper’s Pills, Greenough’s Tincture for the Teeth and Gums, Bateman’s Pectoral Drops, and a variety of other patent medicines that apothecaries, shopkeepers, and even printers frequently listed in their advertisements.  One column over from Smith’s advertisement, William Jones did indeed name all of those nostrums and others.

Much of Smith’s advertisement focused on convenience.  In addition to selling “Family and Ship Boxes” and stocking a complete inventory of patent medicines, he operated his shop at a convenient location, “the next Door Northward of Doctor John Greenleaf’s in Cornhill.”  Prospective customers who had occasion to consult with Dr. Greenleaf could then visit Smith’s apothecary shop next door to select any medicines that the doctor recommended.  Smith also noted that the shop had been “lately improved” to make it more appealing to customers.  With the various conveniences he provided, Smith sought to make it as simple as possible for prospective customers to care for their health.

September 17

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

Boston-Gazette (September 17, 1770).

“To be sold one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”

Abigail Davidson was one of several women in Boston who placed newspaper advertisements offering seeds for sale in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Their advertisements usually ran in multiple newspapers starting late in the winter and continuing through the spring.  Most of these female seed sellers, including Davidson, did not place advertisements for seeds or other goods at any other time during the year.  That made Davidson’s advertisement in the September 17, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette all the more notable.

Rather than marketing seeds exclusively, Davidson offered trees, bushes, and “all Sorts of dried Sweet Herbs” as well.  She proclaimed that she had “a large Collection of the best Sorts of young graffed and innoculated English Fruit Trees.”  That work had been done “by William Davidson, deceased.”  Abigail did not comment on her relationship to the deceased William, but expected that prospective customers were familiar with his reputation for horticulture.  She did not previously mention a husband, son, brother, or other male relation in her advertisements, but perhaps a recent death in the family prompted her to assume greater responsibilities that had her placing advertisements in the fall in addition to the spring.  Widows who operated family businesses following the death of their husbands frequently made reference to their departed spouses in their newspaper advertisements as a means of offering reassurance to prospective customers that the quality of their goods and services continued uninterrupted.

Davidson was determined to attract customers and set her prices accordingly.  In a nota bene that concluded her advertisement, she declared that she sold her trees, bushes, and seeds “one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”  In other words, she offered a deep discount to her customers.  If she feared the family business might lose customers following the death of William, this strategy stood to preserve those relationships as well as entice new customers interested in significant savings.  Davidson combined William’s reputation and bargain prices in her marketing efforts.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:27:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 27, 1770).

They have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street.”

Colonial printers adopted various strategies when it came to inserting advertisements in their newspapers.  Some reserved advertisements for the final pages, appearing only after news items, editorials, lists of prices current, shipping news from the custom house, poems for amusement or edification, and other content selected by the editor rather than paid for inclusion by advertisers.  Others placed advertisements on the first and fourth pages, with other content on the second and third pages.  Doing so reflected practical aspects of producing newspapers.  Most consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  That meant the first and fourth pages were printed with one pull of the press and the second and third pages with another.  Advertisements, often repeated from week to week, could be printed first on the first and last pages, allowing for any breaking news to be set in type as late as possible before the second and third pages went to press.  Both of those methods kept advertisements clustered together, either at the end of an issue or bookending it.  Another method more evenly distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing advertisement on every page, often, but not always, at the bottom or in the final column.

For the August 27, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill included advertising on each of its four pages.  Advertisements constituted the first of three columns on the first page, but only a few short advertisements appeared at the bottom of the third column on the second page.  Advertisements accounted for half of the third page, but, like the second page, they ran after news content, sequestered at the bottom of the second column and in the third.  The fourth page consisted entirely of advertising, with the exception of the colophon at the bottom of the final column.  No matter which page they perused, readers encountered advertising in this edition of the Boston-Gazette.  In the midst of all those paid notices, Edes and Gill reserved a privileged place for an advertisement concerning their own business.  In the first item in the first column on the first page, “THE PUBLISHERS of this Paper” placed an advertisement to “hereby inform their Customers and others, That they have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street, to the House formerly improv’d by Messieurs Kneeland & Green, directly opposite the new Court-House.”  Edes and Gill exercised their power as printers of the Boston-Gazette and their access to the press to increase the chances that readers would see and take note of their advertisement.  Other advertisers paid for access to the press, but they usually had little control over where their advertisements appeared in the newspaper.  When it came to the placement of advertisements within newspapers, printers had an advantage that “their Customers and others” did not.

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 20, 1770).

“Doctor’s Boxes … are carefully prepared.”

Peter Roberts advertised “An Assortment of the best DRUGS and MEDICINES” as well as other medical supplies, including “Surgeons Instruments,” “Iron and Marble Mortars and Pestles,” and “a great Variety of Smelling Bottles” in the August 20, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  In addition to listing his wares, he adopted two other marketing strategies commonly deployed by apothecaries and others who sold medicines.  In both, he emphasized convenience as an important part of the customer service he provided.

Roberts informed prospective customers that “Doctor’s Boxes of various Prices, with proper Directions, are carefully prepared and put up for Ships or private Families.”  He produced an eighteenth-century version of a first aid kit, packaging together several useful items that buyers did not need at the moment but would likely find useful when need did arise.  Even if the purchasers never used some of those items but merely had them on hand out of caution, Roberts still generated revenue for each item included in those “Doctor’s Boxes.”  At the same time, he sold a sense of security to those who felt better prepared for illnesses, injuries, and emergencies because they had a variety of medical supplies on hand.  To enhance that sense of security, Roberts included “proper Directions” in each box he prepared.  Buyers benefited from the convenience of having medicines, medical supplies, and directions easily accessible in those “Doctor’s Boxes.”

Roberts also offered medical professionals the convenience of placing their orders through the post or messenger rather than visiting his shop “opposite the West Door of the Town-House, BOSTON.”  He advised that “Practitioners in Town and Country may depend on being as well used by Letter as if present themselves.”  Roberts likely hoped to increase his share of the market by assuring prospective customers who could not come to his shop because they were too busy or because they resided too far away that he would not provide second-rate service.  He underscored that their business was important to him.

Roberts made clear in his advertisement that he did more than merely dispense drugs and sell medical equipment.  He aimed to provide a level of service and convenience that added value to the merchandise he offered for sale.  He intended that such marketing strategies would attract customers choosing among the many purveyors of patent medicines and other medical supplies in colonial Boston.

August 1

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

Aug 1 - 7:30: 1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 30, 1770).

“He can fix them as well as any Surgeon-Dentist who ever came from London.”

Silversmith Paul Revere placed several advertisements in 1770, but not for his primary occupation.  Instead, he ran advertisements for other purposes.  In March, just three weeks after the Boston Massacre, Revere advertised “A PRINT containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-Street,” though his name did not appear in the advertisement.  Instead, it announced that Edes and Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, sold the print.  Still, Revere engraved the print and rushed it to market to beat a competing print by Henry Pelham (from whom Revere pirated the image).  A few weeks later, Revere advertised another print, this time with his name prominently displayed in the advertisement.  That print depicted “a View of the Town of Boston in New-England, and British Ships of War landing their Troops in the Year 1768.”  Revere likely considered this a companion piece to his Boston Massacre print.  Both of them operated as propaganda supporting the American cause.

By late July, Revere shifted the focus of his advertising efforts to “ARTIFICIAL-TEETH.”  He expressed gratitude to “the Gentlemen and Ladies who have employed him in the care of their Teeth” while simultaneously “inform[ing] them and all others … that he still conti[n]ues the Business of a Dentist.”  In the two years that he had followed that occupation, Revere claimed to have “fixt some Hundreds of Teeth.”  He made his own version of a “Buy American” appeal by proclaiming that he fixed teeth “as well as any Surgeon-Dentist who ever came from London.”  Advertisers who offered medical services often noted their origins or training in London as a means of establishing their credentials and even suggesting that they were more qualified than their counterparts from the colonies.  Revere had little patience for such claims, especially in comparison to the quality of the services he provided as a dentist.

Whether advertising prints of British troops arriving in Boston or firing on the residents of the city or promoting artificial teeth, Revere injected pro-American sentiments into the notices for goods and services he placed in the public prints in 1770.  Running advertisements in the Boston-Gazette allowed him to simultaneously seek advance his business interests and disseminate pro-American ideology.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 23, 1770).

American Manufacture.”

Cyrus Baldwin divided his advertisement in the July 23, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette into two parts.  The first part, much longer than the second, looked much like other advertisements placed by shopkeepers during the period.  It listed a variety of items for sale at Baldwin’s shop.  The second part included a separate headline.  That alone made the entire advertisement distinctive compared to others that ran in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers.

The headline announced that the second part listed goods of “American Manufacture.”  Baldwin carried “WORSTED Wilton, Middlesex Serge and plain Cloth, Shoe and Coat Bindings, Knee Garters, [and] Basket Buttons” made in the colonies.  He concluded the list with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to suggest that he stocked even more items produced locally rather than imported.  By inserting this headline and highlighting a second category of merchandise available at his shop, Baldwin both offered consumers an opportunity to practice politics when they shopped and encouraged them to do so.

The nonimportation agreement adopted to protest duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts was still in effect in Boston.  At the time that merchants and traders adopted the measure, residents of the city also advocated that colonists encourage “domestic manufactures” through the production and consumption of goods in the colonies.  Such goods provided an alternative to imported goods that became politically toxic, yet the repeal of the Townshend duties was not the only reason to buy American products.  Colonists also worried about a trade imbalance with Britain.  Encouraging domestic manufactures provided employment for colonists while reducing reliance on imported goods.  Yet such encouragement could not be confined to production alone.  Retailers and consumers had to play their parts as well.  Baldwin did so by stocking goods produced in the colonies and calling particular attention to them in his advertisements.  Consumers then had a duty to heed the call by choosing to purchase “American Manufacture[s].”  Baldwin made it easy for them to identify goods that fit the bill.

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.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (May 21, 1770).

“JOHN GORE, jun. Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BostonNorth-American Manufactures.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, John Gore, Jr., consistently associated his business with the patriot cause by describing its location in relation to the Liberty Tree in Boston.  In an advertisement in the May 21, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, for instance, he listed his address as “Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston,” and did not provide any additional information, not even the name of the street, to assist prospective customers in finding his shop.

The first portion of Gore’s advertisement listed a variety of textiles and adornments, presenting consumers an array of choices.  Gore did not explicitly state that he acquired these items before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  Perhaps he hoped that readers would reach that conclusion because he so prominently made a connection between the Liberty Tree and his shop.  In the second portion of his advertisement Gore made a distinction between imported wares and those produced in the colonies.  In a header that appeared in larger font than most of the rest of the notice, Gore declared that he stocked “North-American Manufactures.”  That portion of his inventory included “black, pompadore, light and dark mix’d chocolate and drab colour’d Cloths,” “fine Teeth Horn Combs,” and the “best of Lynn Shoes.”  He also carried hose “equally as fine as any Imported from London.”  His customers did not need to fear accepting inferior goods when they selected among the “North-American Manufactures” he presented to them.

The headers in Gore’s advertisement told a story that did not require readers to peruse the rest of the advertisement.  Anyone who quickly looked over the page would see “JOHN GORE, jun. Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BostonNorth-American Manufactures.”  Even if they did not choose to examine the advertisement more closely, they likely remembered the association among the shopkeeper, his location, and his merchandise produced in the colonies.