March 14

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

Mar 14 - 3:14:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 14, 1768).

“A Fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds.”

Colonists in Boston glimpsed a sign that spring was on its way when Susanna Renken inserted an advertisement for seeds in the Massachusetts Gazette in late February 1768. It was the first of many similar advertisements that residents of Boston would have recognized as part of an annual ritual. As the first day of spring approached, other seed sellers, most of them women, joined Renken in advising the public of the many sorts of seeds they stocked, from vegetables to herbs to flowers.

Such advertisements appeared in newspapers published in other cities, but they were especially prevalent in Boston. A greater number of women who participated in the seed trade turned to the public prints to attract customers. Many of them advertised in multiple newspapers. Renken, for example, launched her advertising campaign for 1768 in the Massachusetts Gazette but very quickly followed up with notices in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy. For instance, her advertisement was the first item in the first column on the final page of the March 14, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette.

By then her competitors had joined her in hawking their wares in the city’s newspapers. Advertisements placed by women who sold seeds filled almost the entire column (with the exception of a two-line advertisement for “Scotch COALS” and the colophon). Rebeckah Walker, Elizabeth Greenleaf, Bethiah Oliver, Elizabeth Clark, and Lydia Dyar each promoted their seeds, renewing their efforts from the spring of 1768. Elsewhere in the same issue Anna Johnson’s advertisement even featured a headline for “Garden Seeds, Peas, Beans, &c.” that distinguished her notice from the others. On the same day, Sarah Winsor advertised seeds in the Boston Post-Boy.

Advertisements by Renken, Greenleaf, Dyar, and other women who sold seeds cropped up in Boston’s newspapers each spring, but even though several of them indicated that they also sold “all sorts of Groceries” or “English Goods” or other merchandise at their shops they disappeared from the advertising pages throughout the rest of the year. Why did these women consider it imperative to advertise only seeds and only as spring approached? In general, female shopkeepers were disproportionately underrepresented compared to their male counterparts when it came to placing newspaper advertisements. Considered separately, a survey of advertisements for seeds suggests that selling them was a feminized occupation in the late 1760s. Did women who otherwise avoided drawing attention to their participation in the marketplace as retailers who competed with men (rather than solely as consumers) feel more latitude to place advertisements when they knew that they competed predominantly with other women?

February 1

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

Feb 1 - 2:1:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 1, 1768).

“BRUSHES of all Sorts, manufactured in BOSTON.”

In an advertisement on the front page of the February 1, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette, John Smith announced that he sold “BRUSHES of all Sorts” at his shop on Newbury Street. Rather than peddling imports from England, Smith emphasized that his brushes had been “manufactured in BOSTON.” In so doing, he situated his advertisement within ongoing public debates about transatlantic commerce and politics. The colonies suffered from a trade deficit that benefited England. To add insult to injury, Parliament imposed new duties on certain imported goods, especially paper, in the Townshend Act that had gone into effect in late November 1767. In response, Bostonians voted at a town meeting to launch new nonimportation pacts. To that end, they also pledged to purchase goods produced in the North American colonies and to encourage domestic manufactures of all kinds in order to reduce their reliance on imported wares.

Smith did not need to offer extensive or explicit commentary on recent events in his advertisement. He knew that prospective customers were well aware of the commercial and political circumstances. After all, the publishers of the Boston-Gazette and most other colonial newspapers consistently inserted news and editorial items that addressed the imperial crisis that continued to unfold. But such problems did not circulate only in print: they were the subjects of daily conversation throughout the colonies. As a result, Smith did not need to purchase a significant amount of advertising space in order to explain why colonists should purchase his brushes rather than any other. He likely believed that simply proclaiming that his brushes had been “manufactured in BOSTON” encapsulated the entire debate and justified selecting his wares over any others. He did offer brief reassurances that they were “equal in Goodness to any imported from Europe” and priced “as low as they can be bought in London,” but the weight of his marketing efforts rested on the place of production.  Smith even solicited “Hogs Bristles,” necessary for continuing to make brushes.

In the 1760s, first in response to the Stamp and later in response to the Townshend Act, colonists launched “Buy American” advertising campaigns. Certainly a staple of modern marketing, “Buy American” campaigns have a history that extends back before the first shots were fired during the American Revolution.

December 28

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

Dec 28 - 12:28:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (December 28, 1767).

“RAN-away … a stout Molatto Negro Slave.”

Step, “a stout Molatto Negro Slave,” ran away “from his Master Lieut. Mathew Caldwell” at the end of November in 1767. In his attempt to capture the fugitive, Caldwell made every effort in the public prints to alert his fellow colonists. He provided a description of Step, offered a reward, and warned others against assisting Step in any way. In addition to the reward, Caldwell pledged to reimburse “all necessary Charges” incurred in securing and returning the runaway slave. He publicized all of this information as widely as possible, inserting the notice in all four newspapers published in Boston at the time. On December 28, it appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, Boston-Gazette, and Boston Post-Boy. Four days earlier, the same advertisement ran in the Massachusetts Gazette. Considering the reward, expenses, and advertising, Caldwell made a significant investment in his search for Step.

This advertisement seems a stark contrast to many of the other paid notices and news items in Boston’s newspapers during the final months of 1767. All four newspapers published accounts of the town meeting at the end of October, noting the general discontent about an imbalance of trade between Britain and the colonies that contributed to an economic recession and scarcity of hard money. Bostonians voted to encourage production and consumption of local alternatives to imported goods. Other towns in Massachusetts and neighboring colonies then passed their own resolutions calling for increased local industry combined with nonimportation agreements. All of this coincided with resistance to the Townshend Act and new duties on certain imported goods. Advertisements for consumer goods and services reflected the concerns expressed at town meetings. Some advertisers underscored that they made certain goods or sold items produced locally. Other advertisers once again used the Liberty Tree as a landmark when listing directions to their shops.

Colonists in Massachusetts and elsewhere in New England expressed concerns about infringements on their liberty and devised plans for resistance in 1767. They reacted to an imperial crisis that eventually resulted in the American Revolution. Step ran away from Caldwell amid ongoing public discussions about the meaning of liberty. He engaged in his own acts of resistance to unjust authority in the era of the revolution.

December 7

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

Dec 7 - 12:7:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (December 7, 1767).


An advertisement in the December 7, 1767, issue of the Boston-Gazette announced “LABRADORE TEA, by the Hundred, Dozen, or less Quantity, to be Sold at Edes and Gill’s Printing-Office.” The bulk of the advertisement consisted of a testimonial that first outlined the medical and dietary benefits of drinking Labrador tea and then focused on the taste, acknowledging that the flavor differed from other popular teas but “a little Perseverance will render it very acceptable.”

By the time this advertisement appeared in early December, readers of Boston’s several newspapers had already been exposed to commentary about Labrador tea on multiple occasions, though in news items and editorial pieces rather than commercial notices. In the wake of a Boston town meeting that resolved to encourage consumption of domestic products rather than imported goods, several colonists noted the political benefits of Labrador tea. On November 2, Edes and Gill published a list of local manufactures in the Boston-Gazette. In addition to “Thirty thousand Yards of Cloth … Manufactured in one small Country Town in this Province” and “upwards of Forty Thousand Pair of Womens Shoes” made in Lynn, Massachusetts, in the past year, they described “a certain Herb, lately found in this Province, which begins already to take place in the Room of Green and Bohea Tea, which is said to be of a very salutary Nature, as well as a more agreeable Flavour – It is called Labrador.”

Two weeks later, both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy inserted a letter addressed to “My Dear Countrymen” that outlined a strategy for depending less on imported goods. The prescription included Labrador tea: “we think it our duty to add, the most sincere recommendation of the disuse of the most luxurious and enervating article of BOHEA TEA, in which so large a sum is annually expended by the American colonists, altho’ it may be well supplied by the Teas of our own country, especially by that called Labrador, lately discovered to be a common growth of the more northern colonies, and esteemed very wholesome to the human species, as well as agreeable.”

A poem, “Address to the LADIES,” from the November 16 edition of the Boston Post-Boy and reprinted in other newspapers in the city discouraged purchasing and wearing imported textiles and adornments and also advised women to “Throw aside your Bohea and your Green Hyson Tea, / And all things with a new fashion duty; / Procure a good store of the choice Labradore, / For there’ll soon be enough here to suit ye.”

By the time the advertisement for “LABRADORE TEA” appeared in the Boston-Gazette in early December, colonists had already been encouraged to consume it as part of a political strategy intended to address both an imbalance of trade between the colonies and England and Parliament’s imposition of new duties in the Townshend Act. A series of news items and editorials primed consumer interest in Labrador tea, but some colonists may have been skeptical that they would enjoy the local alternative as much as their favorite imported varieties. This new advertisement assumed readers were already aware of the political ramifications of purchasing Labrador tea, so instead addressed any concerns about health and taste in order to convince consumers who may have been wavering in their commitment to adopt this new product.

November 30

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

Nov 30 - 11:30:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (November 30, 1767).

“The Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton, beg the Favor of the Public, to furnish them with what Linnen Rags they can spare.”

In the wake of the Townshend Act assessing new duties on imported paper, colonists set about manufacturing their own. Just ten days after the act went into effect, this advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette. In it, the “Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton” called on colonists to send their “Linnen Rags” to be made into paper. In return, they would receive payment, “the greatest possible Allowance.”

To that end, the Manufacturers at Milton established a network for collecting the rags. They listed five locations in Boston, including the printing office where Edes and Gill published the Boston-Gazette. Bulkeley Emerson, a stationer, also received castoff rags in Newburyport, while Daniel Fowle, one of the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, accepted them in Portsmouth. In addition, they had local agents in Salem and Marblehead. Yet the Manufacturers at Milton wished to further expand their network, requesting that volunteers “send their Names to Edes and Gill’s Printing-Office.”

New duties on paper threatened the livelihoods of colonial printers and stationers, one of the reasons why so many members of the network came from those trades, but Parliament’s actions also infringed on the liberties of all colonists. The network included a shopkeeper and a tobacconist, both apparently concerned about the Townshend Act. The Manufacturers at Milton presumably welcomed new agents from various occupations, hoping to establish a united front in the domestic production of paper as an alternative to imports.

The Manufacturers at Milton did not yet offer a product to consumers. In the spirit of the non-importation agreements and resolutions to encourage domestic goods recently passed at the Boston town meeting, however, they presented a plan for achieving those goals. They also offered a means for colonists to become more involved in resistance efforts beyond making decisions about which goods to purchase. Colonists could shape the marketplace by supplying the necessary rags to make paper locally, eventually eliminating the need for additional imported paper once the current supplies that arrived in the colonies “before the Duties could be demanded” had been exhausted. Even if readers of the Boston-Gazette had little cause to obtain much paper themselves, they had acquired the newspaper, making them consumers of paper removed from its initial purchase. By surrendering their rags to the Manufacturers at Milton, colonists participated in a movement that deprived Parliament of new duties on paper and assisted colonial printers in disseminating news about the Townshend Act and resistance to it.

November 9

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

Nov 9 - 11:9:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (November 9, 1767).

“Manufactured in Braintree.”

Most eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods and services did not include any sort of headline other than the advertiser’s name in a larger font than the rest of the copy. Peter Etter and Sons, however, published an advertisement with the headline “Manufactured in Braintree” in the November 9, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Etter and Sons promoted their locally produced stockings, gloves, caps, and thread to consumers primed to purchase goods made by their fellow colonists. They also depended on the politics of the unfolding imperial crisis to make their wares more attractive to colonial consumers.

In placing their advertisement, the Etters took advantage of current events, especially the Boston town meeting that took place on October 28. According to the coverage in the previous issue of the Boston-Gazette, the “Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town” had determined that they needed to address both the imbalance of trade between Britain and the colonies and the impending duties on certain imported goods once the Townshend Act went into effect on November 20. Bostonians voted to approve non-importation and non-consumption agreements. In order for those measures to succeed, they promised that they would “encourage the Use and Consumption of all Articles manufactured in any of the British American Colonies, and more especially in this Province.” Etter and Sons could hardly have imagined a more effective endorsement for their enterprise!

Notably, their advertisement did not appear in the November 2 issue that carried the news of the town meeting. The Etters inserted it only after the news had spread throughout the colony and beyond via multiple newspapers, realizing that prospective customers would likely be especially amenable to acquiring domestic manufactures. Still, they assured readers of the quality of their stockings and other garments: “the above-mentioned Goods have been sufficiently try’d, and the Goodness and Wear approv’d.” In addition, they revealed their own commitment to purchasing supplies from local producers, as encouraged by the resolutions from the town meeting. “It having been reported that some Families in the Country have rais’d some raw Silk,” Etter and Sons stated, “they will pay Cash for the same, at the Price commonly given in Georgia,” a colony with more experience in its attempts to cultivate silk throughout the colonial period.

Etter and Sons did not explicitly invoke politics in their advertisement, but readers of the Boston-Gazette could hardly have missed the context in which they launched their appeals about garments “Manufactured in Braintree” rather than imported from England. Etter and Sons encouraged readers to consider the political ramifications of the decisions they made when it came to acquiring consumer goods.

October 19

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

Oct 19 - 10:19:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 19, 1767).

“We are oblig’d to give a SUPPLEMENT.”

Edes and Gill placed their own announcement immediately before the “New Advertisements” in the October 19, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, they explained that within the last three days three ships had arrived in port from London. The captains brought with them the “Prints to the 19th of August,” which they passed along to the printers. In other words, Edes and Gill had just obtained recent (or as recent as could be expected given the time required to cross the Atlantic) newspapers. As was common practice in the eighteenth century, their method of reporting involved reprinting items directly from other publications.

Edes and Gill did not have much time to scan the London newspapers, choose which items to reprint, set the type, and operate the presses before distributing the Boston-Gazette on Monday, its usual publication day. They might have been able to include news that had arrived the previous Friday, if they were industrious, but it would have been impossible to insert anything delivered by the captain who arrived on Sunday night. Setting type and operating the press by hand required more time, even if they quickly identified which items to reprint in their own newspaper.

Still, they wanted to get recently arrived news in print and distributed to their subscribers as quickly as possible. To that end, they determined “to give a SUPPLEMENT at Three o’Clock this Afternoon” and instructed their customers “to call or send for them” at that time if they wished to know the “Articles of Intelligence” delivered on the recently arrived vessels. The Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy both also published supplements that day. None of the local newspapers usually published on Mondays allowed the others to scoop them.

Edes and Gill offered an additional explanation for their decision to limit the amount of news from London in the standard issue in favor of filling the supplement with those “Articles of Intelligence.” They reasoned that they needed “to give our Advertizing Customers a good Place.” They considered this a favor and a service to their advertisers, but it also suggested that they realized that even though readers might often be eager to peruse the advertisements that at the moment they prioritized the news, especially since the Townshend Acts were scheduled to go into effect in just a month. Subscribers might (or might not) call or send for a supplement filled with advertisements later in the day, but they would certainly retrieve a supplement that included the most recent political news from London. Edes and Gill implicitly acknowledged that they had a responsibility to place their advertisers’ notices in front of as many eyes as possible rather than consigning them to a separate supplement, distributed at a later time, that might not be read. This was good business that promoted loyalty among their advertisers and encouraged others to consider placing their advertisements in the Boston-Gazette.