September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (September 12, 1768).

“Those Persons who are desirous of Promoting our Own Manufactures.”

Enoch Brown mixed politics and commerce when he drew attention to his supply chain in an advertisement in the September 12, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Eighteenth-century advertisers frequently mentioned and even promoted the origins of the goods they sold, but prior to the 1760s they placed a premium on demonstrating that they carried imported goods. In the advertisement printed immediately above Brown’s notice, John Andrews noted that he had imported his inventory “in the last Ships from London and Bristol.” Further down the column, Moses Deshon announced that a “Variety of European” goods would be sold at public auction later in the week. In several other advertisements spread throughout the rest of the issue merchants and shopkeepers introduced their wares as “Imported from London.”

Brown did not make such proclamations. Instead, he tied his merchandise to recent calls to reduce and eliminate dependence on imported goods as a means of resisting Parliament’s ongoing efforts to raise revenues by imposing taxes within the colonies. In addition, colonists were concerned about an imbalance of trade that benefited Britain at the expense of the colonies. Nearly a year earlier the Boston town meeting had voted to encourage “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to importing goods from London and other English cities. Residents of other cities and towns throughout the colonies followed Boston’s lead, either through formal ballots or newspaper editorials that spread the word. By the fall of 1768, the residents of Boston and other urban ports were preparing for non-importation agreements set to go into effect in January 1769.

In his advertisement, Brown encouraged consumers to get an early start. He requested that “those Persons who are desirous of Promoting our Own Manufactures” supply him with “all Sorts of Country-made Cloths.” Brown would then either sell those items on commission or barter for “West-India Goods,” such as sugar, molasses, and rum. This advertisement also informed prospective customers that they could put their political principles into practice by visiting Brown’s store and purchasing textiles produced locally rather than patronizing the shops of his competitors who were attempting to sell goods imported from England before the new agreement went into effect.

Brown was part of the first wave of marketers who deployed “Buy American” appeals, advancing this strategy even before the colonies declared independence. As the imperial crisis intensified, more advertisers adopted this approach. Once the fighting ended, however, many retailers returned to promoting the European origins of their wares. Yet in the 1780s and 1790s those advertisements increasingly appeared alongside “Buy American” advertisements, following a course first plotted by Enoch Brown and other advertisers in the wake of the Stamp Act, Townshend Act, and other attempts to tax the colonies.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:25:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 25, 1768).

“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”

Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”

Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.

The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.

March 28

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

Mar 28 - 3:28:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 28, 1768).

“Whoever Employs the said GERRISH may depend upon his Faithfulness in Selling their Goods FAIRLY.”

John Gerrish was one of several auctioneers who sold goods “by PUBLIC VENDUE” in Boston in the late 1760s. He regularly advertised in the city’s newspapers, as did Elias Dupee and Joseph Russell. Residents recognized their establishments by name: Gerrish ran the “PUBLIC VENDUE-OFFICE, NORTH END,” Russell operated the “Auction-Room in Queen-Street,” and Dupee sold goods at the “NEW AUCTION ROOM.” In their competition for clients and bidders, all three inserted notices concerning upcoming auctions in the March 28, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Each offered a short description of items coming up for sale within the next couple of weeks, but Gerrish supplemented his brief overview with an additional appeal to prospective clients who wished to place items up for bidding.

“Whoever Employs the said GERRISH,” he proclaimed, “may depend upon his Faithfulness in Selling their Goods FAIRLY to the Highest Bidders – and remitting the Neat proceeds immediately, after they are Sold, deliver’d, and paid for.” Gerrish’s clients “shall be faithfully served by him.” Dupee, Russell, and Gerrish periodically offered such assurances in their advertisements, but Gerrish made a point of it in the spring of 1768 since he and Dupee had recently been involved in a public dispute, waged in their newspaper advertisements, that highlighted the potential for disreputable behavior by vendue masters who might not always act in the best interests of their clients.

In stressing his “Faithfulness in Selling their Goods FAIRLY to the Highest Bidders,” Gerrish addressed suspicions of collusion. His clients did not need to worry that he would attempt to rig sales to benefit his friends and associates looking to acquire goods for even better bargains than auctions might otherwise yield. The typography underscored this point: an examination of other advertisements in the same issue suggests that the compositor did not choose to capitalize “FAIRLY” or use italics for “Faithfulness” and “Highest Bidders” (as well as “Trustees” in a list of potential clients that included “Gentlemen Strangers, Passengers, [and] Factors”).

Consigning goods to an auctioneer required trust. Gerrish encouraged potential clients to deliver items they wished to sell to the Public Vendue Office in the North End rather than the Auction Room in Queen Street or the New Auction Room by pledging that he conscientiously worked to garner the highest proceeds and remitted them in a timely manner. He did not just offer a service; he built relationships that also enhanced his reputation.

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).

LABRADORE TEA.”

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.