March 26

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

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 26, 1770).

“A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street.”

Only three weeks after the Boston Massacre colonial consumers could purchase engravings depicting the event.  On March 26, 1770, the first advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  Both announced “A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street” available for sale by Edes and Gill, the patriot printers of the Boston-Gazette.  Engraved by Paul Revere, this print has become the most iconic image of the Boston Massacre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (though more colonists likely encountered woodcuts depicting the coffins of the victims that accompanied newspaper coverage of the event and the funeral procession than purchased or even glimpsed Revere’s Bloody Massacre in the eighteenth century).

Widely considered a piece of propaganda rather than an accurate depiction of the event that transpired on the evening of March 5, Revere’s engraving was the first to hit the consumer market in 1770.  Controversy at the time focused less on any liberties taken with the facts and more on Revere basing his work on an engraving by Henry Pelham and then issuing his own version so quickly that he edged out Pelham.  As the Massachusetts Historical Society explains, “Although Pelham created his image, The Fruits of Arbitrary Power first, somehow Revere, working from Pelham’s rendition of the scene, created, advertised, and issued his own version, The Bloody Massacre, ahead of Pelham’s.”  Although the advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette did not name Revere as the engraver, they certainly promoted sales of his depiction of the event.

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 26, 1770).

Pelham considered this an injustice.  He wrote to Revere shortly after the advertisements first appeared.  “When I heard that you was cutting a plate of the late Murder,” Pelham lamented, “I thought it impossible as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you coppied it from mine and I thought I had intrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you.”  For his part, Revere may have been more concerned with disseminating as quickly as possible an incriminating image of the 29th Regiment firing on colonists.  After all, just as printers liberally reprinted news, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another, eighteenth-century engravers frequently copied images that came into their possession, though usually after they had been published.

Did Revere weigh the “dictates of Honour and Justice” against serving the patriot cause and determine that the latter mattered more?  To what extent did the sirens of fame and fortune play a role in his decision to copy Pelham’s engraving and make his own version the first available for public consumption?  Can these questions be separated, or must they each inform the other?  Like printers and booksellers who profited from publishing and selling political treatises and accounts of current events during the era of the American Revolution, Revere also reaped rewards for his engraving even as he educated the public and shaped popular opinion.

March 5

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

Mar 5 - 3:5:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 5, 1770).

“Large Marrowfats, early Charlston.”

Susanna Renken and Abigail Davidson were the first in 1770.  Spring was on the way.  Newspaper advertisements for garden seeds were among the many signs of the changing seasons that greeted colonists in Massachusetts on the eve of the American Revolution.  Every year a cohort of women took to the pages of the several newspapers published in Boston to promote the seeds they offered for sale.  Renken and Davidson both placed advertisements in the March 5, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, conveniently placed one after the other.  Readers could expect that soon advertisements placed by other female entrepreneurs would join them.  Although printers and compositors usually did not impose any sort of classification system on newspaper notices, they did tend to cluster advertisements by women selling seeds together, a nod toward the possibility of organizing the information in advertisements for the convenience of subscribers and other readers.  Renken, usually one of the most prolific and aggressive of the female seed sellers when it came to advertising, also placed a notice (with identical copy) in the March 5 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

Renken concluded her advertisement with a brief note about other merchandise available at her shop, “all sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.”  That brief reference to a commercial strategy for protesting the duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts belied how the imperial crisis would intensify by the end of the day.  That evening a crowd outside the Boston Custom House on King Street (now State Street), harassing British soldiers.  The encounter culminated in the Boston Massacre or what Paul Revere termed the “BLOODY MASSACRE” in an engraving intended to stoke patriotic sentiment among the colonists.  Three men died instantly; two others who were wounded died soon after.  Collectively, they have been considered the first casualties of the American Revolution, along with Christopher Seider who had died less than two weeks earlier.  A week after Renken and Davidson placed their first advertisements of the season, other women joined them in advertising seeds in the Boston-Gazette.  Their advertisements, however, were enclosed in thick borders that denoted mourning.  Many of them appeared on the same page as coverage of the Boston Massacre.

February 29

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

Feb 29 - 2:26:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 26, 1770)

“George Spriggs, Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.”

As spring approached in 1770, the appropriately named George Spriggs took to the pages of the Boston-Gazette to advertise a “Large Assortment of English Fruit Trees” as well as “flowering Shrubs,” bushes, and other plants that he sold “at a reasonable price.”  Price and quality were not the only appeals that Spriggs incorporated into his advertisement.  He devised a headline to introduce himself to prospective customers as “Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.”  In so doing, he attempted to leverage his relationship with an existing client to incite demand among other consumers.  Readers of the Boston-Gazette may not have known Spriggs, but they were certainly familiar with prominent merchant and patriot leader John Hancock.  The gardener hoped to capitalize on the cachet of being associated with such an eminent member of the community.  He invited prospective customers to imagine that they could possess something in common with Hancock, a marker of their own taste.

Spriggs deployed a strategy not often used in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Doctors and artisans who recently arrived in the colonies sometimes listed notable patients or clients they previously served in Europe before migrating across the Atlantic.  Doing so helped newcomers establish their reputation, but advertisers rarely invoked the names of local customers.  They did make more general statements of appreciation to those who had previously employed them, simultaneously seeking to maintain their clientele while demonstrating to prospective new customers that others made purchases from them or hired their services.  Yet they did not tend to name specific clients.

Spriggs did not publish an endorsement nor a testimonial from Hancock, yet he did seek to benefit from his association with one of the most prominent men in Massachusetts.  Describing himself as “Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.” suggested that the merchant was satisfied with his services, even if it fell short of an outright recommendation.  Spriggs pursued the eighteenth-century version of promoting his celebrity clientele as a means of attracting new customers for his business.

February 19

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

Feb 19 - 2:19:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 19, 1770).

“List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”

In the third week of February 1770, many printers continued to advertise almanacs, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that counted against any profits they might earn on the venture.  In contrast, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, advertised that they had plans within the next few days to publish their “North-AmericanALMANACK, AND Massachusetts REGISTER, For the Year 1770.”  They either identified demand, even that far into February of the new year, or believed that they could incite sufficient demand to merit the expense of pursuing the project.

In presenting this edition of their almanac to the public, Edes and Gill focused on the contents of the “REGISTER.”  They listed the contents, including useful reference material from tables of colonial currencies to descriptions of “Public Raods, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” to dates of “Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England.”  Many of the contents had a decidedly political tone, making it clear that Edes and Gill marketed this almanac and register to supporters of the patriot cause.  The printers led the list of contents with “A Prospective View of the Town of Boston the Capital of New-England; and the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry.”  This woodcut, fashioned by Paul Revere, depicted eight British warships delivering troops to be quartered in Boston.  In addition to that frontispiece, the almanac and register also contained an overview of many of the other sources of tension between the colonies and Britain, including a “List of the Importers and Resolves of the Merchants &c. of Boston” and a “List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!”  More than just a handy register of practical information, this was a primer in patriot politics.  Even items intended for amusement had a political flair, such as “Liberty Song” and “A New Song, to the Tune of the British Grenadier, by a SON OF LIBERTY.”

It was rather late in the year for Edes and Gill to publish an almanac, but they apparently considered it a good time to disseminate patriot propaganda.  The “Judgment of the Weather, Suns and Moon’s Rising and Setting,” and other material commonly contained in almanacs did not receive much notice in their advertisement.  Instead, they emphasized contents related to colonial grievances, presenting consumers with new opportunities to participate in acts of resistance by purchasing items that documented the events unfolding around them.  By bringing those narratives into their homes, colonists would become better informed and perhaps even more politicized in favor of the patriot cause.

January 1

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

Jan 1 1770 - 1:1:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (January 1, 1770).

“Imported from LONDON (before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place).”

Cyrus Baldwin hoped for prosperity in the new year, greeting 1770 with an invitation for prospective customers to visit his shop at “the Sign of the Three Nuns and Comb” on Cornhill Street in Boston. His advertisement listed a variety of items in stock, including textiles (“Shalloons, Tammies, Durants” and others), tea, coffee, and “other Articles too many to be here enumerated.” Baldwin made clear that he offered choices to consumers.

He also made clear that he abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted by Boston’s merchants and traders in protest of the duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts. Like other eighteenth-century retailers, he noted that his goods were “Imported from LONDON,” but he carefully clarified that they had arrived in the colonies “before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.” Usually advertisers emphasized how recently their merchandise arrived from London and other English cities, but in this case Baldwin realized that many prospective customers would find items imported more than a year ago more attractive and more politically palatable.

It made sense for Baldwin to take this approach. His advertisement appeared at the bottom of the center column on the first page of the January 1, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Edes and Gill, the noted patriot printers of that newspaper, set the tone for the entire issue with the first item in the first column: “A LIST of the Names of those who AUDACIOUSLY continue to counteract the UNITED SENTIMENTS of the BODY of Merchants thro’out NORTH-AMERICA, by importing British Goods contrary to the Agreement.” This was a regular update that ran in several newspapers printed in Boston. The article accused six merchants and shopkeepers in Boston and another in Marlborough of preferring “their own little private Advantage to the Welfare of America,” labeling them “Enemies to their Country” and promising to view those who “give them their Custom … in the same disagreeable Light.”

Baldwin wanted that neither for himself nor his customers. He needed to make a living, but he did not wish to run afoul of the committee that oversaw the nonimportation agreement or his fellow colonists. To further demonstrate his compliance, he informed prospective customers that he sold “Red Drapery Baize manufactured in this Country, superior in Quality to those imported from England” in addition to goods that arrived from London many months earlier. The imperial crisis continued as a new year and a new decade began. In addition to news items and editorials, many advertisements for consumer goods and services captured the political tensions of the period.

December 18

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

Dec 18 - 12:18:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (December 18, 1769).

“Will engage to make any Piece of Work as compleat as can be imported.”

In December 1769, Daniel MacNeill, a “Saddler and Cap-maker from DUBLIN,” turned to the Boston-Gazette to advise residents of Boston and its environs that he operated a shop in King Street. He made and sold a variety of items, including “Neat welted and plain Hunting Saddles,” “Pistol Cases & Holsters,” “Portmanteaus and Saddle Baggs,” and “every Article in the Sadlery Branch.” In addition to offering low prices, he assured prospective customers that he served them “with Fidelity and Dispatch.” He also made appeals to quality and fashion, proclaiming that he constructed these items “in the neatest and genteelest Manner.” MacNeill incorporated many of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century into his advertisement.

As a relative newcomer to the city, MacNeill deployed another strategy that often appeared in newspaper notices placed by artisans who migrated across the Atlantic. He provided an overview of his work history as a means of convincing prospective customers of his competence. MacNeill asserted that he “had the Advantage of many Years Practice in the most principal Shops in Dublin and Towns adjacent.” In so doing, he attempted to transfer the reputation he established in one location to another, asking prospective customers to credit him for his years of experience. Although items he made during that time had not circulated for inspection in Boston, MacNeill hoped that his affiliation with “the most principal Shops” in one of the largest cities in the empire testified to his skill and expertise.

To that end, he pledged that he made saddles and other items “as compleat as can be imported.” Realizing that colonists sometimes had a preference for imported goods with an expectation of higher quality or better craftsmanship, MacNeill promised that his clients did not have to fear that they purchased inferior goods from his workshop. This appeal likely resonated with colonists who adhered to the nonimportation agreements and sought “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies, as alternatives to those transported across the Atlantic. An article on the first page of the December 18, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette proposed bringing artisans and their families to the colonies, suggesting that those migrants were much more welcome than imported goods that Parliament taxed. MacNeill’s advertisement reverberated with political implications, even as he made standard appeals to price, quality, and fashion.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:20:1769 Boston-Gazette
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (November 20, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD BY Harbottle Dorr …”

Harbottle Dorr is not a household name today, but Dorr remains well known among historians of early America, especially those who study either the role of the press in the American Revolution or the participation of ordinary people in efforts to resist the various abuses perpetrated by Parliament.

Dorr placed an advertisement for nails and “a good Assortment of Braziery, Ironmongery and Pewter Ware” in the supplement that accompanied the November 20, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. At the time, Dorr, a merchant and a member of the Sons of Liberty was doing far more than just advertising in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers. He was also collecting, annotating, and indexing them as a means of constructing his own narrative of the imperial crisis. As the Massachusetts Historical Society notes in its online collection of those newspapers, Dorr sought “to form a political history.” (Visit The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. to explore the newspapers and indexes that Dorr arranged into four volumes.) “Dorr was well-versed in the heated politics of the day,” the Massachusetts Historical Society continues, “and he annotated many newspaper pages with his opinions, cross-references to articles elsewhere in his collection, and sometimes noted the identity of anonymous contributors to the newspapers.” His index filled 133 pages and included 4,969 terms.

Dorr’s index included advertisements, including this entry: “Advertisement of H.D., about discouraging the Importers &c.” That entry referenced an advertisement that Dorr placed in the Boston Evening-Post on September 3, 1770. Much more extensive than the brief notice that ran nearly nine months earlier in the Boston-Gazette, it offered political commentary that encouraged consumers to encourage production of goods in the colonies by choosing them over imported alternatives. “It is presumed,” Dorr declared, “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.”

In chronicling the advertising landscape in colonial America in 1769, I have frequently chosen advertisements that implicitly or explicitly commented on the Townshend Acts and the nonimportation agreements adopted in Boston and other cities and towns. I have argued that both advertisers and readers looked beyond news items and editorials when considering the politics of the period. In his annotations and index, Dorr confirms that he did indeed view advertisements for consumer goods as a political tool, not just a means of marketing his wares. His “political history” of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution included advertisers and the messages they communicated to colonial consumers.

November 6

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

Nov 6 - 11:6:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (November 6, 1769).

“This Work will be committed to the Press, when American Paper can be procured.”

An advertisement for “A REPLY to Dr. Chandler’s ‘Appeal defended’ … By CHARLES CHAUNCY, D.D. Pastor of the First Church in Boston” appeared in the November 6, 1769 edition of the Boston-Gazette. Rather than inviting readers to purchase copies already in stock or encouraging subscribers to reserve their copies in advance, this advertisement stated that the book was “Ready for the PRESS.” Those involved in publishing it had temporarily halted production, noting that “This Work will be committed to the Press, when American Paper can be procured, which it is hoped will be very soon.”

The book did eventually go to press, “Printed by Daniel Kneeland, opposite the probate-office, in Queen-Street, for Thomas Leverett, in Corn-Hill” in 1770. It took Kneeland and Leverett several months to acquire the “American Paper” they desired for this publication. Why insist on paper made in the colonies? The Townshend Acts were in effect, imposing duties on several imported items, including glass, tea, lead, paint, … and paper. Printers and other colonists avoided incurring the additional expense, but they also took a principled stand against the despised legislation. In Boston and other towns throughout Massachusetts, colonists adopted nonimportation agreements, refusing to import a vast array of goods as a means of economic protest to achieve political goals. Many simultaneously vowed to encourage “domestic manufactures” by producing goods in the colonies and consuming them as preferred alternatives to imported wares. It became impossible to overlook the politics of commerce and consumption in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

Advertisements contributed to the public discourse about the benefits of nonimportation and the virtues of domestic manufactures. The frequency of advertisements that advanced “Buy American” appeals increased, especially in Boston’s newspapers, as the boycotts of goods imported from Britain continued. This advertisement for a book “Ready for the PRESS” but not yet printed was part of that movement. It attempted to incite interest in both the contents of the book and its production, placing a premium on “American Paper.” That production temporarily halted due to patriotic considerations increased the visibility of a product that was not yet available in the colonial marketplace.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:30:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 30, 1769).

“VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON.”

Advertising increasingly took on a political valence during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Advertisers made political arguments about which goods and services to purchase, encouraging colonists to support “domestic manufactures” and abide by nonimportation agreements intended to exert economic pressure to achieve political goals. Some advertisements included commentary on current events, blurring the line between advertisements and editorials.

Other advertisements sometimes delivered news to colonists. Consider an advertisement for a pamphlet that appeared in the October 30, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. Patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill announced that they has “Just Published … AN APPEAL TO THE WORLD; OR A VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON,” a pamphlet historians attribute to Sam Adams. The pamphlet included “certain Letters and Memorials, written by Governor Bernard, General Gage, Commodore Hood, the Commissions of the American Board of Customs, and others” as well as “RESOLVES” from “a Meeting of the Town of BOSTON.” The lengthy advertisement concluded with an excerpt “From the APPEAL to the WORLD, Page 33.” Edes and Gill gave prospective customers a preview of the contents of the pamphlet in order to entice them to purchase their own copies.

Even if readers did not buy the pamphlet, the advertisement still delivered news to them. Indeed, it looked much more like a news item than an advertisement, especially given its placement in the October 30 edition of the Boston-Gazette. It appeared on the first page, nestled between news items, spilling over from the first column into the second. Most of the advertising for that issue ran on the third and fourth pages. Edes and Gill exercised their prerogative as printers of the Boston-Gazette to give the advertisement a privileged place in their own newspaper. Yet they were not the only printers to do so. The same advertisement, including the “RESOLVES” and the excerpt from the pamphlet, ran on the first page of the Boston Evening-Post on the same day. It was also nestled between news items and spilled over from one column to the next, while most of the advertising for that newspaper also ran on the third and fourth pages. T. and J. Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, gave the advertisement the same privileged place in their own newspaper, further blurring the line between advertising and news. Even though they were rivals when it came to selling newspapers, they had an affinity when it came to politics. The Fleets used the advertisement to deliver news to their readers while simultaneously presenting an opportunity to become even better informed by purchasing the pamphlet. The worlds of commerce and politics became even more firmly enmeshed as printers and advertisers deployed advertising for partisan purposes during the era of the American Revolution.

October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:23:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 23, 1769).

“McLean is now at Work on a Watch, the whole of which will be finished in the Province, except the Two Plates and Cases.”

During the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution many advertisers encouraged prospective customers to purchase goods produced in the colonies, launching the first wave of “Buy American” campaigns even before declaring independence. Some colonists expressed concerns about an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by the taxes imposed on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts in the late 1760s. To remedy the trade imbalance, many colonists vowed to encourage “domestic manufactures” to strengthen local economies. Producing goods in the colonies created jobs while simultaneously providing alternative products for consumers to purchase. The nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Townshend Acts made domestic manufactures even more important. Advertisers increasingly called on prospective customers to give preference to goods produced in the colonies.

John McLean, a “Movement Maker, & Watch Finisher,” joined that movement, at least as much as he was able. In an advertisement that ran in the October 23, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette, McLean informed readers that he was “now at Work on a Watch, the whole of which will be finished in the Province, except the Two Plates and Cases.” Many American watchmakers did not actually make watches in the colonial era. Instead, they imported and sold watches and repaired watches, but the production of watches took place in London, Dublin, and other cities on the far side of the Atlantic. Given the constraints on constructing watches in the colonies, McLean made his best effort to support the American cause by making domestic manufactures available to consumers. His watches were not exclusively American products, but he suggested to customers that a significant portion of their production did indeed take place in Massachusetts, making them more desirable than imported watches.

McLean did not need to make his pitch any more explicitly. Other items in the Boston-Gazette provided context for readers to interpret his advertisement, as did public discourse more generally. The October 23 edition commenced with “A LIST of the Names of those who have AUDACIOUSLY counteracted the UNITED SENTIMENTS of the BODY of Merchants throughout NORTH-AMERICA, by importing British Goods contrary to the Agreement.” Another advertisement on the same page as McLean’s notice emphasized “North-American Manufactures” available at a shop located “Opposite LIBERTY TREE.” Readers knew how to interpret McLean’s pronouncement about working on a watch constructed primarily “in the Province.” They understood the politics he deployed to market his product.