Reflections from Guest Curator Bryant Halpin

Looking back at the two projects I worked on, the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I went through a lot of digitized newspapers dating back 250 years ago. They were originally published in revolutionary America. I dealt with many different topics in those advertisements, ranging from spermaceti candles to runaway slaves.

When working on the Adverts 250 Project and when I was learning about the process of “doing” history I was amazed by all the work historians have to do for a living. But at the same time I was loving going through old newspapers and discovering all different kinds of products or services colonists put in newspapers. Then after looking at just the surface of the advertisements by themselves, I than had to do further research to fully understand the topic that I would be presenting to an audience of readers. I used scholarly sources, such as essays from Colonial Williamsburg, which were great sources for historical context and more information. This really helped me dig deeper than just the newspaper advertisement itself. That is what I felt “doing” history was really about, taking that further step to understand the advertisement I picked and deliver a summary that went beyond the advertisements to give good background information.

I thought it was pretty rewarding at the end of my week as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project. One reason it was rewarding was because it was a lot of work at the beginning all the way to the end of the project. Having to gather the digital copies of the newspapers and learning how to uploading them to Dropbox was rewarding. Going to the American Antiquarian Society and having to get an official reader card, my first library card in a long time, was rewarding, along with working in their reading room and accessing digital copies of certain newspapers only from their website was pretty cool. Another thing about this project that I thought was rewarding was analyzing advertisements and writing summaries of everything that I learned from those advertisements and then having them posted on a public history website for the whole world to see. Overall, everything that had to do with the Adverts 250 Project was rewarding, especially after putting the long hours of work. Seeing my entries viewed by an audience outside of Assumption College was a great experience.

It also made it more rewarding because this project was more difficult than I expected. The process was tiring and time consuming. It was a lot more work than what I expected. I thought we were going to look at some newspaper advertisements and then write about them and be done. Instead it was much more than that. It involved looking at all the newspapers for my week of April 7-13. Within my week I had to look at more than twenty different newspapers and decide which advertisements I wanted to pick. After that, I had to do a lot of more research than I thought. Then I had to revise them according to suggestions by Prof. Keyes before I could have them published on the website. All of that was not what I was expecting and made it difficult for me to adjust my way of thinking and start to meet all the requirements. But at the end of it all even though it was a difficult process it was well worth it and I was glad to be a part of the Adverts 250 Project.

 

April 13

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (April 13, 1769).

“CYDER.”

In this advertisement, Isaac Gray lists goods for sale, including “CYDER”. Mark Turdo provides descriptions of cider written in the eighteenth century by Reverend Israel Acrelius as part of A History of New Sweden: Or, the Settlements on the River Delaware. Acrelius included many different kinds of cyder, such as Apple-wine (cider),” “Cider Royal,” and “Mulled cider,” and “Sampson.” Colonists used wooden mills to help prepare cider. This was a long process that began with a horse-powered grinding up apples. They then placed the apples under a press until the juice ran off. The juice went into a barrel and left to ferment. If the apples were “not of a good sort,” they boiled the cider and added a few pounds of ground ginger into it, and it became “more wholesome and better for cooking.” Acrelius stated, “This liquor is usually unwholesome, causes ague when it is fresh, and colic when it is too old.” Some people heated their cider with a red-hot iron.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When they visited Isaac Gray’s warehouse to purchase cider, some customers likely acquired some of the grocery items also listed in his advertisement, intending to use them to enhance the beverage. As Bryant notes, Israel Acrelius described adding ginger to one kind of cider, a variation that he called “Apple-wine.” The minister also offered a recipe for “Cider Royal,” made by adding “some quarts of brandy” to a barrel of cider “along with several pounds of Muscovado sugar.” This resulted in a drink that “becomes stronger and tastes better.” It could be further improved by drawing it off into bottles, putting raisins in them, and then allowing the mixture to age “for a year or so.” Gray listed both raisins and “double and single refined loaf and lump sugars” among his wares. Although he did not mention brandy, he carried enough varieties of beer, wine, and spirits that he may have had some brandy among his merchandise as well.

Acrelius also described other sorts of cider commonly consumed in Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century. “Mulled cider” was served warm. In addition to sugar, it included “yolks of eggs and grains of allspice.” Gray named pepper and ginger in his advertisement, but also made a generic nod to other spices that he had in stock. If sugar, eggs, and allspice did not sufficiently enhance mulled cider then Acrelius recommended adding rum “to give it greater strength.” The recipe for “Sampson” required fewer ingredients: “Sampson is warmed cider with rum in it.” Gray certainly offered rum for sale, though he referred to it as “OLD Jamaica spirits.” In a final variation, “Cider Royal of another kind,” Acrelius described a mixture “in which one-half is cider and the other mead [honey liquor], both freshly fermented together.”

Gray marketed his “CYDER” for home consumption. Some customers may have enjoyed it in its original form as purchased from his warehouse, but Acrelius suggests that many others would have doctored it to their own tastes before they consumed it. In that regard, Gray operated a business similar to modern liquor stores that provide not only alcoholic beverages but also various accouterments, such as tonics and bitters, to make mixed drinks. Then and now, purveyors of beer, wine, and spirits, sell other products intended to enhance consumers’ enjoyment of their beverages.

April 12

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Georgia Gazette (April 12, 1769).

“RUN AWAY … A NEGROE FELLOW, named JACK.”

This advertisement for a runaway “NEGROE FELLOW, named JACK,” includes a description of some injuries: “a large scar on left side of his head cut by a hanger, and a scar upon his ear by the same stroke, and several cuts upon his body.” These injuries could have been a reason why Jack was motivated to try to escape. Running away was one form of resistance enslaved men and women attempted. According to James H. Sweet, “Slave resistance began in British North America almost as soon as the first slaves arrived in the Chesapeake in the early seventeenth century.” This advertisement was part of a long history of slave resistance that had been going on ever since slaves arrived in America almost 150 years earlier. Slaves resisted in other ways if masters “increased workloads, provided meager rations, or punished too severely … by slowing work, feigning illness, breaking tools, or sabotaging production.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Jack’s story was not unique. The advertisements in the April 12, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette chronicled the attempts of several other enslaved men in their endeavors to escape from bondage. Immediately above the advertisement that described Jack, another announced that a “NEGROE FELLOW, named ABRAM” who “talks good English” had made his escape nearly three weeks earlier. Almost immediately to the left, another advertisement documented the escape of a “NEGROE BOY named ROBIN, well known in Savannah” as well as “SEVEN NEGROE FELLOWS, named QUAMINA, PRINCE, HARRY, SAWNEY, POMPEY, JAMIE this country born, and another of the same name of the Angola country.”

That same issue also included advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children whose attempts to escape had failed. One reported that a “NEGRO FELLOW, and A WENCH, with A CHILD about two months old” had been “TAKEN UP” about twenty miles from Augusta near the end of January. The arrival of the child may have been the primary motivation for Sampson and Molly to flee when they did, departing shortly after Molly gave birth. Two other advertisements described captured runaways who had been “Brought to the Work-house” until slaveholders claimed them, a “NEW NEGRO FELLOW, who calls himself CATO” and Michael, a “TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW … of the Coromantee country.” These prisoners each considered the possible punishments for running away worth the risk of obtaining their freedom if they managed to make it to safety without being captured.

Georgia Gazette (April 12, 1769).

Some of their advertisements were among the most visible items in the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement about Abram, for instance, featured a crude woodcut of an enslaved man on the run. It was one of only four visual images in the entire issue. Two other advertisements for freight and passage had woodcuts of ships; the masthead depicted a lion and unicorn flanking a crown. The woodcut drew attention to the description of Abram, just as the headline “Brought to the Work-house” in gothic type distinguished those advertisements from others. The compositor deployed that font sparingly throughout the rest of the issue, but did so consistently for “Brought to the Work-house” advertisements, not only in the April 12 issue but week after week. These decisions about typography and graphic design significantly increased the visibility of many advertisements about enslaved men and women who attempted to escape, underscoring how disruptive and dangerous colonists considered such acts of resistance.

April 11

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 10, 1769).

“Sperma-Caeti CANDLES.”

In this advertisement from the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette for April 10, 1769, Richard Smith sold “Sperma-Caeti CANDLES” at his store on King Street. What are spermaceti candles? According to Emily Irwin, the materials to make spermaceti candles came from sperm whales. Those materials were supplied by the whaling industry. Spermaceti candles burned longer, cleaner, and brighter than other candles made from tallow (animal fat) or beeswax, making them a popular choice. Spermaceti candles were the height of the candle-making technology for Americans in the eightheenth and nineteenth centuries. Irwin states, “The spermaceti candle represents a changing society and an evolving culture; a culture that was constantly striving for a clean burning and more efficient means by which to light the darkness.”[1]

Despite the high cost of these candles, Americans were willing to pay for them, but only the richest of Americans could afford to fully enjoy the benefits of spermaceti candles. These candles were made from the “head matter” which was an oily substance that came from sperm whales. This material was hard to acquire, especially compared to tallow and beeswax. Spermaceti candles were often made in port towns such as Providence or Boston.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Edes and Gill had too much content to fit all of it into the standard four-page edition of the Boston-Gazette on Monday, April 10, 1769. As the masthead proclaimed, they published “the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic.” Some of those “Advices” were news items and editorials. Others were paid notices that also delivered news, such as an advertisement offering a reward for capturing the perpetrator of a theft that recently occurred at John Carnes’s shop in Boston and another that advised landholders to pay taxes on their property in Berkshire County or risk having their land sold at public auction. Even advertisements for goods and services counted among “the freshest Advices” as they informed readers of upcoming concerts, ships seeking passengers and freight in advance of departing for London, and all sorts of fashionable textiles and housewares in stock in local shops.

The printers had so much content that many of the paid notices overflowed into a separate supplement devoted entirely to advertising. Richard Smith’s advertisement for “Sperma-Caeti CANDLES” and “an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” was one of two dozen that ran in the supplement. On the same day, the Boston Evening-Post also issued a two-page supplement, though advertising comprised only one of those pages. To the south, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury distributed its own two-page supplement filled with paid notices. Half a dozen other newspapers were also published throughout the colonies, from Massachusetts to South Carolina, on April 10, 1769. Each of them carried a significant amount of advertising, even if the printers did not have so many as to justify distributing a supplement. Green and Russell even squeezed a short advertisement into the bottom margin of the first page of the Massachusetts Gazette. Peter Crammer’s advertisement for “Choice Liver Oyl” ran as a single line across all three columns.

All of these examples demonstrate the popularity of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Printers certainly appreciated the revenues, squeezing as many advertisements as possible into each issue and distributing supplements when they did not have enough space. Many advertisers likely considered such marketing a necessary investment. Smith’s advertisement for “Sperma-Caeti CANDLES” ran between John Langdon’s advertisement for “Best Sperma Ceti Candles” and “Isaac White’s advertisement for “Dipp’d Tallow Candles.” With so many competitors advertising their wares in the public prints, Smith likely considered it imperative to do so as well or risk losing out on his share of the market.

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[1] Emily Irwin, “The Spermaceti Candle and the American Whaling Industry,” Historia 21 (2012), 45.

April 10

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 10, 1769).

“A FRESH supply of choice drugs and medicines.”

When I looked at this advertisement I wondered what kinds of “drugs and medicines” colonists had in 1769? How did colonists deal with diseases? According to Robin Kipps, who manages the Pasteur & Galt Apothecary at Colonial Williamsburg, “The sciences of biology and chemistry had not made significant impacts on the theories of disease. The big health issues of the day were not heart disease, cancer, obesity, or diabetes; they were smallpox, malaria, and childhood illnesses.” In the colonial and revolutionary periods, Americans did not have to worry about the same kind of disease that we do today. Instead, they had all kinds of other deadly diseases they had to worry about that people nowadays do not need to worry about due to advances in science and medicine. Colonists did not have the vaccines at this point in time to prevent many deadly diseases from happening and spreading to others, though they had experimented with smallpox inoculation.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

John Sparhawk had competition. He was not the only purveyor of “choice drugs and medicines” in Philadelphia who advertised in the April 10, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Robert Bass, an apothecary who regularly inserted advertisements in several local newspapers, also ran a notice, one that may have more effectively captured the attention of prospective clients.

Sparhawk, a bookseller, published a comparatively sparse advertisement. Like many other printers and booksellers in eighteenth-century America, he supplemented his income by selling other items, including patent medicines, on the side. Such was the case with the “FRESH supply” that he had “just received from London” and sold at his bookstore. He made appeals to price and quality, pledging that he sold them “as low as can be bough[t] in America of equal quality,” but otherwise did not elaborate on these patent medicines.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 10, 1769).

Robert Bass, on the other hand, underscored his expertise in his advertisement, using his superior knowledge to leverage readers to visit his shop to seek consultations and make purchases. In addition to using his own name as a headline, he listed his occupation, “APOTHECARY,” all in capitals as a secondary headline. He did not merely peddle patent medicines that he had imported from suppliers in London. He also “strictly prepared” medicines in his shop, filling all sorts of prescriptions or, as he called them, “Family and Practitioners Receipts.” For those who desired over-the-counter remedies, he also stocked “a Variety of Patent Medicines.” His experience and reputation as an apothecary suggested that he could more effectively recommend those nostrums to clients based on their symptoms than Sparhawk the bookseller could. Bass also carried medical equipment, further underscoring his specialization in the field.

Not every customer needed the level of expertise Bass provided. Many would have been familiar with several patent medicines. For those customers who desired to make their own selections from among the products available on the shelves, Sparhawk (and Bass as well) simply made appeals to price and quality. That model differed little from patrons choosing over-the-counter medications at retail pharmacies or other kinds of stores today. For prospective customers who required greater skill and expertise from the person dispensing medications, Bass made it clear in his advertisement that he was qualified to address their needs.

April 9

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 7, 1769).

Garden Seeds.”

In this advertisement from the New-Hampshire Gazette, shopkeeper John Adams promoted garden seeds imported from London to potential customers. Customers throughout the colonies, including Virginia, purchased seeds from shopkeepers. According to Wesley Greene, a garden historian in the Landscape Department at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, “All of the stores in eighteenth-century Williamsburg offered vegetable seeds for sale, so there were certainly a number of fine gardens in town that were nost likely vegetable gardens.” Greene states that vegetables in those gardens were considered “luxuries rather than staples.” Vegetables were expensive, took a long time to grow, could only be grown in season, and did not last long. Colonists in Williamsburg who did have vegetable gardens showed off their higher status to their fellow colonists. As Greene explains, “In the eighteenth century, a gentleman made a statement about who he was by how his table was set. Vegetables such as Cauliflowers and Articholes conveyed an important merssage that guest were dining at the home of a person of taste and consequence.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In the spring of 1769, shopkeeper John Adams of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, aimed to supplement the livelihood he earned by selling “a general Assortment of English GOODS” at his shop on Queen Street by also peddling “a fresh Assortment of Garden-Seeds” imported from London. He likely was not the only purveyor of “Garden Seeds” in town, but he was the only local entrepreneur who devoted a lengthy advertisement to listing dozens of varieties of seeds.

Adams acknowledged that he had competition, especially from more than half a dozen women who advertised seeds for sale in the several newspapers published in Boston and distributed throughout the region. Four days before his advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, Elizabeth Clark, Abigail Davidson, Lydia Dyar, Elizabeth Greenleaf, Susanna Renken, and Rebeckah Walker each published similar advertisements in the Boston-Gazette. That same day, Sarah Winsor placed an advertisement in Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette, as did Greenleaf and Renken. In an attempt to capture as much of the market as possible, the appropriately named Greenleaf also advertised in the Boston Evening-Post on that day. For some reason, Richard Draper circulated the Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Gazette a day later than usual that week. On April 7, the same day that Adams’s advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, Anna Johnson and Bethiah Oliver added their voices to the chorus of seed sellers, accompanied by Clark and Greenleaf, with list of seeds in Draper’s newspapers.

As these lists of advertisers demonstrate, prospective customers interested in purchasing garden seeds had many options … and Adams knew it. To prevent competitors in Boston from infringing on his share of the market in Portsmouth and its environs, Adams proclaimed that he sold his seeds “at the same Rate … as those sold in Boston” even before he listed the many varieties on offer. In so doing, he cautioned local consumers that they did not need to send away for their garden seeds. Instead, he offered them the convenience of visiting his shop and enjoying the same prices they would encounter in Boston, saving time and hassle in the process.

April 8

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Providence Gazette (April 8, 1769).

“A MEAL-MARKET.”

When I first looked at this advertisement, the phrase “MEAL-MARKET” was foreign to me. According to Oxford English Dictionary “meal” means processed grains, as in “the edible part of a grain … ground to powder” or “the finer part of ground grain.” Bucklin and Peck obtained the processed grain, such as “Wheat Flour, Rye and Indian Meal,” from millers. They also sold “Virginia Corn, and Ship Bread.”

George Washington also worked with millers. According to the historians at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, he moved away from the tobacco and began to plant more grains, mostly wheat and corn in the 1760s. Washington then expanded his gristmill and with that it became more efficient and effective and the revenue started to increase. In order to have an efficient and effective gristmill he had to set up the mill next to a reliable flowing water source. This was key because in order to power the mill water must flow past the waterwheel to generate power. When Washington did have success with his mill he then brought in extra revenue by charging neighboring farmers a fee to grind their grain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Bucklin and Peck made several promises to prospective customers in their advertisement in the April 8, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. They pledged that they would “sell as cheap as they can possible afford, do Justice in Weight and Measure, and, for the Accommodation of the Public, will retail the smallest Quantities that shall be desired.” The second of those appeals – “do Justice in Weight and Measure” – was especially important. It addressed a complaint leveled against millers that went back centuries.

In “Mills and Millers in Old and New World Folksong,” Jessica Bank explains that both the technology of mills and milling and folk songs about millers crossed the Atlantic from Britain to the colonies. Notorious for short-weighting the grains they processed, millers were depicted in depicted in folk songs as “selfish grasping thie[ves] who take advantage of anyone [they] can.” Millers had a reputation for refusing to operate their mills in the presence of their customers, a strategy that allowed them to cheat on the weights and measures. Bank notes that the popular expression “Keep your nose to the grindstone” originally had a second imperative, “and keep your eye to the road,” derived from the practice of ceasing operations of a mill as long as customers were in view.

“The image of the shifty, untrustworthy miller who enriches himself by stealing from those who use his mill to grind their grain,” Bank explains, “appears to have been incredibly long-lived and widely-known, appearing in a number of the folksongs that made their way to Colonial America.” Given that this image of the miller was so prevalent in eighteenth-century popular culture, Bucklin and Peck made a wise decision to address it in their advertisement offering “Wheat Flour, Rye and Indian” for sale. Their other appeals – low prices and the convenience of quantities that suited the needs of their customers – were standard marketing strategies adopted by many advertisers, but proclaiming that they “do Justice in Weight and Measure” was specific to their occupation. Bucklin and Peck understood the suspicion leveled against millers and those who sold the products of their mills; they crafted their advertisement accordingly.

April 7

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (April 7, 1769).
“TOBACCO PIPES.”

In this advertisement John Allman and Company sold tobacco pipes. Also in this advertisement they looked for people to employ in the pipe factory. Their business depended on a crop from the southern colonies: tobacco. For some of the southern colonies, especially Virginia, the tobacco business had been the economic lifeblood for much of the colonial period. With all this tobacco exported from the southern colonies, consumers also needed pipes to smoke the tobacco. According to Ivor Noël Hume, the manufacturers of those tobacco pipes made them out of a lot of materials, such as silver, brass, pewter, iron, and even lead. But the material they preferred to use most of the time was clay. Tobacco pipe makers used clay all the way until the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, clay pipes were easily breakable and usually broke almost as fast as they were made. Consumers continued to use them because they were much cheaper to make than silver, brass, and iron pipes.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When John Allman and Company advertised “TOBACCO PIPES made here, equal in Goodness to any imported,” in the April 7, 1769, edition of Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, they joined a larger movement dedicated to promoting domestic manufactures in the colonies. In the late 1760s colonists decried a trade imbalance with Britain that sent too much of their specie across the Atlantic and made it increasingly difficult to conduct business. That prompted many to call for producing more goods locally rather than depending on imports. In the wake of the Stamp Act, colonists boycotted goods from Britain. Combined with other acts of resistance, such as petitions from colonial assemblies and public demonstrations, those boycotts convinced Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. Just a couple of years later, however, Parliament instituted the Townshend Acts. Colonists objected to paying duties on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea. They once again resorted to boycotts and promoting domestic manufactures. This time far more colonists made calls for producing goods locally, both in editorials and advertisements.

Allman and Company did not need to invoke the Townshend Acts for readers to understand their intent in this advertisement. Their rhetoric made it clear that they tapped into continuing discourses about commerce, politics, production, and consumption. Allman and Company invited the patronage of “the Well wishers to our own Manufactories.” Even as they pursued their own livelihood, they depicted producing tobacco pipes as a public service, arguing that prospective customers should offer their “Encouragement” to both the Allman and Company and the welfare of “this Country.” To do their part, Allman and Company was determined “to carry on the above Business in an extensive Manner” in order to produce sufficient tobacco pipes to meet demand without any local consumers having to purchase imported alternatives. Prospective customers did not need to worry about price or quality; Allman and Company’s tobacco pipes were “cheap” and “equal in Goodness to any imported.” In addition, their production further supported the local economy. As Bryant notes, the partners aimed to hire more workers “in the Pipe Manufactory.” Given the competitive price and quality, how could conscientious colonists not choose to make a political statement by purchasing Allman and Company’s tobacco pipes over any others?