June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:24:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 24, 1768).

“Shoes, as neat and Strong as ever was made or brought from the famous Shoe Town of Lynn.”

When Samuel Foster, a cobbler, set up shop in Portsmouth, he placed an advertisement in the June 24, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform residents that “he has now removed to this Town.” Like many others who advertised consumer goods and services, he stated that he delivered exemplary customer service, promising that “all Persons who favour him with their Custom may depend on being faithfully and punctually served.” Realizing that this fairly common appeal might not provide sufficient cause for readers to employ him, Foster turned to boasting about the quality of his shoes as well as favorably comparing the products of his workshop to shoes made in both Portsmouth and Lynn, Massachusetts.

He commenced with a local comparison, pledging that he made “Mens Shoes, of all Sorts, as neat and Cheap as any Shoe Maker in Town.” Foster introduced himself to his new neighbors with an assertion that this shoes were equal, if not superior, to those produced by any of his competitors in the area. Just in case that was not bold enough, he trumpeted an even more striking claim about the quality of the shoes he made for women. He offered a variety for different tastes – “Womens Silk, Cloth, Calamanco and Leather Shoes” – and proclaimed they were “as neat and Strong as ever was made or brought from the famous Shoe Town of Lynn.” Shoe production began in Lynn in the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century the town achieved a reputation for its shoes that extended far beyond New England. Advertisers who ran notices in newspapers printed in New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston sometimes specified that they carried shoes made in Lynn, suggesting that they expected this designation would resonate with prospective customers.

As a newcomer to Portsmouth, Foster needed to establish a new clientele among residents unfamiliar with his work or his reputation. To that end, he made forceful claims about the quality of the shoes produced in his shop, implicitly challenging readers to make purchases and confirm for themselves whether his work merited the accolades he claimed. At the very least, he associated “the famous Shoe Town of Lynn” with his workshop in the minds of potential customers.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 17, 1768).

“A new Shop … near Swing or Liberty Bridge.”

When Zechariah Beal, a cobbler, set up shop in a new location he placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform “his Customers and others, that he has Removed from Queen Street, to a new Shop, almost adjoining to that of Mr. John Noble’s Barber, near Swing or Liberty Bridge, not far from the Long-Wharfe in Portsmouth.” Beal advertised in an era before American cities and towns adopted standardized street numbers, though some of the largest American cities would do so in the final decade of the eighteenth century.

In the absence of street numbers, Beal and other colonists relied on a variety of landmarks to establish locations and give directions. Sometimes these instructions were short, simply referencing the name of the street. In other cases, they were quite lengthy (and even rather convoluted from the perspective of modern readers accustomed to precise street numbers designating the locations of homes and businesses), as was the case when Beal listed his new location in his advertisement.

Among the landmarks he invoked, Beal noted that his new shop was “near Swing or Liberty Bridge.” This description reveals that colonists in Portsmouth were in the midst of reconceptualizing the meaning they attributed to a local landmark. On January 6, 1766, the Sons of Liberty had paraded an effigy of George Grenville around Portsmouth in protest of the Stamp Act. They burned the effigy of the prime minister and, like several other cities and towns in the colonies, erected a liberty pole that flew a flag that read “LIBERTY, PROPERTY, and NO STAMPS,” according to an account that appeared in the January 20, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. That same account reported that the pole and flag were “now fixed near LIBERTY-BRIDGE.”

Some advertisers in Portsmouth quickly adopted the name, indicating that they and other colonists continued to commemorate the protest by associating new significance with the Swing Bridge that predated the protest. Yet this process was not universal among those who resided in the area. The bridge now had two names, “Swing or Liberty Bridge,” among the inhabitants of Portsmouth. An older way of describing the urban landscape did not disappear just because some colonists now preferred a new designation for one landmark. Even those who supported protests against the Stamp Act and, more recently in the summer of 1768, the Townshend Act likely discovered that they sometimes had to consciously correct themselves when it came to associating names with political significance with landmarks previously known as something else. In Portsmouth, that meant that one landmark simultaneously had two names, “Swing or Liberty Bridge,” as colonists collectively reconceptualized their descriptions of their environs.

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:31:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 31, 1768).

“Will sell two or three Negro Shoemakers.”

John Matthews, a cobbler, placed a variation of the same advertisement in all three newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina, for several weeks in the spring of 1768. In each, he announced that because he was “intending to decline Shoemaking” he wished to sell “two or three Negro Shoemakers.” These enslaved artisans already had significant experience. Matthews explained that “they have done all my business for nine Years past.” Apparently the cobbler took on the role of manager of the workshop while the “Negro Shoemakers” labored on his behalf. To further enhance their value for potential buyers, Matthews boasted that in terms of skill they “are at least equal to any Negroes of the Trade in this Province.” In so doing, he implicitly made an unfavorable comparison to white shoemakers even as he credited the abilities of the enslaved artisans who had “done all [his] business” for nearly a decade. Matthews indicated that the “eldest of them” was only twenty-two, suggesting that they had been working in his shop since their early teens.

Slaveholders in South Carolina and beyond frequently associated particular skills with the enslaved men and women they advertised for sale. Another advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in the spring of 1768, for instance, listed “sawyers, mowers, a very good caulker, a tanner, a compleat tight cooper, [and] a sawyer, squarer and rough carpenter” among “A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES.” In addition, that advertisement included an enslaved woman who was “a washer, ironer and spinner.” Beyond agricultural labor, enslaved men and women possessed a variety of specialized skills. Many of them were artisans whose skills rivaled their white counterparts (even if slaveholders could not quite acknowledge such expertise). In urban centers and on plantations, slaves practiced a variety of trades. As a result, they contributed far more to colonial economies than just their labor. Slaveholders benefited from the knowledge and skill possessed the “Negro Shoemakers” and other artisans they held in bondage.

May 13

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

May 13 - 5:13:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 13, 1768).

“Not be obliged to wear out one Pair of Shoes, coming after another.”

Zechariah Beal, a cobbler, placed an advertisement in the May 13, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette to announce that he had moved to a new location in Portsmouth. In addition to giving directions to his new shop, Beal also offered commentary on what he considered a sorry state for footwear in the port city. He pledged that his customers would “not be obliged to wear out one Pair of Shoes, coming after another,” a situation “which he is very sorry to hear is too much the Case in Portsmouth.”

In making this assertion, Beal buttressed his appeal to quality. He included one of the standard phrases to describe his workmanship, asserting that he made shoes “in the neatest and best Manner,” but he elaborated on that commonly deployed phrase by favorably contrasting his shoes others sold in the city, whether imported or made locally. Too many colonists purchased shoes that wore out too quickly, forcing them to continuously replace them. Beal set about remedying that situation.

The industrious shoemaker balanced that marketing strategy with an appeal to customer service. Like many others in the garment trades, he declared that his clientele “may depend on being punctually served,” but once again he elaborated on the standard language inserted in many eighteenth-century advertisements. Beal guaranteed that his customers would “have their Work done at the Time appointed.” He would not inconvenience or disappoint them by not meeting the deadlines determined at the time customers contracted his services.

Beal took an innovative approach to writing the copy for his notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette. He started with some of the most common appeals to quality and customer service, but then elaborated on those appeals as a means of distinguishing both his advertisement and his business. Eighteenth-century newspapers advertisements for consumer goods and services often appear static at first glance, but Beal and others incorporated all sorts of variations to make their notices distinctive as they sought to incite demand among prospective customers.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 22, 1767).

“She undertakes to make and mend Men’s Leather Shoes.”

Elizabeth Shaw, “Shoe-Maker, from Europe,” was not the only woman who placed a newspaper advertisement for consumer goods and services in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today. Mary Hill also inserted a commercial notice in the Boston Post-Boy, informing potential customers that she sold a “Variety of Millinary.” Priscilla Manning informed readers of the Boston Evening-Post that she carried a “Variety of English & India GOODS” at her shop. In other colonies, Mary Maylem’s advertisement for a “neat Assortment of fashionable GOODS” appeared in the Newport Mercury. The Widow Hays hawked “ALL Sorts of PICKLES … with several Sorts of SWEET MEATS” in the New-York Gazette while Margaret Collins and Elizabeth Bevan each placed her own advertisement for “Gentlemen Lodgers” in the New-York Mercury. Mrs. Adams did not place a separate advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette, but writing master William Adams indicated near the end of his notice that “Mrs. Adams will teach young ladies to sew” and planned to acquire “a compleat assortment of millinary” to retail on her own.

Shaw joined the ranks of other women who entered the marketplace by inserting an advertisement in the public prints, but the nature of her business differed from the other women who advertised on the same day. Among those who sold goods, Manning and Maylem operated shops where they sold all kinds of imported goods, but especially textiles and housewares. Hill specialized in selling millinery and also made her own hats to sell to other women. Hays provided food to her customers. Collins, Bevan, and Adams extended their domestic responsibilities into business endeavors, the first two taking in boarders and Adams teaching girls to sew. Although they all entered the marketplace, these women followed occupations deemed appropriate to their gender. Shaw, on the other hand, practiced a trade more often associated with men, though not their exclusive domain. She did not limit herself to predominantly female clients, but instead made and repaired “Men’s Leather Shoes” as well. The other female advertisers demonstrated what was probable when it came to women’s occupations in colonial America, but Shaw’s advertisement testified to what was possible.