December 4

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

Essex Gazette (December 4, 1770).

“JUST PUBLISHED … Dr. Whitaker’s SERMON On the DEATH of the Reverend George Whitefield.”

George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  The next day, articles appeared in newspapers published in Boston and the news radiated to other towns throughout the colonies over several weeks.  In addition to news items, many newspapers printed and reprinted poems that eulogized the minister.  Almost immediately, some printers and booksellers advertised commemorative items that commodified Whitefield’s death.  Through concentrated primarily in New England, such advertisements also ran in newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

As winter approached, printers and booksellers continued to produce and market new items related to Whitefield and his death.  On November 27, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, advertised that “On Thursday or Friday next will be published … The Rev. Dr. Whitaker’s SERMON, on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD.”  In the next issue, Hall inserted an updated advertisement that announced he had indeed “JUST PUBLISHED” the sermon and offered it for sale at the printing office.  This advertisement, unlike most others, included thick black bands at the top and bottom, a widely recognized symbol of mourning in eighteenth-century America.  Usually, black bands or borders were reserved for news articles or they adorned an entire page or issue.  By incorporating them into this advertisement, Hall elevated Whitaker’s sermon on Whitefield’s death and, by extension, his marketing of that item, to news.  In addition, he placed the advertisement at the top of the first column devoted to advertisements in the December 4 edition of the Essex Gazette, making it a transition between news and advertising.

In the year that saw the Boston Massacre and the repeal of most of the Townshend duties on imported goods, the death of George Whitefield was one of the most significant stories that circulated in the colonial American newspapers.  Yet coverage of the minister’s death was not confined to news alone.  Printers and booksellers seized opportunities to produce commemorative items and offer them for sale, simultaneously consoling the general public and seeking to profit from their grief.

October 12

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 12, 1770).

“The Character of … George Whitefield … worthy a place in every House.”

By October 12, 1770, newspapers published in Boston and Salem, Massachusetts; Portsmouth, Rhode Island; Newport and Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, New Haven, and New London, Connecticut; New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania informed readers of the death of minister George Whitefield at Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  Coverage originated in Boston on the day after Whitefield’s death and then radiated outward as other newspapers published their own articles but mostly reprinted items that originally ran in one of the five newspapers printed in Boston.

It did not take long for commemoration to turn to commodification inspired by the influential minister’s death.  Almost immediately, printers notified the grieving public that they intended to publish Whitefield memorabilia.  Whether or not they had heard Whitefield preach while he was still alive, consumers could purchase broadsides that featured his words or documented his life and good works.  Through the marketplace they could acquire a connection to one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals of the Great Awakening.

Such advertisements continued to supplement news coverage in the October 12, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Between news items, poetry honoring the preacher, and advertisements for memorabilia, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle devoted an entire column to Whitefield, out of only twelve columns over four pages that comprised the entire issue.  The Fowles inserted three items reprinted from the October 8 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  A longer news article, a poem dedicated to Whitefield, and a shorter news article all ran in the order that they appeared in the Boston newspaper.  The Fowles included another poem, that one taken from the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.

Immediately following those items, they ran an advertisement for two commemorative broadsides.  One featured “A Hymn composed by the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD, and intended to be sung over his Corps.”  Printers in Boston and Salem had already advertised a similar piece of memorabilia.  The Fowles also advertised an item that had not yet been marketed in the public prints, a broadside about “The Character of the late worthy, pious, learned and Reverend George Whitefield.”  The Fowles stressed that this memorial was “properly put in mourning,” meaning that thick black borders enclosed the text and separated the columns.  It also featured an image of Whitefield’s coffin with “the Names of the Bearers, placed on each side of it.”  (Examine the Library of Congress’s copy of this broadside.)  In an effort to incite demand and increase sales, the Fowles proclaimed that this broadside in memory of Whitefield was “worthy a place in every House.”  Consumers could demonstrate their rectitude and continue to be instructed by the minister and his good example after his death.

Like other printers who produced and marketed similar broadsides, the Fowles participated in the commodification of Whitefield’s death.  Such a significant event presented an opportunity to increase revenues in their printing office by publishing and selling commemorative items.