January 18

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 18, 1771).

“A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”

When George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died on September 30, 1770, it did not take long for printers, booksellers, and others to market commemorative items that celebrated the life of the minister and mourned his passing.  Within a week, advertisements for merchandise ranging from poems to hymns to funeral sermons began appearing in colonial newspapers.  While the commodification of Whitefield’s death was concentrated in New England, consumers in other regions also had opportunities to purchase memorabilia.

Those advertisements ran regularly for several months, but then tapered off at the end of the year.  As part of that process, printers and booksellers incorporated Whitefield commemorative items into advertisements promoting other items for sale.  For instance, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet inserted an advertisement for four pamphlets in the January 7, 1771, edition of their newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post.  “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD” was the third of those four items.  Previously, Whitefield commemorative items merited advertisements of their own in the Boston Evening-Post.

Such was the case in a brief advertisement in the January 18 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle advised prospective customers that “A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”  Whitefield’s death and the ensuing commemorations and mourning rituals were no longer breaking news, so the Fowles, like the Fleets, devoted less advertising space to marketing memorabilia.  Yet they still had inventory available, surplus copies that diminished any potential profits gained from the commodification of the minister’s death.  Advertising excess copies of almanacs in January was an annual custom for printers throughout the colonies.  The Fowles folded their Whitefield commemorative items into that practice, attempting to draw on remaining demand without giving over a significant amount of space to their advertisements.

January 7

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 7, 1771).

“Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”

In addition to publishing the Boston Evening-Post, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet sold a variety of books at their shop at the Sign of the Heart and Crown.  Throughout the colonies, printers commonly augmented their incomes by selling books and pamphlets, mostly items that they either imported or acquired from associates in other towns alongside a few titles they produced on their own.

Such was the case in the advertisement the Fleets inserted in their own newspaper on January 7, 1771.  They concluded the notice with Jeremiah Dummer’s Defence of the New-England Charters, a pamphlet they reprinted in 1765, but they first listed titles published by others.  The Fleets devoted half of the notice to a pamphlet printed by William Goddard.  In The Partnership, Goddard detailed his disputes with “Joseph Galloway, Esq; Speaker of the Honorable House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania, Mr. Thomas Wharton, sen.,” a prominent merchant, “and their Man Benjamin Towne,” a journeyman printer.  The four men had formerly been partners in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but their disagreements led to a dissolution of the partnership in the summer of 1770 and a war of words in newspapers, handbills, and pamphlets.

The other titles available at the Heart and Crown included “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. 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.  In the wake of his death, printers and others produced, marketed, and sold a variety of commemorative items, including funeral sermons preached in memory of the minister.  For several months, advertisements for those items appeared alongside reports about reactions to the news in towns throughout the colonies and poetry composed for the occasion.  The Fleets’ advertisement, listing the funeral sermon third among four titles, marked a transition in the marketing of items commemorating Whitefield.  No longer was Whitefield the sole or even primary focus of the advertisement.  As time passed and the minister’s death became more distant in the memories of prospective buyers, the Fleets recognized that demand for such commemorative items waned.  Funeral sermons no longer had the same immediacy as when the news was fresh.  As a result, they became one item among several in booksellers’ inventories rather than items that merited advertisements of their own in the public prints.

After several months of Whitefield fervor, especially in newspapers published in New England, printers and booksellers like the Fleets recalibrated their advertising efforts.  In this case, a spirited account of a bitter feud among printers and politicians in Pennsylvania received top billing over a sermon in memory Whitefield.

December 18

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 18, 1770).

“A SERMON SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE Rev. 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, several newspapers in Boston informed readers of Whitefield’s death.  Over the course of several weeks, news radiated from there.  Newspapers from New Hampshire to Georgia eventually reprinted articles that originated in Boston and supplemented with coverage of local reaction.  That additional coverage included poems that memorialized Whitefield and advertisements for commemorative items.  Less than a week elapsed when the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter noted that Green and Russell sold “A FUNERAL HYMN, wrote by the Rev’d Mr. Whitefield: Said to be designed to have been sung over his Corpse by the Orphans belonging to his Tabernacle in London, had he died there.”  So began the commodification of Whitefield’s death.

That commodification was widespread, though especially prevalent in New England.  Still, printers and booksellers in other regions participated as well.  On December 18, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal carried a notice that “A SERMON SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” … delivered in Charleston on October 28 by Josiah Smith “WILL BE PUBLISHED” and sold later in the week.  This was only the second commemorative item presented for purchase in South Carolina.  Previously the South-Carolina and American General Gazette carried a notice for “AN ELEGY on the Reverend GEORGE WHITEFIELD” combined in a single publication with the hymn that was first advertised in Boston.  Those advertisements ran in November.  The advertisement for the sermon first appeared four weeks after the last insertion of the advertisement for the elegy and hymn.  Consumers in South Carolina were not barraged with marketing for publications commemorating Whitefield to the same extent as their counterparts in New England, but they did not lack options either.  Perhaps of his own initiative, but perhaps in part as a result of examining newspapers from other regions, Charles Crouch, printer of both the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and Smith’s sermon memorializing Whitefield, saw an opportunity to produce a commemorative item.  He contributed to public mourning of the influential minister, but simultaneously exercised some self-interest in seeking to generate revenues from sales of the sermon, not unlike many other printers and booksellers throughout the colonies.

December 15

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

Providence Gazette (December 15, 1770).

“A Collection of HYMNS … By that eminent and illustrious Servant of Christ, the late Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

More than ten weeks after his death on September 30, 1770, news about George Whitefield and his legacy continued to appear in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, was a celebrity.  Very quickly, Newburyport, the site of his death, and Boston squabbled over the site of Whitefield’s burial.  When news arrived in Georgia, the colonial assembly passed resolutions to raise funds to have the minister’s remains moved to the orphanage he founded there.  Over the course of several weeks, printers reprinted those resolutions from one newspaper to another.  They finally began appearing in newspapers in New England in the middle of December.  Others honored Whitefield in other ways.  Several colonists named their children after the minister.  On December 15, the Providence Gazette reprinted news from Boston newspapers that announced “a child of Mr. George Trott was baptized by the Rev. Dr. Byles, by the name of George Whitefield.”

Whitefield appeared elsewhere in that issue as printers devised other means of memorializing him.  Almost as soon as the public learned of the minister’s death, printers and booksellers began producing, marketing, and selling commemorative items.  Their efforts included two subscription notices, one for “A Collection of HYMNS for social Worship” by Whitefield and another for an annotated bible that included an endorsement that the minister penned for an earlier edition.  Both of those subscription notices ran in the December 15 edition of the Providence Gazette, accounting for two columns of the final page.  Like other newspapers printed in the colonies, the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  Two columns represented a significant portion of the content made available to readers that week and an even larger proportion of the advertising since paid notices filled five of the twelve columns in that issue.  The news update about a child named after Whitefield, only three lines, was exceptionally brief compared to the extensive advertisements that contributed to the commodification of the minister’s death and attempts to capitalize on it.  Mourning the loss of the minister was not the only reason that Whitefield continued to appear in the public prints, not when there was money to be made.

Providence Gazette (December 15, 1770).

December 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 7, 1770).

“The late Rev. and pious Mr. Whitefield favoured the World a few years ago with his opinion of this work.”

In December 1770, John Fleeming distributed subscription notices for a publication that he described as “The First BIBLE ever printed in America.”  The proposed work included “the OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS” as well as “Annotations and Parallel Scriptures By the late Rev. SAMUEL CLARK.”  Fleeming outlined the conditions, a standard part of any subscription notice, providing an overview of the type, paper, and publication schedule.  He also offered premiums to “Booksellers, Country Traders,” and others who collected at least one dozen subscriptions on his behalf and later distributed the bibles to the subscribers.  In addition, Fleeming informed prospective subscribers that their names “will be printed” among the ancillary materials that accompanied the bible, thus testifying to their commitment to the project and their role in making it possible.

Yet Fleeming devoted the greatest portion of his subscription notice to an innovative marketing strategy.  He included a lengthy testimonial from George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Fleeming noted that the “pious Mr. Whitefield favoured the World a few years ago with his opinion of this work, and a character of the Author,” Samuel Clark, “in a preface which he prefixed to an edition then publishing.”  Fleeming then quoted extensively from Whitefield, filling almost an entire column.  Indeed, the entire subscription notice filled two of three columns on the first page of the December 7 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.

This was yet another instance of printers and booksellers seeking to capitalize on Whitefield’s death a few months earlier on September 30.  Since that time, newspaper printers published a steady stream of articles about the minister’s death and reactions throughout the colonies.  Even as those news items slowed down, they continued to print and reprint poems that eulogized Whitefield.  Almost as soon as the public received news of the minister’s death, printers and booksellers began hawking books and hymnals written by Whitefield as well as commemorative items that memorialized the minister.  Along with publishing poems in his memory, the commodification of Whitefield’s death continued after news reached even the most distant colonies.  Mobilizing the deceased minister’s preface from another edition in order to deliver a posthumous testimonial in a subscription notice that began circulating two months after his death was another means of combining outlets for expressing grief and opportunities to generate revenues.

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.

November 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 30, 1770).

“A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

The death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, received attention throughout the American colonies.  From New England to Georgia, newspapers reported the minister’s death.  Colonists participated in collective acts of mourning, reading poems dedicated to the Whitefield’s memory reprinted from newspaper to newspaper and listening to sermons honoring the minister and his legacy.  The various sorts of eulogies for Whitefield, whether poems or sermons, very quickly converted to commodification of his death as printers and booksellers advertised commemorative items for consumers to purchase.  Within days of the minister’s death, printers suggested that funeral sermons would soon go to press.  Two months later, newspaper advertisements continued to promote such items.

For instance, the November 30, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette once again informed readers that they could purchase “THE Rev. Jonathan Parson’s SERMON … A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD” either at the printing office in Portsmouth or the post office in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  This was a truncated version of an advertisement that ran in the two previous issues.  The more extensive notice extended nearly two-thirds of a column.  It included an excerpt from the sermon, a preview to incite interest among prospective customers.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, dispensed with the excerpt, but they included other Whitefield content as a means of maintaining interest in the minister’s death and generating sales.  The final page of the New-Hampshire Gazette often included poetry in the upper left corner.  The Fowles inserted two poems in the November 30 edition, one of them “A short POEM On the Death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  As a result, coverage of the minister’s death continued beyond the portion of the newspaper devoted to advertising.  The Fowles may have published the poem, at least in part, as a means of suggesting that popular interest in Whitefield’s death remained high, hoping that this would induce readers to consider purchasing the sermon advertised for sale elsewhere on the same page.  Collective mourning could potentially yield greater interest in collective acts of commemoration through purchasing commodities associated with the minister’s death.

November 17

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

Providence Gazette (November 17, 1770).

“A Collection of HYMNS for social Worship … By that eminent and illustrious Servant of Christ, the late Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

In the weeks after George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, printers, booksellers, and others supplied the grieving public with commemorative items that honored the memory of one of the most influential ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  The commodification of Whitefield’s death was widespread.  Advertisements for broadsides and books appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  As colonists joined together in mourning the minister, they also joined together to participate in a culture of consumption inspired by his death.

Garrat Noel, a bookseller in New York, advertised titles by Whitefield already in his inventory.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to turn a profit by reprinting Whitefield’s popular Collection of Hymns for Social Worship.  He inserted a subscription notice in the November 17 edition of the Providence Gazette, calling on prospective buyers to indicate their interest by “subscribing” for their own copies.  Subscription notices helped printers assess demand for proposed publications.  As Carter explained in his advertisement, “As soon as a Sufficiency of Subscriptions are obtained barely to defray the Charge of Printing, the Work will be prepared for the Press.”  If he did not attract enough subscribers then he would not lose money on the enterprise.  As a means of confirming their commitment, Carter asked subscribers to pay half “at subscribing” and the other half upon delivery.

Carter made several marketing appeals to entice subscribers to reserve their copies.  They should acquire it, he argued, as a means of religious edification.  “This valuable Work,” the printer stated, “forms of itself a Body of Divinity, and ought to be in the Hands of every Christian.”  Furthermore, it was a bargain.  The previous twelve editions printed in London sold for twice as much as Carter charged for his American edition.  If that was not reason enough, then prospective subscribers needed to take into account the politics of making this purchase.  Carter asserted that the hymnal would be printed on “good Paper, of the Manufacture of America,” rather than imported paper that had been subject to duties under the Townshend Acts until only very recently.  Subscribers could demonstrate their righteousness in honoring the memory of Whitefield while simultaneously encouraging domestic production that served as an alternative to relying on imported goods.

November 16

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 16, 1770).

“A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d 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.  Newspapers in Boston carried the first reports the following day.  Over the course of the next several weeks, news radiated out.  Printers in other towns reprinted articles from Boston’s newspapers and added their own coverage of reactions in their local communities.  Amateur poets penned tributes to the deceased minister and submitted them to newspapers.  Like news reports, those poems were reprinted from one publication to another.  Although news and poems related to Whitefield’s death originally moved from New England to other places in the colonies, eventually the culture of reprinting caused newspapers in New England to carry short articles about local reaction to Whitefield’s death in New York and Philadelphia.

Nearly seven weeks had elapsed since the minister’s death when the New-Hampshire Gazette reprinted an article and poem about Whitefield from the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  It filled half a page, a significant amount of space in a newspaper comprised of only four pages.  In the same issue, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted an advertisement for a sermon preached by Jonathan Parsons, a “most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  The lengthy advertisement extended half a column.  Between the item reprinted from the New-York Gazette and the advertisement for the sermon, content associated with the minister’s death accounted for two of the twelve columns in the November 16, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Parson’s sermon was not the first item memorializing Whitefield offered for sale to the public.  Nearly as soon as newspapers began running articles about the minister’s death, they also suggested that funeral sermons would soon be going to press.  Booksellers found renewed interest in hawking books by Whitefield, capitalizing on current events.  Printers marketed a variety of broadsides with poems, accounts of the funeral, and visual images of Whitefield lying in repose.  The advertisement for this newest commemorative item included a lengthy remembrance from Parsons, reflecting on the first time he met Whitefield and extolling the minister’s work over the past three decades.  The Fowles likely sought to incite greater interest in the pamphlet by whetting the appetites of prospective buyers with that excerpt.

The loss of the beloved minister led to widespread mourning, but it also prompted widespread commodification.  Advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia ran in newspapers from New England to South Carolina, though they were most heavily concentrated in newspaper published in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Purchasing commemorative items likely gave colonists opportunities to express their grief and feel connected to the minister and fellow mourners, but the production of those items also represented business opportunities for printers, booksellers, and others who stood to generate revenues from the commodification of Whitefield’s death.

November 6

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 6, 1770).

“AN ELEGY on the Reverend GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Following the death of George Whitefield, one of the most influential ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, news radiated out from New England.  Brief reports first appeared in Boston’s newspapers the day after the minister died.  Other newspapers then reprinted the news, first in other colonies in New England and then in New York and Pennsylvania and eventually in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina.  (The Georgia Gazette presumably carried the news as well, but few copies from 1770 survive.)  Coverage of Whitefield’s death also included poems written in his memory, reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, and advertisements for commemorative items, all of them printed materials that ranged from broadsides to pamphlets to books.

The widespread marketing of that memorabilia amounted to the commodification of Whitefield’s death as printers and others sought to capitalize on the event.  That does not mean that expressions of mourning among producers and consumers were not sincere.  They were, however, mediated through acquiring goods that allowed consumers to experience a connection to the minister and feel as though they were participating in current events alongside others who mourned.  Even as producers and sellers of the commemorative items facilitated that process, they also strove to generate revenues from Whitefield’s death.

The commodification began in New England almost as soon as newspapers published the news.  In its first article about Whitefield’s death, published four days later, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter noted that a “FUNERAL HYMN” that the minister wrote several years earlier was for sale at another printing office in Boston.  Not long after that, freestanding advertisements began appearing in all of the newspapers published in that city as well as in newspapers from other towns in New England.  As news spread to other colonies, printers and booksellers in New York and Pennsylvania also ran advertisements that marketed Whitefield memorabilia.  Due to the distance, it took more than three weeks for the news to reach South Carolina.  Just two weeks after that, an advertisement for a commemorative item ran in the November 6, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

That advertisement offered a short history of Whitefield’s death.  Coverage had not been as extensive that far from New England, so the advertisement likely helped prospective customers recall the key details that Whitefield “departed this Life ay Newbury-Port in New-England, on the Morning of the Lord’s-Day, September 30th 1770, in the 56th Year of his Age.”  The advertisement promoted an “ELEGY” in memory of the minister as well as “A HYMN, composed by the Rev, Mr. WHITEFIELD to be sung over his own Corpse.”  By then the hymn had already been widely marketed in New England and additional advertisements ran in other colonies.  The advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated a different method of distributing the memorabilia than in most advertisements in other newspapers, stating that “CARRIERS of this GAZETTE” sold the elegy and hymn.  A couple of advertisements published in New England offered discounts for shopkeepers and peddlers who bought large numbers for resale, but this was the first advertisement that specified that those who delivered newspapers also sold Whitefield commemorative items.  Opportunities to purchase memorabilia in South Carolina apparently were not confined to the urban port of Charleston but instead available in places removed from the busy city.

Mourning, celebrating the life of a prominent minister, and business were intertwined as colonists reacted to the death of George Whitefield.  His celebrity helped to make possible the commodification of his death and the appearance of newspaper advertisements hawking broadsides, pamphlets, and books.  Although concentrated in New England, that commodification also occurred as far away as South Carolina.  Colonists experienced print culture that informed them of the minister’s death, but they also participated in consumer culture that helped them to make meaning of it while simultaneously generating revenues for the producers and sellers of Whitefield commemorative items.