April 16

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

Connecticut Courant (April 16, 1771).

“All gentlemen passengers, [who are] inclined to favour him with their custom[, will] meet with good usage, from their humb[le ser]vant.”

From the early spring through the late fall, Jeremiah Lord operated a “Passage-Boat” or ferry that transported passengers along the Connecticut River and crossed the Long Island Sound, connecting the inland village of Middletown, Connecticut, and the coastal towns of Saybrook, Connecticut, and Sag Harbor, New York.  The passage boat sailed from Middletown on the first and third Monday each month and returned from Sag Harbor the following Thursday, “winds and weather permitting.”  Each passenger paid “half a Dollar” if on foot and twice as much if transporting a horse.

Though dated “March 1771,” Lord’s advertisement first appeared in the Connecticut Courant, printed in Hartford, on April 9.  It then ran for two more weeks.  That it appeared more than once allows historians and other modern readers to discover many of the details obscured in the April 16 edition as a result of collection and preservation practices.  Many eighteenth-century newspapers currently in the collections of research libraries have not been preserved as single issues but instead have been bound together with others.  Depending on the size of the newspaper and its frequency of publication, those volumes include six months, an entire year, or even more issues.  Because they have been bound, the newspapers can no longer be laid flat.  For newspapers with generous margins, this does not matter, but for this with narrow margins it means that often some of the text has been absorbed into the binding.  Often this affects only a small portion of the text, perhaps the last couple of letters at the edge of the column, but in other instances even more text remains hidden by the binding.  Such is the case with the rightmost column on the first and last pages and the leftmost column on the second and third pages of the April 16 edition of the Connecticut Courant.

Modern readers interested in advertising overcome this obstacle by examining other issues.  Advertisements ran multiple times, their placement on the page usually changing.  Lord’s advertisement, for instance, did not appear in the column adjacent to the binding in the April 9 and April 23 editions.  It is more difficult to recover the contents of news accounts, letters, and other items usually printed only once.  Even when most of the print remains legible, other aspects of the production or preservation of historical newspapers conceal portions of the contents.

January 8

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

Connecticut Courant (January 8, 1771).

“He will sell for the following Prices.”

K. Sexton sold books at a shop “Near the Great Bridge in Hartford” in the early 1770s. Like many other early American booksellers, he placed newspaper advertisements that listed various titles available at his shop. In his advertisement in the January 8, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant, however, he included an enhancement not part of most newspaper advertisements or book catalogs published during the period.  He gave the prices of his merchandise.

In orderly columns that ran down the right side of his notice, Sexton listed prices in pounds, shillings, and pence, allowing prospective customers to anticipate what they would spend on his books as well as identify bargains.  He charged, for instance, fourteen shillings for a two-volume set of “SMALL Morrocco Bibles, bound in the neatest Manner,” five shillings and four pence for a “large” edition of a popular novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, and four shillings and eight pence for a “small” edition, and ten pence for “Cato’s Tragedy.”

For some items, Sexton sought buyers among both consumers and retailers.  He sold “Sinners in the Hands of an angry God, a Sermon preach’d by the Rev’d Jon. Edwards at Enfield, at a Time of great awakenings” for six pence for a single copy or four shillings for a dozen.  Retailers and others who bought in volume enjoyed a significant discount when they paid four shillings or forty-eight pence for twelve copies; Sexton reduced the retail price by one third.  He offered similar savings for purchasing at least a dozen copies of six other titles, including “Mr. Moodys Sermon to Children” and “Watts’s Catechism.”  For each of those, he charged either four pence each or three shillings (or thirty-six pence) for a dozen.  Those who bought a dozen save one quarter of the retail price.

Most booksellers did not specify prices for their merchandise in newspapers advertisements that listed multiple titles, though they were more likely to mention prices in advertisements for single titles and almost always did so in subscription notices for proposed books, magazines, and pamphlets.  In general, most purveyors of goods and services in eighteenth-century America did not indicate prices in their advertisements, except to offer assurances that they were low or reasonable.  Setting prices and promoting them to prospective customers eventually became a standard marketing strategy, but it was not common in eighteenth-century advertisements.  In the early 1770s, Sexton’s use of prices in his newspaper notices amounted to an experiment and innovation in marketing.

December 26

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

Connecticut Courant (December 25, 1770).

“ADVERTISEMENTS of not more than ten Lines, are taken in and inserted for THREE SHILLINGS three weeks.”

On November 13, 1770, Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson, printers of the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, announced that they planned to enlarge the newspaper and make other improvements before the end of the year.  The November 13 edition served as a specimen copy for current and prospective subscribers, though it did not feature a new colophon on the final page.  Green and Watson inaugurated that aspect of the newspaper on December 25 when the new size became official.  Compared to the previous colophon, “HARTFORD: Printed by GREEN & WATSON,” the new colophon was much more extensive, befitting a publication that sought to join the ranks of those from Boston and New York.

The new colophon included information about the costs of subscriptions and advertisements that not all printers made readily available to readers.  If subscription fees or advertising rates did appear in print, they were usually part of a colophon.  Some colophons incorporated one or the other, but usually not both.  When they enlarged and enhanced the Connecticut Courant, Green and Watson provided both in the colophon.  They set two prices for subscriptions, “NINE SHILLINGS, Lawful Money per Year, if sent by the special Post, or SEVEN SHILLINGS without Postage.”  That provided important insight into Green and Watson’s business practices, especially their means of circulating the Connecticut Courant to distant subscribers.  In the late 1760s and early 1770s, other printers who listed their subscription rates, most of them in busy and crowded urban ports, did not take the fees for post riders into consideration.  Separate advertisements sometimes tended to those concerns, though they typically offered services without specifying prices.  The colophon for the enlarged Connecticut Courant made the total costs for subscribing visible to customers.

In terms of advertising rates, Green and Watson charged three shillings to publish notices of ten lines or less for three weeks.  Prices increased “in Proportion” for longer advertisements.  As was typical, the initial fee included setting type, bookkeeping, and multiple insertions.  Some printers allowed for four insertions, but most opted for three, then charged additional fees for subsequent insertions.  Advertisers could continue running their notices in the Connecticut Courant for an additional six pence per week.  That meant that half of the initial fee, three shillings or thirty-six pence, covered setting type and bookkeeping because three weeks of inserting a notice amounted to eighteen pence.  Most newspaper printers derived greater revenues from advertising than subscriptions.  In the case of the Connecticut Courant, three advertisements cost the same as an annual subscription that included “the special Post.”

Subscription rates and advertising fees were an aspect of early American printers’ business practices that did not regularly find their way into print in eighteenth-century newspapers.  For many years Green and Watson did not incorporate this information into the Connecticut Courant, but when they enlarged the newspaper at the end of 1770, they added a new colophon as one of the improvements.  In so doing, they provided important information about the production of their newspaper.

December 11

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

Connecticut Courant (December 11, 1770).

“They have been at the expence of bringing workmen from Philadelphia.”

Herman Allen and Levi Allen embarked on a new venture in December 1770.  The Allens ran a store in Salisbury, Connecticut, where they sold a “LARGE and general assortment of European, East, & West India Goods.”  Their notice, along with others for shops in Hartford and other towns in Connecticut that ran in the Connecticut Courant, demonstrated that the consumer revolution extended beyond the major port cities and into the countryside.

The Allens’ new venture also demonstrated that retailers and, likely, customers looked to larger cities for cues about consumption practices while also remaining mindful of local economies.  In addition to the “general assortment” of merchandise available at their store, the Allens also informed consumers that “they have been to the expence of bringing workmen from Philadelphia, for dressing Leather, and making Breeches and Gloves in the neatest Philadelphia fashion.”  They assumed that prospective customers in small towns were familiar with the manner of making breeches and gloves in the largest city in the colonies as well as the appearance of the finished products.  Furthermore, the Allens expected that their customers desired breeches and gloves that resembled those made in Philadelphia.  Even if prospective customers did not, the Allens suggested that they should.

The Allens also declared that their customers could gain access to the fashions of urban ports while still supporting the local economy.  Since the Allens brought the workmen to Connecticut to make breeches and gloves, “the public may be supply’d without sending the money out of this colony.”  Furthermore, customers did not have to pay a premium for that privilege.  Instead, the Allens set prices “as cheap as in New York or Albany or elsewhere.”  In terms of payment, they accepted cash and “all sorts of country produce” and extended “the usual credit.”

Colonists did not need to reside in urban ports where newspapers overflowed with advertisements for consumer goods in order to experience the pleasures of shopping and showing off the clothing and other possessions they acquired.  From stocking an assortment of goods to bringing workmen to the town of Salisbury to make breeches and gloves “in the neatest Philadelphia fashion” to low prices and credit, the Allens sought to make it easy and convenient for residents of Salisbury and other small towns in Connecticut to participate in the consumer revolution.

November 14

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

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).

We here offer them a Specimen.”

Subscribers and others who regularly read the Connecticut Courant immediately notices something different about the November 13, 1770, edition.  Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson printed it on a larger sheet than usual.  They acknowledged that they had done so in a message from “The PRINTERS to the PUBLIC” that filled the entire first column on the first page, making it difficult for readers to overlook.  Published in Hartford since 1764, the Connecticut Courant had not been as extensive a newspaper as its counterparts published in bustling urban ports like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Many of those newspapers commenced publication decades earlier and evolved over time. Green and Watson desired for their newspaper to experience a similar evolution, acknowledging that they “have often been obliged, for Want of Room, either wholly to omit, or else give the Public but a very partial Account of many very interesting and important Articles of News which in larger Papers, are more fully and largely set forth.”

The printers intended to “remedy and redress” that “Inconvenience” by enlarging the Connecticut Courant.  In addition to the lengthy message from Green and Watson on the first page, the entire November 13 edition served as an advertisement of sorts, “a Specimen” printed on larger sheets for the public to examine.  The printers proclaimed that they were “determined to enlarge the Connecticut COURANT to a Size no less than that of the Boston or York Papers.”  Such an upgrade would aid them in their efforts “of furnishing out the Paper with such Collections of News as will render it as entertaining, useful and profitable as lies in our Power.”  Green and Watson further explained that the posts from Boston and New York both arrived in Hartford on Sundays, giving them sufficient time to review newspapers they received from those cities and reprint “the Whole of the most material and important Advices” in the Connecticut Courant on Tuesdays.

Access to more extensive coverage of news from other colonies and beyond came at a price.  The “Enlargement will necessarily subject us to an additional Expence,” the printers explained as they informed readers that subscription rates would increase only modestly by one shilling per year.  The new price, they assured the public, was no more expensive than printers of other newspapers of similar size charged their subscribers.  Those who already subscribed had five weeks to decide if they wished to continue their subscriptions before Green and Watson transitioned to larger sheets and increased the rates for the Connecticut Courant.  The printers also invited those who did not yet subscribe to consider doing so in order to receive the more extensive news coverage they would soon provide.  At the same time, they called on “our good Customers who are in Arrears for the Paper, Advertisements, or any other Account” to make payment before the enlargement took place.  Green and Watson needed the “Ready Cash” to purchase paper and pursue their goals for enhancing the newspaper.  Furthermore, they would not publish any new advertisements without receiving payment in advance.

Green and Watson devoted a significant portion of the November 13 edition of the Connecticut Courant to promoting the newspaper itself.  They outlined improvements in the works that would soon be implemented, while also demonstrating those enhancements to current and prospective subscribers.  The entire issue was “a Specimen” intended to showcase the features of the new Connecticut Courant and convince readers that an extra shilling each year for a subscription would be money well spent.

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).

October 16

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

Connecticut Courant (October 16, 1770).

They have a Number of Pairs of Breeches already made.”

In the fall of 1770, the partnership of Converse and Stone, “Breeches Makers, at the Sign of the Breeches in Hartford,” took to the pages of the Connecticut Courant to inform “Gentlemen” that they had set up shop.  They told prospective clients that pursued “the Business of Breeches Making in all its Branches,” intending for that short phrase to provide assurances that they possessed all of the necessary skills of the trade and that they could construct breeches in a variety of styles according to the tastes and budgets of their customers.

In a nota bene, Converse and Stone asked potential clients to take note that they “have a Number of Pairs of Breechesalready made, together with skins of the neatest Kind, so that Gentlemen may suit themselves.”  The breeches makers catered to their customers.  Although they could measure clients and construct new garments for those who desired such services, Converse and Stone also offered the convenience of an eighteenth-century version of buying off the rack.  They already made and had on hand an inventory of breeches for men who wished to acquire them in a single visit to the shop. They adopted business practices and a marketing strategy similar to those that Thomas Hewitt, a wigmaker in Annapolis, described in his advertisement running in the Maryland Gazette at the same time.  Hewitt also promoted both custom-made items and “ready made” alternatives.

For those gentlemen who preferred custom-made breeches, Converse and Stone had “Skins of the neatest Kind” that they could examine and choose what suited them when they came to the shop for measurements.  In that case, their breeches were tailor-made in a collaboration between the breeches makers and individual patrons.  The clients expressed their tastes and preferences and Converse and Stone supplied the skill to create the garments envisioned and commissioned by their customers.  In their advertisement, the breeches makers balanced consumer choice and convenience against their abilities and expertise in their trade.

September 25

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

Connecticut Courant (September 25, 1770).

“My Husband has attempted by an Advertisement to ruin my Character.”

Advertisements warning against extending credit to runaway wives were a standard feature in American newspapers in the eighteenth century.  The one that Benoni Griffen, Jr., inserted in the September 10, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant resembled so many others that appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia.  “Whereas Martha the Wife of me the Subscriber,” Griffen proclaimed, “hath for some Tome past, behaved herself in a very Disorderly Manner, by endeavouring to run me in Debt, THESE are Therefore to want all Persons not to Trust of Credit her on my Account, as I will pay no Debt she may Contract after this Date.”  Like Griffen’s notice, most advertisements concerning runaway wives did not provide further details about the alleged “Disorderly” conduct.

Most also did not garner a response.  Usually husbands had the last and only word in the public prints.  Yet Martha objected to how Benoni described her to friends, acquaintances, and strangers in the pages of the Connecticut Courant. She inserted her own advertisement, more than twice the length of his, to set the record straight.  Martha accused Benoni of attempting to “ruin my Character,” but she asserted that she could “produce the fullest Proof that my Conduct has been prudent and blameless, especially with Respect of running my Husband in Debt.”  Furthermore, she had a very different tale to tell about which spouse had treated the other poorly.  Martha complained that Benoni’s “Temper and Conduct and Disposition has been extremely Ill.”  Indeed, he had abandoned her and “a Family of small Children” more than once.  During his most recent escapade, he had been away for almost two years, leaving Martha and the children “in bad Circumstances.”  When he finally appeared again was not a free man but instead “a bound Servant.”  Martha found it irritating that Benoni warned against extending credit to her on his behalf because she and her father had so often paid off his debts.  Benoni’s shenanigans became so notorious that the town’s selectmen intervened.

Martha did not expect that Benoni’s advertisement had influence anyone who actually knew the couple.  “[W]here he and I are known,” she stated, “‘tis beyond his Power to injure my Character.”  Yet not all readers knew Martha and Benoni.  It was for the benefit of “Strangers” that she ran her own advertisement to dispute her husband’s version of events.  He used the public prints to defame her.  In turn, she inserted an advertisement in the same newspaper to defend her reputation.  Martha and other women who absconded from their husbands and became subjects of newspaper advertisements asserted their will in a manner considered unbecoming of their sex, further compounding any offenses they supposedly committed within their households.  Martha’s challenges to her husband’s authority, however, did not end there.  She continued to exercise her own will, publishing an advertisement that portrayed Benoni as an unsavory character incapable of fulfilling his responsibilities as husband and head of the household.

August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:23:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 23, 1770).

“Two Negro Men, supposed to have gone off in Company.”

Two Black men, known to their enslavers as Boston and Newport, liberated themselves in the summer of 1770.  They escaped from Isaac Coit and Robert Kinsman of Plainfield, Connecticut, during the night of August 8.  Coit and Kinsman, in turn, immediately set about placing newspaper advertisements describing Boston and Newport and offering rewards in hopes of enlisting other colonists in capturing the Black men and returning them to enslavement.  Unlike most enslavers who placed such advertisements in a single newspaper or multiple newspapers in a single city, Coit and Kinsman broadened the scope of their surveillance and recovery efforts by inserting advertisements in five newspapers published in five cities and towns in four colonies.  In addition to the reward they offered, they made an investment in advertisements that ran in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, the New-London Gazette, the New-York Journal, and the Providence Gazette.

Although similar, these advertisements were not identical.  The variations tell a more complete story of the escape devised by Boston and Newport.  Consider the notice that ran in the New-London Gazette.  Dated August 9 (first appearing in the August 10 edition) and signed by Coit, it featured Boston only, describing him as “a stout, thick-set fellow, of middling stature, about 30 years old, very black.”  It was the only advertisement that included a visual image, a crude woodcut of a Black person in motion, wearing a grass skirt and carrying a staff, an “R” for runaway on the chest.  Another advertisement dated August 9 ran in the New-York Journal, but that one included the descriptions of both Boston and Newport.  It did not appear until August 23, likely due to the time it took for the copy to arrive in the printing office in New York from Plainfield.  An undated advertisement with almost identical copy also ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on August 18, likely dispatched to the printing office at the same time as the one sent to New York.  Coit and Kinsman both signed it.  They noted in the final paragraph that “Said Negroes have Passes, and if apprehended, ‘tis requested the Passes may be secured for the Benefit of their Masters.”  Quite likely Coit sent the copy for his advertisement concerning Boston to the New-London Gazette, the newspaper closest to Plainfield, prior to discovering that Newport liberated himself from Kinsman.  When the enslavers realized that Boston and Newport liberated themselves on the same night, they collaborated on new advertisements with a narrative updated from what ran in the New-London Gazette.  The new version stated that Boston and Newport were suspected “to have gone off in Company,” a conspiracy to free themselves.  Determining that they had passes may have caused Coit and Kinsman to widen the scope of their efforts by publishing in multiple newspapers in New England and New York, realizing that the passes increased the mobility and chances of escape for Boston and Newport.

Two other advertisements, those that ran in the Connecticut Courant and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, had identical copy.  They included short descriptions of Boston and Newport, signed by Coit and Kinsman.  In a nota bene, they declared, “It is suspected said Negroes have got a forg’d Pass.”  These advertisements were both dated August 10.  The notice in the Hartford newspaper first appeared on August 13 and in the Boston newspaper on August 16.  As the enslavers fretted about Boston and Newport having better prospects for making good on their escape thanks to the passes, they likely determined that they needed to place notices in additional newspapers.  Doing so amounted to an effort to recruit more colonists to participate in the surveillance of Black men to determine whether they might be Boston or Newport.

Advertisements for enslaved men and women who liberated themselves appeared in American newspapers just about every day in the era of the American Revolution.  The advertisements concerning Boston and Newport were not unique in their content or purpose.  What made them extraordinary was the geographic scope of the newspapers in which they appeared and the effort and expense undertaken by the enslavers Coit and Kinsman.  They marshalled the power of the press across a vast region in their attempt to return Boston and Newport to bondage.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1770 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (June 4, 1770).

The following BOOKS.”

Lathrop and Smith made a significant investment in their advertisement that ran in the June 4, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Divided into four narrow columns, it filled the space usually devoted to two of the three columns on the final page of the newspaper.  Overall, it comprised one-sixth of the content (two out of twelve columns) delivered to readers.  Listing just over 250 individual titles, it was a book catalog distribute via alternate means.  Lathrop and Smith could have just as easily arranged for handbills or broadsides to inform prospective customers of the assortment of books they sold at their store in Hartford.

That they stocked these books in a relatively small town did not mean, however, that their customers should expect to pay higher prices.  Lathrop and Smith proclaimed that they sold their books “at as low a rate as they are usually sold inBoston or New-York,” the major urban ports in the region.  Furthermore, they encouraged readers to spot special bargains, asking them to take note that “Those articles marked thus [*] are to be Sold for very little more than the Prime Cost.”  In other words, the local booksellers charged only a small markup on several volumes, including Van Swieten’s Commentaries on Boerhaave’s Aphorisms, Winslow’s Anatomy, Moral Tales, and Vicar of Wakefield.

Lathrop and Smith also aided prospective customers in finding titles of interest by separating them according to genre and inserting headers, such as “DIVINITY,” “LAW,” “PHYSIC, SURGERY, &c.,” “SCHOOL BOOKS,” “HISTORY,” and ‘MISCELLANY.”  Within each category, the books were alphabetized by author or title, with the exception of four titles appended to the books on divinity (though they were also alphabetized).  When it came to writing copy, Lathrop and Smith attempted to make their catalog accessible and easy to navigate.

In general, their advertisement was just as sophisticated as those published by their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  The Connecticut Courant ran much less advertising than newspapers in those port cities, but that did not necessarily mean that advertisers did not adopt the same methods and strategies for appealing to consumers.

February 12

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

Feb 12 - 2:12:1770 Connecticut Currant
Connecticut Courant (February 12, 1770).

“The business of supplying them with papers.”

William Stanton placed an advertisement in the February 12, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant to follow up on a “former Advertisement” that most recently appeared on January 22. In that previous notice, Stanton noted that he had “rode post for almost four years” and in that time many newspaper subscribers fell behind on paying him for his services. He requested that his clients settle accounts, but also expressed his interest in continuing in the business with some alterations to the current method of delivering their newspapers. Having devised a new plan, he placed a second advertisement to “further inform them of the method, proposed for the future.”

Stanton proposed riding from Litchfield to Hartford every week. The printers distributed new issues of the Connecticut Courant on Mondays. Stanton planned to collect them as soon as they were available and set off as quickly as possible, returning to Litchfield “on Tuesday of each week.” The masthead proclaimed that the Connecticut Courant contained “the freshest Advices Both Foreign and Domestick.” Stanton aimed to make those “freshest Advices” available to readers without delay. Rather than deliver the newspapers to subscribers, Stanton would deposit them in a shop near the courthouse for “gentlemen … from the several towns round the country” to collect at their convenience. “[C]onstant attendance will be given” at the shop, Stanton promised, for customers to retrieve their newspapers. For subscribers unable to make their way to Litchfield, Stanton proposed delivering the Connecticut Courant “by a special post … once a fortnight.”

For these services, Stanton charged eight shillings per year, “which is but two shillings more than the printers have of their customers in Hartford.” He considered this a bargain “so very favourable to the customers” that it “cannot fail of being agreeable.” In deploying such language, he encouraged readers to adopt his perspective that they did indeed get a good deal for the package of newspaper and delivery. He also revealed information that the printers did not publish in the Connecticut Courant, the cost of an annual subscription. Stanton’s advertisement provides noteworthy details about the mechanics of disseminating information in rural Connecticut on the eve of the American Revolution.