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.

January 29

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

Jan 29 - 1:29:1770 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (January 29, 1770).

“Any gentlemen … may depend upon being served as well as in Boston.”

Cotton Murray, “Taylor from BOSTON,” inserted a brief advertisement in the January 29, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant “to inform the PUBLIC” that he recently began serving clients in Hartford, though he had not opened his own shop. Instead, he “set up his Business at the Printing-Office, where he makes all sorts of Men’s CLOATHS.” Though an unusual location for a tailor, he pledged that “Any gentleman that please to favour him with their Custom, may depend upon being served as well as in Boston.”

In making that promise, Murray played on anxieties common among colonial consumers. Those in the largest cities looked to London and other major cities on the other side of the Atlantic, comparing the goods and services available in the two locales. Similarly, consumers in smaller cities and towns in the American colonies looked to Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia as centers of fashion and refinement. Yet artisans like Murray assured prospective customers in places like Hartford that their cities and towns need not have the advantage of size in order for consumers to benefit from the same services available in the larger port cities.

Murray exerted some authority in making that claim. After all, he had formerly resided and worked in Boston. He knew the quality of service customers received there and stood ready to transfer the experience to his new clientele in Hartford and the surrounding towns. He may have also expected that his origins, “from BOSTON,” gave his enterprise additional cachet among prospective customers, just as artisans in urban ports frequently proclaimed in their newspapers advertisements that they were “from London.” Doing so simultaneously introduced and promoted artisans by associating them with places considered more cosmopolitan than their new homes. That was the primary appeal to prospective customers Murray made in his advertisement. He presented his case implicitly at the beginning of his notice, stating he was “from BOSTON,” and explicitly at the conclusion to aid readers in making the connection that if they became clients they could “depend upon being served as well” as in the largest city in New England.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 25, 1769).

“He hereby offers, and assures a FREE PARDON.”

In late May 1769 Major General Alexander Mackay issued a pardon to “Soldiers who have deserted from His Majesty’s Troops quartered” in Boston, provided that they returned and surrendered by the last day of June. It was not, however, a blanket pardon; Mackay did exclude nearly twenty deserters who had committed other crimes. Instead of the promise of a pardon, he offered a reward for “apprehending and securing them in any of the public Goals [jails].” To get the word out about the pardons (and the rewards for the excluded soldiers), Mackay had one of his officers, “C. FORDYCE, Major of the Brigade,” insert notices in the public prints.

Dated May 23, the notice first appeared in the Boston Chronicle and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (published on the same broadsheet and distributed with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) on May 25. Within a week, the same notice ran in all of the newspapers published in Boston, appearing in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (published in the same broadsheet and distributed with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) at the first opportunity on May 29.

Over the next several weeks, publication of the notice concerning Mackay’s pardon radiated out from Boston. It next appeared in the Essex Gazette on May 30 and then the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette on June 2. The notice soon found its way into both newspapers published in Rhode Island, running in the Providence Gazette on June 3 and in the Newport Mercury on June 5. A week later, the same notice appeared in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant. With the exception of the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven, the notice about the pardon ran in every newspaper in New England. (Copies of the Connecticut Journal for June 9 and 23 were not available for consultation. The notice may have appeared in one or both of those issues of the newspaper published at the furthest distance from Boston.)

At the same time that more newspapers featured the notice, most continued to include it in subsequent editions. It ran in every issue of the Boston Chronicle, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Connecticut Courant, the Essex Gazette, the New-London Gazette, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette from the time of first insertion through the end of June. It appeared in most issues of the Boston Post-Boy and the New-Hampshire Gazette, though it quickly disappeared from the Boston Evening-Post after only two insertions. In total, the notice ran at least fifty-one times in at least eleven newspapers published in New England over the course of five weeks. It made sense to print the notice far and wide considering that deserters were likely to leave Boston to evade capture.

Although information about the pardon could have been considered news, in each instance the notice appeared among the advertisements in every newspaper that carried it. Purveyors of consumer goods and services sometimes published advertisements in multiple newspapers in their city, but a coordinated advertising campaign of this magnitude was extraordinary in 1769. Members of the book trade sometimes inserted subscription notices among the advertisements in as many newspapers as possible, but even their efforts did not usually match the campaign created by Fordyce. He harnessed the power of the press to spread news of the pardons throughout New England, depending on both distribution networks and subsequent word of mouth to inform deserters that they would receive forgiveness if they only returned to their posts.

February 13

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

Connecticut Courant (February 13, 1769).

“Said Atherton makes shears, in a new invented manner.”

When Cornelius Atherton advertised that he “makes and repairs fuller’s SHEARS” in the February 13, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Courant, he balanced some of the most familiar appeals to prospective customers with an innovative marketing strategy. Throughout the colonies, artisans emphasized quality and price in their advertising. Atherton was no different. He stated that he performed his work “in the best manner … at a reasonable rate.”

A nota bene that accounted for half of the advertisement, however, made a unique appeal to consumers: technological innovation. “Said Atherton makes shears, in a new invented manner, which is of the greatest advantage to the buyer, as one of the blades is put on with a screw, so that it can be taken off at any time to be ground, without putting the shears out of their proper order.” Atherton asserted that his product should be attractive to prospective customers because improvements to the design and construction facilitated repairs and maintenance.

Given that he advertised “fuller’s SHEARS,” Atherton addressed a relatively narrow audience of buyers. Fullers processed cloth, especially woolens, to various mechanical processes in order to clean and thicken it. Experienced fullers certainly would have been familiar with the challenges presented by working with the standard equipment of their trade. Atherton did not need to elaborate on the shortcomings of other shears; instead, he underscored the “new invented” design that bestowed “the greatest advantage” to those who used his shears. His customers would experience greater efficiency due to the convenience of being able to remove the blades to sharpen them when necessary.

In the late nineteenth century and beyond, this sort of advertisement would have more likely appeared in a trade publication intended for those who practiced similar occupations or those who supplied them with the necessary equipment. Advertising media was not yet differentiated in that manner in the eighteenth century, so Atherton’s notice ran among the various kinds of advertisements that general readers encountered whenever they perused colonial newspapers. Not all readers would have understood the technical details, but Atherton expected that those details would indeed make a difference to fullers and others who had occasion to use the shears that he produced.

December 19

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

Connecticut Courant (December 19, 1768).

“SAMUEL BROOME, and Co. have the following GOODS … at their Store in NEW-YORK.”

By the time it made its final appearance in the December 19, 1768, edition, regular readers of Hartford’s Connecticut Courant would have been quite familiar with Samuel Broome and Company’s lengthy advertisement for an assortment of goods available at their store in New York. Over the past five months the advertisement had appeared frequently, replicating its publication schedule in New Haven’s Connecticut Journal.

Broome and Company’s first inserted their advertisement in the August 1 edition of the Connecticut Courant. It then ran in alternating issues, appearing again on August 15 and 29, September 12 and 26, October 10 and 24, November 7 and 21, and December 5 and 19. It did not run on August 8 and 22, September 5 and 19, October 3, 17, and 31, November 14 and 28, and December 12. I have assumed that this advertisement did run on August 15, but not on October 31. Extant copies of those issues were not available to consult, but this would match the schedule throughout the five months the advertisement appeared in the Connecticut Courant. Furthermore, a similar schedule in the Connecticut Journal strongly suggests that Broome and Company’s advertisement did indeed consistently run in alternating issues for the final five months of 1768.

This advertising campaign was ambitious and probably expensive, not just for its frequency but also due to the length of the advertisement. It filled the better part of two out of three columns in the Connecticut Courant, dominating any page on which appeared. Similarly, it filled an entire column in the Connecticut Journal, a newspaper that featured only two columns per page. Despite its length, Broome and Company indicated that they also sold “many other articles too tedious to mention.”

Broome and Company also placed the same advertisement in the New-York Journal. Most merchants and shopkeepers in New York opted to advertise in one or more of the newspapers printed in that city, trusting the extensive circulation of those newspapers to distribute their commercial notices to towns and villages far beyond the city. Broome and Company took a more calculated approach to cultivating new customers and enlarging their share of the market. Their persistent advertising in newspaper published in Hartford and New Haven likely helped to establish greater name recognition on a regional level.

November 21

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

Nov 21 - 11:21:1768 Connecticut Courant
Supplement to the Connecticut Courant (November 21, 1768).

“Catalogue of BOOKS, just imported from LONDON.”

For three weeks in November 1768 the partnership of Lathrop and Smith placed a full-page advertisement in the Connecticut Courant. It first appeared in the November 7 issue and again on November 14 and 21. Although Lathrop and Smith described themselves as “Apothecaries in Hartford,” they published a “Catalogue of BOOKS, just imported from LONDON” in their advertisement, listing approximately 250 titles available at their shop. To help prospective customers identify books of particular interest, they organized them by genre: Divinity, Law, Physick, School Books, History, and Miscellany.

While not unknown in the late colonial period, full-page advertisements were rare. They merited attention due to their size and the expense incurred by the advertisers. Given that the standard issue of most newspapers consisted of four pages created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and folding it in half, full-page advertisements dominated any issue in which they appeared, accounting for one-quarter of the content. That was the case the first two times Lathrop and Smith published their book catalog in the Connecticut Courant. For its third and final insertion it comprised the second page of a half sheet supplement devoted entirely to advertisements. That supplement brought the number of pages distributed to subscribers up to six for the week. Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement still accounted for a significant proportion of content placed before readers. Its size may have prompted the printers to resort to a supplement in order to make room for other content.

In addition to filling all three columns, the first insertion also featured a nota bene printed in the right margin. “N.B. Said Lathrop & Smith, have for Sale as usual,” it advised, “A great Variety of little Cheap Books for Children.—A Variety of Tragedies, Comedies, Operas, &c.—Writing Paper, Dutch Quills, Scales & Dividers, A Universal Assortment of Medicines and Painters Colours.—Choice Bohea Tea, Chocolate, Coffee, Spices, Loafsugar, Indico, &c. &c. &c.” The nota bene may have also appeared in the subsequent insertions, but decisions about preservation and digitization of the original issues made at various points since they first circulated in colonial America may have hidden the nota bene from view.

Separate issues of the Connecticut Courant have been bound into a single volume. As a result, the original fold of the newspaper has been incorporated into the binding. This means that the inside margins are partially or completely obscured. Recall that the nota bene for Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement appeared in the right margin. That is the outside margin for odd-numbered pages, but the inside margin for even-numbered pages. The advertisement appeared on the third page when it was first published on November 7, making the nota bene quite visible, even in the volume of newspapers bound together. On November 14, however, it appeared on the fourth page. On November 21, it appeared on the second page of the supplement. In both instances the nota bene, if it remained part of the advertisement, became part of the inner margin, the portion of the page given over to binding issues together. It is impossible to tell from the photographs that have been digitized if the nota bene survived into subsequent insertions. Examination of the originals might reveal traces or confirm that it disappeared.

As the image for this advertisement makes clear, working with surrogate sources – whether microfilm or digitized images – sometimes has its limitations. Questions that cannot be answered from such sources might be addressed with more certainty when examining originals. If the nota bene was indeed discontinued after the first insertion, that raises interesting questions about the reasons. Did Lathrop and Smith request its removal? Or did the printers choose to eliminate it? What might this instance tell us about the consultation that took place between printers who produced newspapers and advertisers who paid to have their notices included in them?