July 5

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

Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy (July 5, 1771).

“William M’Crackan … hath to dispose of a general assortment of East-India and English Goods.”

When subscribers read the July 5, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, they immediately encountered an advertisement placed by William McCrackan on the first page.  Advertisements could appear anywhere in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal, filled most of the first page with news from Paris and London, reprinted from the July 1 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  That coverage continued on the second page and onto the third.  The Greens then inserted news from Salem, Hartford, and Boston before devoting half a column to local events in New Haven.  Advertisements accounted for half of the third page.  The final page consisted entirely of news from Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, and New York, all of the items reprinted from other newspapers.  Except for that half column of local news, McCrackan’s advertisement and the other notices comprised the only original content in the issue.

This configuration of news and advertising deviated from the format usually preferred by the Greens.  They tended to place news on the first pages and reserve the final pages for advertising.  Some of their counterparts in other cities and towns did the same, but others rarely did so.  The larger the venture, the more likely advertisements appeared on the front page.  Hugh Gaine, for instance, regularly filled the first and final pages of the New-York Gazette with advertising and ran the news on the second and third pages.  Such was the case for the items from Paris and London in his July 1 edition that the Greens reprinted on July 5.  The process for producing newspapers explains the different strategies.  Printers created four-page issues by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  With far more advertising in the New-York Gazette than the Connecticut Journal, Gaine got an early start on the first and fourth pages by printing advertisements, most of them already set in type because they repeated from previous issues.  That meant breaking news ran on the second and third pages, the last part of the newspaper that went to press.  A busy port, New York was much more of a communications hub than New Haven.  Gaine ran news that arrived on vessels from throughout the British Atlantic world, including the news from Paris and London delivered on “the DUKE OF CUMBERLAND Packet, Capt.MARSHAM, in 6 Weeks and 4 Days from FALMOUTH.”  The Greens in New Haven rarely received news from Europe or the Caribbean that had not already arrived in New York, Boston, and other major ports.  They relied on reprinting news that first ran in other newspapers.  A different means of compiling content resulted in a different distribution of news and advertising in most issues compared to the New-York Gazette and other newspapers published in the largest cities.  On occasion, however, the Greens experimented with placing advertisements on the first page.  That did not look strange to eighteenth-century readers because they did not necessarily expect to find the most significant news immediately below the masthead on the first page.

June 14

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

Connecticut Journal (June 14, 1771).

“Town and Country Shopkeepers may supply themselves as cheap as in New York or Boston.”

In an advertisement that filled an entire column and overflowed into the next, John Morton and James Morton informed readers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy that they carried “all Sorts of English and India Goods.”  To entice prospective customers, the Mortons listed dozens of items, including “Womans White Silk Gloves,” “Mens worsted Hose,” and textiles in many colors and designs. Choices for consumers and retailers alike abounded at the shop; customers made selections among “An Assortment of Writing Paper,” “Looking-Glasses of different Sizes,” “A good Assortment of Ribbons,” “Pins of different Sorts,” and “A good Assortment of Fans.”  Despite the length of the advertisement, it only hinted at the variety of goods offered by the Mortons.

The merchants stocked this inventory at two shops, one in New Haven “at Mr. Richard Woodhull’s, which is the Corner House opposite the North-East Front of White-Haven Meeting-House” and the other in New York “in Queen-Street, near the Fly-Market.”  They intended their advertisement in the Connecticut Journal primarily for residents of New Haven and nearby towns, but noted their original location in New York for the convenience of other customers.  The Mortons underscored that purchasing goods at their shop in New Haven was in no way inferior to acquiring merchandise in any of the major urban ports.  They imported their wares “in the last Vessels from London and Bristol, via New York,” but the additional step in transporting them to New Haven did not result in higher prices.  Customers, especially “Town and Country Shopkeepers,” could “supply themselves as cheap as in New York or Boston.”  The Mortons declared that they would not be undersold by their competitors.  In addition, they offered the same range of choices as merchants in larger port cities.  The Mortons proclaimed “they are as well laid in as any that comes to America.”

The Mortons’ advertisement continued in a second column of the Connecticut Journal (June 14, 1771).

Compared to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal, the Connecticut Gazette carried significantly less advertising for imported goods.  That did not mean, however, that consumer culture in New Haven and other towns in Connecticut was any less vibrant than in New York, Boston, and other urban centers.  The Mortons suggested to both shopkeepers and consumers that they had access to the same merchandise available at their store in New York … and at the same prices.  The consumer revolution did not occur only in cities.  The Mortons did their part in making it possible for prospective customers in the countryside to acquire a vast array of goods that rivaled the choices they offered to shoppers in New York.

May 17

Who was the subject of an advertisements published in an colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal (May 17, 1771).

“RUN away … a Negro Man named ABEL.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, had more content than would fit in a standard four-page issue on May 17, 1771, but not so much to justify a half sheet supplement.  To make room for everything they wished to squeeze into the issue, the Greens resorted to a method frequently deployed by eighteenth-century compositors.  They placed advertisements in the margins.

Doing so required rotating the type so it ran perpendicular to the rest of the contents of the newspaper.  That did not, however, require them to set new type for the advertisements that appeared in the margins.  Instead, they adapted notices that appeared in the previous issue, dividing them into shorter columns.  For instance, Gideon Platt, Jr., placed an advertisement describing Abel, an enslaved man who liberated himself, and offering a reward for his capture and return.  In the May 10 edition, that notice filled fifteen lines in a single column.  In the May 17 edition, on the other hand, the Greens divided Platt’s advertisement into five columns of three lines each in order to make them fit in the left margin on the second page.  Two other advertisements offering rewards for enslaved men who liberated themselves ran in the right margin on the third page.  They accounted for twenty-six lines in the previous issue, but by placing the town and date on the same line as John Treat’s name, the Greens managed to create five columns of five lines each without making significant interventions into type already set.

Rather than diminish the effectiveness of those advertisements, this strategy likely resulted in greater visibility.  The unique format challenged readers to discover what was so noteworthy that it merited inclusion in the margins rather than waiting until the next edition.  The Greens also made those advertisements easily accessible, placing them in the outer margins rather than along the inner fold of the newspaper.  Even as Abel, Dover, and Glasgow, the men described in the advertisements attempted to elude attention, the unique placement of the notices in the margins of the Connecticut Journal encouraged greater scrutiny and familiarity with their descriptions.

May 10

Who were the subjects of advertisements in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy (May 10, 1771).

“RUN away last Tuesday Night, a Negro Man named GLASGOW.”

“RUN away last Tuesday Night, a Negro Man named ABEL.”

Sometime during the night of May 7, 1771, Glasgow, “a Negro Man,” made his escape from his enslaver, John Treat of Milford, Connecticut.  Three days later, Treat published an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  He provided a description that included Glasgow’s age, height, and clothing.  Treat also offered a reward for “Who ever shall take up and return said Negro.”  Like so many other enslavers, Treat proclaimed that Glasgow had “RUNaway.”  From Glasgow’s perspective, no doubt, he had instead liberated himself.

Glasgow was not the only enslaved man in Milford who seized his liberty that night.  According to Gideon Platt, Jr., Abel also escaped from bondage on May 7.  Platt also resorted to placing an advertisement in hopes that other colonists would take note of Black men they encountered, scrutinize them to determine whether they matched the description in the newspaper, and, if they spotted Abel, “take up said Negro, and return him to [Platt], or send Word so that he may have him again.”  Platt encouraged readers to attend to age and physical characteristics, but he also reported that Abel “talks good English.”  Linguistic ability as well as appearance could help identify this fugitive from enslavement.

Platt’s advertisement describing Abel appeared immediately below Treat’s advertisement offering a reward for the capture and return of Glasgow in the May 10 edition of the Connecticut Journal.  While not definitive evidence, that Abel and Glasgow happened to depart on the same evening suggests that they may have worked together in seeking freedom, believing that cooperation increased their chances of outsmarting their enslavers.  If they were initially unaware of this coincidence when separately submitting their notices to the printing office, Platt and Treat almost certainly recognized the possibility when they saw their advertisements in the newspaper.

Just as both enslavers told a story filtered through their own perspectives when they stated that Abel and Glasgow had “RUN away,” they likely did not present an account of events that accurately related all of the details or gave Abel and Glasgow credit for coordinating their escape.  Though it was not their intention, Platt and Treat published short narratives that testified to the agency and perseverance exhibited by Abel and Glasgow.  Still, those narratives were incomplete and did not reveal the experiences of the enslaved men as well as if they had recorded their own stories.

April 28

Who were the subjects of advertisements in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Connecticut Journal (April 26, 1771).

“RUN-AWAY … a Negro Man named CUFF … Three Dollars Reward.”

“TO BE SOLD, A Negro Man … expert at all husbandry Business.”

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project demonstrates the ubiquity of advertisements about enslaved people in newspapers published throughout the colonies, testifying to the presence of slavery in everyday life from New Hampshire to Georgia.  Although historians have long been aware of the extent of slavery in northern colonies and states from the seventeenth century through the early nineteenth century, the general public, including students, largely conceives of slavery as confined to southern colonies and states.  From experience incorporating the Slavery Adverts 250 Project into early American history courses for college students, I have witnessed countless expressions of surprise that so many advertisements ran in newspapers published in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania and that the subjects of those advertisements represented only a small fraction of the enslaved men, women, and children in those places.

Even in New England, every newspaper published in the late 1760s and the early 1770s disseminated such advertisements, generating revenues that made those publications viable enterprises.  During the period of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution, the same newspapers that spread the word about abuses perpetrated by British soldiers quartered in the colonies and Parliament scheming on the other side of the Atlantic also carried advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children.  The vast majority of those advertisements fell into two main categories:  some presented enslaved people for sale and others described enslaved people who liberated themselves and offered rewards for their capture and return.  Most of these advertisements ran in newspapers published in Boston, the largest port city in New England, but they also appeared in newspapers printed in towns in Connecticut, New-Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

For instance, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy published advertisements about enslaved people, though not with the same frequency or in the same numbers as Boston’s newspapers.  In general, the Connecticut Journal featured far less advertising of all sorts than its counterparts in larger towns, but published the same kinds of notices, including advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, and advertisements about enslaved people.  The April 26, 1771, edition featured two advertisements about enslaved men.  An anonymous advertiser described an unnamed man in his mid-twenties as “expert at all husbandry Business, healthy, spry and ingenious.”  Interested parties could purchase the young man, but they needed to “Enquire of the Printers” for more information.  In such cases, printers facilitated sales in their newspapers and acted as brokers beyond the printed page.  In the other advertisement, Edward Hamlin of Middletown offered a reward for capturing Cuff, who had “RUN-AWAY” earlier in April.  That fugitive seeking freedom was also in his mid-twenties.  He spoke “good English” and played the fiddle.  Hamlin described Cuff’s clothing and “narrow Face” to aid readers in identifying him.  The printers collaborated in turning their press into an instrument of surveillance targeting all Black men that readers encountered.

These two advertisements in the Connecticut Journal were representative of the thousands of advertisements about enslaved people disseminated via colonial newspapers every year in the era of the American Revolution, a substantial number of them published in New England.  Slavery in those northern colonies has largely disappeared from public memory, but it should not be overlooked or forgotten.  Only in grappling with this difficult history can we tell a more complete story of America’s past that will allow us to better address the challenges we face in the present.

January 4

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

Connecticut Journal (January 4, 1770).

“Stop the Felons!”

Although colonial newspapers carried stories about a variety of events, much of the crime reporting appeared among the advertisements.  Rather than printers, editors, and others affiliated with newspapers writing those accounts or selecting them to reprint from publication to another, the victims of crimes composed the narratives and paid to insert them in the public prints.  This was especially true in instances of theft.

Consider a burglary that took place in late December in 1770.  Joseph Hopkins, a goldsmith, placed an advertisement in the January 4, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal.  The dramatic headline proclaimed, “Stop the Felons!”  Hopkins explained that his shop “was broke up” sometime during the night of December 27.  The “Felons” stole “sundry Pair of Stone Ear Rings, one Pair Stone Buttons, one Pair Gold [Buttons], and one Gold Ring.”  The thieves also took some cash and “likely some other Articles of Goldsmith’s Ware.”  Hopkins identified a suspect, Richard Steele, though he did not venture a guess about Steele’s partner.  The goldsmith imagined that Steele was the culprit because he had been “lately punished for breaking open Mr. Marks’s House in Derby.”  According to Hopkins, Steele bore the marks of having been punished for that crime and possibly others.  He had “both Ears crop’d” in addition to being “branded twice in the Forehead.”  The goldsmith offered a reward for apprehending either Steele or his accomplice.

The same day that Hopkins advertisement first ran in the Connecticut Journal, another advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette also reported a crime.  “THIEVES,” the headline alerted readers, before listing a variety of items stolen from Isaac Hill’s shop in Dover on December 14.  Hill did not name any suspects, but he did offer a reward to “Whoever will discover” them “so that they may be brought to Justice.”  Not every issue of every colonial newspaper carried similar advertisements, but they were so common that they did not seem out of place when readers encountered them.  The victims of crimes, especially thefts, played an important role in producing newspaper coverage.  As a result, their advertisements often reported news, supplementing the articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in newspapers.

August 24

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

Aug 24 - 8:24:1770 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (August 24, 1770).

Send the Subscription Papers, to the Printing Office.”

An advertisement for A Treatise on Regeneration by Peter Van Mastricht ran in the August 24, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Journal.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green announced that the book was “In the Press, and a few Days will be published.”  The Greens had multiple audiences in mind when they composed their advertisement.  They hoped to attract new customers, but they also addressed existing customers as well as associates who collected subscriptions on their behalf.  A manicule drew attention to a short note at the conclusion of the advertisement: “Those Gentlemen that took in Subscriptions for printing the above Piece, are desired to send the Subscription Papers, to the Printing Office, in New Haven, the first Opportunity.”

Publishing by subscription, a popular practice prior to the American Revolution, meant taking orders in advance of printing a proposed book.  This allowed printers to gauge interest so they could determine if sufficient demand existed to merit moving forward with the project.  If so, this also gave them a good sense of how many copies to print in order to meet demand and have a small surplus for additional customers, but not so many that any that did not sell caused the venture to be a financial failure rather than success.  Printers did not always take advance orders themselves.  Instead, they distributed subscription papers to networks of associates who collected names on their behalf.  Those subscription papers included an overview of the proposed book, the conditions, an enumerated list of what subscribers could expect in terms of the material qualities of the publication, and space for subscribers to sign their names.  Prospective subscribers could also see which of their friends and neighbors had already subscribed.

When the Greens called on the “Gentlemen that took in Subscriptions” to return their subscription papers, they did so because they needed to determine a complete count of how many customers had already committed to purchasing Van Mastricht’s Treatise on Regeneration.  They could then print an appropriate number of copies to fulfill the subscriptions and still have a reasonable number for new customers.

March 2

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

Mar 2 - 3:2:1770 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 2, 1770).

“For SALE at William Neilson’s Store.”

In addition to advertising his wares in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, and the New-York Journal, William Neilson also inserted a notice in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Yesterday I examined the iteration of the advertisement that appeared in the March 1, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, focusing on the nota bene about his prices remaining the same as before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  The version that ran in the Connecticut Journal listed many of the same goods, but did not deploy copy identical to the advertisement in the New-York Journal.  Most significantly, it did not include the nota bene about prices.  Why not?

After further investigation, I discovered that the nota bene was not part of the advertisement when it first appeared in any of newspapers printed in New York.  It first ran in the February 22, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal without the additional note offering assurances that Neilson did not take advantage of the nonimportation agreement to engage in price gouging.  The advertisement did not appear in the new issues of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, published four days later.  Instead, it made its next appearance in the March 1 edition of the New-York Journal, now with the nota bene.  On March 5 the advertisement – identical copy, including the nota bene – did appear in the other two New York newspapers.  The staggered appearance of the advertisements and the addition of the nota bene suggest that Neilson felt some urgency to inform prospective customers and the rest of the community that he did not jack up his prices.  Perhaps he had heard rumors or been confronted directly, prompting him to advertise more widely than he originally intended.  By the time he made that determination, it may have been too late to update the copy he sent to the Connecticut Journal.

Rather than merely noting a benefit to his customers, the nota bene that eventually appeared at the conclusion of Neilson’s advertisements may very well have been an exercise in reputation management.  Rarely did merchants and shopkeepers update their advertisements in the 1760s and 1770s.  They usually submitted copy that ran for weeks or even months.  Yet Neilson made an addition to his advertisement and then published the revised version in its entirety in two more newspapers, increasing the funds he expended on advertising.  If his reputation was at stake, he may have considered doing so a necessity well worth the additional expense.

October 20

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

Oct 20 - 10:20:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (October 20, 1769).

Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.”

In the late 1760s, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy carried significantly less advertising than its counterparts printed in the largest port cities. Newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia often overflowed with advertising, sometimes prompting printers to issue supplements in order to include all of the paid notices. The Connecticut Journal, on the other hand, rarely had enough advertising to fill an entire page.

On occasion, however, printers Thomas Green and Samuel Green found themselves with too many advertisements to fit in the standard issue. That was the case during the week of October 20, 1769. Advertisements comprised the entire final page of the newspaper’s standard four-page issue. The Greens had more advertisements, but they opted not to distribute a supplement with the issue. Instead, they inserted a note at the bottom of the third page: “(The new Advertisements are in the last Page. Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.)” A headline on the final page proclaimed, “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” (not unlike the headline Peter Timothy inserted in the South-Carolina Gazette two days earlier), though not every notice that appeared below it ran for the first time in the October 20 edition. The Greens alerted readers to the presence of new content, an important service considering that most advertisements usually ran for several weeks, but the “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” headline did not provide much assistance in navigating the notices on the final page.

The note that “Advertisements omitted, will be in our next” invited readers to peruse the next issue of the Connecticut Journal, but it also served another practical purpose for the printers. Rather than correspond with each advertiser whose notice did not appear in that issue, the Greens issued a blanket statement to reassure their clients that their advertisements had not been overlooked or forgotten. This note also encouraged prospective advertisers to consider placing their own paid notices in the Connecticut Journal or else find themselves at a disadvantage to their competitors who already submitted so many advertisements that the Greens did not have space to feature all of them. Many colonial printers depended on revenue generated by advertising to make publishing newspapers viable enterprises. Brief notices like this one from the Connecticut Journal demonstrate some of the practices adopted by printers in managing that aspect of the newspaper business.

October 6

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

Oct 6 - 10:6:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (October 6, 1769).

Just Re-printed, and to be sold by T. & S. GREEN … The Connecticut Colony LAW-BOOK.”

Compared to many other colonial newspapers, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy carried relatively few advertisements. Thomas Green and Samuel Green founded the publication in 1767. Two years later, advertising remained sparse, comprising less space than in many other newspapers. In that regard, the Connecticut Journal was not much different than other newspapers published in smaller towns in the late colonial era. While newspapers in the busiest urban ports – Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia – overflowed with advertising and even those in places like Portsmouth, Providence, and Savannah usually filled at least an entire page with advertising, the Connecticut Journal, the Essex Gazette, and the New-London Gazette regularly devoted less space to advertising than their counterparts in larger cities and towns.

Consider the October 6, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Only ten advertisements appeared in that issue, all of them on the final page. They did not even fill that page. Of the three columns, two consisted of advertising. One short advertisement ran at the bottom of the first column. Revenues from advertising, rather than subscriptions, often made publishing newspapers viable business ventures for colonial printers. The Greens, however, did not cultivate the same culture of advertising in the Connecticut Journal that emerged in other publications. On the other had, they did pursue a strategy that put their business practices in line with those of other printers: they took advantage of their access to the press to promote their own wares. Newspaper printers frequently inserted one or more advertisements for books, pamphlets, blanks, and other merchandise, simultaneously seeking to stimulate demand for other segments of their operations and attempting to convince prospective advertisers of the advantages of advertising. Of the ten advertisements in the October 6 issue, two announced that the Greens sold books at their printing office. Not all of the advertisements in that issue were paid notices that generated revenues for the Connecticut Journal; the Greens used that space to bolster their business in other ways. With relatively few advertisements submitted by others, they resorted to publishing their own.