October 18

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

Connecticut Journal (October 18, 1771).

“Much cheaper to the buyer than can be purchased at Retail in Boston or New-York.”

Several purveyors of goods inserted advertisements in the October 18, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Each of them made some sort of appeal to price in their attempts to entice consumers into acquiring goods from their shops.  Levi Ives of Derby, for instance, advised readers that he stocked a “good Assortment of GOODS, which he will sell on very moderate Terms.”  Most advertisers made even bolder claims about their price.

That was the case for John Sherman.  He “acquaint[ed] the PUBLIC” that he had just received a “fresh supply of GOODS … which he intends to sell at the very lowest advance.”  Unlike the “moderate Terms” offered by Ives, this pledge implicitly suggested to prospective customers that they would not find better bargains in the vicinity.  The partnership of Morgan and Shipman made a similar statement, declaring that they were “determined to sell as cheap as any Person in Town.”  They matched the prices set by Sherman and other competitors in New Haven.

The estate of Stephen Whitehead Hubbard did not limit their comparison to the prices set by local merchants and shopkeepers.  That advertisement commenced with a pronouncement that the “English and India GOODS” would be sold “at PRIME COST.”  In a nota bene, the executors proclaimed that because the goods “were bought on the best Terms by Wholesale, consequently [they] will be afforded much cheaper to the buyer than can be purchased at Retail in Boston or New-York.”  The estate acknowledged that it operated within a regional marketplace in which consumers and retailers both looked to major ports for the best deals.

Price was one of the most common marketing appeals made in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but advertisers devised a variety of means of deploying the strategy.  Sometimes they simply promoted reasonable prices, but other times they implicitly or explicitly made comparisons to local and regional competitors as they sought to convince consumers to visit their shops instead of others.

September 13

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

Connecticut Journal (September 13, 1771).

“STAGE-COACH … to pass thro’ this Coolony.”

Nicholas Brown aimed to improve the infrastructure that connected the major towns in New England in the early 1770s, establishing his own stagecoach service between Hartford and New Haven to supplement other routes already in existence.  In the summer of 1771, for instance, John Stavers placed advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the New-Hampshire Gazette to promote “Stage-Coach, Number One” that ran between Boston and Portsmouth.  Stavers sought to ward off competition from a competitor who had only recently established service along the same route.

Brown, on the other hand, added a new route in hopes of better connecting the region.  To that end, he acquired “an elegant, and convenient Stage Coach and four Horses” to cover a route between Hartford and New Haven once a week. He anticipated that another operator would soon set up service from Hartford to Boston, allowing “Gentlemen from the Southern Provinces” to pass through Connecticut on their way to Boston rather than “go by Water from New-York to Providence” and then continue overland to Boston.  New routes meant more options for transporting passengers and freight.

In an advertisement in the September 13, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal, Brown framed his endeavor as an investment opportunity and a service that merited the support of local benefactors.  He mentioned “a low and moderate Price,” but did not specify which days his stagecoach ran between Hartford and New Haven or where to meet it in either town.  Instead, he focused primarily on the “great Expence” he already incurred, requesting that “all Gentlemen disposed to countenance the Undertaking” would leave their names and “such Sum … as their Generosity shall dictate” at the printing office.  In addition to accepting donations to make stagecoach service between Hartford and New Haven viable, Brown also invited “any Gentleman … disposed to share with him the Loss or Gain of the Undertaking” to join him as partners.  That first advertisement alerted prospective customers to a new “STAGE-COACH” route, but the proprietor also used it as a prospectus for gaining other kinds of support for his new enterprise.

September 6

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

Connecticut Journal (September 6, 1771).

Shoes sold cheap.”

Joseph Smith and Jacob Thompson competed for customers.  Both placed advertisements in the September 6, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal to promote the shoes they made and sold in New Haven.  Smith’s notice appeared first, informing prospective customers that “he carries on the Business of shoemaking or cordwaining, in all its Branches” at his shop located at “the Green Boot and Shoe.”  He used “good Materials” and hired “the best of Workmen.”  In case that was not enough to attract the attention of local consumers, Smith also described a limited-time offer for those ready to pay (or barter for “Country Produce”) immediately rather than purchase their shoes and boots on credit.  Until September 20, he would “work 10 per cent. cheaper than the booking price.”  Customers could take advantage of this bargain, but only if they acted quickly.

Thompson’s advertisement ran immediately below Smith’s notice.  He declared that he “continues to carry on the Business of Shoe-making as usual” and already had “a quantity of ready made Shoes” in stock.  Rather than allow Smith to get the upper hand by setting lower prices, Thompson made an offer of his own.  For customers prepared to pay (or, again, barter) rather than buy on credit, he sold his shoes “10 per cent cheaper than Joseph Smith.”  This offer also concluded on September 20.  Only on rare occasions did advertisers mention competitors by name in eighteenth-century America, making Thompson’s notice exceptional.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently proclaimed that they had the lowest prices in town (or sometimes the entire colony).  Some offered to match the prices of their competitors, but they usually did not seek to undercut other purveyors of goods and services as blatantly as Thompson attempted to do with Smith.

The publication history of these advertisements added another layer to the competition.  Smith first inserted his notice in the Connecticut Journal on August 23, giving prospective customers four weeks to respond to his offer.  The following week, Thompson placed his advertisement as a response, but the two notices appeared on different pages.  On September 6, the printers decided to place the two advertisements together and added a headline that trumpeted, “Shoes sold cheap.” Neither Smith nor Thompson had previously included that headline in their advertisements.  A line separated it from Smith’s advertisement, making clear that the headline was an addition rather than part of either notice.  Why did the printers intervene?  Were they having some fun with the competition between two local shoemakers?  Whatever their intention, the new headline enhanced the advertisements, calling greater attention to them and benefitting consumers with cash (or country produce) on hand to respond to the limited-time offer.

August 2

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal (August 2, 1771).

“Run-away … a Molatto Fellow named BEN.”

On July 20, 1771, Ben, an enslaved man, liberated himself from Isaac Woodruff of Waterbury, Connecticut.  Two days later, Woodruff penned a runaway notice to appear in the Connecticut Journal and submitted it to the printing office operated by Thomas Green and Samuel Green in New Haven.  The advertisement appeared in the next issue, published on July 26, and then again in the next two issues on August 2 and 9.  By the time the advertisement first ran, Ben had eluded Woodruff for nearly a week.  That may have been enough time for Ben to put considerable distance between himself and the man who intended to re-enslave, especially if he managed to find work aboard a ship departing for a faraway port.  Woodruff suspected that might be the case, stating that Ben “has been used to the Sea, and tis supposed he will endeavour to get on board some Vessel as soon as possible.”

Woodruff solicited the aid of readers of the Connecticut Journal, encouraging them to engage in surveillance of young Black men in order to identify “a Molatto Fellow … of a Copper Complexion, about 17 Years of Age” with “a black bushy Head of Hair.”  Woodruff also noted that Ben “speaks good English and is addicted to swearing” to aid readers in determining if any of the Black men they encountered might be the fugitive from enslavement.  To encourage their collusion in the endeavor, he offered a reward for “Any Person that shall take up said Fellow, and return him to his Master or give notice where he is.”

In publishing the advertisement, Woodruff embarked on what he hoped would become a community effort to return Ben to bondage.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers, were already complicit, providing Woodruff space in their newspaper and accepting payment for the advertisement.  They ran the notice on three occasions, but then continued to collude with other enslavers.  The first item on the first page of the August 16 edition, the first published after the last appearance of Woodruff’s advertisement offering a reward for the capture and return of Ben, was an advertisement about “a Negro man slave named BOSTON” who, like Ben, had liberated himself.  The Greens were not unique when it came to publishing such advertisements in their newspaper.  Printers from New England to Georgia generated revenues from notices about enslaved people.  In the process, they played a significant role in the perpetuation of slavery during the era of the American Revolution.

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.