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.

September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (September 8, 1769).

“A Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.”

In the late 1760s, the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven by Thomas Green and Samuel Green, carried significantly less advertisements that most newspapers printed elsewhere in the colonies. Such was the case for some of the newspapers from smaller towns. For instance, the September 8, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal contained only four advertisements. The printers placed two of those advertisements themselves. In one, they announced “A Plan of Exercise, fro the Militia of the Colony of Connecticut” for sale at their printing office. In the other, they promoted two tracts concerning religion, one that would be available soon and the other already in stock.

The other two advertisements merit particular notice. Both offered enslaved people for sale. One described “a healthy, strong NEGRO FELLOW, 22 or 23 Years old” who had “had the Small-Pox” and thus was not at risk of contracting it again. The other listed “a likely Negro Wench, aged about 23 Years” and also “a Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.” Nicholas Street, the colonist who held them in bondage, described the woman as “strong and healthy,” not unlike the “NEGRO FELLOW” in the other advertisement, and specified that she was “well-skilled in all Business suitable for a Wench.” He did not indicate the relationship between the woman and the girl, leaving readers to reach their own conclusions about whether Street compounded the violence being done by separating family members. He certainly did not express any compunction about selling the woman and girl separately.

Advertisements were an important source of revenue for printers. Paid notices made newspapers viable ventures; they funded the circulation of the news far and wide during the era of the American Revolution. Advertisements concerning enslaved people, whether offering them for sale or seeking the capture of those who attempted to seize their liberty by escaping, accounted for a significant portion of the paid notices that made it possible for printers to continue publishing newspapers. These two advertisements in the Connecticut Journal are especially striking because they represent the only advertising revenue the Greens accrued for the September 8 edition. Even in New England, enslavement was enmeshed in print culture. The two served as bulwarks for each other. Newspapers perpetuated slavery through the frequent publication of advertisements concerning enslaved people, while the advertising fees collected from enslavers contributed to the continuing operations of every newspaper published in colonial America.

July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (July 7, 1769).

“Hugh Glassford … now carries on his Business, at Glen and Gregory’s.”

Moving to a new location prompted Hugh Glassford, a leather breeches and glove maker in New Haven, to place an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal in the summer of 1769. Glassford stated that he resided with Mr. Beers for the past year, but he “now carries on his Business, at Glen and Gregory’s.” He reported that he served customers “much to their Satisfaction” at his former location, suggesting that he would offer the same quality of service at his new location. It does not appear that Glassford inserted an advertisement in the local newspaper when he first arrived in New Haven. He likely engaged customers via word of mouth. After building a clientele for his leather breeches and gloves and cultivating a reputation in the town and beyond, however, he likely considered an advertisement worth the investment. Advising the public of his new location would help Glassford retain current customers as well as encourage new ones to seek out his services.

To quickly discover if Glassford had previously advertised, I did a keyword for his last name in all 2752 issues of the Connecticut Journal, spanning dates from October 23, 1767 to December 26, 1820, available in America’s Historical Newspapers database. That search yielded zero results, but that did not surprise me since I had searched for the breeches and glove maker’s name as I read it – Glassford – rather than as optical character recognition software would interpret it – Glafsford. As a person with experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers, I possess knowledge and creativity that the software lacks. I easily recognize the long s commonly used in the eighteenth century and effortlessly translate “Glafsford” into “Glassford.” The database’s OCR does not.

Armed with that knowledge, I did a second keyword search, this time for “Glafsford.” It yielded five results, all of them for the advertisement Glassford ran in the summer of 1769. According to the keyword search, his notice appeared five times: June 30, July 7, 14, and 28, and August 25. In order to produce these results, I had to adopt a methodology that tricked the software into doing what I needed. This is a valuable lesson that I pass along to students when we work with primary sources. Beyond our usual manner of thinking, we also have to think like people from the era we are investigating and think like the tools we deploy in doing our work. For the latter, sometimes that means thinking about how a cataloger might have organized a collection of documents, but other times it means thinking about the shortcomings of optical character recognition.

March 17

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Connecticut Journal (March 17, 1769).

“Several Setts of POT-ASH KITTLES and COOLERS.”

When I looked at this advertisement I had no idea what “Pot-Ash” was or its uses. According to William E. Burns in Science and Technology in Colonial America, “Wood burned to ashes was the raw material for the creation of the most important alkali of the early modern chemical world, a crude form of potassium carbonate called potash.” Burns further explains that “potash making in America began as a profitable sideline to the necessary work of clearing trees from land for farming.” What were its uses? It was part of household soapmaking and glass manufacture. Burns says that “[s]mall amounts were even used in baking to help cakes rise.” How was potash made? It “was made was made by burning logs and other wood to ashes, then placing the ashes in a barrel lined with twigs and straw. … Potash makers poured water on top of the ashes, dissolving out the salts.” This resulted in lye that could be used to make soap. For other uses, the water containing potash lye “was then evaporated in an iron kettle and the remaining substance, ‘brown salt’ was heated in a smaller kettle until most of the original organic matter was gone.”[1] These were the “POT-ASH KITTLES” advertised by R. Walker of Stratford, Connecticut. Colonists made money by selling the potash.



As Zach indicates, many colonists participated in potash production by the late 1760s. In this notice from the Connecticut Journal, R. Walker advertised some of the equipment necessary for making potash. How significant was potash to the colonial American economy? Thomas L. Purvis states that the industry did not take off until the 1750s, even though the colonies had plenty of wood that could have been used to produce potash. In 1751, “Parliament exempted American potash from British import duties,” leading to the “large scale production of potash” in the colonies. While colonists used some of this potash in their own homes, they also exported it in significant quantities in the 1760s and 1770s.

Purvis reports that Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Fredericksburg, Virginia; and Boston, Lancaster, and Marlborough, all in Massachusetts, briefly became centers of potash production. Partnerships arose at each location as entrepreneurs invested in the equipment necessary to make potash. In the first dozen years, however, they experienced narrow profit margins and most went out of business. However, prospects improved after 1763. By 1775, Purvis calculates, “Britain was receiving 66% of its imported potash from North America, including some brought from Nova Scotia.”[2]

Some readers of the Connecticut Journal may have been interested in acquiring Walker’s “POT-ASH KITTLES and COOLERS” in order to participate in the industry, but their ultimate goal likely was not merely supplying resources to Britain. Instead, by participating in the production of potash they stood to increase their income and, in turn, gain greater access to the expanding world of consumption. Many advertisements in colonial newspapers promoted assortments of imported textiles, housewares, and other goods. Those advertisements called on colonists to be consumers, but others offered them means of producing the resources that would enable to them to become even more enmeshed in the transatlantic consumer revolution of the eighteenth century.


[1] William E. Burns, Science and Technology in Colonial America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 25.

[2] Thomas L. Purvis, Colonial America, to 1763 (New York: Facts on File, 1999), 90.

March 10


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

Connecticut Journal (March 10, 1769).


This advertisement in the Connecticut Journal offered an African American man for sale because the slaveholder no longer had any use or “Employment” for him. One of the things that shocked me about this advertisement is that is says that the man is “employed” by the advertiser. Enslaved men and women were not employed; they were owned and set to work by people who called themselves their masters. “Employment” insinuates that someone was hired and wanted to do the job they were assigned, but that was not what happened with an enslaved person. Another shocking part of this advertisement is how easily Bernard Lintot transitioned from talking about selling “A NEGRO MAN” to talking about selling horses and harnesses. This type of talk might have been commonplace for the people in the eighteenth century, but its dehumanization shocks me in the twenty-first century.

As a history major, I know that slavery was still very much a common practice in New England in the 1760s, but the average person might be shocked by this because many people often think that the northern colonies never really were involved with slavery. However, as a result of gradual emancipation laws, slavery in Connecticut did not officially end until 1848 . Connecticut made some steps in 1784, when the state passed the Gradual Abolition Act. However, this only emancipated the children born into slavery and they were only emancipated after they reached the age of twenty-five. Abolition was sometimes a slow process in the northern states, as many states passed laws outlawing slavery but those laws were not always for immediate emancipation.



Luke uses this advertisement offering an enslaved man for sale to make an argument about the past that many people never knew, have forgotten, or would prefer to ignore. As we have discussed in our Revolutionary America class, the revolutionary era was a turning point for the practice of slavery in the new nation. The northern states made efforts toward fulfilling the rhetoric of the era by abolishing slavery, though, as Luke notes, some states opted for gradual emancipation that extended the practice well into the nineteenth century. In the southern states, slavery became further entrenched, especially as westward expansion opened new opportunities to create economies dependent on forced labor. Ray Raphael refers to these diverging trajectories as “a tale of two stories” that get manipulated through the selective use of evidence when presenting the history of the American Revolution and its repercussions to general audiences.[1]

Luke’s choice of advertisement, however, was anything but selective in a misleading manner. In addition to serving as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project this week, he is also the guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. In fulfilling his responsibilities for the latter, he identified fifty-one advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children inserted in newspapers published during the week of March 10-16, 1769. Of those fifty-one advertisements, thirteen appeared in newspapers from New England or the Middle Atlantic, the colonies that became the (mostly) free states during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Two of the advertisements ran in New England newspapers, one in the New-London Gazette as well as the one Luke examined from the Connecticut Journal. Similar advertisements often appeared in newspapers from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. (Luke flagged one for a runaway “Negro Man Servant named Prince” that ran in more than one Boston newspaper, but I ultimately excluded it because the language did not make clear that that Prince was enslaved rather than a free black who had been indentured or otherwise attached to the household of the advertiser. This decision may have resulted in undercounting the number of advertisements for enslaved people appeared in newspapers in New England.) Among the other eleven advertisements, one ran in the Pennsylvania Gazette, one in the New-York Journal, two in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, and seven in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Some announced enslaved men, women, and children for sale, but others offered rewards for the capture and return of those who had escaped bondage in an era that colonists complained about their supposed enslavement by Parliament.

Overall, this means that when Luke considered the advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children he compiled for his week as guest curator of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project that he discovered that one out four – a significant minority – appeared in newspapers published in northern colonies. He used the prevalence of these advertisements to tell a story that all too often remains overlooked when we focus on the practice of slavery in nineteenth-century America but do not take into consideration the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Even then, as Luke underscores in his comparison of gradual emancipation and immediate emancipation laws, slavery continued in some northern states into the nineteenth century, in stark contrast to the rhetoric of the revolutionary era.


[1] Ray Raphael, Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past, rev. ed. (New York: New Press, 2014), 215-216.

March 3


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

Connecticut Journal (March 3, 1769).

“OAKUM by the Hundred, or lesser Quantity.”

Oakum is a product made from old rope. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, oakum consisted of “loosely twisted fibres obtained chiefly by untwisting and picking old hemp rope” Workers shredded and separated the fibers of “junk,” old unusable ropes, to create fine, thin fibers. This product, oakum, was a crucial commodity in the shipping industry. It was used as caulking to seal and pack the joints of wooden vessels. Later oakum was used for deck planking for iron and steel ships, in plumbing, and sealing joints in cast iron piping. Today, hemp or jute are used instead.

In this advertisement, Israel Bunnel claims that customers could get his oakum “as Cheap as may be bought in New-York, or Boston.” Oakum was a crucial element for shipbuilding and repairs, making it highly sought after in colonial ports. Bunnel reassured the consumer that his product was just as good and just as cheap as the oakum being sold in Boston and New York, which in 1769 were some of the most important ports in the colonies.



Israel Bunnel placed his advertisement for oakum in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. As Olivia notes, he favorably compared the price for his oakum to what customers could expect to pay in Boston and New York, thus placing himself in direct competition with suppliers in those much larger and busier ports located in the same region as New Haven. In so doing, he adopted a strategy sometimes deployed by shopkeepers in smaller towns: places like Boston and New York were bigger, but that did not necessarily mean that better deals could be found there.

Bunnel’s advertisement addressed more than one aspect of life in a colonial port. In addition to peddling oakum, he inserted a nota bene to announce that he “teaches in the easiest and familiar manner, NAVIGATION as Usual.” Although he did not describe his curriculum, it most likely incorporated celestial navigation aided by the use of various equipment, including sextants, quadrants, and charts. He provided an important service in a seafaring town, one that might produce opportunities for advancement for those who could afford to pay the fees for his instruction, but only if they mastered his lessons. That Bunnel stated that he taught navigation “as Usual” suggests that he had been doing so for some time, long enough that some readers would have been familiar with his reputation as an instructor.

The shipping news appeared on the same page as Bunnel’s advertisement. During the past week the “Sloop Cloe” and the “Sloop Polly” had both “ENTRED in” at the customs house. The “Sloop Charlotte,” the “Sloop Greyhound,” and the “Sloop Diamond” had all been “CLEARED” for departure to the Caribbean. Even if the captains and sailors did not trade with Bunnel while in New Haven, all of them depended on both the goods and services that he provided to the maritime community.