April 26

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 26, 1771).

“Wesley’s SERMONS, on the Death of … GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

In the fall of 1770, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, extensively covered the death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  In addition to news coverage, the Fowles published poems written in memory of the minister and vigorously advertised a variety of commemorative items.  Whitefield died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30.  For the next several months, the Fowles regularly printed and reprinted news accounts, memorials, and advertisements related to his death.

They commenced advertising Whitefield memorabilia again in the spring when vessels from England arrived in American ports.  Those vessels carried newspapers that reported on public reaction to Whitefield’s death on the other side of the Atlantic.  They also carried new commemorative items already marketed in England, including Whitefield’s will and the funeral sermon preached by John Wesley.  The Fowles were the first printers to advertise both items in their newspaper.  On April 19, they advertised “The Last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD,” stating that it “will be published” in a few days.  The Fowles indicated that they printed their own edition rather than acquiring copies of an American edition that Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, published after receiving an English edition in “the last Ships from London.”

A week later, the Fowles once again advertised Whitefield’s will, updating “will be published” to “Just published.”  In a separate advertisement they informed prospective customers that “Rev. Mr. Wesley’s SERMONS … preached at [Whitefield’s] Tabernacle, and Tottenham Court Chapel … to a very crouded and afflicted Audience” had “Just come to Hand.”  In this case, they probably sold an American edition that John Fleeming advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter a week earlier.  Just as John Holt printed copies in New York and distributed them to printers and booksellers in other towns, so did Fleeming.  As these commemorative items became more widely available and advertisements in newspapers proliferated, colonists experienced another round of the commodification of Whitefield’s death.  These items from England counted as news since they delivered information previously not available in the colonies, but they also represented opportunities for printers and booksellers to generate revenues as they participated in rituals of mourning for an early American celebrity.

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 12, 1771).

“A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”

In the April 12, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted a short notice informing prospective customers that “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston, are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.”  Readers knew that the Fowles referred to an account of the trial of the soldiers involved in the Bloody Massacre or Preston’s Massacre, as the Boston Massacre was known at the time.  John Fleeming, the printer of the volume, began advertising it in the Boston Evening-Post in the middle of January.  It did not take long for advertisements to appear in other newspapers in New England and as far away as South Carolina as a network of printers and booksellers received copies to sell in their local markets.  Indeed, the Fowles alerted readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that they carried the book at their printing office in Portsmouth on January 25.

Nearly three months later, they still had “A few of the TRIALS” available.  They ran the advertisement once again, though regular readers knew that the Fowles’ copies had not “just come to Hand.”  The placement of the advertisement suggests one of the reasons the printers decided to promote the book once again.  It appeared at the bottom of the final column on the last page.  Immediately to the left ran another notice inserted by the printers: “BLANKS of most sorts, &c. With a Number of Books, Sold at the Printing Office.”  In addition to inviting consumers to acquire goods from the Fowles, these advertisements also completed two of the three columns on the final page of the April 12 edition.  One of them extended three lines and the other only two, making them a convenient sort of filler that did not require the compositor to set additional type.  Creating columns of the same length played a role in the Fowles’ decision to advertise an account of the “TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”  The printers sought to inform consumers about recent events, commemorate the Bloody Massacre, and generate revenues, but those were not the only factors that explained the timing of this advertisement.  The mundane details of setting type to complete a page contributed as well.

March 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 1, 1771).

“Some of our Advertising Customers are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct.”

On March 1, 1771, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, once again informed delinquent subscribers that if they did not settle accounts they would find themselves facing legal action.  Newspaper printers regularly made such threats, but the Fowles did so more often than most.  Were they more aggressive in addressing overdue accounts?  Were their customers more recalcitrant than others?  Either way, they proclaimed that “Customers for this Paper, whose Accounts are of so long standing, but not sufficient for Court Writs, may depend on being sued before some Justice in Portsmouth, unless immediately paid.”  The Fowles seemed especially exasperated with “those at the Eastward indebted for many Years Papers,” vowing to bring them “to a proper Sense of their Duty” when the court at York met in April “unless this last Hint Rouses them.”

In the same issue, the Fowles also inserted a brief note to current and prospective advertisers.  “Some of our Advertising Customers,” the printers declared, “are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct, or an Interpreter with them.”  Once again, the Fowles took an exasperated tone.  That they published the only newspaper in New Hampshire may have afforded them greater latitude in doing so than their counterparts in places with multiple newspapers.  They did not reveal what they found lacking in the copy advertisers submitted, only that they experienced difficulty in making sense of some of the notices they received from those who sent them by post or messenger rather than visiting the printing office to make arrangements for their publication.  On occasion, newspaper printers advised prospective advertisers that they would assist with writing copy.  Many other printers also may have lent an editorial eye to copy they received, helping to explain the standardized language in many advertisements.  Doing so required understanding the purpose of an advertisement and clarifying the details.  The Fowles suggested that some copy they received lacked a clear purpose, unambiguous details, or both.

Although printers sometimes offered assistance, advertisers possessed primary responsibility for generating copy for paid notices in eighteenth-century newspapers.  The Fowles apparently expected their advertisers to refer to notices that ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette as models when composing their own advertisements.  They may have performed some editorial work upon receiving copy, but the Fowles expected that advertisers would submit notices that needed little revision before publication.

January 18

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 18, 1771).

“A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”

When George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died on September 30, 1770, it did not take long for printers, booksellers, and others to market commemorative items that celebrated the life of the minister and mourned his passing.  Within a week, advertisements for merchandise ranging from poems to hymns to funeral sermons began appearing in colonial newspapers.  While the commodification of Whitefield’s death was concentrated in New England, consumers in other regions also had opportunities to purchase memorabilia.

Those advertisements ran regularly for several months, but then tapered off at the end of the year.  As part of that process, printers and booksellers incorporated Whitefield commemorative items into advertisements promoting other items for sale.  For instance, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet inserted an advertisement for four pamphlets in the January 7, 1771, edition of their newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post.  “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD” was the third of those four items.  Previously, Whitefield commemorative items merited advertisements of their own in the Boston Evening-Post.

Such was the case in a brief advertisement in the January 18 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle advised prospective customers that “A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”  Whitefield’s death and the ensuing commemorations and mourning rituals were no longer breaking news, so the Fowles, like the Fleets, devoted less advertising space to marketing memorabilia.  Yet they still had inventory available, surplus copies that diminished any potential profits gained from the commodification of the minister’s death.  Advertising excess copies of almanacs in January was an annual custom for printers throughout the colonies.  The Fowles folded their Whitefield commemorative items into that practice, attempting to draw on remaining demand without giving over a significant amount of space to their advertisements.

October 26

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 26, 1770).

“A Sum of Money must be immediately raised to pay for Paper.”

In the eighteenth century, newspaper printers often inserted notices into their own publications to call on subscribers, advertisers, and others to pay their bills.  They were not alone in resorting to such measures.  Entrepreneurs of all sorts as well as executors of estates enlisted the aid of the public prints in instructing customers and associates to settle accounts.  Given their access to the press, however, some printers more regularly ran such notices than other colonists.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, were among the printers who most frequently made the collection of debts in the interests of continuing publication a feature of their newspaper.

The Fowles found it necessary to do so on October 26, 1770, expressing some exasperation.  “THOSE Persons who are still delinquent in discharging their Arrears for this Paper, and for Advertisements,” the printers declared, “and have been repeatedly call’d upon from Time to Time, are desir’d to comply with so reasonable a Request.”  Others who placed such notices usually threatened legal action against those who did not heed their warning.  The Fowles had done so in the past.  On one occasion they also threatened to publish a list of subscribers, advertisers, and others who did not pay their bills, though they did not follow through on that ultimatum.  In this instance, they did not deliver any threats against those in arrears but instead explained the effect that such delinquency would have on their business and, by extension, their ability to serve the community by disseminating news and other information.  The Fowles insisted that they needed to collect on debts owed to them because “a Sum of Money must be immediately raised to pay for Paper, to carry on the Business.”  Without paper, they could not continue to print and distribute the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Although the Fowles regularly inserted notices to encourage subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts, they did not merely adopt the formulaic language that often appeared in such advertisements.  Over the years, they experimented with a variety of messages and tones, sometimes threatening and sometimes cajoling, in their efforts to attract the attention of clients in arrears and convince them to pay their debts.

October 12

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 12, 1770).

“The Character of … George Whitefield … worthy a place in every House.”

By October 12, 1770, newspapers published in Boston and Salem, Massachusetts; Portsmouth, Rhode Island; Newport and Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, New Haven, and New London, Connecticut; New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania informed readers of the death of minister George Whitefield at Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  Coverage originated in Boston on the day after Whitefield’s death and then radiated outward as other newspapers published their own articles but mostly reprinted items that originally ran in one of the five newspapers printed in Boston.

It did not take long for commemoration to turn to commodification inspired by the influential minister’s death.  Almost immediately, printers notified the grieving public that they intended to publish Whitefield memorabilia.  Whether or not they had heard Whitefield preach while he was still alive, consumers could purchase broadsides that featured his words or documented his life and good works.  Through the marketplace they could acquire a connection to one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals of the Great Awakening.

Such advertisements continued to supplement news coverage in the October 12, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Between news items, poetry honoring the preacher, and advertisements for memorabilia, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle devoted an entire column to Whitefield, out of only twelve columns over four pages that comprised the entire issue.  The Fowles inserted three items reprinted from the October 8 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  A longer news article, a poem dedicated to Whitefield, and a shorter news article all ran in the order that they appeared in the Boston newspaper.  The Fowles included another poem, that one taken from the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.

Immediately following those items, they ran an advertisement for two commemorative broadsides.  One featured “A Hymn composed by the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD, and intended to be sung over his Corps.”  Printers in Boston and Salem had already advertised a similar piece of memorabilia.  The Fowles also advertised an item that had not yet been marketed in the public prints, a broadside about “The Character of the late worthy, pious, learned and Reverend George Whitefield.”  The Fowles stressed that this memorial was “properly put in mourning,” meaning that thick black borders enclosed the text and separated the columns.  It also featured an image of Whitefield’s coffin with “the Names of the Bearers, placed on each side of it.”  (Examine the Library of Congress’s copy of this broadside.)  In an effort to incite demand and increase sales, the Fowles proclaimed that this broadside in memory of Whitefield was “worthy a place in every House.”  Consumers could demonstrate their rectitude and continue to be instructed by the minister and his good example after his death.

Like other printers who produced and marketed similar broadsides, the Fowles participated in the commodification of Whitefield’s death.  Such a significant event presented an opportunity to increase revenues in their printing office by publishing and selling commemorative items.

September 28

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 205 years ago today?

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 28, 1770).

This Paper compleats the 14th Year since its first Publication.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, made the usual updates to the masthead for the September 28, 1770, edition.  It included the full title, The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle, and advised readers that it “CONTAIN[ED] the Freshest ADVICES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.”  A woodcut depicting a lion and unicorn, symbols of the United Kingdom, appeared in the center, along with the initials G.R. for George Rex, the king.  Despite tensions with Parliament due to the Townshend Acts and other abuses, colonists continued to identify as members of the British Empire loyal to George III.  Like most other newspapers printed in the colonies, the volume and issue number also adorned the masthead.  The September 28 edition was part of “VOL. XIV.”  The Fowles listed the issue as “NUM. 728” and, unlike most other printers, explained that number indicated how many “Weeks since this Paper was first Publish’d.”  They added one additional item to the masthead to mark a milestone in the history of the newspaper’s publication.  “This PAPER compleats the fourteenth Year of” the New-Hampshire Gazette, that notation informed readers.

The Fowles noted this milestone elsewhere in the issue as well.  Those “Freshest ADVICES” included advertisements that delivered news and other information, among them notices from the printers.  The Fowles gave their advertisement a privileged place, positioning first among the advertisements and immediately following the shipping news from the customs house.  “As this Paper compleats the 14th Year since its first Publication,” the Fowles addressed readers, “it is desir’d, that those who are in Arrears, would pay off immediately, that it may be determin’d, whether it will be worth while to send any more to those who are so very delinquent.”  The Fowles simultaneously celebrated their accomplishment and an important milestone in the history of their newspaper while also warning subscribers who had not paid their bills to remedy the situation or they would not receive additional issues on credit.  The end of one year and the start of another was a good opportunity for the Fowles to settle accounts and make sure all was in order.

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 28, 1770).

August 10

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

Aug 10 1770 - 8:10:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 10, 1770).

“A Settlement with the Customers is become necessary.”

In eighteenth-century America, printers, like other entrepreneurs, sometimes had to resort to publishing advertisements calling on customers to settle accounts or else face legal action.  For those who published newspapers, the anniversary of the first issue provided a convenient milestone for attempting to collect debts.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted such notices on various occasions, not only the anniversary of their newspaper’s first edition, though that event did often prompt them to remind customers to send payment.

In August 1770, the Fowles noted that it would be “Fourteen Years, next Month, since this Paper was first publish’d.”  That being the case, they reasoned that “a Settlement with the Customers is become necessary, as soon as possible.”  Those who did not comply “with so reasonable a Request” could expect to face the consequences.  The Fowles would put their subscriptions on hold instead of sending new editions, plus they would initiate legal action.  The printers argued that they provided sufficient notice for everyone who intended to pay, whether they lived in “Town or Country,” to visit the printing office or send a note.  At the very least, they requested that subscribers pay for “at least half a Year.”

Yet it was not only subscribers who were delinquent in paying.  Advertisers apparently submitted notices to the printing office and then did not pay for them in a timely manner.  For many printers who published newspapers, advertisements generated far greater revenue than subscriptions.  The Fowles asked “Those who are Indebted for Advertisements” to pay immediately.  They simultaneously informed all readers that in the future “those who send Advertisements for this Paper” must “send the Pay for them at the same time.”  Those who did not do so “must not take it amiss, if they are not publish’d.”  The printers may or may not have intended to follow through on this threat.  At one point they warned that they would publish a list of customers who owed money if they did not settle accounts in the next couple of weeks.  That list never appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It seems unlikely that everyone paid, but perhaps cajoling by the printers yielded sufficient results that they did not take the most extreme measures.

Advertisements calling on subscribers, advertisers, and other customers to settle accounts provide insights into the business practices of printers in eighteenth-century America.  They reveal that printers, like others who provided goods and services during the period, extended credit to their customers, sometimes finding themselves in difficult positions as a result.

March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 30, 1770).

“The trifling expence of a News Paper.”

Colonists did not have to subscribe to newspapers to gain access to their contents.  Some subscribers passed along newspapers to friends and neighbors.  A single newspaper could change hands several times.  Proprietors of coffeehouses often subscribed to a variety of newspapers that they made available to their patrons, just one of the many amenities intended to make their establishments more cosmopolitan and attractive to customers.  Colonists sometimes read aloud from newspapers in taverns, sharing news and editorials with larger audiences than read the articles themselves.  Colonists did not need to subscribe in order to read or hear about the news.  They could gain access to newspapers in public venues … or they could steal them.

The theft of newspapers was a sufficiently chronic problem that Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a notice in the March 30, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The Fowles excoriated the “mean, lowliv’d Fellows, who have not Souls large enough to be at the trifling expence of a News Paper, yet are continually stealing their Neighbours, and others.”  The Fowles did not deliver the New-Hampshire Gazettedirectly to subscribers.  Instead, they dispatched copies from their printing office in Portsmouth to taverns “in the several Country Towns” with the intention that subscribers would pick them up or arrange for delivery by a local carrier.  Too many “lowliv’d Fellows,” however, interfered with the system by picking up newspapers that belonged to others and “never deliver[ing them] to the proper Owners.”

The Fowles were concerned about subscribers not receiving their newspapers, but they were just as worried about the impact this “vile and scandalous Practice” would have on their business.  Customers who regularly did not receive their newspapers were likely to discontinue their subscriptions.  Theft endangered another important revenue stream.  The Fowles lamented that the missing newspapers were “often a Damage on Account of Advertisements,” a twofold problem.  First, advertising represented significant revenue that made it possible to disseminate the news.  If prospective advertisers suspected that their advertisements did not reach the intended audiences then they might refrain from placing them.  Second, many advertisements, especially notices about public meetings, estate notices, and legal notices, delivered news that supplemented the articles, editorials, and letters that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  Advertisements underwrote the newspaper business while also informing readers of matters of public interest.

The situation reached a point that the Fowles called on their “good Customers” to inform them “of those Fellows Names” who had “abused both the Customers & Printers in this Way for Years past.”  The Fowles planned to publish a list of the offenders, a public shaming that included descriptions of “their proper Character,” as well as prosecute them “as the Law directs for stopping Letters, News Papers.”  Newspaper advertisements frequently reported the theft of consumer goods in eighteenth-century America, but this notice indicates that “lowliv’d Fellows” also stole newspapers and, by extension, access to information.

August 11

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

Aug 11 - 8:11:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 11, 1769).

Most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing.”

During the summer of 1769, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, cooperated with other printers to incite demand for “a Volume of curious Papers, to serve as an Appendix to Lieutenant-Governor HUTCHINSON’S History of Massachusetts-Bay,” a work frequently advertised in newspapers in Boston and other parts of New England. To that end, the Fowles inserted a subscription notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Printers had dual purposes in circulating such “PROPOSALS” as newspaper advertisements and, sometimes, separate subscription papers. They aimed to stimulate demand, but they also conducted market research by assessing demand. They did not move forward with projects if consumers did not express sufficient demand. Such was the case with this “Volume of curious Papers.” The subscription notice starkly stated that the “Work will begin as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers appear to defrey the Expence.” Those who wished to reserve a copy needed to submit their names to T. and J. Fleet in Boston, Bulkeley Emerson in Newburyport, or the Fowles in Portsmouth.

In their efforts to encourage colonists to subscribe to the work, the printers vowed that “No more Books will be printed than what are subscribed for.” This created a sense of urgency for prospective subscribers, warning that if they did not make a commitment soon that eventually it would be too late to acquire a copy so they better not waver. The printers also presented a challenge that made colonists responsible for preserving the history and heritage of New England. The subscription notice concluded with a short paragraph that outlined their duty: “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear, from a regard to the Public, as well as for the sake of their particular Entertainment.” The printers did not envision carefully storing the original documents as a means of safeguarding them for future generations. Instead, the best form of preservation occurred through multiplication. Taking the volume to press would guarantee that the contents of those “curious Papers” would survive long beyond the originals becoming “irrecoverably lost” through deterioration or mishap over the years. Colonists had a civic duty, “a regard to the Public,” to play a role in preventing that loss, according to the printers. Rather than thinking about purchasing and reading the “Volume of curious Papers” as a form of “particular Entertainment” only for themselves, the subscription notice challenged colonists to think of it as a service to their community. Consumption need not be frivolous; it could also serve a purpose in the interests of the greater good.