February 11

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

Feb 11 - 2:8:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 8, 1770).

“The House to be supplied with the News-Papers for the Amusement of his Customers.”

When Daniel Jones opened a tavern “at the Sign of the HAT and HELMET” on Newbury Street in Boston, he placed an advertisement in the February 8, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. He listed many amenities that he provide for “Gentlemen Travellers and others,” including coffee, “good Liquors,” and “good Care” taken of their horses. Jones also indicated, “The House to be supplied with the News-Papers for the Amusement of his Customers.”

In making that pledge, Jones revealed that he offered a service available in many eighteenth-century coffeehouses and taverns. Colonists did not need to subscribe to newspapers in order to gain access to them. Instead, they could patronize establishments that maintained subscriptions expressly for the purpose of serving their clientele. Jones stated that customers at the Hat and Helmet would be bale to read “the News-Papers,” indicating that he planned to acquire more than one publication. He likely subscribed to several local newspapers, choosing among the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Yet he probably did not limit the selection solely to local newspapers. In addition to the New-Hampshire Gazette, the Newport Mercury, the Providence Gazette, and other newspapers published in New England, he may have subscribed to newspapers printed in New York and Philadelphia or even publications from the southern colonies or London.

Circulation numbers do not tell the entire story when it comes to the dissemination of information via the colonial press in the era of the American Revolution. Jones could have subscribed for a single copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, yet dozens of customers at his tavern may have read the issues he made available. Some patrons may not even have read the newspaper itself but instead heard portions of it read aloud at the tavern. In both cases, newspapers had a much greater reach than the number of subscribers considered alone would indicate.

July 28

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

Jul 28 - 7:28:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (July 28, 1766).

“Daniel Jones INFORMS his Customers and others … that he has Removed … to a Corner Shop.”

Like many shopkeepers and other advertisers, Daniel Jones used his advertisements to communicate with different groups of readers: “his Customers and others,” those who had previously purchased his wares and those that he hoped to entice to visit his shop as new patrons.

In order for customers of all sorts to buy his merchandise, they first needed to know where to find Jones. He opened his advertisement by announcing that he had recently moved “to a Corner Shop” (a location that likely increased the foot traffic moving past his door and window). In an age before standardized street numbers, he listed his location as “the Easterly side of Newbury-Street,” sufficient directions to find the shop. To further aid former customers familiar with his previous location, however, he added that his new shop was “situated about three Rods to the Southward of that he Removed from.”

Such directions may have also been helpful to readers who had not previously made purchases from Jones. Even if they had not visited his shop, many likely knew where it was (or had been). Boston was, after all, a fairly compact city despite being a busy port. Customers who had not been to the Jones’s previous location may have also been intrigued to check out his “Corner Shop (which was lately improved by Capt. John Smith).” Even if the list of goods for sale did not draw them in, curious readers may have wanted to check out what kinds of improvements had been made to the shop itself.

In addition, Jones also addressed readers “both in Town and Country.” For former customers who lived outside Boston yet visited his shop when they came into town, an announcement about the new location and where it was located relative to his previous establishment was imperative. Jones did not want to risk disrupting his relationship with existing customers by having them arrive at a location he no longer maintained and not know how to find him. Especially if another shopkeeper set up business in Jones’ former location, he wanted former customers to know that he still kept shop in the same neighborhood.