Reflections from Guest Curator Daniel McDermott

I have previous experience in public history and historical interpretation as a Park Ranger for the National Park Service, and I have looked at and interpreted primary sources for other history classes and for tours, so heading into this project I felt comfortable and within my element. The project did still push me to further my interpretation skills and ability to analyze primary sources, all within a public history setting. I especially was pushed to find my scholarly voice as well. I feel I learned a lot about the purpose of the project and about digital humanities projects, which I find to be an importation means of linking the academic world to the public through digital platforms. I came across unexpected challenges, such creating the content to reflect the audience of the project. Researching specific sources and documents for the posts was also a welcomed challenge.

The research topic and general theme of the project allowed me to really dive into learning about everyday live in colonial and Revolutionary America. A lot of my work and writing allowed me to compare our current everyday life and find similarities and differences to eighteenth-century life. Newspapers were a particularly fascinating primary source, a means of cultural communication that is still in place today, in paper or digital. Understanding the primary sources and taking on the viewpoint of a colonist helped me develop different perspectives. It pushed me to become the audience and ask myself questions. Then being able to step outside of that perspective and write about it in present terms to make it available for the public to use and learn was engaging. I tried to focus my work on an array of topics to allow readers to see that colonial life was just as complex as today. See, specifically, my post on the different textiles, baize and tammy. I realized they seemed like unfamiliar goods, but today when I see an advertisement, I automatically know what each product is. I asked myself if readers of the newspaper would read the advertisement and automatically know everything as well. I began researching the two I personally found interesting and it eventually led to me finding Abigail Adams mentioning baize in a letter to her husband John. I wanted to make clear comparisons to today as well; I hoped this would interest readers.

As for my long-term academic plans, I feel this project will help me in different aspects. It gave me a taste of being an actual historian, doing work that I might experience when I plan to continue the study of history in graduate school. Interpretation of primary sources and researching historical topics for public history use will help develop my interpretation skills as a Park Ranger. I hope to continue linking scholarship to the public through different means, especially through digital humanities which gives it easier access to people. For doing public history in an academic setting, I thought I learned a lot of the behind the scenes work it takes, and embraced the challenges not usually found in a typical classroom setting.

March 18

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 18, 1767).

“A VALUABLE NEGROE WENCH and CHILD.”

Scanning through a colonial American newspaper, especially one from Georgia, it is not uncommon to see advertisements selling slaves with other goods. It is appalling to see a woman and her child being sold as property along with carpentry tools and household furniture. Ironically, in the 1730s the Georgia Trustees envisioned their colony as a free settlement. Unfortunately, the economic temptations were too strong and by 1751 slavery was legalized. In contrast, by 1784, the northern states, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, had all abolished slavery. But Georgia remained a slave state after the Revolution.

Two crops dominated the Georgia economy, rice in the eighteenth century and cotton in the nineteenth century. Rice and cotton plantations required an adequate slave labor force, so as Georgia’s plantations grew so did the demand for slaves. A state law passed in 1793 prohibited the importation of slaves, but the law went into effect in 1798. During the 1790s the number of slaves in Georgia nearly doubled. In 1790 Georgia had 29,264 slaves, but then 54,699 slaves in 1800.

What did it really mean to see a slave advertisement in the colonial American newspaper? It means viewing human beings as property that could contribute to the owner’s own economic growth. They were seen just as equal as household furniture and other common goods that could be sold and advertised in a newspaper.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Today is the 251st anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Such an odd number merits little notice in a culture that usually prefers to celebrate landmark numbers of years measured in decades. For the purposes of the Adverts 250 Project, however, March 18, 1767, was the first anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Colonists did not allow that important anniversary to pass unnoticed. Instead, they engaged in commemorations noted in newspapers published throughout the colonies during the week before and several weeks after March 18.

Against that backdrop, today’s advertisement for “A VALUABLE NEGROE WENCH and CHILD” seems especially jarring. The juxtaposition did not go unnoticed during the years prior to the American Revolution. In Taxation No Tyranny, published in 1775, Samuel Johnson famously asked, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” The British author and lexicographer identified a glaring inconsistency in the rhetoric of colonists who claimed they were being enslaved by Parliament.

Although patriots in northern colonies (later states) did not level the same sort of acerbic observations against their southern counterparts, many increasingly applied the rhetoric of liberty to the circumstances of their own slaves. As Daniel notes, several northern states abolished slavery by the end of the eighteenth century. Others adopted gradual emancipation plans. As a result, advertisements offering slaves for sale tapered off in northern newspapers.

For the past six months, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project has demonstrated, however, that advertisements for slaves were common in newspapers printed in New England and the Middle Atlantic, regions not associated with slavery to the same extent as the Chesapeake and the Lower South (in part because the northern regions abolished or phased out slavery after the Revolution). Today’s advertisement lumping together “A VALUABLE NEGROE WENCH and CHILD” with tools, clothing, and furniture appeared in some variation in newspapers printed in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia during its week of initial publication.

As Daniel and his peers in my Revolutionary America class work on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I am encouraging them to contemplate the tensions between liberty and enslavement in eighteenth-century America, as well as the uneven application of the rhetoric of the Revolution when it came to slavery. While it is important to realize that approximately half a million slaves resided in the colonies at the time of the Revolution, the micro-histories embedded in slavery advertisements tell the stories of individuals. They provide further insight into the daily lives and lived experiences of enslaved men, women, and children in early America.

March 17

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 17, 1767).

Just imported … LARGE Scotch Coal.”

Since the eighteenth century, coal has been arguably one of the most important commodities in the history of industrialized civilizations. In eighteenth-century America, coal was imported from one of the many mines in Great Britain.[1] Commonly used as a source of energy, coal also brings environmental impacts to surrounding areas when it is burned.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, its effects on the water cycle in the form of acid rain was one of the earliest known environmental effects from coal. Sulfur dioxide is released from the burning of coal and stays in the atmosphere. However, the sulfur is precipitated out of the atmosphere, just like water, but instead it becomes acid rain. The sulfur dioxide stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years; therefore, the environmental effects from earlier periods are still present today.[2] For further information on how acid rain affects the environment, you visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

 John Evelyn first reported the effects of air pollution in seventeenth-century England by John Evelyn in his book, Fumufugium. According to Fredric C. Menz and Hans M. Seip, Robert Angus Smith “first conducted detailed studies of acid rain and described many of its potentially harmful effects” in 1872. The importation of coal in eighteenth-century America and the eventually rise of coal mining in North America eventually brought similar environmental problems across the Atlantic. The environmental impacts of coal are not confined to the boundaries of countries or continents.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Alexander Urquehart’s advertisement for “LARGE Scotch Coal at six Pounds per Ton” and an assortment of other goods appeared in an exceptional issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Like the printers of newspapers in the largest port cities, Charles Crouch sometimes published a supplement when the amount of news, advertising, and other content exceeded what would fit in the standard four-page weekly issue. In most instances, supplements were printed on half sheets, limiting them to two pages. The Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal issued on March 17, 1767, however, consisted of four pages – or an entire second broadsheet. The size of the sheet used for the supplement (with two columns of text) was not as large as that of the standard issue (with three columns), so this did not double the total content delivered to subscribers. Still, it significantly increased the size of that week’s issue.

In particular, it increased the amount of advertising delivered to readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. The entire supplement – all eight columns – was devoted exclusively to advertising. Indeed, paid notices of every variety practically eclipsed news items in the March 17 issue, making it a delivery mechanism for advertising rather than news (and presumably generating greater revenue for the printer than other issues that balanced the amount of space devoted to advertisements versus other content). Advertising comprised seven of the twelve columns in the standard issue in addition to filling the entire supplement.

Among the news items that did appear, the printer noted that “TO Morrow, being the Anniversary of the REPEAL OF THE STAMP-ACT, we hear will be observed by the Lovers of Liberty and America, with Hearts elate, for our happy Delivery from so manifestly intended Oppression.” Considering that the Stamp Act assessed taxes on each advertisement printed in colonial newspapers, in addition to those leveled for the newspaper itself, it seems appropriate that the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal would mark the first anniversary of its repeal by publishing an issue that overflowed with advertisements.

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[1] U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970, Part 2 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1975), 1184.

[2] L.A. Barrie and R.M. Hoff, “The Oxidation Rate and Residence Time of Sulphur Dioxide in the Arctic Atmosphere,” Atmospheric Environment 18, no. 12 (1984): 2711-2722.

March 16

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (March 16, 1767).

“Baizes, Duffels, Shalloons, Tammies, Calimancoes.”

William Cornell placed this advertisement for the array of textiles he sold. By today’s perspective the list seems foreign. However, in colonial America any person reading this advertisement would have known each material, including what style, how expensive, and common uses.

One textile on the list that may seem unfamiliar is baize. The Oxford English Dictionary describes baize as “A coarse woollen stuff, having a long nap, now used chiefly for linings, coverings, curtains, etc., in warmer countries for articles of clothing.” The OED also states it was used for shirts and petticoats. Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband, John Adams, and refered to a “Green Baize Gown,” making a recommendation to keep him warm during the cold nights: “I would recommend to you the Green Baize Gown, and if that will not answer, You recollect the Bear Skin.” This suggests baize could be heavy enough to be used for warmth during cold winter nights, just as warm as a “Bear Skin.” (Today, baize is most famously used to cover pool tables.)

Tammies were another textile Cornell sold that may seem unfamiliar. According to the Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820, tammy is a lightweight fabric, but because of its simple weaving the material is also strong. Due to its durability but light weight it was utilized for linings, children’s garments, or curtains. Tammy was also often dyed yellow, a color that quickly faded when exposed to light. Yellow tammy may have been chosen for linings that would have been less exposed and thus less likely to fade.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Daniel and I met to discuss William Cornell’s advertisement, we considered several aspects to examine in greater detail. Daniel ultimately opted to investigate some of the unfamiliar textiles, but during the research and writing process he also contemplated what this advertisement told us about colonists’ understanding of urban geography and how to navigate port cities.

In an era before standardized street numbers and addresses, colonists relied on a variety of landmarks to give directions. Advertisers frequently assumed that potential customers, especially in towns and smaller cities, were familiar with both local places and people. For instance, Cornell offered nothing by way of directions except noting that his shop was “Adjoining to Captain Robert Stoddard’s.” Apparently Stoddard was sufficiently known among residents of the port city that Cornell considered this sufficient for directing potential customers to his own business.

Some advertisers relied on their names alone, neglecting to offer any other sort of directions. Such was the case for Samuel Sanford (who advertised “A few Puncheons of Jamaica Rum”), Gideon Wanton, Jr. (who carried “Ticklenburgs [and] Osnaburgs,” textiles that did not appear in Cornell’s notice), and Joseph West (who sold “A Quantity of dry Cod Fish”).

Others provided a street name, a landmark, or a combination of the two to aid potential customers in locating them. John Hadwen, for instance, peddled his wares “At his Shop in Thames Street,” while Napthali Hart, Jr. sold a similar array of goods “At his Store on Mr. GEORGE GIBBS’s Wharf.” George Cornell maintained “Batchelor’s Hall,” presumably a boardinghouse, “IN Mill-Street, near the Ferry Wharf.”

Two other advertisers offered more complex directions. Christopher Smieller, a baker, announced that he “has removed from Mr. William Gyles’s Bakehouse, to that of Mr. Joseph Tillinghast.” Francis Skinner, a bookbinder, provided the most complicated – or perhaps the most exact – set of directions. Customers could find him “at his House the third below Trinity Church, on the East Side of the Street leading to the Neck.”

Regardless of how many or how few words any of these advertisers used, each expected readers and potential customers could make their way to their respective businesses based on the information they provided. Even the largest American cities were not yet so large in the 1760s to necessitate street numbers and standardized addresses to facilitate commerce. That changed by the end of the eighteenth century: advertisements increasingly included street numbers and a new kind of publication, the city directory, listed standardized addresses for residences and businesses alike. Both innovations transformed how early Americans, both locals and visitors, thought about navigating city streets.

March 15

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 15 - 3:14:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 14, 1767).

“Knight Dexter DESIRES all those indebted to him … to make speedy Payment.”

Knight Dexter put out this advertisement for those indebted to him to pay their bills. His customers bought on credit rather than paying at the time of purchase. Credit was one of the more popular means for buying items. The other, less popular, means were barter (trading goods for other goods) and paying with physical money.

The concept of credit in colonial America and its importance are both similar to today’s standards. Merchants allowed customers to purchase items in exchange for payment that would occur later in time, with interest included. According to David T. Flynn, this was an advantage to customers who could purchase items outside their financial resources. T.H. Breen argues that this helped create a consumer revolution in the eighteenth century. In “Baubles of Britain,” he details the variety and number of options for consumers that increased, paid for by credit.[1] The advantage for merchants was they could turn over goods faster and they would increase their profits from the interest collected. Merchants did run the risk of giving out too much credit that they could not cover their immediate expenses.

Dexter mentioned “Book Accounts.” This most likely meant he was using book credit, according to Flynn. Book credit was when merchants recorded who they gave credit to within their account books or ledger. This was a way to streamline tracking who owed how much money for what products. Other forms of credit included overseas credit and promissory notes. Dexter might have benefited from overseas credit extended by English merchants when he received imported goods. English merchants sold goods to colonial merchants, waiting six months to one year before demanding payment.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Last week I noted that as spring approached in 1767 the Providence Gazette experienced a resurgence in advertising after several months of only a small number of paid notices within its pages combined with running the same few advertisements repeatedly. Knight Dexter was among the local entrepreneurs who began inserting notices in the Providence Gazette, along with Nathaniel Jacobs. Not only did their advertisements appear one after the other in the same column of the March 14 issue, Dexter and Jacobs adopted parallel structures for their notices.

Marketing goods for sale may not have been the primary purpose either had in mind when they decided to place their advertisements. Both Dexter and Jacobs devoted half or more of their notices to calling on former customs with outstanding debts to visit their shops and settle up accounts. Both threatened legal action against any recalcitrant customers who refused to do so, though Jacobs was much more subtle and polite when he claimed that he wanted to “avoid the disagreeable Necessity of troubling them.” Dexter was more blunt, lamenting that “he should be sorry to have any Business at June Court.” Either way, the message was the same: pay up or face the consequences.

Only after dispensing with that bit of business did either shopkeeper turn to marketing their current inventory. Each promised to “sell as cheap for Cash as any in this Town.” At the same time they called on customers to pay their bills, neither seemed inclined to extend more credit to anyone else, but they balanced their insistence on paying cash with the allure of low prices.

In so doing, they placed what might be considered hybrid advertisements that amalgamated what otherwise might have been separate notices. In each case, the portion of the advertisement that promoted items they currently stocked could have run separately and not looked out of place. Indeed, other advertisements on the same page mirrored the second half of the notices inserted by Dexter and Jacobs. The Adverts 250 Project regularly features similar advertisements. Many merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently placed notices requesting that customers pay their bills, though those have not been examined nearly as often on the Adverts 250 Project. In choosing Knight Dexter’s advertisement, Daniel helps to demonstrate the various stages of commercial relationships established between consumers and retailers in the eighteenth century.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.

March 14

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 14 - 3:14:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 14, 1767).

“THE Proprietors of the Providence Library are hereby notified to meet at the Court-House.”

David Rowland, “Librarian, pro Tempore,” placed this advertisement to notify “Proprietors” of the Providence Library Company (founded 1753) that a meeting was planned to elect a new Librarian on March 28. The advertisement also notified anyone who had books belonging to the library to return them.

The greatest change in libraries over time has been to access by general readers. Today, most town libraries are open to the public but require a library card to access their collection. These are the libraries used by most person. In eighteenth-century America, access to libraries was more restricted because most were based on a monthly or yearly paid membership.

According to William Burns, the two most popular types of libraries in the eighteenth century were circulating libraries and subscription libraries. Circulating libraries had lower subscription fees, paid weekly to borrow books. Subscription libraries normally had higher membership rates and were associated with reading societies.

The Junto, Benjamin Franklin’s discussion group in Philadelphia, created one of the most famous subscription libraries. It still exists today as the Library Company of Philadelphia. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the library was one of the five largest in the United States. The Library Company of Philadelphia is a good example of how libraries are valued in our society: some last multiple centuries. Over time, other libraries that give open access to the public have joined them. Although Americans did not expect to find libraries open to all in the eighteenth century, many valued libraries and the access to knowledge and entertainment they provided.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Printers and booksellers frequently advertised their wares in eighteenth-century newspapers, sometimes listing dozens of titles, sometimes promoting a particular book, and sometimes seeking subscribers as a means of gauging interest in books they intended to publish (provided the public responded with sufficient demand in advance). A reading revolution took place in the eighteenth century as consumers purchased greater numbers of books and their reading habits shifted from intensive reading of bibles, devotional texts, and almanacs to extensive reading from an array of genres.

The reading revolution also included the founding of private lending libraries by civic organizations, including the Library Company of Philadelphia (1731), the Charleston Library Society (1748), and the Providence Library Company (1753). Daniel has already provided a brief sketch of two models for operating libraries – subscription libraries and circulating libraries – that gave colonists greater access to books than most would have been able to purchase on their own.

As Daniel notes, subscription libraries and circulating libraries charged different rates to access their collections. In exchange for paying the fees, readers received different benefits. Members of subscription libraries paid annual fees for unlimited borrowing privileges, giving them broad access to the library company’s collections. Nonsubscribers could also borrow books, paying variable fees based on the size of the book (the dimensions of the pages – folio, octavo, duodecimo – not the length of the text) and the length of time they kept the book. On the other hand, circulating libraries did not usually have annual subscription fees. Instead, they charged by the week, which allowed patrons to keep expenses down by choosing how often to check out books. Circulating libraries also limited access to one book at a time.

Circulating libraries facilitated the reading revolution. A significant aspect of the shift from intensive to extensive reading involved the rise of the novel and reading for pleasure, especially by women. Subscription libraries tended not to obtain novels, but, as William Burns notes, novels “were the lifeblood of the circulating library.” Furthermore, “women comprised about half the membership of the circulating libraries,” but subscription libraries did not admit female readers (though that did not prevent men from checking out books for female relatives and friends).

Despite differences in membership, collections, and operating structure, both subscription libraries and circulating libraries emerged exclusively in cities in the eighteenth century, pointing to another important distinction between libraries then and now. Daniel notes that public libraries operated by local municipalities have greatly expanded access to information and services. Organizations like the Providence Library Company played an important role in that process as they allowed early Americans greater access to books than they previously experienced.

March 13

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 13 - 3:13:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 13, 1767).

“He makes all Sorts of Gentlemen’s Wearing Apparell.”

In this advertisement, “Richard Lowden, Taylor from LONDON, hereby informs the Public, that the Co-Partnership between him and Robert Patterson … was dissolved.” At the end of the advertisement, Lowden reassured “all Persons who favor him … may depend on being faithfully and punctually served”

The role and importance of tailors in colonial and Revolutionary America was different than today. According to Ed Crews, early Americans bought most of their clothing from tailors. Unlike today’s system of buying clothes, early Americans did not simply walk into stores and pick from a range of mass produced styles in predetermined standard sizes. Instead, people from all different social classes bought handmade clothing from tailors. However, tailors still produced different types of clothing for different people. The price varied, mostly dependent on the style and material used by the tailor. In addition, tailors made clothing to exact specifications for each customer.

Tailors played an important role in the everyday lives of all different sorts of Americans in the eighteenth century. According to Crews, even George Washington was self-conscious about what his fashion style represented. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman further details the political and cultural importance of fashion in Revolutionary America.[1] Colonists were socially self-aware how they dressed reflected their values politically and culturally, furthering supporting the idea that tailors played an important role in colonial life.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In the process of researching and writing about today’s advertisement, Daniel grappled with a common misconception about clothing production in early America. Many people assume that colonists wore garments primarily produced in the colonies due to the efforts of women who worked at spinning wheels and looms in their homes and then made clothing from the textiles they produced. Such domestic production accounted for some of the clothing worn by colonists, but not all of it. Among the advertisements that filled newspapers in the decades before the Revolution, shopkeepers placed countless notices that listed a vast array of imported textiles and adornments for making clothing. As Daniel notes, tailors, seamstresses, mantuamakers, and others in the clothing trades transformed imported fabrics into garments, frequently advertising their services.

Compared to newspapers published in larger port cities, the New-Hampshire Gazette had less advertising. Still, the choices available to residents of Portsmouth and its hinterland found their way into the public prints. In the same issue that Richard Lowden advertised that he made “neat, cheap, strong and fashionable garments,” shopkeeper John Adams announced that he sold “A General Assortment of English GOODS.” Adams’ inventory almost certainly included textiles that Lowden hoped they would bring to him over “any Taylor in Town.”

Given the tensions and ongoing suspicion of Britain in the wake of the Stamp Act and its repeal, colonists sometimes made a point of opting for homespun fabrics, those produced by women as an alternative to imported English textiles. However, they also had other options. Andrew Nelson, a “WEAVER from SCOTLAND,” placed an advertisement announcing “that he has set up that Business” in Portsmouth. He promised that he “weaves all Sorts of Linnen” that customers could depend on being “equal to any imported.” Whether they acquired textiles from Adams the shopkeeper or Nelson the weaver, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette likely visited Lowden the tailor or one of his competitors.

Today the process of purchasing clothing has been streamlined for the convenience of consumers. Custom made clothing is not a remnant of the past, but visiting a tailor or seamstress is no longer practically a necessity like it was in colonial and Revolutionary America. Daniel notes that Lowden concluded his advertisement by stating that customers would be “faithfully and punctually served,” a promise that might sound strange to modern consumers. In the eighteenth century, however, it was a means of offering some of the convenience that today consumers barely notice when they select readymade garments off the rack.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 625-662.