October 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 25, 1770).

“A Sermon occasion’d by the sudden and much lamented Death of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

In the wake of George Whitefield’s death on September 30, 1770, printers, booksellers, and others quickly sought to capitalize on the event by publishing and selling commemorative items dedicated to the memory of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  This commodification included producing new broadsides with images, poems, and hymns as well as marketing books originally published years earlier that were already in stock but gained new resonance.  Throughout the past month, the Adverts 250 Project has been tracking many of those publications to demonstrate the extent of the simultaneous commemoration and commodification that took place in the weeks after colonists learned of Whitefield’s death.  Advertisements hawking Whitefield memorabilia ran in newspapers published in Boston, New York, Portsmouth, and Salem almost as soon as the news appeared in the public prints.

A notice for yet another item, Heaven the Residence of the Saints, ran in the October 25, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The advertisement, reiterating the lengthy title, explained that this pamphlet was a “Sermon occasion’d by the sudden and much lamented Death of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  Ebenezer Pemberton, “Pastor of a Church in Boston,” delivered the sermon on October 11.  Just two weeks later, Joseph Edwards informed consumers that they could purchase copies of the sermon from him.  Daniel Kneeland printed that first edition for Edwards, but other printers recognized the prospective market for the pamphlet.  It did not take long for Hugh Gaine to reprint his own edition in New York or for E. and C. Dilly to commission a London edition, that one also featuring the “Elegiac Poem” composed by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet, and frequently advertised and sold separately in the colonies.

New coverage of Whitefield’s death continued in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter with a short article about Whitefield’s “PATRIOTISM” taken from the October 19, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Such articles, however, were not the sole extent of news about the minister.  Advertisements for commemorative items served as an alternative means of marking current events … and purchasing memorabilia gave consumers an opportunity to be part of those events as they joined others in mourning the death of Whitefield and celebrating his life.

October 24

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

New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (October 22, 1770).

“THE two First PARTS of the LIFE of the late Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

News of George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, quickly spread.  Articles about the passing of one of the most famous and influential ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening appeared in several newspapers published in Boston the following day.  Coverage then radiated out to newspapers published in other towns in New England and then beyond.  A little over three weeks later, newspapers printed in Charleston delivered the news to residents of South Carolina, reprinting articles that first appeared in Boston’s newspapers.

Coverage of Whitefield’s death was not limited to news articles.  Printers inserted poems in memory of the minister as well as advertisements for commemorative items, broadsides featuring images, hymns, and verses that celebrated Whitefield.  Such commodification commenced almost immediately in New England.  An article in the October 4, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter ended with a notice of a “FUNERAL HYMN” written by Whitefield with the intention that it would be “sung over his Corpse by the Orphans belonging to his Tabernacle in London, had he died there” was on sale at Green and Russell’s printing office.  All five newspapers published in Boston as well as the Essex Gazette in Salem and the New-Hampshire Gazette in Portsmouth soon ran advertisements for various commemorative broadsides.

Yet the rapid commodification of Whitefield’s death was not confined to New England.  Two newspapers, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, broke the news on October 8, just a week after it first appeared in Boston’s newspapers.  Both publications reprinted items from other newspapers and inserted extracts of letters received from correspondents in Massachusetts.  In its next issue, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy included its first advertisement that sought to capitalize on the minister’s death.  Garrat Noel, a bookseller who frequently advertised his wares, placed a notice that highlighted two publications related to Whitefield before listing various other titles he offered for sale.  He informed prospective customers that he carried “THE two First PARTS of the LIFE of the late Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, written by himself,” works originally published three decades earlier that now resonated with consumers in new ways in the wake of the minister’s passing.  Noel also had in stock “Mr. WHITEFIELD’S Collection of HYMNS, The Thirteenth Edition.”  Whitefield’s death allowed for new marketing opportunities for popular items already in the bookseller’s inventory.

Noel’s advertisements ran for several weeks, coinciding with continued coverage of Whitefield’s death as all three newspapers in New York continued to reprint items from other newspapers to give their subscribers and other readers more information about the minister’s death and funeral.  Noel almost certainly hoped that those news articles would help to incite interest in the books he offered for sale, coverage of current events buttressing his marketing efforts.  It was hardly a coincidence that he began highlighting books related to Whitefield so soon after such momentous news about the minister arrived in New York and appeared in the public prints.

October 19

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 19, 1770).

“An Elegiac Poem, On the Death of … GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

The Boston Massacre and the death of George Whitefield both occurred in 1770, separated by almost six months. News of both events quickly spread via the colonial press with coverage commencing in Boston’s newspapers and then radiating out to other newspapers in other towns in New England and beyond.  In both instances, simultaneous acts of commemoration and commodification quickly followed.  Paul Revere and Henry Pelham marketed prints depicting the “Bloody Massacre” just weeks after British soldiers fired on a crowd in Boston, killing several people.  The commodification of Whitefield’s death happened more quickly and more extensively.  The Boston Massacre may be better remembered today as a result of the war for independence that it helped to inspire, but in 1770 it was the death of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening that captured far more attention when it came to creating and selling commemorative items.

Within a couple of weeks of Whitefield’s death on September 30, all five newspapers published in Boston printed advertisements for at least one commemorative item that colonists could purchase.  This commodification also found its way into the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, and the New-Hampshire Gazette, published in Portsmouth.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, provided extensive coverage of Whitefield’s death and public reaction to it, devoting a significant amount of space to it.  Between news articles, verses in memory of the minister, and advertisements for commemorative items, contents about Whitefield accounted for more than ten percent of the column inches in the October 19 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, as they had in each issue since the minister’s death.  The Fowles ran a new article that proclaimed Whitefield’s “PATRIOTISM.”  For a second time, they inserted an advertisement for two broadsides for sale at the printing office.  They devoted an entire column, complete with mourning bands at top and bottom, to two poems reprinted from other newspapers and a new advertisement for yet another broadside.

That advertisement promoted the “Elegiac Poem … By Phillis, a Servant Girl.”  That “Servant Girl” was Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet who became one of the most influential poets in eighteenth-century American literature.  This broadside had already been advertised widely in Boston’s newspapers and the Essex Gazette.  In selling it in New Hampshire, the Fowles enlarged the community of commemoration that consumed the same items.  Just as they read the same news items and verses reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, colonists purchased, read, and displayed the same memorabilia from town to town, creating a more unified experience despite the distance that separated them.  The Fowles suggested that Wheatley’s poem “ought to be preserved” – not just purchased – “for two good Reasons.”  The first was “in Remembrance of that great and good man, Mr. Whitefield.”  In addition, customers should acquire a copy “on Account of its being w[ro]te by a Native of Africa, and yet would have done Honor to a Pope or Shakespere.”  The Fowles traded on the novelty of an enslaved poet who “had been but nine Years in this Country from Africa,” hoping that would incite greater demand for this commemorative item.

The Adverts 250 Project has featured advertisements related to the commodification of Whitefield’s death several times in recent weeks.  While many other kinds of advertisements appeared in the colonial press, this repetition is meant to demonstrate how widely printers and others marketed Whitefield memorabilia following his death.  The minister’s passing was a major news story, but one that also lent itself to widespread commemoration through commodification as printers sought to give consumers opportunities to express their grief and feel connected to the departed minister.

October 17

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 15, 1770).

“Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”

Following the death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, colonial printers quickly engaged in simultaneous acts of commemoration and commodification.  Radiating out from Boston, newspapers provided extensive coverage of Whitefield’s passing, in news articles reprinted from one newspaper to another, in verses dedicated to the minister, and in a hymn composed by Whitefield himself in anticipation of it one day being sung at his funeral.  In addition to widespread and widely reprinted commemorations of Whitefield, printers also hawked memorabilia that commodified his death.

The first instance appeared in the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, just days after residents of Boston received the news that Whitefield died at Newburyport.  The news coverage included an announcement of “A FUNERAL HYMN, wrote by the Rev’d Mr, Whitefield … Sold at Green & Russells.”  Within two weeks, every newspaper published in Massachusetts as well as the New-Hampshire Gazette published at least one freestanding advertisement that promoted a broadside that commemorated the minister.  Printers and others made available several broadsides for consumers, some of that memorabilia featuring the funeral hymn and others featuring poems dedicated to Whitefield.

The advertisements for those broadsides initially addressed individual consumers, but on October 15 the advertisements for the “ELEGIAC POEM” by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet, in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy included a new note at the end: “Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”  Ezekiel Russell and John Boyles offered discounts to peddlers, shopkeepers, and anyone else who would purchase in bulk and then retail the broadside beyond Boston.  Just as news of Whitefield’s death spread through printing and reprinting of articles, verses, and hymns in newspapers that were distributed far beyond the towns in which they were published, the opportunities to engage in commemoration through commodification also widened.  Newspapers in Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth all ran advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia.  The producers of that memorabilia expected and encouraged further distribution into villages, offering discounts to facilitate the further dissemination of their product.

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.

October 11

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 11, 1770).

“AN Elegiac POEM, on the Death of … GEORGE WHITEFIELD … By PHILLIS.”

On October 11, 1770, coverage of George Whitefield’s death on September 30 continued to radiate out from Boston with news appearing in the New-York Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal.  The commodification of Whitefield’s death intensified as well.  Both newspapers printed in Boston on that day, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury and the Massachusetts Spy, carried advertisements for “AN Elegiac POEM, on the Death of that celebrated Divine, and eminent servant of Jesus Christ, the reverend and learned GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Phillis Wheatley, now recognized as one of the most significant poets in eighteenth-century America, composed the poem, though in the advertisements she was known as “PHILLIS, A servant girl of seventeen years of age, belonging to Mr. J. Wheatley, of Boston.”  Referring to the young woman as a “servant girl” obscured the fact that she was enslaved by the Wheatley family.  The advertisements further explained that she “has been but nine years in this country from Africa.”  This event brought together Whitefield, the influential minister following his death, and Wheatley, the young poet near the beginning of her literary career.  Although both are well known to historians and others today, much of Wheatley’s acclaim came after her death at the age of thirty-one in 1784.  Arguably, Wheatley is more famous than Whitefield in twenty-first-century America, reversing their relative status compared to the eighteenth century.

In addition to the novelty of an African poet, Ezekiel Russell and John Boyles also promoted the image that adorned the broadside, proclaiming that it was “Embellished with a plate, representing the posture in which the Rev. Mr. Whitefield lay before and after his interment at Newbury-Port.”  Examine the Library Company of Philadelphia’s copy of Wheatley’s “Elegiac Poem,” including an introduction that doubled as the copy for the advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy, the woodcut depicting Whitefield, and black borders that symbolized mourning in the eighteenth century.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 11, 1770).

Wheatley’s poem sold by Russell and Boyles was not the only one advertised on October 11.  In a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, Richard Draper announced that he published “An Elegy to the Memory of that pious and eminent Servant of JESUS CHRIST The Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  Exercising he prerogative as printer of that newspaper, Draper placed his advertisement before the one for the broadside with Wheatley’s poem and the woodcut of Whitefield.

Both poems celebrated Whitefield’s life and ministry.  Both gave colonial consumers an opportunity to mourn for Whitefield and feel better connected to his ministry, even if they had never had the chance to hear him preach.  Especially for those who had not witnessed Whitefield deliver a sermon, purchasing one of these broadsides allowed them to have an experience closely associated with Whitefield’s life by commemorating his death.  The printers who produced, marketed, and sold these broadsides simultaneously honored Whitefield’s memory and commodified his death, merging mourning and making money.

October 9

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

Essex Gazette (October 9, 1770).

“A Hymn composed by the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD, and intended to be sung over his Corps.”

George Whitefield, one of the most influential ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals known as the Great Awakening, was a celebrity known throughout the American colonies.  Following his death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, newspaper coverage radiated out from Boston.  The first reports appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy the following day.  The Massachusetts Spy, published in Boston, and the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, printed the news on October 2.  Two days later, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter reported Whitefield’s death and the Massachusetts Spy became the first newspaper to disseminate information about the event in more than one issue.  Coverage continued in other newspapers, many of them reprinting articles that first appeared in Boston’s newspapers.  On October 5, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, the New-Hampshire Gazette, and the New-London Gazette all carried the news, as did the Providence Gazette on October 6.  All three Boston newspapers that broke the story on October 1 expanded their coverage on October 8.  The same day, the Newport Mercury reprinted news that ran in the Boston-Gazette a week earlier.  The news also appeared in newspaper published outside New England for the first time.  The New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy reprinted items from Boston’s newspapers.

On October 9, the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, carried news for the first time, while the Essex Gazetteand the Massachusetts Spy continued coverage.  In addition to news items about Whitefield’s death, the Essex Gazette ran an advertisement for “A Hymn composed by the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD, and intended to be sung over his Corps, if he had died in England, by a Number or Orphans.”  That hymn was collected together with “some Verses on the Death of that great Man,” perhaps gathered from the various newspapers that honored Whitefield with poetry in addition to news articles.  The advertisement informed readers that the hymn and verses “will be printed on a Half Sheet, and sold at the Printing-Office To-Morrow.”  Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, participated in the commodification of Whitefield’s death.  He simultaneously sought to honor the revered minister and profit from his demise.

Even though Hall was the first to publish an advertisement, he was not the first to introduce the commodification of Whitefield’s death to the public.  Coverage in the October 4, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter included a short note about a similar (or perhaps the same) broadside:  “A FUNERAL HYMN, wrote by the Rev’d Mr. Whitefield:  Said to be designed to have been sung over his Corpse by the Orphans belonging to his Tabernacle in London, had he died there.  Sold at Green & Russell’s.”  This announcement appeared as part of an original news item about Whitefield’s death dated October 4, following a reprinted news item about his death dated October 1, and immediately before verses honoring the minister.  It was not separated from the coverage of Whitefield’s death as a distinct item, nor did it appear among the advertisements that ran elsewhere in that issue.  It was fully integrated into the reporting about Whitefield.  Just four days after the minister’s death, printers were already hawking memorabilia.  Not long after that, notices about commemorative items began appearing as advertisements rather than as part of the news coverage, underscoring the possibilities for generating revenue inherent in the commodification of Whitefield’s death.  Hall may have sold a broadside he printed or the one printed by Green and Russell, but either way he aimed to profit by leveraging the Whitefield’s celebrity and death.  Hall and other printers used current events to promote sales of commemorative items.