August 27

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

Aug 27 - 8:24:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 24, 1769).

“He is determined … not to import any more Goods.”

In August 1769, Joshua Lockwood promoted “A VERY neat Assortment of CLOCKS and WATCHES” that he had “just imported … from LONDON.” He also carried “a large and neat Assortment of Silver and Metal-Mounted Holster, Saddle, and Pocket-Pistols.” He was careful, however, not to run afoul of the resolutions recently adopted by merchants and traders in Charleston, a nonimportation agreement similar to those already in effect in Boston and New York. In several of the largest urban ports, colonists leveraged economic resistance to the Townshend Acts, vowing not to import a vast array of goods from Britain while Parliament levied taxes on imported paper, tea, glass, lead, and paint. For his part, Lockwood alerted the public that he “is determined, and bound by Honour, and for the Good of the Country, until the late villainous Impositions laid upon us are taken off.” The watchmaker established for prospective customers and the community that he supported the nonimportation agreement, wedding commerce and politics in his advertisement.

Lockwood joined other merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who attempted to leverage the nonimportation agreement to sway consumers with their political sentiments. Unlike others, however, he used the boycott for another purpose: calling in debts. Lockwood anticipated that the tradesmen on the other side of the Atlantic who supplied his clocks and watches would demand “a Settlement” once he suspended placing new orders. They would not extend credit indefinitely to a customer who no longer actively purchased their wares. To pay his own bills, Lockwood called on “his Friends and Customers” to settle their accounts with him. He offered several months to do so, but warned that he would sue those who were “not so kind as to comply with his Request” by the first of the year. Newspapers from New England to Georgia carried advertisements that called on colonists to pay debts or end up in court. In that regard, Lockwood’s notice was not extraordinary. Using the nonimportation agreement as a means of encouraging those who owed him money to settle accounts, on the other hand, was innovative. He sought to harness (or exploit) a political movement for the benefit of his business in a new way. Plenty of advertisers asked consumers to patronize their shops because they supported nonimportation, but they did not use the boycott as a justification for calling in debts. What were the ramifications for Lockwood? Did readers find themselves in sympathy and more inclined to pay their debts to alleviate any hardships Lockwood might face as a result of suspending his orders from Britain? Or did they question Lockwood’s commitment to making a sacrifice on behalf of the cause and resent his effort to use the nonimportation agreement as rationale for taking colonists to court?

November 18

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

Nov 18 - 11:18:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 18, 1768).

“Preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, meant business. They placed a notice in their own publication to inform subscribers, advertisers, and other customers that they needed to settle their accounts or else face the consequences. The Fowles periodically placed such notices, but they ratcheted up the rhetoric in November 1768. The printers were exasperated and they made that clear to readers.

The Fowles declared that they were “determined in a few Weeks, to publish a List of Customers … whose Accounts are of long standing.” With this warning, they offered a grace period. Those subscribers delinquent in settling their accounts could avoid public embarrassment by resolving the matter soon after this notice appeared in the newspaper. If they chose, however, not to take advantage of the grace period then they could expect to have their public shaming compounded by having “the Sum due” printed alongside their name. The printers aimed “to show how injuriously they are treated” by customers who refused to pay their bills.

Furthermore, the Fowles made it clear they were aware of some of the stratagems used by those who owed them money. “Many Customers who live in the Country,” they observed, “are often seen in Town, but if possible avoid coming to the Printing Office.” To add insult to injury, those who did visit often informed the Fowles “how they are involved in such and such a Law Suit, and that they have just paid all their Money to such a Lawyer.” The printers reasoned that two could play that game: “Therefore as they fancy paying Money to Attorneys best, we have left, and are preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.” The Fowles would not hesitate to take legal action if it became necessary.

They made that threat, however, only after publishing gentle reminders for customers to submit payments. Less than two months earlier, they inserted a notice that celebrated the twelfth anniversary of the New-Hampshire Gazette but also called on “a considerable Number of our Customers” to settle accounts. They considered doing so a “great Service.” Several weeks later they abandoned the language of service in favor of legal obligation. Rather than flaunting the money they spend on lawsuits against others, it was time for customers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to invest those funds in paying the printers.

September 30

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

Sep 30 - 9:30:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 30, 1768).

“This Day’s Paper compleats the Twelfth Year, since its first Publication.”

The masthead of the September 30, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included all of the usual information. It gave the full name of the newspaper, The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle, and advised readers that it “CONTAIN[ED] the Freshest ADVICES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.” It also included information specific to that issue, including the date, “Friday, Sept. 30, 1768,” and volume and number. It was “Vol. XII” and “Numb. 625 Weeks since this Paper was publish’d.” Only in the advertisements did Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, reveal the significance of “Numb. 625.”

“This Day’s Paper,” the Fowles announced, “compleats the Twelfth Year, since its first Publication.” Daniel Fowle had commenced publication on October 7, 1756. Unlike many other colonial newspapers, the New-Hampshire Gazette did not suspend publication during the Stamp Act was in effect, though the Fowles did remove the colophon that identified them as the printers. The New-Hampshire Gazette endured for a dozen years, through both paper shortages and political crises.

Yet the printers did not mark the occasion solely to celebrate their achievement and the impending thirteenth year of publication. They also noted that the current issue “compleats the Year also with a considerable Number of our Customers, especially those in Portsmouth, who are earnestly called upon to pay the same, which will be of great Service at this Time.” Colonial printers frequently placed notices in their own newspapers to encourage both subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts. The Fowles had done so many times before, sometimes at much greater length and with greater ferocity. They had previously advised delinquent customers that by paying their bills they could “prevent unnecessary Trouble,” hinting that legal action was the next step in resolving the situation. They were not so strident when they commemorated a significant milestone in September 1768, perhaps because they did not want to overshadow that event. Still, their livelihood – and the continuation of the New-Hampshire Gazette for another issue or another 625 issues – depended on subscribers and advertisers paying their bills.

December 22

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

Dec 22 - 12:22:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 22, 1767).

“He most earnestly intreats the Favour of all Persons indebted to him, to discharge their Arrears.”

Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, marked the completion of the second year of publication with an advertisement that called on subscribers and other “Persons indebted to him” to settle accounts so he, in turn, could pay down his own debts. His notice first appeared in the December 15, 1767, issue. It ran for four weeks, appearing immediately below the masthead as the first item in the first column on the first page in the final three issues of 1767 and the first issue of 1768. Crouch invoked his privilege as the printer to determine his advertisement’s placement on the page, choosing the spot likely to garner the most notice by those he wished to see his message and follow through on his request for payment.

The printer resorted to several tactics to encourage his debtors to “discharge their Arrears.” He emphasized that he assumed “great Expence” in publishing such a “useful and entertaining” newspaper “with Credit and Punctuality.” He offered a service to the public, and did so with competence, but that potentially put “himself and Family” at risk of “very bad Consequences” if those who owed him money did not pay as soon as possible. He also sought to downplay the amount of any particular debt, asserting that if many made small payments that the total would be sufficient for him “to discharge those Demands” against him. Considering these various appeals together, Crouch implicitly argued that the value of his newspaper amounted to much more than the small costs subscribers, advertisers, and others incurred when they did business with him.

Crouch also addressed advertisers in particular, attaching a nota bene about inserting advertisements in subsequent issues of his newspaper. First, he underscored their efficacy, assuring those who contemplated placing notices that advertising in his gazette “will certainly answer their End, as it has a very extensive Circulation.” The South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was one of three newspapers published in Charleston at the time, so Crouch needed to convince advertisers to select his newspaper instead of, or along with, the others. He also made a request for new advertisers to “be so kind as to send the CASH” when they submitted their copy, though this was not necessary if he already happened to have “an open Account.”

The continuation of advertising, along with the inclusion of other “useful and entertaining” content, depended in part on an advertisement published by the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Even as he instructed potential advertisers that inserting notices in his gazette “will certainly answer their End,” Crouch depended on that being the case for his own advertisement, trusting that it would induce his debtors to settle their accounts.

April 9

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (April 9, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, THE one Half of a good Boat.”

In many of the newspapers I looked through for this week, the sale of ships really struck me as a common trend, including this advertisement from Woodbridge, Connecticut. That town is located next to New Haven, which is located directly on the Long Island Sound. This made is a great location for coasting into New York and doing business there. This form of commerce was part of what historians call coastal trading. Rather than investing in transatlantic voyages between the colonies and England, many merchants focused on moving goods between the colonies, up and down the North American coast. In The Economy of Colonial America, Edward J. Perkins states, “[T]he real strength of the colonial economy was its prodigious agricultural production for local consumption and urban centers. The value of good and services for strictly internal consumption outweighed by far the volume of colonial exports.”[1]

Perkins states, “Colonial shipowners were also permitted to participate fully in the empire’s North Atlantic trade. Along with shipowners in the mother country’s they enjoy protection inside the empire from competition with the Dutch, French, Spanish and other outsiders.”[2] This allowed a growing coastal trade to develop. In addition, due to limited roadways and other means of transportation on the mainland, coastal trading provided an efficient alternative for colonists to move goods and earn money.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

During the initial round of selecting advertisements to examine during her week as guest curator of the Adverts 250 Project, Shannon chose several that announced ships for sale. Among those, Isaac Donham’s notice was unique in that he sold only “one Half of a good Boat … fit for the coasting Business” rather than ownership of an entire vessel. Donham explained that the “Person that owns the other Half will settle any where the Purchaser of the above Half shall think proper.” For all intents and purposes, Donham was selling a stake in a partnership with another colonial merchant.

As Shannon explains, coastal trading offered opportunities for some colonists to acquire significant wealth, but that did not mean that anyone who dabbled in moving goods between the colonies was guaranteed financial success. Coastal traders needed to be savvy entrepreneurs – and a little bit of luck never hurt anyone pursuing business opportunities. Acquiring goods to import and export among colonies represented a significant investment itself. Many merchants paid to have their goods transported on vessels owned and operated by others who regularly advertised freight services in colonial newspapers. Some of the most affluent colonial merchants sought to reduce those expenses by investing in their own ships. For those who could not afford to do this on their own, forming a partnership with one or more other merchants became a viable alternative.

Whatever the circumstances, one of Donham’s associates found himself in over his head, unable to pay his bills. He promised that there was nothing wrong with the vessel itself (“sold for no Fault”); instead, it had been “taken for Debt.” Donham apparently did not wish to operate the vessel in partnership with the “Person that owns the other Half,” preferring to sell the stake he had acquired when seizing the ship and recoup the funds owed to him. Participating in commerce in the colonies presented many opportunities for economic advancement, but with those opportunities came risks and, sometimes, failures. The matter-of-fact language in today’s featured advertisement disguised a drama that unfolded around one unfortunate merchant, his family, and his associates.

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[1] Edward J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia Univeristy Press, 1988), 43.

[2] Perkins, Economy of Colonial America, 41.

December 28

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

dec-28-12271766-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

“A Variety of Books and Stationary.”

Like many other colonial American printers, John Holt inserted his own advertisements into the newspaper he published. The two-page supplement to the New-York Journal from December 27, 1766, for instance, included three advertisements for “the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” None of them included Holt’s name, but that may have been less important than providing sufficient direction for current and prospective customers to make their way to Holt’s printing shop. Besides, many readers likely would have already known Holt as “the Printer at the Exchange.” For those who did not, the masthead of regular issues of the New-York Journal proclaimed that it was “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, NEAR THE EXCHANGE.”

Each of Holt’s advertisements in the December 27 issue addressed a different aspect of his business. One attempted to drum up new business, succinctly announcing “A Variety of Books and Stationary, to be sold at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Between subscriptions and advertisements, publishing the New-York Journal generated revenue, but Holt, like many others in his occupation, also acted as bookseller. This yielded an additional flow of income to keep the entire operation running.

dec-28-12271766-ad-2-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Another advertisement solicited supplies necessary for the New-York Journal to continue publication. “READY MONEY,” it announced, “given for clean Linen RAGS, of any Kind, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Printers throughout the colonies frequently placed such notices. They printed their newspapers on paper made of linen. Rags were essential to their business; they were recycled and reused as paper. Holt placed this particular advertisement in the upper right corner of the second page. Except for the masthead, it included the largest font in that issue, increasing the likelihood that readers would see and take note of it.

dec-28-12271766-ad-3-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Holt’s third advertisement addressed prior operations of his business as well as its future. In the final issue of the New-York Journal for 1766, he called on former customers to settle accounts: “ALL PERSONS who are a Year or more indebted for this Paper, and all who are on any other Account indebted to the Printer at the Exchange, are earnestly requested immediately to discharge their Accounts.” Once again, similar notices appeared in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Subscribers notoriously fell behind in paying for their newspapers. Printers extended credit for subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing of various sorts as well as the books and stationery they sold. In designing the layout for this supplemental issue, the crafty Holt placed this advertisement second, immediately after a notice listing the winning numbers for a recent lottery. He may have hoped to capture readers’ attention as they eagerly examined nearly two columns of winning tickets and moved directly to the next item.

The December 27 supplement of the New-York Journal included relatively little news. Of its six columns, only the third and fourth were given over to news items. Holt devoted the remainder of the supplement to advertising, including three advertisements that either promoted his own printing shop or saw to its general maintenance.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (August 4, 1766).

“All those who owe small trifling Debts, must discharge them before the End of August.”

Thomas Davidson wanted to settle accounts and catch up on his bookkeeping. To those ends he published an advertisement with a timetable for customers to pay their debts. Those with “small trifling Debts” had four weeks (“before the End of August”) to pay up, while others who owed more substantial amounts had nearly twice as long (“before the latter End of September next”). Davisdon warned that customers in both categories needed to be punctual or else he would take a step he considered “very disagreeable.” He threatened to sue those who did not heed his call to pay what they owed.

Davidson preferred cash, but he was more interested in settling accounts. If necessary, he was willing to accept a variety of goods that his customers presumably produced on their own farms: “Wheat, Rye, Indian-Corn or Pork.” Cash, credit, and barter all served as modes of exchange in the economy of colonial Connecticut as buyers and sellers negotiated final reckonings for their exchanges.

Although the primary purpose of Davidson’s advertisement seems to have been settling accounts, he also sought to generate more business. After warning customers with outstanding debts that he would sue them “without further Notice,” he announced that he sold “WEST-INDIA RUM, by the Hogshead, or smaller Quantity.” Apparently he did not want to find himself in a similar situation with prospective sales. He declared that he sold the rum “for Cash only.” Such was the tradeoff for purchasing the rum “very cheap.” Customers had to pay in cash.

Eighteenth-century account books, ledgers, and letters are the best sources for revealing business practices of merchants and shopkeepers, but advertisements often provide useful supplements that also demonstrate the public face that entrepreneurs presented to customers and their communities.

July 4

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

Jul 4 - 7:4:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 4, 1766).

“We beg such Delinquent Customers would reflect upon their extreme Ill usage of us.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, “THE Printers of this Paper,” meant business. They were exasperated with subscribers and advertisers who refused to pay their bills. To demonstrate that they were not going to put up with such “Arrearages” any longer, they placed this advertisement in a prominent location in their newspaper. It appeared at the top of the final column on the third page, the very last item readers encountered when scanning the interior of a broadsheet folded in half to create a four-page newspaper. In length, it extended halfway down the page. This was valuable space that the printers could have given over to advertising (assuming said advertisers actually paid their bills), but Fowle and Fowle determined that calling in debts was the better investment.

Fowle and Fowle offered a valuable service at a low price – “the most material Foreign and Domestick Intelligence carried with very trifling Expence” – and they expected to be compensated in a timely manner. Credit was an important part of the colonial economy, but the printers were more than generous in extending credit to their patrons. Some subscribers had fallen behind “three, four, five, six, seven, eight and nine Years.” As a result, the printers threatened to sue “delinquent Customers for News Papers, Advertisement, &c.” if those customers did not settle their accounts. The printers even arranged a series of meetings in the towns where they distributed their newspapers. It was not necessary for subscribers to visit their printing office in Portsmouth. The printers were willing pay the necessary expenses to come to them, if only they would pay their bills.

Benjamin Franklin famously made such a fortune as a printer that he was able to retire at a relatively young age to pursue a variety of other vocations. This advertisement demonstrates that other printers experienced challenges to achieving such success.

June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:13:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 13, 1766).

“Those who fail complying may depend upon being sued.”

Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently placed advertisements advising their customers to settle their debts or face the consequences. Both the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century and the colonial economy operated on credit, often webs of credit that extended far beyond consumers and the retailers who sold them goods. Those same retailers had often procured imported goods from English merchants on credit themselves. Hard money was fairly rare in the colonies, often making credit a necessary substitute. Yet extending credit had its risks. Producers, suppliers, and retailers might never receive payment. Consumers might find themselves hauled into court when they did not pay.

Thomas Craig expressed exasperation in his advertisement calling on “those who have been dilatory in paying off their accounts to discharge them.” He wanted to receive payment while the current court was sitting. While this might have seemed like short notice to some, he reminded them that he had “long before now advertised” that the “present state of my affairs makes it absolutely necessary” to settle accounts.

Still, Craig depended on the good will of customers to continue to earn a living. He knew enough about customer service to attempt to mediate any offense he might have given to “good and punctual customers” by offering a nota bene that emphasized that his advertisement was not directed at them. He needed payment from others, but he did not want to risk alienating those who settled their accounts in a timely fashion.

April 20

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Apr 20 - 4:17:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 17, 1766)

“The Trustees of the Estate of John Butler.”

Today’s advertisement regards a legal notice alerting all colonists that John Butler died and his account was being settled. Colonial Americans struggled to settle estate cases, especially involving those that did not have a prewritten will. In an article discussing “English Law in American Land Research,” Sandra Hargreaves Luebking says, “The colonies lacked the judges, lawyers, law schools, and elaborate court system to implement English property law in all its complexity, but most of the basic concepts crossed the Atlantic and exist in the land records genealogists use.” The system brought to the colonies from Great Britain was very complicated and the average colonist lacked the knowledge to understand.

The advertisement began with a dated notice – April 16, 1766 – that asked “Creditors of said Butler, to meet at the British Coffee-House in Boston, … then and there to transact such Matters and Things relating to said Debtor’s Estate as may be thought necessary.” In the following paragraph it requests that all indebted to John Butler pay the same to Daniel Leonard, an attorney at law, who was handling the estate. It then goes onto threaten that those “who neglect making Payment, may depend on being sued to July Court, without further Notice.” This was something that I found unique to colonial advertisements and almost nonexistent in modern advertisements.

I was curious about how Butler and other debtors paid the money they owed. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, in colonial America coins were the original primary form of currency, although they were not always in circulation. The first use of paper money was in “bills of credit.” These notes were redeemable in coin. One problem with these bills was that they led many colonists into debt that would be hard to repay. A project by Louis Jordan of Notre Dame states, “In 1749 the British government sent Massachusetts Bay Colony two tons of Spanish silver coins and ten tons of British coppers (primarily 1749 dated halfpence) as reimburse for assistance they provided to the Lewisburg expedition on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, during the French and Indian War.” This shows that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was given a chance to start using silver as their main currency again. Furthermore, according to, Alvin Rabushka’s book, Taxation in Colonial America, “Under the 1749 Massachusetts Currency Reform, all debts and contracts from March 31, 1750, onward would be payable only in silver coin, and any court judgments brought for the recovery of debts would be converted into silver coin at the specified exchange rate for the different tenors.”

This leads me to believe that because Butler owned and ran his own shop with multiple forms of currencies with different exchange rates coming and going it would be easy to fall into debt and then struggle to escape it with the new act requiring only silver currency. The problem did not get any better once the colonies declared independence. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, during the Revolutionary War, the new nation issued too much money, causing inflation and by the end of the war the paper money was almost worthless. In the time leading up to the war the fluctuating value of money could explain why John Butler was in such debt. Furthermore, it would explain why he was not only in deb himself, but had customers who were in debt to him and expected to repay what they owe after his death.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Estate and probate notices were a common type of advertisement that appeared in colonial newspapers, often (depending on the newspaper) as frequently as advertisements for consumer goods and services. This sort of notice, complete with its stern language threatening further legal action, may seem unfamiliar to Trevor and other modern readers, but such notices were largely unremarkable alongside other advertisements in the colonial era.

Trevor has identified some of the reasons why it was easy for colonists to fall into debt. Certainly the lack of hard currency played a significant role. It also led to networks of credit: within cities and villages, throughout the colonies, and across the Atlantic. The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century occurred, in part, because merchants extended credit to retailers and, in turn, retailers extended credit to consumers. Appeals to price became a standard part of eighteenth-century advertisements, but they were often accompanied by specifications that retailers offered credit to tempt potential customers into making purchases (or sometimes explicitly stated that low prices could be had in exchange for cash, perhaps to avoid some of the problems raised in today’s advertisement).

The Economic History Association offers an overview of “Credit in the Colonial American Economy.”