February 25

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

feb-25-2251767-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 25, 1767).

“Brought to the Work-house, A NEGROE FELLOW, middle aged.”

This advertisement caught my attention because it is an advertisement about runaway slaves. After doing further research on runaway slaves, I discovered that advertisements like this were very common during this period. Advertisements similar to this one were used to recapture slaves and indentured servants. They listed specific physical characteristics, such as height and clothing. The abundance of slavery advertisements is why the Slavery Adverts 250 Project also exists. Slavery was such an important part of society and the colonists’ economy at this time that slavery advertisements were abundant in many eighteenth-century newspapers.

Sadly, according to Tom Costa, advertisements sometimes did not need to be posted because many slave owners would recapture their slaves within one to two weeks of their escape. Costa also states that many slave owners would only put out advertisements if the runaway was seen as valuable. Unfortunately, advertisements such as these often made it nearly impossible for slaves to escape to freedom.

Many slavery advertisements, spanning several decades, have been digitized and made available for the public to view in the Virginia Gazette. The Virginia Gazette is the only colonial and revolutionary-era newspaper that has been digitized and made available to the general public, providing the ability to view many advertisements similar to this one from the colonial and revolutionary eras. Also, other slavery advertisements are easy to view via the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. This project also provides the public with hundreds of slavery advertisements from 250 years ago, emphasizing how commonplace slavery advertisements were. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project includes slavery advertisements published in newspapers throughout all of the colonies.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As the guest curators from my Revolutionary America class and I work on this project together, we have many opportunities to discuss methodology, primary and secondary sources, and the availability of digitized documents to scholars and the general public. In the process, my students gain a better understanding of both the past and how historians pursue their work.

From now until the end of the semester, visitors to the Adverts 250 Project may notice that each student incorporates at least one advertisement concerning slavery into her or his week serving as guest curator. This complements the work that each will conduct when curating the companion Slavery Adverts 250 Project during a different week, giving each an opportunity to examine at least one slavery advertisement in greater detail.

Today, Shannon offers important observations about the accessibility of eighteenth-century newspapers, including the advertisements for slaves that prominently appeared in them. To complete their work on both the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, students consult several databases of digitized newspapers as they draw material from the nearly two dozen published in the colonies in 1767. They complete most of their research using Readex’s Early American Newspapers, available via databases linked on the campus library’s website. That particular subscription, however, does not include all of the eighteenth-century newspapers Readex has digitized. When students visit the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society they have access to Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, which includes all of the newspapers available via Early American Newspapers as well as the Pennsylvania Gazette (perhaps the most important eighteenth-century American newspaper) and both versions of the Virginia Gazette published in 1767 (one by Purdie and Dixon and one by Rind). Students must also visit the American Antiquarian Society to access three newspapers printed in Charleston, South Carolina, via Accessible Archives.

As Shannon notes, it is not necessary to visit a research library or have remote access to their digital resources to examine the Virginia Gazette. Colonial Williamsburg has made these sources available to the general public via their Digital Library, which also includes manuscripts, research reports, and York County estate inventories. This collection of newspapers includes several publications (or continuations of publications with new printers) all published under the title Virginia Gazette: Parks (1736-1740, 1745-1746), Hunter (1751-1757, 1759, 1761), Royle (1762, 1763, 1765), Purdie and Dixon (1766-1774), Rind (1766-1774), Pinkney (1774-1776), Dixon and Hunter (1775-1778), Purdie (1775-1778), Clarkson and Davis (1779-1780), and Dixon and Nicholson (1779-1780).

The Adverts 250 Project includes a daily digest of all slavery advertisements published 250 years ago that day. The citations for advertisements from the Virginia Gazette always includes a link that takes readers to Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, directly to the correct page of the newspaper so readers can examine each advertisement in its original context. Each advertisement tells an important story of human bondage, but they tell even richer and more complete stories when not disembodied from the other advertisements, news items, and other content that accompanied them. It’s not possible for the Adverts 250 Project or the Slavery Adverts 250 Project to provide that kind of access to every eighteenth-century newspaper. Colonial Williamsburg offers unique access to the Virginia Gazette to all readers, not just those associated with colleges and universities or major research institutions.

 

An Evening of Poetry at the American Antiquarian Society: Review of Citizen Poets of Boston

The American Antiquarian Society sponsors a robust series of Public Programs each fall and spring. I was especially interested in the most recent entry, last week’s “The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems” by Paul Lewis (English, Boston College), because it originated as a class project that relied significantly on digital humanities resources. Lewis was joined for the evening by Harrison Kent and Alexandra Mitropoulos, former students who worked on the project as undergraduates.

The title for the evening’s event came from the recently published The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems, 1789-1820 (University Press of New England, 2016), an anthology of mostly anonymous poems published in literary magazines in the era of the Early Republic. The book, however, was not the original goal of the advanced undergraduate seminar that located and identified the poems; instead, it evolved out of an exhibition, “Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History.” Lewis and his students originally sought to examine “poems so bad they were delightfully amateurish” that still managed to make their way into print in the decades immediately after the Revolution and ratification of the Constitution, but their research took them in new directions as they discovered a treasure trove of forgotten and overlooked poetry that was good, interesting, and told local stories.

May 13 - Citizen Poets
The Citizen Poets of Boston

Lewis, Kent, and Mitropoulos explained that 427 magazines were published in the United States during the early national period. Most magazines incorporated at least some poetry as a standard feature, but many did so quite extensively. More than 30,000 poems appeared in those magazines. Lewis and his students were especially interested in Massachusetts (and primarily Boston, the center of magazine publication in the commonwealth during the period), combing through 59 magazines to identify and examine over 4500 poems.

This is a project that would not have been possible even a decade ago, at least not as a collaborative research project in an upper-level undergraduate seminar. It relied on intense archival work – digital archival work using the American Periodical Series and similar resources. The American Periodical Series includes digitized images of magazines printed from the colonial period to the turn of the twentieth century. Gathering digital surrogates for the original magazines together in one place eliminates several of the obstacles that researchers in earlier generations faced. Images of each page are readily available, making it unnecessary to travel to distant libraries and historical institutions. In effect, digital sources bring the archives to researchers, including students who otherwise would not have such extensive access to primary sources. (This assumes that an educational institution has the funds to purchase a subscription to the American Periodical Series and similar databases of early American primary sources. Many smaller colleges and universities do not, but that digital divide is a topic for another time. Still, I want to be clear that although digitized sources make new projects and pedagogy possible, unequal access means digitization is not a panacea.)

Lewis and his students were able to consult the 59 magazines printed in Massachusetts in the early national period relatively easily, though the project was still labor intensive even with the digital resources. As they identified and sifted through more than 4500 poems they decided to focus on poetry that revealed life in early Boston. Doing so required learning about publication and republication practices of the era. For instance, in efforts to fill their pages editors often inserted material copied directly from British periodicals in the absence of international copyright laws. Lewis and his students discarded those poems. They also discovered that editors frequently issued invitations to readers to submit their own poetry, invitations that anonymous poets eagerly accepted. Since magazine distribution was relatively limited during the period – most circulated primarily within the city of publication – these poems often revealed much about local culture in Boston. (Lewis suggested that other teams of scholars and students could pursue similar projects in Philadelphia, New York, and other urban centers.) In addition to inviting readers to submit original poetry, editors also solicited poems in response to other poems, creating conversations among readers from issue to issue. The anonymous poets often learned whether their work had been accepted or rejected in the pages of the magazines themselves; rather than communicating privately with these “citizen poets,” editors created a feature, “Acknowledgments to Correspondents,” in which they praised or disparaged the poems submitted to them.

Who were these citizen poets? Lewis and his students explored the democratizing effects of publishing poetry by anonymous authors in the literary magazines of the Early Republic. Although most of the authors cannot be identified definitively, many were surely women. Quite possibly some were non-whites. Anonymous publication allows – then and now – for imaginative readings of the identity of those citizen poets since their gender, race, and class remained hidden. The “citizen” in citizen poet accordingly refers to anybody who chose to participate in the conversations and debates pursued in verse rather than the more narrow confines of who was eligible to vote in the early national period. Poetry elicited broad civic participation as a variety of readers made contributions to public discourses. For instance, provocatively misogynistic poems generated responses. Lewis and his students documented poems and “anti-poems” that responded to each other over the course of several issues. Many poems expressed the hopes and anxieties of various Boston residents as they contemplated their role in early American society, including a poem about a young seamstress preparing for her marriage. She hoped that her husband would sometimes “let me wear the breeches.” Whether written by a woman or not, this poem indicates that everyday Bostonians grappled with the social roles and political rights of women in the era of the Early Republic.

Lewis and his students underscored that these forgotten poems reveal lively, open, and engaged interactions among readers. They offer glimpses of everyday life – relationships between men and women, labor and occupations, politics, family life, entertainment and pleasures – that might seem foreign to modern readers. In that regard, the poems in The Citizen Poets of Boston are a valuable resource for scholars, teachers, and students. However, I am just as interested in the process: the methodology that made that anthology possible. Using digitized sources to pursue such an extensive project helped to make possible a model of professor-student collaborative work that fulfilled some of the best ideals of scholars incorporating their own research into the classroom to create richer educational experiences. The digital revolution helps to make possible a greater array of “hands-on humanities” projects that engage both scholars and students and ultimately yield significant results.

In Which One Digital Archive Nearly Replicates One Existing Archive

In recent weeks I’ve spilled a fair amount of ink considering how both methodology and access shape the Adverts 250 Project. I’ve demonstrated three different levels of access to newspapers printed in 1766 included in Early American Newspapers: 14 via my college’s library, 15 via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources (including the extremely significant addition of the Pennsylvania Gazette) and 21 via the digital resources available in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society (which has access to all the titles in Early American Newspapers because the AAS and Readex are partners in the endeavor).

I’ve also demonstrated how my methodology for selecting advertisements (each must come from that date or a newspaper published most immediately before that date in cases of no newspapers printed on a particular date) has caused certain newspapers to receive disproportionate coverage due to most newspapers being published at the beginning of the week and relatively few at the end.

Feb 19 - Masthead for New-York Gazette 2:18:1766
Masthead for an Extraordinary (“Extra”) to the New-York Gazette (February 18, 1766).

I’ve made promises that when my Public History students’ tenure as guest curators comes to an end that I will resort to the resources available in the AAS’s reading room as a means of featuring a greater number of publications and achieving more extended geographic reach.

 

However unintentionally, I may have implied that accessing Early American Newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society means that I am working from a complete archive of publications from 1766. There are several reasons why this assumption is not completely accurate. The project will be migrating toward the best possible digital access, but that is not the same as complete access to every newspaper in an archive. Today I’d like to examine how closely the most extensive access to Early American Newspapers mirrors what is available in the stacks at the AAS.

Recall that I previously identified these newspapers printed at some point in 1766 (from Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820) that are not available via even the AAS’s most extensive access to Early American Newspapers.

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known September 29)

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known February 24)

North Carolina

  • [Wilmington] North-Carolina Gazette (last known February 26)

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (suspended starting October 31, 1765; resumed June 2, 1766)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Feb 19 - Masthead for Connecticut Courant 2:17:1766
Masthead for the Connecticut Courant (February 17, 1766).

I consulted the AAS’s online catalog and, especially, Clarence to find out if the AAS collections included these newspapers. (Clarence – named for Clarence Brigham, librarian (1908-1930) and director (1930-1959) of the AAS and author of the two-volume History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 – is a database that indicates which specific issues of early American newspapers are in the AAS collections, replicating and updating portions of Brigham’s monumental bibliography.) Here’s what I discovered:

 

  • Portsmouth Mercury: scattered issues from 1766.
  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy: weekly issues and occasional supplements through October 9.
  • Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten: photostat copy of only known issue (as indicated in the catalog record; Clarence does not specify this detail).
  • North-Carolina Gazette: AAS does not possess any issues.
  • South-Carolina and American General Gazette: scattered issues from 1768 through 1778, but none from 1766.
  • South-Carolina Gazette: one damaged issue from 1766 along with scattered issues from 1737, 1740, 1760, 1763, 1767, 1768, 1770, 1772, and 1774.
  • South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal: scattered issues from 1766 as well as scattered issues from 1768 through 1775.

Based on these findings, it appears that digital access to newspapers printed in 1766 via Early American Newspapers very nearly replicates the holdings of the American Antiquarian Society. For the most part, the AAS possesses only scattered issues of the titles not included in Early American Newspapers. This is a major achievement that allows researchers to view the contents of these publications while also preserving the originals.

For the purposes of this project, a digital archive that nearly completely replicates the newspaper holdings of the AAS (at least, those printed in 1766) also streamlines the research process. Having compiled a calendar of which newspapers were printed on which dates in 1766, I can quickly scan the relevant issues when selecting an advertisement to feature on any given date. I imagine that the reading room staff at the AAS also appreciates that I am not repeatedly requesting large bound volumes of eighteenth-century newspapers that they then have to page, process, deliver to me, and later return to their designated places in the closed stacks.

On the other hand, for other sorts of projects, the research process goes much more smoothly and efficiently when I can quickly – but carefully – flip through the pages of a bound volume of newspapers, scanning for particular content. To preserve the originals, scrolling through microfilm copies serves the same purpose. When it’s necessary to examine a large number of issues published sequentially, digital access via Early American Newspapers can be slow and cumbersome by comparison. That’s not a criticism but rather recognition that digital surrogates are not always the best format for conducting research. (On the flip side, the ability to do keyword searches in Early American Newspapers can streamline the research process significantly. I’ll write more about the virtues and imperfections of keyword searching digitized newspapers some other time.)

Feb 19 - Masthead for Boston Evening-Post 2:17:1766
Masthead for the Boston Evening-Post (February 17, 1766).

I noted above that in the coming months this project will migrate to the best possible digital access, but that is not the same as complete access to every newspaper in an archive (although in this case it is really close). Next week I will consider the difference between access to every newspaper in an archive and access to every newspaper printed. Once again, these distinctions may seem merely academic at first glance, but I continue to maintain that researchers must be aware of the scope and limitations of their resources and we have an obligation to others who read our work to share that information.

 

As I consider these issues, I keep returning to two of the main arguments presented by Kenneth Carpenter (Harvard Libraries, retired) and Michael Winship (English, University of Texas – Austin) in their keynote address at the Digital Antiquarian Conference last May: (1) digital sources should be consulted as complements to, rather than replacements for, original sources and (2) be conscious of the metadata that provides the foundation for digitized sources so you know how closely digital surrogates replicate original documents.

In Which Methodology, as well as Access, Significantly Shapes the Project

Last week I demonstrated that different institutions have varying levels of access to the titles included in Early American Newspapers, arguing that this shaped the scope of the project. The access from the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society includes 21 newspapers published in 1766 with broad geographic reach, while accessing Early American Newspapers via my college’s library allows me to examine only 14 newspapers. Those titles are confined mostly, but not exclusively, to New England and New York.

In some ways the effects might be minimized, especially if we take into account T.H. Breen’s argument about the standardization of consumer culture throughout the colonies in the eighteenth century. Colonial consumers, he maintains, purchased imported goods that were increasingly uniform from port city to port city, region to region, in the decades leading up to the American Revolution. Indeed, Breen claims that having similar experiences in the marketplace and speaking a common language of consumption facilitated Americans’ ability to speak to each other about political matters, especially as they imbued consumption with political valences in the wake of the Stamp Act and other measures enacted by Parliament.

That being said, I would still prefer to demonstrate that advertisements from the Chesapeake and the Lower South marketed the same or similar goods and deployed the same or similar appeals as the commercial notices printed in newspapers from New England and the Middle Atlantic. I would like to be able to show – visually and through commentary – rather than merely tell. In addition, even if colonists did have access to increasingly standardized goods and services throughout the colonies that does not necessarily mean that regional differences did not also emerge, especially in terms of marketing. Did advertisers throughout the colonies make similar appeals as they marketed the same assortment of goods?

These are some questions I wanted to raise last week, but the bibliographic details were already so extensive that I held them in reserve. This week I would like to raise some other questions about the contours of this project, but these are based on my methodology rather than access to Early American Newspapers.

Recall that whenever possible I select an advertisement published on that date 250 years ago. When no newspapers were published on that date (or, at least, none that I can access!) I resort to a newspaper printed as close to that date as possible (but always previously printed: it must have been in the hands of colonists somewhere). In addition, I consult newspapers from as many different cities, colonies, and regions as possible. On some days I have multiple options. To help illustrate this, guest curator Kathryn J. Severance and I worked out this census of newspapers that we can access via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources for the current week, Sunday, February 7 through Saturday, February 13.

February 6, 1766

  • Boston News-Letter
  • Pennsylvania Gazette
  • These newspapers fall outside of this week. Consult them only if there were no acceptable adverts in the newspapers published on February 7.

February 7, 1766

  • Connecticut Gazette
  • New-Hampshire Gazette

February 8, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 8. Use any newspaper published on February 7 or, if necessary, February 6.

February 9, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 9. Use any newspaper published on February 7 or, if necessary, February 6.

February 10, 1766

  • Connecticut Courant
  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury
  • Newport Mercury
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

February 11, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 11. Use any newspaper published on February 10.

February 12, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 12. Use any newspaper published on February 10.

February 13, 1766

  • Boston News-Letter
  • Pennsylvania Gazette

Notice that no newspapers were published on February 8 and 9, 1766. For those dates the methodology dictates selecting advertisements from either the Connecticut Gazette or the New-Hampshire Gazette. I know from experience that both of those can be rather slim pickings when it comes to advertisements for consumer goods and services. The Connecticut Gazette often did not feature any, while the New-Hampshire Gazette tended to reprint the same advertisements for multiple weeks.

This census helps to illustrate the somewhat surprising origins of the first 30 advertisements featured in 2016 (before my Public History students assumed their guest curator responsibilities). I included this list last week, but did not have sufficient space to evaluate it.

  • 7 advertisements: Massachusetts Gazette (Boston)
  • 7 advertisements: New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)
  • 4 advertisements: Newport Mercury
  • 3 advertisements: New-York Gazette
  • 3 advertisements: New-London Gazette
  • 2 advertisements: Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Evening-Post
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Gazette
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Post-Boy
  • 1 advertisement: New-York Mercury

In seeking to be current, to provide “the freshest advices foreign and domestick,” my methodology gives disproportionate attention to the New-Hampshire Gazette, a relatively minor newspaper from a relatively small town. (I know, I know: harsh words for what now bills itself as “The Nation’s Oldest Newspaper,” having been in continuous publication in one form or another since 1756.) The New-Hampshire Gazette did not publish nearly as many advertisements for consumer goods and services as its counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. That the New-Hampshire Gazette has been featured so prominently is a consequence of selecting advertisements from the most recently published newspaper on any given date.

The New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette, which included even fewer advertisements, were printed on Fridays in 1766. No newspapers were printed on Saturdays or Sundays. As a result, my methodology prescribes that I select advertisements from these two publications three days of the week. Sometimes neither featured enough advertisements to make this possible, forcing me to go back to the Massachusetts Gazette, which also helps to explain why so many advertisements featured here derive from its pages. (Keep in mind that I used accessed Early American Newspapers via my college throughout January, which meant that the Pennsylvania Gazette was not an option. Since my students are using the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources to access Early American Newspapers they have incorporated the Pennsylvania Gazette into this project. When I am once again responsible for selecting the featured advertisement each day I will incorporate an even greater number of publications by accessing Early American Newspapers in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society.)

I’ll close today’s extended commentary by reiterating that the New-Hampshire Gazette has received disproportionate attention due to the methodology I have developed for pursuing this public history and digital humanities project, not solely due to variations in access to Early American Newspapers. Quite simply, newspapers were printed on the day they were printed. On the other hand, I have developed a much different sampling method for my book project. The methodology I use here would not be appropriate in a manuscript seeking to analyze the development of advertising in eighteenth-century America.

In Which Bibliography of Early American Newspapers Is Too Much of a Good Thing

Bibliographers of early American newspapers, rejoice! You’re going to love the details in this post. Others may not be as enthusiastic about comparing which newspapers are accessible via which archives. If you’re in that camp, I invite you to skip to the final two paragraphs where I sum up why the (excessive) details are important.

Last week I concluded my post on the incompleteness of the digital archive by promising to explore varying levels of access to Early American Newspapers and how that shapes the scope of this project. To get started at that, I’d like to offer a census of the advertisements featured from January 1-30, the period before my students assumed their duties as guest curators.

The first thirty advertisements for 2016 (1766) came from:

  • 7 advertisements: Massachusetts Gazette (Boston)
  • 7 advertisements: New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)
  • 4 advertisements: Newport Mercury
  • 3 advertisements: New-York Gazette
  • 3 advertisements: New-London Gazette
  • 2 advertisements: Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Evening-Post
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Gazette
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Post-Boy
  • 1 advertisement: New-York Mercury
Feb 5 - New-York Gazette Masthead 2:3:1766
Masthead for the New-York Gazette (February 3, 1766).

As I’ve previously explained, my first priority is to choose an advertisement published on that date 250 years earlier or, in the case of dates on which no newspaper was published, an advertisement from a newspaper printed as close to that date as possible (but before that date: it must come from a newspaper that would have been available to readers somewhere in colonial America 250 years earlier). My secondary consideration is to move around geographically as much as possible. Given these guiding principles, I still contend that I have achieved appropriate coverage based on the resources available to me, namely my college’s access to Early American Newspapers.

That turns out, however, to be a limiting factor that has significantly influenced the shape and scope of this project so far. What do I mean? It turns out that varying levels of access to Early America Newspapers are available. For a variety of reasons, access to Early American Newspapers is not consistent from institution to institution.

Let’s say that I want to continue to pursue this project exclusively from my chair in my office and my couch in my living room. As a resident of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, I qualify for a digital library card that allows me to access a variety of electronic resources via the Boston Public Library’s website. (Thank you, Boston Public Library!) When I access Early American Newspapers via the BPL’s website I have access to one additional and very important newspaper: the Pennsylvania Gazette (previously published by Benjamin Franklin, but undertaken by the partnership of David Hall and William Sellers throughout most of 1766 and the next several years).

Otherwise the two institutions provide identical access: the Pennsylvania Gazette is the only additional newspaper available via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources.

For the sake of simplicity (too late, I know…), let’s consider all the newspapers published at some point in 1766 available through my college library’s access to Early American Newspapers and via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Journal
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia) [Boston Public Library only]
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (Philadelphia)

Georgia

  • Georgia Gazette (Savannah)

Accessing Early American Newspapers via my college library’s databases, this amounts to 14 newspapers from 9 cities in 7 colonies. New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Lower South are all represented, but the Chesapeake is missing. The Boston Public Library’s access yields similar numbers: 15 newspapers from 9 cities in 7 colonies, covering the same regions.

Feb 5 - Newport Mercury Masthead 2:3:1766
Masthead for the Newport Mercury (February 3, 1766).

As I mentioned last week, Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers indicates that 28 newspapers were published in 15 cities in 11 colonies at some point in 1766. With the addition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources get closer to a complete archive, but that gain is not nearly as significant as what happens when consulting the access available in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society, which has partnered with Readex in making eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers digitally accessible. (Thank you, American Antiquarian Society! Thank you, Readex!) Here are the newspapers printed in 1766 I am able to access via Early American Newspapers in the reading room at the AAS. The six not accessible via my college library or the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources are listed in bold.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New Haven)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Journal
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • Germantowner Zeitung (Germantown)
  • Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia)
  • Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia)
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (Philadelphia)

Maryland

  • Maryland Gazette (Annapolis)

Virginia

  • Virginia Gazette [Hunter] (Williamsburg)
  • Virginia Gazette [Rind] (Williamsburg)

Georgia

  • Georgia Gazette (Savannah)

[In addition, it is possible to access five newspapers printed in 1766 in Britain’s colonies in the West Indies: the Antiqua Gazette, the Barbados Mercury, the Kingston Journal (Jamaica), the Royal Grenada Gazette, and the St. Christopher’s Gazette (Saint Kitts).]

Among the colonies that eventually became the United States, this amounts to 21 newspapers published in 13 cities in 9 colonies. Both of the Chesapeake colonies are included, leaving the Lower South the least represented. This is especially unfortunate given that Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the largest cities in colonial America (and a major port for the transatlantic slave trade). Advertisements for runaway slaves as well as notices about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children appeared frequently in other newspapers, including those published in northern colonies, but the absence of newspapers from Charleston will continue to skew the kinds of advertisements available for inclusion in this project.

Feb 5 - Pennsylvania Gazette Masthead 1:30:1766
Masthead for the Pennsylvania Gazette (January 30, 1766).

Of the 28 newspapers Lathem indicates were published at some point in 1766, these seven cannot be accessed via Early American Newspapers at the AAS.

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known September 29)

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known February 24)

North Carolina

  • [Wilmington] North-Carolina Gazette (last known February 26)

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (resumed June 2)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal

Given that several of these newspapers either had short runs or were not consistently published throughout 1766, the digital archive of newspapers from that year that can be accessed at the American Antiquarian Society seems remarkably complete (with the unfortunate exception of newspapers from South Carolina). Imagine the scope of this project made possible when pursuing it at the AAS!

Feb 5 - New-Hampshire Gazette Masthead 1:31:1766
Masthead for the New-Hampshire Gazette (January 31, 1766).

I’ve gathered a lot of data to make this point: the scope and possibilities of this project are contingent on varying levels of access to the various titles in Early American Newspapers. To this point I have incorporated only advertisements from newspapers I can access via my college library. My students who are acting as guest curators throughout much of this semester, however, are accessing Early American Newspapers via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources. I wanted to give them more possibilities by including the Pennsylvania Gazette, but I also wanted them to be able to pursue this project from their dorm rooms or wherever they happen to have an Internet connection. For ten weeks the scope and coverage of the project will shift. Eventually, when I return to selecting advertisements myself, I will digitally access newspapers from the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society. This project will take on new contours. New England and the Middle Atlantic will no longer be privileged in the same ways. Instead, the Adverts 250 Project will achieve more even coverage.

Digitization is wonderful. I am grateful for the efforts of so many individuals and institutions for making it possible to access electronically so many early American newspapers and other sources. Yet researchers and our audiences need to be aware of the constraints on the sources we consult. As I argued last week, we have not (yet) achieved a complete digital archive. In turn, that fact shapes the work we do and the conclusions we are able to reach.

In Which the Digital Archive Is Incomplete

Last week I shared my process for charting which newspapers were published on which days during the third week of January 1766. I did so to demonstrate how I choose the “freshest Advices,” to borrow the tagline included on the Boston Post-Boy’s masthead that week (as well as the masthead of many other American newspapers throughout the eighteenth century).

As a result, I ended up selecting seven advertisements from six newspapers in five cities in four colonies, all of them in New England. Based on the newspapers available via my college’s subscription to Early American Newspapers, I recognize one possible improvement. I could have selected an advertisement from one of two newspapers published in New York, but I had recently featured notices from both of them. In an effort to rotate through newspapers to include relatively even coverage, I opted for publications from other cities. If I were to assess coverage over a month rather than a week, this problem would not be nearly as apparent. (After my students complete their time as guest curators over the next eleven weeks, I will aim to rectify this small problem by choosing newspapers from as many different cities and colonies as possible each week, planning further ahead to make that possible.)

Jan 29 - Wochenliche Masthead
Masthead for Der Wöchentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (January 27, 1766).

Still, based on when each newspaper was published during the week, even if I had included a newspaper from New York I would have only slightly improved the coverage: seven advertisements from six newspapers in six cities in five colonies. The most significant difference would have been including a newspaper from the Middle Atlantic, but this still would not have increased the geographic scope significantly.

This is especially striking when taking into consideration how many newspapers were published in the colonies in 1766. Here’s a list (with some notations), arranged geographically, from Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820. [1]

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known issue on September 29)
  • [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • [Boston] Massachusetts Gazette

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; extra and supplement on March 12; resumed August 9)

Connecticut

  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant
  • [New Haven] Connecticut Gazette
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
  • New-York Gazette [Weyman’s]
  • New-York Journal (began publication on October 16)
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known issue on February 24)
  • Germantowner Zeitung (few known issues)
  • [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Gazette
  • [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Journal
  • [Philadelphia] Der Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

Maryland

  • [Annapolis] Maryland Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; issues on January 30, February 20; resumed March 6)

Virginia

  • [Williamsburg] Virginia Gazette (Hunter) (suspended at beginning of year; resumed March 7)
  • [Williamsburg] Virginia Gazette (Rind) (began publication on May 16)

North Carolina

  • [Wilmington] North-Carolina Gazette (last known issue on February 26)

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; resumed June 2)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal

Georgia

  • [Savannah] Georgia Gazette (suspended at beginning of year, but resumed May 21)

(Why were so many newspapers suspended at the beginning of the year? Was that unusual? Yes! When the Stamp Act went into effect on November 1, 1765, many newspapers stopped publication out of protest. Others continued in defiance of the Stamp Act. I’m planning to address the Stamp Act and its effects on advertising in a later post.)

Lathem indicates that twenty-eight newspapers were published in fifteen cities in eleven colonies (but not Delaware or New Jersey) in 1766. Eliminating those with few known issues as well as others that had been suspended or had not yet begun publication still leaves nineteen newspapers published in ten cities in eight colonies during the fourth week of January 1766.  This includes newspapers published in New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Lower South (but not the Chesapeake).

Now compare that to the list of newspapers I was able to access via my college’s subscription to Early American Newspapers.

New Hampshire

  • [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • [Boston] Massachusetts Gazette

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury

Connecticut

  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette [Weyman’s]
  • New-York Mercury

Philadelphia

  • [Philadelphia] Der Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

This list consists of only eleven newspapers in seven cities in six colonies, compared to nineteen newspapers in ten cities in eight colonies actually published during the fourth week of January 1766. No newspapers from the Chesapeake or the Lower South appear on this list. (I am being generous here by including the German newspaper from Philadelphia even though I revealed a few weeks ago that I do not read German and will not be including German-language newspapers and advertisements in this project.)

I claimed last week that the geographic scope of advertisements I select derives from a methodology that is well-crafted and appropriate given the sources available. That claim comes into sharper focus now. I have been experimenting with what is possible using the resources available to me via an Internet connection from my living room or from my office, without stepping into an actual archive to examine original copies of newspapers or dreaded reels of microfilm.

Jan 29 - Boston Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the Boston-Gazette (January 27, 1766).

It should now be apparent that I am working with an incomplete archive! Digitization is wonderful in so many ways. I love that I have so many sources available any time I am connected to the Internet. I appreciate that I am able to introduce my students to colonial newspapers in a way that just was not possible when I was an undergraduate. As I think about their tasks as guest curators in the coming weeks and how I might have approached a similar assignment as an undergraduate I realize that it would have been possible, with a lot of effort, at the major research university I attended, with its massive library and banks of microfilm readers. It would not, however, have been possible at the small liberal arts college where I currently teach, at least not without extensively relying on interlibrary loan to procure microfilms of colonial newspapers.  My campus library certainly would not possess the budget to purchase all of these microfilms. Even then, the process might have been too cumbersome.

I now find myself on some sort of middle ground. Digitization of early American sources is a significant boon, both for research and teaching, but digital archives need to be approached with full awareness that they do not (yet and may never) replicate all the holdings of the physical collections in libraries, historical societies, and other institutions throughout the United States and beyond.

Jan 29 - Boston Gazette Supplement Masthead
Masthead for Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (January 27, 1766).

Next week I’ll explore varying levels of access to Early American Newspapers and how that shapes the scope of this project.

[1] Edward Connery Lathem, compiler, Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820: Being a Tabular Guide to Holdings of Newspaper Published in America through the Year 1820 (Barre, MA: American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 1972).