February 14

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

Feb 14 - 2:14:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 14, 1770).

“Messrs. JOHN SKETCHLEY, & Co.”

Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, apparently experienced a disruption in his paper supply in February 1770, perhaps as a result of the duties imposed on imported paper by the Townshend Acts. His newspaper usually featured four columns per page. The February 14 edition did have four columns per page, but the fourth column was narrower, with the contents rotated so that the text ran perpendicular to the other three. Printers and compositors often deployed this strategy when forced to print newspapers on paper of a different size than usual. It allowed them to insert as much content as possible while efficiently using type already set. Notably, advertisements that ran in the previous issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette comprised the entirety of the material rotated to fit on the page for the February 13 edition.

This evidence allows me to confidently state that Wells used broadsheets of two different sizes in February 1770. I cannot make this claim, however, as the result of comparing the actual dimensions of those sheets. The Adverts 250 Project relies primarily on databases of eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized to allow for greater access. Indeed, this project would not be possible without the resources made available by Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, Accessible Archives’s South Carolina Newspapers, Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, and the Maryland State Archives’s Maryland Gazette Collection. Each of these databases allows for significantly enhanced access to the content of eighteenth-century newspapers. In the process, however, they negate some of the material aspects of those newspapers, including any indication of size. Each issue becomes the size of the computer screen or whatever size users make them as they zoom in and out to observe various details.

That means that readers must relay on visual cues to make determinations about the relative size of newspaper pages. This makes it impossible to compare, say, the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to the Connecticut Courant, but it is possible to make comparisons among various issues of a particular newspaper. The mastheads for the February 7 and February 14 editions of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette do not match. Wells or a compositor who worked in his printing office reset the type, adjusting the masthead to fit a smaller broadsheet. In combination with the advertisements rotated to fit a narrower fourth column, this confirms that Wells used a smaller sheet. Careful attention to the format reveals the reason for the unusual appearance of the February 14 issue, something that would have been readily apparent when examining the original copies. Scholars who rely on digital surrogates, however, have to develop strategies for making assessments about the relative sizes of pages and explain why printers and compositors made certain decisions about how to format advertisements and other content.

December 13

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

Dec 13 - 12:13:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 13, 1769).

“GEORGE COOKE, & Co. Have imported … [illegible].”

The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project are made possible by databases of eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized in order to make them more accessible to scholars and other readers. Such databases have revolutionized the work done by historians, allowing them to ask – and answer – questions that would have been impractical or impossible to consider just a couple of decades ago. Various tools, including keyword searches that rely on optical character recognition, allow historians to streamline their research methods as they efficiently identify sources that otherwise would have been overlooked.

To some extent, the production of digital surrogates for primary sources has democratized the research process, making historical documents more widely accessible. Historians and other scholars no longer need to visit libraries, archives, and historical societies to gain access to original sources. Instead, they can access many of them (including eighteenth-century newspapers) from anywhere they have a reliable internet connection. This democratization of access to digital surrogates is sometimes limited by access to financial resources. Consider the databases consulted for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Colonial Williamsburg makes its database of eighteenth-century newspapers published in Virginia freely available to the public. Accessible Archives and Readex, however, have different business models for South Carolina Newspapers and America’s Historical Newspapers, respectively. Both are available only by subscription. Some institutions can afford access to those databases; others cannot. I am fortunate that my college has a subscription to America’s Historical Newspapers. I am also fortunate that Accessible Archives has an individual subscription option at a reasonable price. It provides limited access compared to an institutional subscription, but it is sufficient for my purposes and the projects I have designed.

Even though scholars and other users benefit from these databases, they also learn that accessibility does not necessarily mean legibility. In some instances, the original sources have been damaged, but in many others poor photography or other shortcomings of the remediation process produce digital surrogates that are accessible but not legible. Consider George Cooke and Company’s advertisement from the front page of the December 13, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Some of it is legible; other portions are not. An experienced reader can carefully work through much of the advertisement, filling in the gaps by considering both context and prior knowledge of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements for consumer goods. Inexperienced readers would not derive nearly as much information from this advertisement, nor would keyword searches that rely on optical character recognition reach the same conclusions as a human reader.

Digitization has forever changed historical research methods, but digital surrogates do not replace original sources. Digital surrogates come with their own set of limitations that scholars must take into consideration. They make sources more accessible – sometimes. Both subscription fees and illegible remediations of original sources limit the usefulness of digital surrogates.

November 15

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

Nov 15 - 11:15:1769 JPG Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 15, 1769).

“STROUDS, duffils, flannels, coarse broad cloths.”

Remediation matters. A few days ago I had an opportunity to visit an introductory digital humanities class offered by WISE, the Worcester Institute for Senior Education. During my presentation, I introduced students to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project as well as some of the databases of digitized newspapers that make those projects possible, including Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library and Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers. We discussed some of the advantages and challenges of working with digitized sources.

Nov 15 - 11:15:1769 PDF Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 15, 1769).

We began by acknowledging that any digital surrogate is, by definition, a remediation of an original document … and different processes of remediation have different effects. Consider Rae and Somerville’s advertisement in the November 15, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Both of these images come from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, yet they are not identical. One aspect of that database that I really appreciate is the ability to download an entire issue of a newspaper and then print a copy that I can mark in any way I like. When I view the Georgia Gazette via the database, Rae and Somerville’s advertisement looks like the first image. The variations achieved via greyscale make it relatively easy to recognize smudged ink, printing that bled through from the other side of the page, and foxing (or discoloration) of the paper. Downloading a copy to make it even more portable, however, yields a black-and-white image that does not include the same variations. As a result, the second image is more difficult to read. It is possible to download greyscale images from the database, but it requires more steps. In addition, pages must be downloaded individually rather than acquiring an entire issue at once.

This means that even though digital surrogates make eighteenth-century newspapers much more accessible beyond research libraries and historical societies, readers have very different experiences working with the various versions of digitized documents. Remediation does not necessarily mean producing exact replications of original sources. Instead, technologies alter images, some more than others. Scholars and others who consult digitized sources must take into account the challenges involved in reading those documents and alter their methodologies accordingly, especially when given access to multiple remediations of the same sources.

October 25

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

Oct 25 - 10:25:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 25, 1769).

“Samuel Douglass, HAS JUST IMPORTED … GOODS, suitable for this and the approaching season.”

Digital technologies, including keyword searches, often streamline the process of doing history. Keyword searches of digitized newspapers, for instance, allow historians to quickly identify items relevant to their research questions. Yet keyword searches are neither infallible nor comprehensive. They often overlook material that historians could readily identify when examining documents, both original and digital surrogates, with their own eyes.

Consider this advertisement for “A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT of EAST-INDIA and EUROPEAN GOODS” that Samuel Douglass placed in the October 25, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Note that the advertiser’s name appears in a distinctive font as a headline. That helped to distinguish Douglass’s advertisement from others. Curious about how many times Douglass deployed this strategy, I did a keyword search via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, the database where I encountered this particular advertisement. I restricted the date to 1769 and the publication to the Georgia Gazette. I selected “Samuel Douglass” as the keyword. The search returned nine results, but did not include this particular advertisement or any other iterations of it. Realizing that optical character recognition often has difficulty with the “long S” used frequently in the eighteenth century, I ran a second keyword search for “Samuel Douglafs.” This yielded zero results.

I knew that this particular advertisement appeared in the Georgia Gazette because I previously downloaded the issue that included it from America’s Historical Newspapers, yet the database’s own keyword search overlooked it. Finding other instances, if there were any, would require systematically viewing every page of the Georgia Gazette. Digital technology certainly made copies of that newspaper originally published in 1769 more accessible, but doing a keyword search was not more efficient. In fact, when it comes to examining a newspaper page by page, accessing each page via a database of digitized images goes much more slowly than consulting the originals. In such instances, accessibility and efficiency are a trade off. Keyword searches have become a powerful tool for historians … sometimes. Depending on the questions they wish to ask, however, sometimes traditional methods yield more results … and more quickly.

September 14

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

Sep 14 - 9:14:1769 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (September 14, 1769).
“RUN away … a Mulatto slave.”

The digitization of historical sources has made them much more widely accessible to scholars and the general public. Anyone with an internet connection, for instance, can access this advertisement from the September 14, 1769, edition of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette. Colonial Williamsburg has made the entire issue, along with hundreds of other newspapers published in Williamsburg from 1736 to 1780, available via their Digital Library.

These sources, however, sometimes obscure portions of the past even as they provide greater illumination for other parts. Everyday use damaged some sources even before they found their way into an archive or library. Others have suffered the ravages of time. Poor photography has contributed to the illegibility of some digital surrogates.

Consider today’s featured advertisement. At a glance, readers can identify it as an advertisement for a runaway thanks to the mostly legible first two words as well as the muddy outline of a woodcut depicting a fugitive. Although such woodcuts most often accompanied advertisements about enslaved people who escaped, they sometimes appeared in notices about indentured servants and convict servants. Readers with experience examining similar advertisements might spot the word “Mulatto” on the second line and then reasonably extrapolate it to “Mulatto slave.” Most of the rest of the advertisement is illegible, except for the name of the advertiser at the end. Who was the slaveholder who sought the return of an enslaved person who attempted to escape from bondage? Thomas Jefferson.

Like most other eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, especially runaway advertisements, this notice ran for multiple weeks. Sometimes this allows readers the opportunity to read the same advertisement in another issue, but in this case other insertions are not much more legible. Jefferson’s advertisement first ran on September 7. Look for it near the top of the third column on the third page. A portion of the page was cut out at some point. What remains of Jefferson’s advertisement is only partially legible, but not his name on the final line. The advertisement ran again on September 21, the first item in the final column on the final page. The digital image of this insertion is more legible; an experienced reader could carefully transcribe most of the advertisement. The advertisement is accessible, but not easy to read. This time the fault appears to lie with poor photography rather than the vagaries of time damaging the page.

Due to the prominence of the enslaver who sought the return of his human property, this advertisement has been transcribed and made widely available by the National Archives. The presentation includes the complete text, but not an image, of the advertisement. Other content from the September 14 edition of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette, including an advertisement for “sundry SLAVES” to the right of Jefferson’s notice, remains inaccessible via digital surrogates. Other extant copies may be much more legible, but readers who rely on digitized sources do not have ready access to those. Digitization of historical sources helps to tell a more complete story of the past, but the digitization does not necessarily make any source readily accessible.

August 30

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

Aug 30 - 8:30:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (August 30, 1769).

To be sold …”

Like most other newspaper published in the colonial era, a standard issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Robert Wells, the printer, distributed a four-page issue once a week. On occasion, however, Wells had too much content – news, editorials, advertisements, to include in the standard issue. In order to publish the latest intelligence and paid notices in a timely manner, he supplemented the standard issue with an additional sheet.

Such was the case with the August 30, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. It consisted of six pages, the standard four-page issue and another sheet with one page printed on either side. When other printers resorted to this means of increasing the length of an issue, many tended to distribute an additional half sheet that included a masthead that read “Supplement to the …” The half sheet thus matched the size of rest of the issue. It maintained the same format as the standard issue. Wells, on the other hand, distributed his supplemental pages on smaller sheets.

Consider the format of a standard issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Four columns spanned the page. The supplemental sheet that accompanied the August 30 edition did not bear a separate masthead. Instead, the title ran across the top, as it did on every page, and the numbering continued uninterrupted, making a date unnecessary. The additional sheet featured two columns that ran vertically and a narrower third column that rotated the text of the advertisements ninety degrees in order to make them fit on the page. Why do this? It avoided the time and effort of resetting type for notices that previously appeared in other issues. Wells and the compositor devised a system that allowed them to cover every square inch of the supplementary sheet with content. It avoided wasting any paper when they did not have enough content to fill an entire half sheet, especially important now that paper was in short supply due to the import taxes levied by the Townshend Acts. The supplemental sheet did not match the rest of the issue in its appearance, but it was an efficient way to circulate all the news and advertising received in Wells’s printing office that week.

Unfortunately, working with digital surrogates for the original sources does not allow for exact measurements of the standard issue and the supplementary sheet. Accessible Archives and its counterparts do not include that sort of metadata, in large part because it would be prohibitively expense to do so. The size of both sorts of pages – the standard issue and the supplement – appear the same when viewed in digital format, even though visual evidence demonstrates that the printer used sheets of very different sizes. Digitized primary sources allow for greater accessibility, but they cannot answer every question. Scholars and others must remember that digitized sources are supplements to, rather than replacements for, the original documents.

April 25

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 24, 1769).

“CHOICE CHOCOLATE … Cocoa manufactured for Gentlemen in the best Manner.”

When most people read the word “chocolate,” they probably pictures a Hershey’s chocolate bar. However, chocolate to the typical eighteenth-century colonist was a kind of frothy drink made from cocoa beans. According to Rodney Snyder, the chocolate drink originated in Mesoamerica, its first contact with Europeans being traced back to one of Christopher Columbus’s voyages in 1502. Chocolate was mentioned in a colonial newspaper for the first time in 1705, and it quickly became a colonial staple, since it was affordable and could be consumed by people from any class. Around the time of the printing of this newspaper, the colonies were importing over 320 tons of cocoa beans. So readily available was chocolate that it was actually given out as rations to soldiers in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Colonists commonly drank chocolate in coffeehouses, a place where they met to discuss politics, current events, and anything else.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Sam first consulted with me about this advertisement via email, I had a little difficulty finding it in the Boston-Gazette. She told me that it was on the third page, yet it is actually on the second page of the supplement. Sam did not, however, make an error. Instead, she reported the information available to her as a result of a design flaw for one of the databases of digitized newspapers that make the Adverts 250 Project possible.

I regularly sing praises for America’s Historical Newspapers. That database makes my research possible. It also allows me to bring my research into the classroom in meaningful ways, especially when I invite students to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Beyond those projects, America’s Historical Newspapers is a valuable resource for examining primary sources in class, allowing me to present digital surrogates with much more context than modern editions in course readers allow.

That being said, I have learned from experience that the database does have a flaw in the manner that it incorporates supplements. Consider the April 24, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. It consists of the standard four-page issue and a two-page supplement. Ideally, the database would present the standard issue first and then the supplement. However, when viewing this issue online the first page of the supplement appears first, then the first page of the standard issue, then the second page of the supplement, followed by the second, third, and fourth pages of the standard issue. The pages appear in the same order when downloading a PDF of the entire issue. For issues with four-page supplements, the pages are interspersed back and forth between the supplement and the standard issue. I have learned to collate the pages in the correct order when I print them out to mark them up.

Guest curators with less experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers, digitized primary sources, and, especially this idiosyncrasy, do not always realize that the pages presented online and in the PDF appear out of order … nor should they expect that the pages appear in any order other than first to last. When Sam consulted her digital copy of the Boston-Gazette for April 24, John Goldsmith’s advertisement for “CHOICE CHOCOLATE” appeared at the bottom of the third page in the document, hence her notation that I could find it there. I consulted a hard copy that I had collated into the proper order, which led me to a different page and created confusion. In the end, this yielded a teachable moment about how historians must continuously assess their sources, not just the contents but also the format and the media employed to make them available to us.

April 18

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

Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 20, 1769).
“[illegible]”

Working extensively with primary sources is one of the benefits of serving as a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Before I incorporated these projects into my upper-level courses on early American history, I provided students with representative advertisements that I had carefully selected to demonstrate particular aspects of consumer culture or the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children. For instance, a shopkeeper’s advertisement listing dozens or hundreds of items for sale suggested the many choices available to customers during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Another advertisement describing the skills possessed by enslaved men and women made the point that they worked as coopers, blacksmiths, midwifes, and laundresses, to name just a few examples. An advertisement describing someone who escaped and offering a reward for their capture testified to acts of resistance by enslaved men and women.

In delivering these selected examples to students, I distributed either transcripts reprinted in modern textbooks and course readers or copies drawn from my own exploration of eighteenth-century newspapers made available via databases produced by Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg, and Readex. For the latter, the legibility of the digitized editions played a role as I selected advertisements. If we only had time in class to examine a few representative advertisements, then I wanted those primary sources to be as easy to read as possible.

The idea of a few representative advertisements, however, no longer applies when students assume their responsibilities as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. They are tasked with examining digital copies of every extant newspaper originally published during a particular week in the 1760s. This means that they encounter an archive of newspapers that are not nearly as perfect as the representative examples that I would otherwise distribute in class. Some copies were damaged in the eighteenth century; others deteriorated over time. This page of the Virginia Gazette shows signs of water damage, making portions illegible. The empty space below “POETS CORNER” resulted from someone clipping the poem, removing both the verse and whatever content was on the other side of the page from the original newspaper and any subsequent remediated copies, whether microfilm or digital surrogates.

Sometimes the process of remediation from the original newspaper to microfilm to digital image to a hard copy that comes off the printer in my office alters the legibility of a document. It does not matter if an original newspaper is in perfect condition if poor photography produced an unusable image. The process of moving between PDF and JPG files also alters the appearance of these digital surrogates for primary sources. The same is true for digital images and hard copies produced on the office printer. Even when I supply students with hard copies of all the newspapers for their week as guest curator I recommend that they work back and forth between those hard copies and the digital ones they have compiled. The digital versions are often more legible. They can also be enlarged to gain a better view of a newspaper page that has been condensed to a standard sheet of 8.5×11 office paper.

In working with digital surrogates for dozens of eighteenth-century newspapers drawn from various databases, undergraduate guest curators experience some of the challenges that historians regularly face when they work with primary sources. The process of “doing” history becomes even more complicated, messy, and nuanced as they grapple with both the sources as material items (or digital representations of material items) and the ideas contained within those sources. Guest curators must engage in problem solving that they would not do if I simply handed them perfectly legible copies of representative advertisements from eighteenth-century newspapers. They must take on greater responsibilities as they develop their critical thinking skills and gain experience interpreting the past.

November 21

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

Nov 21 - 11:21:1768 Connecticut Courant
Supplement to the Connecticut Courant (November 21, 1768).

“Catalogue of BOOKS, just imported from LONDON.”

For three weeks in November 1768 the partnership of Lathrop and Smith placed a full-page advertisement in the Connecticut Courant. It first appeared in the November 7 issue and again on November 14 and 21. Although Lathrop and Smith described themselves as “Apothecaries in Hartford,” they published a “Catalogue of BOOKS, just imported from LONDON” in their advertisement, listing approximately 250 titles available at their shop. To help prospective customers identify books of particular interest, they organized them by genre: Divinity, Law, Physick, School Books, History, and Miscellany.

While not unknown in the late colonial period, full-page advertisements were rare. They merited attention due to their size and the expense incurred by the advertisers. Given that the standard issue of most newspapers consisted of four pages created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and folding it in half, full-page advertisements dominated any issue in which they appeared, accounting for one-quarter of the content. That was the case the first two times Lathrop and Smith published their book catalog in the Connecticut Courant. For its third and final insertion it comprised the second page of a half sheet supplement devoted entirely to advertisements. That supplement brought the number of pages distributed to subscribers up to six for the week. Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement still accounted for a significant proportion of content placed before readers. Its size may have prompted the printers to resort to a supplement in order to make room for other content.

In addition to filling all three columns, the first insertion also featured a nota bene printed in the right margin. “N.B. Said Lathrop & Smith, have for Sale as usual,” it advised, “A great Variety of little Cheap Books for Children.—A Variety of Tragedies, Comedies, Operas, &c.—Writing Paper, Dutch Quills, Scales & Dividers, A Universal Assortment of Medicines and Painters Colours.—Choice Bohea Tea, Chocolate, Coffee, Spices, Loafsugar, Indico, &c. &c. &c.” The nota bene may have also appeared in the subsequent insertions, but decisions about preservation and digitization of the original issues made at various points since they first circulated in colonial America may have hidden the nota bene from view.

Separate issues of the Connecticut Courant have been bound into a single volume. As a result, the original fold of the newspaper has been incorporated into the binding. This means that the inside margins are partially or completely obscured. Recall that the nota bene for Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement appeared in the right margin. That is the outside margin for odd-numbered pages, but the inside margin for even-numbered pages. The advertisement appeared on the third page when it was first published on November 7, making the nota bene quite visible, even in the volume of newspapers bound together. On November 14, however, it appeared on the fourth page. On November 21, it appeared on the second page of the supplement. In both instances the nota bene, if it remained part of the advertisement, became part of the inner margin, the portion of the page given over to binding issues together. It is impossible to tell from the photographs that have been digitized if the nota bene survived into subsequent insertions. Examination of the originals might reveal traces or confirm that it disappeared.

As the image for this advertisement makes clear, working with surrogate sources – whether microfilm or digitized images – sometimes has its limitations. Questions that cannot be answered from such sources might be addressed with more certainty when examining originals. If the nota bene was indeed discontinued after the first insertion, that raises interesting questions about the reasons. Did Lathrop and Smith request its removal? Or did the printers choose to eliminate it? What might this instance tell us about the consultation that took place between printers who produced newspapers and advertisers who paid to have their notices included in them?

October 10

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

Oct 10 - 10:10:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 10, 1768).

“To be sold … by Freelove Saunders.”

In October 1768, Freelove Saunders inserted an advertisement for imported textiles, adornments, and other goods in four consecutive issues of the Newport Mercury. Commencing on October 10, the advertisement last appeared on October 31. It moved from page to page, initially appearing on the third page, then in a privileged place as the first item in the first column on the first page, and ultimately on the final page for its last two insertions. The headline, “Freelove Saunders” in a larger font with generous white space surrounding it, makes the advertisement easy to spot when looking for it in particular … at least to the human eye.

Recent technological developments have revolutionized historical research. The Adverts 250 Project, for instance, is possible due to the digitization of eighteenth-century newspapers by Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg, and Readex. Colonial Williamsburg photographed and digitized newspapers from its own collections, but Accessible Archives and Readex partnered with research libraries in their efforts to make historical sources more widely accessible (by creating a product, it should be acknowledged, to market and sell to scholars, educators, and their institutions). In addition to images of primary sources, many databases also feature other tools, including the ability to search texts for keywords.

Such searches, however, must be deployed carefully. Say that in examining the October 10, 1768, edition of the Newport Mercury I encounter the advertisement placed by Freelove Saunders 250 years ago and that I want to know more about its publication history. I have sufficient information to pursue a keyword search in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database. Limiting the year to 1768 and the newspapers to the Newport Mercury, I choose “Freelove” as the only search term. The results return only the insertion in the October 24 issue. The search returns the same results when substituting “Saunders” for the keyword. Choosing the phrase “Freelove Saunders” instead yields zero instances of the advertisement. These results run counter to the historical record, something I already know because examining the advertisement in the digitized October 10 edition first prompted me to conduct the subsequent searches. Page-by-page examination of all issues of the Newport Mercury published in October and November 1768 reveals that Freelove Saunders did insert the same advertisement for four consecutive weeks before discontinuing it.

OCR (optical character recognition) oftentimes streamlines the research process. Using it can be much more efficient than skimming through either original or digitized copies of primary sources. Yet OCR is also fallible, though in different ways than the naked human eye. From long experience working on the Adverts 250 Project and using digitized sources for other research endeavors, I have learned that OCR often overlooks text that I already know exists because I have a hard copy sitting right next to the computer. Sometimes this is merely frustrating, but it can also skew the results of an inquiry. Scholars must use OCR keyword searches cautiously. Such searches often lead to sources of interest, but they do not definitively identify all relevant sources. When an OCR keyword search does not yield any results that does not necessarily mean that there was nothing to find. Scholars should supplement such searches with other methods. Relying on keyword searches alone would have resulted in evidence of Freelove Saunders’s participation in the colonial marketplace becoming less rather than more visible in the historical record.