November 2

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

Boston-Gazette (November 2, 1772).

“The Sale of this Book has been so surprizingly rapid, as to demand Three Editions in New-York and Philadelphia.”

Two advertisements for “A DISSERTATION on the GOUT, and all CHRONIC DISEASES” by William Cadogan, “Fellow of the College of Physicians,” ran in the November 2, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette, one right above the other.  Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of that newspaper and printers of a Boston edition of Cadogan’s book, inserted the first advertisement.  Joseph Edwards, a bookseller, placed the other notice.

Both advertisements attempted to leverage the popularity of the book in other markets to generate sale in Boston.  Edes and Gill confided that the “above Pamphlet had Nine Editions in England in the short Space of Five Months.”  Edwards provided a similar figure, stating that the “Book is so much esteemed in England, that it has already past through Eight Editions.”  It had also gained following in the colonies.  “The Sale of this Book has been so surprizingly rapid, as to demand Three Editions in New-York and Philadelphia.”  Several months earlier, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford deployed a similar strategy in marketing their Philadelphia editions.  Given that so many other readers already purchased the book, the printers and the bookseller in Boston suggested that prospective customers should not miss out on acquiring copies of this bestseller.

Such demand suggested that the “rational and natural Method of CURE” for gout and other chronic illnesses that Cadogan proposed in the book was indeed effective.  Indeed, Edes and Gill even made a joke at the expense of colonizers in New York.  They observed that the book “has had such an Effect on the veteran Bacchanalians of New-York, that Madeira is no longer a fashionable Prescription for the Cure of this Disease.”  The printers included a short blurb from the book, explaining how “strong Wines” like Madeira actually made gout worse rather than better.  Cadogan was so convincing and his cure so effective that even New Yorkers who previously imbibed too much Madeira in their quest to quell the symptoms of gout had given up that remedy in favor of a more “judicious” approach.

Edwards did not resort to such levity.  Instead, he emphasized the accessibility of Cadogan’s writing.  A wide array of readers, not just physicians, could understand the discourse and recommendations in the book.  “The Doctrines advanced in it,” Edwards declared, “are rational and philosophical, and are delivered in a familiar style, which renders them intelligible to Gentlemen of all professions, as well as to Physicians.”  The bookseller sought to avoid the impression of a niche market for the medical text.

In their newspaper notices, the printers and the bookseller promoted the popularity of Cadogan’s Dissertation on the Gout, the effectiveness of the “Method of “CURE” outlined in it, and the accessible style.  Running simultaneous advertisements also testified to the popularity of the book.  Edes and Gill as well as Edwards aimed to encourage sales by creating a wide market that extended beyond physicians.

October 12

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

Boston-Gazette (October 12, 1772).

New Advertisements.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, wanted to increase the chances that readers took notice of their call to settle accounts in the fall of 1772.  In the October 12 edition, they inserted an announcement that “ALL Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been above 12 Months standing, are requested to make immediate Payment.”  The copy was standard for such notices, placed by printers throughout the colonies, but Edes and Gill deployed a format intended to increase the attention the notice received.  Decorative type enclosed the printers’ notice to delinquent subscribers within a border.  Edes and Gill did not however, devise that format for their own purposes.  Instead, they adopted a strategy already in use by some of their advertisers.  Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer, for instance, enclosed “Variety of Goods,” the headline to their lengthy advertisement listing scores of items, within an ornate border.  Jonathan Williams, Jr., had a border around his entire advertisement.

Edes and Gill also selected an advantageous place on the page for their notice, inserting it at the top of the first column on the final page.  It appeared immediately below a headline for “New Advertisement,” another design element intended to direct attention to the printers’ call for subscribers to pay their bills.  That headline helped to distinguish advertisements on that page from others that ran on the second and third pages.  A brief note on the third page also aided Edes and Gill’s efforts to highlight their notice.  The advertisements on the third page commenced with instructions: “For New Advertisements, See last Page.”  The printers incorporated a variety of means of increasing the visibility of their notice. They exercised their prerogative in placing it first among the notices labeled “New Advertisements” and used notes elsewhere in the issue to direct readers to one of the only advertisements that featured a border composed of decorative type.  Edes and Gill used graphic design to demand attention for an otherwise mundane notice.

July 1

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

Boston-Gazette (June 29, 1772).

“The Gentlemen who subscribed … for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries … are desired to apply for the second Volume.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted a brief notice at the bottom of the final column of the June 29, 1772, edition.  “The Gentlemen who subscribed with Edes and Gill for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries on the Laws of England,” they announced, are desired to apply for the second Volume.”  In addition, “A few of the First Volume may be had by applying as above.”  Edes and Gill did not publish this “American Edition.”  Instead, they served as local agents for Robert Bell, a printer and bookseller based in Philadelphia.

Over the course of many months, Bell inserted subscription notices for an American edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  He also distributed handbills to promote the project.  Bell sought to cultivate an American literary market that supplied American readers with American editions instead of books imported from London.  In addition to Blackstone’s Commentaries, he advertised an American edition of David Hume’s History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688.  Bell suggested that consumers had a civic obligation to purchase these volumes, addressing his subscription notices to “all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications in AMERICA.”

Bell also stated that those who assisted him in this venture engaged in “peaceable, yet active Patriotism.”  In case that was not enough to recruit local agents like Edes and Gill in Boston, he also pledged that “All Persons who collect the Names and Residence, and deliver the Books to twelve Subscribers, have a Claim of Right, and are allowed fourteen to the Dozen for their Assiduity.”  In other words, local agents received two copies gratis for each dozen they sold to subscribers.  The copies of the first volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries that Edes and Gill offered for sale when they announced that subscribers could pick up the second volume may have been copies they received for gathering subscriptions in Boston.  Bell devised marketing strategies to entice both reader-consumers and local agents.

April 12

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 9, 1772).

“The Second Edition.”

In the spring of 1772, Benjamin Edes and John Gill marked the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre by printing “AN ORATION DELIVERED MARCH 5th … TO COMMEMORATE THE BLOODY TRAGEDY Of the FIFTH of March, 1770.”  Dr. Joseph Warren gave the address to “the INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN OF BOSTON.”  Edes and Gill advertised the pamphlet widely, starting with a lengthy notice in their own Boston-Gazette on March 23.  The next day, the Essex Gazette carried an advertisement alerting readers in Salem and nearby towns that Samuel Hall stocked copies of Warren’s oration “published in Boston.”  Over the next week, Edes and Gill ran advertisements in other newspapers, including the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on March 26 and the Boston Evening-Post on April 1.

Did those advertisements work?  Perhaps.  Edes and Gill sold enough copies of Warren’s oration that they printed a second edition and began advertising it in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on April 9.  Their new advertisement, much more extensive than the one that previously appeared in that newspaper, proclaimed that “The Second Edition” was “THIS DAY PUBLISHED … by EDES and GILL.”  It informed prospective customers that they could acquire the address for nine pence.  It also included two other details that appeared in Edes and Gill’s original advertisement in the Boston-Gazette but not in subsequent advertisements in other newspapers, a quotation in Latin by Virgil and a note that the printers also had on hand “A few of Mr. LOVELL’S ORATIONS Deliver’d last April, on the same Occasion.”  Why did Edes and Gill decide to include Lovell’s address from the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre in this new advertisement?  Did they believe that the advertisements in several newspapers incited such demand for the address that Warren recently delivered that they had a good chance of selling surplus copies of Lovell’s oration?  That Edes and Gill expanded their advertising campaign for “The Second Edition” of Warren’s oration suggests that they considered their first round of notices successful and effective.

April 1

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

Boston Evening-Post (March 30, 1772).

“An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”

On the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Dr. Joseph Warren delivered “An ORATION … at the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of BOSTON, to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY of the FIFTH of MARCH, 1770.”  Colonizers gathered to listen to the address, but attending that gathering was not their only means of participating in the commemoration of such a significant event.  Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, published Warren’s “ORATION” and marketed it widely in Massachusetts.

They placed their first advertisement in their own newspaper less than three weeks after Warren addressed “the Inhabitants of the Town.”  Their lengthy notice in the March 23, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette included an extensive excerpt about “the ruinous Consequences of standing Armies to free Communities.”  Edes and Gill also stated that they stocked “A few of Mr. LOVELL’S ORATIONS Deliver’d last April, on the same Occasion.”  Prospective customers had an opportunity to collect memorabilia related to the “FATAL FIFTH OF MARCH 1770.”  The following day, Samuel Hall, one of the printers of the Essex Gazette, informed readers that he sold copies of Warren’s address “published in Boston.”  His advertisement did not include an excerpt from the address, nor did subsequent advertisements that Edes and Gill placed in other newspapers in Boston.  They inserted a brief notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on March 26 and then repeated it in the Boston Evening-Post on March 30.

Edes and Gill advertised widely.  That increased the chances that consumers would see their notices and contemplate purchasing copies of Warren’s “ORATION,” but those patriot printers likely aimed for more than generating sales.  Their advertisements in several newspapers contributed to a culture of commemoration of the American Revolution years before the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord.  Their work in the printing office, publishing newspapers and marketing pamphlets that commemorated the Boston Massacre, played an important role in shaping public opinion as colonizers considered current events and the possibility of declaring independence.

March 26

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 26, 1772).

“An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”

Encouragement to participate in the commemoration of the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre by purchasing a copy of the oration delivered by Joseph Warren to mark the occasion continued in the March 26, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Three days earlier, Benjamin Edes and John Gill announced in their own newspaper, the Boston-Gazette, that they had just published “AN ORATION DELIVERED MARCH 5TH, 1772 … TO COMMEMORATE THE BLOODY TRAGEDY.”  The following day, a notice in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, alerted readers that “Yesterday was published in Boston, and now to be sold by Samuel Hall … An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”  That advertisement was much shorter than the one in the Boston-Gazette.  Edes and Gill included a lengthy excerpt from Warren’s address in their notice as a means of inciting greater interest and enticing prospective customers.

As proprietors of the Boston-Gazette, Edes and Gill had access to as much space in that newspaper for promoting the goods and services available at their printing office as they wished.  On the other hand, they presumably had to pay to insert an advertisement in another newspaper, though they could have worked out some other arrangement with fellow printer Richard Draper when they advertised Warren’s oration in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The advertisement in that newspaper was much shorter, consisting of only six lines without any of the excerpt about “the ruinous Consequences of standing Armies to free Communities.”  There may have been limits to what Draper was willing to publish, either paid or gratis.  After all, the excerpt from the oration amounted to an editorial even though it appeared among advertisements.  Draper’s newspaper tended to take a more supportive stance toward the British government, especially compared to the strident critiques that regularly ran in the Boston-Gazette.  Among the printers in Boston, Edes and Gill were some of the most ardent in supporting and promoting the Patriot cause.  For them to advertise “An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter at all had political significance likely not lost on readers.

March 4

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

Boston-Gazette (March 2, 1772).


In 1772, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, published an American edition of The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook by Susannah Carter of London.  The book included “Five Hundred approved Receipts” for everything from roasting and frying to sauces and soups to tarts and puddings to jellies and custards as well as instructions for preserving, pickling, and candying various foods.  In addition, Carter provided “Various BILLS of FARE, For DINNERS and SUPPERS in every Month of the Year” to guide readers in consulting the many recipes and choosing which items to prepare together.  The book also featured “a copious Index of the whole” to help readers find the recipes.  Edes and Gill promised that “Any Person, by attending to the Instructions given in this Book, may soon attain to a compleat Knowledge in the Art of Cookery.”

The printers marketed The Frugal Housewife in their own newspaper, but they also turned to other publications in their effort to create a larger market for what they believed had the potential to be a popular American edition of a cookbook first published in London in the 1760s.  On March 2, 1772, they ran advertisements in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  Three days later, they placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy.  The notices in the other newspapers were not as elaborate as the one that appeared in their own.  The version in the Boston-Evening Post, for instance, did not include the price nor the nota bene assuring prospective customers that they would acquire “a complete Knowledge” of cooking.  The version in the Massachusetts Spy, on the other hand, included both of those items as well as a note that the book “contains more in Quantity than most other Books of a much higher Price.”  It did not, however, feature the distinctive typography with only two items on each line that made the notices in the other newspapers occupy significantly more space.  Instead, a dense list of the contents comprised most of the content of the advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy.

Edes and Gill sought to expand their marketing and sales by placing advertisements in multiple newspapers.  Though they exercised control over the copy, they did not exert as much influence when it came to the format.  Compositors who labored in other printing offices made decisions about the appearance of Edes and Gill’s advertisements for The Frugal Housewife.

December 26

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 26, 1771).

“AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Ebenezer Russell correctly anticipated that some of his competitors would produce and sell a pirated edition of “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.”  He warned consumers, running advertisements that proclaimed that he published “THE original Copy” of the popular almanac yet suspected that other printers planned to market their own editions.  On December 26, 1771, the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements for both.  In a fairly lengthy advertisement, Russell described the contents to entice consumers.  He also listed nearly twenty booksellers in Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth who sold his edition.  A shorter advertisement simply announced, “This day published, AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, appeared on Russell’s list of booksellers.  That did not prevent him from running an advertisement for the pirated edition.  He also inserted his own advertisement advising readers of “AMES’s, Low’s, Bicker[st]aff’s, Massachusetts and Sheet ALMANACKS, to be sold by I. THOMAS, near the Mill Bridge.”  Conveniently, that notice was the only advertisement on the second page, making it the first that readers encountered as they perused the December 26 edition.  Almanacs had the potential to generate significant revenues for printers in the early American marketplace.

It was not the first time that Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, pirated Ame’s Almanack.  In 1768, a cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of William Alpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769.  The conspirators included Edes and Gill and the Fleets as well as Ricard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This time around, however, Draper did not join his fellow printers in that endeavor.  Instead, Russell included him among the authorized sellers of “THE original Copy” in his advertisements.

As the new year approached, consumers still in the market for purchasing almanacs had a variety of choices.  In addition to choosing from among a variety of popular and familiar titles, those who followed the dispute between Russell and his competitors that unfolded in newspaper advertisements faced decisions about whether they wished to acquire an “original Copy” or reward the printers and booksellers who sold a pirated edition.

June 17

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (June 17, 1771).

“For further Particulars, enquire of Edes & Gill.”

Two short advertisements about enslaved people appeared in the June 17, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  One announced, “TO BE SOLD, A likely Negro Fellow about 15 Years of Age.”  The other declared, “A Negro Child of a good Breed, to be given away.”  The same day, two other advertisements ran in the Boston-Gazette.  “To be Sold for Want of Employ,” stated one, “A likely Negro Woman, about 33 Years old, remarkable for Honesty and a good Temper.”  The other described “a Negro Man named Dick or Richard” who liberated himself.  The clever fugitive for freedom possessed a forged pass.

Each of those advertisements testified to the presence of slavery in northern colonies in the era of the American Revolution.  As colonists debated their rights and objected to abuses perpetrated by Parliament, many continued to enslave Africans and African Americans.  They turned to the same newspapers that kept them informed about politics and current events to facilitate the buying and selling … and even giving away … of enslaved men, women, and children.  In offering a reward for the capture and return of Dick, David Edgar encouraged all readers, whether enslavers or not, to engage in surveillance of Black people to detect the fugitive seeking freedom.  Newspapers, especially advertisements, helped perpetuate slavery in early America.

Most of those advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on June 17 had another similarity:  the extent that the printer participated in the transaction.  Edgar was the only advertiser who signed his notice.  Both advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post concluded with “Enquire of the Printers.”  The one offering a “likely Negro Woman” for sale in the Boston-Gazette advised, “For further Particulars, enquire of Edes & Gill.”  In addition to being well known as printers of that newspaper, their names appeared in the colophon at the bottom of the column that featured that advertisement.  The printers of both newspapers not only generated revenues by publishing advertisements about enslaved people but also actively took part in the buying, selling, and giving away of enslaved men, women, and children.  They played the role of information brokers beyond the printed page, providing additional services to enslavers who placed and responded to advertisements.

May 6

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

Boston-Gazette (May 6, 1771).


In the spring of 1771, colonists had several opportunities to purchase memorabilia that marked the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  For the fourth consecutive week, Benjamin Edes and John Gill advertised James Lovell’s “ORATION … to COMMEMORATE the BLOODY TRAGEDY” in the May 6 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Edes and Gill, printers of that newspaper, also printed the oration “by Order of the Town of BOSTON,” according to the imprint on the title page.

Lovell delivered the first oration commemorating the Boston Massacre sanctioned by the town of Boston on April 2, 1771, though Thomas Young also gave an address on the same theme a few weeks earlier and closer to the first anniversary of British soldiers firing into a crowd and killing several colonists.  No copy of Young’s address survives, but Edes and Gill took Lovell’s oration to press less than two weeks after he spoke to the residents of Boston.  Starting on April 15, they promoted the oration in the Boston-Gazette, informing readers that they could acquire copies of this commemorative item.  A week later, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, advised residents of Salem and its environs that he also carried Lovell’s oration.

Edes and Gill simultaneously marketedINNOCENT BLOOD CRYING TO GOD FROM THE STREETS OF BOSTON,” a sermon that John Lathrop, “Pastor of the Second Church in BOSTON,” delivered just days after the Boston Massacre.  Edes and Gill reprinted a London edition delivered to them by a ship captain who carried both news and consumer goods across the Atlantic.  In the case of the sermon, news and merchandise came packaged in a single pamphlet, ready for reprinting and dissemination throughout the busy port and into the countryside.  According to their advertisement, Edes and Gill sold the sermon single and by the dozen, an invitation to retailers to purchase and sell it in their shops.

Civic leaders in Boston encouraged a culture of commemoration around the Bloody Massacre, just as colonists in many towns marked the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.  Printers like Edes and Gill eagerly participated in that process, inspired by both their political principles and their desire to generate revenues.  Printing and marketing orations and sermons about the Boston Massacre helped to keep the event fresh in popular memory by making those addresses readily accessible long after the speakers delivered them.