October 12

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

Oct 12 - 10:12:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 12 1769).

“We have suffered much by the generous Sacrifice of the Mercantile Interest to the public Freedom and Happiness.”

This “ADVERTISEMENT” by John Barrett and Sons most likely was not a paid notice but rather a letter to the editor of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Either the Barretts or the printer used the word “advertisement” to mean a notification or a written statement calling attention to something, common usage in the eighteenth-century but chiefly historical today. Unlike most paid notices that ran for multiple weeks, this “ADVERTISEMENT” appeared only once, suggesting that the printer did indeed insert it as an article of interest for readers. Still, this “ADVERTISEMENT” appeared immediately above a paid notice for consumer goods. It testifies to some of the discourse that animated the appeals made in paid notices that promoted consumer goods and services.

Barrett and Sons sought to address rumors that dogged their business in the midst of the nonimportation agreement. Others had “maliciously reported” that they engaged in price gouging, charging much more than they did “before the general Non-Importation” to take advantage of the perceived scarcity of goods. The Barretts assured readers, both their customers and the general public, that they had “invariably, on the same Terms” sold their wares at the same prices “as we have done for three Years last past.” Just as significantly, they had accepted the ramifications to their business for doing so, indicating that they had “suffered much by the generous Sacrifice of the Mercantile Interest to the public Freedom and Happiness.” They pledged to continue “selling at the same low Rates” as to support the cause. The prospects for their business and their personal interests mattered less than virtuously participating in the nonimportation agreement for the benefit of all colonists.

That being the case, Barrett and Sons addressed a second rumor that accused them of ordering surplus stock ahead of the nonimportation agreement going into effect in order to have plenty of merchandise to continue selling to colonial consumers. The Barretts argued that was exactly the opposite of what happened: the “Rumour is as groundless as it is injurious.” Instead, in June 1768, two months before the merchants of Boston signed the nonimportation agreement, Barrett and Sons cancelled their orders for fall goods. They feared that the merchants would not reach agreement on nonimportation and, if that happened, the general public would then assume adopt nonconsumption as an alternative strategy, refusing to purchase imported goods. The Barretts expected that a broad nonconsumption movement by colonists would sway merchants, convincing them to overcome their hesitation about nonimportation. That had not become necessary, but Barrett and Sons informed the public (and prospective customers) that they envisioned the possibility of such a plan going into effect.

The politics of commerce and consumption tinged every word in this “ADVERTISEMENT” by Barrett and Sons. They defended their reputation to the general public, presenting a narrative of their own actions in relation to nonimportation and nonconsumption intended to enhance, rather than merely rehabilitate, their standing in the community. They sought to convince their fellow colonists that they were savvy but not unscrupulous traders who simultaneously tended their own business interests and promoted the public good … and when the two came into conflict, they opted for the public good over their own enterprises. Civic virtue imbued the decisions they made about their business.

November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:26:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 26, 1768).

“The GAZETTE is daily receiving an additional Number of Subscribers.”

John Carter became the sole proprietor of the Providence Gazette upon the retirement of his partner, Sarah Goddard, in November 1768. He immediately inserted an editorial note to that effect as the first item of the first page in the November 12 edition. His notice “To the PUBLIC,” however, functioned as more than a mere announcement. It also marketed the newspaper to readers, encouraging current subscribers to continue patronizing the publication and all readers to support the various enterprises undertaken at the printing office. Carter stated that he had purchased the “compleat and elegant Assortment of Types, and other Printing Materials.” He stood ready to pursue the printing trade “in all its various Branches,” including publishing the Providence Gazette. Carter promised “that no Consideration whatever shall induce him, in the Course of his Publications, to depart from the Principles of Rectitude and Honour.” He touted himself as an “impartial Printer” who provided a valuable public service to the entire colony.

Carter apparently considered his notice as much an advertisement as an editorial. Had it been an editorial he would have inserted it once and then discontinued it in favor of other content. He did, after all, promote the Providence Gazette as “a regular weekly Communication of the freshest and most interesting Intelligence.” Yet Carter published “Intelligence” that included news items, editorial content, and advertisements, including his own. His notice ran in five consecutive issues, not unlike paid advertisements contracted by other colonists. For regular readers of the Providence Gazette, it would have become as familiar as advertisements placed by Samuel Chace or Joseph Bucklin and Company. In subsequent issues it moved from the front page to the third or fourth page. No longer did it appear alongside news items exclusively. In most instances both news and advertising were featured on the same page as Carter’s notice, but at the end of its run it did appear on a page otherwise devoted entirely to advertising. The placement within each issue testifies to the various purposes Carter intended for his address “To the PUBLIC.”