April 2

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

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

Boston Chronicle (March 30, 1769).

“Several BARRELS of SOAP.”

Elias Dupee advertised “several BARRELS of SOAP” and other goods for auction in the spring of 1769. This made me think about cleanliness shortly before the start of the Revolutionary War Pretty much everyone smelled. Deprived of our modern cleaning methods, like showering, people in colonial and revolutionary America used much simpler cleaning methods. According to Edward Park, “In America’s colonial days, getting clean meant sponging off, usually with just face and hands.” Bathhouses existed in the colonies, but they were not used for cleaning the body. They were used to cool down from the sweltering hot summers of the southern colonies. Also, washing in the northern colonies during the winter was more or less impossible because there was no heat to keep the cold out, so the cold could freeze the water or make it extremely cold. To learn more about the colonists’ cleanliness, visit “To Bathe or Not to Bathe: Coming Clean in Colonial America.”



Serving as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project has given Aidan and the other students enrolled in my Revolutionary America class opportunities to examine consumer culture in eighteenth-century in greater detail. In readings, research projects, and discussions we have learned about the proliferation of goods during the consumer revolution, the social and political meanings colonists associated with those goods, and acts of political resistance undertaken through nonimportation agreements. Throughout most of our consideration of the many valences of consumer culture, we have taken into account the experiences of consumers on the one hand and shopkeepers, merchants, and artisans on the other, but we sometimes overlook other purveyors of goods, auctioneers like Elias Dupee.

When we take some time in class today to discuss the work that Aidan has completed so far during his week as guest curator, we will spend a few moments discussing the prevalence of vendues (or auctions) in eighteenth-century America. Retailers not always purchase their wares from merchants. Consumers did not always make their purchases from shopkeepers. Instead, as advertisements and other sources readily make apparent, auctions provided an alternate means of acquiring goods and participating in the consumer revolution (as did theft, another frequent subject of notices in the public prints). Dupee’s “New AUCTION-ROOM” was not the only such establishment in Boston in 1769. During the same week that Dupee placed his advertisement, “J. RUSSELL, Auctioneer” ran his own for “the Auction Room, in Queen Street.” John Gerrish also advertised an upcoming auction at “the VENDUE-OFFICE, NORTH END.” Both advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post.

Residents of Boston had many options when it came to auctions. Dupee, Gerrish, and Russell were prolific advertisers in the local newspapers. In the late 1760s their notices appeared more frequently than advertisements placed by most merchants and shopkeepers, in part because conducting auctions allowed them to move merchandise quickly. No sooner did one auction end than these industrious vendue masters placed new advertisements listing the goods available at the next auction. Advertisements for goods incited interest and awareness of consumer culture among colonists. Auctioneers played a vital role in that process, their notices often achieving as much visibility as those placed by merchants and shopkeepers.

March 24


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

Boston Chronicle (March 23-27, 1769).

“Several BARRELS of SOAP, and a variety of European GOODS.”

In this advertisement Elias Dupee is trying to sell a few different kinds of goods, including apparel and other goods useful around the house. He points out specifically that he has several “BARRELS of SOAP” as well as “a variety of European GOODS.” This soap may have been produced in the colonies since Dupee listed it separately. This is worth noting because soap was a very large import into the colonies from Britain; the colonists preferred to import soap from overseas instead of making soap themselves. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen talks about how this was the case. He notes, “One English traveler discovered to her surprise that in rural North Carolina women seldom bothered to produce soap. It was not a question of the availability of raw materials. Good ashes could be had at no expense. But these rural women were consumers, and they preferred to purchase Irish soap ‘at the store at a monstrous price.’”[1] That the soap that Dupee advertised may have been made in the colonies points to a shift in the colonies moving towards more self-reliance at a time that they reduced imports to resist the taxes from the Townshend Acts.



Today Sean and I have deviated slightly from the Adverts 250 Project’s methodology in order to explore an aspect of early American newspaper publication that often confuses modern readers the first time they examine eighteenth-century newspapers: the date listed in the masthead and, sometimes, at the top of each page.

Consider the Boston Chronicle. The masthead for issue 78 includes this date: “From THURSDAY, MARCH 23, to MONDAY, MARCH 27, 1769.” The top of each page included the name of the newspaper and a date, “March 23—March 27.” What does this mean? When was that issue printed and distributed to subscribers? Does that date mean that it was printed on March 23 and readers should not expect another issue until March 27? Or does that date mean that the issue was printed on March 27 and covered the period since March 23? Twenty-first-century readers cannot make a determination in a glance. Sean and his peer were confused by the dates when they first encountered them, as was I when I began working with eighteenth-century newspapers.

Examining the content of issue 78 of the Boston Chronicle reveals when it was published. In particular, the dates listed in some of the advertisements prove useful, unlike the dates attached to some of the news items. For instance, news from Philadelphia was dates March 9, news from New York March 20, and news from New London March 17. The advertisement immediately below Dupee’s auction notice, however, reported that “a likely Negroe Fellow, (named CATO)” ran away from George Watson of Plymouth on March 25. That date indicates that issue 78 could not have been published on March 23. Instead, it was published on March 27 and contained all of the news, advertising, and other content for the period since the previous issue that bore the date “From MONDAY, March 20, to THURSDAY, MARCH 23, 1769.”

This example points to an aspect of working with undergraduate guest curators that I particularly enjoy: the fresh eyes that they bring to sources that have become very familiar to me. As I mentioned above, I also questioned the dates on newspapers like the Boston Chronicle when I first began examining eighteenth-century newspapers, but I have become so accustomed to that convention that I hardly remembered it until Sean and others raised questions about what appeared to be a confusing date. Over the course of this semester, as in past semesters, I have observed undergraduate guest curators achieve greater mastery of early American history, including gaining some of the expertise of print culture specialists. They have done so via exploration of primary sources they have selected on their own rather than merely responding to readings that I have gathered for them.

In the process, Sean and I decided to depart from the methodology that dictates that the featured advertisement must have appeared in a newspaper published exactly 250 years ago today. Instead, he chose one published 250 years ago this week so we could examine how colonists thought about the dates on newspapers in addition to the goods and services advertised in those newspaper.


[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 79.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:18:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 18, 1768).

“No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office.”

John Gerrish had a bone to pick with Elias Dupee. Gerrish operated the North-End Vendue-Office. Dupee, his rival, ran the New-Auction Room. The two competed for both clients who supplied merchandise and bidders who purchased those wares.

On February 15, 1768, Dupee placed advertisements impugning Gerrish’s reputation in two newspapers, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy. Gerrish was so concerned about the accusations leveled against him that he did not wait a week to respond in the publications that originally ran Dupee’s advertisement. Instead, he published his own rebuttal just three days later in the Massachusetts Gazette. After devoting just a few lines to promoting his upcoming auction, Gerrish addressed Dupee’s allegations at length. Though he never mentioned his rival by name, Gerrish did closely paraphrase a portion of Dupee’s advertisement.

Dupee had offered a reward “to be paid to any Body, who shall bring to Justice, one John Taylor, who Stole out of the New Auction Room, the Night the Fire was, a blue Surtout Coat, and had it Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Anyone who resided in Boston would have know that John Gerrish was the auctioneer at the North-End Vendue-Office, especially anyone who regularly read any of the local newspapers. Gerrish, like Dupee and Joseph Russell from the Auction-Room in Queen Street, advertised regularly in several newspapers.

In his advertisement, Dupee explicitly accused Taylor of being a thief, but he also implicitly alleged that Gerrish was Taylor’s fence when he stated that the stolen coat had been “Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Such allegations had the potential to do significant damage to Gerrish’s reputation, scaring away bidders who did not wish to obtain stolen merchandise as well as suppliers who did not want their own names or ware associated with illicit business practices. Gerrish answered Dupee’s charges with a detailed timeline. The “Coat Sold for Taylor” had entered the North-End Vendue-Office ten days before the fire at Dupee’s New Auction Room, therefore it could not have been the same coat stolen the night of the fire. In addition, Gerrish identified discrepancies between the quality and price of the coat auctioned at his establishment and the one stolen from Dupee. Furthermore, the coat had been on display and “every Day exposed for Sale,” suggesting that many witnesses could attest to having seen it at the North-End Vendue-Office. Some of them could confirm the quality and value of that coat.

Gerrish acknowledged the possibility that Taylor had stolen a coat from Dupee, but if he had it was not the one that Gerrish auctioned. “Taylor may be a Thief,” he stated, “but verily he did not look more like one, than the Advertiser.” Dupee had attacked Gerrish’s reputation. Gerrish responded in kind. He also underscored, just in case readers had not followed all the complexity of his timeline, that “there is not the least probability, that the Coat Advertised, is the same that was Sold at the North-End Vendue-Office.”

Gerrish concluded with a message for prospective clients and potential bidders. “No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office, in endeavouring to detect suspected persons, –he has detected several, –let others beware.” Many colonists participated in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century via an informal economy that included secondhand and stolen goods. Newspaper advertisements frequently alerted readers about stolen goods. In addition, court records show that theft and fencing regularly occurred. That being the case, Gerrish devoted significant effort to demonstrating that he conducted a legitimate business that did not truck in stolen wares. He needed buyers and sellers, as well as the community more generally, to trust in his character if he wished to continue his business and compete against the rival auction houses in Boston.

Feb 21 - 2:15:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 15, 1768).

April 13

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 13 - 4:13:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (April 13, 1767).

“To be sold by Public Vendue by Elias Dupee”

Auction! This advertisement features a “PUBLIC VENDUE” or auction as the way of purchasing goods. This intrigued me because when I think of auctions I think of auctioneers speaking very quickly, running through prices, and then addressing the person who was the highest bidder. How did this work in the 1760s? What was the purpose of auctions during that time?

T.H Breen provides information regarding auctions during the eighteenth century. He states, “By 1750, they functioned as a major outlet in the great chain of acquisitions.”[1] These auctions, also referred to as vendue sales, provided another method for both consumers and businessmen. They allowed consumers to buy goods that might have been harder to find as well as potentially do so at a lower rate.

Breen also discusses the controversy that lay around auctions. “Defenders insisted that the public auctions represented a marvelous innovation that served the interests of everyone involved.”[2] Opponents, however, argued that, “although the large public auction supplied some small retailers with British imports at lower rates, the properties of larger stores complained about unfair competition.”[3] Auctions provided consumers another means of purchasing goods, some of which were purchased at more reasonabe prices. They also added a different spin on consumerism and business during the eighteenth century.



As Shannon explains, vendue sales were a popular method for buying and selling merchandise in eighteenth-century America. In addition to Elias Dupee’s notice about sales by “PUBLIC VENDUE” scheduled to take place in his “New-Auction Room in Royal Exchange Lane” on three afternoons later in the week, readers of the Boston-Post Boy encountered several other advertisements for auctions in the April 13, 1767, issue.

“J. Russell, Auctioneer” inserted multiple notices announcing that he sold various consumer goods “by PUBLIC VENDUE, at the Auction-Room in Queen-Street.” Some of the items up for bid, including “A Variety of House Furniture,” seemed to be secondhand goods. This combination of factors did indeed make a greater variety of goods accessible to greater numbers of consumers: used goods already sold for reduced prices compared to new ones and the variable winning bids at vendue sales sometimes drove those prices even lower. Auctions also reduced prices of popular commodities sold by retailers. One of Russell’s advertisements promoted “A quantity of very good Brown SUGARS, suitable for Shop-keepers or private Families.” Even if consumers did not have a chance to cut out the middleman (or middlewoman, given the number of female shopkeepers in port cities) by attending this auction, they stood to benefit when retailers passed on the savings.

In addition to facilitating commercial transactions, vendue sales were also social events. In an earlier draft, Shannon imagined residents of Boston gathering to bid on items of interest and interacting with each other in the process. This created a very different atmosphere for shopping than the customers of Frederick William Geyer, John Gillespie, and Susanna Renken – all of whom advertised their shops in the same issue of the Boston Post-Boy – experienced in one-on-one transactions with shopkeepers. Earlier this week Shannon argued that the consumer revolution was fueled in part by competition among colonists. Displaying possessions, she asserted, made consumption a public practice. Participating in auctions also became a social ritual, one that made the process of buying and selling a communal, rather than private, experience.


[1] T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 140.

[2] Breen, Marketplace of Revolution, 141.

[3] Breen, Marketplace of Revolution, 142.

March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 30, 1767).

“Coarse & fine Broad Cloths, Bearskins, … German Serges, … Shalloons, … Checks, … Paper for Rooms.”

Elias Dupee planned to sell a variety of goods to the highest bidders at the “New Auction Room in Royal Exchange Lane” in Boston. A dozen or so different kinds of textiles accounted for half of the items he listed in his advertisement, but he also had everything from footwear to furniture on offer for curious consumers, including “Paper for Rooms.” What did Dupee mean by this strange entry? He promoted an item that we now know as wallpaper.

Imported “Paper for Rooms” (or paper hangings, as they were also known in the colonial and Revolutionary eras) entered the American marketplace in the seventeenth century, but wallpaper became increasingly popular during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. In many ways it was quite appropriate for Dupee to sell “Paper for Rooms” alongside an assortment of textiles, especially given that the production of textiles and wallpaper were closely linked. In Wallpaper in America, Catherine Lynn states, “By the early eighteenth century, specialists in block-printing, many of whom had learned their craft decorating textiles, took over wallpaper production from book printers, and textile patterning came to dominate wallpaper design.”[1] An emerging wallpaper trade drew on the expertise of textile designers who had mastered techniques for repeating elements in their patterns. Further facilitating this development, “the same blocks could be used to print on papers as well as on woven fabrics.”[2]

Like the textiles in Dupee’s advertisements, the “Papers for Rooms” would have been imported. Lynn notes that “English styles … dominated the pre-revolutionary wallpaper market in America.”[3] Although the Acts of Trade and Navigation played a role, they probably were not the final or most important factor. English paper hangings were better quality than those produced elsewhere in Europe. Not until the late eighteenth century did French wallpaper equal those produced in England. In the 1780s and 1790s, American advertisers disputed the relative merits of English and French paper hangings compared to those produced in the fledgling United States. For Dupee’s customers in 1767, however, fashion and quality dictated purchasing “Papers for Rooms” produced in England.


[1] Catherine Lynn, Wallpaper in America: From the Seventeenth Century to World War I (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), 30.

[2] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 30.

[3] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 25