April 3

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

Apr 3 - 4:3:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (April 3, 1770).

“(None of which have been imported since the Year 1768.)”

When it came to infusing his advertisements for consumer goods with politics, Nathan Frazier was consistent while the nonimportation agreements were in effect in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  On September 26, 1769, he placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform prospective customers that he sold “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS, (a single article of which has not been imported since last year).”  He did not explicitly invoke the nonimportation agreement, but the significance would have been clear to readers.

Six months later, Frazier once again advertised in the Essex Gazette, proclaiming that he “HAS still lying on Hand, a great Variety of saleable Articles, suitable for all Seasons, more especially for that now approaching.”  He listed dozens of items available for purchase at his shop, demonstrating the range of consumer choice.  For that array of goods, he assured both prospective customers and the entire community that “none … have been imported since the Year 1768.”  Again, he did not make direct reference to the nonimportation agreements adopted by merchants in Boston and other towns throughout Massachusetts, but that was hardly necessary for readers to understand his point.

After all, news items that appeared elsewhere in the same issue underscored that colonists continued their boycott of goods imported from Britain to protest the duties levied on certain goods by the Townshend Acts.  On the page facing Frazier’s advertisement, for instance, an “Extract of a Letter from Bristol, Dec. 30,” reported, “The Ministry have assured some Persons in the American Trade, that so far as the King’s servants can promote the Repeal of the Duties on Tea, Paper, Glass and Paints, they will, so that the Spring Trade to the Colonies shall not be lost.”  The nonimportation agreements had not yet achieved their desired effect, but this extract inspired hope that if the colonists remained firm that they would eventually prevail.  Moreover, their success might come quickly in order to avoid disrupting the “Spring Trade.”

A news item that began on the facing page and concluded on the same page as Frazier’s advertisement also commented on the nonimportation agreements:  “It will perhaps be surprizing to the People of the neighbouring Provinces to be told, that there is not above one Seller of Tea in the Town of Boston who has not signed an Agreement not to dispose of any more of that Article, until the late Revenue Acts are repealed.”  Other news items also commented on tensions with Britain, though not the nonimportation agreements specifically.  A “LIST of Toasts drank at Newport … on the Commemoration of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act” asserted “the Principles of Civil and Religious Liberty” and remembered the “massacred martyrs to British and American Liberty” at the recent Boston Massacre.

That was the context in which Frazier inserted his advertisement for consumer goods in the Essex Gazette in the spring of 1770.  He did not need to comment at length on the politics of the day.  Instead, a brief note that he had not imported goods “since the Year 1768” told readers what they needed to know about the political significance of purchasing merchandise from his shop.

February 13

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

Feb 13 - 2:13:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (February 13, 1770).

All the above Articles, were imported before the Agreement, entered into by the Merchants for Non-importation, took Place.”

Thomas Lewis’s advertisement for an assortment of goods available at his shop in Marblehead cataloged dozens of items and extended nearly an entire column. In that regard, it matched advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers in other newspapers, especially those published in the largest port cities, but greatly exceeded the length of most that ran in the Essex Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s. Lewis listed everything from “ivory horn combs” to “large white stone dishes” to “men’s white and brown thread gloves.”

He apparently determined that if he was going to assume the expense of such a lengthy advertisement that he should extend it a little bit more to address concerns that members of his community might have about his inventory. After concluding his list, he informed readers that “All the above Articles, were imported before the Agreement, entered into by the Merchants for Non-importation, took Place.” Lewis had not violated the boycott in place as a means of protesting the duties Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts. Prospective customers could confidently purchase his wares without worrying that they became accomplices in undermining the nonimportation agreement. Reputation mattered, to both purveyors of goods and consumers. Lewis aimed to avoid drawing controversy to himself and his customers.

He did, however, provide one clarification concerning “a few Cheshire and Glocester cheeses,” stating that they were “sold by Consent of the Committee.” He did not offer additional details about how and when he came into possession of the cheese or why he had been granted an exception, but in mentioning that he acquired the “Consent of the Committee” that ferreted out violators of the nonimportation agreement Lewis indicated that he operated his shop under the supervision of members of the community entrusted to oversee the public welfare. He demonstrated that he was sufficiently concerned about abiding by the agreement that he consulted with those responsible for overseeing it.

Lewis was one of a growing number of shopkeepers who appended such notices to their newspaper advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s. The consumption of goods became an increasingly political act. Purveyors of goods played a significant role in that discourse as they made new kinds of appeals in their advertisements, simultaneously shaping discourse about the politics of goods and reacting to it.

February 6

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

Feb 6 - 2:6:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (February 6, 1770).

“WHOEVER sends Goods … may be assured of the Fidelity of the Master of said Hall.”

In February 1770, John Gerrish “(And COMPANY.)” expanded his efforts to address prospective customers in a regional market when he published an advertisement for his “Auction-Hall” in the Essex Gazette just days after placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. He continued to insert advertisements in several of the newspapers printed in Boston.

Although Gerrish tended to submit the same copy to local printing offices, the advertisement he drafted for the Essex Gazette was quite different from the one in the Providence Gazette. He did not provide details about auctions for readers in Rhode Island, instead focusing on “Wholesale and Retail” sales for a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES.” For readers of the Essex Gazette, however, he extended an invitation to “Public-Vendues” or auctions “held Weekly in said Auction-Hall; but chiefly on TUESDAYS, and THURSDAYS.” He also encouraged prospective bidders to become clients, asserting that “WHOEVER sends Goods … to be Sold by private or public Sale, may be assured of the Fidelity of the Master of said Hall.” In other words, Gerrish recognized that clients took risks when they entrusted goods to him to sell; he sought to alleviate anxiety that he might give deals to close associates who did business with him regularly and, in the process, deprive clients of the best possible prices they could have achieved for their goods. When he pledged “Fidelity” to his clients, Gerrish vowed to operate in their best interests rather than underselling for his own benefit. He was not the only auctioneer in Boston to address such issues of trust in newspapers advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

To further entice “Country GENTLEMEN, Travelers, and Traders” from beyond Boston to examine the wares or attend a vendue at his auction house, Gerrish added a nota bene that advised they could find “Very Good Lodgings and Boarding … in Court-Square, opposite to AUCTION HALL.” In addition to seeing to the comfort of prospective bidders, buyers, and clients, that establishment also provided “very good Keeping for Horses.”

Gerrish had been advertising in multiple newspapers in Boston for years, but early in 1770 he experimented with placing notices in newspapers published in nearby towns. He likely hoped to expand his client base by enlarging the market for his services as a “Public Vendue-Master” and interest in the “New & Second-Hand” goods available at his auction house. He certainly increased his investment in advertising, hoping that it would result in more business and higher revenues at an auction house that competed with several others in Boston.

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (January 16, 1770).

“At William Scott’s STORE, North Side of Faneuil-Hall, Boston.”

William Scott made sure that he placed his advertisement for various textiles and “a great Variety of English, Irish and Scotch Goods” before the eyes of as many consumers in Boston and its environs as possible. His notice ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on January 11. Four days later it also appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, Scott refrained from inserting his advertisement in the Boston Chronicle, a newspaper notable for its Tory sympathies as well as strident critiques and demeaning caricatures of patriot leaders. Perhaps Scott did not wish to have his store on the north side of Faneuil Hall associated with the rhetoric espoused in the Boston Chronicle.

Though he declined to advertise in that notorious newspaper, Scott did place his notice in a fifth publication that week. On January 16, it ran in the Essex Gazette, printed in Salem by Samuel Hall. For all intents and purposes, Salem was part of the same media market as Boston. Until relatively recently, it did not have its own newspaper. Hall began publishing the Essex Gazette in August 1768, less than a year and a half earlier. That newspaper certainly did not entirely displace those printed in Boston; they served the entire colony and circulated far beyond the bustling port. Even though prospective customers who read the Essex Gazette likely would have seen his advertisement in any of Boston’s several newspapers, Scott followed through on his strategy of saturating the market with his notice. It may even have garnered greater attention in the Essex Gazette since that newspaper carried far less advertising than any of its counterparts from Boston. In each of the other newspapers, Scott’s advertisement was nestled among dozens of others. In the January 16 edition of the Essex Gazette, it was one of only ten advertisements, all of them appearing in the far right column on the last two pages.

Several advertisers in Boston regularly inserted notices about consumer goods and services in multiple newspapers published in that city. William Scott, however, was one of the first to experiment with placing advertisements in publications that radiated outward from the colony’s largest port.

December 26

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

Dec 26 - 12:26:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 26, 1769).

“Ames’s and Low’s Almanacks, for 1770.”

During the final week of 1769, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, continued to advertise that he sold several different almanacs for the coming year. The final issue of the Essex Gazette included two advertisements for almanacs, a longer one for “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770: Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM” and a shorter one for two other almanacs. That one announced “Ames’s and Low’s Almanacks, for 1770, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Hall had been advertising An Astronomical Diary: or, Almanack for the year of Christian Æra, 1770 by Nathanael Low for a month, but had not previously advertised the popular Astronomical Diary: or Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1770 by Nathaniel Ames. John Kneeland and Seth Adams in Boston printed Low’s Almanack, but Hall may have acquired Ames’s Almanack from any of several different printers. Thomas Green and Samuel Green in New Haven issued an edition, as did Timothy Green in New London and Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson in Hartford. Beyond Connecticut, Daniel and Robert Fowle printed their own edition of the popular almanac in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Several printers and booksellers in Boston collaborated in printing and advertising an edition there. Hall most likely carried either the Boston or the Portsmouth edition of Ames’s Almanack. Like Low’s Almanack, it received little fanfare in the advertisement in the Essex Gazette. Although Hall made an additional option available to his customers just in time for the new year, he continued to focus his marketing efforts on Philo’s Essex Almanack, which had been “Just published and to be Sold” by Hall himself according to the lengthy advertisement he inserted in the Essex Gazette for several weeks. He struck a careful balance between offering several choices to customers, including the popular Ames’s Almanack and Low’s Almanack, and attempting to funnel interest toward his own venture, the new and less familiar Philo’s Essex Almanack.

December 19

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

Dec 19 - 12:19:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 19, 1769).

“To be SOLD, by Priscilla Manning, At her Shop in SALEM.”

Priscilla Manning placed a remarkable advertisement for “her Shop in SALEM” in the December 19, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Compared to newspapers published in nearby Boston and Portsmouth, the Essex Gazette carried relatively few advertisements for consumer goods and services. Those that did appear tended to be short, extending no more than a single “square.” Manning’s advertisement, on the other hand, filled two squares. Other advertisements in the Essex Gazette offered a summary of inventory, such as “An Assortment of English and India GOODS,” but Manning enumerated the choices she made available to customers. She stocked dozens of textiles as well as hose, caps, gloves, shoes, and trimmings to adorn garments.

Manning’s advertisement resembled those that ran in Boston’s newspapers much more than those that tended to appear in the Essex Gazette. In that regard it may have been remarkable in the Essex Gazette, but not when considered in the context of newspaper advertisements published throughout the colonies in the 1760s. Manning adopted familiar methods of marketing her wares in her advertisement, likely having consulted newspapers from Boston and other places in addition to the Essex Gazette. Yet that did not disqualify her advertisement from being remarkable in another aspect. Few female entrepreneurs advertised consumer goods and services, even in the largest and busiest port cities. Although women constituted a significant proportion of shopkeepers in urban ports, they tended not to promote their activities in the marketplace in the public prints. This made Manning’s advertisement twice as bold in the Essex Gazette, bold for its length and bold for publicizing the activities of a female entrepreneur. Manning’s name served as a headline; it appeared in larger font than anything else on the same page or the facing page. At a glance, it made her business the single most visible item in that issue of the Essex Gazette. Although women were underrepresented among advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America, they certainly were not absent. Advertisements like those placed by Priscilla Manning made it impossible to overlook women’s activities in the marketplace as producers, suppliers, merchants, and, especially, retailers, not just as shoppers and consumers.

December 12

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

Dec 12 - 12:12:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 12, 1769).

PHILO’s Essex Almanack … Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, also published “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.” Just days before it went to press, he inserted a notice in the Essex Gazette to inform readers of the almanac’s impending publication. A week later, he ran another advertisement that proclaimed he had “Just published” the almanac and now sold it “Wholesale and Retail.” That advertisement demonstrated an evolution in Hall’s marketing efforts.

The first advertisement filled a “square,” the unit some eighteenth-century newspaper printers used to describe the amount of space with length approximately matching column width. It provided a brief overview of the contents of the almanac to entice prospective customers.   Upon publication, Hall dramatically increased the size of the advertisement to include a much more extensive list of the almanac’s contents. He previously promised that in addition to the “usual astronomical Calculations” the almanac contained “Thirty Pieces” for reference and entertainment, offering general categories for the various items (“religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial, satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical”). The new advertisement did not list any of those categories; instead, Hall named almost all of the “Thirty Pieces” that accompanied the astronomical calculations. Those who purchased the Philo’s Essex Almanack would be amused or instructed by “The Sausage-Maker raised to be a Prime Minister,” “Rules for preserving Health in Eating and Drinking,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Husband,” “The mental and personal Qualifications of a Wife,” and “Some Lines written extempore on the Sea-Shore, by a Lady.” Despite the length of the advertisement, Hall did not have sufficient space to include all the contents of the almanac. He concluded with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that customers would discover even more when they acquired their own copies of Philo’s Essex Almanack.

This was the first time Hall published an almanac “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM.” Although he printed and advertised it fairly late compared to counterparts who had more experience publishing almanacs in other towns, he did adopt some of the standard marketing practices for almanacs in eighteenth-century America. He promoted Philo’s Essex Almanack with a preview before going to press and later published an extensive list of its contents when the almanac was available for sale. Hall did not publish an almanac the following year, suggesting that sales of “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” were not successful enough to merit investing time, labor, and other resources in the enterprise a second time. Although his advertising matched others in terms of copy, the timing may have played a role in hampering sales. Residents of Salem were accustomed to obtaining almanacs printed in Boston and Portsmouth. Some may have acquired their favorite titles before Hall even advertised that he planned to publish an almanac in Essex. The same advertising campaign launched a month or more earlier may have had different results.

December 5

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

Dec 5 - 12:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 5, 1769).

PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770.”

The December 5, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette included two advertisements for almanacs. A brief notice announcing that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof” ran once again on the final page. A more extensive notice about “PHILO’s Essex Almanack, For the Year 1770” appeared on the third page. It stated that the almanac would be published on the following Friday and sold by Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette. The advertisement also offered an overview of the almanac’s contents: “besides the usual astronomical Calculations, about Thirty Pieces, religious, political, philosophical, historical, proverbial satyrical, humorous, witty, sarcastical, and comical,— interspersed with a Variety of instructive Sentences, excellent Cautions, and profitable Sayings.” In previewing the contents, Hall deployed a common marketing strategy intended to incite interest in almanacs. Printers, authors, booksellers, and other retailers did so in hopes of distinguishing their almanacs from the many others available in the colonial marketplace.

In Massachusetts alone, colonists could chose from among at least eight different almanacs for 1770 published by local printers, according to Milton Drake’s bibliography of early American almanacs.[1] (Reprints and variant titles brought the total to ten.) With the exception of Philo’s Essex Almanack printed in Salem by Samuel Hall, all were printed in Boston. Hall also printed the Essex Gazette, the colony’s only newspaper not published in Boston. This may help to explain the different treatment Philo’s Essex Almanack and Low’s Astronomical Diary, or Almanack for 1770 received in the advertisements in the Essex Gazette. When it came to selling the latter, Hall served as a retailer and local agent for Kneeland and Adams. He likely had less interest in giving over space in his newspaper to promoting that almanac, especially when he had his own publication soon to come off the press. He exercised his prerogative as printer to give the advertisement for his own almanac a privileged place in the Essex Gazette, placing it immediately after the shipping news from the customs house in the December 5 edition. It was thus the first advertisement of any sort that readers encountered if they began on the first page and skimmed through the contents in order.

Like most of the other advertisements that ran in the Essex Gazette, this one was relatively streamlined compared to some that appeared in other newspapers. The title page of Philo’s Essex Almanack indicated that it had been “Calculated for the Meridian of SALEM, in NEW-ENGLAND, Lat. 42 D. 35 M. North,” making it the only almanac specific to that location … yet Hall did not acknowledge this in his advertisement as a means of capturing the local market.[2] Hall intended to sell the almanac “wholesale and Retail,” according to the advertisement, but he listed the prices on the title page rather than in the newspaper. While he certainly put more effort into marketing his own almanac over others, Hall still neglected to adopt strategies that other printers, authors, and booksellers sometimes included in their advertisements. Given that many other almanacs were well established in a crowded marketplace, this may help to explain why Philo’s Essex Almanack did not appear in a new edition the following year.

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[1] Milton Drake, Almanacs of the United States (New York: Scarecrow Press, 1962), 306-307.

[2] Philo’s Essex Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord Christ, 1770 (Salem, Massachusetts: Samuel Hall, 1769).

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 28, 1770).

“Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

With a little over a month until the new year arrived, the number of advertisements for almanacs in colonial newspapers increased in late November 1769. Some printers and booksellers published elaborate notices, including a full-page advertisement for the New-England Almanack in the Providence Gazette, but others opted instead for brief notices. Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, chose the second method. The final advertisement in the November 28, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette announced that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

By “Low’s Almanack” Hall meant An Astronomical Diary: or, Almanack for the year of Christian Æra, 1770 … Calculated for the Meridian of Boston, in New-England … but May Indifferently Serve Any Part of New-England, written by Nathanael Low, a “Student in Physic.” Hall did not produce the almanac in his printing office. The imprint indicated that it was “Printed and sold by Kneeland & Adams, in Milk-Street” in Boston, yet “Sold also by the printers and booksellers.” Hall served as a local agent and retailer for “Low’s Almanack, for 1770.”

Kneeland and Adams pursued their own advertising campaign, inserting a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on October 26 to inform prospective customers that the almanac would soon be available. “TO-MORROW will be Published,” they proclaimed, “An ASTRONOMICAL DIARY; Or, ALMANACK … By NATHANIEL LOW.” Their advertisement provided a preview of the contents as a means of enticing consumers to choose this almanac rather than the any of the others published in Boston. It contained the usual astronomical information, such as “Sun and Moon’s rising and setting” and “Moon’s Place,” as well as guides to “Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” and “Courts in the four New-England Governments” and other useful reference information for the region. Other items were calculated to be both “very entertaining and instructive,” such as a “Dialogue between Heraclitus and Democritus, suited as near as possible to the Complexion of the Times” and a “brief Essay on Comets.” Yet Kneeland and Adams promised even more, concluding their list with a promise of “many other Things useful and entertaining” in the almanac.

Hall did not go to nearly the same lengths to promote “Low’s Almanack, for 1770” in his newspaper. Given the networks of exchange among newspaper printers, he would have seen advertisements for other almanacs, even if he did not happen to notice Kneeland and Adams’s advertisement for this particular almanac. In general, advertisements in the Essex Gazette, whether inserted by the printer or placed by others, tended to be streamlined compared to many that appeared in other newspapers. This may have made them easier for readers to navigate, but it limited the amount of information available to consumers.

November 21

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

Nov 21 - 11:21:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 21, 1769).

“Meet at the King’s-Arms Tavern in Salem.”

The King’s Arms Tavern in Salem was more than just a place for colonists to eat, drink, and socialize. It was also a place for men to gather to conduct business of various sorts, sometimes mercantile but other times political.   Two advertisements in the November 21, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette called on colonists to attend meetings at the King’s Arms Tavern.

The first concerned a meeting to be held that day. Dated November 13, it originally ran in the previous issue, giving a week’s notice about a meeting for the “Gentlemen of the Committees, chosen by the Towns of Salem, Marblehead and Gloucester, on the Affair of the Fishermen, paying to Greenwich Hospital.” This matter concerned “allowances” of six pence a month that according to laws passed by Parliament in the early eighteenth century seamen were expected to pay to support the Greenwich Hospital in England. Since that institution provided for the widows and children of seamen, Parliament deemed it only fair that seamen should provide the funds for its operation. It was sometimes possible, however, to receive exemptions.[1] For the maritime communities of Salem, Marblehead, and Gloucester, this represented an important political issue, one that predated the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and other legislation passed by Parliament after the Seven Years War,

The second advertisement announcing a meeting at the King’s Arms Tavern gave only one day’s notice. It informed the “Merchants and Traders of this Town, who are Importers of British Manufactures, &c. from Great Britain” of a gathering at the tavern in the evening of the following day. Presumably this meeting concerned nonimportation agreements enacted in protest of the duties imposed on paper, glass, tea, and other goods imported from Britain.

Both of these meetings had political overtones, indicating that colonists gathered at the King’s Arms Tavern, like so many other taverns in colonial America, to practice politics. Taverns were not establishments devoted solely to entertainment. Instead, they were places for exchanging information and formulating plans to take political action. As the events that led to the American Revolution unfolded, meetings in taverns played a significant role, rivaling those gatherings held in colonial assemblies. Power emanated from both venues, not just the one with elected representatives.

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[1] Allyn B. Forbes, “Greenwich Hospital Money,” New England Quarterly 3, no. 3 (July 1930): 519-526.