November 14

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

Nov 14 - 11:14:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 14, 1769).

The Last Solemn Scene, will be ready to be delivered to the Subscribers To-Morrow Noon.”

Compared to many other American newspapers published in the late 1760s, the Essex Gazette contained relatively little advertising. Compare the November 14, 1769, edition to the South-Carolina and American General Gazette published on the same day. Only six advertisements, filling only a portion of a column, ran in the Essex Gazette. In contrast, more than fifty advertisements filled nearly six of the sixteen columns in the standard issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. That still was not enough space for all of the paid notices submitted to the printing office. A two-page supplement comprised exclusively of advertisements accompanied the November 13 edition; nearly fifty more advertisements filled six columns. Admittedly, Charleston was a larger and busier port than Salem, where Samuel Hall published the Essex Gazette, but the difference in the contents of the two newspapers was stark all the same.

Of the six advertisements that appeared in the Essex Gazette on November 14, two promoted Hall’s own business interests. He divided the advertisements into two sections; three ran at the bottom of the last column on the third page and the other three ran at the bottom of the last column on the final page. In both instances, Hall exercised his prerogative as the printer to place his advertisements first. As readers transitioned from perusing the news to advertisements, Hall increased the likelihood that they would take note of his advertisements, even if they switched to skimming the remainder of the column in search of more news.

Both of Hall’s advertisements concerned books. One informed readers of a book “Just Publish’d, and sold at the Printing-Office.” The other announced the successful outcome of a proposed book published by subscription. Hall had called on interested readers to reserve a copy of “The Rev. Mr. Murray’s Sermon, entitled, The Last Solemn Scene,” in advance. As with other printers who published by subscription, he gauged the market and did not commit the book to press until he knew sufficient demand existed to make it a viable enterprise. His advertisement in the November 14 edition of the Essex Gazette informed subscribers that the book would be ready “To-Morrow Noon.”

Printers frequently inserted advertisements for their own goods and services in the newspapers they published. In Hall’s case, doing so was important not only to generate more business for his other ventures but also to encourage additional advertising from members of the community. He did not have the advantage of pages overflowing with advertising that Robert Wells experienced with the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. As a result, his own advertisements had to serve as a model for prospective advertisers, implicitly encouraging them to submit their own notices for dissemination in the public prints.

October 31

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

Oct 31 - 10:31:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 31, 1769).

“RAN-away … a Negro Man named Titus.”

Titus was determined to make his escape from Thomas Jaques, the man who enslaved him. He fled sometime during the night of October 18, 1769, prompting Jaques to pen a notice to insert in the next several issues of the Essex Gazette. Based on the description in the advertisement, Titus would have been difficult to miss if any readers encountered him. According to Jaques, Titus “stutters considerably when he speaks, and hath lost Part of his great Toe on one Foot.” Perhaps most significantly, he also “had a Span of Iron, with a Chain fastned to it on one Leg.” The chain may have been part of an unsuccessful effort to prevent Titus from making his escape. After all, Jaques had some experience with Titus attempting to seize his own liberty. Just a few months earlier, in advertisements dated July 19, Jaques described Titus and offered a reward for his return. He indicated in his new advertisement that “Said Negro is the same that ran away from me the middle of July.”

That Titus had once again found himself under the thrall of Jaques suggests that the advertisement placed in the summer produced results. Jaques did not explain how he managed to capture Titus, but he apparently considered advertising an effective tool because he resorted to it once again. Such advertisements serve as narratives of resistance that often lack definitive conclusions. Modern readers can hope that enslaved people like Titus made good on their escapes, but often the documentary record does not include evidence one way or the other. This particular advertisement does confirm that, unfortunately, Titus did not managed to remove himself from the grasp of Jaques. Yet it also reveals that Titus was not deterred by that setback. He tried again …

… and again and again. Molly O’Hagan Hardy has identified two other advertisements about Titus’s attempts to escape, one from 1772 and the other from 1773. In addition to those instances, Lise Breen has documented two others. As colonists transitioned from resistance to revolution, Titus again fled from his enslavers in 1774 and 1775. Again, newspaper advertisements may have been effective in helping to capture Titus and return him to those who held him in bondage. Advertisements describing him, offering rewards, and warning “Masters of Vessels” against “harbouring, concealing, or carrying off said Negro” appeared alongside news about colonists demanding their liberty and editorials excoriating Parliament for its abuses. Through it all, Titus embodied a revolutionary spirit, repeatedly seeking his own freedom from bondage.

October 24

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

Oct 24 - 10:24:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 24, 1769).

All of the above BLANKS are … suited, in a particular Manner, for the County of Essex.”

Colonial printers often used the pages of their own newspapers to advertise other goods they sold at their printing offices. Advertisements for blanks (what we would call forms today) regularly appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia, suggesting that supplying blanks for various purposes to colonists engaged in commercial transactions and legal agreements comprised an important source of revenue for printers. Most advertisements for blanks were fairly short, extending only a few lines. In addition to informing colonists that printers had blanks on hand, those shorter advertisements also allowed compositors to complete columns of text that fell just shy of having enough content. Yet not all advertisements for blanks were mere announcements. Some were rather lengthy, listing the many different kinds of blanks that printers had on hand.

Such was the case for Samuel Hall’s advertisements for blanks that ran in the Essex Gazette on several occasions in the fall of 1769. After its initial publication, Hall even expanded his advertisement to provide a more comprehensive list of blanks as well as describe them in greater detail. He added “Bills of Cost, and Complaints” to the list (with “Complains” inexplicably in a much larger font than anything else in the advertisement). Most advertisements for blanks simply listed the various kinds available, such as “Bills of Lading,” “Apprentices Indentures,” and “Short Powers of Attorney.” Hall, however, supplemented his list with a note that “All of the above BLANKS are neatly printed, on good Paper, and most of them suited, in a particular Manner, for the County of Essex.” He did not elaborate on that “particular Manner,” but this note did suggest to prospective customers that he had not produced generic forms drawn from templates produced by other printers in other towns. Instead, he adapted his blanks to suit the legal and commercial landscape of his community. He likely intended to make his blanks more attractive to local customers than any they could have purchased from other printers, including the many printers in nearby Boston whose own blanks may have been “suited, in a particular Manner” for use in that city. The Essex Gazette offered an alternative source of news to the several newspapers published in Boston in the late 1760s. Its printer offered an alternative source for other printed items produced in the printing offices in Boston.

October 17

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

Oct 17 - 10:17:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 17, 1769).

“JUST PUBLISHED … A Volume of Curious Papers.”

A brief advertisement in the October 17, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette (published in Salem) announced that “A Volume of Curious Papers collected by His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, which may serve as an Appendix to his History of Massachusets Bay” had gone to press and was “now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers by T. and J. FLEET, Printers in Boston.” This notice was a variation on advertisements that ran in newspapers throughout New England during the previous week. One variation ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette (published in Portsmouth) on Friday, October 13 and in the Providence Gazette on Saturday, October 14. The Fleets inserted a slightly different version in their own newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post, on Monday, October 16. That same day, variations ran in the Boston-Gazette, the Connecticut Courant (published in Hartford), and the Newport Mercury. Following publication in the Essex Gazette on October 17, a similar notice appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on Thursday, October 19. Over the course of a week, the Fleets inserted notices about the publication of this “Volume of Curious Papers” in eight newspapers printed in six cities and towns in four colonies.

This meant that readers in Boston, Hartford, Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, Salem, and beyond encountered similar advertisements for the same product, a book about the history of Massachusetts, as they perused their local newspapers. Although most advertisers were not so enterprising when it came to publishing notices in multiple colonies, members of the book trades often relied on subscription notices distributed widely as a means of creating markets for books they wished to publish. Printers published proposals in several newspapers and, later, published updates for subscribers who pre-ordered books, including, ultimately, announcements informing both subscribers and the general public when they published a proposed work.

These advertisements contributed to the formation of what Benedict Anderson termed “imagined communities” of geographically dispersed people drawn together through the experience of simultaneously reading the same content in newspapers. In the eighteenth century, most of this content consisted of news and editorials, especially since colonial printers liberally reprinted material from one newspaper to another. T.H. Breen has argued that colonists also formed imagined communities around consumption practices, demonstrating that the same sorts of goods appeared in newspaper advertisements from New England to Georgia. Subscription notices and subsequent advertisements, however, did not merely expose readers to similar wares. Like the news and editorials reprinted from one newspaper to another, they replicated content associated with particular products, in this case a “Volume of Curious Papers” about the history of Massachusetts. Print helped to knit together colonists in the era of the American Revolution, but the print that did so was not limited to newspaper reports or political pamphlets distributed far and wide. Sometimes advertising also contributed to the formation of imagined communities in early America.

October 10

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

Oct 10 - 10:10:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 10, 1769).

“Will be READ, A Ballad OPERA.”

Advertisements in colonial newspapers reveal aspects of popular culture in colonial America, everything from fireworks displays to stage performances. Some of them also allow us to trace the routes traveled by itinerant performers who moved from town to town. A series of advertisements inserted in several newspapers published in New England in the fall of 1769, for instance, reveal the itinerary of “a PERSON who has READ and SUNG in most of the great Towns in AMERICA.” In September, he performed a one-man rendition of The Beggar’s Opera in both Providence (advertised in the Providence Gazette) and Boston (advertised in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter). He soon moved on to Salem, where he advertised a different show in the Essex Gazette in October.

For this performance, he read “A Ballad OPERA, call’d Damon & Phillida.” The delivery remained the same: “He personates all the Characters, and enters into the different Humours or Passions as they change from one to another, throughout the Opera.” He supplemented the main attraction with “celebrated Songs in the OPERA of Artaxerxes” and “a celebrated CANTATA, called Neptune & Amymone.” Readers of the Essex Gazette, prospective audiences for the performance, may very well have seen advertisements for The Beggar’s Opera in the Boston newspapers, given their circulation beyond the busy urban port and the proximity to Salem. By switching to another opera during his stay in Salem, the unnamed performer presented prospective audiences with something new and novel. To further entice local audiences to attend this new program, the performer added a nota bene advising that “His Stay will be short.” In other words, anyone interested in seeing the performance needed to purchase tickets as quickly as possible or else risk not having a chance to observe this dramatic spectacle before the itinerant performer moved along to another of the “great Towns.” Part of the marketing strategy depended on scarcity, but rather than scarcity of goods it emphasized scarcity of performances and limited opportunities to see the show. The performer challenged readers not to miss an event that would have their friends and neighbors talking long after it was over.

October 3

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

Oct 3 - 10:3:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 3, 1769).

“A Likely Negro LAD.”

Nathan Frazier’s advertisement for “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS” ran once again in the October 3, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. The shopkeeper promoted those goods by proclaiming “a single article of which has not been imported since last year.” In other words, his merchandise arrived in the colonies prior to the nonimportation agreement going into effect. He had not violated the agreement; prospective customers who supported the American cause could purchase from him with clear conscience. A new advertisement appeared immediately above it: “To be SOLD, A Likely Negro LAD, about eighteen or nineteen Years of Age, works well at the Cooper’s Trade, and understands working in the Field or Garden.” This produced a striking juxtaposition for readers, moving from an advertisement that contributed to the perpetuation of slavery to one that implicitly asserted the rights of Anglo-American colonists and defended their liberty against encroachments by Parliament. In the era of the imperial crisis that culminated with the American Revolution, colonists unevenly applied demands for liberty.

That these advertisements appeared in a newspaper published in Salem, Massachusetts, underscores that slavery was practiced throughout British mainland North America rather than limited to southern colonies. The proportion of the population comprised of enslaved men, women, and children was certainly smaller in New England than in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, but enslaved people were present, enmeshed in daily life, commerce, and print culture in the region. Fewer colonists in New England enslaved Africans and African Americans, but even those who did not themselves own slaves still participated in networks of commerce and consumption that depended on the labor of men, women, and children held in bondage. Consider another advertisement that ran in the same issue of the Essex Gazette. Richard Derby, Jr., hawked “Choice Jamaica SUGAR, RUM, ALSPICE, GINGER, and COFFEE.” Colonists in New England consumed products cultivated by enslaved laborers in the Caribbean and imported to mainland North America. They were part of transatlantic networks of production and exchange that included the slave trade as an integral component. The economies of their colonies and their personal consumption habits were deeply entangled with slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

The progression of advertisements in the October 3 edition of the Essex Gazette – from “Choice Jamaica SUGAR” to “A Likely Negro LAD” to “Fall and Winter GOODS” imported the previous year – tells a complicated story of the quest for liberty and the perpetuation of enslavement in the era of the American Revolution. Any narrative that focuses exclusively on the patriotism exhibited by Nathan Frazier in his efforts to support the nonimportation acts tells only part of the story so readily visible in the advertisements that appeared immediately before Frazier’s notice.

September 26

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

Sep 26 - 9:26:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 26, 1769).

“A single article of which has not been imported since last year.”

As summer turned to fall in 1769, Nathan Frazier of Andover placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform prospective customers that he stocked “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS” that he sold both wholesale and retail. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he provided an extensive list of his merchandise as a means of demonstrating the many choices available to consumers. This catalog consisted primarily of textiles and accessories (everything from “Devonshire and Yorkshire kerseys and plains” to “taffaties and Persians of all colours” to “a genteel assortment of ribbons”), but Frazier also carried a “very large assortment of glass, delph and stone ware” and a “general assortment of hard ware goods” imported from London. Such advertisements became a familiar part of the consumer revolution in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Most such advertisements, however, emphasized that imported goods had only just arrived in the colonies, that they were fresh from London and other English ports. Merchants and shopkeepers usually promoted only the newest merchandise, tacitly assuring prospective customers the latest fashions rather than leftovers that consumers previously refused to purchase. Frazier did not adopt that approach in his advertisement, and with good reason. He framed his list of goods with assurances that “a single article of which has not been imported since last year,” which meant that his entire inventory had been in his possession for at least nine months and perhaps even longer. These were not the newest goods presented to customers as soon as they became available, but making that appeal was not politically viable in the fall of 1769. Colonists in Boston and other towns in Massachusetts adopted nonimportation agreements that commenced on January 1, 1769. They deployed this form of economic resistance to protest an imbalance of trade with Britain and, especially, the taxes on certain imported goods that Parliament imposed in the Townshend Acts. Boycotting goods imported from Britain previously contributed to repealing the Stamp Act. Colonists hoped a new round of nonimportation agreements would have a similar effect with the Townshend Acts.

Nonimportation may have been an opportunity rather than a sacrifice for Frazier and other merchants and shopkeepers. Imported goods glutted the American market. Frazier’s lengthy list of merchandise suggests he had surplus goods that he had not managed to sell for the better part of a year. Adhering to the nonimportation agreement made a virtue of selling goods that lingered on shelves and in storerooms for some time, goods that consumers might otherwise not have even considered purchasing. The politics of the periods sometimes provided convenient cover for merchants and shopkeepers to rid themselves of goods they had difficulty selling in a crowded marketplace.

September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 19, 1769).

“At the Sign of the Green Dragon.”

When Henry Sanders opened a “House of Public Entertainment” in Marblehead, Massachusetts, late in the summer of 1769, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to invited “Gentlemen, Strangers and others” to experience his hospitality. He informed prospective patrons that they could find the tavern “near the Wharf of the Hon. Robert Hooper, Esq.” In addition to naming a landmark he assumed readers found familiar, Sanders noted that “the Sign of the Green Dragon” marked the precise location.

Like many other colonial tavernkeepers, as well as a good number of shopkeepers and artisans, Sanders adopted a device to represent his business and then displayed it on a sign and incorporated it into his newspaper advertisements. Over the years, those advertisements have become the sole evidence of the existence of some of the signs on display in the streets of colonial cities and towns. Although some were memorialized in letters or diaries and others mentioned in news items when they were connected to momentous events, newspaper advertisements provide the most complete catalog of eighteenth-century shop signs.

Such signs served several important purposes in early America. Standardized street numbers had not yet been developed in the late 1760s, though some of the largest cities would begin to institute them in the final decade of the eighteenth century. Sanders did not have the option of directing “Gentlemen, Strangers and others” to a particular number on a specific street. As we have seen, he instead relied on landmarks, a wharf already familiar to prospective patrons to get them to the general vicinity and a sign that marked his exact location. Once the sign had been erected for sufficient time, locals could incorporate it into the directions they gave for finding other people and businesses. The sign also doubled as the name of his establishment and likely became a logo that visitors and passersby associated with the tavern. Whether the sign depicted a dragon that was fierce or friendly the advertisement does not reveal, but it does hint at the visual culture colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of cities and towns in the eighteenth century. Almost certainly even more signs marked all sorts of businesses than those that appear in newspapers advertisements from the period.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 12, 1769).

“GLOVES of our own Manufacture.”

Throughout the colonies advertisers launched “Buy American” campaigns in the late 1760s. Some adopted this marketing strategy during the Stamp Act crisis, but even greater numbers resorted to it when colonists received word that the Townshend Acts would impose new duties on certain imported goods, including paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea. Colonists were already concerned about a trade imbalance with Britain, prompting some to encourage “domestic manufactures” or the production and consumption of goods in the colonies. The Townshend Acts exacerbated the situation, inciting merchants, shopkeepers, and others to draft new nonimportation agreements. They hoped that this method of economic pressure would serve their political goals, just as nonimportation agreements played a role in convincing Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. As long as nonimportation was in effect, domestic manufactures were an especially attractive alternative to goods delivered from across the Atlantic.

William Pool banked on this when he advertised gloves in the September 12, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. He proclaimed that he sold “GLOVES of our own Manufacture, done in the neatest Manner.” Although he did not explicitly compare the quality of these gloves made in the colonies to those imported from Britain, he assured prospective customers that they need not worry about purchasing inferior goods. Other artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants who placed “Buy American” advertisements made similar claims, anticipating what consumers might think about their wares. Pool further described his gloves, stating that they were “such as are generally made use of for Funerals by such Persons as are esteemed Friends to America.” Here he invoked a popular custom in New England: families of the deceased often distributed gloves to mourners at funerals. This ritual caused some controversy, an act of such conspicuous consumption that some critics found it distasteful. Yet those who continued the ritual did not want the gloves they passed out to reflect poorly on them or the departed. Once again Pool offered assurances, letting prospective customers know that they could distribute these gloves with confidence. He made this pledge to colonists as consumers and, perhaps more significantly, as “Friends to America.” In so doing, he expressed an obligation to provide patriots with merchandise of the best quality. They had earned such treatment through their political allegiances.

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 5, 1769).

“BLANKS.”

Like printers in other towns and cities in the colonies, Samuel Hall sought to generate revenue by taking advantage of his access to the press to promote his own enterprises in the Essex Gazette. In addition to publishing a newspaper, Hall also produced “BLANKS” at his printing office in Salem. Colonists used blanks (or printed forms, as they would be described today) for a variety of common commercial and legal purposes. They saved significant time compared to writing out the same transaction repeatedly. In some instances, resorting to blanks allowed colonists to sidestep hiring a conveyancer or lawyer to draw up documents.

Most printers simply announced that they stocked blanks of all sorts at their printing offices. On occasion, however, some printers listed the different kinds of blanks, providing a better glimpse of how purchasing them could increase efficiency and streamline all variety of transactions. In his advertisement, Hall listed sixteen different blanks for purposes that ranged from “Apprentices Indentures” to “Bills of Lading” to “Short Powers of Attorney.”

Through his typographical choices, he made sure that readers of the Essex Gazette would notice his advertisement. Many eighteenth-century advertisements that listed goods for sale, especially those that ran in the Essex Gazette in the late 1760s, clustered the items together in dense paragraphs. Hall’s advertisement, on the other hand, listed only one type of blank per line, making it easier to read and identify forms of particular interest. Hall also selected a larger font for his advertisement than appeared throughout the rest of that edition of the Essex Gazette. His notice occupied nearly twice as much space as any other in the same issue. The combination of white space incorporated into Hall’s advertisement and the oversized type made it one of the most striking items on a page that included both news and paid notices. Another advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a ship at sea, but it appeared immediately above Hall’s advertisement for blanks, leading directly into it.

Hall promoted other aspects of his business in the Essex Gazette, hoping to generate revenue beyond subscriptions and advertising fees. In the process, he effectively used graphic design to draw attention to other products from his printing office, an array of blanks for commercial and legal purposes. His access to the press gave him opportunities to experiment with the format of his own advertisements to an extent not available to other colonists.