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.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 29, 1769).

“He proposes to carry on Wig-making and Hair-Dressing.”

Fashion helped to fuel the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Consumers devoted great attention to changing styles and purchased garments, accessories, and accouterments to match trends as they changed. Colonists in the largest port cities looked to London for guidance, while colonists in smaller towns looked to both London and urban ports like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Fixations on fashion were not confined to the better sort in urban centers. Middling folk and others in towns from New England to Georgia also participated in the rituals and display that made the consumer revolution a very visible aspect of life in the colonies.

Like others who earned their livelihoods by providing goods and services to consumers, Alexander Cambell realized that markets extended into the countryside. In late August 1769, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to announce that he had just opened a shop in Marblehead where he “carr[ied] on Wig-making and Hair-Dressing” for the ladies and gentlemen of that town. Cambell did not elaborate extensively on the services he provided, but he did promise that prospective clients “may depend upon the best Attendance” when they employed him.

Cambell’s wigs were embedded in networks of exchange. Colonists glimpsed those extensive webs of commerce that played such a significant role in the consumer revolution when they read the Essex Gazette and saw Cambell’s advertisement nestled in the middle of a column that began with the shipping news from the customs house for the port of Salem and Marblehead and ended with the shipping news from the customs house in Boston. Cambell’s work as wigmaker and hairdresser did not occur in isolation in Marblehead; instead, his shop was a local manifestation of a consumer revolution that was taking place throughout the British Atlantic world and beyond. The vessels listed in the shipping news carried finished goods or the materials for producing them, but they also carried news and information, including updates about changing fashions. Widespread circulation of these updates cultivated interest in changing trends and other aspects of the consumer revolution in even the smallest towns. As part of that process, Cambell identified a potential market for making and selling wigs and dressing hair in Marblehead; he published an advertisement to offer his services and to incite even greater demand in the summer of 1769.

August 22

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

Aug 22 - 8:22:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 22 1769).

Such Kind of Pieces … ought to be accompanied with some Cash.”

The shipping news from the customs house in Salem usually preceded advertisements in the Essex Gazette. That was the case in the August 22, 1769, edition, but the printer also inserted a brief notice immediately before the shipping news. “Before the Printer hereof published the Piece from A Lover of Impartiality,” Samuel Hall stated, “he should be glad to speak with the Author.—Such Kind of Pieces, whether in Vindication of Clergy or Laity, ought to be accompanied with some Cash.” With this notice, Hall revealed an important aspect of his business model. Apparently subscriptions and advertisements were not the only means of generating revenue for the Essex Gazette. The printer apparently also accepted payment for certain editorials as well.

Purchasing advertising space allowed colonists to shape the contents of newspapers, injecting their own views on politics and society into publications otherwise edited by printers. Advertisements that included news or opinion appeared among other paid notices, usually with the name of the advertiser appended. This made it clear to readers that advertisers paid to have such content circulate via the public prints. Editorials or letters, on the other hand, did not include devices indicating that they may have been placed only after authors made payment rather than as the result of printers selecting content they considered important or interesting for readers. Any such items reprinted from one newspaper to another almost certainly did not specify that someone had originally paid to see it in print. To what extent did colonial readers realize this was the case? Hall did not attempt to hide it, but neither did he nor other printers regularly indicate that some items (other than advertisements) ran in newspapers as a result of financial transactions in the printing office. Even if colonists did realize that some editorials appeared because authors paid for the space, how did they go about distinguishing which items fit that description? In an age of accusations about “fake news” shaping public discourse, Hall’s notice about authors paying to insert editorials in the Essex Gazette demonstrates that those who consume information – no matter which media deliver it – have been challenged to cultivate good practices for information literacy since the founding of the nation.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 15, 1769).

“Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office.”

Sometime during the week between publishing the August 8, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette and the August 15 edition, Samuel Hall altered the colophon. The new colophon simply stated: “SALEM: Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House.” Except for the period instead of a semicolon after “Town-House,” this read the same as the first line of the former colophon. However, Hall eliminated the second line: “where Subscriptions for this GAZETTE, at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, are taken in;–3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.” Hall had been using the colophon as advertising space to promote subscriptions for the newspaper, hoping to attract new customers who read copies that passed from hand to hand. Not every colonial printer deployed the colophon as a final advertisement, but the practice was not uncommon either. Several used the space to solicit subscriptions or advertisements or to peddle handbills, stationery, printed blanks, or printing services.

This was not the first time that Hall altered the colophon for the Essex Gazette. Although he had been publishing the newspaper for only a little over a year (the August 15 edition was issue number 55), he had revised the colophon on several occasions, adding and removing a second line that served as advertising. In the first issue published in 1769, for instance, the second line informed readers of the price of subscriptions and announced that Hall sought advertisements. It read: “where SUBSCRIPTIONS, (at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum) ADVERTISEMENTS, &c. are received for this Paper.” A couple of months later, Hall eliminated that second line and slightly altered the first, listing his name as “S. HALL” rather than “Samuel Hall.” That version eventually gave way to the one that appeared until August 8, the one in which Hall used the second line to encourage readers to become subscribers and specified that those who di so were expected to pay half of the subscription fee “at Entrance.”

Hall’s colophon for the Essex Gazette varied from issue to issue much more often than the colophons that appeared in other American newspapers in the 1760s. The publisher moved back and forth between using the colophon as space for advertising aspects of his own publication – subscriptions and advertisements – and a pared down notation limited to publisher and location. Why? What prompted Hall to make these changes? Does the elimination of the second line indicate that it had not achieved the purposes Hall intended? It took up so little space that Hall did not have to sacrifice other content when including it. Why did he choose to refrain from using the colophon to encourage subscriptions and advertising?

August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 8, 1769).

“ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMITLON … are requested … to make Payment.”

Colonists had many opportunities to shape the contents of eighteenth-century newspapers. Printers called on the public to submit “Articles and Letters of Intelligence,” many of them even reiterating this invitation weekly by embedding it in the colophon inserted in every issue (as was the case for William Goddard and the Pennsylvania Chronicle as well as John Carter and the Providence Gazette). Colonists also sent editorials and responses to items they saw published in the newspaper.

Colonists had other opportunities to shape the news beyond submitting editorials and “Letters of Intelligence” for printers to select or discard. Placing advertisements allowed them to distribute important information about local events which printers otherwise would not have incorporated into their newspapers. Consider the advertisements in the August 8, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Several legal notices advised readers of events taking place in Salem and elsewhere in Massachusetts. For many readers, these notices had as much impact on their daily lives as coverage of “the honourable House of Representatives of this Province” gathering to drink toasts on the occasion of “the happy Anniversary of the Birth of our most gracious Sovereign” or the list of resolutions drawn up by “merchants, planters and other inhabitants of South-Carolina” who signed their own nonimportation agreement in late July.

One legal notice advised, “ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMILTON, late of Salem, Merchant, deceased, are requested, without Delay, to make Payment of the Sums, respectively due, to Archibald Wilson, … Administrator of said Estate.” Those who did not settle accounts with Wilson could expect to suffer the consequences. The administrator stated that they would be “sued immediately” if they did not comply. Coverage of colonial legislators drinking toasts to “The KING, QUEEN, and ROYAL FAMILY” and “The Restoration of Harmony between Great Britain and the Colonies” gave readers a sense of the current political landscape in their colony. News of residents of Charleston adopting their own nonimportation agreement similar to those already in place in Boston and New York contributed made readers better informed about the intersection of commerce and politics throughout the colonies. Yet Archibald Wilson threatening to sue anyone indebted to the estate of Arthur Hamilton would have had the most immediate and consequential impact on some households that received the Essex Gazette.

Colonists could not dismiss the portion of newspapers devoted to advertising as ancillary; instead, they had to read both the items selected by the printer and advertisements submitted by fellow colonists in order to become aware of all “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic” promised in the masthead of the Essex Gazette and so many other eighteenth-century newspapers.

August 1

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

Aug 1 - 8:1:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 1, 1769).

“Said Negro is the same that ran away from me the first of June.”

As white colonists fretted about their figurative enslavement by Parliament in the late 1760s and early 1770s, a “Negro Man named Titus” chafed under literal enslavement on Cape Ann in Massachusetts. In an advertisement from Gloucester in the Essex Gazette, Thomas Jaques announced that Titus made his escape sometime during the night of July 18, 1769. Titus cleverly timed his departure. Like most other colonial newspapers, the Essex Gazette published only one issue each week, distributing it on Tuesdays. Titus made his escape on a Tuesday night, perhaps realizing that Jaques would not be able to place a notice in the public prints for an entire week. With such a delay in mobilizing the power of the press to enlist other colonists in the surveillance necessary to capture him, Titus gained a bit of a head start. Jaques suspected that the young man was clever in other ways as well, cautioning that he would “change his Cloathing if he has Opportunity.” He was also resilient. Jaques indicated that Titus had attempted to escape in June as well.

Despite his best efforts in 1769, however, Titus did not manage to get clear of those who enslaved him. In an exhibition for the Cape Ann Museum, Molly O’Hagan Hardy identified two other advertisements concerning Titus that ran in the Essex Gazette, one in 1772 and the other in 1773. By that time, John Lee enslaved him in nearby Manchester, but Titus had no more intention of remaining under the authority of Lee than he did Jaques. Both advertisements reported that he “RAN away,” but did not acknowledge his repeated attempts to escape as acts of self-determination. These subsequent advertisements do not reveal how long he managed to make good on his escape in 1769, only that he somehow returned to bondage within the next few of years. Yet they also make clear that he was not dissuaded from his efforts to liberate himself. The final advertisement testified to his continued ingenuity, stating that Titus “has with him a false pass or Bill of Sale.” The enslaved man had either forged the document himself or found an accomplice to aid him in his escape. Lee warned “All Masters of Vessels and others” against harboring or transporting Titus “on Penalty of the Law,” but perhaps the forged document or sympathy for his plight or a combination of the two convinced someone to help him. Given that he made at least four attempts to escape, Titus was not the type to give up on freeing himself. The absence of further advertisements documenting additional attempts to escape suggests that Titus may have finally succeeded.

July 25

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

Jul 25 - 7:25:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 25, 1769).

“THIS Day’s Paper (No. 52) compleats the first Year of the ESSEX GAZETTE.”

Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, participated in a familiar ritual. In the July 25, 1769, edition, he inserted a notice that announced, “THIS Day’s Paper (No. 52) compleats the first Year of the ESSEX GAZETTE.” Colonial printers often marked such occasions in the pages of their newspapers. They marked the first year but also commemorated subsequent years as a means of demonstrating the importance of newspapers to the community and promoting them to new subscribers and advertisers. These notices usually occupied a privileged place on the page, serving as a bridge between news items and advertisements. Part news, part marketing, they served more than one purpose.

Hall expressed his “sincere Thanks to the Publick” for supporting the Essex Gazette. He also promised “his Customers,” subscribers and advertisers, that he would “make it his invariable Study and Endeavour to render his Publications as agreeable to his Customers in general as he possibly can.” Unlike some other printers, he did not take the opportunity to outline proposed improvements to the newspaper in the coming year.

Before thanking “the Publick” and “his Customers,” Hall first made a pitch to prospective subscribers. It commenced with a report that some readers already experienced disappointment in their attempts to acquire “a compleat Sett” of issues of the Essex Gazette “from the Commencement of the first Volume.” A new year and a second volume of the Essex Gazette presented an opportunity for prospective subscribers, but only if they acted quickly. Hall requested that they “speedily … send in their Names to the Printer.” For the moment, he intended to print a few additional copies, starting with the “Beginning of Vol. II.” the following week. He did not mention the cost of subscribing in this notice, but the colophon running across the bottom of the following page stated that subscriber paid six shillings and eight pence, half “at Entrance.”

When the Essex Gazette survived its first year and continued into a second, the printer commemorated the occasion with a notice that informed the public of this significant milestone. Yet he did not confine his message to relaying this news and thanking those who had supported his endeavor. Instead, Hall also used the occasion to drum up more business for his newspaper, warning prospective subscribers not to repeat the mistakes of others who hesitated to subscribe during the newspaper’s first year of publication.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 18, 1769).

“John Prince HAS a Quantity of the best Isle of May SALT.”

The number of advertisements and the amount of space devoted to advertising varied significantly from newspaper to newspaper in colonial America. Some newspapers operated as delivery mechanisms for advertising, often giving as much or more space to paid notices than to news items, editorials, and other content. Other newspapers featured far less advertising on their pages.

Consider the Essex Gazette, published by Samuel Hall in Salem, Massachusetts. The July 18, 1769, edition included only four advertisements. Three ran at the bottom of the final column on the last page. John Prince hawked salt and wine, David Britton announced the sale of the late John Dampney’s real estate, and John Simnet promoted himself as a watchmaker of note. The fourth advertisement, a runaway notice concerning “an indented servant Lad, named Robert Kilby,” appeared near the bottom of the last column on the previous page, sandwiched between the shipping news from the customs house for the port of Salem and Marblehead and the shipping news from the customs house in Boston. Unlike the advertisements that filled the pages of many other newspapers, these had the appearance of filler that occupied the space necessary to complete the issue. In total, they accounted for less than a column of that issue.

Hall certainly did not operate the Essex Gazette on revenue generated from advertising, though many other colonial printers found selling advertising space more lucrative than selling subscriptions. In addition, Hall did not use one common method of cultivating advertising for his newspaper. Other printers concluded each issue with a call for advertisements (as well as subscriptions and news items) in the colophon. However, the colophon for the Essex Gazette failed to invite colonists to submit advertisements for the newspaper; instead, it focused on selling subscriptions, making clear that subscribers were expected to pay half in advance.

The masthead for the Essex Gazette proclaimed that it contained “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic.” Many other newspapers invoked the same claim in their own mastheads. For some, those “Advices” included advertisements. Legal notices updated readers on local events. Advertisements for consumer goods and services were indicators of both commerce and changing fashions. Notices about wives who “eloped” from their husbands told of marital strife among friends and neighbors. Advertisements about runaway servants or enslaved people who escaped bondage put the community on alert and drafted readers into providing surveillance on behalf of the advertiser. The Essex Gazette, however, featured far fewer advertisements. Instead of having some of the news filtered through the notices placed by fellow colonists, readers of the Essex Gazette encountered “Advices” selected almost exclusively by the editor.