January 17

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

Essex Gazette (January 17, 1769).

“Will be sold greatly under the usual Prices, to clear off his Stock.”

CLEARANCE SALE!!! Robert Alcock did not deploy a striking headline when he placed an advertisement in the January 17, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette, but his marketing strategy did indeed amount to throwing a clearance sale. He announced that his inventory included “AN Assortment of Checks” (or textiles woven with a checked pattern) in various widths as well as “Breeches Patterns, and Hose of all Prices, with a Variety of other Articles.” Yet the abundant choices he made available to consumers was not the primary focus of his advertisement. Instead, he made the sale he was sponsoring the centerpiece of his marketing efforts.

John Appleton advertised in the same issue of the Essex Gazette. His comment on price was typical of advertisers who mentioned how much prospective customers could expect to pay for their merchandise. Appleton asserted that he was “determined to sell very low,” but in doing so may not have garnered particular attention from readers. He adopted such formulaic language that it likely communicated to prospective customers that his prices were competitive rather than inflated but perhaps not bargains that could not be found in other shops.

Alcock’s appeal to price, on the other hand, deviated significantly from the standard language that appeared in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies. He proclaimed that he offered his wares “greatly under the usual Prices, to clear off his Stock.” Unlike Appleton’s “determined to sell low,” this vocabulary stood out. It did promise better deals than consumers would encounter in other shops around town. Politics may have played a role in shaping Alcock’s advertising. If he had stockpiled imported goods in advance of nonimportation agreements enacted to protest the Townshend Act going into effect, he may have found himself in a position that he needed to devise an innovative marketing strategy. Whatever the reason, Alcock determined that his inventory was too large and that he needed to drastically reduce it. His efforts to “clear off his Stock” by selling it “greatly under the usual Prices” was an eighteenth-century clearance sale that lacked much of the hoopla that later accompanied such sales as part of modern marketing campaigns.

January 10

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

Essex Gazette (January 10, 1768).

“THE Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Salem would be glad to bind out a Number of poor Children.”

Colonial newspapers tended to be regional rather than local, as the names sometimes indicated. Consider the newspapers published in 1769. The Georgia Gazette (published in Savannah), the Massachusetts Gazette (published in Boston), the Pennsylvania Gazette (published in Philadelphia), the South-Carolina Gazette (published in Charleston), and the Virginia Gazette (published in Williamsburg) all served their respective colonies and beyond. Other newspapers with names that specified their places of publication also circulated far beyond the towns and cities that appeared in their mastheads. Such was the case for the Boston Evening-Post, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette. The title of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette summed up the extensive communities served by colonial newspapers. They were simultaneously local and regional publications.

That was the case for advertising as well as news. The majority of paid notices that appeared in any newspaper concerned local affairs, yet a smaller number of advertisements from beyond the city or town where a newspaper was published were interspersed. Artisans and shopkeepers in Albany, for instance, placed advertisements in newspapers published in New York. Colonists in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey as well as towns in Pennsylvania beyond Philadelphia placed advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, estate notices, and other sorts of notices in the newspapers published in Philadelphia. In each instance, they depended on the extensive circulation across a vast geography to place their notices before the eyes of readers in their own communities.

By the end of the eighteenth century, however, the number of newspapers increased dramatically. Especially after the American Revolution, printers established newspapers in smaller cities and towns, eliminating some of the need for newspapers to serve regional audiences. Those new publications allowed advertisers to target local readers more effectively. The process began prior to the Revolution. When Samuel Hall commenced publication of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in August 1768, he offered his community more than just “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic.” As the colophon indicated, he took in subscriptions and advertisements at the printing office. Not just for news but also for advertising, residents of Salem and the surrounding towns now had a local alternative to the several newspapers published in Boston. Residents of Salem could continue to insert advertisements in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Post-Boy, and their competitors as a means of placing them before larger audiences, yet some advertisers likely considered the local alternative more appropriate and more effective for their purposes, whether selling goods or keeping the community informed about local affairs.

January 3

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

Essex Gazette (January 3, 1768).

The Declaration and Confession of Ruth Blay will be printed To-morrow.”

Infanticide and a public execution: read all about it! When compiling the contents for the first issue of the Essex Gazette for 1769, printer Samuel Hall devised one item that was part news and part advertisement. “We hear from Portsmouth,” the notice began, “That last Friday the unfortunate Ruth Blay was executed there, pursuant to her Sentence.” Hall did not go into great detail about the sequence of events, likely assuming that most readers were already familiar with the infamous case of an unmarried schoolmistress who had been convicted of concealing the birth of an illegitimate child in southern New Hampshire. The printer did report that Blay “behaved in a very penitent Manner, but denied … Murdering her Infant Child.” Before her execution, the schoolmistress “sign’d a Declaration and Confession.” Hall reprinted a portion of that document, both to inform readers and to entice them to purchase a copy of their own. The notice ended with an announcement, printed in italics and larger type to garner attention, that “The Declaration and Confession of Ruth Blay will be printed To-morrow.”

Hall leveraged current events in the service of earning revenues. He stoked interest in the Blay case by providing a teaser from the “Declaration and Confession” in advance of publishing his own edition. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, had already published Blay’s appeal early in the morning on the day of her execution, at “2 o’clock Friday morning December 30, 1768” according to the imprint. Hall apparently acquired a copy, perhaps from the same messenger who brought news that Blay’s execution had finally occurred after she had received a series of reprieves. No known copy of an edition printed by Hall survives, but the Peabody Essex Museum and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin both have copies of the broadside attributed to the Fowles. The promised edition advertised in the Essex Gazette may never have gone to press, but Hall certainly could have printed copies of the broadside to offer for sale shortly after prospective customers saw the notice in the newspaper. He certainly would not have been the only printer who marketed memorabilia related to crimes and executions. First Thomas Green and Samuel Green and later printers in Boston printed and advertised a pamphlet about “the Life and Abominable Thefts” of Isaac Frasier in the wake of his execution for burglary in September 1768. Hall’s notice, part news and part advertisement, suggests that he also saw an opportunity to profit from print culture that entertained readers with the story of an infamous criminal.

For more on Ruth Blay, see Sharon L. Jansen’s “Ruth Blay and the Crime of Concealing the Birth of a ‘Bastard’ Child,” which includes an image of the Portsmouth Athenaeum’s photocopy of the “Declaration & Confession of Ruth Blay” printed by the Fowles.

September 20

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

Sep 20 - 9:20:1768 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 20, 1768).

TO BE SOLD … A Likely, strong, and remarkably healthy Negro Girl.”

The Essex Gazette commenced publication in Salem, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1768. The colophon at the bottom of the final page advised readers that it was “Printed by SAMUEL HALL, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House; where SUBSCRIPTIONS, (at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum) ADVERTISEMENTS, &c. are received for this Paper.” The first issue included half a dozen advertisements that Hall apparently solicited in advance of publication. Hall certainly included those advertisers in the message he addressed “To the PUBLICK” in the inaugural issue. He “return[ed] my sincere Thanks to every Gentleman, who has, in any Manner, patronized and encouraged my Undertaking.” Those first advertisers included an apothecary, a tailor, a shopkeeper, and a tavernkeeper. Each offered consumer goods and services to the residents of Salem and its environs.

Readers were accustomed to seeing those sorts of advertisements in the several newspapers published in nearby Boston as well as other newspapers that circulated in New England. They were also accustomed to seeing other sorts of paid notices, those that offered enslaved men, women, and children for sale or announced rewards for the capture and return of runaways slaves. It did not take long for advertisements for people reduced to commodities to find their way into the Essex Gazette. In issue “NUMB. 8,” only seven weeks after Hall distributed the first issue of the Essex Gazette, the first advertisement mentioning a slave appeared in the new publication, one of only six paid notices in that issue. In it, James Lee announced that he sought to sell a “Likely, strong, and remarkably healthy Negro Girl, between 11 and 12 Years of Age.” She would make a good domestic servant, already being “well acquainted with the Business of a Family” and knowing how to knit, spin, and sew.

Practically from the start of this new endeavor printer Samuel Hall was enmeshed in the business of human bondage. The success and continued publication of the Essex Gazette depended on those who “patronized and encouraged” the venture, including those who placed advertisements that generated revenue that sustained the newspaper. Even as the news items printed elsewhere in the Essex Gazette addressed questions concerning the “invaluable Rights and Privileges, civil and religious” of the colonists, advertisements contributed to the perpetuation of slavery in Massachusetts during the era of the American Revolution.

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 8:2:1768 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 2, 1768).

Marblehead, July 25, 1768. Edward Griffiths, Taylor and Habit-maker from LONDON.”

Today the Adverts 250 Project features an advertisement from the Essex Gazette for the first time, an advertisement from the first issue of that newspaper. Samuel Hall commenced publication of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1768. Hall offered an address “To the PUBLICK” on the first page, explaining the purpose of establishing a printing office and, especially, publishing a newspaper to the residents of Salem and other readers: “there can be no doubt that every Inhabitant is sufficiently sensible that the Exercise of this Art is of the utmost Importance to every Community, and that News-Papers, in particular, are of great publick Utility.” That was because newspapers collected together “miscellaneous Productions, and the Advices from different Parts of the World” in order that “the most useful Knowledge to Mankind, tending to preserve and promote the Liberty, Happiness and Welfare of Civil Society, is, at a trifling Expence, imperceptibly diffused among the Inhabitants of an extensive Country.”

Although Hall assumed primary responsibly for compiling those “miscellaneous Productions” and “Advices from different Parts of the World,” other colonists did play a part in shaping the contents of the Essex Gazette, just as they did newspapers published throughout the colonies, through the advertisements they paid to have inserted alongside news, editorials, prices current, poetry, and other items. Hall did not solicit advertising in his address “To the PUBLICK,” but the colophon at the bottom of the final page did states that “SUBSCRIPTIONS, (at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum) ADVERTISEMENTS, &c. are received for this Paper” at the printing office “a few Doors above the Town-House.” Hall reported that he had issued proposals for publishing the Essex Gazette a month earlier. Those proposals likely included a call for colonists to submit advertisements in advance of the first issue going to press.

Five advertisements, filling, one and a half of the twelve columns, did appear in the inaugural issue. Andrew Oliver,a prominent colonial official, requested that “WHOEVER has borrowed” two books from his library either return them or contact him. The other four advertisements all promoted consumer goods and services. William Vans peddled a “Great Variety of English Goods” at his shop on the “Corner leading from the main Street to the North-River Bridge.” Edward Griffiths, a “Taylor and Habit-maker from LONDON” used a list of prices for suits, jackets, and breeches to attract prospective clients to his shop in Marblehead. William Jones invited travelers and others to the “King’s-Head Tavern, in Danvers, on the Road from Boston to Salem.” In an advertisement that filled an entire column, Philip Godfrid Kast listed and described various patent medicines available at his apothecary shop “at the Sign on the Lyon and Mortar” in Salem. Kast regularly advertised in newspapers published in Boston, but the new Essex Gazette provided an opportunity for him and the other entrepreneurs who inserted notices in the first issue to more directly target local readers who could become customers. That certainly enhanced the “publick Utility” of the newspaper for advertisers.