July 3

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

Jul 3 - 7:3:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 3, 1770).

The Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer.”

On July 3, 1770, Thomas Robie of Marblehead, Massachusetts, placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette.  In it, he promoted “GUN-Powder, Shot, Bar-Lead, and Wool-Cards” as well as nails in a variety of sizes and “a Number of other Articles, in the Hard Ware Way, imported in August last.”  Yet Robie did more than merely mention the merchandise he offered for sale.  The shopkeeper devoted just as much space in his advertisement to explaining the circumstances for acquiring those goods, asserting that he abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of the duties on certain imported goods.  In so doing, he defended his reputation and responded to rumors that apparently circulated about the origins of his inventory.

He hereby informs the Public,” Robie proclaimed, “that notwithstanding the Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer, he is not now, nor ever has been , possessed of any Goods ordered since April, 1769 (six or eight Months before the nonimportation Agreement was entered into by this Town) excepting the four first mentioned Articles, which are allowed by said Agreement.”  He offered an accounting of his activities, noting both when he ordered goods and which items did not fall under the nonimportation agreement and thus did not count as violations.  In specifying that he ordered (rather than received) goods prior to the agreement going into effect, he may have revealed the source of some of the confusion if those orders had not arrived before the prohibition on placing new orders went into effect.  Some merchants and shopkeepers parsed the provisions of nonimportation agreements, especially when they allowed for gradual implementation that allowed for the receipt of orders already placed but not new orders.  Robie noted that his hardware had been imported in August 1769, but he had not placed any new orders since April 1769.

Whether Robie adhered to the letter of the agreement, the spirit of the agreement, or neither, he believed that gossip that “represent[ed] him in the unpopular Light of an Importer” damaged his standing in the community.  That prompted him to turn to the public prints to address those stories and offer reassurances to prospective customers that they would not become complicit in undermining the political principles that inspired the nonimportation agreement if they purchased his goods.

June 12

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

Jun 12 - 6:12:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (June 12, 1770).

“A large convenient House … finely situated on the main Street.”

Location!  Location!  Location!  Francis Symonds highlighted the location of the “front Part of a large convenient House” that he offered for sale or rent in the June 12, 1770, edition of the Essex Gazette.  He noted that the property was “finely situated on the main Street in Danvers, within about a Quarter of a Mile of the Rev. Mr. Holt’s Meeting-House.”  Symonds also reported an array of goods and services available in close proximity to the house, inserting a census that was not a standard feature of eighteenth-century real estate notices.  Within a quarter mile, buyers or renters would be “accommodated with a very capable Schoolmistress, a Victualler, a Baker, 2 Merchants, 4 Shopkeepers, 2 Doctors, 1 Surgeon, 3 Carpenters, 2 Masons, 3 Blacksmiths, 3 Potters, 2 Tanners, 2 Curriers, 1 Saw-Mill, 1 Weaver, 2 Tailors, 1 Barber, 1 Chaisemaker, 2 Saddlers, 2 Joiners, 1 Glazier, and 8 Cordwainers.”  In addition, they had access to “a good Grist-Mill within half a Mile.”  Although not nearly as bustling as nearby Boston, the town of Danvers was “so growing, that most of the said Tradesmen have lately set up their Businesses.”  Symonds suggested that buyers or renters would reside in an up-and-coming neighborhood.

While that made daily life more comfortable, it also contributed to the prospects of earning a livelihood in the area, especially for anyone interested in the “Shop on the lower Floor” of the house.  In addition to prospective customers who lived nearby, Symonds declared, “It is thought about three Quarters of the Marketing that goes into the two great Towns of Salem and Marblehead passes by said House.”  Furthermore, the house was “situated within a Mile and an half of Salem Court-House” as well as “near the Bell Inn.”  Anyone who intended to operate a business in the shop would not lack for foot traffic.  Prospective customers passed by on their way to market, court, and a popular tavern.

Unlike others who advertised real estate, Symonds offered only a brief description of the house and land.  He focused primarily on the location and the businesses located nearby, his extensive account of the area conjuring images of a lively neighborhood where residents could readily access services and entrepreneurs could easily engage customers.  Considering that many of the local “Tradesmen have lately set up their Businesses,” he may have considered this necessary to attract buyers or renters unaware of the recent growth in the town of Danvers.

May 15

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

May 15 - 5:15:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 15, 1770).

“Said HILLER has to sell, a Variety of Watch Chains, Strings, Keyes, Seals.”

When Joseph Hiller, a clock- and watchmaker, set up shop in a new location, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to alert “the Public and his Customers in general, and those of them in the County of ESSEX in particular.”  Hiller had not only moved to a new location, he also moved to a new town.  He explained that he formerly operated a shop on King Street in Boston, but now customers could find him at “a Shop opposite the Court-House, on the Exchange, in SALEM.”  He hoped to retain those customers that he could, especially those who resided close to his new location, but he also aimed to attract new clients in Salem and its environs who may not have been previously inclined to seek out his services in Boston but would now consider his shop a viable option given its proximity.

To that end, he proclaimed that he would “execute all Sorts of CLOCK and WATCH WORK with such Accuracy, Fidelity and Dispatch, as to merit the Approbation of his Employers.”  Previous customers were already familiar with Hiller’s skill and service, so that portion of the advertisement served as an introduction to those who had not previously hired him.  He deployed appeals that artisans commonly incorporated into their advertisements, “Accuracy” testifying to the quality of his work and “Fidelity and Dispatch” applying to the customer service he provided.  While Hiller’s advertisement was not particularly innovative, it did demonstrate that he was competent, at least in how he represented his business in print.  Prospective clients could test those claims for themselves.

In an additional effort to entice customers into his new shop, Hiller appended a nota bene advising that he did more than make and repair clocks and watches.  He also carried a variety of accessories associated with his business: “Watch Chains, Strings, Keys, Seals.”  Selling these items supplemented the revenues that Hiller earned from his primary occupation; purchasing them allowed consumers to express their own tastes in embellishing their clocks and watches.  That Hiller made them available at all may have aroused the curiosity of prospective customers, encouraging them to visit his new shop to examine the accessories even if they did not wish to purchase a clock or watch or arrange for repairs.  As a newcomer in Salem, Hiller offered various reasons for consumers to make a call at his shop.

May 8

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

May 8 - 5:8:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 8, 1770).

“Negro Boy … can work in the Iron Works, both at Blooming and at Refining.”

Advertisements concerning several enslaved men and women ran in the Essex Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on May 8, 1770.  A notice in the latter offered for sale a “NEGRO FELLOW who is a good Sawyer and Caulker.”  On the same page, another advertisement sought to sell an enslaved woman who “is a very good Sempstress.”  In the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, Massachusetts, an advertisement for a “Negro Boy, 20 Years old,” indicated that the young man “can work in the Iron Works, both at Blooming and at Refining.”  These enslaved people each possessed specialized skills beyond agricultural labor and domestic service.  Advertisements that described enslaved men and women published in newspapers from New England to Georgia testified to the range of skills they acquired and the many contributions they made to commercial life and economic development in the colonies.

Although historians of early America have long known this, misconceptions of enslaved men and women working solely in the fields and in plantation houses have deep roots in the popular imagination … and in the education many students receive before enrolling in college-level history courses.  Such misconceptions have proven stubbornly difficult to dislodge.  When I invite students to work as guest curators for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project in my various courses, they most frequently express surprise at two aspects of slavery in early America:  that it was a common practice throughout the colonies rather than confined to southern colonies and that enslaved people had far more occupations than agricultural labor.  Yet the misconceptions are so ingrained that even after being introduced to evidence to the contrary, some students continue to resort to those misconceptions as their default understanding of the experiences of enslaved people.  Correcting this is an iterative process.  Students have to be exposed to this information multiple times.  Sometimes I have to ask them if they would like to reformulate statements they make in class or in written work in order to take into account the evidence they have examined in advertisements and other primary sources, gently nudging them to embrace what they have learned and disregard their prior misconceptions.  Working as guest curators on the Slavery Adverts 250 Project facilitates the process of reimagining early America and learning about the many and varied experiences of enslaved people rather than relying on misconceptions that circulate in popular culture.  As guest curators, students encounter advertisement after advertisement describing enslaved people as artisans or otherwise highlighting their specialized skills.  That evidence is much harder to overlook than if I presented them with a couple of representative advertisements.  Similarly, scrolling through the Slavery Adverts 250 Project feed and seeing advertisement after advertisement is intended to have the same effect for both students and the general public.  Advertisement after advertisement in that feed mentions the skills possessed by enslaved men and women, making it difficult to maintain assumptions to the contrary.

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.

Update:  This was the first of many advertisements Manning placed over several decades. Donna Seger uses them (and includes images!) as the foundation for a short biography of Priscilla Manning Abbot in “It was Her Shop” on Streets of Salem.