April 9

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

Essex Gazette (April 9, 1771).

“It may be had also of Doctor Kast, or Miss Priscilla Manning, at SALEM, and of Mr. Dummer Jewett at IPSWICH.”

Daniel Scott operated “the Medicine-Store, at the Sign of the Leopard” in Boston.  In an advertisement in the January 21, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, he promoted a “compleat Assortment” of imported “Drugs and Medicines, Chymical and Galenical” as well as patent medicines.  In the following months, he turned his attention to marketing “Dentium Conservator, Or the Grand Preserver of the Teeth and Gums,” a medicine that he prepared at his shop.  For several weeks he placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, hawking the “excellent Powder” and asserting that it was “the best adapted for preserving the Teeth and Gums, and preventing them from aching, of any Preparation offered to the Publick.”  He also advertised artificial teeth and other dentistry services.  The apothecary concluded his advertisement with a reminder that he also carried a variety of medicines beyond the “Dentium Conservator.”

Scott did not confine his advertising to newspapers in Boston.  He also placed notices in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  For the most part, those advertisements replicated the copy that ran in the Boston Evening-Post, but the apothecary made one addition.  In a nota bene, he informed prospective customers of local agents who carried the “Dentium Conservator” and sold it on his behalf: “It may be had also of Doctor Kast, or Miss Priscilla Manning, at SALEM, and of Mr. Dummer Jewett at IPSWICH.”  Philip Godfrid Kast, another apothecary, operated a shop at the Sign of the Lion and Mortar.  Manning peddled a variety of wares, mostly textiles, but apparently supplemented those revenues through her association with Scott and his “Dentium Conservator.”  Both Kast and Manning previously advertised in the Essex Gazette.  Jewett was likely also a familiar figure to readers of that newspaper.  The following year the governor appointed him justice of the peace for Essex County.

Scott could have chosen to produce and sell his “Dentium Conservator” exclusively at his shop in Boston.  Instead, he recruited associates in other towns, distributed his product to them, and assumed responsibility for marketing in an effort to increase sales.  The patent medicines that Scott stocked at his shop bore names familiar to customers.  His “Dentium Conservator,” on the other hand, did not benefit from an established reputation.  Scott intended that the combination of advertising in newspapers published in Boston and Salem and designating local agents to sell his product in Ipswich and Salem would enhance both the visibility and the reputation of his “Dentium Conservator.”

March 25

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

Boston-Gazette (March 25, 1771).

“Said Gazette has an extensive Circulation.”

In the eighteenth century, some newspaper printers used the colophon on the final page to promote subscriptions and advertising, but not every printer did so.  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, regularly updated his colophon.  In March 1771, the colophon informed readers of the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, (exclusive of Postage),” and the advertising rates, “Three Shillings” for notices “not exceeding eight or ten Lines.”  Printers often inserted notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts or face legal action, but they rarely advertised their own newspapers to prospective subscribers or potential advertisers.

That made Hall an exception.  He began in his own newspaper, printed in Salem, Massachusetts, with a brief notice on March 12, 1771.  Hall informed “Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers” that Thomas Walley accepted subscriptions at his store on Dock Square.  Two weeks later, Hall placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, hoping to reach a greater number of readers.  He once again listed Walley as his local agent in Boston.  He also explained that he printed the Essex Gazette on Tuesdays and instructed subscribers that they could “apply for their Papers” at Walley’s store “every Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Hall did not limit his advertisement to seeking subscribers this time around.  He devoted eight of the thirteen lines to soliciting advertising for the Essex Gazette.  Addressing “Those Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise,” Hall proclaimed that his newspaper had “an extensive Circulation, particularly in every Town in the County of Essex.”  Furthermore, he declared that the Essex Gazette was “universally read in the large Sea Port Towns of Salem, Marblehead, Glocester and Newbury-Port” as well as “many other considerable Towns in that County.”  That was not the extent of the newspaper’s dissemination, according to the printer.  He noted that it also “circulated in most of the Towns on the Eastern Road as far as Casco-Bay” (today part of Maine).

In his efforts to increase the number of advertisers (and enhance an important revenue stream) for the Essex Gazette, Hall focused on the circulation of his newspaper.  After all, prospective advertisers knew that placing notices in any newspaper was a good investment only if a significant number of readers actually saw their advertisements.  Hall carefully delineated the reach of the Essex Gazette to reassure “Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise” that his newspaper had established a significant readership in the region.

March 19

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

Essex Gazette (March 19, 1771).

“Whoever has a Mind to purchase … by applying to the Printer hereof may know further.”

Advertisements for grocery items, an “elegant Assortment of English GOODS,” sermons in memory of George Whitefield, and real estate for sale or lease ran in the March 19, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Readers were accustomed to encountering each sort of advertisement when they perused the Essex Gazette.  They were also accustomed to another kind of advertisement that offered enslaved people for sale.  In that issue, an anonymous advertiser presented a “likely, healthy, stout NEGRO Man, of about 30 Years of Age, who understands the farming Business in all its Branches.”  The advertiser advised prospective purchasers that the enslaved man was “To be SOLD, for Want of Employ, and not for any Fault.”  In other words, he was not ill, lazy, or disorderly; his current enslaver did not have enough work to keep him occupied.  The advertiser, who also had a “House Lot” in Marblehead for sale, instructed interested parties to contact the printer for more information.

Samuel Hall was that printer.  He began printing the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in August 1768.  The success of that newspaper and every other newspaper published in the colonies depended on attracting both subscribers and advertisers, but it also depended on other services provided at the printing office.  Printers served as information brokers.  The newspapers they distributed accounted for only a portion of the information in their possession.  They frequently disseminated via other means, including letters and conversations in printing offices, information that did not appear in print, especially when advertisers did not include all the particulars in their notices but instead asked readers to “enquire of the printer.”  In some cases, they made introductions, putting those who made inquiries in contact with advertisers.  On other occasions, they supplied additional details.  Either way, they acted as brokers, not only brokers of information but also brokers who facilitated sales.

When Hall published an advertisement for a “House Lot in Marblehead” and a “likely, healthy, stout NEGRO Man” that told readers they could learn more “by applying to the Printer,” he became a real estate broker and a broker in the slave trade.  Jordan E. Taylor has recently examined “enquire of the printer” advertisements published throughout the colonies and new nation in the eighteenth century, demonstrating that Hall was not alone.[1]  Taylor identified more than 2100 unique “enquire of the printer” advertisements offering enslaved people for sale.  Printers from New England to Georgia actively participated in the slave trade, both by publishing advertisements about enslaved people and by acting as a broker for “enquire of the printer” advertisements.  As Taylor argues, “Print culture was inextricable from the culture of slavery, just as print capitalism was slavery’s capitalism.”

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[1] Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer:  Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies:  An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 287-323.

March 12

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

Essex Gazette (March 12, 1771).

“Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers.”

In 1771, printers in Boston published more newspapers than in any other town or city in the colonies.  Mondays saw the distribution of three newspapers, the Boston Evening-Post printed by Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal printed by Benjamin Edes and John Gill, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy printed by John Green and Joseph Russell.  Two more newspapers came out on Thursdays, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter printed by Richard Draper and the Massachusetts Spy printed by Isaiah Thomas.  Residents of Boston had many options for reading the news.

In Salem, Samuel Hall printed and distributed the Essex Gazette on Tuesdays.  He often reprinted news that previously appeared in the Boston newspapers, though that was a reciprocal relationship.  Boston printers apparently received copies of the Essex Gazette and reprinted items from its pages.  On March 11, for instance, Edes and Gill devoted the entire front page of the Boston-Gazette to reprinting a memorial occasioned by the “Anniversary of Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston” nearly a week earlier.  Printers participated in exchange networks that gave them access to newspapers from other cities, newspapers filled with content that they could choose to reprint in their own publications.  What about readers?  Did any residents of Boston subscribe to newspapers published elsewhere?  Or did they depend on local publications to print and reprint, as so many mastheads proclaimed, “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic”?

Despite the crowded newspaper market in Boston, Hall indicated demand for the Essex Gazette existed among prospective subscribers in the bustling port city.  He inserted a notice in the March 12 edition to inform “THOSE Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers for this Gazette … that Subscriptions are taken in at the Store of Mr. Thomas Walley, on Dock-Square, Boston.”  That some residents of Boston wished to subscribe to the Essex Gazette suggests that dissemination of newspapers did not only flow out from the city to other parts of the colony but that some readers received newspapers published in other places.  For some subscribers, the Essex Gazette may have been another “local” newspaper that happened to serve an entire region, not unlike those published in Boston.  Titles that included Massachusetts (rather than Boston) or and Country Journal testified to the reach of those newspapers.  According to Hall’s advertisement, the Essex Gazette had a similar reach that extended not only into Salem’s hinterlands but into Boston as well.

March 5

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

Essex Gazette (March 5, 1771).

“Sermons on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”

A little more than five months following George Whitefield’s death on September 30, 1770, the commodification of that event continued in the pages of the Essex Gazette.  Printers, booksellers, and others produced and marketed a variety of commemorative items dedicated to the prominent minister in the weeks after his death.  The advertising for such items tapered off by the end of the year, but some notices occasionally appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina in 1771.  On March 5, Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, informed prospective customers of “Dr. Whitaker’s and Mr. Parsons’s Sermons on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD, with Mr. Jewet’s Exhortation at the Grave, annexed to the latter” available at his printing office in Salem.

This particular advertisement included thick black bands on both sides, a common symbol of mourning in early American print.  Whitefield’s death, however, was not the reason that Hall included that symbol in the March 5 edition.  The borders ran throughout the entire newspaper, enclosing every column on all four pages, to mark the first anniversary of “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston, N. England–1770.  In which Five of his Majesty’s Subjects were slain, and Six wounded, By the Discharge of a Number of Muskets from a Party of Soldiers under the Command of Capt. Thomas Preston.”  Hall devoted the entire front page to commemorating the Boston Massacre, first in a “solemn and perpetual MEMORIAL Of the Tyranny of the British Administration of Government” that extended across all three columns and filled half of the space below the masthead.  A letter reprinted from the New-Hampshire Gazette accounted for the remainder of the page.  In it, an anonymous author, “CONSIDERATION,” encouraged residents of every colony to designate a day to commemorate “the Massacre of 5 Americans” and, more generally, reflect on “the most important Events that have happened relative to the Government and Liberties of the Country.”  Unless colonists set aside a day for “delivering Discourses upon Government, the fundamental Laws of the Land, [and] the Advantages of civil and religious Liberty,” Consideration feared that “People will grow inattentive to those Concerns” and tyrants would prevail.  The black bands around Consideration’s essay underscored the gravity of the proposal.  Consideration issued a call to action, one endorsed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette when they inserted it in their newspaper and endorsed once again by Hall when he reprinted it.

Two of the most momentous events of 1770, the Boston Massacre and the death of George Whitefield, converged in the March 5, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Both events fueled acts of commemoration, sometimes mediated through commodification.  Vigilant printers played an important role in keeping those stories familiar among the general public, through news accounts, editorials, and advertisements.

Essex Gazette (March 5, 1771).

February 26

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

Essex Gazette (February 26, 1771).

“Subscriptions are taken in by I. Thomas, Printer and Publisher … M.J. Hiller, Watch-maker in Salem.”

As Isaiah Thomas prepared to relaunch the Massachusetts Spy after a brief hiatus, he placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston.  On February 18, 1771, he inserted a notice in all three newspapers published that day, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In that notice, he revised the plan of publication he previously outlined.  Instead of publishing the Spy on Tuesdays, the day after new editions of the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Gazette and Post-Boy, he moved the day to Thursdays in order to take advantage of the post arriving from Hartford with newspapers and letters on Wednesdays.  That would allow him to disseminate whatever news arrived from the west.

With his original plan, he would have been the only printer in Boston who circulated a newspaper in Boston on Tuesdays.  The revised plan, however, put him in direct competition with the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Despite that fact, the Gazette and News-Letter carried Thomas’s advertisement for the Spy on February 21.  That notice featured copy identical to the advertisements in the other three newspapers except for the additions of a headline that labeled it “ANOTHER THURDAY’S PAPER” and “Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgwater” as a local agent who collected subscriptions on Thomas’s behalf.

Thomas did not confine his marketing of the revamped Spy to Boston’s newspapers.  The day after it first appeared, the printer inserted the advertisement in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  The notice about the Spy ran for several weeks in each newspaper that carried it, a strategy likely intended to create momentum in acquiring subscribers leading up to the relaunch on March 7.  Thomas carefully coordinated that advertising campaign.  Notices usually ran for three weeks for a set fee, with an additional charge for each subsequent insertion.  Thomas planned the appearance of his advertisements to occur in the three weeks prior to commencing publication of the improved Spy.  Those advertisements did not appear in other newspapers again on or after March 7.  Instead, new issues of the Spy did the work of advertising the newspaper as they circulated in Boston and beyond.

January 29

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

Essex Gazette (January 29, 1771).

“Choice Labradore Tea.”

Two advertisements in the January 29, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette promoted tea to colonial consumers.  William Vans advertised “CHOICE Bohea Tea by the Hundred, Dozen or single Pound,” acknowledging the demand for imported tea.  Robert Bartlett, on the other hand, sold “Choice Labradore Tea,” an alternative produced in the colonies.  As Lisa L. Petrocich explains, “Colonists brewed Labrador, or Labradore, tea from the Ledum groenlandicum evergreen plant that grows in New England, and the Middle Atlantic, and the Midwest.”[1]

Bartlett emphasized the medicinal qualities of Labradore tea in his advertisement, advising prospective customers that the product was “esteemed as very wholesome, & good for the Rheumatism, Spleen, and many other Disorders and Pains.”  He also hawked a medicine that he described as “an infallible Cure for the Tooth-Ach.”  Bartlett focused on providing remedies for ailments rather than rehearsing the recent history of tea consumption in the colonies, but he almost certainly depended on consumers possessing some familiarity with the politics of Labradore tea.  The import duties on glass, paper, lead, and paint imposed in the Townshend Acts had been repealed the previous year, prompting colonists to call an end to the nonimportation agreements adopted in protest, but the tax on tea remained.  Some stalwarts argued that was reason enough to continue the boycotts until Parliament met all of their demands by repealing the duty on tea as well, but both merchants and consumers eager to resume trade and gain access to imported goods once again overruled them.  Before that debate, however, newspapers, especially newspapers published in New England, ran news items, editorials, puff pieces, and advertisements that educated the public about Labradore tea and promoted it as an alternative to Bohea and other imported teas.

Bartlett eschewed politics in his advertisement, perhaps not wanting to alienate prospective customers who advocated for resuming trade with Britain, but the political meaning of choosing Labradore tea likely still resonated with many readers of the Essex Gazette.  That Bartlett advertised Labradore tea at all indicated that he believed he believed a market for it still existed and that he could incite greater demand by presenting it as a remedy for various ailments.

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[1] Lisa L. Petrovich, “More than the Boston Tea Party: Tea in American Culture, 1760s-1840s” (master’s thesis, University of Colorado, 2013), 24.

January 15

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

Essex Gazette (January 15, 1771).

“A POEM on the Execution of William Shaw.”

True crime!  News of the murder of Edward East circulated widely in New England.  The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter was among the first publications that presented the news to the public.  A short article in its September 27, 1770, edition reported, “We hear from Springfield, that one Edward East, was murthered in the Gaol at that Place, by William Shaw and George French, who wounded him in several Parts, on the 17th of this [month], of which Wounds he died the next Day.”  As was common practice at the time, several newspapers reprinted this news over the course of several weeks.

On October 12, the Connecticut Journal provided updates in a longer story, reporting that a “jury by their verdict declared” Shaw “to be guilty” of murder, “whereupon the sentence of death was passed upon him.”  The execution was scheduled for November 8.  At the same time, the jury did not find enough evidence to convict French as an accomplice but instead “returned a verdict in his favour.”  On November 19, the Boston Evening-Post noted that Shaw’s execution was delayed until December 13, but did not provide an explanation.  The Connecticut Journal reported on Shaw’s execution in its December 18 edition.  “On which solemn occasion,” the editor declared, “an affecting sermon was delivered by the Rev. MOSES BALDWIN … to an audience of many thousands collected from all the adjacent towns as spectators of the awful scene.”  Newspapers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island all reported on the execution.

Advertisements for commemorative items soon appeared as well, including one for “A POEM on the Execution of William Shaw” in the January 7, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  On January 10, an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter promoted another commemorative item, “A SERMON intitled, The Ungodly condemned in Judgment; Preached at Springfield, December 13th 1770.  On Occasion of the Execution of WILLIAM SHAW, for Murder, By MOSES BALDWIN.”  Printers and booksellers in other places also advertised and sold the poem and the sermon.  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette in Salem, for instance, advertised the poem on January 15.  These advertisements helped to deliver news of current events while offering consumers opportunities to learn more.  For those who were not among the “many thousands” who heard the sermon and witnessed the execution, the commemorative items served as a proxy in addition to as supplement for coverage in newspapers.

December 25

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

Essex Gazette (December 25, 1770).

The most judicious, sensible and learned Gentlemen … have already subscribed.”

Subscription notices were a common form of advertising in early American newspapers.  Printers managed the risk and expense associated with publishing books by first distributing subscription notices to incite demand and gauge interest in particular titles.  They announced their intention to print a book, but only if a sufficient number of subscribers indicated that they would purchase it.  Printers often asked subscribers to confirm their commitment by making a deposit, often half of the final price.  Those funds helped to defray expenses incurred in the production process.  If a proposed title achieved a sufficient number of subscribers, the printer took it to press.  If it did not, the printer abandoned the project before losing money on it.

Samuel Hall sought subscribers for “A Tract, wrote by the Rev’d Mr. JOHN NELSON, a Presbyterian Minister, late of Ballykelly in Ireland, in form of a Letter to his People” in 1770, aiming to reprint a book published in Belfast in 1766.  As the year drew to a close, Hall believed that he had almost enough subscribers “to commit this Piece to the Press.”  On December 25, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to advise prospective subscribers that “[t]he greater Part of the most judicious, sensible and learned Gentlemen in Salem and Newbury-Port have already subscribed for reprinting this Book.”  That being the case Hall requested “that those who are desirous of becoming Subscribers, and have not yet had an Opportunity, would not be speedy in sending in their Names.”  He suspected that this would generate enough advance orders to justify printing the book during the first week of January 1771.  Hall inserted the advertisement once again on January 1.  He apparently attracted the necessary number of subscribers to publish his American edition in 1771.

In noting that “the most judicious, sensible and learned Gentleman” in Salem and nearby towns had already subscribed for a copy of the book, Hall hoped to play on prospective subscribers’ sense of community and anxieties about being excluded.  Subscription notices often specified that books would include a list of subscribers, a roll call of supporters who made the work possible.  Even if prospective subscribers had little or no interest in a book, they might have wanted to see their name listed among the ranks of prominent subscribers and other members of their community.  In this case, Hall made it clear that those who did not subscribe might not be considered judicious or sensible or learned.  He suggested that not subscribing could be harmful to one’s reputation.  To keep in good standing or to improve their status in the community, those who had not yet subscribed need to remedy that oversight.

December 4

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

Essex Gazette (December 4, 1770).

“JUST PUBLISHED … Dr. Whitaker’s SERMON On the DEATH of the Reverend George Whitefield.”

George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  The next day, articles appeared in newspapers published in Boston and the news radiated to other towns throughout the colonies over several weeks.  In addition to news items, many newspapers printed and reprinted poems that eulogized the minister.  Almost immediately, some printers and booksellers advertised commemorative items that commodified Whitefield’s death.  Through concentrated primarily in New England, such advertisements also ran in newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

As winter approached, printers and booksellers continued to produce and market new items related to Whitefield and his death.  On November 27, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, advertised that “On Thursday or Friday next will be published … The Rev. Dr. Whitaker’s SERMON, on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD.”  In the next issue, Hall inserted an updated advertisement that announced he had indeed “JUST PUBLISHED” the sermon and offered it for sale at the printing office.  This advertisement, unlike most others, included thick black bands at the top and bottom, a widely recognized symbol of mourning in eighteenth-century America.  Usually, black bands or borders were reserved for news articles or they adorned an entire page or issue.  By incorporating them into this advertisement, Hall elevated Whitaker’s sermon on Whitefield’s death and, by extension, his marketing of that item, to news.  In addition, he placed the advertisement at the top of the first column devoted to advertisements in the December 4 edition of the Essex Gazette, making it a transition between news and advertising.

In the year that saw the Boston Massacre and the repeal of most of the Townshend duties on imported goods, the death of George Whitefield was one of the most significant stories that circulated in the colonial American newspapers.  Yet coverage of the minister’s death was not confined to news alone.  Printers and booksellers seized opportunities to produce commemorative items and offer them for sale, simultaneously consoling the general public and seeking to profit from their grief.