May 1

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 1 - 5:1:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 1, 1769).

“A compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.”

On May 1, 1769, this advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury informed the public that there would be a public sale of household and kitchen items at the house of Nicholas Roosevelt, deceased. Roosevelt was probably a silversmith since the advertisements included “a compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.” Silver was used to create many items like teapots, silverware, plates, and bowls. Silversmithing was a notable occupation in colonial America, often seen as more of an art than a trade, according to the historians at Colonial Williamsburg.

In order to create a simple silver bowl, a silversmith needed to heat silver to 2000 degrees in a graphite and clay crucible. This liquid silver was then be poured out into a large sheet which would be hammered and molded into the desired shape. This was a difficult process because the silver would be extremely fragile while in this cooling state. To keep the silver malleable the smith repeatedly heated it and then plunged into an acid bath while it was being worked. This was a long process that required many different hammers – a “compleat set” – to achieve a perfectly smooth bowl.

These silver items had to be perfect not only because of the expensive materials used, but because they were sold to elite buyers. Silver teapots, bowls, and other items were very expensive commodities that only the upper class could afford, which they would then use to show off their affluence to their guests.



The same day that the advertisement concerning the sale of items from Nicholas Roosevelt’s estate appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury it also ran in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. The copy was exactly the same, though the compositors for the two newspapers made slightly different decisions about the format. The executor certainly sought to achieve maximum exposure for this sale, having previously advertised in the New-York Journal on April 27. The copy for that advertisement, however, deviated from what appeared in the other newspapers. The first portion was consistent, but the notice did not include the second half that offered the tools of Roosevelt’s trade for sale.

What explained this difference? Usually when advertisers invested the time and expense in placing notices in multiple newspapers they submitted identical copy to the printing offices. Why did the executor expand on the original advertisement from the New-York Journal when it ran in other newspapers a few days later? Perhaps the circumstances for settling Roosevelt’s estate changed. Maybe the executor had arranged for a buyer for the tools but then the deal fell apart, prompting a revised version of the advertisement.

Whatever the reason for adding the tools to the second iteration of the advertisement, the executor did not consider it necessary to update the original advertisement when it made a subsequent appearance in the New-York Journal on May 4. It ran just as it had the previous week, without mention of the “compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.” With the revised advertisement slated for publication in the other two newspapers one more time on May 8, the executor may have considered that sufficient visibility for attracting buyers. Alternately, the executor may not have considered it worth the expense to tinker with the wording of the advertisement in the New-York Journal since the type had already been set. The executor may have already received special consideration when placing that advertisement. The colophon listed a fee to run advertisements for a minimum of four weeks with additional fees for each subsequent insertion, yet this advertisement ran only twice.

Collating advertisements that appeared in multiple newspapers sometimes produces fairly definitive conclusions. For instance, identical copy with variations in format strongly suggests that advertisers were responsible for generating copy and compositors responsible for graphic design. The variations in the advertisements concerning Roosevelt’s estate, however, raise questions about decisions made by advertisers and business practices in printing offices, questions that elude answers when examining only eighteenth-century newspapers. They may also elude answers when consulting printers’ records and other sources, but the questions themselves do provide direction for another stage of research on advertising in early America. As the guest curators in my Revolutionary America class reach the end of the semester, this is another important lesson: no matter who much we have learned in this process, there is still so much more to discover. Seeking answers sometimes leads us to far more questions.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 11, 1768).


Advertisements for goods and services, especially newspaper notices, helped to stimulate the consumer revolution in eighteenth-century America. Colonial newspapers featured countless advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans hawking countless new goods. Yet purchasing those items was not the only manner in which colonists acquired goods. Other advertisements testify to alternate means for participating in the consumer revolution. Many notices promoted vendues or auctions where savvy bidders stood to benefit from even greater bargains than they might experience in shops and warehouses. Customers purchased both new and used goods at auction. Other advertisements announced secondhand goods for sale, often as the result of sellers planning to leave the colony. Some advertisements also alerted colonists about thefts from homes and shops, warning them to be careful when purchasing secondhand goods because they might have been stolen.

When it came to opportunities to obtain secondhand goods, colonists most frequently encountered advertisements for estate sales, such as this advertisement from the May 11, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette in which the executors for “John Maxwell, Esq. deceased, on Great-Ogechee” sought to sell “many articles of HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, amongst which are several very good feather beds, tables, desks, chairs.” Other advertisements in the same issue also promoted secondhand consumer goods that entered the marketplace via estate sales. The executors of “the ESTATE of FREDERICK HOLZENDORFF,” for instance, simultaneously called for his associates to settle accounts and announced the sale of “Household Goods and sundry other Articles.” Compared to newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and other larger ports, the Georgia Gazette featured relatively few advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans looking to sell inventories of new merchandise. In most issues, readers were as likely to find advertisements for estate sales as any other sort of notices presenting opportunities to acquire consumer goods. In eighteenth-century America, buying and selling the baubles of Britain and other items radiated far beyond shops and warehouses.

January 27

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

Jan 27 - 1:27:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 27, 1768).


Some colonial newspapers seemed to overflow with advertisements places by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans seeking to sell consumer goods. This was especially true of newspapers published in the largest urban ports, including Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Many newspapers from those cities frequently issued supplements devoted entirely to advertising. Other newspapers, however, featured far fewer advertisements for the wholesale or retail sale of consumer goods. Such was the case for the Georgia Gazette, published in Savannah by James Johnston. Even given the smaller population of the colony, shopkeepers placed relatively few advertisements in the Georgia Gazette. Perhaps the smaller population and fewer shops meant that the proprietors had less need to resort to the public prints rather than worrying about familiarity and word of mouth to promote their businesses.

The January 27, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, did not include any advertisements placed by shopkeepers. That did not mean, however, that it lacked evidence of participation in the vibrant consumer culture of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Several advertisements encouraged colonists to acquire goods at venues other than shops and warehouses in Savannah. Instead of purchasing new items at those locations, consumers could get similar items at bargain rates at estate sales and auctions. In four of the thirty-one advertisements in that issue, executors announced such sales. Each of them included either “Household Furniture” or “HOUSEHOLD GOODS” in addition to slaves and livestock. Unlike advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers, these notices did not incorporate any of the most popular marketing strategies, although the appeal to price was implicit when it came to the possibility of low bids at auctions. In the absence of appeals to quality, fashion, or consumer choice, advertisements for estate sales and auctions stimulated the market for secondhand goods, expanding the realm of consumer culture for greater numbers of colonists who may not have had the means to acquire solely new goods from merchants and shopkeepers.

March 18

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 18, 1767).


Scanning through a colonial American newspaper, especially one from Georgia, it is not uncommon to see advertisements selling slaves with other goods. It is appalling to see a woman and her child being sold as property along with carpentry tools and household furniture. Ironically, in the 1730s the Georgia Trustees envisioned their colony as a free settlement. Unfortunately, the economic temptations were too strong and by 1751 slavery was legalized. In contrast, by 1784, the northern states, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, had all abolished slavery. But Georgia remained a slave state after the Revolution.

Two crops dominated the Georgia economy, rice in the eighteenth century and cotton in the nineteenth century. Rice and cotton plantations required an adequate slave labor force, so as Georgia’s plantations grew so did the demand for slaves. A state law passed in 1793 prohibited the importation of slaves, but the law went into effect in 1798. During the 1790s the number of slaves in Georgia nearly doubled. In 1790 Georgia had 29,264 slaves, but then 54,699 slaves in 1800.

What did it really mean to see a slave advertisement in the colonial American newspaper? It means viewing human beings as property that could contribute to the owner’s own economic growth. They were seen just as equal as household furniture and other common goods that could be sold and advertised in a newspaper.



Today is the 251st anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Such an odd number merits little notice in a culture that usually prefers to celebrate landmark numbers of years measured in decades. For the purposes of the Adverts 250 Project, however, March 18, 1767, was the first anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Colonists did not allow that important anniversary to pass unnoticed. Instead, they engaged in commemorations noted in newspapers published throughout the colonies during the week before and several weeks after March 18.

Against that backdrop, today’s advertisement for “A VALUABLE NEGROE WENCH and CHILD” seems especially jarring. The juxtaposition did not go unnoticed during the years prior to the American Revolution. In Taxation No Tyranny, published in 1775, Samuel Johnson famously asked, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” The British author and lexicographer identified a glaring inconsistency in the rhetoric of colonists who claimed they were being enslaved by Parliament.

Although patriots in northern colonies (later states) did not level the same sort of acerbic observations against their southern counterparts, many increasingly applied the rhetoric of liberty to the circumstances of their own slaves. As Daniel notes, several northern states abolished slavery by the end of the eighteenth century. Others adopted gradual emancipation plans. As a result, advertisements offering slaves for sale tapered off in northern newspapers.

For the past six months, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project has demonstrated, however, that advertisements for slaves were common in newspapers printed in New England and the Middle Atlantic, regions not associated with slavery to the same extent as the Chesapeake and the Lower South (in part because the northern regions abolished or phased out slavery after the Revolution). Today’s advertisement lumping together “A VALUABLE NEGROE WENCH and CHILD” with tools, clothing, and furniture appeared in some variation in newspapers printed in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia during its week of initial publication.

As Daniel and his peers in my Revolutionary America class work on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I am encouraging them to contemplate the tensions between liberty and enslavement in eighteenth-century America, as well as the uneven application of the rhetoric of the Revolution when it came to slavery. While it is important to realize that approximately half a million slaves resided in the colonies at the time of the Revolution, the micro-histories embedded in slavery advertisements tell the stories of individuals. They provide further insight into the daily lives and lived experiences of enslaved men, women, and children in early America.