March 28

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

New-York Journal (March 28, 1771).

“A SERMON, on the Death of the Revs. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

The simultaneous commemoration and commodification of George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, continued six months later in the March 28, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal.  John Holt, printer of that newspaper, announced that he “Just published … A SERMON, on the Death of the Rev.d Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, preached at his own Tabernacle in Moor-Fields, &c. by the Reverend Mr. JOHN WESLEY.”  A week earlier, Holt attempted to generate demand in advance of publication with a notice that the sermon was “Now in the Press.”  Coverage of Whitefield’s death, coverage that likely spurred sales of commemorative items, tapered off by the end of 1770 once newspaper printers throughout the colonies reprinted accounts that originated in Boston and then printed and reprinted news of local reactions.  When reports of reactions in England arrived after several months, printers like Holt had new opportunities to continue coverage of Whitefield’s death and to profit from commodifying that event.

Immediately following the death of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, printers, booksellers, and others marketed a variety of memorabilia, including poems, hymnals, and funeral sermons.  The production and dissemination of these items supplemented other mourning rituals, while also giving consumers opportunities to experience through their purchases events they did not witness.  Such was the case with publishing funeral sermons, especially those originally delivered in faraway places.  Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, advertised a funeral sermon given in Savannah in the neighboring colony of Georgia.  Holt gave consumers access to a sermon preached much farther away when he reprinted Wesley’s sermon.  This enhanced the sense of collective mourning.  Colonists were not alone in honoring Whitefield’s life and grieving his death; instead, they were the first to express their sorrow, eventually joined by counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.  Reprinting and selling Wesley’s funeral sermon was not merely a matter of honoring the departed minister.  Holt also provided a proxy for participating in commemorations in England, thus making American consumers feel like part of a transatlantic community of the faithful who mourned Whitefield.

March 21

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

New-York Journal (March 21, 1771).

“THE celebrated Sermon preached … on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. George Whitefield … By JOHN WESLEY.”

Word of George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, quickly spread through the colonies as well as across the Atlantic.  Newspapers in the colonies covered local reaction to the loss of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  In turn, they also reprinted coverage from one to another, further enhancing a sense of collective mourning.  It took longer to receive word of reactions in England, but by late March the colonial press carried those updates as well.  On March 18, 1771, the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy both carried an “Extract of a Letter from the Right Honourable the COUNTESS OF HUNTINGDON,” Whitefield’s patron, “received a few Days ago by the December Packet.”  The countess mourned the “Faithful Minister of the Gospel.”

A few days later, residents of New York learned of another response to Whitefield’s death from across the Atlantic.  John Holt, printer of the New-York Journal, announced that he would soon publish the “celebrated Sermon preached” by John Wesley, a leader of the Methodist movement within the Church of England, “on Sunday the 18th of November last, on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, at the Chapel in Tottenham Court-Road, and the Tabernacle near Moorfields.”  According to the Wesley Center Online, “The Sermon was at once published in London; and a reprint was issued in Dublin, also dated 1770.”  Commemorations of Whitefield’s death quickly resulted in commodification in England and Ireland, just as in the colonies.  That commodification continued when American printers came into possession of copies of the sermon.  Holt was the first advertise an American edition of Wesley’s sermon, but he was not the only one to take it to press.  John Fleeming in Boston also published the sermon.  Whitefield’s death was one of the most significant news events of 1770.  It prompted mourning on both sides of the Atlantic, but also presented opportunities for commodification.

February 5

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 5, 1771).

“A FUNERAL SERMON … on the much lamented Death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Robert Wells, bookseller and printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, placed an advertisement for “NEW BOOKS” in the February 5, 1771, edition of his newspaper.  The advertisement extended an entire column, listing dozens of titles and concluding with “TOBLER’s ALMANACK” and “A FUNERAL SERMON” in memory of George Whitefield.  With the latter, Wells presented consumers an opportunity to participate in commemorations of the prominent minister that occurred from New England to Georgia.  Commodification of Whitefield’s death made it possible for colonists to purchase mementos that testified to their grief and regard for the minister; simultaneously, such commodification generated revenues for printers, booksellers, and others.

Whitefield, one of the most influential 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 news appeared in several newspapers published in Boston and from there quickly spread to other towns and other colonies.  Within a month, residents of Georgia learned of the minister’s death.  Wells advertised a sermon delivered in Whitefield’s memory “at Savannah, in Georgia, November 1, 1770 … By J.J. ZUBLY, Minister of an English and German Congregation.”  According to the imprint, James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, printed and sold the sermon.  He most likely advertised it in his own newspaper, but few editions of the Georgia Gazette from late 1770 and beyond survive.  Johnston apparently dispatched copies to Charleston in hopes of capturing another market.

Yet the advertisement for Zubly’s sermon was not the only appearance Whitefield made among the advertisements in the February 5 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  John Fleeming’s subscription notice for an annotated “FAMILY BIBLE” filled two columns on the front page, the second of those columns devoted almost entirely to an endorsement Whitefield penned for an earlier edition.  Fleeming leveraged the minister’s notes of approbation written years earlier into a posthumous testimonial for his proposed project.  He distributed that advertisement widely in newspapers published in New England, but this was the first time it appeared in any of the newspapers published in South Carolina.  Fleeming and his local agents updated it to indicate that “Subscriptions for said laudable Undertaking, are taken in at Charlestown by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Great Stationary and Book Store; In Savannah by JAMES JOHNSTON, at his Printing-Office.”

The frequency of advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia tapered off by the end of 1770 as the immediacy of the minister’s death faded, but a couple of months later they experienced a resurgence as printers and booksellers renewed their efforts to provide commemorative items to consumers who wished to feel connected to such a significant event.  Much of this resurgence occurred beyond New England, the center for most, but not all, of the marketing for Whitefield paraphernalia in the first few months after his death.  Just as news spread, reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, so did the commodification of the Whitefield’s death.

January 31

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 31, 1771).

“A DISCOURSE, Occasioned by the DEATH of the Revd. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

The death of George Whitefield in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, was one of the most significant news events of the year.  Newspapers throughout the colonies reported on the death of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  They also carried news of local reactions and commemorations as well as poetry that memorialized the minister.  Almost immediately, printers, publishers, booksellers, and others commodified Whitefield’s death, marketing a variety of memorabilia via newspaper advertisements.

Such marketing tapered off after a couple of months as the immediacy of Whitefield’s death faded.  Printers and booksellers who previously placed advertisements designed solely to promote items devoted to Whitefield began listing such memorabilia among other merchandise available for sale.  At the end of January and beginning of February 1771, however, a resurgence of marketing commemorative items occurred, this time in places that had not witnessed the same intensity of advertising for Whitefield memorabilia as New England and New York in the final months of 1770.

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, began advertising sermons delivered in memory of the minister in the January 31 edition of their newspapers.  The Bradfords informed the public that they published “A DISCOURSE, Occasioned by the DEATH of the Revd. GEORGE WHITEFIELD … delivered October 14, 1770, in the Second Presbyterian Church, in this city, By JAMES SPROUTT, A.M. Pastor of said Church.”  They also carried another sermon by Ebenezer Pemberton, “Pastor of a Church in BOSTON.”  The Bradfords likely acquired copies of Pemberton’s sermon from printers in New England or New York, perhaps in exchange for promises of receiving copies of Sproutt’s sermon when it went to press.  The latter was a new publication not previously marketed elsewhere.  The Bradfords offered their customers choices; they could acquire a sermon delivered locally that already may have been familiar or one delivered in Boston that featured new content.  They could even purchase both, allowing them simultaneously to honor the influential minister and compare the memorials.

Whitefield’s death prompted mourning throughout the colonies, but it also presented opportunities for printers, publishers, booksellers, and others to attempt to profit from leveraging current events into commemorative items.  From New England to South Carolina, newspapers carried both reports of the minister’s death and advertisements for memorabilia. Widespread commodification accompanied the death of the famous minister.

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.

November 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 30, 1770).

“A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

The death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, received attention throughout the American colonies.  From New England to Georgia, newspapers reported the minister’s death.  Colonists participated in collective acts of mourning, reading poems dedicated to the Whitefield’s memory reprinted from newspaper to newspaper and listening to sermons honoring the minister and his legacy.  The various sorts of eulogies for Whitefield, whether poems or sermons, very quickly converted to commodification of his death as printers and booksellers advertised commemorative items for consumers to purchase.  Within days of the minister’s death, printers suggested that funeral sermons would soon go to press.  Two months later, newspaper advertisements continued to promote such items.

For instance, the November 30, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette once again informed readers that they could purchase “THE Rev. Jonathan Parson’s SERMON … A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD” either at the printing office in Portsmouth or the post office in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  This was a truncated version of an advertisement that ran in the two previous issues.  The more extensive notice extended nearly two-thirds of a column.  It included an excerpt from the sermon, a preview to incite interest among prospective customers.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, dispensed with the excerpt, but they included other Whitefield content as a means of maintaining interest in the minister’s death and generating sales.  The final page of the New-Hampshire Gazette often included poetry in the upper left corner.  The Fowles inserted two poems in the November 30 edition, one of them “A short POEM On the Death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  As a result, coverage of the minister’s death continued beyond the portion of the newspaper devoted to advertising.  The Fowles may have published the poem, at least in part, as a means of suggesting that popular interest in Whitefield’s death remained high, hoping that this would induce readers to consider purchasing the sermon advertised for sale elsewhere on the same page.  Collective mourning could potentially yield greater interest in collective acts of commemoration through purchasing commodities associated with the minister’s death.

November 16

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 16, 1770).

“A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d 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.  Newspapers in Boston carried the first reports the following day.  Over the course of the next several weeks, news radiated out.  Printers in other towns reprinted articles from Boston’s newspapers and added their own coverage of reactions in their local communities.  Amateur poets penned tributes to the deceased minister and submitted them to newspapers.  Like news reports, those poems were reprinted from one publication to another.  Although news and poems related to Whitefield’s death originally moved from New England to other places in the colonies, eventually the culture of reprinting caused newspapers in New England to carry short articles about local reaction to Whitefield’s death in New York and Philadelphia.

Nearly seven weeks had elapsed since the minister’s death when the New-Hampshire Gazette reprinted an article and poem about Whitefield from the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  It filled half a page, a significant amount of space in a newspaper comprised of only four pages.  In the same issue, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted an advertisement for a sermon preached by Jonathan Parsons, a “most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  The lengthy advertisement extended half a column.  Between the item reprinted from the New-York Gazette and the advertisement for the sermon, content associated with the minister’s death accounted for two of the twelve columns in the November 16, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Parson’s sermon was not the first item memorializing Whitefield offered for sale to the public.  Nearly as soon as newspapers began running articles about the minister’s death, they also suggested that funeral sermons would soon be going to press.  Booksellers found renewed interest in hawking books by Whitefield, capitalizing on current events.  Printers marketed a variety of broadsides with poems, accounts of the funeral, and visual images of Whitefield lying in repose.  The advertisement for this newest commemorative item included a lengthy remembrance from Parsons, reflecting on the first time he met Whitefield and extolling the minister’s work over the past three decades.  The Fowles likely sought to incite greater interest in the pamphlet by whetting the appetites of prospective buyers with that excerpt.

The loss of the beloved minister led to widespread mourning, but it also prompted widespread commodification.  Advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia ran in newspapers from New England to South Carolina, though they were most heavily concentrated in newspaper published in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Purchasing commemorative items likely gave colonists opportunities to express their grief and feel connected to the minister and fellow mourners, but the production of those items also represented business opportunities for printers, booksellers, and others who stood to generate revenues from the commodification of Whitefield’s death.