What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Gentlemen in the Country … may depend upon Care being taken in the Packing of the WARE.”
Half a dozen women and two men advertised garden seeds in newspapers published in Boston in the middle of March 1773. In the week from the 13th through the 19th, Elizabeth Clark and Nowell, Lydia Dyar, Elizabeth Greenleaf, Anna Johnson, Susanna Renken, Rebeckah Walker, John Adams, and Ebenezer Oliver each placed notices in at least one newspaper. Greenleaf and Renken ran advertisements in all five newspapers in Boston. Elsewhere in New England, other entrepreneurs inserted similar notices in other newspapers. Walter Price Bartlett advised residents of Salem and nearby towns that he sold seeds in an advertisement in the Essex Gazette. In Connecticut, Nathan Beers promoted garden seeds in Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. In Rhode Island, Charles Dunbar advertised seeds in the Newport Mercury and James Green did the same in the Providence Gazette.
The New-Hampshire Gazette also carried an advertisement for seeds, but not one placed by a local vendor. Instead, John Adams extended his advertising campaign beyond the Boston Evening-Post, Boston-Gazette, and Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in an effort to capture the market in the neighboring colony. His advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette included a feature that helped distinguish it from those placed by his female competitors in the public prints in Boston, a headline that proclaimed “GARDEN SEEDS” in capital letters. For some reason, both Adams and Oliver deployed such headlines, but women who sold seeds in Boston did not. The headline increased the visibility of Adams’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette and likely had other benefits since Adams did not enjoy the same name recognition in Portsmouth as in Boston.
His advertisement included another feature that not only distinguished it from those of his female competitors in Boston but also engaged prospective customers beyond the city. Adams included a note addressed to “Gentlemen in the Country” at the end of his notice, assuring those “that will please to favour him with their Custom” that they “may depend upon Care being taken in the Packing of the WARE.” In addition, he promised that those customers “shall be supplied as cheap as can be bought in Boston.” Adams asserted that he would not be undersold by any of his competitors.
In writing the copy, Adams devised an advertisement appropriate for multiple markets. The headline enhanced its visibility when it appeared alongside notices placed by competitors in Boston’s newspapers. That same headline provided a quick summary to prospective customers beyond Boston who were less familiar with his business, whether they encountered his advertisement in a newspaper published in Boston or in the New-Hampshire Gazette. The note about carefully packaging any orders shipped outside the city addressed potential concerns among readers “in the Country” in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Adams thought ambitiously about the markets he could serve and crafted an advertisement with distinguishing features to achieve those ambitions.