September 16

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

Boston-Gazette (September 16, 1771).

“George Spriggs, Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”

In the early 1770s, George Spriggs supplied colonists with fruit trees.  In September 1771, he placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette to promote “ABOUT four or five Thousand Mulberry Trees of different Sizes,” “a large Assortment of English Fruit Trees,” and “an Assortment of flowering Shrubs.”  Those were not just any mulberry trees, Spriggs asserted.  They grew from seeds from “the first ripe Fruit of Mulberries, from a Tree of Mr. David Colson’s, which is the largest and finest Fruit that is in America.”  He expected consumers to be familiar with Colson and his trees or at least trust his expertise about the significance.  He carefully timed his marketing, advising prospective customers that “the best Time of transplanting” the fruit trees “is about the Middle of October.”  Anyone interested in purchasing trees or shrubs from Spriggs could plan accordingly.

In addition to establishing a connection to Colson, Spriggs leveraged his connection to a colonist so prominent that readers of the Boston-Gazette almost certainly knew who he was.  Before he even described the trees and shrubs he offered for sale, Spriggs described himself as “Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”  It was not the first time he deployed that strategy, seeking to benefit from the celebrity of one of his clients.  In February 1770, for instance, he opened another advertisement in the same manner.  Nor was he the only advertiser who named a famous client as a means of establishing his credentials.  Elsewhere in the Boston-Gazette, Jacob Hemet introduced himself as “DENTIST to her Majesty, and the Princess Amelia.”  Doctors and dentists who migrated to the colonies frequently claimed they previously provided their services to nobles and the gentry in Europe, expecting prospective clients to take their word for it.  Spriggs, on the other hand, knew that customers could much more easily confirm whether he actually was a “Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”  He did not publish a testimonial from the prominent merchant, but encouraged customers to believe that his association with Hancock was recommendation enough.

December 3

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 3, 1770).

“Any quantity of seedling plants of the different species, can be got ready at a short notice, to be shipped to any Part of the World.”

Thomas Vallentine wanted his clientele in New York and beyond to feel important.  In an advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the December 3, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, he addressed potential clients as “The NOBILITY, GENTRY, AND others employ’d in botany and gardening.”  The “nursery and seedsman” advised such illustrious prospective patrons that he “collects and keeps for sale, assortments of most kinds of seeds of trees, shrubs, and flowers, produced by this country.”  To further underscore both his own importance and the importance of those who purchased seeds from him, he declared that his “care and assiduity, have been experienced by some of the first personages in Europe and America.”  His clients may have included colonial elites who planted decorative gardens as well as others who participated in transatlantic scientific discourses about the natural world.  At least that was the impression he wanted to give.

To generate greater demand for his services, Vallentine described some of his business practices and offered a guarantee.  He assured prospective customers that he could supply “the largest orders.”  He gave special attention to cones, pods, and other kinds of seeds that were “liable to germinate or lose their vegetative qualities” before customers received them.  To prevent either of those misfortunes, those items were “carefully preserved in sand.”  Furthermore, he pledged that “if any of the seeds he may dispose of should happen to miscarry” then he would “supply the purchaser with an equal quantity of such seeds” free of charge.  That guarantee came with an additional provision; Vallentine provided replacement seeds only when clients had not “sowed and attended as directed by Mr. Philip Miller’s gardeners dictionary.”  In stating that condition, he further described his clientele as gardeners and botanists familiar with a particular publication and the guidelines it provided for raising a variety of plants.

Vallentine also noted that he provided “Any quantity of seedling plants of the different species … to be shipped to any Part of the World” on short notice.  That made the packaging all the more important, but it also testified to the types of clients he anticipated attracting with his advertisement.  Colonists who corresponded with botanists in other parts of the Atlantic world could acquire North American seeds and seedlings from Vallentine and then arrange to have them transported to distant destinations.  As Chris Parsons and Kathleen S. Murphy have described in “Ecosystems under Sail:  Specimen Transport in the Eighteenth-Century French and British Atlantics,” botanists and their correspondents on both sides of the Atlantic invested significant time and effort in devising the best methods for shipping flora from one place to another for further study.[1]  Vallentine did not go into great detail about his methods, but those he did briefly describe in his advertisement made clear his familiarity with best practices in the field.  The “nursery and seedsman” was prepared to serve a specialized clientele.


[1] Chris Parsons and Kathleen S. Murphy, “Ecosystems under Sail: Specimen Transport in the Eighteenth-Century French and British Atlantics,” Early American Studies 10, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 503-29.

February 29

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

Feb 29 - 2:26:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 26, 1770)

“George Spriggs, Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.”

As spring approached in 1770, the appropriately named George Spriggs took to the pages of the Boston-Gazette to advertise a “Large Assortment of English Fruit Trees” as well as “flowering Shrubs,” bushes, and other plants that he sold “at a reasonable price.”  Price and quality were not the only appeals that Spriggs incorporated into his advertisement.  He devised a headline to introduce himself to prospective customers as “Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.”  In so doing, he attempted to leverage his relationship with an existing client to incite demand among other consumers.  Readers of the Boston-Gazette may not have known Spriggs, but they were certainly familiar with prominent merchant and patriot leader John Hancock.  The gardener hoped to capitalize on the cachet of being associated with such an eminent member of the community.  He invited prospective customers to imagine that they could possess something in common with Hancock, a marker of their own taste.

Spriggs deployed a strategy not often used in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Doctors and artisans who recently arrived in the colonies sometimes listed notable patients or clients they previously served in Europe before migrating across the Atlantic.  Doing so helped newcomers establish their reputation, but advertisers rarely invoked the names of local customers.  They did make more general statements of appreciation to those who had previously employed them, simultaneously seeking to maintain their clientele while demonstrating to prospective new customers that others made purchases from them or hired their services.  Yet they did not tend to name specific clients.

Spriggs did not publish an endorsement nor a testimonial from Hancock, yet he did seek to benefit from his association with one of the most prominent men in Massachusetts.  Describing himself as “Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.” suggested that the merchant was satisfied with his services, even if it fell short of an outright recommendation.  Spriggs pursued the eighteenth-century version of promoting his celebrity clientele as a means of attracting new customers for his business.