What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A SERMON SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE Rev. 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, several newspapers in Boston informed readers of Whitefield’s death. Over the course of several weeks, news radiated from there. Newspapers from New Hampshire to Georgia eventually reprinted articles that originated in Boston and supplemented with coverage of local reaction. That additional coverage included poems that memorialized Whitefield and advertisements for commemorative items. Less than a week elapsed when the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter noted that Green and Russell sold “A FUNERAL HYMN, wrote by the Rev’d Mr. Whitefield: Said to be designed to have been sung over his Corpse by the Orphans belonging to his Tabernacle in London, had he died there.” So began the commodification of Whitefield’s death.
That commodification was widespread, though especially prevalent in New England. Still, printers and booksellers in other regions participated as well. On December 18, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal carried a notice that “A SERMON SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” … delivered in Charleston on October 28 by Josiah Smith “WILL BE PUBLISHED” and sold later in the week. This was only the second commemorative item presented for purchase in South Carolina. Previously the South-Carolina and American General Gazette carried a notice for “AN ELEGY on the Reverend GEORGE WHITEFIELD” combined in a single publication with the hymn that was first advertised in Boston. Those advertisements ran in November. The advertisement for the sermon first appeared four weeks after the last insertion of the advertisement for the elegy and hymn. Consumers in South Carolina were not barraged with marketing for publications commemorating Whitefield to the same extent as their counterparts in New England, but they did not lack options either. Perhaps of his own initiative, but perhaps in part as a result of examining newspapers from other regions, Charles Crouch, printer of both the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and Smith’s sermon memorializing Whitefield, saw an opportunity to produce a commemorative item. He contributed to public mourning of the influential minister, but simultaneously exercised some self-interest in seeking to generate revenues from sales of the sermon, not unlike many other printers and booksellers throughout the colonies.