May 22

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

“Enquire of the Printers.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (May 22, 1769).

On May 22, 1769, readers of the Boston Evening-Post encountered an advertisement offering an enslaved youth for sale: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, brought up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of the Printers.” On the same day, a nearly identical advertisement ran in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of Edes and Gill.” The Massachusetts Gazette, published the same day, also carried that advertisement: “TO BE SOLD, A fine likely Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Inquire of Green & Russell.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 22, 1769).

Except for variations in the spelling of “brought” (or “bro’t”), the copy in all three notices was identical until the final sentence that advised interested parties to “Enquire of the Printers” for more information. These advertisements and many others like them made T. and J. Fleet, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell active participants in the slave trade. Printing advertisements for the purposes of buying and selling enslaved men, women and children or capturing those who escaped from bondage already made printers complicit in the perpetuation of slavery, but these “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements demonstrated even more active involvement as purveyors of people, not merely as conduits for disseminating information.

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (May 22, 1769).
Compared to newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South, far fewer advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children ran in newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic, but they were not absent. Printers in Boston devoted less space in their newspapers to these advertisements, but the frequency of “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements suggests that the Fleets, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell invested time in facilitating these transactions beyond what was required for receiving the copy and setting the type. In effect, they served as brokers, even if they never described or advertised their services in that manner.

April 10

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 10 - 4:10:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 10, 1766)

“Public Vendue. This Day, the 10th April, Will be Sold … A Great Variety of ENGLISH GOODS.”

This advertisement is obviously much shorter than many of those that were featured last week, but it should not be overlooked because its mention of selling goods that were imported to Boston from England is worth exploring. Settlers from England first occupied American soil in the sixteenth century, though it was not until the seventeenth century that the first successful English colonies were established in the parts of America that are known today as the Chesapeake (in 1607) and New England (in 1620).

During the colonial period, goods were sent by ship to ports in Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, or New York from England. America’s dependence on imports from England and throughout the British Empire helped bolster England’s trade-based mercantilist economy. Tea was one example of an imported item commonly sold in colonial America. In response to the 1765 Stamp Act colonists threatened to stop importing items from England.

Check out this video to learn more about the economic developments of the thirteen colonies and overseas trade. (You will have to register for a free trial to watch the entire video.)

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kathryn has selected an advertisement that allows us to explore colonial commerce along multiple trajectories. The reference to “ENGLISH GOODS” prompts modern readers less familiar with mercantilism and trading patterns throughout the early modern Atlantic world and beyond to gain better familiarity with the networks of commerce and exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic and the globe, as well as the policies to regulate such trade enacted by the English government. In and of itself, this is an important topic for students just learning about colonial America to explore.

For others with more familiarity with the contours of trade and commerce in early America, this advertisement offers an interesting glimpse of the intersections of print culture, marketing goods, and “Public Vendue” sales. This advertisement seems especially timely given that I discussed eighteenth-century book catalogues just two days ago. (That post featured John Mein’s advertisement that filled almost an entire page in the April 3, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. It appeared again in the April 10 issue, from which Kathryn selected today’s advertisement.)

Note that today’s advertisement promises that “Printed Catalogues will be timely dispersed by J. Russell, Auctioneer.” Rather than publish a list of goods up for sale in a newspaper advertisement, Russell turned to another printed medium. I wonder about the means of “dispers[ing]” these catalogues. I am also curious about how consumers would have read and used them. Like many other advertisements, this one raises as many questions about print culture and consumption as it answers.

Occasionally I see references to these sorts of catalogues, but not enough to make me believe they were standard practice for vendue sales in colonial America. Since they were ephemeral items not many seem to have survived. (Once the semester ends and I have more time to spend in the archive, I plan to do a more systematic search for such items. Here’s another interesting example of how this collaborative project with my students has helped to shape my research agenda.)

I think it is also worth noting that the “Public Vendue” was scheduled to take place “at the Store under Green & Russell’s Printing Office.” John Green and Joseph Russell were the printers of the Massachusetts Gazette. This advertisement also indicates that “J. Russell” served as “Auctioneer.” I suspect that printers who also ran vendues were more likely than other auctioneers to create and disperse “Printed Catalogues” to promote their sales. I have devoted an entire chapter of my book manuscript to arguing that printers were the vanguard of advertising innovation in eighteenth-century America. Here we see one more example.

February 6

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Feb 6 - 2:3:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 3, 1766)

“Tickets in the Faneuil-Hall Lottery, Sold by Green & Russell.”

It seems that the interest modern Americans have in the lottery is not a new interest, as the lottery in America has its roots in colonial times. I have never seen a colonial lottery advertisement before, so it intrigued me. The advertisement itself is so simplistic and short that one could miss it by reading through the paper too quickly. The lottery advertisement also shocked me because of the religious devotion in the American colonies.

To compare the advertisement to those of the lottery in today’s day and age: this advertisement is not flashy and designed to entice you. It received the same printing treatment as other advertisements. Today, lottery commercials and billboards are covered in enticing colors and images, and of course the added temptation arrives with the amount of money at stake. This advertisement simply gives the location of the tickets to be sold and who the tickets are being sold by.

I question if an advertisement such as this one was effective, and yet I do not think it would be included in this paper if the lottery did not have a target audience in the colonial period.

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I have long argued that many marketing practices that we assume originated in the twentieth century actually had precursors in the eighteenth century. As modern Americans, we sometimes imagine the past as being too different from the present, not realizing some of the similarities. Perhaps we sometimes focus too much on change over time and make assumptions about the extent to which life in the twenty-first century must be significantly different than life in the colonial era.

The same sentiment applies to lotteries, as Maia discovered when she selected her final advertisement for this week as guest curator. I’d like to offer two recent examinations of lotteries in early America: Matthew Wittmann’s “Lottery Mania in Colonial America” and Diana Williams’ “Lottery Fever: A Brief History of American Lotteries.”

Maia notes that nothing in particular distinguishes this advertisement. In fact, it is at the bottom of the final column of the last page of the newspaper, suggesting that it may have been inserted simply to fill the space. I echo Maia’s question: was this advertisement effective?!

Feb 6 - Final Page of Boston Post Boy 2:3:1766
Final Page of Boston Post-Boy (February 3, 1766).

Having examined a greater number of colonial American newspapers I can offer a bit more context about advertisements for lotteries (another category that I have previously chosen not to feature). While some are this short, others are much more extensive (see the example below, published less than a month earlier in the Pennsylvania Gazette). Many comment on the civic and public works projects that will be accomplished with the proceeds. Others include extensive charts that detail how many tickets will be sold, how many drawn, and the varying amounts of money to be awarded to winners. Just as advertisements for consumer goods and services could be as short as a couple of lines or extend over and entire column, advertisements for lotteries did not all loo the same.

Feb 6 - Lottery Advert - Pennsylvania Gazette 1:9:1766
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 9, 1766).