April 26

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (April 26, 1773).

“Hope the Customers to the Paper will continue to encourage it by advertising.”

The first advertisement in the April 26, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy concerned the operation of the newspaper.  For nearly sixteen years, since August 1757, John Green and Joseph Russell printed the newspaper, but starting on that day “the Printing and Publishing of this PAPER will, in future be carried on by NATHANIEL MILLS and JOHN HICKS.”  Neither the printers nor readers knew it at the time, but the newspaper would not continue for nearly as long under Mills and Hicks.  They published the last known issue on April 17, 1775, two days before the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord that marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

At the time that ownership of the newspaper changed hands, Green and Russell expressed “their respectful Thanks for the Favours they have received.”  Furthermore, they expressed their “hope the Customers to the Paper will continue to encourage it by advertising, &c.”  That “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) included subscribing to the newspapers and providing content, such as editorials and “Letters of Intelligence.”  The printers realized that the continued viability and success of the newspapers depended most immediately on maintaining advertising revenue since readers but subscribed for a year while most advertisements ran for only three or four weeks.

Readers likely noticed a new feature in the first issue published by Mills and Hicks, a colophon that ran across the bottom of the final page.  Green and Russell did not always include a colophon, perhaps because they considered the newspaper so well established that they did not consider it necessary to devote space to it in each issue.  Their final issue, the April 19 edition, for instance, did not feature a colophon.  On April 12, the colophon at the bottom of the last column on the final page simply stated, “Printed by Green and Russell.”  Mills and Hicks, on the other hand, opted for a more elaborate colophon that served as a perpetual advertisement for the newspaper and other services available in their printing office, a practice adopted by some, but not all, colonial printers.  Distributed over three lines, it read, “BOSTON: Printed by MILLS and HICKS, at their PRINTING-OFFICE in School-street, next Door to CROMWELL’S HEAD TAVERN, where Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence for this Paper are taken in; and the Printing Business carried on, in its different Branches, with the greatest Care.”

Mills and Hicks could not depend on their reputations to market the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in the same way that Green and Russell did after more than a decade of publishing the newspaper.  In their first issue, they placed greater emphasis on soliciting advertisements to help support their enterprise.  Subsequent issues included the colophon, a regular feature that encouraged colonizers to advertise as well as purchase subscriptions and submit orders for job printing.

Colophon from Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (April 26, 1773).

March 29

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (March 29, 1773).

“A LIST OF Blanks & Prizes in Faneuil-Hall Lottery.”

A notice in the March 29, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy informed the public that “A LIST OF Blanks & Prizes in Faneuil-Hall Lottery, THE LAST, as they are Drawn from Day to Day, may be seen at the Printing-Office in Queen-street.”  A decorative border enclosed the advertisement, lending it greater visibility among the news and several advertisements on the same page.

Throughout the colonies, lotteries funded all sorts of public works projects, including roads, bridges, market houses, and iron works, in the eighteenth century.  Following the destruction of the original Faneuil Hall in 1761, residents of Boston set about rebuilding the marketplace and paid for the project with a series of lotteries that took place over a decade. Newspapers in Boston often carried advertisements that encouraged colonizers to purchase tickets for the current “class” or drawing.  One class featured “F” tickets, with subsequent drawings having tickets for the other letters in “Faneuil” for the drawing held from 1767 through 1771.  The “LIST OF Blanks & Prizes” for 1773 came from another drawing, “THE LAST” of the series of Faneuil Hall lotteries.

Sponsors and managers of other lotteries usually pledged that they would publish a roster of winning tickets and prizes in the public prints.  Doing so simultaneously kept participants informed and held the managers accountable.  Lengthy lists filled entire columns and sometimes entire pages of colonial newspapers.  For the Faneuil Hall Lottery, however, the sponsors opted to avoid the expense of inserting the winning tickets in the newspapers and instead posted the results at the printing office operated by John Green and Joseph Russell, the printers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

That contributed to the printing office’s status as a hub for disseminating information, though not always in print.  Green and Russell, like other printers, served as brokers of all kinds of information that never made it into their newspapers.  They regularly published advertisements that advised the public to “Enquire of the Printers hereof” to learn more.  In the same issue that carried the announcement about the “LIST of Blanks & Prizes,” an employment advertisement placed by a young woman seeking “to go into a small Family” as a cook and housekeeper and another inserted by a colonizer in need of “A MAID … that can be recommended for her … Activity in Household Affairs” both directed readers to contact the printers rather than the advertisers.  Anonymous notices offering enslaved people for sale in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and other newspapers published in the city also concluded with instructions to “enquire of the printers.”  The arrival of visitors and messages in response to such advertisements, as well as though interested in the results of the Faneuil Hall Lottery, made the printing office a bustling center of information exchange, in print, in handwritten notes, and in conversation.

January 13

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 13, 1772).

A Mahogony Desk and Book-Case.

This advertisement presents a conundrum.  It attracted my attention because someone made manuscript notations on the copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy that has been preserved in an archive and digitized for greater accessibility.  They crossed out “FRIDAY” in the portion of the headline that gave the date of an auction, crossed out “a Mahagony Desk and Book-Case” midway through the advertisement, and placed three large “X” over most of the rest of the content.  I suspected that either Joseph Russell or John Green, the partners who published the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, made those notations to guide the compositor in setting type for a revised version of the advertisement to appear in a subsequent issue.  Russell, the auctioneer who placed the advertisement, focused primarily on operating the “Auction Room in Queen-Street” while Green oversaw the newspaper and the printing office.

A revised version did not appear in a subsequent edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  The same advertisement did run in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Gazette on Monday, January 13, 1772, the same day it appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Those newspapers ran the same copy, but with variations in line breaks because the compositors made their own decisions about format.  I also looked for revised versions of the advertisement in other newspapers published in Boston between January 13 and the day of the sale.  The Massachusetts Spy published on Thursday, January 16, the day before the say, did not carry the advertisement, but the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter distributed on the same day did feature a slightly revised version.  Only the first line differed from the original version, stating that the auction would take place “TO-MORROW” rather than “On FRIDAY next.”

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (January 16, 1772).

The rest of the advertisement was identical to the one that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy earlier in the week.  The copy was identical and the format (including line breaks, spelling, and capitals) was identical.  Even the lines on either side of “FRIDAY next, TEN o’Clock” on the final line were identical.  Both advertisements lacked a space between “by” and “PUBLIC VENDUE” on the third line.  The manuscript notations on the original advertisement may have directed someone in revising the first line, but not the remainder of the notice.  Even more puzzling, it looks as though Green and Russell shared type already set at their printing office with Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This is not the first time that I have detected such an instance in newspapers published by these printers in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  It raises questions about both the logistics and the business practices of those involved, questions that merit greater attention and closer examination of the contents, both news and advertising, in the two newspapers.

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.)



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.


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

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