October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:23:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 23, 1767).

Superfine, scarlet, blue, green, light colour’d and pompadour Broad Cloths …”

In the fall of 1767, Moses Wingate imported and sold a vast assortment of goods “At his Store on Spring Hill” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In a newspaper advertisement intended to entice potential customers, he adopted one of the most common marketing strategies of the eighteenth century: listing his merchandise. Very few entrepreneurs, mostly booksellers, distributed catalogs in eighteenth-century America; however, many treated newspaper advertisements as surrogates for publishing separate catalogs. Wingate’s advertisement filled half a column, with most of the space devoted to enumerating his inventory. Other merchants and shopkeepers sometimes published advertisements that occupied an entire column and, on occasion, spilled over into the next. List style advertisements for consumer goods filled the pages of American newspapers in the eighteenth century. These lists implicitly communicated an appeal to consumer choice. Wingate and others informed readers that they did not have to accept whatever happened to be on their shelves. Instead, merchants and shopkeepers stocked such varieties of goods that customers could exercise their own taste and judgment – assert their own independence – by choosing the goods that most appealed to them.

To that end, Wingate named more than seventy-five distinct items readers could expect to find among his inventory. In some cases, these were categories of goods, such as buttons or penknives, suggesting even variety. In one instance, he specified further choices: “A variety of Ribbons.” Like many of his competitors and counterparts, he also deployed “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera), inserting it once in the middle of the advertisement to indicate he sold an even broader array of imported textiles than listed there. He also concluded his advertisement with “&c. &c. &c. &c.” to underscore to potential customers that they would find much, much more when they visited his store. Wingate provided an extensive list of imported goods to encourage potential customers to imagine his inventory, to imagine touching, sorting through, comparing, and selecting from among his wares. He indicated readers could find even more imported goods at his store as a means of further inflaming their curiosity. Wingate could have placed a much shorter advertisement that simply announced that he sold a variety of goods imported from London, but he made an investment in a lengthier list style advertisement because he believed that perusing its contents would incite consumer demand.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 4, 1767).

“JOHN GILES … has brought with him, chosen by himself on the spot; A General assortment of European and East-India goods.”

At a glance, John Giles’s advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal closely resembled the notices placed by other merchants and shopkeepers who imported and sold “A General assortment of European and East-India goods” in Charleston. The introductory lines of this list-style advertisement, however, included an important detail that potentially distinguished Giles’s merchandise from the inventory stocked by his competitors.

Consider the introductory lines in other advertisements in the same issue:

  • “MICHIE & ROBERTSON, Have imported, in the Mary, Capt. Gordon, from London, and in the Live Oak, Capt. Lundberry, from Bristol …”
  • “RICHARD WALTER, & Co. At DORCHESTER; Have just imported in the Live Oak, Capt. Lundberry, from BRISTOL …”
  • “DAWSON and DUDLEY, Have just imported in the Live Oak, Capt. Lundberry, from BRISTOL …”
  • “JUST IMPORTED, By JAMES DRUMMON in the QUEEN CHARLOTTE from LONDON …”
  • “ROBERT & NATHANIEL STOTT, At their Store in Beadon’s Alley, next to Elliott-Street; have just imported in the Mary, Gordon …”

Each of these variations fit a general pattern employed by advertisers throughout the colonies: inform potential customers of the origins of wares offered for sale, including the ship and captain who transported the goods so readers could determine how recently they had arrived. Elsewhere in their notices, advertisers often underscored that they carried the “newest fashions.” This appeal gained credibility when they demonstrated that their supplies had indeed been “just imported” on the most recently arrived vessels from England.

Like several of his competitors, Giles sold goods transported “in the Ship Mary, Capt. Gordon, from London.” However, he did not receive his “General assortment of European and East-India goods” as the result of corresponding with distant suppliers. Instead, he ventured to London himself to examine what was available. The items he imported, advertised, and sold in his shop had been “chosen by himself on the spot,” a claim that none of his competitors could make. Other retailers may have been at the mercy of choices made by their agents and associates in England. On occasion, American shopkeepers voiced concerns that they received castoff goods no longer en vogue in England; consumers similarly worried that they lagged behind the current fashions on the other side of the Atlantic. Giles alleviated this anxiety by traveling to London to select which merchandise he would sell “at his store in Elliott-street” in Charleston.

April 16

GUEST CURATOR: Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 16, 1767).

“A Fresh Assortment of English GOODS.”

American colonists loved British goods! This gave many a sense of national pride, but some also believed that these goods gave them a boost in status. According to the public historians at Colonial Williamsburg, “As society became more mobile, houses, land, and livestock alone no longer communicated social rank. By the end of the seventeenth century, ordinary men and women began to demand consumer goods that indicated their status.” These were the roots of the consumer revolution in eighteenth-century America. “Items that once were considered luxuries reserved for the highest ranks began to ‘trickle down’ to common households.” Starting in the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century Americans purchased greater amounts of goods, such as those among the “Fresh Assortment of English GOODS” advertised by Joshua Gardner and Company. The shopkeepers may have realized the demand for these imported goods and not considered it necessary to write much about them. This advertisement demonstrates increased demand for consumer goods which became easier for all social classes – elites, middling and poorer sorts, “and occasionally even slaves” – to attain in the American colonies.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Jonathan’s analysis of Joshua Gardner and Company’s advertisement represents a popular interpretation of the cause of the consumer revolution. Many historians and other scholars argue that incipient demand fueled the expansion of purchasing, possessing, and displaying a vast array of goods by many different sorts of consumers in the British Atlantic world in the eighteenth century. Producers, suppliers, and retailers merely responded to the desires and demands of customers that ranked not only among the elite but also the middling sort and others who purchased what they could acquire when they could afford it (and, thanks to networks of credit, sometimes even when they could not yet afford it).

Today’s advertisement certainly lends that impression. After all, it seems to do little more than announce that Gardner and Company sold imported English goods. William Greenleaf’s advertisement, immediately above it, appeared almost identical. It informed customers that he stocked “A Fresh Assortment of Goods” imported on the same ship that carried Gardner and Company’s inventory. William Fisher’s advertisement, immediately below, stated that he sold “A General Assortment of English GOODS,” also imported “in Capt. Jenkins, who is just arrived from LONDON.” Some argue that such advertisements, which might better be described as notices given that they seem to merely announce the availability of goods that consumers already wanted, could be used to make convincing arguments about the importance of demand as the primary cause of the consumer revolution.

Doing so, however, overlooks both the innovative marketing efforts to incite demand that regularly appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers (and via other advertising ephemera, including trade cards, bill heads, catalogs, broadsides, magazine wrappers, circular letters, subscription notices, and furniture labels) and aspects of Gardner and Company’s advertisement not apparent at first glance.

For instance, note that Gardner and Company indicate their “Fresh Assortment” was imported “In the Hawk, Capt. Jenkins, from LONDON.” According to the shipping news on the previous page, the Hawk had arrived in port within the past week. Gardner and Company (as well as Greenleaf and Fisher) may not have had time to unpack all their new wares or write more extensive copy, but they did rush to Richard Draper’s printing office to have their advertisements inserted as quickly as possible. Rather than simply announce they carried goods that colonists already desired, these advertisers attempted to incite demand by noting that they sold the most current fashions and housewares from the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Furthermore, Gardner and Company engaged in other marketing efforts in their short advertisement. Promising an “Assortment” promoted consumer choice. Invoking low prices helped to convince potential customers to make purchases.

Jonathan and I place different emphasis on the importance of consumer demand in the eighteenth century. Drawing on one strand of scholarship, arguably the more prominent one, he asserts that Gardner and Company’s advertisement reacted to existing demand. That very well may have been the case, but I argue that certain aspects suggest that the shopkeepers also worked to create demand. More generally, advertising played a significant role in inciting demand throughout the eighteenth century. Early American merchants, shopkeepers, and others who produced and sold goods encouraged potential customers to desire their wares.

November 23

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-23-11221766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 22, 1766).

“A fresh Assortment of European GOODS, (of the last Importation).”

I chose this advertisement because Benoni Pearce talked about having just received imported goods from Europe that he was ready to sell in the shop he “just opened.” All sorts of “European GOODS” were very popular and valuable among the colonists. Pearce understood that the colonists loved European goods and that they bought them because they wanted to copy the styles popular in London and other parts of England. As David Jaffee explains, “These goods –textiles, furniture, and even table forks – made possible the pursuit of an ideal of refinement.” This was a way for colonists to expand their own culture and share a common consumer identity with people back in England. Pearce did not really list what he was selling; he just said “European GOODS,” expecting he would be able to sell them. He also promised that customers would not be disappointed.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Patrick raises an interesting point about some of the assumptions made by eighteenth-century advertisers. Benoni Pearce did not list any specific merchandise that he stocked. Instead, he offered a general description – “a fresh Assortment of European GOODS, (of the last Importation)” – and trusted that this would entice potential customers.

That’s not to say that this advertisement amounted to nothing more than a mere announcement. Pearce did fold several marketing appeals into his brief commercial notice. He sold his wares “on as reasonable Terms as his Neighbours” to customers who wished to “lay out their Money to the best Advantage.” By noting that his goods were “of the last Importation” he assured potential customers that he was not peddling outdated merchandise that had been pawned off on him by English merchants seeking to clear their warehouses of undesirable goods. Instead, he stock consisted of the latest fashions popular in England and elsewhere in Europe.

Pearce’s advertisement appeared in the same column as the one place by Gideon Young that Patrick examined yesterday. Each was the standard “square” common in many eighteenth-century newspapers, but Young made slightly different decisions about how to fill the space he purchased. He included a short list that named some of his wares before indicated that they were part of a “general assortment of GOODS needless to mention.” Here, again, an advertiser trusted that an appeal to choice and variety, rather than an extensive list of merchandise, was sufficient to attract customers.

This strategy – no list or a short list contained in a standard advertising square – differed significantly from another advertisement that appeared in the same issue of the Providence Gazette, the first full-page advertisement printed in an American newspaper. Resorting to three columns, Joseph and William Russell listed hundreds of items that comprised their “large Assortment of English Goods and Braziery Ware.”

Benoni Pearce, Gideon Young, and Joseph and William Russell all sought to harness the power of advertising to encourage consumer demand and direct potential customers to their respective shops. In the process, however, they adopted different strategies in writing copy and making graphic design decisions. At a glance, many advertisements from the late colonial era look standard and interchangeable, but even the squares published by Pearce and Young contained noticeable differences when consumers consulted them carefully.

November 6

GUEST CURATOR: Carolyn Crawford

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

nov-6-1161766-virginia-gazette
Virginia Gazette (November 6, 1766).

Just imported from BRITAIN, in the ship Spiers.”

During the eighteenth century, a “period of general prosperity,” the “consumer revolution” was the driving force for economic change in Europe and the colonies.[1] Colonists raised staple crops in order to export and then purchased imported goods that interested them, like the “Assortment of European GOODS” that arrived on the Spiers.[2] Through advertising, shopkeepers and merchantsfrom different social and economic backgrounds were able to promote and list the various products that they had in stock. By doing so, they attempted to interest many people in the vast number of products that arrived from Europe.

As I analyzed this advertisement, I noted that George Purdie and Richard Taylor announced the arrival of newly imported European goods, which they sold for reasonable prices in Smithfield and Petersburg. These included products from places other than just England, like “German rolls,” “German serges,” and “Irish linens and sheetings.” This advertisement opened up an opportunity for colonists to assemble and purchase a variety of goods at shops in Smithfield and Petersburg. Purdie and Taylor advertised goods that came from far away, but they drew colonists in Virginia together through shopping.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

The heading that appeared above the advertisement that Carolyn selected reveals that it was the first advertisement that appeared in the November 6, 1766, issue of the Virginia Gazette. The advertisement itself provides insight into the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century, as Carolyn describes. In turn, I have chosen to examine the prominence of advertising throughout the entire issue in which it appeared.

Like other newspapers published in 1766, the Virginia Gazette consisted of four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and than folding it in half. Each of those pages had three columns (along with the masthead that extended across the top of the first page and the colophon that extended across the bottom of the fourth page). Thus each issue of the Virginia Gazette had twelve total columns for news, advertisements, and other items. (This issue included a poem on the first page.) Alexander Purdie and John Dixon, like other printers, published their newspaper only once a week. Sometimes eighteenth-century printers issued supplements when circumstances merited, but usually four pages of content sufficed for most weeks.

How was that content distributed in this issue? Purdie and Taylor’s notice was the first advertisement in the issue, but how much of the issue consisted of advertising? The section for advertisements began at the bottom of the first column on the second page and continued throughout the remainder of the issue. Except for the colophon, the final two pages featured advertising exclusively. In total, eight of the twelve columns – two-thirds of the issue – were given over to advertising (which generated additional revenue for the printers).

Many of those advertisements offered slaves for sale. More than a dozen advertisements, taking up an entire column, announced stray horses that had been “Taken up” so they could be returned to their owners. Some advertisements warned against runaway slaves and servants. Others made announcements of various sorts. Still, a fair number of advertisements promoted consumer goods and services. As Carolyn suggests, the rituals of imagining, examining, and purchasing imported goods gave colonists common experiences. Not every issue of the Virginia Gazette or other newspapers included so much advertising, but across the colonies wholesales and retailers regularly resorted to the public prints to encourage consumption of an increasing array of imported goods.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4, (October 1986): 476.

[2] Breen, Empire of Goods,” 475.

September 27

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

sep-27-9271766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (September 27, 1766).

“A fresh and large Assortment of English and India Goods.”

This advertisement in the Providence Gazette features a lengthy list of newly imported goods at the shops of Thompson and Arnold. “TO BE SOLD, FOR READY MONEY ONLY,” these goods had been imported from both from England and India. Included in this “FINE assortment” were different textiles, clothing, and related items, such as “Irish and Russia linens of all sorts,” satin bonnets, shalloons, tammies, “colored threads of all sorts,” and countless other products. Why was importation so important? Business for the British was truly booming in colonial America. As T.H. Breen notes, newspapers “carried more and more advertisements for consumer goods,” and all Americans were a part of this “consumer revolution.”[1]

This shop clearly emphasized fashion, as they offered many different options in terms of colors and materials, which especially interested women. For women, shopping was an exhibition of liberty, and “with choice came a measure of economic power.” They had choices of products and choices of shops to visit. A variety of options allowed customers to gain leverage as they asked questions and made demands. Additionally, Breen argues, choice “reinforced the Americans’ already strong conviction of their own personal independence.”[2]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

I originally intended to feature this advertisement a week ago today, but when Nick submitted the same advertisement (printed a week later) for approval I decided to hold off for a week. I figured that the chances were quite probable that he and I would approach the advertisement from very different perspectives, that discussion of this advertisement would be enhanced from both of us examining it.

That turned out to be the case. I initially selected this advertisement because I wanted to discuss its format. In some regards it looks quite similar to an advertisement previously published by Thompson and Arnold (which appeared for the first time in the August 9, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette and then many more times in subsequent issues.) The original iteration of this advertisement deployed graphic design in several unique ways. It surely caught the attention of readers and potential customers.

This version of the advertisement reverted to some of the more standard aspects of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. In particular, it inhabited a single column within the issue, whereas the earlier version spanned two columns. The previous version also used three columns to delineate Thompson and Arnold’s merchandise, but in today’s advertisement their inventory collapsed into a dense list instead. This did not have the same visual resonance, nor did it make it as easy for potential customers to locate specific products of interest.

Still, the updated version of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement featured design elements intended to continue drawing the eyes of readers. Like the previous version, it retained a decorative border made of printing ornaments. Very few newspaper advertisements in the 1760s had such borders (though we have previously seen that Jolley Allen made sure that his advertisements in Boston’s newspapers were easily identified by their borders). In addition, Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement was much longer than most that appeared in the Providence Gazette. Its size alone merited notice. Finally, today’s advertisement appeared in the first column of the first page of the Providence Gazette, right below the masthead. In design, layout, and location, there was no way for readers to overlook Thompson and Arnold’s updated advertisement.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 486-487.

[2] Breen, “Empire of Goods,” 489.

September 11

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

Sep 11 - 9:11:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (September 11, 1766).

“The above articles all in the newest and genteelest taste.”

Milliners and shopkeepers often promoted their merchandise by noting that it had been imported from London or other English ports, suggesting that this gave their wares special cachet in terms of both taste and quality. They frequently named both the ship and the captain that transported their goods across the Atlantic, which allowed savvy newspaper readers to recognize vessels recently listed in the shipping news elsewhere in the newspaper. In this way, potential customers could assess for themselves that an advertiser stocked the most current fashions.

In most instances, milliners and shopkeepers relied on networks of correspondence involving faraway merchants and producers to obtain the goods they sold to colonists. American retailers – and the customers they served – had to trust that they had indeed received merchandise currently fashionable in metropolitan London, though many suspected that the distance that separated them from the capital allowed correspondents to pawn off leftover or undesirable goods that otherwise would not have been sold.

In this advertisement, however, Ann Pearson stated that she had “Just returned from London” and had imported a vast array of textiles and accouterments for personal adornment. Rather than accept whatever goods distant correspondents dispatched, she had an opportunity to select which items she wished to offer to her customers. She concluded her advertisement with an assurance that the “above articles [were] all in the newest and genteelest taste.” Unlike most other milliners and shopkeepers who sold imported English goods, Pearson was in a unique position to make this claim, having witnessed current styles in London herself rather than relying on the good will of intermediaries and middlemen.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 21, 1766).

INGLIS and HALL, have just imported … A NEAT ASSORTMENT of India and English chintzes.”

This is the first time the Adverts 250 Project has featured an advertisement from the Georgia Gazette. Although I make every effort to select advertisements from as many different newspapers, cities, colonies, and regions as possible, but the Georgia Gazette, which commenced publication in 1763, was not previously available for inclusion in this project due to political considerations from the period.  It had been suspended in November 1765 in response to the Stamp Act and did not resume publication until May 21, 1766.

Examining newspapers from more than one region sometimes demonstrates striking differences, such as the sheer number of advertisements for runaway slaves that appeared in the Virginia Gazette compared to publications from New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies.

Today’s advertisement, however, demonstrates an important similarity among advertisements throughout the colonies. At a glance, this advertisement resembles others placed by shopkeepers in other regions. It could have appeared anywhere in the colonies and it would have looked familiar to readers. They would have recognized the variety of merchandise offered for sale.

T.H. Breen has previously described this as the standardization of consumer culture in colonial America. Even as consumers encountered greater amount of choice in the marketplace, the goods that were available in Georgia were largely the same goods available in Boston. Merchants and shopkeepers throughout New England, the Middle Atlantic, the Chesapeake, and the Lower South imported and sold the same items. As a result, this gave residents throughout the colonies a shared experience and a shared language of consumer culture. It helped to tie them together as a community, Breen argues, that facilitated conversations about political rights, especially concerning commerce and taxation within the British Empire. Colonists used consumer culture as one starting point for understanding their position in the empire.

This advertisement, almost indistinguishable from advertisement that appeared in newspapers in colonies far away, testifies to those shared experienced and that common language of consumer culture.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (May 12, 1766).

“William Fisher, In CORNHILL, HAS imported a general Assortment of English Goods which he sells at the cheapest Rates.”

Today’s featured advertisement appears fairly short and relatively basic when compared to many of the more extensive advertisements that crowded the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers. William Fisher’s advertisement, however, was not unique. Many advertisers opted for this sort of short commercial notice. Some may not have been able to afford more space in the newspaper. Others may not have been as innovative in their thinking, compared to their competitors, about how to incite demand among potential customers. Some may have depended on networks of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to sustain their shops, believing that an abbreviated advertisement served as sufficient reminder of the wares they offered for sale.

I’ve chosen this advertisement to feature today as a means of correcting an oversight. In the process of selecting advertisements to examine I have privileged some and disproportionately excluded others, especially the plethora of short commercial notices that were familiar to colonial readers.

I’ve also selected this advertisement because even though it is short enough to fit entirely in a modern tweet it still incorporated three common marketing appeals that tell us about eighteenth-century consumer culture. Fisher made an appeal to price when he noted that “he sells at the cheapest Rates.” He expected that low prices would help to attract customers. He also stressed that he offered choices to his customers, “a general Assortment.” Upon visiting his shop customers could expect to make purchases based on their own tastes rather than accept whatever happened to be in stock. Fisher may not have found it necessary to pay to print an exhaustive list of his merchandise. Other shopkeepers already did so, which meant that Fisher could depend on readers already being familiar with what was available in Boston. Finally, he stated that he had “imported … English Goods.” Consuming wares imported from England helped colonists feel connected to fellow Britons on the other side of the Atlantic. Though they resided thousands of miles away, they shared a British identity.

William Fisher’s advertisement seems deceptively short considering how much it tells us about early American consumer culture.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:5:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 5, 1766).

“He has as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS.”

Thomas Green’s notice that he intended to open a school does not look much different from other advertisements offering similar services in the decade prior to the Revolution, at least not until the final sentence. After rehearsing the subjects to be taught and assuring parents that their “Scholars” and “small Readers” that he would instruct his charges “with the greatest Alacrity,” he also announced that “He has, as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS, &c. at a reasonable Rate.”

How did Green earn his living? Was he primarily a shopkeeper who sought to supplement his income by trying his hand at teaching? Or was he a teacher or tutor who sold some imported goods on the side to help make ends meet when he his school was not fully enrolled? This advertisement does not offer any definitive answers, but Newport was a small enough town in 1766 (even though it ranked as one of the most significant ports in British mainland North America) that most readers would have been familiar with his occupation(s). In his reference to retailing imported goods, he noted he did so “as usual,” suggesting that readers were already aware of his business activities.

As many American towns and cities continued to grow throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, the residents increasingly lived among strangers. “THOMAS GREEN, In Banister’s Row” did not seem to think of himself as a stranger to others in Newport. Just the opposite, his advertisement suggests that he believed the majority of residents were at least acquainted with him in some fashion.