January 31

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

Providence Gazette (January 31, 1767).

“Good sober Workmen are wanted.”

Charles Read cast his net widely in search of “Good sober Workmen” to employ at the “New Forge or Bloomery” located midway between Philadelphia and Burlington, New Jersey. In an advertisement in the Providence Gazette, he sought various sorts of laborers, including Good Master Colliers,” “Wood-Cutters,” and a manager “who will have a more general Oversight,” in addition to “Good sober Workmen.” Prospective workers could apply at the “Tanton and Atsion Forges, which are near to each other.”

These forges were part of an expanding domestic industry that included the furnace operated by William Hawxhurst in Sterling, New York, and advertised the same week that Read placed his notice. In his History of Manufactures in the United States, Victor Selden Clark notes that a “line of furnace and forges extended from New Hampshire to South Carolina.” Indeed, Clark states, “At the outbreak of hostilities [in the 1770s] the colonies already produced enough iron for civil and military engagements.” In fact, the proprietors of the forges collectively contributed to an export industry. Many of the forges had been established to meet the needs of British markets that demanded iron “pigs and bars” as raw materials. Clark describes a decline in production during the years of the military conflict, caused by disruptions to commerce, ironmasters with British sympathies departing the colonies, and, perhaps most significantly, lack of laborers since so many workmen were “drawn off to the army.”[1]

Forge operators like Read and Hawxhurst did not face those particular challenges in the 1760s, but that did not mean that it required little effort to keep their forges fully staffed. In his attempts to recruit qualified workmen, Read inserted advertisements in the Providence Gazette, more than two-hundred miles from the Tanton forge he was preparing to open in New Jersey. Compared to the contents of the rest of the newspaper (“the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic,” according to the Providence Gazette’s masthead), most advertisements tended to concern relatively local matters in the 1760s. Occasionally, however, local readers encountered advertisements placed from a distance, sometimes encouraging them to purchase certain goods (such as William Goddard’s proposal for printing the Pennsylvania Chronicle), other times presenting them new opportunities.


[1] Victor S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States, 1607-1860 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1916), 221.

September 21

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

Providence Gazette (September 20, 1766).

“All Kinds of Hollow and other cast Iron Ware.”

Potash production was a widespread enterprise in the colonial period. Advertisements seeking potash or selling a variety of supplies associated with producing potash (including potash kettles, forms certifying the contents of casks containing potash, and manuals for making potash) frequently appeared in colonial newspapers. Today’s advertisement also offered “Pot-Ash Kettles” for sale, directly from the new blast furnace in Scituate, Massachusetts. The weight and bulk of such items made them particularly expensive to import from England.

In addition to potash kettles, the proprietors also sold “all Kinds of Hollow and other cast Iron Ware.” The volume of production of cookware, tools, nails, and other products at local iron works was not sufficient to meet colonists’ needs. Similar items appeared regularly in the lists of goods imported from England in many advertisements during the late colonial period. Still, the blast furnace at Scituate and other iron works competed with an expanding volume of imported items; locally produced goods could be “supplied on the lowest Terms” because they did not need to be transported across the Atlantic. As the colonies increasingly objected to new imperial regulations, such locally manufactured goods became even more attractive. Many Americans wished to encourage such enterprises, realizing that the colonies were not self-sufficient in this regard but instead depended on British imports. Patronizing the blast furnace in Scituate thus took on political tones in addition to fulfilling commercial and economic needs.

To learn more about iron production in the colonial period, visit the blast furnace at Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, located northeast of Boston.