December 1

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

dec-1-1211766-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (December 1, 1766).

“A Parcel of choice JAMAICA SUGARS.”

Since this advertisement from the December 1, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post advertised Jamaican sugar I decided to focus on the plantations the English established in the Caribbean. England was in the race to become the most important economic power in Europe. In order to do that England needed colonies, including Jamaica (taken from the Spanish in 1655), to produce of one of the most popular staple crops.

For this goal plantations needed a large labor force. At first the Spanish utilized natives of the area and African slaves. European diseases became a problem for plantation owners as Indian populations dwindled. Later, English planters also found it difficult to persuade indentured servants to work in the harsh environment so by the end of the seventeenth century they focused on primarily using enslaved Africans because they were able to acquire more of them. The demand for African laborers also rose because they too were dying from diseases and the conditions they worked under. According to the British National Archives, between 1702 and 1808 around “840,000 Africans were shipped to Jamaica and a further 100,000 imported into Virginia and Chesapeake.” Overall, around “four million slaves were brought to the Caribbean, and almost all ended up on the sugar plantations.”

The constant demand for sugar in the colonies as well as England itself drove up the need for African slaves in the Caribbean. Since the cost for slaves was low, planters were able to produce more sugar, which in turn drove down the cost. Boston did not have as many slaves as other parts of the colonies, but readers of the Boston Evening-Post who purchased “choice JAMAICA SUGARS” were part of an economy that depended on slavery.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph Russell was a busy auctioneer. He was also a busy advertiser. Nick has selected one of three advertisements Russell placed in the December 1, 1766, issue of the Boston Evening-Post. The printers grouped the three advertisements together at the top of the third and final column on the third page.

dec-1-1211766-consecutive-adverts-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (December 1, 1766).

The first announced an auction to be held “TO-MORROW,” December 2. Given how soon that auction was slated to take place, “TO-MORROW” appeared in a larger font than anything else in any of Russell’s advertisements. Only one other advertisement on the same and the facing page included font that large: shopkeeper Richard Salter’s name in his advertisement for imported goods. As a result, Russell’s advertisement likely caught readers’ eyes and demanded their attention. The large font gave his impending auction the sense of urgency required to attract prospective bidders in the final hours before the vendue began. The advertisement named a series of goods nearly identical to those listed in Russell’s advertisement that appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette three days earlier (featured earlier this week). It repeated ancillary material verbatim, including a nota bene announcing that “Goods are daily selling off at private Sale at the above Auction-Room, VERY CHEAP.”

Russell’s second advertisement promoted the auction of “choice JAMAICA SUGARS” to take place “On THURSDAY next 4th of December,” the advertisement that Nick selected to examine today. Russell’s final advertisement previewed an auction scheduled to take place a week after that, “On THURSDAY the 11th Instant.” At that time, Russell planned to sell different sorts of merchandise than what appeared in either of the other two advertisements: “A great Variety of genteel House Furniture” and “Glass and China Ware.”

In these advertisements Russell used time to his advantage in three different ways. In the first, he created a sense of urgency. The auction was imminent. Readers needed to make plans to attend or risk being shut out of the deals. However, those unable to make it to that auction could still shop at their leisure, as the nota bene about goods “daily selling off at private Sale” made clear. In the latter two advertisements, he advised the public of upcoming auctions with sufficient time to generate interest. Potential buyers had plenty of time to envision bidding on “Mahogany Tables, Looking Glasses,” and other furnishings, perhaps imagining the deals they might get at auction. Depending on their personalities, readers would have reacted to each use of time in different ways. Some would have been more susceptible to the excitement of an impending auction. Others would have responded better to planning for a vendue more than a week away or shopping at their convenience in “the Auction Room in Queen-Street.” Russell creatively deployed all three strategies to attract as many potential consumers as possible.

November 28

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

nov-28-11281766-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 28, 1766).

“Scotch Snuff.”

This advertisement showcased a public vendue held at an “Auction-Room in Queen Street” in Boston. J. Russell, the auctioneer, sold mainly clothing and household items, but what I found interesting was the “Scotch Snuff.” I know that tobacco was a major cash crop in the colonies, along with sugar, rice, and indigo, but I figured that tobacco was only smoked during this time.

As I researched this product I realized that there was an interesting history behind it. With the amount of trade that was flowing throughout the Atlantic, snuff thrived in the colonies and Europe. According to an exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American history, the labels on snuff packages even “reflected the trade links between Virginia and England.” Plantation owners who sold tobacco to be made into snuff prospered from this product. Since it became so popular in the colonies, by 1750 tobacconists changed the way it was produced. According to Edwin Tunis, author of Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry, initially tobacco was grounded into snuff by using had mortars by hand and was produced it small quantities. Later, tobacconists began “grinding it with water power, either between ordinary milestones, like flour, or in large mortars.”[1] Tobacco was a commodity that was high in demand in the colonies so it is no surprise that snuff also became popular.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Most advertisers of consumer goods and services extended open invitations for potential customers to visit their shops, examine their merchandise, and make purchases whenever they wished. Public vendues (or auctions) operated differently. In her recent work on auctions in early America, Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor underscores the importance of setting a specific time for public vendues and, as a result, gathering colonists together to socialize and be entertained during the sale. Purchasing consumer goods, Hartigan-O’Connor argues, did not occur solely in transactions between shopkeeper and customer. Instead, some purchases were on display as part of larger events.

By necessity, advertisements for auctions specified a time that the sale would be held. Such information was as critical as the location or the list of goods up for bid. When they advertised in newspapers, most colonists selling goods at auction ran their advertisements at least a week in advance and often much earlier. A successful sale depended on attracting as many potential customers as possible. Letting others know when an auction would occur was especially critical if it was a one-time-only or irregularly scheduled event.

Russell, however, regularly held public vendues in his “Auction-Room in Queen Street” in Boston. His frequent advertisements alerted readers to at least one auction a week. In the advertisement that Nicholas selected for today, the time of the auction received first billing. “THIS DAY” appeared in a larger font than anything else in the advertisement, signaling that the rest of the content merited attention immediately because it was so time-sensitive. The notice continued by specifying that the auction would take place “At ELEVEN o’Clock in the Morning, AND At THREE o’Clock Afternoon.” In addition to placing this advertisement, Russell may have displayed a red flag outside his “Auction-Room,” another method of announcing a sale would take place that day (but one that did not rely on print or the distribution of newspapers or other advertising media).

That Russell scheduled his auction for “THIS DAY” caught my attention because R. & S. Draper usually published the Massachusetts Gazette on Thursdays in 1766, but for some reason this issue was delayed and appeared on Friday, November 28, 1766, rather than Thursday, November 27. Considering the news items and dozens of advertisements, had the Drapers remembered to adjust the date accordingly from “TOMORROW” (what should have appeared if the newspaper had been published on the 27th, just as it appeared in Russell’s advertisement printed in the issue from the 20th) to “THIS DAY” instead? Did this advertisement actually appear the day after the announced sale took place?

Given how often Russell advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette, constantly updating his copy to reflect auction dates and times as well as merchandise, it seems likely that the Drapers would have given special attention to his advertisement for that week, realizing that it needed to be revised accordingly to fit the schedule of their newspaper’s delayed publication. Not inconsequentially, Russell’s advertisement appeared immediately below a notice that read, in its entirety, “New Advertisements. THE Committee of the House of Representatives, to consider the Difficulties of the Trade of the Province, will meet again this Afternoon at 3 o’Clock, at the Representatives Room.” Russell had some competition for his auction “At THREE o”Clock Afternoon” that day, but the proximity of the two advertisements suggests that the Drapers made any necessary adjustments to the copy when they decided to distribute the issue a day later than usual.

That Russell’s advertisement announced a sale to be held “At ELEVEN o’CLOCK in the Morning” on “THIS DAY” brings up an issue for consideration another time. How early in the day did the Massachusetts Gazette need to be distributed in order for this to be an effective advertisement? Even with delayed publication, it was not the first time that Russell placed a “THIS DAY” advertisement. He apparently believed the newspaper circulated with sufficient time for potential customers to read it or else he would not have invested in the advertisement.

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[1] Edwin Tunis, Colonial Craftsman: And the Beginnings of American Industry (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1957), 52.

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Trevor Delp

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 21, 1766)

“A sprightly, active Negro Woman about 24 Years of Age.”

This advertisement offered an African American woman in her early twenties who could fulfill the duties of “House Business.” Initially this advertisement shocked me, because at the top a sloop (one-masted sailboat) was for sale, yet just beneath that a woman was for sale. The normality of this pairing seems completely unfathomable to me. To read an advertisement for a ship that then immediately jumped to selling a woman seems absurd. To dehumanize someone to the point of equating her to a ship is a hard concept for modern readers to grasp. To most readers of the time, however, this would not have been so disconcerting.

There is a common misconception in the United States that the northern colonies were free of slavery. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, it was not until 1771 that the “Massachusetts Colonial assembly passes a resolution calling for the end of the importation of African slaves into the colony. Governor Thomas Hutchinson refuses the measure.” During the late eighteenth century in the north there were early attempts to eradicate slavery, but they were not always generally supported. According to an article written by Nicholas Boston and Jennifer Hallam, “By 1804, all Northern states had voted to abolish the institution of slavery within their borders. In most of these states, however, abolition was not immediate.” Boston and Hallam go on to explain that it took until the first half of the nineteenth century for many African Americans in the North to achieve status as free people.

In the late eighteenth century slaves began achieving their freedom in Massachusetts through judicial law. In the case of Quock Walker, Walker sued for his freedom after being beaten by a man claiming to be his master after his then-deceased master had promised him his freedom. In 1781, the court found that Walker was indeed free under the state constitution, making it evident that the Massachusetts court system now viewed slaves equal in the eyes of the law. When this advertisement was posted in 1766, slavery in Massachusetts was just starting to become scrutinized and a judicial debate. In the years following, advertisements like this one would become less and less popular up until the North’s complete abolition of slavery during the nineteenth century.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I agree with Trevor. It is jarring to see a sloop and an enslaved woman offered together in the same advertisement, both of them items for sale from an eighteenth-century perspective. While I believe that Trevor tells the more important story in making and elaborating on that observation, this advertisement also offers an opportunity to examine the manner in which colonists used print and thought about the placement of advertisements in newspapers.

Today we usually expect advertisements to have a single purpose or, at the very least, for all the elements to tie together in some cohesive way. In the eighteenth century, however, advertisers bought a certain amount of space – often a “square” or multiple squares – and inserted whatever information they wished to bring to public attention. Sometimes the separate parts of a square were related; other times they were not. Earlier this week, for instance, Trevor examined an advertisement in which a shopkeeper first issued a call that he wanted to purchase “POT-ASH” before launching a lengthier promotion of the goods he sold. In today’s advertisement, the sloop and the enslaved woman were only tenuously linked: they were both “items” for sale by the same auctioneer.

That auctioneer happened to be one of the printers of the Boston Evening-Post. It’s telling that even those who produced the newspaper did not see any need to divide up the announcements of these sales. In general, an assortment of advertisements with varying purposes appeared mixed together and undifferentiated in colonial newspapers. Neither printers nor readers expected any system of classification that placed similar advertisements together on the page.

Trevor was shocked by the advertisement as it appears above. We discussed his reaction during a meeting in my office before he wrote about it. Earlier this week he submitted a draft of today’s entry, which I approved with some minor revisions. It was not until this morning, however, when I examined the entire issue of the Boston Evening-Post in order to gain more context in preparation of writing my own commentary that I discovered that today’s advertisement was actually a portion of a longer advertisement, but the database had divided it in half. (Given the format of the advertisement, it’s understandable why that happened.) The entire advertisement also included a “Public Vendue” for seventy bolts of damaged fabric. For me, this makes the advertisement Trevor chose even more stark: an enslaved woman appeared last in an advertisement for a ship and damaged goods being sold so the insurers could recoup some of their losses.

Apr 21 - Entire Advert
Boston Evening-Post (April 21, 1766).

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.