October 23

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 23, 1770).

“The newest and most fashionable Taste.”

In the fall of 1770, John Brown, a hairdresser, informed “the Ladies in particular” and “the Gentlemen” as well as that he had set up shop in Charleston.  In an advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he announced that he had “Just arrived from LONDON.”  This was a common marketing strategy among advertisers from a variety of occupations, from doctors to artisans to tailors to hairdressers.  They listed their place of origin as part of their credentials, suggesting to colonists that those who had trained and worked in the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire possessed greater skill and a better understanding of taste and fashion than their counterparts from the colonies.

Brown stated that he “was regularly bred to the Business,” invoking a common phrase that indicated extensive training, but he also made the claim to superior circumstances more explicit by clarifying that he learned his trade “in one of the genteelest Shops in London.”  Unlike other hairdressers in Charleston, Brown had not yet established a reputation among current and prospective clients.  As an alternative, he used his connections to the urban sophistication of London to encourage residents of Charleston to associate additional cachet with his services.

Brown also emphasized his recent arrival in South Carolina.  Many advertisers deployed the phrase “from London” in their notices, some after living and working in the colonies for years.  That made it significant for Brown to proclaim that he “Just arrived from LONDON.”  His experience working in one of those “genteelest Shops” was recent.  He possessed a familiarity with tastes and trends in the metropole that was current.  Other hairdressers relied on travelers and correspondents to keep them apprised of new styles, but Brown brought that knowledge with him when he crossed the Atlantic and set up his own shop in Charleston.  He pledged to dress hair according to “the newest and most fashionable Taste,” a common appeal that had greater resonance when deployed by a coiffeur who had “Just arrived from LONDON.”

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 19, 1770).

“The COLLEGE about to be built in this Colony, shall be erected in the Town of Providence.”

On behalf of the “Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work” of erecting a building to house Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in Providence, Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes regularly inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette throughout the first several months of 1770.  They called on “all who already Subscribers” (or benefactors) and “those who may incline them to become such” to inform the committee of the funds they wished to pledge or “an Account of such Materials fit for the Building, as they would choose to furnish in Lieu of their Subscriptions.”  The fundraising effort was ongoing.

When this notice ran in the May 19 edition of the Providence Gazette, it coincided with news about the college.  Colonial newspapers ran little local news.  Since newspapers were generally published once a week, printers assumed that most local news spread by word of mouth before they had a chance to go to press.  The most momentous local news, however, did appear in the public prints.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, considered news about Rhode Island College significant enough to include in his newspaper.  A short article informed readers that “Monday last the first Foundation Stone of the COLLEGE about to be erected here was laid by Mr. JOHN BROWN, of this Place, Merchant, in Presence of a Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution.– About twenty Workmen have since been employed on the Foundation, which Number will be increased, and the Building be completed with all possible Dispatch.”

This brief article and the committee’s advertisement each informed the other, telling a more complete story for readers.  The news article also provided further publicity that aided the committee in their fundraising.  It was not too late to make a contribution and join that “Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution” as a supporter of the college and, by extension, the civic welfare of the town of Providence.  The committee continued to welcome new benefactors.

January 13

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

Jan 13 1770 - 1:13:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 13, 1770).

“The COLLEGE about to be built in this Colony.”

Providence, Rhode Island, is now known as the home of Brown University, but that is not where the university has always been located. In 1770, six years after its founding, Providence became the permanent home of what was known as the Rhode Island College in its early years, later Brown University, in 1770. In March 1764, the Rhode Island General Assembly approved the charter for the “College or University in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” The Rhode Island College was only the seventh college founded in the colonies. Founded by Baptists, admission to the college was open to students of other denominations. According to “Brown’s History: A Timeline” on the university’s website, the corporation that would run the new college first met in Newport in September 1764. At that meeting, “Rhode Island Governor Stephen Hopkins (who would be a signer of the Declaration of Independence) was elected Chancellor.” James Manning served as the first president of the college, from 1765 until his death in 1791. He was also the college’s “first (and initially only) professor. He offered classes in the parsonage of the Baptist Church in Warren. The college held its first commencement in Warren in September 1769, not long before moving to Providence.

In preparation, Stephen Hopkins and John Brown, acting “in Behalf of the Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work” of erecting an edifice for the college in the city placed an advertisement in the January 13, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette to request that those who had already pledged funds and others who might be inclined to do so consider donating “such Materials fit for the Building, as they would choose to furnish in Lieu of their Subscriptions.” The move to Providence was not a foregone conclusion, but such “Materials fit for the Building” and “Subscriptions” had helped to convince the Corporation. According to the “Brown’s History: A Timeline,” Warren, Newport, and other communities in Rhode Island vied to become the permanent home of the college; the members of the Corporation “heard arguments in favor of the city’s central location, availability of materials and workers, number of libraries, and money pledged to support the effort.” The newspaper notice placed by Hopkins and Brown incorporated two of those factors. A variety of primary sources tell the story of the founding and first years of the Rhode Island College. Among those, newspaper advertisements testify to some of the fundraising efforts undertaken to establish the college in the city that has now been its home for 250 years.