October 20

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

Providence Gazette (October 20, 1770).

“The Subscriber proposes undertaking the Practice of the Law.”

In the fall of 1770, John Cole took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to advertise his services as an attorney.  In introducing himself to prospective clients, Cole noted that “several Gentlemen of the LAW have lately removed from Providence.”  Furthermore, there was “another Vacancy at the Bar” caused by the death of “the late worthy and ingenious Oliver Arnold, Esq.”  As a result, residents of Providence and nearby towns and villages no longer had access to as many attorneys.  Cole sought to fill that gap in the market.

When he informed the public that he “proposes undertaking the Practice of the Law,” Cole asserted that he had been “brought up” to the business, though he did not provide additional details about his training and credentials.  Instead, he focused on his demeanor, assuring prospective clients that he would serve them “with the utmost Fidelity, Dispatch and Punctuality.”  Advertisers of all sorts made such promises, whether attorneys or artisans, but an emphasis on fidelity had a different resonance when invoked by those practicing the law.  It implied both confidentiality and consistently working in the best interests of clients, two aspects of the profession that some attorneys more explicitly highlighted in their advertisements.  Cole made more general commitments that his clients would be satisfied with his services.

He also cast his net widely for clients, seeking them in Providence and “the neighbouring Towns or Governments.”  The Providence Gazette served much of Rhode Island as well as portions of Massachusetts and Connecticut.  For instance, Joseph Jewet and Darius Adams’s advertisement on the same page as Cole’s notice in the October 20, 1770, edition addressed readers in several towns in Connecticut who might wish to engage them as postriders to deliver their newspapers.  Jewet and Adams also promised fidelity, but in their case they meant that patrons would receive their newspapers rather than have them go missing.

With the departure of several attorneys and the death of another, Cole sought to establish himself as an attorney in Providence.  To attract clients, he not only announced that he opened an office but also suggested that he had some sort of training and offered assurances that he would be trustworthy and competent in delivering his services.  Compared to modern advertising for legal services, Cole was considerably less bombastic.  He aimed to earn the confidence of prospective clients, not attract them with spectacle.

October 3

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

Oct 3 - 10:3:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 3, 1767).

“The TOWN COUNCIL … will meet … to grant Licenses for keeping Taverns, Ale-Houses, and retailing Wines, and all Sorts of strong Liquors.”

Colonists placed advertisements of all sorts in eighteenth-century newspapers. Although the Adverts 250 Project focuses primarily on the marketing of consumer goods and services and the commodification of enslaved men, women, and children, other kinds of advertisements merit occasional consideration as well. Various legal notices appeared next to, above, and below advertisements placed by merchants, retailers, and advertisers, undifferentiated from each other in an era before printers and publishers devised any sort of classification system to organize the paid notices in their newspapers. In addition, some eighteenth-century advertisements with multiple purposes defied easy categorization.

John Cole’s advertisement in the October 3, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette, however, had a single purpose. Cole, the president of the town council inserted the notice to inform residents of the port that the council would meet on the following Tuesday “in order to grant Licences for keeping Taverns, Ale-Houses, and retailing Wines, and all Sorts of strong Liquors.” On behalf of the council, he instructed anyone who wished to receive a license to “make Application” at the appointed time and place. He also issued a warning, noting that “the Laws of this Colony are extreamly, tho’ justly, severe.” Accordingly, those who operated “Public Houses” without being licensed by the council would be “prosecuted with the utmost Rigour.” Good order had to be maintained.

This legal notice indicates some of the parameters for participating in commerce in the colonial period. Cole and the town council did not promote consumption of particular “Wines, and all Sorts of strong Liquors,” but they did oversee the mechanisms for retailers and tavern-keepers to sell such beverages legally. Other advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers regularly included imported wines and spirits, signaling that those entrepreneurs had already been through the process of appearing before the town council to receive a license. Otherwise, their advertisements would have alerted local authorities that they flouted the law. Those who sold wines and liquors had to live up to certain responsibilities. Today’s advertisement suggests that maintaining commercial order also played an important role in maintaining social order.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15: 1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 15, 1767).

“Will also sell with or without the Walk, two likely Negro Men.”

When William Mumford and John Cole decided to sell their ropewalk in Newport, Rhode Island, they published an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. In it, they described the property where they made rope as “well found,” “very level,” and “convenient for the Business.” In addition, it property came with all the equipment “necessary for spinning, tur[n]ing, and laying of Cordage of all Sizes.” Most of the major colonial cities had ropewalks that produced some of the supplies essential for outfitting the vessels that passed through the busy ports.

Mumford and Cole did not, however, advertise just the ropewalk. Prospective buyers could also purchase “two likely Negro Men.” These were not mere laborers; instead, each “understands the Business of Rope-making.” One was “a very good Spinner.” The other was not quite as adept at that task, but “spins well for his Practice.” His primary value derived from another contribution he made to the operation of the ropewalk: he “understands the dressing of Hemp.” These “likely Negro Men” enhanced the value of the business through their skill and experience. They made its sale more attractive to potential buyers who would not need to be as concerned with hiring and retaining workers as they otherwise might have been.

Many of the commodities advertised in the Providence Gazette and other colonial newspapers had direct connections to enslaved Africans. Consumers knew that slaves produced sugar, rice, indigo, tobacco, and other staple crops, yet that was not where the presence of slaves in the networks of eighteenth-century commerce ended. They also participated in transporting commodities from the sites of production to the places of sale. Some served on merchant vessels. Others labored in shipyards, building and repairing the vessels that carried goods from port to port. Still others worked in shops and other businesses where artisans made the equipment that outfitted those ships.

When residents of Newport and Providence drank tea sweetened with sugar, they realized that they consumed a commodity produced by enslaved men, women, and children. Yet not all of the enslaved labor that made it possible for them to enjoy sweetened beverages took place on faraway plantations. The sugar colonists purchased from local shopkeepers may very well have been transported on a vessel outfitted with ropes and other equipment made by slaves in their very own colony.