August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:27:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 27, 1770).

They have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street.”

Colonial printers adopted various strategies when it came to inserting advertisements in their newspapers.  Some reserved advertisements for the final pages, appearing only after news items, editorials, lists of prices current, shipping news from the custom house, poems for amusement or edification, and other content selected by the editor rather than paid for inclusion by advertisers.  Others placed advertisements on the first and fourth pages, with other content on the second and third pages.  Doing so reflected practical aspects of producing newspapers.  Most consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  That meant the first and fourth pages were printed with one pull of the press and the second and third pages with another.  Advertisements, often repeated from week to week, could be printed first on the first and last pages, allowing for any breaking news to be set in type as late as possible before the second and third pages went to press.  Both of those methods kept advertisements clustered together, either at the end of an issue or bookending it.  Another method more evenly distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing advertisement on every page, often, but not always, at the bottom or in the final column.

For the August 27, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill included advertising on each of its four pages.  Advertisements constituted the first of three columns on the first page, but only a few short advertisements appeared at the bottom of the third column on the second page.  Advertisements accounted for half of the third page, but, like the second page, they ran after news content, sequestered at the bottom of the second column and in the third.  The fourth page consisted entirely of advertising, with the exception of the colophon at the bottom of the final column.  No matter which page they perused, readers encountered advertising in this edition of the Boston-Gazette.  In the midst of all those paid notices, Edes and Gill reserved a privileged place for an advertisement concerning their own business.  In the first item in the first column on the first page, “THE PUBLISHERS of this Paper” placed an advertisement to “hereby inform their Customers and others, That they have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street, to the House formerly improv’d by Messieurs Kneeland & Green, directly opposite the new Court-House.”  Edes and Gill exercised their power as printers of the Boston-Gazette and their access to the press to increase the chances that readers would see and take note of their advertisement.  Other advertisers paid for access to the press, but they usually had little control over where their advertisements appeared in the newspaper.  When it came to the placement of advertisements within newspapers, printers had an advantage that “their Customers and others” did not.

March 8

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

Mar 8 - 3:8:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
MassachusettsGazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 8, 1770).

“The Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768.”

At the time of the Boston Massacre, more newspapers were published in that city than any other in the colonies.  The Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy all came out on Mondays.  Later in the week, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and another edition of the Boston Chronicle both came out on Thursdays.  The Boston Massacre occurred on a Monday evening, by which time the newspapers usually published on that day had already been distributed to subscribers.  That meant that the News-Letter and the Chronicle were the first newspapers to appear after the “BLOODY MASSACRE perpetrated in King-Street, BOSTON on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th REG[IMEN]T” (as Paul Revere described the event).

Both carried limited coverage of the Boston Massacre.  The Chronicle, notorious for its pro-British sympathies, stated, “We decline at present, giving a particular account of this unhappy affair, as we hear the trial of the unfortunate prisoners [Captain Thomas Preston and eight soldiers] is to come on next week.”  The News-Letter issued a Postscript supplement that acknowledged the event but provided only a brief overview.  Its publisher, Richard Draper, also tended to support the British perspective, though usually not as vociferously as the publishers of the Chronicle.  Draper indicated that “A Number of Gentlemen are collecting Evidences of the whole Transactions, as soon as these are done, an Account will be drawn up and Published in the Papers.”  Four days later, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, vocal patriots, published an account of the Boston Massacre and the funeral procession for its victims in the Boston-Gazette, complete with a woodcut depicting the coffins and heavy black borders to denote mourning.

In the aftermath of the Boston Massacre, Edes and Gill ran an advertisement for their “North-American ALMANACK, AND Massachusetts REGISTER” in the March 8, 1770, edition of the News-Letter.  The list of contents made it clear that the publishers placed far more emphasis on the patriotic propaganda in the register than the astronomical calculations in the almanack, especially more than two months into the new year.  Edes and Gill had previously placed the same advertisement for their almanac and register in the News-Letter, but it did not run in the issue of that newspaper that came out immediately before the Boston Massacre.  It did reappear in the first edition published after the “tragical Affair,” as Draper described it.  Edes and Gill led the list of contents with a description of an illustration of “a Prospective View of the Town of Boston … and the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768.”  Those troops eventually fired on the residents of Boston, killing and wounding many of them in the “Bloody Massacre.”  Although coverage of the “Proceedings of that Evening” was tentative and abbreviated in the first issue of the News-Letter after the Boston Massacre, the patriotic tenor of the advertisements for Edes and Gill’s almanack and register took on new urgency in the wake of recent events on King Street.

May 22

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

“Enquire of the Printers.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (May 22, 1769).

On May 22, 1769, readers of the Boston Evening-Post encountered an advertisement offering an enslaved youth for sale: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, brought up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of the Printers.” On the same day, a nearly identical advertisement ran in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of Edes and Gill.” The Massachusetts Gazette, published the same day, also carried that advertisement: “TO BE SOLD, A fine likely Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Inquire of Green & Russell.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 22, 1769).

Except for variations in the spelling of “brought” (or “bro’t”), the copy in all three notices was identical until the final sentence that advised interested parties to “Enquire of the Printers” for more information. These advertisements and many others like them made T. and J. Fleet, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell active participants in the slave trade. Printing advertisements for the purposes of buying and selling enslaved men, women and children or capturing those who escaped from bondage already made printers complicit in the perpetuation of slavery, but these “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements demonstrated even more active involvement as purveyors of people, not merely as conduits for disseminating information.

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (May 22, 1769).
Compared to newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South, far fewer advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children ran in newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic, but they were not absent. Printers in Boston devoted less space in their newspapers to these advertisements, but the frequency of “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements suggests that the Fleets, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell invested time in facilitating these transactions beyond what was required for receiving the copy and setting the type. In effect, they served as brokers, even if they never described or advertised their services in that manner.

October 6

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

oct-6-1061766-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (October 6, 1766).

“John Taylor At his SHOP by the Draw-Bridge.”

I originally picked this advertisement from the Boston Evening-Post because John Taylor’s shop was in close proximity to a drawbridge that I researched for an entry last semester. Then this particular advertisement became more interesting when I found it in a second newspaper, the Boston-Gazette, printed on the same day by a rival publisher. As I did more research on the people and places in Boston, I learned about the printers of the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.

oct-6-1061766-boston-gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 6, 1766).

Printers have an interesting role in early American history, especially in colonial Boston. They were the ones who provided various types of entertainment and, more importantly, news and communication to the populace. Printers T. and J. Fleet at the Heart and Crown printed many items other than newspapers. They operated their shop on Cornhill Street, which was laid out in 1708 and ran from Water Street to Dock Square. (In 1789 it was renamed Washington Street.) Even from its earliest days Cornhill Street was full of intellectuals and publishers and printers. The Fleet family lived on Cornhill and ran their print shop beneath their residence.

oct-6-detail-of-map-of-boston
Detail of A Plan of the Town of Boston.
oct-6-map-of-boston
A Plan of the Town of Boston with the Intrenchments &ca. of His Majesty’s Forces in 1775, from the Observations of Lieut. Page of His Majesty’s Corps of Engineers, and from Those of Other Gentlemen (1777?). Library of Congress.

Thomas and John Fleet were prominent printers during the 1760s. In addition to newspapers, they sold broadsides and other important printed items that spread news and information. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, their father started the newspaper that became the Boston Evening-Post, which they continued to print until 1776.

Benjamin Edes and John Gill printed the Boston-Gazette. These partners would over time get themselves in trouble with British authorities because of what they printed.  J. L. Bell has written about many examples of the printers of the Boston-Gazette closely walking the line of legal and illegal; for an example, see “Henry Bass Spills the Beans on a Political Protest.” Edes and Gill had a large circulation and may have been the Boston Evening-Post’s biggest competition. One reason that they may have had such a large circulation and got in to trouble often was Benjamin Edes was a member of the Loyal Nine, which was a secret group of patriots, nine “young business men” who planned a protest of the Stamp Act in 1765.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth brings a sense of excitement to the research she does for the Adverts 250 Project. I’m continuously impressed with the primary and secondary sources she consults and incorporates into her analysis of the advertisements she has selected. As we work through revising and refining her first drafts, often we determine that some material should be eliminated in the interest of producing a concise entry that addresses one major theme. I know from experience how difficult and disappointing it can be to jettison portions of my own research and writing when certain parts of it just don’t work out. Unfortunately, that’s one of the hard lessons that Elizabeth and the other guest curators learn as we work collaboratively through the writing, revision, and publication process.

I appreciate the way that Elizabeth has used today’s advertisement as a jumping off point for examining the printers who produced newspapers and the advertisements they contained. However, she contemplated an alternate analysis of John Taylor’s advertisement that appeared in the October 6, 1766, issue of the Boston Evening-Post. Elizabeth located the same advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, prompting her to think about how “marketing and exposure were key to drawing in consumers, even in colonial America.” This is the third week that Elizabeth has been a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project. With that statement from her first draft, she demonstrated that she really understands some of the questions that I find most interesting about the ongoing project.

Since this is a collaborative effort, I picked up Elizabeth’s research by consulting the other two newspapers printed in Boston in 1766. John Taylor’s advertisement also appeared later in the week in the October 9, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, furthering strengthening Elizabeth’s suspicion that Taylor was being savvy by marketing his wares in multiple newspapers, increasing his shop’s exposure to as many readers as possible. The October 6, 1766, issue of the Boston Post-Boy did not carry Taylor’s advertisement. That does not mean that he did not attempt to place it in that publication. News items and other advertisements may have squeezed out Taylor’s advertisement in that particular issue.

oct-6-1091766-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 9, 1766).

At the very least, Elizabeth and I have identified three newspapers that carried Taylor’s advertisement 250 years ago this week, demonstrating that the shopkeeper did calculate the benefits of increased exposure from multiple publications. As we saw in June, Jolley Allen pursued a similar strategy, placing the same advertisement in all four newspapers printed in Boston. Were these two advertisers outliers? Answering that question will require a lot more roll-up-the-sleeves research.

May 29

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

May 29 - 5:29:1766 Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (May 29, 1766).

Print played a significant role in the coming of the American Revolution. Some scholars argue for the primacy of newspapers in facilitating debate, giving a voice to protest, and shaping public opinion. Other printed items, however, also played a role, including pamphlets, sermons, almanacs, and engraved images (the eighteenth-century counterpart to modern political cartoons). Many of the advertisements selected for inclusion here directly addressed the discontent over the Stamp Act, some of them by marketing tracts that defended the colonies against the abuses of Parliament.

Printers and booksellers simultaneously expressed political views and sought to earn a living by advertising and selling items related to the crisis while the Stamp Act was still in effect. That did not change when the Stamp Act was repealed, though the rhetoric may have shifted slightly. Rather than promote a work condemning an overzealous and overreaching Parliament, today’s advertisement announced the publication of a “Thanksgiving-Discourse, on the REPEAL of the Stamp-Act.” That hated piece of legislation was gone, but printers continued to express their political beliefs – and they seized new opportunities to turn a profit as well.

In this case, politics might have slightly edged out profit. Three printing firms that otherwise would have been competitors joined together to advertise and sell the “Thanksgiving-Discourse”: Richard Draper and Samuel Draper (printers of the Massachusetts Gazette), Benjamin Edes and John Gill (printers of the Boston-Gazette) and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet (printers of the Boston Evening-Post).

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Bonus: Newspapers carried more than editorials and advertisements that commented on politics. This “ODE On the Repeal of the Stamp-Act” appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette in the same week as the advertisement for the “Thanksgiving-Discourse, on the REPEAL of the Stamp-Act.”

May 29 - 5:29:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (May 29, 1766).