October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:23:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 23, 1769).

“McLean is now at Work on a Watch, the whole of which will be finished in the Province, except the Two Plates and Cases.”

During the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution many advertisers encouraged prospective customers to purchase goods produced in the colonies, launching the first wave of “Buy American” campaigns even before declaring independence. Some colonists expressed concerns about an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by the taxes imposed on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts in the late 1760s. To remedy the trade imbalance, many colonists vowed to encourage “domestic manufactures” to strengthen local economies. Producing goods in the colonies created jobs while simultaneously providing alternative products for consumers to purchase. The nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Townshend Acts made domestic manufactures even more important. Advertisers increasingly called on prospective customers to give preference to goods produced in the colonies.

John McLean, a “Movement Maker, & Watch Finisher,” joined that movement, at least as much as he was able. In an advertisement that ran in the October 23, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette, McLean informed readers that he was “now at Work on a Watch, the whole of which will be finished in the Province, except the Two Plates and Cases.” Many American watchmakers did not actually make watches in the colonial era. Instead, they imported and sold watches and repaired watches, but the production of watches took place in London, Dublin, and other cities on the far side of the Atlantic. Given the constraints on constructing watches in the colonies, McLean made his best effort to support the American cause by making domestic manufactures available to consumers. His watches were not exclusively American products, but he suggested to customers that a significant portion of their production did indeed take place in Massachusetts, making them more desirable than imported watches.

McLean did not need to make his pitch any more explicitly. Other items in the Boston-Gazette provided context for readers to interpret his advertisement, as did public discourse more generally. The October 23 edition commenced with “A LIST of the Names of those who have AUDACIOUSLY counteracted the UNITED SENTIMENTS of the BODY of Merchants throughout NORTH-AMERICA, by importing British Goods contrary to the Agreement.” Another advertisement on the same page as McLean’s notice emphasized “North-American Manufactures” available at a shop located “Opposite LIBERTY TREE.” Readers knew how to interpret McLean’s pronouncement about working on a watch constructed primarily “in the Province.” They understood the politics he deployed to market his product.

March 15

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Georgia Gazette (March 15, 1769).

“STRAYED … AN OLD SORREL HORSE.”

In this advertisement “the subscriber,” John McLean, mentions that he had lost a few of his horses. He proceeded to describe what the horses looked like in an attempt to give people an idea how to identify them. I knew that horses played an important part in colonial society because they were often the fastest form of transportation or were the best way to transport goods from place to place. According to the International Museum of the Horse, “Both people and goods moved by horseback, as carriages and wagons could not negotiate primitive paths” in colonial America. Horses played an important role in transporting heavy goods in times of peace and war. Colonists relied on teams of horses to carry supplies for them. With horses so important, the owner put a reward out for the return of the horses, hoping to encourage honesty if someone found his horses. The advertisement also mentions how the horses were branded so this would increase the chances of the horses being returned.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Whether marketing consumers goods and services for sale, alerting readers about enslaved men and women who had escaped from those who held them in bondage, calling on creditors and debtors to settle accounts, or asking for assistance capturing stray horses, all of the advertisements in colonial newspapers generated revenues for the newspapers that printed them. James Johnston, the publisher of the Georgia Gazette, depended on these revenues to supplement those he received from selling subscriptions. Indeed, colonial printers often earned more from fees from advertisers than they did from subscribers.

The amount of advertising in the Georgia Gazette fluctuated from week to week. Johnston sometimes only had enough advertising to fill the final page, but he had far more than that for the March 15, 1769, edition. Although the first page consisted entirely of news items, advertisements appeared on all of the remaining pages. Paid notices accounted for nearly half of the content on the second page and more than half on the third page as well the entire final page. Each and every advertisement subsidized the delivery of the news that comprised the rest of the newspaper.

Johnston was so eager to bring in addition revenues from advertising (as well as subscriptions) that he inserted a note in the colophon of every issue of the Georgia Gazette. Rather than merely inform readers that the newspaper was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah, he stated that he received “Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper.” Notably, he listed advertisements first, suggesting their importance in the continued operation of the newspaper. John McLean’s advertisement concerning stray horses on the final page helped to make possible the dissemination of news from London on the first page and news from South Carolina on the third page. Many forms of media, especially those that deliver the news, rely on selling advertisements today. Although the mechanisms have changed over the course of a quarter millennium, the business model has not.