June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:6:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 6, 1766).

“Whoever secures my servants and Negro … shall, besides the reward allowed by law, be paid any reasonable satisfaction.”

John Mercer turned to the Virginia Gazette to advertise more than just beer, porter, and ale. His lengthy advertisement for the “MARLBOROUGH BREWERY” appeared on the opposite side of the page as this notice concerning a slave and two indentured servants who ran away from the brewer. John Mercer had a hard time holding on to his help!

That may tell us something about what kind of master Mercer was, but he used this advertisement to shape the narrative. What else could be expected of Temple, the slave? After all, he “carries the marks of the discipline he underwent” while on a ship in the West Indies. It was plain for anybody to see (especially from the scars Neptune bore on his body), Mercer suggested, that the slave had a history of challenging authority, not following instructions, and stepping out of his appropriate place.

The two indentured servants, Joseph Wain and William Cantrell, were equally troublesome, according to Mercer. A single glance could reveal that Wain was trouble, considering the way that he “stoops pretty much in his walk” and “has a down look.” Cantrell apparently had a habit of misrepresenting his skills: “he pretend[s] to understand ploughing and country business.” (Advertisers regularly denigrated runaway slaves and servants by accusing them of not possessing the skills they claimed.) Mercer suspected his servants had conspired with others that went missing at the same time. Furthermore, several horses disappeared around that time. In addition to being runaways, Wain and Cantrell were likely thieves, at least according to Mercer.

All three men – Temple, Joseph Wain, and William Cantrell – sought their own freedom when they ran away from their master. Mercer’s exasperation concerning Wain and Cantrell may have been justified considering that they served only half a year of their indentures, skipping out on a contract when they departed, but his frustration at Temple’s escape from more than three decades of slavery garners no sympathy at all.

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette 3rd page
Third page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766).

Two weeks the Adverts 250 Project featured the entire first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to examine the extent of advertising that appeared in that newspaper when it commenced publication. Although Rind included a limited number of advertisements in that initial issue, he issued a call for prospective advertisers to submit announcements and commercial notices.

How did William Rind fare when it came to generating advertisements, an important source of revenue for those who printed newspapers in the colonial period? Unfortunately, no copies of the second issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette have survived, but the third issue (published two weeks after the first) suggests that advertising picked up relatively quickly. The entire final page was covered with advertising, as well as an entire column on the third page. While not as extensive as advertising in some long-established newspapers in urban ports, the amount of space devoted to advertising in the third issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette was on par with other newspapers in smaller towns in the 1760s. In other words, Rind seems to have attracted a critical mass of advertisers fairly quickly.

This issue carried a variety of different kinds of advertisements: some for consumer goods and services, some legal announcements, some lost and found (including stray livestock), a horse “to cover,” a runaway apprentice (but not yet any runaway slaves, unlike the those that dominated the advertising section in the competing Virginia Gazette), and some placed by the printer himself to promote his own enterprises. A least one advertisement previously appeared in the pages of the local competitor. It appears that John Mercer wanted to cover all his bases when it came to the beer, porter, and ale from his Marlborough Brewery.

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Final Page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766)

May 3

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

May 3 - 5:2:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 2, 1766).

“To be SOLD, at the MARLBOROUGH BREWERY.”

Brewer John Mercer took an interesting approach in his advertisement for “STRONG BEER and PORTER … and ALE” available from the Marlborough Brewery: quite frankly, he confessed, it was not as good as beer from England.

Actually, Mercer presented a mixed message in his lengthy advertisement. He initially stated that his beer was “equal in goodness to any that can be imported from any part of the world, as nothing but the genuine best MALT and HOPS will be used, without any mixture of substitute whatsoever.” Mercer seems to have been a stickler for quality control! He also made an increasingly common appeal. In the 1760s many American artisans asserted that their goods were equal or superior to imports.

Later in the advertisement, however, he acknowledged “I should not be able to come up to the English standard” despite his constant efforts. Still, since “goodness of every commodity is its best recommendation,” Mercer “principally rel[ied] upon that for my success.” In effect, Mercer seemed to be saying, “You’ll like my beer if you try it. Sure, it may not be as good as English beer, but it’s more than good enough and you’re sure to enjoy it. Buy some and prove it for yourself.”

That seems like a curious and daring appeal to make, but consider the other context he provided to promote his brewery: “The severe treatment we have lately received from our Mother Country, would, I should think, be sufficient to recommend my undertaking.” Once again we see how politics and commerce converged in the wake of the Stamp Act, its repeal, and the promulgation of the Declaratory Act. Even if his beer did not “come up to the English standard,” quality was not the only – or event the primary – concern that potential customers should consider. Thanks to the strained relationship between the colonies and “our Mother Country,” imported beer, porter, and ale was bound to leave a bad taste in consumers’ mouths. They were better off trusting Mercer to supply their beverages, brewed from the “best MALT and HOPS.”

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I have included the image available via Readex’s Early American Newspaper database.  Colonial Williamsburg’s online resources include the same issue of the Virginia Gazette.  You may find portions of the advertisement more legible via that resource.  I worked back and forth between the two in order to read the entire advertisement.