May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 12, 1768).

“FIRE WORKS, PERFORMED by two Italian Brothers from Turin.”

In addition to purchasing an array of goods and services, colonial consumers also spent their money on assorted entertainments. Newspaper advertisements testify to both the popular culture and leisure activities of the period. The May 12, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, for instance, included several advertisements that encouraged readers to gather to socialize at a range of venues that provided entertainment. Some of these, such as an advertisement for a tavern, offered activities available to readers at practically any time, but others, especially an advertisement for a fireworks display, featured one-time-only spectacles.

John Taylor inserted an advertisement announcing that he had just opened “a Tavern and House of public Entertainment” known as “The GLASS-HOUSE” on the outskirts of the city. He invited both “Gentlemen and Ladies” to patronize his new enterprise, pledging to “regale them in the genteelest Manner, with the best Accommodations of every Kind.” In particular, he proclaimed, “Dinners will be provided at the shortest Notice.” Taylor attempted to distinguish his tavern from the many others operating in New York at the time by depicting it as an upscale alternative to the bawdy and boisterous atmosphere in other establishments.

Colonists could also enjoy theatrical productions in some, but not all, of the largest cities. Traveling troupes also entertained residents in towns and villages. In New York, the American Company regularly advertised plays staged “At the Theatre in John-Street.” The company placed two advertisements in the May 12 edition of the New-York Journal, one announcing the program for Friday, May 13 and the other Monday, May 16. On Friday evening viewers would be treated to “A TRAGEDY, call’d VENICE PRESERV’D, OR A PLOT DISCOVER’D” and “A FARCE (never perform’d in America) call’d LOVE A-LA-MODE.” To convince readers to purchase tickets, the company claimed that that the farce would only be performed only once during the season. To raise the stakes, the advertisement included a brief history its popularity: “The above Farce has been acted with more Success than any dramatic Piece in the Memory of Man, for since it was first presented to the Town, it has been presented to crowded Audiences One Hundred and Fifty Seven Nights, and is still constantly play’d at least once a Week, at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden.” The company implied that they anticipated crowds, but cautioned that “No Person on any Pretence whatsoever, can be admitted behind the Scenes.” Each element of the advertisement was designed to persuade potential patrons to attend the show or risk feeling left out of a major event. The American Company sold an experience that yielded a sense of community; not participating, however, resulted in a sense of exclusion and regret.

Two “Italian Brothers from Turin” offered other entertainments for the evening of Saturday, May 14: a fireworks show in three parts at Renelagh Gardens. The brothers described each portion of the show in detail, but their words merely suggested the spectacle that readers would experience if they attended the exhibition. To provide further encouragement, they listed their credentials, claiming that they were “(Engineers to the King of Sardinia) who have given very surprising Specimens of their Abilities before the Royal Family in Spain, and with great Applause before his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, and all the Nobility at Bath.” Even though New York was an imperial outpost on the far side of the Atlantic, the advertisement suggested that its residents could enjoy some of the best entertainments that had amused royals and nobles in England and other places in Europe, but only if they seized the opportunity and made their way to Renelagh Gardens for the exhibition on the only night it would be performed.

Each of these advertisements peddled popular culture to consumers, encouraging them to purchase experiences in addition to goods. The various entertainments cultivated a sense of community among those who witnessed them. Just as merchants and shopkeepers cautioned colonists not to be left behind when it came to the goods they sold, performers and others whose services emphasized leisure activities portrayed participating in the events they sponsored as a means of establishing bonds with other colonists through shared experiences.

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.