November 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 30, 1770).

“A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

The death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, received attention throughout the American colonies.  From New England to Georgia, newspapers reported the minister’s death.  Colonists participated in collective acts of mourning, reading poems dedicated to the Whitefield’s memory reprinted from newspaper to newspaper and listening to sermons honoring the minister and his legacy.  The various sorts of eulogies for Whitefield, whether poems or sermons, very quickly converted to commodification of his death as printers and booksellers advertised commemorative items for consumers to purchase.  Within days of the minister’s death, printers suggested that funeral sermons would soon go to press.  Two months later, newspaper advertisements continued to promote such items.

For instance, the November 30, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette once again informed readers that they could purchase “THE Rev. Jonathan Parson’s SERMON … A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD” either at the printing office in Portsmouth or the post office in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  This was a truncated version of an advertisement that ran in the two previous issues.  The more extensive notice extended nearly two-thirds of a column.  It included an excerpt from the sermon, a preview to incite interest among prospective customers.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, dispensed with the excerpt, but they included other Whitefield content as a means of maintaining interest in the minister’s death and generating sales.  The final page of the New-Hampshire Gazette often included poetry in the upper left corner.  The Fowles inserted two poems in the November 30 edition, one of them “A short POEM On the Death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  As a result, coverage of the minister’s death continued beyond the portion of the newspaper devoted to advertising.  The Fowles may have published the poem, at least in part, as a means of suggesting that popular interest in Whitefield’s death remained high, hoping that this would induce readers to consider purchasing the sermon advertised for sale elsewhere on the same page.  Collective mourning could potentially yield greater interest in collective acts of commemoration through purchasing commodities associated with the minister’s death.

November 16

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 16, 1770).

“A most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  Newspapers in Boston carried the first reports the following day.  Over the course of the next several weeks, news radiated out.  Printers in other towns reprinted articles from Boston’s newspapers and added their own coverage of reactions in their local communities.  Amateur poets penned tributes to the deceased minister and submitted them to newspapers.  Like news reports, those poems were reprinted from one publication to another.  Although news and poems related to Whitefield’s death originally moved from New England to other places in the colonies, eventually the culture of reprinting caused newspapers in New England to carry short articles about local reaction to Whitefield’s death in New York and Philadelphia.

Nearly seven weeks had elapsed since the minister’s death when the New-Hampshire Gazette reprinted an article and poem about Whitefield from the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  It filled half a page, a significant amount of space in a newspaper comprised of only four pages.  In the same issue, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted an advertisement for a sermon preached by Jonathan Parsons, a “most celebrated Discourse on the Death of the Rev. and renown’d GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”  The lengthy advertisement extended half a column.  Between the item reprinted from the New-York Gazette and the advertisement for the sermon, content associated with the minister’s death accounted for two of the twelve columns in the November 16, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Parson’s sermon was not the first item memorializing Whitefield offered for sale to the public.  Nearly as soon as newspapers began running articles about the minister’s death, they also suggested that funeral sermons would soon be going to press.  Booksellers found renewed interest in hawking books by Whitefield, capitalizing on current events.  Printers marketed a variety of broadsides with poems, accounts of the funeral, and visual images of Whitefield lying in repose.  The advertisement for this newest commemorative item included a lengthy remembrance from Parsons, reflecting on the first time he met Whitefield and extolling the minister’s work over the past three decades.  The Fowles likely sought to incite greater interest in the pamphlet by whetting the appetites of prospective buyers with that excerpt.

The loss of the beloved minister led to widespread mourning, but it also prompted widespread commodification.  Advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia ran in newspapers from New England to South Carolina, though they were most heavily concentrated in newspaper published in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Purchasing commemorative items likely gave colonists opportunities to express their grief and feel connected to the minister and fellow mourners, but the production of those items also represented business opportunities for printers, booksellers, and others who stood to generate revenues from the commodification of Whitefield’s death.