February 15

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

Providence Gazette (February 15, 1772).

“Choice Bohea Tea, which for Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell were among the most prominent merchants in Providence in the era of the American Revolution.  The brothers were so successful that in 1772 they built what is now the “earliest extant and most impressive of the cubical, three-story houses that symbolized wealth and social standing in Providence for several generation beginning at the eve of the Revolution,” according to the Providence Preservation Society’s Guide to Providence Architecture.  The building stands at 118 North Main Street (formerly King Street), though its original interiors were removed and installed in several museums a century ago.  In addition, the building “was raised to insert a storefront” in the middle of the nineteenth century, resulting in the original entrance, “taken from the English architectural pattern book Builder’s Compleat Assistant (1750) by Battey Langley,” appearing to adorn the second floor rather than opening onto the street.

The Russells frequently advertised in the Providence Gazette in the 1760s and 1770s.  Perhaps their marketing efforts contributed, at least in part, to their mercantile success.  As they embarked on building their new house in 1772, the brothers advertised a variety of commodities on February 15.  They focused primarily on grocery items in that notice, though in others they promoted a vast array of textile, housewares, hardware, and other goods imported from England.  Among the groceries they offered to consumers, the Russells listed “Nutmegs, Cinnamon, Mace, and Cloves” as well as “Pepper by the Bag” and “Chocolate by the Box.”  They concluded their advertisement with “Choice Bohea Tea.”  Most advertisers did not offer much commentary about that popular commodity, but in this instance the Russells elaborated on what made their tea “Choice” for consumers.  They proclaimed that the “Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.”  In conjuring such associations with their tea at the conclusion of their advertisement, the Russells may have incited greater interest in all of the groceries they sold.  Sales of “Choice Bohea Tea” and so many other goods helped finance the house they built in 1772.  The Russells almost certainly enjoyed “Choice Bohea Tea” in the parlor of their new home, partaking in popular social rituals with family and guests.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 17, 1770).

“Dwelling-House (improved last by Messieurs Jackson and Updike).”

Location!  Location!!  Location!!!  An advertisement in the March 17, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette offered a “House, Lot, and Dwelling-House thereon” for sale.  That real estate notice focused primarily on location and amenities lending themselves to commerce as the means of marketing the lot and buildings.  Currently “in the Occupation of Mr. James Green,” the premises, described as “the best Situation for Trade of any in the Place,” were on “the main Street” of Providence, “opposite Messieurs Joseph and William Russell’s Shop” at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.  With some renovation, the “lower front Part” of the could be “wholly made into a Shop” of generous proportions.  That same advertisement offered another “commodious Shop and Store” for sale “at a small Distance from said Dwelling-House.”  Green had “built and improved” the shop and adjoining warehouse, ultimately constructing “the most convenient Shop for a large Trader of any in the Town.”

The advertisement did not offer further description of the houses and shops offered for sale.  Although the “commodious Shop and Store” may have been the best option for “a large Trader” in 1770, the Russells had their own ideas for erecting a dwelling that testified to their stature among the city’s mercantile elite.  In 1772, Joseph Russell and William Russell built what the Providence Preservation Society now describes as the “earliest extant and most impressive of the cubical, three-story houses that symbolized wealth and social standing for several generations beginning at the eve of the American Revolution.”  The principal entrance, a segmented-arch portico with Corinthian pilasters, came from an English architectural pattern book, the Builder’s Compleat Assistant published in London in 1750.  Nearly two centuries after it was constructed, the Joseph and William Russell House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, but only after its interiors had been removed in the 1920s and installed in museums in Brooklyn, Denver, and Milwaukee.