May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 21, 1768).

“Will now undertake to make Kinds of Wigs.”

Convenience!  That was the hallmark of Benjamin Gladding’s advertisement in the May 21, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The peruke (wig) maker and hairdresser acknowledged that some of his potential clients had not previously had access to all the goods and services they desired in the local marketplace.  In particular, he noted that some “Gentlemen … have heretofore been at the Trouble of sending to Boston for their Wigs.”  That, Gladding proclaimed, was no longer necessary because “he has lately engaged a Journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Together, they could meet the needs of prospective clients in Providence. Gentlemen no longer needed to resort to the inconvenience of having wigs shipped from Boston.

In case prospective clients were as concerned about quality as convenience, Gladding offered additional commentary about the skills and expertise of his new journeyman, describing him as “a compleat Workman.”  Together, they labored “to make all Kinds of Wigs, in the neatest and best Manner, and in the most genteel Taste.”  In making this assertion, Gladding underscored that he offered potential customers more than just convenience.  He implicitly compared the wigs produced in his shop to those that came from Boston, stressing that they were not inferior in any way.  They possessed the same quality, having been made “in the neatest and best Manner,” and they were just as fashionable, following “the most genteel Taste” currently in style in the colonies and the British Atlantic world.  Gladding further emphasized his familiarity with the latest trends when he promoted his services as a hairdresser.  Since he set hair according to “the newest Fashions,” his clients did not need to worry that friends and acquaintances would critique them as ignorant or outdated, at least not as far as their tonsorial choices were concerned.

Gladding concluded his advertisement by pledging that “his constant Endeavour will be to render every Satisfaction.”  By then he had demonstrated what this promise meant:  prospective clients could depend on attention to convenience, quality, and fashion when they patronized his shop.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:11:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (March 11, 1768).

The Cutler’s or Whitesmith’s business is still carried on at my shop, and in a much steadier and careful manner than usual.”

As spring approached in 1768, Benjamin Butler, a cutler, needed to do some damage control or risk losing business to his competitors. A journeyman employed in his workshop had tarnished Butler’s reputation by producing inferior goods, causing Butler to take out an advertisement in the New-London Gazette to explain the situation. He hoped to convince prospective customers to give his workshop another chance now that he had remedied the problem.

After announcing that “the Cutler’s or Whitesmith’s business is still carried on at my shop,” Butler declared that work currently undertaken in the shop was completed “in a much steadier and careful manner than usual.” Here he already acknowledged that quality had been lacking for some time, but he then provided an explanation. For several months he had turned over the operation of the shop “to a journeyman, that was great part of his time incapable of performing good work.” Butler did not pull any punches about the reason the journeyman produced shoddy work: “strong drink.” Having made this confession, the cutler petitioned prospective customers to wipe clean the slate. He had resumed doing the jobs that came into the workshop himself. That being the case, he assured “Those who will favour me with their custom” that they could “depend upon being served in the best manner.”

Butler addressed his advertisement to “the public” rather than his former customers. Although he may have contacted some of them individually to make amends, he wanted the entire community to know that he was aware of the problem in his workshop and had addressed it. After all, customers could spread news of their discontent via word of mouth. In case that had happened, Butler harnessed the power of print in his efforts to dispel any lasting harm to his image. By issuing a mea culpa in a newspaper advertisement distributed far and wide in the colony, he encouraged prospective customers not to dismiss his workshop when they had need of a cutler’s services in the future. In this case, Butler advertised not only to incite demand but also to rehabilitate the reputation associated with the goods that came out of his workshop.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:20:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1767).

“He keeps neither negroes nor apprentices, but hires white journeymen.”

Donald Harper, a tailor, made a rather unique appeal to prospective customers in an advertisement in the November 20, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Unlike most of his competitors, he mentioned the assistants who worked for him, acknowledging that he was not solely responsible for all the garments produced in his shop. In the process, he underscored that “he keeps neither negroes nor apprentices, but hires white journeymen.”

What was Harper attempting to communicate to potential clients? From the distance of a quarter millennium, the racial aspect of this appeal may seem most prominent. It might be tempting to assume that since being fitted for clothing could be a rather intimate experience that required close personal contact that Harper suspected some customers would prefer not to interact with enslaved assistants. Yet other newspaper advertisements, as well as all kinds of other sources from the period, indicate that colonists had little objection to sharing spaces, even close quarters, with enslaved men, women, and children, provided that contact was temporary and that everyone behaved according to the expectations of prevailing social and racial hierarchies. The same issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, included advertisements for enslaved domestic servants, including seamstresses, cooks, and other “house wenches.” In serving white colonists, slaves became invisible and unremarkable, which would have made Harper’s marketing strategy out of place had his intention been exclusively to promote a workshop free of enslaved workers.

The advertisement might better be understood by noting that Harper relied on the labor of “neither negroes nor apprentices.” Instead, he “hires white journeymen,” an aspect of his business that he connected to clients “being served to their satisfaction” because the journeymen did their work “with the greatest dispatch and in the genteelest manner.” Seen through the eyes of eighteenth-century readers, Harper made an appeal to quality. He did not resort to untrained or barely trained workers, whether enslaved or apprenticed, but instead hired artisans who had demonstrated some level of skill and competence in order to achieve journeyman status. As a result, customers could depend on a certain level of quality when they chose to acquire garments from Harper’s workshop.