Interview with Guest Curator Kathryn J. Severance

Kathryn J. Severance has completed her second and final week as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project.  As we say farewell to her, let’s take a few moments to find out more about her  behind-the-scenes contributions to this project.

Adverts 250: This was your second week as guest curator.  How did it compare to the first time?  Did you make any changes to your research or writing process based on what you learned the first time?  

Kathryn J. Severance: I think that finding advertisements for this week was a lot more challenging. Also, I think that I had more of a vision in mind while looking for advertisements the first time that I curated, whereas this time I was a little bit more limited because there were fewer newspapers being published by my second Adverts 250 week. The first week in starting the process, I was kind of confused and did not do it correctly at first. Working with Prof. Keyes allowed me to learn how to correctly write posts and locate eighteenth-century advertisements to write about. He also instructed me a lot more the first week on where to go with my posts if I was unsure.

I think that during my second week, I knew how to look at an advertisement and come up with something to discuss. This is something that I learned in the process of doing the project. I also think that my Twitter work this week was a bit different than during my first session. I did more visual posts during my second week, while I did more word- and hashtag-based posts during my first week. I’ve found that people often respond well to visuals, so I’ve gravitated towards using visuals over words.

My research process was lengthier during my first week of curating. I think that this is because I was often unsure as to which resources to seek out. By my second week, I realized that Colonial Williamsburg has many strong resources that can be cited, so I often turned to that for background information. I was also, in general, better at avoiding less scholarly sources during my second week, though originally I did run into an issue before my final version of the post on the runaway Irish indentured servant man was done on Thursday. With advice from Prof. Keyes, I was able to fix this issue and locate a more scholarly and accurate source on the topic before it was posted.

Adverts 250: What is the most important or most interesting thing that you learned about early American history throughout the process of working on this project?  

Kathryn J. Severance: I think that coming across the Irish indentured servant advertisement from Thursday, April 14 was kind of jarring and interesting for me, as someone whose ancestors on my father’s side came from Ireland. My ancestors came to America much later, but in emigrating they experienced a lot of trying conditions and my great-great-grandfather worked at a dock for a very low wage. Though neither my great-grandfather nor his father were indentured servants, my connection with the Irish made me very interested in the subject of indentured servitude and the means by which many English companies sponsored settlers’ journeys to America, where, once they arrived, they would work for free for a period of time between four to six years to pay off their debt from traveling to America. Exploring the topic of indentured servants also made me realize that slavery was not the only form of unfree labor in place during the eighteenth century in America.

Adverts 250: What is the most important thing you learned about “doing history” as a result of working on this project?  

Kathryn J. Severance: I learned many different important things while taking part in the Adverts 250 project as a guest curator. The main thing that I learned about “doing history” while engaging in the processes associated with the project was that history is sometimes about a lot of trial and error and collaborating with fellow historians helps keep you on your toes and make your material stronger. Working with Prof. Keyes, who is well-versed in both colonial history and in using digital means to make history more accessible to the public and fellow historians, helped me gauge what sorts of advertisements would be the most interesting. It also helped me ensure that my historical discussions about the advertisements were accurate and that my references to online sources were correctly cited. Historiography is a very important part of “doing history” and I also found that the historians who responded to my Adverts 250 posts on Twitter provided interesting views, perspectives, and commentaries on the discussions.

Adverts 250: What is your favorite advertisement from your two weeks as guest curator?  Why?

Kathryn J. Severance: My favorite advertisement from my February week and my April week as guest curator is the Massachusetts Gazette advertisement that I featured on February 13, 2016. I thought it was very interesting to compare the list of goods to a modern-day yard sale. I think that making modern-day connections to historical things helps to engage audiences who are not historians to the project. In the field of history, comparisons tend to be something that is good for drumming up interest and helping the general public understand the differences between different societies and periods of time in history within a particular country. Also, I genuinely had fun researching and writing on the topic of indigo, a plant that was used to dye clothing blue, as blue is my favorite color and I’m glad that became an option for people in the Colonial period in America. I made a second reference to indigo in my second week as guest curator for my April 13 post.

Adverts 250:  Is there anything else you would like to share with visitors to the Adverts 250 Project?

Kathryn J. Severance: As a journalist, this project has taught me some interesting things about colonial newspapers. I feel that it has enriched my background on the print newspaper industry, something that I am very passionate about, even as someone who is part of a generation who has grown up using social media and other online resources. Using digital means to bring print newspaper history back is very valuable to both history and to journalism. I appreciate the fact that this project aids in keeping print culture alive, something that is sometimes a struggle in the twenty-first century. This opportunity has been something that will help to shape my overall understanding of the field of public history and the vast opportunities that are available within this field.


Thank you, Kathryn.  You’ve made some insightful contributions to the project.  As a Mass Communications major and History minor, you’ve brought a new perspective to our discussions in class.

Kathryn was recently inducted into the Assumption College chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the History Honor Society.  She continues to tweet at @yesterdaysnewsK.

April 16

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 16 - 4:14:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 14, 1766).

“All Sorts of Garden Seeds.”

This advertisement sold goods that had been imported from London. The goods featured included various types of garden seeds. The advertisement listed “Pease and Beans, … split Pease, Hemp, Rape and Canary Bird Seed, red Clover and Herds Grass Seed.” Peas and beans were eaten. Hemp was used for a variety of things, including making rope. Rapeseed was a yellow flowering plant used as birdseed in colonial America, though it was used in China and Africa as a vegetable. Canary seed was used in conjunction with rapeseed for birdseed. Grass seed was used for planting grass and feeding livestock.

Apr 16 - Rapeseed

During the eighteenth century, the vegetables and herbs that were prepared, served, and eaten were often grown in home gardens. Due to the fact that settlers were still arriving and settling in, there were not many strong strains of familiar plants available, so plant seeds were imported from England. Colonial American gardens were grown in the style of European gardens due to the fact that inhabitants arrived to the colonies from Europe and were used to practicing garden cultivation in this manner. Most plants grown in the Colonies came from heirloom strains, indicating that they were species that had been passed down for many generations. A Colonial Williamsburg study has revealed that today all eighteenth-century varieties of broccoli, cabbage, and kale are extinct and no longer grown, though a great many other eighteenth-century vegetables are still grown at different locations throughout the United States.

For more information on cultivating a garden using early American techniques and understandings, attend out Old Sturbridge Village’s Garden Thyme: Vermicomposting event at 10 A.M. today or other Garden Thyme events offered the third Saturday of every month.



Apr 16 - Good News 4:14:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 14, 1766).

In addition to “All Sorts of Garden Seeds,” Bethiah Oliver sold “a general Assortment of Glass, Delph and Stone Ware, Lynn Shoes, best Bohea Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, and all other Groceries” that had been “Imported in the last Ships from London.” As we have seen in recent weeks, when it came to consumer culture colonists had a complicated relationship with England in 1765 and 1766. The protests concerning the Stamp Act spilled over into advertisements, sometimes as advertisers promoted locally produced goods and other times when they gave directions to their shops that invoked familiarity with recent events (such as stating that a shop was located “Near Liberty-Bridge“). Many colonists were energized to boycott goods imported from Britain, hoping to gain English merchants – who were represented in Parliament – as allies as politics and commerce converged.

On the other hand, many advertisements in 1765 and 1766, including today’s advertisement from Bethiah Oliver, continued to use formulaic language: “Imported in the last Ships from London.” Those ships transported more than just consumer goods. They also carried news from the center of the British Empire, including news of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Oliver’s advertisements appeared on the final page of this issue of the Boston Evening-Post. The previous page included an article that announced the “Good News!” It also demonstrates how the “glorious News of the Repeal of the STAMP-ACT” spread throughout the colonies as vessels moved from port to port, bringing letters and newspapers that were then printed or reprinted. Still, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post knew that they did not yet have the entire story: “We hear a Packet was to sail from Falmouth for New York about the 11th of February, so that we may daily expect some further Particulars of this interesting affair.” Ships from England continued to bring more goods, but they also brought more news.

Bethiah Oliver advertised “All Sorts of Garden Seeds” to customers who continued in the seasonal rhythms of colonial life. I wonder if more potential customers might have seen her advertisement as they scrambled to read the news for themselves. Even if that was not the case, her commercial notice offers a glimpse of everyday life continuing even as momentous news unfolded.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 15 - 4:14:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (April 14, 1766).


This advertises goods, more specifically, household furniture and kitchen items from the home of the late Captain Morley Harison. This “public Vendue” was different from some others due to the fact that an individual had passed away, which contrasts with “public Vendue” of goods in the scenario when people were moving away. This advertisement does not provide a complete listing of the “HOUSEHOLD AND KITCHEN FURNITURE” that would be sold, unlike the advertisement from February 10 for “House Furniture” that I previously featured.

Both modern-day and eighteenth-century kitchens contained tools that can be used to prepare food and aid in cooking. Modern technologies have changed the nature of kitchens and changed the processes involved in food preparation, meaning that unlike in the eighteenth century, women are not forced to spend all day in the kitchen to provide meals for the family. Innovations such as ovens, crockpots, and microwaves mean that food can be heated up and ready to serve without someone having to stir a pot all day.

Instead of having a stove to cook the meals, boil water, and heat things up, eighteenth-century kitchens were outfitted with a hearth for cooking. The hearth was a recess in the wall that was placed at the bottom of a chimney. Colonists used a contained fire in the hearth to cook food. A spit, a tool that held a pot or tea kettle over a fire, aided in boiling water. Flavor could be added to foods because of the mortar and pestle, a tool comprised of a sturdy bowl and a heavy stick that was used to crush and grind dried herbs and corn for meal preparation.

To share this information with young historians, here’s a lesson plan that outlines how to make historically-accurate comparisons between colonial and modern-day American kitchens.



I appreciate the way that Kathryn uses a brief reference to “HOUSEHOLD AND KITCHEN FURNITURE” to explore how kitchens have changed since the colonial period, in terms of both the types of equipment found in them and the labor involved in meal preparation. As she notes, a variety of technologies have reduced the amount of time we devote to preparing food.

We should not assume, however, that modern Americans hold a monopoly on devising ways to save time and reduce labor in the kitchen. Colonists also relied on a variety of technological innovations, though some of them seem quite antiquated or quaint to us today. Every time I have visited Fortress Louisbourg I have been mesmerized by the eighteenth-century spit jack in the kitchen of one of the homes in the village – and I was not only the one. Many visitors seemed as interested by everyday life and the tools used by settlers as they were excited to explore the military aspects of the fortress.

Apr 15 - Spit Jack
Spit Jack from the Collections of Colonial Williamsburg.

So, what is a spit jack? Meat was often cooked on a spit, but the spit had to be turned constantly in order to evenly cook the meat. (Think of rotisserie cooking today). This involved a fair amount of labor. Somebody from the household – the wife, a child, or a servant or slave – had to spend hours turning the spit. Mechanization made this unnecessary, freeing up that labor to be directed elsewhere. A mechanized spit turner – known as a spit jack – used a system of pulleys and weights to accomplish what otherwise would have done manually.

To see a spit jack in action, watch this video from Thomas Ironworks.

April 14

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (April 14, 1766).

This advertisement is not for goods or services, but instead a runaway advertisement. William Darlington hoped that someone would find his twenty-six-year-old “Irish Servant Man, Named CONNOR O“ROURK”. He went on to describe the servant’s physical features, which brings up the fact that missing person advertisements from the eighteenth century could not actually feature a photo of the missing person. You can probably understand the limitations that this posed. Today’s society is often very visual, but in the eighteenth century it was common for advertisements to not have any visuals to accompany them.

The Irish man in the advertisement was an indentured servant, whose labor was owned by the man who put out the advertisement. The concept of indentured servitude is that an individual or an individual’s family member agrees, through the signing of a contract, to give a person’s labor (and personal freedoms) over to a “master” for a certain period of time, in which the servant was to provide service, which would help pay off a debt. During the seventeenth century, the Virginia Company was responsible for founding indentured servitude as a means of payment for transportation of those who could not afford to pay for their own way to North America. Colonial indentured servitude and the slave trade were both forms of labor in which individuals could not choose to stop working for their master. This means that they were also not allowed to leave their master’s location, meaning that many indentured servants and slaves who went missing had attempted to escape the limitations of their conditions by running away.

For a lesson designed to introduce middle school students to indentured servitude and slavery, check out this link from Teaching American History in South Carolina.



Indentured servants are part of my world. Not literally, of course, but to me they are a familiar part of the American colonial experience and the past that has unfolded into the present. I sometimes forget just how foreign the past can be to others who do not spend as much time in the eighteenth century as I do. The differences between then and now manifest themselves in so many different ways, from something as mundane as the long S in eighteenth-century texts (which I no longer notice, but the guest curators brought to my attention earlier this week as a challenge they encountered in just reading advertisements and other parts of the newspaper for this project) to entire systems of economic and social organization that structured everyday life and interaction in the colonies.

Systems of unfree labor – slavery, indentured servitude, apprenticeships – fall into that latter category. They offer potent evidence of change over time. We live and work in a much different world today than our eighteenth-century ancestors. Our memories of that world have faded unevenly. From our readings (from the excellent Slavery and Public History) and discussions about slavery in our Public History course throughout the semester, we have reached the conclusion that most Americans are aware that slavery existed at some point in the American past, but, for the most part, they do not know much about slavery and its impact on slaves and slaveholders or the major political, social, and economic contours of American history.

Anecdotally (based on both everyday conversations and nearly a decade of teaching), it seems that the average person on the street knows even less about other forms of unfree labor, including indentured servitude. (Even the program I am using to compose this passage does not recognize “unfree” as a real word. Scholars of early America use it regularly, once again demonstrating that we sometimes live in a very different world.) As other scholars have noted, all too often people imagine a stark divide between European settlers and enslaved Africans in colonial America, not realizing that many of the “lower sorts” among European colonists were exploited for their labor and (temporarily) belonged to masters. We may not know all of the details of Connor O’Rourk’s story – why he became an indentured servant and why he chose to run away from his master – but, as Kathryn notes, both slaves and indentured servants sought freedom by running away. Many students are surprised to learn that indentured servants existed at all. Their presence certainly complicates the story of the colonial experience.

April 13

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 13 - 4:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 11, 1766).

“John Hickey, SILK-DYER and SCOWERER … continues to carry on his Business.”

In this advertisement John Hickey advertised his silk-dying business to the public. It seems that his shop has been set up for some time “near the Canoe-Bridge in Portsmouth.” This advertisement focuses on the color blue as one of the silk-dyer’s colors that he could dye. As I mentioned in February when I guest curated, the use of indigo allowed for textiles to be dyed blue.

For a period of time, fabrics used to make clothing and other items were imported from Europe. In 1750 however, Americans moved toward becoming more independent and self-sufficient by starting to produce their own fabric on a larger scale. Silk-dying in colonial America was part of the vast textile field that existed at the time. Unlike wool fabric, which was made of thread spun from the wool of sheep, silk was a fabric that had to be imported. For this reason, it was more of a luxury textile. Silk was produced much differently from wool, as it was spun by silk worms. In the eighteenth century, silk was imported mostly from China, where the silk worms are naturally found, but it was also imported from the English, who had ventured into the silk-production trade during the thirteenth century. England’s climate was not as ideal as China’s for the worms and, as a result, they often produced less. For information about how silk was produced, read this article from the Mansfield Historical Society.



Kathryn has chosen an advertisement that offers glimpses of the production and use of different sorts of textiles in colonial America. In listing his occupation as “SILK-DYER and SCOWERER,” John Hickey announced to potential customers that he was capable of working with fabrics made of both silk and wool. As Kathryn indicates, silk was most often imported, though colonists experimented with cultivating silkworms from the earliest days of settlement. Over time, as Americans gained political independence, they also increased their efforts to achieve commercial and economic independence through producing silk in the late eighteenth century.

Hickey did not work exclusively with silk. In his advertisement he underscored that as a “SCOWERER” he “takes in Cloth, to Full and Dress, and does all other Branches of his Business.” In so doing, he emphasized his extensive expertise and experience. Rather than scowerer, Hickey might have listed his occupation as fuller, tucker, or walker. All of these referenced the fulling business, the part of the process of making woolen cloth that involved cleansing the cloth to eliminate oils and dirt. As a result of fulling, woolen cloth also became thicker. Fullers often operated mills that used water wheels, which helps to explain why Hickey “carr[ied] on his Business near the Canoe-Bridge.”

By stating that “does all other Branches of his Business,” Hickey assured potential customers of his skill and competence in working with both silk and woolen fabrics.

April 12

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 12 - 4:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 11, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD … the following BOOKS.”

This advertisement sold different types of books, from Bibles (“royal Families Bibles”) to history books and geography (“Histories of the late War” and “History of Austria”), a science book (“Winkler’s natural Philosophy”), and sets of books about warfare (“Sieges and Battles”) to novels. (Skome also sold Stoughton’s Elixir, a patent medicine.)

The advertisement also mentions “Stackhouse’s Life of Christ, Folio.” In today’s world, “folio” refers to the page numbers that appear in books. However, in the eighteenth century, a folio was a type of book that was larger than average and also more expensive, made of a piece of paper that had been folded just once, resulting in two pages. Other book sizes included quartos, octavos, and duodecimals. Quartos are slightly smaller than folios due to the fact that the paper that was used to form them was folded four times instead of two. Octavos are even smaller, as the paper used to form them has been folded eight times. Duodecimals are even smaller than octavos since they have twelve pages per sheet. One famous example of a work that was distributed as a folio was a 1623 edition of Shakespeare’s works.

For more information on the history of books, check out this syllabus for an online course on “The Book: 1450 to the Present.”



The eighteenth century was an age of revolutions. This blog explores the consumer revolution every day, one advertisement at a time. In many instances, the guest curators and I have linked the appeals made in those advertisements to the political revolution brewing in England’s American colonies. Today’s advertisement, however, called attention to another revolution that occurred throughout the eighteenth century.

Note that Skome’s lists several kinds of reading material, starting with bibles and other devotional works and concluding with “A Number of curious and entertaining NOVELS.” A number of histories, geographies, and other reference works appeared in the middle of the list. In choosing to list his titles in this order, Skome created a hierarchy that reflected many colonists’ attitudes toward the reading materials available to them, including a suspicion and hostility toward novels.

So, what does this have to do with some kind of revolution? A revolution in reading took place during the eighteenth century. Colonists’ reading habits shifted from intensive reading of a small number of printed works – primarily bibles and other texts about religion – to extensive reading of a great number of genres, including histories, travelogues, economics, poetry and other literature, and novels. The consumer revolution and the reading revolution converged as colonists purchased and read a greater variety of books than bibles and almanacs.

This greater variety included “curious and entertaining NOVELS.” Some colonists were not happy with that development, even as they cultivated an appreciation for other printed works. Most books possessed at least some redeeming content, but critics believed that the fictional tales of romance and scandal in novels promoted salacious behavior in real life. Such critiques had a gendered component as well: in a patriarchal society, many men worried about what kinds of ideas women and girls might develop when left to their own devices to read possibly unsavory novels without appropriate supervision.

April 11

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 11 - 4:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 11, 1766).

“Jam. & Mat. Haslet, Leather Dressers from Boston.”

This advertisement showcases the opening of a leatherwork “Factory” in Portsmouth that would sell leather products (wholesale to shop owners or retail to consumers) by James and Mathew Haslet, who were “Leather Dressers.” In colonial America, a leather dresser was a tradesman who spent the workday obtaining and then tanning various animal hides (this advertisement mentions deer and moose). These hides would be used to craft various items, including gloves and breeches, as the advertisement mentions. Other items that were crafted from leather mainly consisted of shoes, saddlebags, and belts. It should be noted that shoes were actually put together by tradesmen known as cobblers.

Many tradesmen who were leather dressers actually left England and migrated to the thirteen colonies to provide leather goods and leather dressing services to the inhabitants of the colonies. Unlike in colonial days, in today’s society, products made to imitate leather are actually more commonly found in American homes than are authentic leather products. Of course, imitation leather was not available to the inhabitants of the thirteen colonies, which meant that the toiling process and expertise associated with leather dressing made tradesmen with these skills a necessary part of society.

For more information on leather workers, especially in colonial Virginia, check out this research report from the Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library.



The Haslets mentioned gloves twice in their advertisement: “Buckskin and Sheepskin Gloves” and “The neatest Mode Gloves for Funerals.” In so doing, they suggest that the former were intended for everyday use but the latter were reserved for the rituals of mourning the dead.

What may not be apparent to modern readers was that “Gloves for Funerals” were intended for the living, not for the deceased. Although the practice declined after the Revolution, in colonial New England families distributed gloves to mourners who attended the funerals of their loved ones. For families from more humble backgrounds this usually meant giving away a handful (pun intended!) of gloves, but wealthier families sometimes distributed hundreds of pairs of gloves. This ritual occurred only occasionally at the beginning of the eighteenth century, but it became a common and expected part of funerals by the 1760s. Elite families distributed funeral gloves to acknowledge their relationships with each other, but also to demonstrate their commitment to the communities of which they were part.

Distributing funeral gloves became a status symbol by the end of the colonial period. It also became a competition and a form of conspicuous consumption that sometimes garnered criticism as an inappropriate expression of luxury. After the Revolution, large-scale glove-giving declined as elites and others forged new relationships as new rhetoric of egalitarianism emerged. Today, the practice of giving away funeral gloves to mourners is little more than a distant memory of our colonial past, not a standard part of our funeral rituals.

For a more extensive examination of funeral gloves, I recommend: Steven C. Bullock and Sheila McIntyre, “The Handsome Tokens of a Funeral: Glove-Giving and the Large Funeral in Eighteenth-Century New England,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 69, no. 2 (April 2012): 305-346.

April 10

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 10 - 4:10:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 10, 1766)

“Public Vendue. This Day, the 10th April, Will be Sold … A Great Variety of ENGLISH GOODS.”

This advertisement is obviously much shorter than many of those that were featured last week, but it should not be overlooked because its mention of selling goods that were imported to Boston from England is worth exploring. Settlers from England first occupied American soil in the sixteenth century, though it was not until the seventeenth century that the first successful English colonies were established in the parts of America that are known today as the Chesapeake (in 1607) and New England (in 1620).

During the colonial period, goods were sent by ship to ports in Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, or New York from England. America’s dependence on imports from England and throughout the British Empire helped bolster England’s trade-based mercantilist economy. Tea was one example of an imported item commonly sold in colonial America. In response to the 1765 Stamp Act colonists threatened to stop importing items from England.

Check out this video to learn more about the economic developments of the thirteen colonies and overseas trade. (You will have to register for a free trial to watch the entire video.)



Kathryn has selected an advertisement that allows us to explore colonial commerce along multiple trajectories. The reference to “ENGLISH GOODS” prompts modern readers less familiar with mercantilism and trading patterns throughout the early modern Atlantic world and beyond to gain better familiarity with the networks of commerce and exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic and the globe, as well as the policies to regulate such trade enacted by the English government. In and of itself, this is an important topic for students just learning about colonial America to explore.

For others with more familiarity with the contours of trade and commerce in early America, this advertisement offers an interesting glimpse of the intersections of print culture, marketing goods, and “Public Vendue” sales. This advertisement seems especially timely given that I discussed eighteenth-century book catalogues just two days ago. (That post featured John Mein’s advertisement that filled almost an entire page in the April 3, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. It appeared again in the April 10 issue, from which Kathryn selected today’s advertisement.)

Note that today’s advertisement promises that “Printed Catalogues will be timely dispersed by J. Russell, Auctioneer.” Rather than publish a list of goods up for sale in a newspaper advertisement, Russell turned to another printed medium. I wonder about the means of “dispers[ing]” these catalogues. I am also curious about how consumers would have read and used them. Like many other advertisements, this one raises as many questions about print culture and consumption as it answers.

Occasionally I see references to these sorts of catalogues, but not enough to make me believe they were standard practice for vendue sales in colonial America. Since they were ephemeral items not many seem to have survived. (Once the semester ends and I have more time to spend in the archive, I plan to do a more systematic search for such items. Here’s another interesting example of how this collaborative project with my students has helped to shape my research agenda.)

I think it is also worth noting that the “Public Vendue” was scheduled to take place “at the Store under Green & Russell’s Printing Office.” John Green and Joseph Russell were the printers of the Massachusetts Gazette. This advertisement also indicates that “J. Russell” served as “Auctioneer.” I suspect that printers who also ran vendues were more likely than other auctioneers to create and disperse “Printed Catalogues” to promote their sales. I have devoted an entire chapter of my book manuscript to arguing that printers were the vanguard of advertising innovation in eighteenth-century America. Here we see one more example.

Reflections from Guest Curator Kathryn J. Severance

In the process of guest curating the Adverts 250 Project for my Public History class this week, I learned a great deal about conducting historical research. In doing so, I gained knowledge about the processes associated with “doing” history and about how historians take their research and compile it into something that the public can enjoy. In my time spent researching eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, I came to understand the intricate research process associated with public history projects. I learned that in presenting my work to the public, I need to find ways to engage an audience that may consist of individuals with varying historical backgrounds. I experienced some challenges in the process of doing this project, though I also found it a very rewarding project to take part in. This project initially seemed like it was more of a challenge than it turned out to be for me.

I aimed my posts towards a broad audience and hoped that my posts would interest both historians and the general public, rather than exclusively the historical crowd. Instead, my hope was that people from all backgrounds could be engaged by my work. I think that history is something that should never be exclusive, but instead, always something that is created in a way that the general public can access without issue. I like this project because I was able to find materials and then share them with a broader audience who may not have otherwise been able to access or view the materials. I also like to make connections to the present day whenever possible, as I feel as though this helps historical material feel real and relevant in today’s world.

I encountered some challenges in my journey to accomplish the project. One of these challenges was time. I tend to overbook my time, from having two jobs, including a paid part-time job and an internship as a reporter, to being a full-time student and social media director for Assumption’s Odyssey group. This means that sometimes I skim over details. The first set of advertisements I chose were from the incorrect week and I had to conduct research again in order to correct my error. However, I did not allow this to make me dislike the project, or to make me feel as though I could not handle the project. I allowed the challenges of the project to fuel my work.

The most rewarding part of the Adverts 250 Project for me, personally, was finding different aspects of the advertisements to research. As a journalist, I thoroughly enjoy the processes associated with researching in general, but in this case it was even more interesting due to the fact that the topics I was researching were based in the eighteenth century, whereas in journalism, the topics I research are often something that occurred during the current century. I had to be innovative with my research methods because in some cases materials on a certain topic would not be readily available, due to their age. This meant I needed to think differently and find a way to break down the advertisement’s text into smaller parts. I was careful to only check out sources that were legitimate and historically accurate to prevent blogging about anything that might include questionable facts. I think that enjoying doing this project helped make it simpler and faster than I had originally expected that it might be.

When I first heard about this project, it seemed interesting, but also like a lot of work. This concerned me because I have a fairly busy schedule this semester and I’m already doing lots of research and writing for my internship at the newspaper. I love to learn as much about history as I can and this project served as a cause for me to do some research on topics within Colonial America that I might not have otherwise ever explored. This project is a wonderful experience for college students to take part in and I wish the other guest curators the very best of luck in their week.



Thank you, Kathryn, for selecting wonderful advertisements this week.  Your choices often challenged me to think about certain types of advertisements and the appeals they made in new ways.  Kathryn will be returning for another week later in the semester.

February 13

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Feb 13 - Massachusetts Gazette 2:13:1766
Massachusetts Gazette (February 13, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD By Andrews and Domett At Store No. 1. opposite the Swing Bridge, South Side the Town Dock.”

Andrews and Domett marketed bags of cocao, cotton, brown sugar, redwood, copper, chalk, iron hollow ware, flour, indigo, Bohea tea (an item advertised often during Colonial times, previously featured on Adverts 250), chocolate,  mustard, snuff, pipes, soap, flax, and rice. Each of these items are interesting on their own, so I chose a few of the items to focus on which some might not recognize, as they are not commonplace items during the twenty-first century, though they were in eighteenth-century America.

I did not recognize “Iron hollow Ware.” I hypothesized that this item was a type of Colonial dishware. Of course, this lack of knowledge led to an investigation. Iron hollow ware was a type of cooking pot that was made from cast iron. Today there are many individuals who collect this and other Colonial cookware for their personal home collections as a hobby. To learn more about “Iron hollow Ware” consult this book.

Feb 13 - Indigo in Bucket

Another item on the list of goods in the advertisement that I find intriguing, is the “French Prize Indigo.” Indigo is a powder derived from plants that was utilized during Colonial times as a dye to create blue clothing. Its importance was high, as blue was a highly desirable color for clothing, despite the fact that it could only be derived from indigo plants at this time. In appearance, it was a blue powder which is derived from the leguminous plant of the Indigofera genus, a plant that has over 300 identifiable known species in the world. Only two varieties of this plant are used to make indigo, including the indigofera tinctoria, which is native to both India and Asia, and the indigofera suffructiosa, which is native to South and Central America. Due to the fact that indigo was an import, it would likely be one of the more pricey items on the list in the advertisement. The University of Minnesota has an excellent historical account of “Indigo in the Early Modern World.”

During the late nineteenth century, German chemist Adolf von Baeyer created synthetic indigo and production of the synthetic dye began during the early twentieth century. Research about formulating a chemical composition for synthetic indigo was furthered due to the fact that dyes derived from natural indigo were not a significant enough source due to the rise of its use within the nineteenth-century clothing industry. The color of indigo is always a blue hue, but use of different amounts of indigo can result in a variety of shades that the substance produces when using it for dying.



Kathryn focuses on some of the goods marketed to colonial consumers. Each item stocked by Andrews and Domett merits its own investigation. What, for instance, distinguished “Castile & Crown Soap” from each other? Colonial consumers certainly would have known, but as Kathryn points out many of the goods commonly advertised and purchased in the eighteenth century are no longer as familiar to twenty-first century consumers. Advertisements are often classified or catalogued as ephemera (especially advertising media other than newspapers, such as handbills, trade cards, or billheads), but consumer goods had their own ephemeral qualities as well.

In addition to the items for sale, I am interested in the format of this advertisement. Rather than listing their wares in a single, dense paragraph, Andrews and Domett utilized two columns with only one item per line, making it easier for potential customers to identify items of interest. The advertisement also strategically includes fonts of different sizes as well as capitals and italics. Why did “CHOICE COCAO” and “A few Quintals choice Dumb Fish” receive special treatment in this advertisement? Did Andrews and Domett imagine that these would be especially popular with customers once they knew these items were available? Or perhaps these items had been overstocked and tied up too many of the shopkeepers’ resources. Did they merit special attention in the advertisement because the shopkeepers needed to sell them most quickly?

I also wonder who made some of the decisions about the format of the advertisement. To what extent did Andrews and Domett describe to the printer how they wished their advertisement to appear in the newspaper? Did they give detailed instructions about columns, font size, and type? Vague or general instructions? No instructions at all? Advertisements like this one may testify to the creativity of the printer as much as the marketing savvy of the advertisers.