November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 28, 1770).

“Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

With a little over a month until the new year arrived, the number of advertisements for almanacs in colonial newspapers increased in late November 1769. Some printers and booksellers published elaborate notices, including a full-page advertisement for the New-England Almanack in the Providence Gazette, but others opted instead for brief notices. Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, chose the second method. The final advertisement in the November 28, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette announced that “Low’s Almanack, for 1770, is to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

By “Low’s Almanack” Hall meant An Astronomical Diary: or, Almanack for the year of Christian Æra, 1770 … Calculated for the Meridian of Boston, in New-England … but May Indifferently Serve Any Part of New-England, written by Nathanael Low, a “Student in Physic.” Hall did not produce the almanac in his printing office. The imprint indicated that it was “Printed and sold by Kneeland & Adams, in Milk-Street” in Boston, yet “Sold also by the printers and booksellers.” Hall served as a local agent and retailer for “Low’s Almanack, for 1770.”

Kneeland and Adams pursued their own advertising campaign, inserting a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on October 26 to inform prospective customers that the almanac would soon be available. “TO-MORROW will be Published,” they proclaimed, “An ASTRONOMICAL DIARY; Or, ALMANACK … By NATHANIEL LOW.” Their advertisement provided a preview of the contents as a means of enticing consumers to choose this almanac rather than the any of the others published in Boston. It contained the usual astronomical information, such as “Sun and Moon’s rising and setting” and “Moon’s Place,” as well as guides to “Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at” and “Courts in the four New-England Governments” and other useful reference information for the region. Other items were calculated to be both “very entertaining and instructive,” such as a “Dialogue between Heraclitus and Democritus, suited as near as possible to the Complexion of the Times” and a “brief Essay on Comets.” Yet Kneeland and Adams promised even more, concluding their list with a promise of “many other Things useful and entertaining” in the almanac.

Hall did not go to nearly the same lengths to promote “Low’s Almanack, for 1770” in his newspaper. Given the networks of exchange among newspaper printers, he would have seen advertisements for other almanacs, even if he did not happen to notice Kneeland and Adams’s advertisement for this particular almanac. In general, advertisements in the Essex Gazette, whether inserted by the printer or placed by others, tended to be streamlined compared to many that appeared in other newspapers. This may have made them easier for readers to navigate, but it limited the amount of information available to consumers.

September 29

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

Sep 29 - 9:29:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter Postscript
Postscript to the Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 29, 1768).

The Account contains some Particulars of his robbing Mr Davis’s Shop at Roxbury.”

Less than three weeks after Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers of the Connecticut Journal, first promoted a pamphlet about the “LIFE, and abominable THEFTS, of the notorious Isaac Frasier,” who had just been executed in Fairfield, printers in Boston ran an advertisement for the same pamphlet in the Postscript to the Boston Weekly News-Letter. It announced that the pamphlet was “JUST RE-PRINTED and Sold at Kneeland & Adams’s Printing Office in Milk-Street; and R. Draper’s Office in Newbury Street.” The Boston printers most likely sold a second edition produced by the Greens rather than one they printed themselves.

Just as the Greens had attempted to draw on popular interest in an event that had just occurred in their colony, the Boston printers adapted the advertisement to focus on a local connection. The contents of the pamphlet were certainly provocative already: an account given by the Frasier “(under Sentence of Death for Burglary) penned from his own Mouth, signed by him, a few Days before his Execution: With his dying SPEECH.” Yet some of the details were especially relevant to readers of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. The advertisement in that newspaper specified that “The Account contains some Particulars of his robbing Mr Davis’s Shop at Roxbury, and other Places in Roxbury, Boston, &c.” Furthermore, the contents of the pamphlet answered lingering questions about crimes that had occurred in Massachusetts. According to Anthony Vaver, author of Early American Criminals, the pamphlet recorded more than fifty thefts and burglaries committed by Frasier as he “toured all over New England and into New York, covering hundreds of miles at a time.” As far as his thefts in Roxbury, Boston, and other local towns were concerned, the advertisement stated, “The Articles that he stole are mentioned very particularly at his Desire, that the Owners may know the Articles taken by him, in order to exculpate others.” The pamphlet presented information about those thefts that would not otherwise appear in news coverage in the public prints. It offered an exclusive look at Frasier’s crime spree.

The printer-booksellers who sold the “brief Account” in Boston encouraged readers to simultaneously marvel at Frasier’s audacity and condemn his crimes. They transformed his narrative of his thefts and his “dying SPEECH” into a form of entertainment. In their promotion, they heralded the genre of true crime and its power to provoke interest and sell merchandise.