August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 8, 1769).

“ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMITLON … are requested … to make Payment.”

Colonists had many opportunities to shape the contents of eighteenth-century newspapers. Printers called on the public to submit “Articles and Letters of Intelligence,” many of them even reiterating this invitation weekly by embedding it in the colophon inserted in every issue (as was the case for William Goddard and the Pennsylvania Chronicle as well as John Carter and the Providence Gazette). Colonists also sent editorials and responses to items they saw published in the newspaper.

Colonists had other opportunities to shape the news beyond submitting editorials and “Letters of Intelligence” for printers to select or discard. Placing advertisements allowed them to distribute important information about local events which printers otherwise would not have incorporated into their newspapers. Consider the advertisements in the August 8, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Several legal notices advised readers of events taking place in Salem and elsewhere in Massachusetts. For many readers, these notices had as much impact on their daily lives as coverage of “the honourable House of Representatives of this Province” gathering to drink toasts on the occasion of “the happy Anniversary of the Birth of our most gracious Sovereign” or the list of resolutions drawn up by “merchants, planters and other inhabitants of South-Carolina” who signed their own nonimportation agreement in late July.

One legal notice advised, “ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMILTON, late of Salem, Merchant, deceased, are requested, without Delay, to make Payment of the Sums, respectively due, to Archibald Wilson, … Administrator of said Estate.” Those who did not settle accounts with Wilson could expect to suffer the consequences. The administrator stated that they would be “sued immediately” if they did not comply. Coverage of colonial legislators drinking toasts to “The KING, QUEEN, and ROYAL FAMILY” and “The Restoration of Harmony between Great Britain and the Colonies” gave readers a sense of the current political landscape in their colony. News of residents of Charleston adopting their own nonimportation agreement similar to those already in place in Boston and New York contributed made readers better informed about the intersection of commerce and politics throughout the colonies. Yet Archibald Wilson threatening to sue anyone indebted to the estate of Arthur Hamilton would have had the most immediate and consequential impact on some households that received the Essex Gazette.

Colonists could not dismiss the portion of newspapers devoted to advertising as ancillary; instead, they had to read both the items selected by the printer and advertisements submitted by fellow colonists in order to become aware of all “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic” promised in the masthead of the Essex Gazette and so many other eighteenth-century newspapers.

October 3

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

Oct 3 - 10:3:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 3, 1767).

“The TOWN COUNCIL … will meet … to grant Licenses for keeping Taverns, Ale-Houses, and retailing Wines, and all Sorts of strong Liquors.”

Colonists placed advertisements of all sorts in eighteenth-century newspapers. Although the Adverts 250 Project focuses primarily on the marketing of consumer goods and services and the commodification of enslaved men, women, and children, other kinds of advertisements merit occasional consideration as well. Various legal notices appeared next to, above, and below advertisements placed by merchants, retailers, and advertisers, undifferentiated from each other in an era before printers and publishers devised any sort of classification system to organize the paid notices in their newspapers. In addition, some eighteenth-century advertisements with multiple purposes defied easy categorization.

John Cole’s advertisement in the October 3, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette, however, had a single purpose. Cole, the president of the town council inserted the notice to inform residents of the port that the council would meet on the following Tuesday “in order to grant Licences for keeping Taverns, Ale-Houses, and retailing Wines, and all Sorts of strong Liquors.” On behalf of the council, he instructed anyone who wished to receive a license to “make Application” at the appointed time and place. He also issued a warning, noting that “the Laws of this Colony are extreamly, tho’ justly, severe.” Accordingly, those who operated “Public Houses” without being licensed by the council would be “prosecuted with the utmost Rigour.” Good order had to be maintained.

This legal notice indicates some of the parameters for participating in commerce in the colonial period. Cole and the town council did not promote consumption of particular “Wines, and all Sorts of strong Liquors,” but they did oversee the mechanisms for retailers and tavern-keepers to sell such beverages legally. Other advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers regularly included imported wines and spirits, signaling that those entrepreneurs had already been through the process of appearing before the town council to receive a license. Otherwise, their advertisements would have alerted local authorities that they flouted the law. Those who sold wines and liquors had to live up to certain responsibilities. Today’s advertisement suggests that maintaining commercial order also played an important role in maintaining social order.

March 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Mar 2 - 2:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

“AS many Persons Licenced to sell Spirituous LIQUORS … have neglected to render their Accounts of Sale of such Liquors.”

During the eighteenth century in North America the production and distribution of rum was becoming increasingly popular. In 1733, Great Britain enacted the Molasses Act as apart of the Navigation Acts. The Molasses Act imposed a tax on molasses, sugar, and rum imported to the colonies. This act was largely ignored by the colonists and loosely enforced by the British. Several years later it was replaced by the Sugar Act of 1764. This act was designed to impose taxes at half of the rate that the Molasses Act did, but be strictly enforced. Many of these acts were put into place to rescue Britain from the enormous debt it had allotted during the Seven Years War, although the colonists did not respond well to Britain’s acts. Many of the colonists felt that they were not responsible for the debt Britain had acquired over the Seven Years War and were reluctant to give in.

In addition, colonists were used to taxing themselves, such as through the local excise tax George Jaffrey mentions in this advertisement threatening prosecution against colonists who had been cheating the taxes. Advertisements like the one here are interesting because they were a broad way for officials to address the public without physical confrontation that could result in further uproar and unrest. As the local receiver of the colony’s excise taxes, Jaffrey made it known to colonists that they were no longer to break the law and go unnoticed and that they must now reconcile their actions or face prosecution.  He took this action at the same time Parliament cracked down on colonists with the Sugar Act.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Colonists were indeed accustomed to raising revenues through taxes they assessed internally via their colonial legislatures, which helps to explain why they bristled so much when Parliament stepped in and attempted to enact and better enforce new methods of raising revenues through collecting taxes throughout the empire.

Edward J. Perkins compiled a list of the “Types of Domestic Taxes, 1763-1775” enacted locally by colonial assemblies in the period between the Seven Years War and the Revolution.[1] Examining the many kinds of taxes colonists already paid (or were expected to pay but often avoided, as Jaffrey’s notice indicated) offers additional context for understanding why they reacted so vehemently to Parliament’s new efforts to tax and regulate the colonial economy in the 1760s and 1770s.

  • Land – unimproved: Rhode Island, Pennsylvania
  • Land – assed value: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey
  • Land – per acre: Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia
  • Other property – assessed: Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Carolina
  • Excise – liquor, etc. – New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina
  • Merchant profits – Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, South Carolina
  • Import – finished goods: Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia
  • Import – slaves: New York, Maryland, South Carolina
  • Export – tobacco: Maryland, Virginia
  • Poll – flat: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina
  • Poll – linked to wealth: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
  • Poll – discriminatory toward free blacks: South Carolina, Georgia

The advertisements in this particular issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette indicate that “Persons Licenced to sell Spirituous LIQUORS” were not the only people who neglected to settle up their accounts. The printers inserted this notice, stating that “there is a much larger Sum owing for News-Papers, Advertisement, &c., than they can afford to lay out any longer.” They called on debtors to “immediately settle and pay off old Arrears” and, not unlike Jaffrey, the printers threatened “such Measures being taken, as will be … disagreeable” to those who did not pay.

NH Gaz 2:28:1766 Notice from Printers
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

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[1] Edward J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 191.