October 27

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

Oct 27 - 10:27:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 27, 1768).

“A grand set of Fire-works.”

The proprietors of Ranelagh Garden advertised leisure activities, especially fireworks displays, to colonists in New York and the surrounding area throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 1768. As October drew to a close, they announced plans for “a grand Set of Fire-Works” for “the last Time for the Season.” The proprietors planned to go out with a bang, literally, by presenting a program that included “a Variety of Pieces, several of them in an intire new and elegant Taste.” The “Pieces” did not consist primarily of projectiles launched into the air and visible from some distance. Instead, they amounted to an ornamental design created by igniting devices filled with gunpowder and other combustible chemicals.

The show took place in four stages, each with a display even grander the previous. Indeed, the descriptions of the “FIRST FIRING” through the “FOURTH FIRING” became increasingly elaborate. The first, for instance, presented a “beautiful Cascade of different Fires,” but the grand finale consisted of “An illuminated Statue of Harlequin flying on a Cord, with a Fire Tube in his right Hand, which will set fire to an Italian Candle, I the right Hand of a Figure representing Columbine; which Figure will communicate Fire to an Horizontal Wheel, by which she will be turned round, backwards and forwards several Times. The Whole to conclude with the Flight of Harlequin, to the Place from whence he came, and several large double and single Rockets.”

This entire program was a show that colonists would be disappointed to miss, not only because it happened to be the last of the season. Several of the pieces had not “ever been exhibited here before,” including “A new Piece representing a large and beautiful Palm Tree, with three large Chinese Fountains, on the Top curiously decorated.” One of the most elaborate displays depicted “a magnificent Pavilion, with three Fronts beautifully embellished, with Illuminations, Chinese and Venetian Fountains, Italian Candles, and Diamonds, with the Letters G.R. under an illuminated Crown.” The initials stood for George Rex, a Latin appellation for George III. Colonists participated in entertainments that honored the monarch even as they quarreled with Parliament over the quartering of troops in Boston and the imposition of taxes on paper, glass, and other goods throughout the colonies.

Among the many advertisements for consumer goods that crowded New York’s newspapers, other notices promoted leisure activities. They marketed experiences to colonists who had the time and the means to partake in them. Along with pleasure gardens, spas, and inns, the fireworks at Ranelagh Gardens were part of an incipient tourism and hospitality industry that emerged as part of the consumer revolution in the second half of the eighteenth century.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (June 20, 1768).

“The commodious Inn, in Princeton, long known by the name of the Hudibras.”

As spring turned to summer in 1768, the number of advertisements aimed at travelers and others seeking entertainment during moments of leisure increased compared to the frequency of their appearance throughout the winter. Josiah Davenport placed advertisements in newspapers published in both Philadelphia and New York when he opened the Bunch of Grapes inn and tavern in Philadelphia, extending an invitation to locals and travelers alike. The proprietors of Ranelagh Gardens advertised a series of fireworks exhibitions in newspapers printed in New York. Samuel Fraunces simultaneously promoted food, lodgings, and entertainment at Vauxhall Garden, an alternative destination on the outskirts of New York City. An advertisement in the June 20 supplement to the Boston Evening-Post announced that the “Waters of Jackson’s Spaw are now in a good Degree of Perfection,” the first notice concerning “Jackson’s Mineral Well” that appeared in Boston’s newspapers since the previous summer. On the same day, Jacob Hyer inserted an advertisement for the “commodious Inn” he recently opened in Princeton, New Jersey, in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Especially in northern colonies, readers encountered seasonal advertisements from an emerging hospitality and tourism industry in the late colonial period.

Hyer had a particular advantage working in his favor when it came to attracting guests to his tavern and inn, the Hudibras. Like many of his counterparts, he had “furnished the House with the best of Liquors” as well as “the best Provisions he can Procure.” Unlike his competitors, however, “the Stage-Waggons from New-York to Philadelphia and back, put up at his House.” This likely increased his clientele since passengers became guests, making it less necessary to advertise. On the other hand, Hyer may have believed that alerting residents of New York to the various amenities at the Hudibras could influence their decisions about taking a trip to Philadelphia. Even before commencing the journey they could plan for comfortable accommodations along the way rather than leave to chance any arrangements for food and lodging. Hyer’s desire “to entertain Travellers … in the best Manner” made the journey sound as appealing as the destination, encouraging readers to consider traveling between New York and Philadelphia for business or for pleasure.

June 16

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

Large or small Entertainments provided, in the most genteel Manner.”

Jun 16 - 6:16:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 16, 1768).

As summer arrived in New York in 1768, Josiah Davenport continued placing advertisements in newspapers published in that city to inform colonists planning to visit Philadelphia that he had recently opened a new inn and tavern “called the BUNCH of GRAPES.” This was not merely a way station for food and lodging but instead “a genteel HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT, for travelers and others.”

Yet New Yorkers did not need to travel to Philadelphia to enjoy the sorts of amenities Davenport advertised. Starting with the June 16 edition of the New-York Gazette (number 1328), Samuel Francis (more commonly known today as Samuel Fraunces) announced that his summer resort at the edge of the city, “VAUX-HALL GARDEN,” was open for business. Naming his pleasure garden after Vauxhall Gardens of London, Fraunces opened “VAUX-HALL GARDEN” at Spring Hill, a villa located on the Hudson River, in 1767. The establishment competed with nearby Ranelagh Gardens, the site of several fireworks exhibitions in the spring of 1768. Fraunces countered the series of advertisements for the fireworks shows with his own notices, slated to appear in the New-York Gazette for at least four weeks (according to the issue numbers – “28 31” – that the compositor inserted at the end of the advertisement).

Visitors to his “House and Gardens” could experience “Large or small Entertainments … in the most genteel Manner” as they selected among “neat Wines, and other Liquors.” In addition to evening amusements, patrons could also enjoy “Breakfasting” complete with tea and coffee as well as “Cakes, Tarts, Jellies, [and] Sillibubs.” In addition, Fraunces offered catering services – “Dinners, Suppers, &c. dressed at Gentlemen’s own Houses” – for those who wished to entertain in their own homes.

In the second half of the eighteenth century an emerging leisure and hospitality industry served “such Ladies, Gentlemen, and others, who may be pleased to favour” establishments like Vauxhall Garden, Ranelagh Gardens, and the Bunch of Grapes “with their Company.” Colonists participated in a transatlantic consumer revolution that involved more than acquiring goods. Those with the time and resources also enjoyed a variety of services and entertainments presented for their amusement. For some early Americans, the culture of consumption extended to consuming experiences as well as the myriad of housewares and apparel advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers.

June 12

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

Jun 12 - 6:12:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 12, 1767).

“The Indian King Tavern and London Coffee House in Salem, in the Province of Massachusetts Bay.”

Thomas Sommerville was the proprietor of the Indian King Tavern and London Coffee House in Salem, Massachusetts. To entice visitors of all sorts, he provided a variety of amenities, from “good Accommodations” to exceptional customer service (“the genteelest Usage”) for “Gentlemen, Ladies, and other Travellers.” While Sommerville certainly welcomed local residents to partake in the food and beverages he served as they gathered to socialize or conduct business, he also wished to augment the number of patrons who came through his door, especially visitors from other towns who would pay for lodging in addition to food and drink.

To that end, Sommerville needed to attract customers from beyond his local market. Accordingly, he placed advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform residents of Portsmouth and its hinterland about the services he offered. While the Indian King Tavern and London Coffee House might not have been the ultimate destination for most travelers, Sommerville sought to make it a destination that they planned to visit while en route to other places. Not unlike the modern hospitality and tourism industries, he marketed his services to potential customers from a distance.

In his announcement, Sommerville indicated that “the Season is now opening,” suggesting that as spring gave way to summer that greater numbers of people would travel beyond their local communities, either for business or leisure. In the advertisement printed immediately below Sommerville’s notice, Thomas Wood also addressed travelers and described the reception they could anticipate receiving at his tavern at Newbury Ferry in New Hampshire. Sommerville and Wood operated businesses with seasonal rhythms and placed advertisements accordingly, as did their counterparts in other parts of the colonies. Notices promoting houses of entertainment and scenic gardens within and beyond the major port cities increased in spring and the summer months as colonists embarked on their own version of what has become the summer vacation season.

January 19

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

jan-19-1191767-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (January 19, 1767).

“SKATES, OF different sizes.”

Hubert Van Wagenen sold a variety of goods – from “Ironmongery and Cutlery” to textiles and “sundry sorts of other Dry-goods” – at his store “at the Golden Broad-ax” in New York, but he highlighted one item in particular to attract the attention of potential customers: “SKATES, OF different sizes.” Van Wagenen enumerated his merchandise in a typical list advertisement, but he set apart “SKATES” as the only word on the first line, printed in a larger font so as to serve as a headline that invited readers to further explore his other wares.

By the late colonial period ice skating was a popular pastime in New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies, especially among the gentry. Along with dancing and fencing, skating allowed the better sorts to demonstrate grace, power, and agility. According to Nancy Struna, both men and women among the gentry and the middling sort aspiring to join the gentry “expected to play and display their prowess in such endeavors in the middle decades of the eighteenth century.”[1] To that end, they engaged in selected sports and other physical activities that simultaneously evoked pleasure and allowed them to demonstrate skill and discipline through their personal comportment. Physical improvement was as important an element of refinement as learning and manners.

Unlike some of his competitors, Van Wagenen did not make explicit appeals to gentility when describing any of the goods listed in his advertisement. He did not, for instance, use the word “fashionable” or underscore that he imported goods that reflected the latest tastes in London. He may not have considered any of that necessary. Realizing that readers likely considered skating a genteel leisure activity, the shopkeeper had an alternate means of associating gentility with his shop. By listing “SKATES” first and using them to headline his advertisement, he set the tone for how readers should imagine the housewares, textiles, and accessories he also sold.

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[1] Nancy L. Struna, People of Prowess: Sport, Leisure, and Labor in Early Anglo-America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996) 121.

September 20

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

sept-20-9201766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (September 20, 1766).

“To be RUN … by any Horse, Mare, or Gelding.”

Yesterday’s advertisement promoted a lottery for “SUNDRY Millinery Goods” at Joseph Calvert’s vendue house in Williamsburg. After weighing the risks and taking a chance, participants acquired an assortment of goods that they could keep for their own use or resell to others, further extending networks of commerce and distribution of goods in the colonies.

Today’s advertisement also invited readers to take a chance and perhaps win a prize, “a good pinchbeck WATCH, valued at Sixteen Dollars” awarded to the owner of “any Horse, Mare, or Gelding, in the County of Providence” that won a race to be held a little over a week later. Unlike the advertisement for Calvert’s lottery sale, this notice did not – and could not – indicate participants’ odds of winning the prize. It all depended on which horses (and how) many entered. The sponsors required that each entrant “pay one Dollar, upon entering his Horse,” presumably hoping to attract more than enough to balance the value of the watch to be given as the prize.

During the second half of the eighteenth century advertisements for goods and services increasingly placed consumption within a culture of entertainment, especially for those with sufficient wealth and leisure. Although this advertisement did not sell any particular merchandise or services, it did inform colonists of opportunities to be entertained. Those who owned fast horses could participate, but many others could also gather in Cranston to watch the run. The race and anticipation of which horse would win the prize for its owner offered the most excitement, but the entire event offered an entertaining experience, an opportunity to socialize with others and to see and be seen before and after the horses and riders competed. Anyone hoping to win the pinchbeck watch was most likely attired in the sorts of fashionable clothing and accouterments advertised elsewhere in the same issue of the newspaper. Gathering for this event allowed for consumption to become even more conspicuous.

September 18

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

sep-18-9181766-pennsylvania-gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 18, 1766).

“Those gentlemen and ladies that incline to take the country air … may depend upon having good usage.”

Residents of Philadelphia and other urban centers engaged in an increasing number of leisure activities during the eighteenth century. Just as consumer culture dramatically expanded during the period, so did the sorts of activities that those with time and money could pursue. Dancing and fencing masters tutored students of all ages. Men and women met for meals or tea at houses of entertainment, establishments that often tried to draw in patrons with musicians or fireworks. Some proprietors cultivated gardens for visitors to explore. Others promoted their own hospitality and the conversations they facilitated as hosts and hostesses.

John Reser, who earned part of his living “making saddles and collars,” offered another option to “gentlemen and ladies” who had leisure time and looked to be entertained in new and novel ways. On Tuesdays and Fridays he sponsored an excursion along the “Old York road” from Philadelphia to his house “at the sign of the King of Prussia, in Miles-Town.” Reser promoted several aspects of this excursion, including traveling through “a pleasant Part of the country” that looked much different from the point of departure at “the corner of Second and Arch-streets” in Philadelphia. He promised to serve them well as they “take the country air.” Even the means of travel was intended to be part of the experience: “a light red covered stage wagon, completely finished.” It appears that Reser may have been attempting to make sure residents in and around Philadelphia would be sure to recognize this conveyance, giving his enterprise more visibility and prestige.

Joining this excursion meant committing some time for the fourteen-mile round trip, restricting the number of potential patrons. Although Reser does not explicitly state that he served food and drink at “his house, at the sign of the King of Prussia,” other sources indicate that he was issued a license to operate a tavern in Bristol Township on August 10, 1765. Sponsoring excursions for residents of Philadelphia “to take the country air” twice a week may have been a means of augmenting the business at his tavern.

John Reser’s excursions from Philadelphia into the countryside were part of a growing selection of leisure activities that gained popularity in the second half of the eighteenth century, heralding the rise of the tourism industry.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:17:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 17, 1766).

“Baggammon tables, … flutes and fifes, … fishing reels.”

Peter Goelet presented many choices to potential customers in an advertisement that listed dozens and dozens of items that he stocked in his shop “At the Golden Key, in Hanover-Square, New-York.” What else possibly could have been included among the “great variety of other articles” listed at the end of the advertisement?!

This assortment of goods could be used to glimpse many different aspects of daily life in colonial America, from the types of tools that many artisans would have used to housewares and cooking equipment to supplies for writing letters, accounts, and other documents, to name a few.

This advertisement also suggests leisure activities pursued by some early Americans. Goelet sold “baggammon tables” on which colonists would have played the game now commonly known as backgammon. He also carried musical instruments, including violins and “German and common flutes and fifes,” and supplies, such as “hautboy [oboe] reeds, violin strings, bridges, and pins, [and] brass and steel harpsichord wire.” Although the advertisement does not list other sorts of books or pamphlets, “newest tunes, &c.” may have referred to music. Goelet concluded his advertisement with a list of fishing rods, reels, hooks, and flies.

Games, music, and fishing: advertisements offered colonial Americans the goods they needed to pursue a variety of leisure activities that in turn helped them to express their own status and gentility.