May 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (May 27, 1768).

“A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.”

Isaac Beers and Elias Beers sold a variety of goods at their shop in New Haven. In the spring of 1768 they enumerated many of their wares in an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal, listing textiles and adornments that ranged from “blue, bluegrey, and blossom colour’d German Serges” to “A very large Assortment of Buttons, Bindings, and all kind of Trimmings for Mens Cloathes” to “A genteel Assortment of the newest fashion’d Ribbons.” They stocked grocery items, including tea, cofeem and sugar, as well as “Pigtail Tobacco” and snuff.

Although they were not booksellers or stationers, the Beers included writing supplies and books among their inventory. Like other shopkeepers, they carried “Writing Paper” and wax wafers for making seals. They also sold bibles and spelling books as well as “A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.” (Although that portion of the advertisement has been damaged in the copy of the May 27, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal seen above, the same advertisement appeared the next week in an issue that has not been damaged.)

The Beers did not need to provide any further explanation for prospective customers to identify the pamphlet that contained all twelve of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” previously printed and reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies, starting in December 1767 and continuing into the spring of 1768. In these “Letters,” Dickinson, under the pseudonym of “A Farmer,” presented a dozen essays that explained how Parliament overstepped its authority in passing the Townshend Act and other measures that usurped the authority of colonial legislatures. He encouraged colonists to resist Parliament’s designs or risk even greater abuses.

Upon completion of the series, industrious printers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia collected all twelve “Letters” in pamphlets. Printers and booksellers in several colonies advertised that they sold the “Letters,” but supplying the public with that pamphlet was not the province of the book trade alone. Shopkeepers like the Beers purchased “A few” copies to retail alongside general merchandise in their own shops, considering the “Letters” significant enough to merit particular mention in their advertisements. In so doing, they assisted in disseminating some of the arguments that eventually transformed resistance into a revolution. The choices they made as retailers and advertisers helped to shape the rhetoric of the Revolution.

April 29

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

Apr 29 - 4:29:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 29, 1768).

“JUST PUBLISHED … LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA.”

An advertisement for a pamphlet that collected together all twelve of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES” ran for the second consecutive week in the April 29, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Interested readers could purchase the pamphlet at the local printing office in Portsmouth or directly from Mein and Fleeming, the publishers, “at the LONDON BOOK STORE, North Side of King Street, BOSTON.”

The advertisement explained why readers should invest in the pamphlet: “Among the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivalled, for strength of Argument, Elegance of Diction, Knowledge in the Laws of Great Britain, and the true interest of the COLONIES.” Yet readers did not need to make decisions about purchasing the pamphlet solely on that recommendation. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, provided then with a preview of the pamphlet’s contents. “Letter XI” appeared in its entirety on the first and second pages of that edition. Similarly, “Letter X” occupied the first and final pages of the previous issue, the one in which the Fowles first published the advertisement for the pamphlet. Prospective buyers could read the Farmer’s arguments for themselves (as well as investigate the several notes he inserted to direct readers to the various sources he invoked). Examining one or two letters could convince some readers that they needed to acquire and study all of them in order to better understand the proper relationship between Parliament and the colonies at a time of general discontent with imperial policies.

Whether encountering an excerpt of another title at the end of a novel or the first chapter of a book available online, modern consumers are accustomed to publishers providing previews as a means of inciting interest in purchasing books. The Fowles adopted a similar strategy in the eighteenth century. They had been reprinting Dickinson’s “Letters” for many weeks, but as they reached the conclusion of the series the last several essays served dual purposes. In addition to disseminating news and editorial opinion, the final “Letters” also became advertisements for a publication stocked and sold by the printers of the newspaper that carried those essays.

April 22

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

Apr 22 - 4:22:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 22, 1768).

“LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.”

Guest curator Zachary Karpowich recently examined an advertisement promoting the “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies.”  David Hall and William Sellers inserted this advertisement for a pamphlet they had published in their own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Yet Hall and Sellers were not the only printers to collect the twelve “Letters” together into a single pamphlet, nor was the Pennsylvania Gazette the only newspaper to carry advertisements for those pamphlets.  Just as the “Letters” spread from colony to colony as they were reprinted from newspaper to newspaper in late 1767 and well into the spring of 1768, colonists had access to a variety of pamphlets that collected the series of essays under a single cover for their convenience and continued reference.

The American Antiquarian Society’s catalog indicates that at least four printing houses published their own edition of the “Letters” in pamphlet form in 1768.  According to the imprints, residents of Philadelphia could purchase an edition “Printed by David Hall, and William Sellers” published in the spring and a second edition released later in the year.  That Hall and Sellers printed more than one edition testifies to the popularity of the pamphlet.  Colonists in New York could purchase an edition “Re-printed by John Holt, near the Exchange,” while residents of Boston could choose between competing editions, one “Printed and sold by Edes & Gill, in Queen Street” and another “Printed by Mein and Fleeming, and to be sold by John Mein, at the London Book-Store, north-side of King-Street.”  Each of these printers also published newspapers that had reprinted the “Letters” over a series of weeks:  Holt, the New-York Journal; Edes and Gill, the Boston-Gazette; and Mein and Fleeming, the Boston Chronicle.  At least one other edition appeared in Philadelphia in 1769, that one described as a third edition “Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, at the London Coffee-House.”  That the Bradfords produced yet another edition for readers in Philadelphia suggests that printers cultivated demand for the pamphlet and successfully disseminated the arguments about Parliament overstepping its authority advanced by John Dickinson.

Colonists beyond the major port cities could also purchase the pamphlet.  Today’s advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, published in Portsmouth by Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle.  It specified two locations where readers could purchase the pamphlet:  “at the LONDON BOOK STORE, North Side of King Street, BOSTON, and at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.”  The Fowles likely stocked the edition printed by Mein and Fleeming, considering that their advertisement reiterated the location listed in the imprint from that edition.  Just as they had reprinted the “Letters” in a series of issues, the Fowles also reprinted significant portions of an advertisement previously published in another newspaper, drawing from the notice for Hall and Sellers’s edition of the pamphlet in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

The Fowles were not the only printers to advertise an edition of this pamphlet on April 22, 1768. John Holt ran an advertisement for his edition in a midweek supplement to his newspaper, the New-York Journal.  He composed his own copy, however, advising potential customers that the pamphlet “fully explains and unanswerably defends the Rights of the British Colonies.”  He reported that he had gathered the essays into a pamphlet “upon the Suggestion of many of the Inhabitants” of New York who recommended “that it ought to be kept in every Family, and be thoroughly consider’d, understood, and taught to the rising Generation.”  Holt stressed that reading the “Letters” would inculcate a particular set of values among youth; studying the pamphlet was not the sole domain of the current generation of colonial leaders.  Yet he also lamented that “the Sale of these useful Pamphlets, has hitherto been very inconsiderable, so that they are like to be a great Loss to the Printer” even though he indicated that they had been “Just published.”  Holt may have exaggerated as a way to jumpstart sales, a strategy that could have been effective once he advertised that he stocked copies of the pamphlet at his printing office.

Throughout the colonies printers encouraged customers to purchase – and read – the “Letters” in order that “the Principles of our happy Constitution may be universally known and established.”  The stakes were too high not to become familiar with Dickinson’s explication of the proper relationship between Parliament and colonies.  Turning a blind eye to such wisdom meant that the colonists would not be prepared “to assert and maintain the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.”

Apr 22 - 4:22:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 22, 1768).

April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Karpowich

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 14, 1768).

“Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivaled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in the laws of Great Britain and the true interest of the COLONIES.”

In the April 14, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette David Hall and William Sellers published an advertisement for a pamphlet containing a popular and widely read set of letters written by John Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator from Pennsylvania. They are titled “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.” According to the introductory notes in the “Online Library of Liberty” compiled by the Liberty Fund, Dickinson penned them under the name of “A Farmer” due to the fact that they were quite controversial. In these letters, he spoke out against the British Parliament and discussed the sovereignty of the thirteen colonies. The “Letters” famously helped unite the colonists against the Townshend Acts. These acts were passed largely in response to the failure of the Stamp Act. Dickinson argues in his letters that the taxes laid upon the people with these laws were for the sole purpose of gaining revenue from the colonies. Parliament was not trying to regulate trade or the market. This meant that they were illegal and should not have been passed. This pamphlet was meant to collect all of the “Letters” to help spread Dickinson’s arguments, showing that there was already growing discontent in the colonies in the late 1760s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Hall and Sellers did not merely make an announcement that they had “Just published” a pamphlet that collected together all twelve of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.”  Not unlike modern publishers, their marketing efforts included a testimonial that described the significance of the title they offered for sale. Indeed, they devoted nearly half of the space in their advertisement to an endorsement reprinted from the Boston Chronicle.  In so doing, Hall and Sellers advised potential customers that “Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivalled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in thelawsof Great-Britain, and the true interest of the COLONIES.”  Colonists unfamiliar with the “Letters” were encouraged to purchase the pamphlet and read them.  Colonists who had already read them as they appeared in newspapers were encouraged to acquire the pamphlet and continue referring to the wisdom provided by “such an able adviser, and affectionate friend.”

The testimonial from the Boston Chronicle also indicated that the “Letters” “have been printed in every Colony, from Florida to Nova-Scotia.”  For several months in late 1767 and early 1768, printers up and down the Atlantic coast reprinted this series of twelve essays.  For some this meant an essay a week over the course of three months, but others published supplementary issues that sped up publication of the “Letters” as they simultaneously disseminated other news and advertising.  Not all newspapers had finished the project at the time Hall and Sellers published the pamphlet that collected all of the “Letters” together.  The day before their advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, James Johnston published “LETTER X” in the Georgia Gazette.  Once the pamphlet was ready for sale, printer-booksellers in several colonies began promoting it in their own newspapers.  A network of printers participated in distributing Dickinson’s “Letters” twice, first as editorial content in newspapers and then as pamphlets that conveniently collected the essays into a single volume.  As Zach notes, Dickinson’s reasoned arguments aided in uniting many colonists in opposition to abuses committed by Parliament, but the dissemination of his work depended on the active involvement of colonial printers.

February 4

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

Feb 4 - 2:4:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy Extraordinary
New-York Gazette Extraordinary [New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy] (February 4, 1768).

“HENDRICK OUDERNAARDE, BROKER, HAS to sell all Sorts of European and West-India Goods.”

Hendrick Oudenaaerde’s advertisement appeared in an Extraordinary issue that supplemented James Parker’s New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Parker published his Gazette (not to be confused with Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury) on Mondays, but explained that circumstances warranted distributing an Extraordinary on Thursday, February 4, 1768. “Letter IX” from the series of “Letters from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” filled nearly four of the six columns in the Extraordinary; news and advertising filled the remainder. According to Parker, “As the Farmer’s Letters came too late for our Paper on Monday last, in order to oblige our Customers, we have given this additional Gazette, and thereby prevent the room being encroached on, in next Monday’s Paper.” This decision resulted in disseminating a greater amount of advertising – for consumer goods, for runaway slaves, for real estate – to readers of Parker’s Gazette alongside “Letter IX.”

Like many other printers throughout the colonies, Parker reprinted a series of essays, twelve in total, written by John Dickinson in 1767 and 1768. Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator rather than a farmer, argued that Parliament did not have the authority to raise revenues by imposing taxes on the American colonies. He conceded that Parliament could regulate trade, yet stressed that the colonies retained sovereignty over their internal affairs, including taxation. In “Letter IX,” Dickinson addressed the necessity for local representation in established assemblies. Published far and wide, the “Letters” helped to unify colonists in opposition to the Townshend Acts.

Readers of Parker’s Gazette could not consume “Letter IX” without being exposed to the advertisements that accompanied it. Public discourse concerning the political ramifications of Parliament’s policies concerning commerce and other matters contributed to an even wider and more frequent distribution of advertising in the late colonial period. In general, the revenues generated by advertisements made it possible for printers to publish and disseminate the news and editorial items that informed debates and shaped sentiments in the colonies. Broadly speaking, that was the case here: the revenues from the advertisements that regularly appeared in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy allowed Parker to issue the extraordinary issue. However, the printer may not have generated additional revenues from the particular advertisements that appeared in the extraordinary. Advertisers usually paid to have their notices inserted for a certain numbers of weeks. The compositor may have chosen half a dozen advertisements that served as filler to complete the issue, but the printer may have run them gratis for the sake of filling the final page. Advertisers who paid to have their notices inserted for a specified number of weeks would have expected to see them in the regular issues of Parker’s Gazette for that many weeks.

In other words, the revenues from advertising generally supported the publication of news and editorials that shaped colonial discourse during the imperial crisis, yet the imperatives of distributing political content also bolstered an expanded dissemination of advertising.

January 20

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

Jan 20 - 1:20:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette Extraordinary (January 20, 1768).

“FOUR Years of a Mulatto Girl’s Time to be Sold.”

James Parker issued an Extraordinary issue of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy on January 20, 1768, just two days after publishing the regular issue for the week. The printer explained that “Matters of Amusement and Speculation, as well as News by the Packet, crowding in upon us at this Juncture, we think it necessary to give this Second extra Gazette, in Order to be upon a Par with our Neighbours.” The Extraordinary consisted of two pages, compared to the four of the regular Gazette. In addition to the “Matters of Amusement and Speculation” and “News” received via recent arrivals in the port city, the Extraordinary also featured a list of the “PRICE CURRENT in NEW-YORK” and three short advertisements.

Those advertisements included one that announced “FOUR Years of a Mulatto Girl’s Time to be Sold.” The unnamed “Mulatto Girl” apparently was not a slave, despite her mixed heritage. That the advertiser sold four years of her time rather than selling her outright suggests that she was an indentured servant who would eventually gain her freedom once her indenture expired. Given that so many other mulatto men, women, and children were enslaved in colonial America, how had this come to happen? How had this mulatto girl escaped enslavement for life in favor of servitude for a fixed number of years?

Perhaps her mother was a free woman. Within a cultural and legal framework that specified that the status of the child followed the condition of the mother, it did not matter if the mulatto girl’s mother was white, black, or mulatto, nor did it matter if her father was free, enslaved, or indentured. If her mother had been a free woman at the time of the mulatto girl’s birth then the child would have been free herself. Financial considerations may have contributed to the decision to indenture the girl for a portion of her childhood and youth. Alternately, her mother may have been enslaved but managed to negotiate for the eventual freedom of her offspring. Securing an indenture for her daughter may have been a means of achieving gradual emancipation. Other circumstances may have shaped the mulatto girl’s experiences. The advertisement does not provide enough information to know for certain.

The notice appeared in an interesting context. What kinds of news did James Parker consider so pressing as to warrant an Extraordinary issue? The bulk of the supplement consisted of the seventh in the series of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” that critiqued the Townshend Acts. Even though Dickinson recognized the authority of Parliament to oversee the empire, he argued that the colonies possessed sovereignty over their internal affairs. In particular, he stressed that Parliament overstepped its authority by imposing taxes on the colonies intended to raise revenues rather than merely regulating trade.

As many colonists asserted their rights and printers published letters and speeches that defended the liberty of the North American colonies, they also accepted various forms of unfree labor, including enslavement and indentured servitude. Those systems extended beyond just labor; slaves and indentured servants experienced unfree status in colonial society. Advertisements that promoted and reinforced slavery and indentured servitude appeared alongside impassioned appeals to liberty like Dickinson’s “Letters.” The revenues such advertisements generated for printers helped to fund the dissemination of newspapers that made stark calls for freedom from enslavement to the abuses of Parliament. That an advertisement for “FOUR Years of a Mulatto Girl’s Time” appeared alongside Dickinson’s “LETTER VII” demonstrated complex and contradictory understanding of the nature of liberty during the revolutionary era.