March 16

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

Providence Gazette (March 16, 1771).

“Both the above Houses are well situated for Business.”

Location, location, location!  Several real estate notices ran in the March 16, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, many of them noting locations conducive to commercial activities.  The partnership of Thompson and Arnold, for instance, advertised several properties, including a “NEW House and Lot of Land in Providence, with a Wharff a Warehouse theron” and “another new House and Lot in Providence.”  Thompson and Arnold noted that “Both the above Houses are well situated for Business.”  Elizabeth Arnold inserted an estate notice concerning her husband, Oliver.  In addition to calling on “all Persons who are indebted to the Estate” and “all Persons who have just Demands against said Deceased” to settle accounts, she advertised a property to lease.  Arnold provided a description of a “large and commodious Lot directly opposite the Court-House, … situate in the most convenient Part of the Town for Stores or Shops.”

Others advertised properties outside of Providence, noting each location’s potential for pursuing various commercial enterprises.  Sylvanus Sayles listed a farm with one hundred acres for sale or lease.  In addition to a “large Dwelling-House,” it also had “a Number of Out-Buildings, among which are a Shop and Store” located “on the Post Road to Boston.”  Sayles implied that purchasers or renters could depend on prospective customers regularly passing by the shop and store as they traveled between the two cities.  Hezekiah Carpenter advertised “a Tract of Land … lying in Hopkinton, 16 Miles West of Newport.”  It included a house that needed some repair.  Instead of shops and stores already on the property, he emphasized the potential for other kinds of enterprises, noting that “a large Stream of Water runs through the Land, with good Falls, very convenient for erecting Mills.”  Furthermore, the property “lies near and Iron-Work, so that making of Coal would be very profitable to the Purchaser.”

Whether in Providence or beyond, many advertisers who offered real estate for sale or lease did not focus exclusively on residential aspects in their efforts to incite interest.  Instead, they also explained the potential for conducting commercial activities, acknowledging that each property doubled as home and workplace.  Whether purchasers planned to run a shop or operate a mill, advertisers understood that location mattered and structured their notices accordingly.

March 14

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 14, 1771).

“Near LIBERTY TREE, BOSTON.”

Purveyors of goods and services in Boston used a variety of means to specify their locations in 1771.  William Taylor and Peter Hughes merely listed King Street as their addresses.  Similarly, Andrew Brimmer stated that his shop was located in the “South-End, BOSTON,” but did not elaborate beyond that.  Joshua Gardner sold “a Fine Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS … at his Shop in Cornhill, just above the Post-Office.”  John Hunt carried a variety of merchandise at his shop “next door Northward to the Heart and Crown,” the printing office where Thomas Fleet and John Fleet published the Boston Evening-Post.  Bartholomew Kneeland also used that printing office as a landmark, giving his location as “the Fourth to the Northward of School-Street, and nearly opposite to the Heart & Crown in Cornhill.”  Samuel Franklin sold razors and a variety of cutlery at the Sign of the Razor and Crown.  Ziphion Thayer stocked paper hangings (or wallpaper) at the Sign of the “Golden Lyon.”  George Leonard hawked grains and chocolate at “the New Mills, near the Mill-Bridge.”  Bethiah Oliver peddled seeds at her shop “opposite the Old South Meeting-House.”  John Coleman sold beer and operated a “House of Entertainment” at “the Sign of the General Wolfe, North-side Faneuil-Hall Market.”

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 14, 1771).

All of these descriptions for locations appeared in advertisements on the third page of the March 14, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Some of the shop signs invoked British identity and celebrated being part of the empire, especially those that included crowns.  The Sign of the General Wolfe honored one of the heroes of the Seven Years War who gloriously died on the battlefield after breaking the siege of Quebec in 1759.  Some advertisers expressed pride in other aspects of British history and culture in the directions they gave to their shops.  John Gore, Jr., sold a variety of goods “Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston.”  Rosannah Moore stocked a “general Assortment of Wines” at “her Wine-Cellar near LIBERTY TREE, BOSTON.”  These retailers invoked traditional English liberties while simultaneously commemorating recent abuses perpetrated against colonists by Parliament and soldiers quartered in Boston.  The Liberty Tree stood as a symbol of resistance to the Stamp Act, the duties on imported goods in the Townshend Acts, and the murder of colonists during the Boston Massacre.  Gore and Moore both choose to associate their businesses with that recent history of resistance.  As the variety of means of giving directions in other advertisements demonstrate, Gore and Moore could have formulated many other means for instructing customers how to find their shops.  They purposefully selected the Liberty Tree, their advertisements for consumer goods resonating with political overtones as a result.

December 13

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 13, 1770).

“At the store lately improved by Mr. Robert Gould, opposite the sign of the Crown and Sceptre in Back-street.”

Francis Shaw, Jr., stocked a “LARGE and neat Assortment of cream and other coloured WARE, of the newest fashion,” at his shop in Boston.  In an advertisement in the December 13, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, he gave his locations as “the store lately improved by Mr. Robert Gould, opposite the sign of the Crown and Sceptre in Back-street.”  American cities did not use standardized street numbers to organize urban spaces until the late 1780s and early 1790s.  Before then, residents relied on a variety of landmarks and other descriptions to give directions.  They often used them in combination, as Shaw did.  He gave his street, but he also indicated the previous occupant of his store to guide prospective customers familiar with Gould’s business on Back Street.  He also used a shop sign for reference, though the Sign of the Crown and Scepter did not mark his own location.  Instead, he mentioned it as a landmark, describing his location “opposite” or across the street from the sign.

Other advertisers deployed similar strategies in describing their locations.  On the same day that Shaw placed his advertisement, John Langdon placed a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury.  In it, he invited prospective customers to “his Store lately Improv’d by Messr’s Cox & Berry nearly opposite the Post-Office.”  Peter Roberts sold medicines and medical equipment at his shop “opposite the West-Door of the Town-House.”  John Crosby, a frequent advertiser who peddled citrus fruits and other grocery items, gave his location as “the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons at the South-End.”  Samuel Abbot declared that his store was located “on Greene’s Wharff, near the East of the Market.”  Collectively, these advertisements and others suggest some of the methods colonists used to make sense of the cityscape and navigate the streets of Boston.  These descriptions supplement eighteenth-century maps, engravings, paintings, drawings, and other visual images as well as travel narratives and letters that depicted the busy port.  They also reveal important relationships, such as previous occupants and nearby landmarks, that mattered to both advertisers and readers of early American newspapers.  Commercial notices provided their own portraits of cities like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.

June 12

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

Jun 12 - 6:12:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (June 12, 1770).

“A large convenient House … finely situated on the main Street.”

Location!  Location!  Location!  Francis Symonds highlighted the location of the “front Part of a large convenient House” that he offered for sale or rent in the June 12, 1770, edition of the Essex Gazette.  He noted that the property was “finely situated on the main Street in Danvers, within about a Quarter of a Mile of the Rev. Mr. Holt’s Meeting-House.”  Symonds also reported an array of goods and services available in close proximity to the house, inserting a census that was not a standard feature of eighteenth-century real estate notices.  Within a quarter mile, buyers or renters would be “accommodated with a very capable Schoolmistress, a Victualler, a Baker, 2 Merchants, 4 Shopkeepers, 2 Doctors, 1 Surgeon, 3 Carpenters, 2 Masons, 3 Blacksmiths, 3 Potters, 2 Tanners, 2 Curriers, 1 Saw-Mill, 1 Weaver, 2 Tailors, 1 Barber, 1 Chaisemaker, 2 Saddlers, 2 Joiners, 1 Glazier, and 8 Cordwainers.”  In addition, they had access to “a good Grist-Mill within half a Mile.”  Although not nearly as bustling as nearby Boston, the town of Danvers was “so growing, that most of the said Tradesmen have lately set up their Businesses.”  Symonds suggested that buyers or renters would reside in an up-and-coming neighborhood.

While that made daily life more comfortable, it also contributed to the prospects of earning a livelihood in the area, especially for anyone interested in the “Shop on the lower Floor” of the house.  In addition to prospective customers who lived nearby, Symonds declared, “It is thought about three Quarters of the Marketing that goes into the two great Towns of Salem and Marblehead passes by said House.”  Furthermore, the house was “situated within a Mile and an half of Salem Court-House” as well as “near the Bell Inn.”  Anyone who intended to operate a business in the shop would not lack for foot traffic.  Prospective customers passed by on their way to market, court, and a popular tavern.

Unlike others who advertised real estate, Symonds offered only a brief description of the house and land.  He focused primarily on the location and the businesses located nearby, his extensive account of the area conjuring images of a lively neighborhood where residents could readily access services and entrepreneurs could easily engage customers.  Considering that many of the local “Tradesmen have lately set up their Businesses,” he may have considered this necessary to attract buyers or renters unaware of the recent growth in the town of Danvers.

April 13

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

Apr 13 - 4:13:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 13, 1770).

At his Shop next to the Printing Office.”

Throughout the eighteenth century, most residences and businesses did not have standardized street addresses.  City directories as well as trade cards and billheads and other advertising ephemera reveal that some of the largest cities did adopt street numbers in the late 1780s and 1790s, but that practice did not arrive in other cities and towns until the nineteenth century.

Newspaper advertisements featured a variety of means of identifying locations of businesses in eighteenth-century America.  Some simply listed the street, as was the case in the advertisement for garden seeds that John Adams placed in the April 13, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Adams indicated that he sold his wares “In Queen Street, Portsmouth.”  The port town was small enough that Adams may not have needed to list an address of any sort for residents.  However, since the New-Hampshire Gazette was the only newspaper published in the colony and circulated far beyond Portsmouth, Adams may have included his street to aid prospective customers from the countryside who traveled to town or sent orders.

In the same issue, Gillam Butler advertised an assortment of textiles that he sold “At his Shop next to the Printing Office, in the Street that leads from the Parade to the Market and Ferry.”  He deployed two strategies for identifying his location.  Given that he did not frequently place advertisements, Butler may have thought it necessary to give as much information as possible to aid consumers who wished to visit his shop.  He named a landmark and described his location in relation to that landmark: “next to the Printing Office.”  He also provided more extensive information about the street.  In some cases, advertisers named intersecting streets to help readers get their bearings.  In this instance, Butler invoked other aspects of the street by describing other landmarks that it connected: “the Street that leads from the Parade to the Market and Ferry.”  He made it possible for prospective customers to imagine a map of his neighborhood to navigate to his shop.

To some extent, we have reverted to eighteenth-century means of thinking about where businesses are located as GPS systems become more advanced.  The algorithms that produce directions still rely on standardized street addresses, but users do not need to supply them or even be aware of them.  It is now possible to simply enter the name of a business and let the GPS take care of street numbers, landmarks, intersections, and a variety of other data.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 17, 1770).

“Dwelling-House (improved last by Messieurs Jackson and Updike).”

Location!  Location!!  Location!!!  An advertisement in the March 17, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette offered a “House, Lot, and Dwelling-House thereon” for sale.  That real estate notice focused primarily on location and amenities lending themselves to commerce as the means of marketing the lot and buildings.  Currently “in the Occupation of Mr. James Green,” the premises, described as “the best Situation for Trade of any in the Place,” were on “the main Street” of Providence, “opposite Messieurs Joseph and William Russell’s Shop” at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.  With some renovation, the “lower front Part” of the could be “wholly made into a Shop” of generous proportions.  That same advertisement offered another “commodious Shop and Store” for sale “at a small Distance from said Dwelling-House.”  Green had “built and improved” the shop and adjoining warehouse, ultimately constructing “the most convenient Shop for a large Trader of any in the Town.”

The advertisement did not offer further description of the houses and shops offered for sale.  Although the “commodious Shop and Store” may have been the best option for “a large Trader” in 1770, the Russells had their own ideas for erecting a dwelling that testified to their stature among the city’s mercantile elite.  In 1772, Joseph Russell and William Russell built what the Providence Preservation Society now describes as the “earliest extant and most impressive of the cubical, three-story houses that symbolized wealth and social standing for several generations beginning at the eve of the American Revolution.”  The principal entrance, a segmented-arch portico with Corinthian pilasters, came from an English architectural pattern book, the Builder’s Compleat Assistant published in London in 1750.  Nearly two centuries after it was constructed, the Joseph and William Russell House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, but only after its interiors had been removed in the 1920s and installed in museums in Brooklyn, Denver, and Milwaukee.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:22:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 22, 1769).

“Private LODGINGS … very convenient for those who use the Stage-Boats.”

Location! Location! Location!!! In the summer of 1769, Mary Westrand took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to announce that she provided “Private LODGINGS” at the Sign of the Green Ball. Westrand did not elaborate on the accommodations or the amenities guests could expect to enjoy while in residence. Instead, she made location the primary selling point for choosing her establishment. She advised prospective guests that the lodgings were “very convenient for those who use the Stage-Boats.” In so doing, she linked her business to services provided by others, the stageboats that regularly sailed between Providence and Newport.

Those stageboats transported both passengers and freight. Stageboat operators advertised that they maintained convenient store[s] for depositing such Goods as may be sent … for Transportation,” but lodgings for passengers were beyond their purview. Westrand sought to take advantage of the fact that the gentlemen and ladies who sailed between Providence and Newport likely needed lodgings at some point in their journey. She attempted to tap into an established clientele that required additional services.

Westrand suggested that her location near the stageboat wharfs made her lodgings ideal for passengers. Merchants and others who traveled with goods could remain in close proximity to the storehouses, allowing relatively easy access after overseeing loading or unloading. No passenger needed to wander too far into the city in search of lodgings when they arrived, nor worry about staying so far away that they might miss their stageboat when it departed. Gentlemen and ladies did not have to transport personal baggage very far between the stageboat wharfs and their “Private LODGINGS” at the Sign of the Green Ball.

Westrand identified passengers who sailed on stageboats between Providence and Newport as a constituency who likely had particular need of her services. To that end, she emphasized her “very convenient” location in her advertisement, but did not offer further description of the accommodations she provided for travelers beyond noting that they were “Private.” She opted for a different marketing strategy than most advertisers who provided lodgings for travelers in the 1760s. Their advertisements often described the amenities in great detail as a means of enticing prospective guests to stay with them. Westrand gambled that emphasizing her location would attract guests and provide sufficient return on the investment she made in placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette.

January 27

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

New-London Gazette (January 27, 1769).

“At the Shop in Beach-Street, (lately improved by Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall.)”

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies, Winthrop Saltonstall made an appeal to consumer choice when he composed an advertisement for a “General Assortment of Ship Chandlery and Iron Monger’s Ware.” He did not merely state that he had an extensive inventory, but instead supplied a list that enumerated dozens of items. Among his wares, customers could purchase “Nails of all Sizes,” “Carpenter’s and Cooper’s Compasses,” and “long and short handled Frying Pans and Iron Tea Kettles.” For some categories of merchandise, he further underscored the range of choice: “Variety of Time and other Glasses,” “Augers various Sizes,” and “Variety Chest, Door, Cupboards and Padlocks.” He concluded with both “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century rendition of “etc. etc. etc.) and “With a Variety of Goods,” combining two standard turns of phrase that customarily appeared separately in newspaper advertisements. Saltonstall encouraged prospective customers to image a vast array of goods available ay his shop; in so doing, he suggested that he could cater to their specific needs and tastes.

Yet consumer choice was not the only marketing strategy that Saltonstall deployed. He also made appeals to price and location, though more briefly. He asserted that he sold his wares “on the most reasonable Terms.” He also informed readers of the New-London Gazette that his “Shop in Beach-Street” had been “lately improved by Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall.” He did not elaborate on what kinds of upgrades he and a partner had undertaken, but merely mentioning that they had made changes to the venue served multiple purposes. It alerted prospective customers that Saltonstall attended to their comfort and convenience while shopping. It also enticed readers, especially former customers, to visit the store out of curiosity, to see the improvements even if they did not intend to make any purchases. Such excursions could yield unanticipated sales or prime future purchases. Although Saltonstall’s comments about his venue were brief, they demonstrated a rudimentary understanding of shopping as an experience rather than a chore and the significance customers placed on location.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 17, 1768).

“A new Shop … near Swing or Liberty Bridge.”

When Zechariah Beal, a cobbler, set up shop in a new location he placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform “his Customers and others, that he has Removed from Queen Street, to a new Shop, almost adjoining to that of Mr. John Noble’s Barber, near Swing or Liberty Bridge, not far from the Long-Wharfe in Portsmouth.” Beal advertised in an era before American cities and towns adopted standardized street numbers, though some of the largest American cities would do so in the final decade of the eighteenth century.

In the absence of street numbers, Beal and other colonists relied on a variety of landmarks to establish locations and give directions. Sometimes these instructions were short, simply referencing the name of the street. In other cases, they were quite lengthy (and even rather convoluted from the perspective of modern readers accustomed to precise street numbers designating the locations of homes and businesses), as was the case when Beal listed his new location in his advertisement.

Among the landmarks he invoked, Beal noted that his new shop was “near Swing or Liberty Bridge.” This description reveals that colonists in Portsmouth were in the midst of reconceptualizing the meaning they attributed to a local landmark. On January 6, 1766, the Sons of Liberty had paraded an effigy of George Grenville around Portsmouth in protest of the Stamp Act. They burned the effigy of the prime minister and, like several other cities and towns in the colonies, erected a liberty pole that flew a flag that read “LIBERTY, PROPERTY, and NO STAMPS,” according to an account that appeared in the January 20, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. That same account reported that the pole and flag were “now fixed near LIBERTY-BRIDGE.”

Some advertisers in Portsmouth quickly adopted the name, indicating that they and other colonists continued to commemorate the protest by associating new significance with the Swing Bridge that predated the protest. Yet this process was not universal among those who resided in the area. The bridge now had two names, “Swing or Liberty Bridge,” among the inhabitants of Portsmouth. An older way of describing the urban landscape did not disappear just because some colonists now preferred a new designation for one landmark. Even those who supported protests against the Stamp Act and, more recently in the summer of 1768, the Townshend Act likely discovered that they sometimes had to consciously correct themselves when it came to associating names with political significance with landmarks previously known as something else. In Portsmouth, that meant that one landmark simultaneously had two names, “Swing or Liberty Bridge,” as colonists collectively reconceptualized their descriptions of their environs.

June 6

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

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

“His House is very well calculated for an Inn.”

When Josiah F. Davenport opened an inn on Third Street in Philadelphia, he advertised in newspapers published in both Philadelphia and New York. Doing so made sense since he billed “the Bunch of Grapes” as “a genteel House of Entertainment, for Travellers and others, who may depend on the best Fare and civilest Treatment.” Davenport positioned his tavern and inn as a destination not only for visitors to the city but also for local residents “who may have Occasion to meet on Business or Recreation.” In addition to the “best Liquors” and the “elegant and spacious” accommodations for guests, Davenport also promoted the location. He proclaimed that Third Street “is becoming one of the grandest Avenues into this City.” The Bunch of Grapes “stands in the Neighbourhood of many principal Merchants and capital Stores.” Furthermore, it was also located “very near the Market.” Visitors traveling to Philadelphia on business could lodge in an establishment close to their associates, one that also happened to be in a swank neighborhood. Local patrons could also take advantage of the convenient location for conducting business or enjoying the various entertainments at the Bunch of Grapes.

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 6, 1768).

Davenport submitted identical copy to the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the Pennsylvania Chronicle (but the compositors for each made their own decisions about capitalization and italics throughout the advertisement). He also adorned the notice in the Chronicle with a woodcut depicting the sign that marked his establishment, a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. He acknowledged that the “large and commodious Inn” he now operated had been “for some time known by the Name of the Bull’s Head.” However, it was now known as the Bunch of Grapes under the management of the new proprietor. The new sign and an image in one of the city’s newspapers helped to cement the switch in branding for the inn. This was especially important considering that the Bull’s Head had established its own reputation for operating at that location.

Davenport realized that the success of the Bunch of Grapes depended on attracting a mixture of customers, both residents of Philadelphia who patronized his “House of Entertainment” for an afternoon or evening and visitors from other places who spent one or more nights. Accordingly, he highlighted a variety of amenities and, especially, the location of the inn in newspapers published in more than one city. Through his marketing efforts, he encouraged travelers to think of the Bunch of Grapes, rather than Philadelphia, as their destination.