Reflections from Guest Curator Mary Williams

As a senior History major, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve solidified my routine of how I go about tackling historical essays and responses. Writing history papers has become a formula for me. It’s a calculated process with a set order to things. I am given a very specific topic, and I focus on defending a very specific answer.

When I sat down to write my first Adverts 250 response, I was overwhelmed with the freedom I was given. There was no prompt, and if there was a formula for success, I didn’t know it. At first, I figured the safest thing that I could do was to just pick an item from the advertisement that I was already familiar with. That way, I could provide an analysis that was similar to my usual history essays and responses. I could remain within my comfort zone. Thankfully, a few sentences in, I scratched that approach.

I began searching random phrases and words from the advertisements. I found numerous articles, books, blog posts, and pictures. One search would lead to another, and each valuable find would inspire me to ask new questions (which would then again result in more searches). I got into this cycle of digging through material, finding keywords, asking new questions, changing my original questions, and searching for more material all over again. It was such an unorganized process, unlike the history work that I am so used to.

Having the chance to “do history” through this project was both refreshing and exciting. I felt like I learned so much more from being able to engage in the research process myself. I really enjoyed being able to choose my own sources. I think the most difficult part about choosing my own sources proved to be finding dependable and recent sources. Sometimes I would find a relevant source, but it would be from so long ago that I would need to find another source that was published more recently to make sure I was getting updated information.

My favorite topic that I wrote about in this project was on my entry on November 14 from the New-Hampshire Gazette. I chose to research buckskin and sheepskin gloves that were advertised as the “neatest made Gloves for Funerals.” I knew absolutely nothing about funerals in colonial America, so I was extremely curious about how gloves related to colonial funerals. When I learned that families of the deceased distributed gloves to funeral attendees, I was shocked. Giving a parting gift, especially one that could be pricey, to funeral-goers was a practice that seemed so foreign to me. It’s so interesting to me that at one point in time, specifically 1766, this listing wouldn’t have been shocking to colonists in the slightest. The beauty of learning through analyzing advertisements is that it shows us the consumer culture at the time. Consumer culture gives us information about what sorts of things people wanted and needed, which tells us a lot about what kind of lives people from the past lived.

I can honestly say that I am disappointed that I didn’t have too many opportunities to do research like this in my previous history classes. I really enjoyed the independence that came with finding important information on my own. I am not only majoring in History, but also in Education. This project has given me a lot of inspiration about what kind of work I want my future students to engage in. I have retained so much more information from this project than my usual history work. I believe this is because I was not just skimming some assigned source and writing a response to it; instead, I was active in the process of finding information, which made it so much more valuable to me. I’m really thankful that I got a chance to guest curate the Adverts 250 Project, and I’m excited to read future entries posted by my classmates.

November 18

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-18-11181766-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 18, 1766).

“Coarse Shoes for Negroes.”

In this advertisement published in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Godfrey and Gadsden offered an assortment of goods from Bristol, England. For this entry, I decided to focus on the listing for “coarse Shoes for Negroes.”

My first question about this listing was why Godfrey & Gadsden chose the word “coarse” to describe shoes for slaves. I quickly discovered in my research that “coarse” was a very common description in advertisements for not only slave shoes, but for jackets, shirts, pants, and blankets, all created specifically for slaves. In Slavery in Alabama, James Benson Sellers writes, “The slave’s clothing was usually of a coarse quality, suitable for long, hard wear, as well as for protection against the weather.”[1] Slave shoes and clothes were created to stand the test of time, not for fashion or comfort. In “Fashion and Appearance: Men’s Clothing,” Travis Jacquess writes, “Slave shoes were notoriously uncomfortable and made of materials such as cardboard, thin leather, and wooden soles.”[2]

This listing also advertises “Men’s neat Shoes” for sale. Seeing the two items, “Men’s neat Shoes” and “coarse Shoes for Negroes” directly next to each other reminds us of how class distinctions could be presented through fashion in colonial America.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Mary and her peers began the semester by reading T.H. Breen’s groundbreaking article, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776.”[3] In addition to providing an overview of early American economic history, Breen explains the importance of examining consumer culture in colonial America. In so doing, he provides a foundation on which to build for students preparing to contribute to the Adverts 250 Project.

In “Empire of Goods,” subsequent articles, and, eventually, a book (The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence), Breen argues that colonists experienced a standardization of consumer culture throughout the eighteenth century. He claims that colonists from New England to Georgia had access to the same consumer goods imported from England and other faraway places. Even though colonists lived quite a distance from each other, they participated in the same marketplace because merchants and shopkeepers made available the same goods for them to purchase. As a result, consumers throughout the colonies had a common experience that united them culturally, thus facilitating subsequent political unity in the face of abuses by Parliament.

Breen relies on newspaper advertisements to make this argument. As my students and I have pursued the Adverts 250 Project over the past year we have seen for ourselves that, by and large, the same imported goods were indeed advertised in newspapers from throughout the colonies. However, there has been one notable exception: “coarse Shoes for Negroes” and similar descriptions of the same product. Especially as we have simultaneously constructed a parallel project, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, that requires scanning all newspaper advertisements for words like “slave,” “negro,” and “mulatto,” we have noticed that advertisements for shoes for slaves appeared exclusively in newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South, regions that by the 1760s were slave societies rather than societies with slaves. In the absence of large populations of enslaved men, women, and children, merchants and shopkeepers in New England and the Middle Atlantic did not tend to advertise “coarse Shoes for Negroes,” even if they may have stocked and sold them.

As a result, we have concluded that Breen offers a convincing argument about the standardization of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America, but with at least one important caveat. Whether they owned slaves or not, colonists in the Chesapeake and Lower South were exposed regularly to advertisements for shoes and clothing explicitly associated with slaves in stark contrast to the apparel marketed for white consumers. Slavery caused some regional differences in consumer culture to creep into newspaper advertising.

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[1] James Sellers, Slavery in Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1950), 99.

[2] Travis Jacquess, “Fashion and Appearance: Men’s Clothing” in The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia, ed, Merril D. Smith (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2015), 284.

[3] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 467-499.

November 17

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-17-11171766-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (November 17, 1766).

“To be sold cheap by John Keteltas … pewter tea-pots.”

In this advertisement from the New-York Mercury, John Keteltas announced that he had an assortment of goods imported from London and Bristol to be sold “cheap” at his store located “in Queen-street.” I decided to focus on his listing for “pewter tea-pots.”

I first decided to do some research on pewter as a material. Pewter is an alloy metal that is made up of mostly tin. Pewter was often used for domestic items such as dishes and cups and even teapots. Pewterers often marked their pewter creations with a signature “touchmark” so people could identify who created the item. Consumers who purchased pewter items would also on some occasions put their own touchmark, often their initials, on their items. Some wealthy families would have their family crest stamped onto their pewter item as their touchmark.

In A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts, Joseph Bagley writes that pewter as a material flourished during the eighteenth century in Boston, but by the late 1700s, shortly after this advertisement was published, pewter saw a decline in popularity. “The eventual decline in the use of pewter happened in the late 1700s, when cheaply made English ceramics flooded the market, replacing the equally inexpensive pewter goods with whiter-colored wares and their sometimes colorful decorations.”[1] Pewter domestic wares were common, but other options became increasingly available and more popular.

Tea played an important role in the daily lives of colonial families. In Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America, Benjamin Carp notes that in the eighteenth century drinking tea was a regular event for families of all classes. He writes, “During the eighteenth century, tea became the drink of respectable British and colonial households everywhere.”[2]

John Keteltas advertised an essential item made of a common material. Considering he also promised his items to be sold at a cheap price, we can assume that a wide variety of people might respond to his advertisement in their search for a “pewter tea-pot.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

It is impossible to know from John Keteltas’ advertisement if the “pewter tea-pots” he sold had the sort of touchmarks that Mary described. Artisans of all sorts frequently marked their work in one way or another in the eighteenth century. While they did so out of pride in the items they had created, this practice served other purposes as well. Pewterers and others marked their wares as a means of permanently associating their skill and expertise with the goods they produced. In this manner, they branded the items that came out of their workshops. They transformed their creations, the goods that consumers would display and use in their households, into advertisements through the act of marking them. In one sense, such items never fully left the possession of artisans to become the property of their customers. Even when customers used a family crest or other means of personalizing their possessions, such marks competed with any touchmark that belonged to the creator. No matter how often they were used to serve the needs of consumers, marked items also continued to promote the work of the artisans who produced them. Every time a colonist used an item with a touchmark or other device he or she was exposed to a form of perpetual marketing.

The Adverts 250 Project focuses primarily on newspaper advertisements, though other forms of printed marketing materials (such as trade cards, broadsides, catalogs, and billheads) are sometimes featured. Yet not all advertising in colonial America was printed. Some of it was verbal, delivered by word of mouth, town criers, auctioneers, or street hawkers. Or, in the case of the “pewter tea-pots” sold by John Keteltas and other items made by artisans, material goods themselves could serve as advertisements. Furniture with paper labels affixed combined printed advertising and material goods, as did books with labels of various sorts. In such cases, commodities became advertisements for more commodities.

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[1] Joseph M. Bagley, A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2016), 95.

[2] Benjamin L. Carp, Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 55.

November 16

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-16-11161766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 16, 1766).

Opened my House … for the Reception of such Gentlemen and Ladies who may travel this Way.”

In this advertisement from the Providence Gazette, Abijah Hunt wrote that he had just opened up his house to the public. He promised “every Thing suitable for their Accommodation” to any gentlemen and ladies who might stop by.

When I first read through this advertisement I was confused about what exactly Hunt was advertising to readers: an inn or a tavern. He promised to accommodate travelers, but he also mentioned entertainment. On the Colonial Williamsburg webpage, Ed Crews writes that taverns were also called “inns, ordinaries, and public houses” in colonial America. Traveling performers often provided the entertainment in these inns. A wide variety of performers put on acts at these inns, such as magicians, actors, and musicians. Some acts included the use of animals, such as trained pigs. The most common instruments musicians used in their performances were violins, flutes, and trumpets. On nights when there was no provided entertainment, customers often sang together in groups.

Hunt wrote that some of the public taverns in Providence were “not so agreeable as those (to be found in most other large Towns).” Taverns and inns could vary greatly in their atmospheres. Crews describes many inns as “male-domains” where men drank too much and used foul language. Furthermore, “Felons planned crimes, fenced goods, and passed counterfeit money in inns. Fights and murders were common.” Refined women avoided taverns, but prostitutes visited often. In this advertisement, Hunt offered an alternative place of shelter and entertainment for those colonists who wanted a more safe and refined experience.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Mary paints a vivid picture of some of the activities that took place in taverns in the eighteenth century. In addition to being places of entertainment where colonists socialized, Mary also indicates that taverns provided a venue for participating in consumer culture in various ways, including fencing stolen goods and passing counterfeit money.

Such activities were part of what Serena R. Zabin has described as the “informal economy” in colonial America. Not all colonists had the means to purchase new goods directly from merchants and shopkeepers, but that did not prevent them seeking out other ways to obtain the “English, India, and West-India GOODS” that Samuel Nightingale, Jr., marketed on the page after Abijah Hunt’s advertisement appeared. Zabin and others have demonstrated that a vibrant secondhand economy operated in eighteenth-century America; colonists bought and sold used clothing and other goods. Yet others turned to more nefarious means to get their hands on the goods they desired, either stealing or purchasing stolen items. In today’s advertisement Abijah Hunt announced that he opened a house of entertainment to be a place of refuge for visitors “to this Town, both on Business and Recreation,” patrons that he believed wished to avoid some of the more unsavory activities (including the exchange of stolen goods) that took place in some taverns.

While newspaper advertisements reveal a lot about the availability of goods during the consumer revolution, they do not tell the entire story. Occasionally shopkeepers and others placed advertisements lamenting thefts and announcing rewards upon the capture and conviction of the perpetrators, but those who stole the goods almost certainly did not turn to newspapers to offer them for sale. Piecing together the informal economy that included fencing stolen goods, as Zabin has done, requires consulting court records. Those documents provide insight into how some colonists – consumers themselves – used and thought about goods, while newspaper advertisements, for the most part, suggest how retailers, producers, and suppliers attempted to shape colonists’ attitudes and behaviors related to consumption.

 

November 15

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-15-11151766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 15, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD, FOR CASH, BY Samuel Nightingale … Sealing wax and wafers.”

In this advertisement published in the Providence Gazette, Samuel Nightingale offered a wide assortment of goods in his “new shop.” Out of the many goods to choose to research, I decided to take a look at sealing wax and wafers.

Letters in colonial America were not placed into separate envelopes before being sent. Instead, the letters themselves were folded into hand-made envelopes and sealed closed with either sealing wax or wafers.[1] Using sealing wax involved melting a stick of wax over the folded letter with a candle. Before the wax dried, the writer pressed a stamp into the wax to form a seal. The process was messy and time consuming compared to the alternative method to seal letters: wafers. Wafers were pre-made seals that would stick to paper when they were wet.

Reading about the ways letters were sealed reveals a few issues of security and privacy involving mail in the colonies. In “The Meaning and Value of Privacy,” Daniel J. Solove writes, “In colonial America, mail was often insecure. Letters sealed only with wax, left many people concerned that they were far from secure.”[2] Solove goes on to say that Benjamin Franklin, who was a colonial postmaster general, required his post workers to take an oath that they would not open up other people’s mail. [3] We can infer from sealing wax and wafers that there was a certain lack of privacy that existed in the postal system in colonial America.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

More than any other newspaper printers in the 1760s, Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers of the Providence Gazette, seem to have allowed advertisers to experiment with innovative graphic design. Goddard may have even suggested and encouraged innovative approaches to layout that distinguished individual advertisements from each other and her newspaper from others circulating in New England and beyond.

The Providence Gazette, established by William Goddard in 1762, ceased publication in May 1765. When it was resurrected by his mother in August 1766, issues almost immediately included oversized advertisements that spanned two columns and featured decorative borders. The Adverts 250 Project has already examined several of those advertisements, including notices by Thompson and Arnold and Benjamin and Edward Thurber and Samuel Nightingale, Jr. Although copies of Goddard’s Providence Gazette most certainly made their way to Boston and New York and beyond, neither advertisers nor printers in other cities were quick to adopt the unique layout that resembled a trade card superimposed on a page of the newspaper. Given that printers ultimately controlled the content and layout of their newspapers, it is possible that shopkeepers requested similar treatment for their advertisements only to meet resistance from printers who did not wish to disrupt the format of their publications.

Considering that the Providence Gazette was only recently revived and may not yet have had an extensive cohort of advertisers providing financial support for the endeavor, Goddard may have been more eager and willing to experiment with the graphic design elements of advertising as a means of filling space and possibly raising more interest among potential new advertisers. Whatever the reasons, advertisements of the type that Mary has selected for today appeared exclusively in the Providence Gazette during the summer and fall of 1766. Keep an eye open for next week’s entry featuring an advertisement from the Providence Gazette to see how Mary Goddard and Company and their advertisers continued to create attention-grabbing advertisements using innovative graphic design.

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[1] E. Jennifer Monaghan, Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 284.

[2] Daniel H. Solove, “The Meaning and Value of Privacy,” in Social Dimensions of Privacy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Beate Roessler and Dorota Mokrosinka (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 75.

[3] Solove, “Meaning and Value of Privacy,” 76.

November 13

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-13-11131766-new-york-journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 13, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD, By THOMAS DOUGHTY, IN DOCK-STREET: CHOICE old Madeira Wine.”

In this advertisement published in the New-York Journal, Thomas Doughty offered a lot of different beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, for sale in his shop on Dock Street. What caught my eye was that Madeira wine was the only drink listed with a description: “old.”

After researching the history of Madeira wine, I discovered that it was created specifically to withstand long travels overseas when it would be shipped to other countries. Steven Grasse, author of Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History, writes, “The idea – and what made Madeira so durable and, in turn, beloved by early Americans – is that the wine is essentially spoiled, professionally and on purpose.”[1] Madeira wine was advertised as being old, because that’s what it was known for: never going bad despite the passing of time.

Madeira wine was a favorite drink amongst colonists. Grasse writes that although Madeira was a more expensive item, it was still very popular in British North America. “Madeira wasn’t cheap. Common people wouldn’t have drunk it – or, at least, not often – but that didn’t stop it from becoming part and parcel of the story of the American Revolution.”[2] Grasse goes on to say that Madeira became a leading import during the Revolution.[3] Madeira was a favorite choice of colonists because it kept constant quality over long periods of time.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “Madeira Wine,” Thomas Doughty sold “sundry other Articles of Grocery” imported from faraway places. To help potential customers navigate his advertisement he grouped similar items together: first alcoholic beverages, hot drinks (tea, coffee, and chocolate) next, then sugars followed by fruits and spices, and finally tobacco. That he listed alcohol first indicates which products he believed would attract readers’ attention and prompt them to peruse the rest of the goods he offered for sale.

Mary has examined the origins of Madeira, a wine that may be less familiar to modern readers than the rum, port, and wines Doughty hawked in his advertisement. He also sold another spirit that remains very popular today, Holland Geneva, though it is now commonly known as gin (which is a corruption of the word “Geneva”). Originally produced in Holland, gin almost immediately became one of the most popular drinks when it was introduced in England, especially after William and Mary assumed the throne. It had a reputation for being both inexpensive and strong.

Each of the alcoholic beverages in Doughty’s advertisement was either named after its place of origin (Madeira and Holland Geneva) or included a place in their description (“Lisbon Red Port,” “Tenriffe Wines,” “Jamaica Spirits,” and “West-India Rum”). Modern consumers certainly still identify their potent potables by their place of origin, but for colonists that was not merely a means of making distinctions of quality or reputation or other attributes. In addition, they also thought about the networks of trade and commerce that brought alcoholic beverages to British mainland North America from Portugal and its island outposts in the eastern Atlantic, the Netherlands, and the Caribbean. The range of alcohols and groceries items in Doughty’s advertisement demonstrates that colonists participated in transatlantic and global networks of trade during the eighteenth century.

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[1] Steven A. Grasse, Colonial Spirits: A Toast to our Drunken History (New York: Abrams, 2016), 74.

[2] Grasse, Colonial Spirits, 75.

[3] Grasse, Colonial Spirits, 75.

 

 

Welcome, Guest Curator Mary Williams

Mary Williams is a senior majoring in Secondary Education and History at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. She was inducted into Phi Alpha Theta, the History National Honor Society, in her junior year. She has previous experience with public history and digital humanities, having contributed to the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project at the American Antiquarian Society. As part of her Revolutionary America class she used T-PEN to transcribe and tag a ballad to make it more accessible to scholars and general audiences. Beyond her studies she enjoys baking and giving piano lessons. She will be guest curator of the Adverts 250 Project during the week of November 13 to 19, 2016. She previously curated the Slavery Adverts 250 Project during the week of October 2 to 8, 2016.

Welcome, Mary Williams!