November 26

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

Maryland Gazette (November 26, 1772).

“The Publick have been greatly imposed on by many botching Pretenders.”

Artisans often highlighted their skill and experience in their advertisements.  Their skill and experience, they asserted, meant that prospective customers could depend on them producing items of the best quality.  Most artisans who placed newspaper advertisements focused on their own skill and experience, though occasionally some chose to denigrate their competitors.  John Simnet, a watchmaker, for instance, engaged in public feuds with his competitors, first in the New-Hampshire Gazette and later in newspapers published in New York.  Thomas Pryse, a “Coach-Harness-maker, Saddler, and Upholsterer,” did not make as direct references to his competitors, but he did take an aggressive tone in his advertisement in the November 26, 1772, edition of the Maryland Gazette.

Pryse announced that he “opened a Shop … where he intends carrying on his Trade in all its Branches.”  He boasted that he did his work “in a Manner superior to any that ever has attempted it in these Parts,” leaning into his London origins and the training and experience that he gained there before migrating to Annapolis.  Such appeals looked a lot like others deployed by artisans, but Pryse then turned up the temperature.  In a derisive tone, he declared that “the Publick have been greatly imposed on by many botching Pretenders to that Branch of Business,” prompting him to make assurances that “he is the only one that has been regularly bred” or trained “to Harness-making now in this Province.”  That being the case, Pryse was “determined to exert his best Endeavours to give Satisfaction to those that please to favour him with their Custom.”  Following his attack on his competitors, he reverted to promises of customer service that mirrored those that appeared in advertisements placed by other artisans.  Having made his point that his work was supposedly “superior” to anything made by “botching Pretenders,” he concluded with a list of items he made, sprinkling in phrases like “in the neatest and most approved manner” and “done in the best manner” to underscore his skill and experience.

Even if prospective customers did not care for Pryse’s tone in his advertisement, he challenged them to question the quality of the harnesses, saddles, and upholstery produced by his competitors.  In seeding doubts and suggesting that he did better, he may have hoped to convince some consumers to give him a chance even if they had previously been happy with work by other aertisans.

November 22

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

Maryland Gazette (November 19, 1772).

“They are well acquainted with the newest Fashions.”

When they settled in Annapolis, Jane Nelson and Anne Nelson took out an advertisement in the Maryland Gazette to introduce themselves to the community and encourage “Ladies … to favour them with their Commands” or orders for “all Kind of Milliners and Mantua-makers Work.”  As newcomers to the colony, they could not rely on their reputations to market their services.  Instead, they emphasized their connections to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, and their knowledge of current styles there.

In the deadline for their advertisement, the Nelsons proclaimed that they “Just arrived from LONDON.”  Artisans, tailors, milliners, and others often trumpeted that they were “from London” in their advertisements, sometimes long after they crossed the Atlantic.  The Nelsons made it clear that they only recently made that journey.  Accordingly, prospective clients could trust that they were indeed “well acquainted with the newest Fashions” and capable of making hats, cloaks, and other garments “in the most elegant and fashionable manner.”  Having recently come from London, the Nelsons could also provide guidance about “Ladies fashionable dress and undress Caps” and other items.

The Nelsons also aimed to convince prospective clients that they offered exemplary customer service.  They asserted that “Ladies … may depend on having their Work neatly done, and with the utmost Dispatch.”  If given a chance, the Nelsons assured those ladies that “they will not be disappointed in their Endeavours to please, as it shall be their constant Study and greatest Ambition.”  In addition to serving clients who visited them in Annapolis, the Nelsons also took “Orders from the Country,” pledging to punctually complete them.

These “Milliners and Mantua-makers” deployed a two-pronged approach to marketing their services upon arriving in Annapolis.  They promoted their connections to London, underscoring their familiarity with the latest tastes there, while simultaneously vowing to meet and exceed the expectations of their clients in terms of customer service.  The Nelsons hoped that combination of appeals would entice the ladies of Annapolis to engage their services.

November 8

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

Maryland Gazette (November 5, 1772).

“Intend shortly to exhibit Proposals for publishing a NEWS-PAPER.”

Robert Hodge and Frederick Shober took to the pages of the Maryland Gazette, published in Annapolis, in the fall of 1772 to advise prospective customers that they did “PRINTING In all it’s DIFFERENT BRANCHES … with the greatest neatness, accuracy and dispatch” at their “NEW PRINTING-OFFICE” in Baltimore.  At the time, the Maryland Gazette was the only newspaper published in the colony, so it served Baltimore as well as Annapolis.

Hodge and Shober, however, had plans for establishing their own newspaper in Baltimore.  They declared that they “intend shortly to exhibit Proposals for publishing a NEWS-PAPER, which shall be justly entitled to the Attention and Encouragement of this FLOURISHING TOWN and PROVINCE, both for ENTERTAINMENT and ELEGANCE.”  They were not the only entrepreneurs to decide that Baltimore seemed ready for its first newspaper.  A week earlier, the Maryland Gazette carried an extensive subscription proposal in which William Goddard announced his plans to publish “THE MARYLAND JOURNAL, AND BALTIMORE ADVERTISER … as soon therefore as I shall obtain a sufficient Number of Subscribers barely to defray the Expence of the Work.”  In a market that did not yet have one newspaper, Hodge and Shober competed with Goddard in their efforts to launch two newspapers simultaneously.

Neither met with immediate success.  Goddard, who was already printing the Pennsylvania Chronicle at the time he published his subscription proposal, did not manage to take the Maryland Journal to press until August 20, 1773, ten months after he announced his plans for the newspaper.  Hodge and Shober never published a newspaper.  In his monumental History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas notes that the partners purchased “printing materials” in 1772 and “began business in Baltimore, where they intended to have published a newspaper; but, not meeting with the encouragement they expected, before the end of the year they left Baltimore, and settled in New York.”[1]  A variety of factors likely contributed to their decision to relocate.  Competing with Goddard for subscribers to Baltimore’s first newspaper probably did not help their prospects in the city.

After Goddard commenced publication of the Maryland Journal, Baltimore did gain a second newspaper less than two years later.  John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, established Dunlap’s Maryland Gazette; or the Baltimore General Advertiser on May 2, 1775.  James Hayes, Jr., seems to have operated the publication on Dunlap’s behalf for three years before acquiring it for himself and changing the name to the Maryland Gazette, and Baltimore General Advertiser on September 15, 1778.  Hodge and Shober were just a few years too early in their efforts, though the war almost certainly played a role in inciting interest to establish more than one newspaper in Baltimore.  Under those difficult circumstances, however, Hayes removed to Annapolis just four months later.  Baltimore did not have a second newspaper of any longevity until after the war.[2]

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers & an Account of Newspapers (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 480.

[2] See entries in Clarence Brigham S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947) and Edward Connery Lathem, Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Barre, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 1972).

October 29

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

Maryland Gazette (October 29, 1772).

“I now propose to publish, by Subscription, … a Weekly News-Paper.”

Maryland had only one newspaper in 1772.  William Goddard aimed to change that.  To aid his efforts, he inserted a proposal in the October 29 edition of the Maryland Gazette, the publication that would be his competitor if he managed to launch “THE MARYLAND JOURNAL, AND BALTIMORE ADVERTISER.”  Printed in Annapolis, the Maryland Gazette served the entire colony, but Goddard believed that a market existed, or would exist after some savvy advertising, to support two newspapers in the colony.  In addition, he underscored the political utility of newspapers to prospective subscribers.  “IT is the Sentiment of the wisest and best Men that adorn our Age and Nation,” Goddard declared in the first sentence of his proposal, “that the Liberty of the Press is so essential to the Support of that Constitution under which we have hitherto derived the Blessings of Freedom, that it becomes every one to consider, in the most reverential Light, this Palladium of our Rights.”  The printer further explained that “well conducted News-Papersdispel Ignorance, the Parent of Slavery, give a Taste for Reading, and cause useful Knowledge to be cultivated and encouraged.”  Accordingly, he called on “every Friend to Liberty and his Country” to support his proposed project.

Goddard’s proposal filled nearly an entire column in the Maryland Gazette.  In addition to expounding on the philosophy that prompted him to consider publishing a newspaper in Baltimore, he advised potential subscribers that he was indeed prepared to launch the venture “as soon … as I shall obtain a sufficient Number of Subscribers barely to defray the Expence of the Work.”  Already in correspondence with “many Gentlemen of the most respectable Characters” in Baltimore, Goddard had “engaged a suitable Printing-Apparatus, which will be speedily here.”  In addition, as printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle he had already “established an extensive Correspondence, and shall not only receive all the different Weekly American Papers, but also the best News-Papers, political Pamphlets, Registers, Magazines, and other periodical Publications of Great-Britain and Ireland.”  In addition to printer and publisher, Goddard assumed the responsibilities of editor, drawing the news from the letters, newspapers, and periodicals sent to him.  Every American newspaper printer-editor reprinted extensively from other publications. Goddard even acquired “the most valuable Papers of German Advices” in order to provide news of interest to the growing German population in the backcountry.

The proposal also outlined the particulars of the publication and how to subscribe.  The newspaper would be “printed in four large Folio Pages, equal in Size to any of the Pennsylvania Papers” that, along with the Maryland Gazette, operated as local newspapers for Baltimore and the region.  Goddard intended to print and distribute the newspaper “regularly every Saturday Morning, unless another Day should appear more agreeable to the Subscribers.” Subscriptions cost ten shillings per year, with half to be paid immediately and the other half at the end of the year. Goddard briefly mentioned advertisements, noting they would be “accurately published, in a conspicuous Manner, with great Punctuality, at the customary Prices.”  He did not list those prices.  Colonizers interested in subscribing could leave their names “at the Coffee-Houses in Baltimore-Town and Annapolis” or with “several Persons with whom Subscription Papers are left.”  Like other printers attempting to launch new projects, Goddard relied on a network of local agents who assisted in recruiting subscribers.

Beyond the particulars, Goddard emphasized that he pursued a higher purpose than merely generating revenues or turning a profit on the publication.  He promised to publish news about every “remarkable Occurence, extraordinary Phenomemon, curious Invention, or New Discovery in Nature or Science” as well as “judicious original Essays … on political and other Subjects.”  In selecting material to include in the Maryland Journal, Goddard pledged that “the Freedom of the Press shall be maintained, the utmost Impartiality observed, and every well written Piece admitted, without Scruple, that does not tend to destroy or impair our excellent Constitution, injure the Cause of Liberty, disturb the Repose of Society, give Offence to Modesty, or, in any Shape, reflect Scandal on a News-Paper.”  In an era of upheaval as Parliament turned unwanted attention to the colonies, Goddard framed publishing a newspaper as a civic duty that served the commercial and political interests of the community.

Did the subscription proposal help Goddard to obtain that “sufficient Number of Subscribers barely to defray the Expence” and commence publication?  Perhaps, but it took some time.  The first issue appeared on August 20, 1773, ten months after Goddard initially proposed publishing the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser.  The newspaper continued publication, under the guidance of various printers and proprietors, throughout the American Revolution and into the 1790s, transitioning from weekly to semi-weekly to tri-weekly to daily as newspaper publishing expanded throughout the new nation.

August 23

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

Maryland Gazette (August 20, 1772).

“Black Velvet Collars, which are now worn instead of Necklaces, with Danglers.”

In the summer of 1772, M. Evans ran advertisements in the Maryland Gazette to announce to “the Ladies in Annapolis, and the Publick in general” that she stocked a variety of millinery and other items at her shop in Baltimore.  Her merchandise “Lately arrived from London.”  That being the case, she made clear to prospective customers that she carried current styles from the cosmopolitan center of the empire.  Her inventory included “the fashionable Net and Gauze Bonnets” and “fashionable Stomachers and Sleeve-knots with Italian Flowers.”  In addition, Evans listed many other items, including “Hats and long Cloaks in the French gray Queen’s Silk,” “Bonnets and Tippets” for young ladies, and a variety of combs, pins, earrings, and “Danglers.”  She concluded with “&c. &c. &c.” to indicate that she stocked much more than would fit in a newspaper advertisement.

In marketing her wares, Evans presented herself as a guide for prospective customers, not merely a shopkeeper.  She was in a position to offer advice and suggestions as well as keep her clients apprised of the latest fashions.  For instance, she included “black Velvet Collars … with Danglers” among her catalog of merchandise, explaining that they “are now worn instead of Necklaces.”  Some of the “Ladies in Annapolis” may have already been aware of this trend, but Evans apparently believed that many were not yet familiar with it.  Acting as a guide helped incite demand, tantalizing prospective customers with news of the latest styles while simultaneously encouraging them to acquire those styles for themselves.  Shopkeepers, milliners, and others who sold clothing and accessories were in a position to exert considerable influence over the customers they served, provided that those customers considered them well-informed and trustworthy.  Evans aimed to cultivate such relationships, marketing her knowledge of current fashions in her efforts to sell goods imported from London.  Her familiarity with new styles and ability to provide guidance to her customers made her more than a mere purveyor of goods.

July 23

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

Maryland Gazette (July 23, 1772).

“He intends for Annapolis … with a neat Assortment of Fire Dogs.”

In the summer of 1772, Daniel King, a brass founder, attempted to incite anticipation for his wares among consumers in Annapolis.  He had a workshop “At the Sign of the Bell and Brand, in … Philadelphia,” but did not run his operation solely from that location.  Instead, he announced his intention to visit Annapolis in late July or early August.  In an advertisement in the July 23 edition of the Maryland Gazette, he informed prospective customers that they could find him “at Mr. John Warren’s Tavern in Annapolis, where Orders will be received and punctually complied with.”

King hoped to encounter customers eagerly awaiting his arrival in Annapolis.  To increase the chances of that happening, he described his “neat Assortment of Brass Fire Dogs and Fenders, Fire Shovels and Tongs, and Chimney Backs.”  He confidently asserted that the items produced in his workshop “are neater and more to Order than any yet made on the Continent,” including those made by any competitors in Annapolis.  In addition, he considered his brass andirons “equal in Strength to any Iron Fire Dogs, and much easier kept clean.”

Like many artisans who advertised in colonial newspapers, King emphasized his training and experience in England prior to migrating across the Atlantic.  He declared that he “served his Apprenticeship in London, and worked in some of the best Shops in England.”  As a result, he produced andirons, shovels, tongs, and other items of the same quality and low prices as imported alternatives.  The brass founder stated that his consumers would derive “as much Satisfaction” from items form his workshop as any imported from England.

King and his andirons were likely both unfamiliar to “the Ladies and Gentlemen of Maryland” that he wished to attract as customers during an upcoming trip from his workshop in Philadelphia.  He sought to stoke anticipation for his arrival by convincing prospective customers that his wares were superior to any others, whether imported or made in the colonies.  He hoped that readers of the Maryland Gazette would at least visit Warren’s Tavern to examine his wares and compare them to others that merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans made available in Annapolis, giving him an opportunity to engage prospective customers in conversation and make his appeals in greater detail.

June 28

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

Maryland Gazette (June 25, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS, of moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s.”

Many colonial printers did not regularly publish how much they charged for newspaper subscriptions or advertising, while some included that information in the colophon at the bottom of the final page of each issue.  A few transformed their colophons into extensive advertisements for all sorts of goods and services available at their printing offices.

Such was the case for Anne Catherine Green and Son, printers of the Maryland Gazette.  They did not merely state that they printed their newspaper in Annapolis.  Instead, they declared that “all Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE, at 12s. 6d. a Year” or twelve shilling and six pence annually.  Green and Son published advertisements “of a moderate Length” for five shillings “the First Time” and an additional shilling “for each Week’s Continuance.”  Like many other printers, they charged more for “Long Ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.”  Some printers gave prices for only subscriptions or for only advertisements.  The more complete accounting from Green and Son demonstrates that a single advertisement that ran for a month generated almost as much revenue as a subscription for an entire year.

In addition to printing the Maryland Gazette, Green and Son also sold “most kinds of BLANKS” or printed forms for legal and financial transactions.  Throughout the colonies, printers hawked blanks.  Green and Son listed “COMMON and BAIL BONDS; TESTAMENTARY LETTERS of several Sorts, with their proper BONDS annexed; BILLS of EXCHANGE; [and] SHIPPING-BILLS.”  They appended “&c.” (an eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that they had on hand, “ready Printed,” an even greater variety of blanks to meet the needs of their customers.  In addition, they did “All Manner of PRINTING-WORK … in the neatest and most expeditious Manner.”  That included broadsides for posting around town, handbills for distributing on the streets, catalogs for auctions, and other advertising materials.

Each issue of the Maryland Gazette concluded with an extensive advertisement for goods and services available at the printing office.  Green and Son significantly expanded the colophon beyond giving the name of the printer and the place of publication, reminding readers that the printing office offered far more than just copies of the newspaper.

April 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Brian Looney

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Maryland Gazette (April 2, 1772).

“RAN away … a Mulatto Man Slave called Stephen Butler.”

Advertisements offering rewards for enslaved people who freed themselves by running away were common in American newspapers before and after the American Revolution. This advertisement describes Stephen Butler, “a Mulatto Man Slave” who knew that the system was morally wrong and never stopped trying to break it.  Leonard Boarman, the advertiser, stated that Butler worked as a carpenter and “has been pretty well known as a Runaway for these 30 Years.”  He also said that Butler would try to “make his Escape” if anyone caught him.  Boarman knew that Butler was committed to living as a free man.  Many other enslaved people also ran away from their enslavers before and after the colonies fought a war for independence.  That caused Congress to pass legislation to enforce the return of enslaved people. George Washington signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, further strengthening the Fugitive Slave Clause in the Constitution.  Freedom meant different things to different people during the era of the American Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Brian has chosen an advertisement that delivers a very rich narrative about “a Mulatto Man Slave called Stephen Butler.”  Boarman claims that Butler “RAN away” from his plantation, but he also suggests that Butler lived independently for three decades.  Butler possessed several skills that may have allowed him to earn a living away from Boarman’s plantation.  He “works at tight coopering, sawing and Wheel-work” and “is by Trade a Carpenter.”  Those skills likely helped him to forge relationships with colonizers who cared more about the contributions he could make to their community than whether an enslaver claimed Butler as his property.

Boarman indicated that very well may have been the case.  He claimed that Butler “has so great a Correspondence” or interaction “amongst many white People, that he never was once taken only by myself.”  Apparently other colonizers accepted Butler as a free man and even aided him in evading Boarman.  The enslaver declared that Butler “has confessed to me and many others where he has been harboured and whose Houses he resorted.”  In addition, Butler “has worked for several by Stealth,” putting his skills as a carpenter to good use.  Boarman declined to name those who had previously assisted Butler, but also threatened that if he could “make Proof either against white or black” accomplices then he would “proceed against them as the Law directs.”

Indeed, the law assessed penalties on anyone who assisted fugitives seeking their freedom.  Butler and others often relied on extended communities to aid them in liberating themselves and maintaining their freedom, but that did not prevent the state from imposing measures intended to return them to enslavement.  As Brian points out, the U.S. Constitution included a Fugitive Slave Clause that Congress later strengthened with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.  Such legislation endangered people like Butler who managed to integrate into communities as free men and women, putting the power of the state behind the demands that enslavers like Boarman made in newspaper advertisements and legal documents.  This advertisement tells an incredible story of resistance in the face of many challenges presented by both aggrieved enslavers and a legal system that privileged enslavement over freedom.

December 29

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

Maryland Gazette (December 26, 1771).

“A Variety of other Goods.”

In the final edition of the Maryland Gazette published in 1771, Alexander Ogg informed readers that he carried a “VERY large and general Assortment of European, East and West India Goods, suitable for the Season.”  To demonstrate to consumers that he did indeed offer an array of choices, he listed scores of items in an advertisement that extended more than half a column.  He stocked all kinds of fabrics, including “Sagathies, Durants, Tammies, Camblets and Cambletees, Calimancoes, flowered Queen Stuffs, Velvets and Velverets, Taffaties and Persians.”  He also had “Mens, Womens and Childrens Worsted Hose” as well as “Silk Mittens” and “Mens and Womens Beaver Gloves.”  Beyond textiles and clothing, he listed housewares, saddlery, patent medicines, and a variety of other items.  Customers could acquire “a large Assortment of white Stone Ware, consisting of Dishes, Mugs, Teacups and Saucers, [and] Sauce Boats” or “Silver Buckles both Shoe and Knee” or “Horse and Chair Whips” at his shop.

Ogg’s inventory seemed to rival that of any merchant or shopkeeper in the major ports.  His catalog of goods included the same items that appeared in advertisements in newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, yet he did not serve prospective customers in an urban center.  Instead, he imported these items from London to sell at his shop “at Hunting-Town in Calvert County,” about thirty miles south of Annapolis.  He advertised in the Maryland Gazette, the only newspaper published in the colony at the time.  As such, the Maryland Gazette served as a regional newspaper rather than a local one, so Ogg expected that prospective customers in his area would encounter his advertisement.  The length of the list, as well as references to a “VERY large and general Assortment” and assurances of “a Variety of other Goods,” may have been intended to underscore that he did indeed offer as many choices as merchants and shopkeepers in Annapolis … or Charleston or Philadelphia.  His advertisement also demonstrates that the consumer revolution did not occur solely in urban ports.  Enterprising merchants and shopkeepers advertised and distributed imported goods to rural communities as well.

August 4

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

Maryland Gazette (August 1, 1771).

“Has been regularly bred to the tailoring Trade in the most capital house for that Business.”

James Logan, a tailor, was an outsider when he arrived in Annapolis.  Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, he introduced himself to his new community (and prospective clients) in a newspaper advertisement that included an account of his credentials.  Until he had an opportunity to establish a reputation in his new home, he relied on his training and experience to recommend him to potential customers.

Logan’s advertisement ran in the August 4, 1771, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  He informed readers that “not only has [he] been regularly bred to the tailoring Trade in the most capital House for that Business, in the City of Cork, but also worked for a considerable Time with much Applause, with most eminent Masters in England and Ireland.”  Having worked with “eminent Masters” enhanced his training, but also testified to a competence that others who followed his occupation recognized in Logan.  Those experiences prepared him to pursue “his Trade in all it’s various Branches,” capable of completing any task requested by clients in his new city “to give the utmost Satisfaction.”  He also leveraged his connections to “the most capital House” in Cork and “eminent Masters in England and Ireland” to suggest a certain amount of cachet associated with hiring him.

The tailor also sought to convince prospective customers of his commitment to his craft combined with his desire to serve them.  He trumpeted his “superior Ability” and in the same breath promised “constant Adherence to the due Assiduity highly necessary in the Execution” of his new undertaking.  Even more verbose than many artisans who advertised in colonial newspapers, Logan aimed to make himself memorable to readers not yet familiar with the garments he made.  For the moment, words by necessity substituted for the reputation that he hoped to cultivate in Annapolis as he built his clientele.