October 17

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 15, 1770).

“Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”

Following the death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, colonial printers quickly engaged in simultaneous acts of commemoration and commodification.  Radiating out from Boston, newspapers provided extensive coverage of Whitefield’s passing, in news articles reprinted from one newspaper to another, in verses dedicated to the minister, and in a hymn composed by Whitefield himself in anticipation of it one day being sung at his funeral.  In addition to widespread and widely reprinted commemorations of Whitefield, printers also hawked memorabilia that commodified his death.

The first instance appeared in the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, just days after residents of Boston received the news that Whitefield died at Newburyport.  The news coverage included an announcement of “A FUNERAL HYMN, wrote by the Rev’d Mr, Whitefield … Sold at Green & Russells.”  Within two weeks, every newspaper published in Massachusetts as well as the New-Hampshire Gazette published at least one freestanding advertisement that promoted a broadside that commemorated the minister.  Printers and others made available several broadsides for consumers, some of that memorabilia featuring the funeral hymn and others featuring poems dedicated to Whitefield.

The advertisements for those broadsides initially addressed individual consumers, but on October 15 the advertisements for the “ELEGIAC POEM” by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet, in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy included a new note at the end: “Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”  Ezekiel Russell and John Boyles offered discounts to peddlers, shopkeepers, and anyone else who would purchase in bulk and then retail the broadside beyond Boston.  Just as news of Whitefield’s death spread through printing and reprinting of articles, verses, and hymns in newspapers that were distributed far beyond the towns in which they were published, the opportunities to engage in commemoration through commodification also widened.  Newspapers in Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth all ran advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia.  The producers of that memorabilia expected and encouraged further distribution into villages, offering discounts to facilitate the further dissemination of their product.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 25, 1770).

“The above Goods were imported before the Merchants Agreement.”

John Nazro sold a variety of goods at his shop in Boston.  In an advertisement in the June 25, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, he listed dozens of items, mostly textiles and accessories to adorn garments.  He concluded the notice with a nota bene directing prospective customers and the entire community to take note that it “may be depended upon” that “the above Goods were imported before the Merchants Agreement.”  In so doing, Nazro acknowledged that the nonimportation agreement was still in effect, at least in Boston.

Word of the repeal of the Townshend duties on imported goods, with the exception of tea, had arrived in the colonies in May.  Almost immediately, merchants in New York abandoned their nonimportation agreement, eager to resume trade.  The agreements in Boston and Philadelphia, however, continued throughout the summer; some merchants in those cities hoped to continue to use economic leverage to exert influence over British imperial policy.  They unsuccessfully attempted to convince their peers to extend the nonimportation agreement.  In September, Philadelphia followed New York.  By the end of October, merchants in Boston also voted to resume trade with Britain, even as some still wished to arrange a meeting with their counterparts in other cities.

As debates about resuming trade took place in Boston, Nazro proclaimed that he abided by the nonimportation agreement.  Some readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy might have interpreted that a form of encouragement for continuing the agreement.  At the very least, Nazro sought to demonstrate to the community that even in those uncertain times he followed the pact that had been adopted and not yet formally dissolved.  He took his cue from the community of merchants in his city, not the actions of Parliament in repealing most of the Townshend duties or the merchants in New York who so quickly returned to business as usual.  Nazro suggested that customers could feel confident making purchases at his shop because neither he nor they deviated from the nonimportation agreement still in place in Boston.

June 13

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

Jun 13 - 6:11:170 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (June 11, 1770).

“The Coach-Making Business in all its Branches is carried on as usual.”

Adino Paddock, a coachmaker in Boston, regularly placed newspaper advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He often promoted secondhand coaches, chaises, and other sorts of carriages as an alternative to purchasing new ones, anticipating marketing strategies that became standard in the automobile industry two centuries later.  He also provided maintenance and carried accessories and equipment, such as reins and whips, realizing that ancillary services and smaller sales supplemented the revenues he earned from carriages.

As part of his marketing efforts, Paddock inserted his advertisements in multiple newspapers published in Boston.  While this increased his expenses, it also placed his notice before greater numbers of potential customers.  During the week of June 11, 1770, for instance, Paddock placed the same advertisement in three of the five newspapers printed in Boston at the time.  It appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on the same day at the beginning of the week.  It did not, however, appear in the issue of the Boston Chroniclepublished that same day or the subsequent issue distributed later in the week, but Paddock may not have considered running it there worth the investment.  Relatively few advertisements ran in the Chronicle, perhaps due to the newspaper’s outspoken Tory sympathies.  (Less than two weeks later that newspaper permanently ceased publication, though Paddock would not have known that the end was near for the Chronicle when he submitted his advertisements to the various printing offices in town.)  Paddock also declined to place his notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Perhaps running notices in the other three newspapers exhausted his budget.

Whatever his reasons for choosing some newspapers over others, Paddock did submit identical copy to the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Post-Boy, multiplying the number of readers who would encounter his advertisements.  For readers who perused more than one publication, his advertisement likely became more memorable due to its familiarity.  Paddock was not alone in adopting this strategy.  Artisans, merchants, and shopkeepers in cities with multiple newspapers often sought to increase their visibility by placing identical notices in more than one publication.

April 9

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 9, 1770).

“A small Assortment of English Goods.”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson placed an advertisement offering cash for “POT and PEARL ASH” in the April 9, 1770, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  In that same advertisement they offered for sale a “small Assortment of English Goods.”  They did not confine themselves to advertising in the Boston Evening-Post alone.  That same day they inserted the same advertisement in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Later in the week, their advertisement also ran in the April 12 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, the Boston Chronicle was the only one that did not carry Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement.

Even though they attempted to increase the number of readers who would see their advertisement, they may have declined to place it in the Chronicle for a couple of reasons.  Politics may have played a part:  the Chronicle had earned a much-deserved reputation as a Loyalist newspaper.  Smith and Atkinson may not have wished to be associated with the newspaper or its printers.  The potential return on their investment may have also influenced their decision.  The Chronicle ran far fewer advertisements than any of the other newspapers published in Boston, suggesting that it likely had fewer readers.  Smith and Atkinson may not have considered inserting their advertisement in the Chronicle worth the expense.

In addition, the political argument they made in their advertisement would not have fit the Chronicle’s outlook and reputation.  Smith and Atkinson carefully specified that their English goods had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.”  They abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of duties assessed on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.  They suggested that consumers should abide by the agreement as well, grafting politics onto decisions about their participation in the marketplace.  The Chronicle, on the other hand, devoted significant effort to accusing patriot leaders and merchants of secretly cheating on the nonimportation agreement and misleading their customers and the public.

When Smith and Atkinson decided to advertise in most of Boston’s newspapers, they likely had more than one motivation for doing so.  They did not necessarily seek merely to attract customers for their goods.  Their strategy allowed them to widely publicize that they abided by the political principles adopted by most of their community, enhancing their reputation among readers even if those readers did not become customers.

December 25

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

Dec 25 - 12:25:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 25, 1769).

“Many Years experience in the most eminent Shops in London.”

As 1769 drew to a close, the residents of Boston and many other cities and towns throughout the colonies were still embroiled in a dispute with Parliament over the duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts. Merchants and shopkeepers continued to participate in nonimportation agreements, refusing to order merchandise of all sorts as a means of using economic pressure to achieve political goals. Especially in Boston, newspapers provided updates about traders who either declined to sign or subsequently violated the boycotts. Discourse about the virtues and vices inherent in making or abstaining from certain purchases became a regular feature in the public prints, in advertisements as well as in editorials.

Yet colonists in Boston and other places did not abstain from all things associated with Britain even as they rejected imported goods. They still looked across the Atlantic, especially to London, for cues about fashion. Colonists continued to imbibe British culture and tastes even as they eschewed British goods. Timothy Kelly, “Hair Cutter and Peruke-Maker from LONDON,” depended on that continued allegiance to British styles in his advertisement that ran in the December 25, 1769, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. This wigmaker leveraged his previous experience serving clients in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire, underscoring to the “GENTLEMEN and LADIES” that he “had the advantage of many Years experience in the most eminent Shops in London.” That alone gave his perukes and other hairpieces cachet not associated with wigs made or styled by competitors whose training and entire careers had been confined to the colonies. Kelly claimed he possessed knowledge of the current styles in London, vowing that he made “any kind Perukes now in fashion” and did so “as genteel as can be had from thence.” Why should colonists import wigs from afar when they could consult with an “eminent” stylist in Boston? After all, this stylist was so eminent that he deployed solely his last name as the headline of his advertisement, expecting that to sufficiently identify him when prospective clients perused the newspaper. Kelly did far more than merely promise that he “dresses Hair in any form in the neatest manner” in his advertisement. He accentuated his connections to London and the fashions there, anticipating that doing so would resonate with residents of Boston even as they continued to boycott goods imported from England. British fashions could still be replicated in the colonies, and Kelly offered his services.

October 2

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

Oct 2 - 10:2:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 2, 1769).

“The approbation of all Free born Souls and true Sons of Liberty.”

Thomas Mewse, “Lately from England,” chose a good time to migrate to Boston and set up shop as a weaver. In the fall of 1769, he ran an advertisement to inform the residents of the city that he intended to produce a variety of textiles, everything from “CAMBLETS of all qualities” to “striped and featherd Broglios” to “plain Baragons.” Mewse made this announcement while the nonimportation agreement to protest the duties levied on certain goods by the Townshend Acts was still in effect. Merchants and shopkeepers vowed not to import textiles and most other consumer goods from London and other English ports, though they continued to sell those items imported before the nonimportation agreement went into effect. Still, neither wholesalers and retailers nor their customers had access to new merchandise, only inventory that had been stockpiled a year or more earlier in anticipation of the nonimportation agreement going into effect at the beginning of 1769.

Not only had those goods lingered on shelves or in storehouses for an extended period, they lacked the cachet of having been made in the American colonies. To address both the Townshend Acts and an imbalance of trade with Britain, colonists vowed to support “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in America, as an alternative to imported goods. Consuming American goods became a badge of honor; advertisers encouraged such thinking (and their own sales) by launching “Buy American” campaigns with greater frequency in the late 1760s. Mewse joined the chorus, proclaiming that his textiles would surely merit “the approbation of all Free born Souls and true Sons of Liberty.” He made a savvy pitch, both informing prospective customers that he made textiles and challenging them to display their commitment to the American cause by purchasing from him.

Lest consumers worry that Mewse’s domestic manufacturers were of inferior quality to imported textiles that had been sitting on shelves for many months, he trumpeted his credentials. The weaver had been “regularly brought up to all these and various other Manufactures in a Capital house.” That made him so confident in his training that he asserted that no other weavers in Boston possessed better qualifications; he “presume[d] that no one is better acquainted with the Arts and Misteries” of weaving grograms, calimancoes, lutestrings, and the many other fabrics listed in his advertisement. Mewse was “determin’d to turn goods out compleatly made and high finished.” Prospective customers, he seemed to promise, would be well satisfied – both as consumers and as patriots – when they chose to acquire textiles from him. He did not need to explicitly invoke the Townshend Acts, the nonimportation agreement, or the movement to encourage domestic manufactures. Such topics were so commonly discussed, in the press and in the town square, that prospective customers understood the full scope of the appeals Mewse advanced to market his wares.