June 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 20, 1771).

Those who advertise in this Paper … are requested to send them … on Wednesdays.”

Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, made a last-minute addition to the June 20, 1771, edition before taking it to press.  In a brief note, he declared, “Those who advertise in this Paper which circulates so extensively, are requested to send them in Season on Wednesdays:  whereby the Paper may be published earlier on Thursdays.  See SUPPLEMENT.”  The supplement that accompanied that issue did not include additional instructions for submitting advertisements.  It did contain several notices that did not appear in the standard issue as well as news items from New York, Hartford, Newport, and Providence.

The printer’s note to advertisers ran in the right margin of the third page of the June 20 edition, marking it as something inserted only after preparation of the rest of the issue had been completed.  Like other colonial newspapers, the Boston Weekly News-Letter consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  The printer began with the first and fourth pages, placing news and advertisements received in advance on those pages.  That left space for recent news and other advertisements on the second and third pages, printed only after the ink on the first and fourth pages dried.  For instance, the second and third pages of the June 20 edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter included multiple items from Boston and Cambridge dated that day.  Draper’s note to advertisers in the margin almost certainly was the last type set for the standard issue, perhaps in exasperation that some advertisers submitted their notices so late as to delay distribution of the newest edition while Draper and others who worked in the printing office produced the supplement to accompany it.

Draper tended to the interests of his subscribers and other readers in his note.  He aimed to make the newspaper available as early in the day as possible.  This also served his own interests since Isaiah Thomas published the Massachusetts Spy, a competing newspaper, on the same day.  He also angled for additional advertising, even as he clarified the right time to submit advertisements.  In asserting that the Boston Weekly News-Lettercirculates so extensively,” he not only testified to the time required for printing each edition but also assured prospective advertisers that significant numbers of readers would see their notices.  The success of his newspaper depended on attracting sufficient subscribers and advertisers.  Draper attempted to cultivate positive relationships with both constituencies, in the process offering instructions intended to facilitate the production of the newspaper while simultaneously attracting more business.

June 20

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 20, 1771).

“At his Shop near LIBERTY-TREE, A General Assortment of English Goods.”

A certain tension existed in the opening lines of John Greenlaw’s advertisement in the June 20, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  “JUST Imported in the last Ships from LONDON,” the shopkeeper proclaimed, “And to be Sold by John Greenlaw, At his Shop near LIBERTY-TREE, A General Assortment of English Goods.”  Greenlaw used the Liberty Tree as a landmark to direct prospective customers to the location where he sold merchandise that twice in the past six years had been the subject of nonimportation agreements, first in response to the Stamp Act and later to protest duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts.  The Liberty Tree served as an enduring reminder of colonists defending their rights against abuses perpetrated by Parliament, while the “General Assortment of English Goods” testified to the extent that consumers valued their ties to British commerce and culture.

While the most recent nonimportation agreement remained in effect, advertisers in Boston frequently promoted goods produced in the colonies or underscored that they acquired their inventory prior to a particular date.  In so doing, they associated politics with buying and selling goods, giving their merchandise and their role as purveyors of goods additional layers of meaning for readers and consumers.  Such appeals tapered off and mostly disappeared when Parliament repealed most of the duties and merchants and shopkeepers eagerly resumed trade.  “JUST Imported” became a standard part of advertisements once again as fewer and fewer advertisers incorporated politics into their notices.  Greenlaw and a few others, however, continued giving directions that included the Liberty Tree.  Whether they intended to make political statements or merely chose a convenient landmark, they reminded readers of a complicated relationship with the mother country, one made all the more fraught by the quartering of troops in the city and the Boston Massacre.  Participating in the marketplace, such advertisements asserted, was part of larger web of interactions between the colonies and Britain.

May 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (May 23, 1771).

“The Sale of the late Rev’d Dr. Sewall’s Library is postponed.”

The Adverts 250 Project has recently examined examples of printing in the margins of eighteenth-century newspapers, a strategy for increasing the amount of space available when printers had more content than would otherwise fit in an issue.  On May 17, 1771, Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers of the Connecticut Gazette, placed three advertisements describing enslaved men who liberated themselves and offering rewards for their capture and return in the margins of their newspaper.  They did not have enough additional content to justify publishing a supplement, another common means of creating space for material that did not fit in a standard issue.  To make those advertisements fit in the margins, the Greens took type that had already been set in a single column and divided it into several shorter columns.  The previous day, John Holt took a different approach when he inserted an advertisement in the margins of the New-York Journal.   His notice about a new “Carrier of this Paper” appeared for the first time, running the entire length of the rightmost column on the third page rather than separated into multiple shorter columns positioned side by side.  In each case, appearing in the margins may have enhanced the visibility of the advertisements.

Not every printer and compositor resorted to this strategy, but many did so frequently enough that additional content in the margins became a familiar sight to eighteenth-century readers.  Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, placed two brief items in the margins of the May 23, 1771, edition.  One notice advised, “The Sale of the late Rev’d Dr. Sewall’s Library is postponed.”  The other provided instructions to readers to “See Supplement, for other News and Advertisements.”  A two-page supplement accompanied the standard issue.  Draper likely could have made space there for the notice about the postponed sale, but may have chosen not to do so.  Such a short notice would not have been nearly as visible among the other contents of the supplement as it was in the margin on the third page of the standard issue.  Its placement there also suggests that the information arrived too late to develop a more complete advertisement.  For a standard four-page issue, compositors set type for the third page last, making the notices in the right margin of the third page the last items incorporated into the issue.

Given the amount of advertising in the supplement, all of it previously published in other issues in recent weeks, and the dates listed for the news items, the supplement may have gone to press before the second and third pages of the standard issue.  Draper knew in advance that he would need to distribute a supplement, but he likely did not have much notice that “The Sale of the late Rev’d Dr. Sewall’s Library is postponed.”  As a result, he adopted both strategies for publishing content that did not fit in the standard four-page edition:  issuing a supplement and printing in the margins.  The latter was a clever adaptation prompted by the limits and possibilities of the printing technology available in the eighteenth century. It was a practical solution that had the added benefit of drawing attention to the items that appeared in the margins.

May 12

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 9, 1771).

“If offered for sale … it’s desir’d it may be stopt, and Advice given … by publishing it in the Papers.”

Lost and found advertisements regularly appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Colonists sought to harness the power of the press in recovering garments, documents, currency, jewelry, and a variety of other items that they misplaced, dropped, or inadvertently left behind.  The watchmakers Asby and McLain published an advertisement concerning “A Gold Watch lost” on the evening of April 20, 1771, hoping that readers of the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter would assist in returning it.  To that end, they offered “TWENTY DOLLARS Reward.”

The watch went missing “between the Town-House and Draw-Bridge in Boston,” but Asby and McLain widened the search.  They realized that whoever might find the watch would not necessarily seek its owner but instead keep it or attempt to sell it.  The watchmakers enlisted the assistance of “Master of Vessels,” requesting that they observe their crew to see “if such a Watch should appear to be in Possession of any of the Sailors on board.”  Asby and McLain left discipline to captains, advising they either confiscate the watch or pay the reward “as they shall think proper” under the circumstances.  Anticipating the possibility that the watch might be “offered for sale in Boston, or in any Town upon the Continent,” the watchmakers asked that the watch “may be stopt” or confiscated and “Advice given … by publishing it in the Papers, that either of them may know w[h]ere to apply and pay the Reward.”

In giving those instructions, Asby and McLain suggested that newspapers would continue to play a role in their search for the watch beyond publishing their own advertisement.  They expected readers in Boston and other places to take note, testifying to the dissemination and reach of newspapers in the era of the American Revolution.  The watchmakers also suggested that they would scan the newspapers for an advertisement placed in response to their notice.  Even though they gave their location and anyone who found or confiscated the watch could communicate with them directly, Asby and McLain depended on the public prints as an alternative.

May 2

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 2, 1771).

“A Sermon … By the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD.”

Following the death of George Whitefield in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, printers, booksellers, and others marketed a variety of items to commemorate the loss of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Such commemoration also amounted to a commodification of Whitefield and his death.  The first wave of marketing lasted for three months as news traveled from New England to Georgia and then news of local reactions spread from colony to colony in all directions.  A second wave of marketing commenced in the spring when ships arrived with news of how the minister’s death had been received in England.  Those same vessels carried copies of Whitefield’s will and the sermon delivered in his memory by John Wesley.  Colonial printers soon produced and marketed American editions.

The renewed attention presented an opportunity for others to generate revenues by selling Whitefield memorabilia.  On May 2, 1771, bookseller Thomas Bromfield placed an advertisement for “A Sermon preached at the Tabernacle in Moorfields, London … By the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  John Fleeming’s advertisement for his edition of Wesley’s sermon ran in the supplement that accompanied the standard edition, also encouraging consumers to take interest in the deceased minister.  This was not the first time that Bromfield placed a notice in the public prints, but it was his first endeavor with advertising a single title rather than a list of books and pamphlets available at his shop on King Street.  He apparently saw a chance to take advantage of existing interest as well as incite further demand for items connected to Whitefield.  Bromfield noted that the sermon had been published after the minister’s death, making it yet another item produced in simultaneous acts of commemoration and commodification.  He also added words of encouragement for prospective buyers.  “As the Author of this Sermon was highly esteemed by most People in these Parts,” Bromfield stated, “it is hoped [the sermon] will have a speedy Sale.”  The bookseller gave consumers a gentle nudge, but also suggested that they needed to act quickly or risk not acquiring the sermon.

Whitefield’s death had been one of the major news stories of 1770.  That event continued to reverberate many months later as printers, booksellers, and others added new items to the assortment of memorabilia produced immediately after the minister’s death.  Their marketing efforts meant that Whitefield remained a subject of interest in the public prints.

April 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 25, 1771).

“Many other Advertisements for want of Room must be deferred till next Week.”

On April 25, 1771, Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, faced the same conundrum that Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General, navigated the previous day.  He had more content than would fit in the standard four-page issue of his newspaper.  Wells opted to distribute a supplement that consisted entirely of advertising.  To conserve resources and minimize expenses, he printed that supplement on a smaller sheet.  Draper, on the other hand, inserted a note alerting readers (and advertisers who expected to see their notices in that issue) that “Many other Advertisements for want of Room must be deferred till next Week.”

In the end, Draper did print a supplement.  Like Wells, he printed it on a smaller sheet.  His supplement, however, did not include any advertising.  Instead, it relayed “Fresh London Articles,” news that just arrived in Boston via theThomas from London.  The placement of Draper’s notice about the delayed advertisements suggests the sequence of events.  Like other printers, het set the type and printed the first and fourth pages first, leaving the second and third pages for later.  As a result, the most current news usually appeared on the second page, inside the standard four-page issue, rather than on the front page.  For the April 25 edition, the first page included news from “BOSTON, April 19” as well as news from other towns from earlier in April.  The fourth page contained advertisements.  The second page included news from “BOSTON, April 25,” the same day Draper printed the issue, as well as shipping news from the customs house news from Hartford, an item reprinted from a London newspaper, and advertisements.  Like the fourth page, the third page consisted entirely of paid notices, with the addition of the printer’s note about delayed advertisements at the bottom of the final column.

When news from London arrived via the Thomas, however, Draper decided to print a supplement rather than get scooped by his competitors.  Most newspapers published before the American Revolution appeared weekly rather than daily, meaning that waiting for the next issue to print breaking news meant a significant delay.  Draper managed to take news from London to press first.  Four days later, the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy each carried the same news, but in both cases that news ran on the front page as a result of the printers having it in their possession longer.  The introductory comments in the Post-Boy explained, “Monday last arrived here the ShipThomas, Capt. Davis, from London, by whom we have Papers to the 1st of March; from which we have the following Advices.”

The Thomas arrived in port on Monday, April 22.  Either it took a couple of days for Draper to come into possession of the London newspapers that Davis delivered or the printer decided to create a supplement to call special attention to that news, underscoring that the News-Letter reported it before any competitors.  In both scenarios, Draper selected a smaller sheet and devoted the entire supplement to the “freshest advices,” as so many printers described the news in their publications.  Advertising, Draper determined, could wait a week.  News from London could not.  Given that newspaper printers depended on advertising revenue, Draper could not always make the same call.  After all, colonists who submitted paid notices were familiar with advertising supplements, a regular feature of many newspapers.  In this instance, however, Draper apparently figured that advertisers would be forgiving of the delay, provided it did not continue indefinitely.  Like other printers, he sought a balance between news and advertising that would satisfy both subscribers and advertisers.

April 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 19, 1771).

“This Sermon contains a summary Account of Mr. WHITEFIELD’S Life.”

When George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, news quickly spread.  Accounts of his death first appeared in newspapers published in Boston, radiating out to newspapers in other cities and towns.  Almost immediately, printers, booksellers, and others began marketing commemorative items in memory of Whitefield.  Commodification of the minister’s death became part of the mourning ritual.

From New Hampshire to South Carolina, newspapers carried advertisements for books, broadsides, and poems.  Readers encountered those advertisements for nearly three months before they tapered off.  After another three months, advertisements for new Whitefield memorabilia began appearing in colonial newspapers, this time for items related to reactions to the minister’s death on the other side of the Atlantic.  On March 21, 1771, the New-York Journal carried an advertisement for “THE celebrated Sermon preached … on the Death of the late Rev. Mr. George Whitefield … By JOHN WESLEY.”  John Holt, printer of the New-York Journal, took to press the first American edition of Wesley’s funeral sermon.

Nearly a month later, John Fleeming advertised and published another edition in Boston.  He ran an advertisement in the April 19 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Unlike Holt, Fleeming noted that his edition included “a summary Account of Mr. WHITEFIELD’S Life extracted from his own Journals,” an elaboration on the content intended to entice consumers.  This endeavor merited its own advertisement separate from another notice that Fleeming ran to promote stationery and books, including an account of the trials of the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, that the printer sold at his shop on King Street.

Most public figures disappeared from colonial newspapers not long after accounts of their deaths.  Printers continued coverage of Whitefield, on the other hand, for many months, publishing both news accounts and advertisements for memorabilia.  Commemoration and commodification occurred simultaneously as Whitefield continued to appear in the colonial press more than half a year after his death.

April 4

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 4, 1771).

“Too many Articles to be enumerated.”

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently published extensive advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Those advertisements served as catalogs of their inventory, listing all sorts of goods they offered for sale.  Both the length and the number of entries communicated the array of choices available to consumers.  In the April 4, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, Joshua Gardner inserted an advertisement that filled half a column.  In a dense paragraph, he enumerated scores of “ENGLISH GOODS,” everything from textiles and trimmings to housewares and hardware.  Like many of his peers, he concluded with a promise of “sundry other articles” that would not fit in his advertisement.

Other advertisers did not describe the scope of their wares in such detail.  Some, like Ebenezer Storer, merely stated that they had on hand an “Assortment of GOODS” and invited prospective customers to visit their shops to see for themselves.  Others provided a preview of their merchandise, but dismissed the long lists published by competitors.  Margaret Newman and Robert Hall both took that approach.  Newman promoted her “neat Assortment of English & India GOODS” as well as an “Assortment of Paper Hangings, Felt Hats, Cutlery Ware,” and textiles.  Reiterating “Assortment” underscored choices for consumers, so many choices that a newspaper advertisement could not contain all of them.  Newman proclaimed that she could not even attempt to list her goods because they “Consist[ed] of too many Articles to be enumerated.”  In his advertisement for a “fresh Parcel of Garden Seeds” and a “Collection of the Best Kind of Fruit-Trees,” Hall insisted that he had “too many Sorts to be inserted in an Advertisement.”  Most of his competitors who placed advertisements in the same issue listed dozens of seeds or trees.

Both Newman and Hall suggested that they carried the same variety of goods as their competitors who published long lists of merchandise.  Their insistence that they had “too many Articles to be enumerated” even implied that they might offer more choices than their competitors who provided extensive accounts of their inventory, such a vast array that they could not select only some to appear in their advertisements.  Publishing shorter advertisements may have been motivated by financial concerns, but advertisers like Newman and Hall devised ways of making the length work to their advantage.

March 14

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

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


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.

March 10

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 7, 1771).

Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”

On March 7, 1771, John Stavers and Benjamin Hart inserted an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform thew public that the “POST-STAGE from and to Portsmouth in New-Hampshire” had a new location in Boston.  Formerly at the Sign of the Admiral Vernon on King Street, the stage now operated from “Mrs. Bean’s at the Sign of the Ship on Launch” on the same street.  It arrived on Wednesdays and departed on Fridays, carrying passengers, packages, and newspapers between the two towns.

Stavers and Hart’s advertisement included two notes that Richard Draper, printer of the Weekly News-Letter, likely added, perhaps after consulting with the stage operators.  Both appeared in italics, distinguishing them from the rest of the contents of the advertisement.  One note called on “Customers to this Paper, on the Eastern Road and at Portsmouth, that are indebted more than one Year … to send the Pay by the Carriers.”  In other words, Draper asked any subscribers who lived along the circuit traversed by Stavers and Hart to submit payment to them for delivery to his printing office in Boston.  The other note proclaimed that “Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”  Colonial newspapers depended on revenues generated by advertising.  In this note, Draper sought to assure prospective advertisements that placing their notices in his newspaper would be a good investment because the Weekly News-Letter reached audiences well beyond Boston.  He also encouraged prospective advertisers who lived outside the city, both to the north and the west, to place notices in the Weekly News-Letter in order to reach readers in their own communities.

Draper seems to have piggybacked messages concerning his own business on an advertisement placed by clients who operated a stage between Boston and Portsmouth.  He likely figured that a notice about transporting passengers and packages between the two towns would attract the attention of current subscribers in arrears with their accounts.  He also seized the opportunity to tout the circulation of the newspaper in order to promote it as a vehicle for disseminating advertising.  An advertisement for the “POST-STAGE” ended up doing a lot of work in the interests of the printer.