June 28

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

Jun 28 - 6:28:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (June 28, 1770).

“English GOODS, imported agreeable to the Non-importation Agreement.”

Joshua Gardner listed a variety of imported “English GOODS” in his advertisement in the June 28, 1770 edition, of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Before even enumerating the “blue capuchin silks” or the “horn & ivory combs” or the “brass candlesticks,” Gardner first informed prospective customers and the entire community of readers that he imported his wares “agreeable to the Non-importation Agreement.”  Among the advertisers who promoted consumer goods and services in that issue of the News-Letter, Gardner was not alone in asserting when he had acquired his inventory.  Oliver Greenleaf advertised “Umbrilloes,” an exotic and fashionable accessory, as well as “a Variety of other Articles.”  Rather than a preamble, he incorporated a postscript pledging that “All … were imported agreeable to the Merchants Agreement.”  Similarly, Smith and Atkinson stated in a nota bene that they carried “A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants).”  Other advertisers made similar claims in notices inserted in other newspapers published in Boston that week.

With the repeal of all of the Townshend duties on imported goods with the exception of tea, the fate of nonimportation agreements throughout the colonies became uncertain.  When word of the repeal arrived in the colonies in May 1770, merchants in New York quickly dissolved their agreement and resumed trade with their counterparts in England.  In late June, the agreements in Boston and Philadelphia still remained in effect, though neither would survive to the end of the year.  Gardner, Greenleaf, and Smith and Atkinson likely realized that the agreement adopted by Boston’s merchants might not last much longer; for the moment, their merchandise had the cachet of promoting political principles, but once the nonimportation agreement collapsed and competitors began importing new goods from England their wares imported before the agreement went into effect would become leftovers that had lingered on the shelves and in warehouses.  In composing their advertisements, Gardner and others may have suspected that they had one last chance to link their merchandise to patriotic principles before new goods flooded the market.

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:24:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 24, 1770).

The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.”

John Crosby, who sold citrus fruits “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons,” and George Spriggs, “Gardner to JOHN HANCOCK,” were fortunate.  Their advertisements were the last two that appeared in the May 24, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  At the bottom of the third column on the final page, Richard Draper, the printer, inserted a brief notice that “The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.”  Unlike Crosby and Spriggs, some advertisers did not see their notices in print in that issue.

Draper had too much content to include in the standard four-page edition that week.  He may have considered producing a two-page supplement, as eighteenth-century printers often did in such situations, but perhaps he did not have sufficient advertisements to fill the space.  Alternately, lack of time or other resources may have prevented him from distributing a supplement that week.  Compared to other issues, the May 24 edition contained relatively few advertisements.  They comprised just over two columns, less than an entire page in a publication that often delivered just as much advertising as news.

Like other newspaper printers, Draper had to strike a balance between news and advertising.  Subscribers expected to receive the news, not just advertising, but advertisers contributed significant revenue to the operation of colonial newspapers.  Advertisers expected to put their notices before the eyes of readers.  They wished to reach as many readers as possible, which meant that printers could not alienate subscribers by skimping on the news or else risk their newspapers becoming less attractive venues for placing advertisements because subscription numbers decreased.  This was especially true in the larger port cities where printers published competing newspapers.  When it came to attracting both subscribers and advertisers, Draper contended with the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in 1770.  Delaying advertisements by a week on occasion was unlikely to convince his advertisers to post their notices in other newspapers, but it was not something that Draper could do on a regular basis and expect to maintain his clientele of advertisers and attract new ones.

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.

April 6

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

Apr 6 - 4:6:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 6, 1770).

“Seeds.”

It was a sign of spring.  Just as advertisements for almanacs told readers of colonial newspapers that fall had arrived and the new year was coming, advertisements for seeds signified that winter was coming to an end and spring would soon be upon them.  In the newspapers published in Boston in the late 1760s and early 1770s, this meant a dramatic increase in female entrepreneurs among those who placed advertisements.  Women who sold goods or provided services appeared only sporadically among newspaper notices throughout the rest of the year, but turned out in much greater numbers to peddle seeds in the spring.

Although printers and compositors did not usually organize or classify advertisements according to their purpose in eighteenth-century newspapers, they did tend to group together notices placed by women selling seeds.  Consider the last column of the final page of the April 6, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Although it concluded with a legal notice, advertisements for seeds sold by women comprised the rest of the column. Bethiah Oliver hawked seeds available at her shop “opposite the Rev. Dr. Sewall’s Meeting House.”  The appropriately named Elizabeth Greenleaf advised prospective customers to visit her shop “at the End of Union-Street, over-against the BLUE-BALL.”:  Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Nowell sold seeds at their shop “six Doors to the Southward of the Mill-Bridge.”  Susanna Renken also carried seeds at her shop “In Fore Street, near the Draw-Bridge.”  She was the only member of this sorority who advertised other wares, declaring that she stocked “all sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.”  She was also the only one who sometimes advertised at other times during the year.  Did the others sell only seeds and operate seasonal businesses?  Or did they also carry other wares but refrain from advertising?

Spring planting was a ritual for colonists, including women who kept gardens to help feed their families.  Placing advertisements about seeds for growing peas, beans, onions, turnips, lettuce, and other produce was a ritual for the female seed sellers of Boston.  Encountering those advertisements in the city’s newspapers became one or many markers of the passage of time and the progression of the seasons for readers of those newspapers.  The news changed from year to year, but advertisements for seeds in the spring was a constant feature of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and other newspaper.

March 29

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

Mar 29 - 3:29:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 29, 1770).

“A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants).”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson offered cash for “Merchantable POTT & PEARL ASH” as well as “inferior Qualities of Pott Ash, and Black Salts” in an advertisement in the March 29, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  They also inserted a nota bene to inform prospective customers that they had for sale a “Small Assortment of English Goods,” asserting that merchandise had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.”  In other words, Smith and Atkinson acquired their wares before the merchants and traders in Boston vowed not to import goods from Britain as a means of protesting duties levied on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts.  Smith and Atkinson sought to assure prospective customers that they abided by the boycott, but they also hoped to testify to all readers of the News-Letter and, by extension, the entire community that they put into practice the prevailing political principles.

By the end of March 1770 this was a common refrain in newspaper advertisements, especially those published in Boston but also others in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia as well as smaller towns.  The Adverts 250 Project regularly features such advertisements to demonstrate how widespread they became in the late 1760s and 1770s.  While it might be tempting to suspect that a couple advertisements that promoted adhering to the nonimportation agreement were not representative of a marketing strategy widely adopted by merchants and shopkeepers, broader attention to the vast assortment of advertisements that noted compliance should make it more difficult to dismiss any of them as mere outliers.  Not all advertisements for consumer goods and services published in the late 1760s and early 1770s made mention of nonimportation agreements.  Not even a majority did so, but a significant minority did.  Such advertisements appeared so frequently in colonial newspapers that readers must have become familiar with the efforts of merchants and shopkeepers to link their merchandise to protests of Parliamentary overreach.

March 15

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

Mar 15 - 3:15:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 15, 1770).

“All sorts of English Goods, imported before the Non-importation Agreement took place.”

Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, included coverage of the “bloody massacre” and the funerals of the victims in the March 15, 1770, edition of his newspaper.  In so doing, he adopted a method commonly used by printers throughout the colonies:  he reprinted news that already appeared in another newspaper.  In this case, he reprinted an article about the funeral procession that Benjamin Edes and John Gill originally printed in the March 12, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, though Draper included a brief addendum at the conclusion.  “It is supposed,” he added, “that their must have been a greater Number of People from Town and Country at the Funeral of those who were massacred by the Soldiers, than were ever together on this Continent on any Occasion.”  Draper even included an image depicting the coffins of Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks.  Edes and Gill presumably loaned him the woodcut.

The article, along with the dramatic image that drew attention to it, aimed to disseminate information about the Boston Massacre to readers in the city and far beyond.  The advertisements that appeared in close proximity may have received more notice – and more scrutiny – than under other circumstances.  The two notices that ran immediately next to the article about the “bloody massacre,” both placed by female seed seller commencing their annual marketing campaigns as spring approached, addressed the politics of the period, though they did not comment explicitly on recent events in King Street or the funeral procession that followed.  Susanna Renken listed the seeds she offered for sale, but also declared that she stocked “all sorts of English Goods.”  She carefully noted that she imported those wares “before the Non-importation Agreement took Place.”  Similarly, Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Nowell asserted that they imported their seeds from London and sold them “By Consent of the Committee of Merchants” who oversaw adherence to the nonimportation agreement and reported violators.

These advertisements demonstrate that readers did not experience a respite from politics and current events when they perused advertisements for consumer goods and services during the era of the American Revolution.  Instead, advertisers increasingly inflected politics into their notices as they enticed prospective customers not only to make purchases but also to make principled decisions about which merchandise they did buy.  Those advertisers assured the community that they had already made such principled decisions themselves.

March 8

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

Mar 8 - 3:8:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
MassachusettsGazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 8, 1770).

“The Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768.”

At the time of the Boston Massacre, more newspapers were published in that city than any other in the colonies.  The Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy all came out on Mondays.  Later in the week, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and another edition of the Boston Chronicle both came out on Thursdays.  The Boston Massacre occurred on a Monday evening, by which time the newspapers usually published on that day had already been distributed to subscribers.  That meant that the News-Letter and the Chronicle were the first newspapers to appear after the “BLOODY MASSACRE perpetrated in King-Street, BOSTON on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th REG[IMEN]T” (as Paul Revere described the event).

Both carried limited coverage of the Boston Massacre.  The Chronicle, notorious for its pro-British sympathies, stated, “We decline at present, giving a particular account of this unhappy affair, as we hear the trial of the unfortunate prisoners [Captain Thomas Preston and eight soldiers] is to come on next week.”  The News-Letter issued a Postscript supplement that acknowledged the event but provided only a brief overview.  Its publisher, Richard Draper, also tended to support the British perspective, though usually not as vociferously as the publishers of the Chronicle.  Draper indicated that “A Number of Gentlemen are collecting Evidences of the whole Transactions, as soon as these are done, an Account will be drawn up and Published in the Papers.”  Four days later, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, vocal patriots, published an account of the Boston Massacre and the funeral procession for its victims in the Boston-Gazette, complete with a woodcut depicting the coffins and heavy black borders to denote mourning.

In the aftermath of the Boston Massacre, Edes and Gill ran an advertisement for their “North-American ALMANACK, AND Massachusetts REGISTER” in the March 8, 1770, edition of the News-Letter.  The list of contents made it clear that the publishers placed far more emphasis on the patriotic propaganda in the register than the astronomical calculations in the almanack, especially more than two months into the new year.  Edes and Gill had previously placed the same advertisement for their almanac and register in the News-Letter, but it did not run in the issue of that newspaper that came out immediately before the Boston Massacre.  It did reappear in the first edition published after the “tragical Affair,” as Draper described it.  Edes and Gill led the list of contents with a description of an illustration of “a Prospective View of the Town of Boston … and the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768.”  Those troops eventually fired on the residents of Boston, killing and wounding many of them in the “Bloody Massacre.”  Although coverage of the “Proceedings of that Evening” was tentative and abbreviated in the first issue of the News-Letter after the Boston Massacre, the patriotic tenor of the advertisements for Edes and Gill’s almanack and register took on new urgency in the wake of recent events on King Street.

February 18

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

Feb 18 - 2:15:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (February 15, 1770).

“All of which were imported before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers frequently incorporated details about how they came into possession of their imported goods into their efforts to convince consumers to purchase them.  Many newspaper advertisements began with a recitation of which vessels had transported the wares across the Atlantic along with the names of the captains and the ports or origin.  This formulaic introduction to advertisements for consumer goods often began with the phrase “just imported,” meant to signal to prospective customers that purveyors of goods did not expect them to purchase inventory that had been lingering on their shelves or in their storehouses for extended periods.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, however, many advertisers abandoned that marketing strategy in favor of another.  When the duties placed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea via the Townshend Acts motivated colonists to protest by boycotting a broad array of goods imported from Britain, the phrase “just imported” took on a different meaning, one with political overtones.  Once nonimportation agreements were place for months, the newness of goods no longer had the same value.  Items “just imported” from London and other English ports lost their cachet when they became symbols of both British oppression and the complicity of any who dared to violate community standards by continuing to import and sell such goods.

Many advertisers developed a new marketing appeal contingent on the politics of the period.  They underscored that they did indeed sell goods that arrived in the colonies many months earlier, perhaps grateful that conspicuously adhering to nonimportation agreements presented an opportunity to sell surplus inventory that had indeed lingered on their shelves or in their storehouses longer than was healthy for balancing their own accounts.  Whatever their motives, they harnessed politics in their attempts to drum up business, informing prospective customers that they acquired their wares in advance of the boycotts going into effect.  Such was the case for William Bant who had “yet on Hand a few English Goods” in February 1770.  He made sure that consumers knew that all those items “were imported before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”  He did his patriotic duty … and prospective customers did not have to worry about shirking theirs when they visited his shop.

February 11

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

Feb 11 - 2:8:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 8, 1770).

“The House to be supplied with the News-Papers for the Amusement of his Customers.”

When Daniel Jones opened a tavern “at the Sign of the HAT and HELMET” on Newbury Street in Boston, he placed an advertisement in the February 8, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. He listed many amenities that he provide for “Gentlemen Travellers and others,” including coffee, “good Liquors,” and “good Care” taken of their horses. Jones also indicated, “The House to be supplied with the News-Papers for the Amusement of his Customers.”

In making that pledge, Jones revealed that he offered a service available in many eighteenth-century coffeehouses and taverns. Colonists did not need to subscribe to newspapers in order to gain access to them. Instead, they could patronize establishments that maintained subscriptions expressly for the purpose of serving their clientele. Jones stated that customers at the Hat and Helmet would be bale to read “the News-Papers,” indicating that he planned to acquire more than one publication. He likely subscribed to several local newspapers, choosing among the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Yet he probably did not limit the selection solely to local newspapers. In addition to the New-Hampshire Gazette, the Newport Mercury, the Providence Gazette, and other newspapers published in New England, he may have subscribed to newspapers printed in New York and Philadelphia or even publications from the southern colonies or London.

Circulation numbers do not tell the entire story when it comes to the dissemination of information via the colonial press in the era of the American Revolution. Jones could have subscribed for a single copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, yet dozens of customers at his tavern may have read the issues he made available. Some patrons may not even have read the newspaper itself but instead heard portions of it read aloud at the tavern. In both cases, newspapers had a much greater reach than the number of subscribers considered alone would indicate.

February 8

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

Feb 8 - 2:81770 Massachusetts Gazzette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 8, 1770).

“AUCTION HALL … JOHN GERRISH, (And COMPANY).”

This week the Adverts 250 Project has examined John Gerrish’s attempts to expand his media market beyond newspapers in Boston. In the late 1760s, he regularly inserted notices in several newspapers published in the city where he operated an auction hall, but in 1770 Gerrish experimented with running advertisements in newspapers in other towns as well. On February 3, for instance, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. On February 6, he ran a different advertisement in the Essex Gazette. The copy in those advertisements differed from what previously appeared in Boston’s newspapers; each included material likely of special interest to prospective buyers, bidders, and clients who resided away from the city. Gerrish promoted “Wholesale and Retail” sales of a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES” in the Providence Gazette rather than promoting the goods up for bid at any particular auction scheduled for a particular time. In the Essex Gazette, Gerrish made note of “Very Good Lodgings and Boarding, for COUNTRY GENTLEMEN, Travelers, and Traders” who might journey to Boston for the auctions he held “chiefly on TUESDAYS, and THURSDAYS.”

Even as he attempted to create a larger regional market for his goods and services by advertising in newspapers published in Salem and Providence, Gerrish understood that newspapers printed in Boston already served a region much larger than the bustling port and nearby neighboring towns and villages. Until recently, no other town in Massachusetts produced a newspaper; even after the Essex Gazette commenced publication, Boston’s newspapers continued to enjoy wide circulation throughout the colony and beyond. For that reason, some of the special appeals that Gerrish made in the Providence Gazette (wholesale and retail sales from a stable inventory rather than auctions) and the Essex Gazette (lodging and boarding for clients who traveled to the city) would also find ready audiences among readers of the Boston newspapers who resided in places other than Boston.

To that end, Gerrish placed three advertisements in the February 8, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Post-Boy. The first was a standard announcement of an imminent auction to take place “THIS EVENING.” By the time many readers outside of Boston received the newspaper with this notice, the sale already took place. For those prospective customers, Gerrish placed his advertisement from the Providence Gazette in its entirety, though he made two additions after signing his name. This slightly revised version added “Sets of China Cups, Saucers, &c.” to the list of inventory. It also assured colonists concerned about potential violations of the nonimportation agreement currently in effect that “The above Goods have been imported above a Twelve Month past.” In other words, the merchandise arrived in the colony prior to the agreement. Another advertisement appeared immediately below, that one advising “Country Gentlemen, Strangers, Traders, [and] Travelers” of “Lodgings and Boarding” available near Gerrish’s auction hall. It deployed copy nearly identical to what appeared near the end of Gerrish’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette. It also instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer, or at Auction-Hall, King-Street.” Gerrish undoubtedly placed that advertisement as well.

John Gerrish and Company faced constant competition from other vendue masters and auctioneers in Boston. In an effort to maintain and expand his share of the market, Gerrish devised an advertising campaign that extended to newspapers published in places other than Boston and reiterated the strategies he developed in those advertisements in notices that he placed in local newspapers.