April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Bohane

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

“New Rice by the Cask.”

Thomas Walley sold “New Rice by the Cask” at his “Store, on Dock-Square.” Rice was one of the most profitable goods cultivated in colonial America. According to James M. Clifton, settlers from Barbados and other colonies in the West Indies introduced rice to South Carolina. Colonists there had much to learn about rice, doing so through trial and error. The earliest mention of rice shipment recorded was in 1692, but after that point it became a staple crop, one that supported much of the economy for the entire colony.[1] In order to reduce the amount of strenuous labor required to produce this popular commodity, colonists in South Carolina sought to perfect machines and mills that could aid in processing rice.[2] Unfortunately, this proved quite unsuccessful and remained a challenging process throughout the colonial period. Rice crops became more profitable, however, with the labor of black slaves who worked on plantations and knew how to properly cultivate rice.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “New Rice by the Cask,” Thomas Walley also peddled a variety of other goods. He emphasized textiles and “all sorts of Groceries,” such as tea, olive oil, and mustard. The assortment of fabrics available at his store included “homespun check,” cloth that had been woven in the colonies rather than imported from England. Walley did not explicitly link his products to the imperial crisis that had intensified six months earlier when the Townshend Act went into effect, but he did offer prospective customers the opportunity to participate in a larger coordinated effort to resist Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue without the consent of the colonies. Several months before Walley’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, the Boston Town Meeting (followed by many others) had voted to use commerce as leverage in the political dispute with Parliament. They pledged to encourage “American manufactures” rather than continue their dependence on imported goods. In so doing, they acknowledged that in order to change their consumption habits that they first needed to modify the amount of goods produced in the colonies.

Just as this advertisement obscures the role of enslaved labor in producing “New Rice by the Cask,” it also obscures the role women played in this political strategy. Barred from participating in the formal mechanisms of government, women pursued other avenues when it came to participating in resistance efforts during the imperial crisis that culminated in the Revolution. American women produced Walley’s “homespun Check,” first spinning the thread and then weaving it into checkered cloth. Women also made choices about which goods to consume, their decisions extending to entire households. Women who purchased homespun could make very visible political statements by outfitting every member of their families in garments made from that cloth. The meanings of consumption increasingly took on political valences in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. In that realm, women often exercised as much power as men as they exercised their judgment in selecting which goods to acquire and which to reject. Their decisions reverberated beyond the point of purchase; everyday use of clothing, housewares, groceries, and other goods advertised in newspapers and sold by merchants and shopkeepers became laden with political significance.

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[1] James M. Clifton, “The Rice Industry in Colonial America,” Agricultural History 55, no. 3 (July 1981): 267.

[2] Clifton, “Rice Industry,” 278.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 15 - 4:15:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 15, 1768).

“A few Cask choice Jamaica Sugar & Coffee.”

It is without question that coffee is far more popular drink in the United States than tea, but this was not always the case. During the colonial period, tea was the more preferred caffeine-oriented commodity due to its easy preparation, yet this is not to say that the coffee industry was absent from American culture at the time. Colonists imported some of their coffee from Jamaica, but it was never indigenous to that island; instead, in 1728 Sir Nicholas Lawes brought it over from Haiti. Jamaica’s warm climate made coffee cultivation plentiful and profitable. Approximately 12 million pounds of coffee was exported during the colonial era, making the Jamaican trade one of the largest providers of coffee to the British Empire. Unlike the roasted coffee beans or grinds sold today, usually only the recently picked and pre-roasted coffee beans were sold in colonial America, meaning that the purchaser would have to the roasting, grinding and brewing themselves.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Coffee, tea, and chocolate comprised a trio of exotic hot beverages popular in colonial America.  Many colonists drank these beverages at home, but men also gathered in public venues to consume them together.  As Kurt notes, tea became the most popular of those drinks – and arguably the most emblematic of the early American experience – but the venues that served them were known as coffeehouses.  Like many other aspects of English culture, colonists transported the concept of the coffeehouse across the Atlantic.

Men gathered in coffeehouses for a variety of purposes.  Some conducted business at these establishments.  Merchants and other traders met to make deals and settle accounts over a hot cup of coffee.  Both New York and Philadelphia had a Merchants’ Coffee House prior to the American Revolution, the name suggesting the type of clientele each sought to attract. Customers also gathered to discuss news and politics.  To that end, the proprietors provided several amenities, especially newspapers and pamphlets for their clients to peruse.  In addition to local newspapers, they also subscribed to publications from other cities, broadening the array of sources available to their patrons.  News concerning politics spread as men in coffeehouses read newspapers from near and far, often aloud to their companions, and then discussed current events and editorial pieces, including the “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” that circulated in the wake of the Townshend Act. Merchants also visited coffeehouses to consult newspapers in hopes that the information they contained would guide them in making sound business decisions.

Yet men met at coffeehouses for reasons other than business and politics.  Coffeehouses were centers of sociability.  Customers gathered to converse with one another. As much as many of them liked to think of their discussions with friends and acquaintances as enlightened exchanges, they also tended to engage in gossip as well.  Women were excluded from coffeehouses, from conducting business, from discussing politics, from conversations that took place there, but that did not mean that one of the vices most frequently attributed to women – gossip – was absent from those homosocial spaces.  Men managed to trade stories, both fanciful and snide, without the influence of women, though they liked to pretend otherwise.

Coffee was more than a commodity sold for consumption within the household in eighteenth-century America.  Colonists also gathered in public spaces to drink this hot beverage together as they conducted business, debated politics, and socialized.  Like taverns, coffeehouses were important venues for exchanging information and ideas and, in turn, shaping American commerce and politics, in the era of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution.

March 31

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (March 31, 1768).

“The late Company of ABIGAIL WHITNEY and DAUGHTER.”

In an extraordinary that accompanied the March 31, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette, Abigail Whitney advertised “a large Assortment of Goods” that she sold “at her Shop in Union-Street” in Boston. Like other eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers, she made an appeal to price, announcing that she sold her wares “quite low.” She also demonstrated the extent of the choices she offered consumers by listing dozens of items included among her “large Assortment of Goods,” from a variety of fabrics to curtains and quilts to items for personal adornment that included buttons, fans, and “Horn and Ivory Combs.” She further emphasized choice when she stated that she also stocked “many other Articles not mentioned.” Among the items she did list, Whitney explicitly connected some to current styles in London and throughout the British Atlantic world as a means of further enticing prospective customers concerned that they appear genteel to their friends and neighbors. For instance, she carried “newest fashion striped and flowered Lutestrings” to be made into garments. Given this array of marketing strategies, Whitney’s advertisement was not extraordinary at all, despite being published in a four-page extraordinary when Richard Draper needed more space for all the content he had compiled for the Massachusetts Gazette that week.

Whitney’s advertisement, however, was fairly unique given that she was a female retailer who advertised her participation in the colonial marketplace as supplier rather than a consumer. In urban ports, women comprised a significant proportion of shopkeepers, often more than a quarter of all shopkeepers according to other records from the late colonial period. Yet many chose not to advertise in the public prints; they were disproportionately underrepresented among the advertisements that filled and sometimes dominated the pages of colonial newspapers. Even though some of Whitney’s sister retailers did advertise in Boston’s newspapers they did not do so according to their numbers among the residents of the city.

Whitney herself may have chosen to advertise as the result of extraordinary circumstances. A short paragraph at the end of her advertisement, a fraction of the length of the list of the “Assortment of Goods,” called on “all Persons indebted to the late Company of ABIGAIL WHITNEY and DAUGHTER, to pay their respective Ballances speedily.” If they did not, the “surviving Partner” would initiate legal action. Abigail Whitney and Daughter had not been in the habit of advertising. The last (and only) time that an advertisement placed by anyone named Abigail Whitney appeared in newspapers published in Boston had been nearly ten years earlier when notices appeared in both the Boston-Gazette and the Boston News-Letter in December 1759. Those advertisements had a similar format, listing an extensive inventory of imported goods. Between March and July 1768, Whitney placed the new advertisement in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette, but she did not advertise in newspapers again after that. Although she advertised rarely, Abigail Whitney’s advertisement testifies to the presence of women in the colonial marketplace as retailers, producers, and suppliers. They were familiar to colonists who walked the streets of Boston even if they maintained much less visibility in the pages of newspapers from the era. Whitney’s advertisement even reveals a partnership of female entrepreneurs, a partnership cut short when her daughter died.

March 24

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

Mar 24 - 3:24:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 24, 1768).

“Work will be taken in either at said Shop, or by Edward Wentworth, at Milton Bridge.”

In the early spring on 1768, Theophilus Chamberlain, a clothier, turned to the public prints to announce that he “HAS opened Shop near the Sign of the White-Horse in BOSTON.” Like many other artisans in the garment trades, he promoted both his skill and his prices, pledging that he did “the Clothier’s Business in the best and cheapest Manner.” Perhaps realizing that this did not sufficiently distinguish him from his competitors, Chamberlain supplemented those appeals by offering prospective customers a choice for dropping off and picking up textiles and garments. In a nota bene, he advised that “Work will be taken in either at said Shop, or by Edward Wentworth, at Milton Bridge; and may be had again at either Place as the Owner may choose.” By extending these options, the clothier marketed convenience to his clients. He acknowledged that his location might be attractive to some, but out of the way for others. In an effort to increase his clientele he made arrangements to serve them at two locations.

The typography of the advertisement highlighted the additional appeal made in the nota bene, placing special emphasis on the convenience that Chamberlain provided that his competitors did not. While the graphic design of the advertisement – indenting the entire nota bene so the additional white space on a page of dense text drew more attention to it – likely drew more eyes, it does not appear that Chamberlain made particular arrangements concerning the format of the advertisement. The advertisement immediately below it also featured a short nota bene and identical decisions concerning the layout.

Chamberlain carefully crafted the copy for his advertisement to entice readers of the Massachusetts Gazette to hire him to dress their textiles and garments, finishing them so as to give a nap, smooth surface, or gloss, depending on the fabric. He underscored price, his skill, and, especially, the convenience of multiple locations. Fortuitously for Chamberlain, the typography of the advertisement amplified the most unique of his appeals. Some of the innovation of his advertisement was intentional, but other aspects that also worked to his benefit seem to have been merely circumstantial since they depended on decisions made by the compositor independently of the advertiser.

February 25

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

Feb 25 - 2:25:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (February 25, 1768).

“Lucerne and Burnett seed, warranted to be of last year’s growth.”

Spring was coming. In late February 1768 colonists in Boston could tell that spring was on its way by looking for certain signs. While watching for changes in the weather and landscape provided clues about the passage of the seasons, colonists also witnessed other indications. The appearance of Susanna Renken’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette testified that spring was indeed on its way. It was the first to promote a variety of seeds that colonists would need to purchase soon so they could plant their gardens.

Renken participated in an annual ritual, one that transformed the pages of newspapers printed in Boston for a few months. She had previously advertised seeds in 1766 and 1767, but she had not been alone. Other women had placed their own advertisements, presenting local customers with many choices for obtaining the seeds they needed. Readers of the newspapers published in Boston knew that in the coming weeks several other female shopkeepers would join Renken, each inserting their own advertisements for seeds. If the past was any indication, they could expect to see these advertisements printed one after the other, sometimes filling entire columns in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette. Renken and her competitors usually inserted their notices in multiple publications.

For now, however, Renken advertised alone. She was the first seed seller to take to the pages of the public prints in 1768, heralding the proliferation of advertisements that would soon appear, bloom for a couple of months, and recede until the next year. Colonists in Boston and its hinterlands observed this annual cycle unfold in their newspapers in the late winter and early spring, just as they saw advertisements for almanacs make their first appearances in the fall, intensify in number and frequency over several months, and taper off after the new year.

Susanna Renken was the first to advertise seeds in 1768, but soon she would not be alone. At the same time colonists noticed certain birds returning to New England as part of their seasonal migration, they also saw advertisements for seeds once again in the pages of their newspapers. The print culture of marketing had its own rhythms that colonists could associate with the changing seasons.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:18:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 18, 1768).

“No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office.”

John Gerrish had a bone to pick with Elias Dupee. Gerrish operated the North-End Vendue-Office. Dupee, his rival, ran the New-Auction Room. The two competed for both clients who supplied merchandise and bidders who purchased those wares.

On February 15, 1768, Dupee placed advertisements impugning Gerrish’s reputation in two newspapers, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy. Gerrish was so concerned about the accusations leveled against him that he did not wait a week to respond in the publications that originally ran Dupee’s advertisement. Instead, he published his own rebuttal just three days later in the Massachusetts Gazette. After devoting just a few lines to promoting his upcoming auction, Gerrish addressed Dupee’s allegations at length. Though he never mentioned his rival by name, Gerrish did closely paraphrase a portion of Dupee’s advertisement.

Dupee had offered a reward “to be paid to any Body, who shall bring to Justice, one John Taylor, who Stole out of the New Auction Room, the Night the Fire was, a blue Surtout Coat, and had it Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Anyone who resided in Boston would have know that John Gerrish was the auctioneer at the North-End Vendue-Office, especially anyone who regularly read any of the local newspapers. Gerrish, like Dupee and Joseph Russell from the Auction-Room in Queen Street, advertised regularly in several newspapers.

In his advertisement, Dupee explicitly accused Taylor of being a thief, but he also implicitly alleged that Gerrish was Taylor’s fence when he stated that the stolen coat had been “Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Such allegations had the potential to do significant damage to Gerrish’s reputation, scaring away bidders who did not wish to obtain stolen merchandise as well as suppliers who did not want their own names or ware associated with illicit business practices. Gerrish answered Dupee’s charges with a detailed timeline. The “Coat Sold for Taylor” had entered the North-End Vendue-Office ten days before the fire at Dupee’s New Auction Room, therefore it could not have been the same coat stolen the night of the fire. In addition, Gerrish identified discrepancies between the quality and price of the coat auctioned at his establishment and the one stolen from Dupee. Furthermore, the coat had been on display and “every Day exposed for Sale,” suggesting that many witnesses could attest to having seen it at the North-End Vendue-Office. Some of them could confirm the quality and value of that coat.

Gerrish acknowledged the possibility that Taylor had stolen a coat from Dupee, but if he had it was not the one that Gerrish auctioned. “Taylor may be a Thief,” he stated, “but verily he did not look more like one, than the Advertiser.” Dupee had attacked Gerrish’s reputation. Gerrish responded in kind. He also underscored, just in case readers had not followed all the complexity of his timeline, that “there is not the least probability, that the Coat Advertised, is the same that was Sold at the North-End Vendue-Office.”

Gerrish concluded with a message for prospective clients and potential bidders. “No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office, in endeavouring to detect suspected persons, –he has detected several, –let others beware.” Many colonists participated in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century via an informal economy that included secondhand and stolen goods. Newspaper advertisements frequently alerted readers about stolen goods. In addition, court records show that theft and fencing regularly occurred. That being the case, Gerrish devoted significant effort to demonstrating that he conducted a legitimate business that did not truck in stolen wares. He needed buyers and sellers, as well as the community more generally, to trust in his character if he wished to continue his business and compete against the rival auction houses in Boston.

Feb 21 - 2:15:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 15, 1768).

February 11

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

Feb 11 - 2:11:1768 Massacusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 11, 1768).

*** Country Customers may be supplied as well by Letter as if present.”

When his partner passed away, Nicholas Bowes placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette. In it, he issued an invitation for “all Persons that have Accounts open with said Company to come and settle them.” Yet he also wanted current, former, and prospective customers to know that he continued to sell books and stationery “at the same Shop.” Bowes devoted about half of the space in his advertisement to a nota bene that announced the continuation of the business that he had previously operated with Wharton.

To that end, Bowes advanced several marketing appeals. Like many merchants and shopkeepers, he promised consumers that he offered a variety of choices among his “large and compleat Assortment” of books and stationery. Customers could select items that matched their own needs and tastes. Bowes also sold his wares “at the lowest Rates,” attempting to draw visitors to his shop with competitive prices. In making those appeals, Bowes resorted to two of the most common marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. He saved his most innovative appeal for last: “*** Country Customers may be supplied as well by Letter as if present.” He even used distinctive typography – the asterisks and italics – as a visual means of attracting notice to that particular effort to market his merchandise. For the convenience of those who lived outside the busy port and faraway from his shop he made available all of the same benefits enjoyed by his local patrons. In proclaiming that distant customers “may be supplied as well by Letter as if present,” he pledged not to show any preferences or to take advantage of those who submitted their orders through the mail.

Retailers did not invent mail order shopping in the late nineteenth century, despite the proliferation and popularity of catalog shopping during the period. Nor did Bowes pioneer the strategy in the mid eighteenth century … but Bowes did offer a service that was not yet a standard practice promoted to potential customers via advertising. Merchants and shopkeepers sporadically made note that they served customers via the post in their newspaper notices, suggesting that the practice was fairly common even if it had not yet been codified as one of the standard marketing strategies that appeared in print. By inserting it into his advertisement, Bowes confirmed that he did provide this service, expanding his potential market to the hinterlands beyond Boston.