May 14

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

May 14 - 5:14:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (May 14, 1767).

“They are much the same in all the Stores.”

Many eighteenth-century shopkeepers promoted their merchandise by publishing extensive lists of their inventory. They presented potential customers with a multitude of choices amongst the “general Assortment of English and India GOODS” they imported. Three shopkeepers – Joshua Blanchard, Joshua Gardner and Company, and Clement Jackson – each inserted list-style advertisements that extended half a column or more in the May 14, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. Each named dozens of items that readers could purchase in their shops.

Nathaniel Appleton saw little sense in paying for such extensive advertisements, especially not when his competitors already did so. Yet he did not want to lose any prospective customers who might assume that his failure to list so many goods indicated that he had an inferior selection. To that end, he supplemented his assertion that he carried a “general Assortment” of goods with a nota bene that offered further explanation: “The Articles of English Goods are not enumerated, as they are much the same in all the Stores that import direct from LONDON.”

Appleton poked at his competitors, suggesting that one of the most popular marketing methods employed by other shopkeepers might be pointless. He carried the same goods as his competitors but had the good sense not to attempt to manipulate potential consumers with efforts to overwhelm them with extensive advertisements. He acknowledged standardization in consumer culture, noting that retailers generally depended on the same suppliers.

Appleton was not the only retailer to critique lengthy list-style advertisements. Just ten days earlier Gilbert Deblois’ advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post proclaimed that his inventory “consist[ed] of every Article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy Advertisements,” though that did not prevent him for providing an abbreviated list of his own. A couple of months earlier Benjamin Thurber and Edward Thurber inserted a notice in the Providence Gazette in which they announced that they stocked “too many [goods] … to enumerate each Particular in an Advertisement.” In addition, refusing to take on the costs of doing so allowed them to keep their prices low. At the beginning of the year, Joshua Blanchard deployed a similar argument as he lambasted the list-style advertisements published by his competitors: “The VERY LOW Price at which he sells will not afford a lengthy Advertisement, enumerating every Particular, even to Pins and Needles.” Blachard apparently had a change of heart. His lengthy advertisement “enumerating” dozens of items “Imported from LONDON” appeared immediately to the right of Appleton’s notice in the May 14 issue. Blanchard paid for his advertisement, but Appleton benefited from its proximity to his own.

Eighteenth-century advertisers like Appleton played with the conventions developing around consumer marketing, sometimes critiquing them if they thought doing so might result in some advantage or attract customers bored with the usual sorts of appeals.

May 4

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

May 4 - 5:4:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (May 4, 1767).

“GOODS, consisting of every Article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy Advertisements.”

Gilbert Deblois frequently advertised in Boston’s newspapers, sometimes at great length. On May 4, 1767, he inserted the same advertisement in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy. Several days earlier the same notice appeared in the extraordinary that accompanied the current issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. Compared to some of his other marketing efforts in the public prints, this notice was considerably shorter. Still, extending over almost one-third of a column, it occupied significantly more space – about three times as much – compared to advertisements placed by some of his competitors.

Deblois seemed less concerned about those advertisements than the much lengthier list advertisements placed by other competitors, including John Appleton and John Barrett and Sons (two-thirds of a column), Clement Jackson and John Gore, Jr. (three-quarters of a column), and Frederick William Geyer (an entire column and one-fifth of another). Those advertisements listed scores of items stocked by local shopkeepers.

Deblois devised a way to make those lengthy list advertisements (paid for by his competitors) work to his own advantage. After inserting the standard language about “A complete fashionable Assortment of English & India Piece GOODS,” he proclaimed that he carried “every Article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy Advertisements and many others not usually imported.” (The italics appeared in the advertisements in all three newspapers that carried this advertisement, indicating that Deblois gave specific instructions to the printers rather than leaving it to their discretion to make decisions about that particular aspect of formatting the notice. On the other hand, the three advertisements had other variations in format, but not copy.)

Considering the variety of consumer goods imported and advertised by Boston’s merchants and shopkeepers, readers probably greeted this pronouncement with some skepticism. As a frequent advertiser who sometimes placed lengthy list notices, however, Deblois may have previously amassed some credibility. He did not need to enumerate all of his wares in every advertisement. Invoking his competitors’ advertisements provided a means of listing his merchandise without actually listing it – or paying to do so. This also initiated a challenge to potential customers to visit his shop and assess for themselves the validity of his claim, generating foot traffic that could result in additional sales.

April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:30:1767 Boston News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette (April 30, 1767).

“Genteel Assortment newest fashion Fans and Masks.”

At his shop at the sign of the Three Doves in Boston, William Blair Townsend sold “A Fresh Assortment Goods for the Season” recently imported from London. Many of his competitors advised potential customers that they stocked fashionable goods, especially textiles, accessories, and adornments for garments, but most deployed some sort of blanket statement to that effect. Townsend, on the other hand, underscored that he carried dry goods à la mode, inserting the word “fashionable” five times in his list of merchandise. For instance, he carried “Ducapes, with Fashionable Trimmings” and “fashionable white Blond Lace.” For those worried that merchants in England attempted to pawn off inventory already going out of style to colonial shopkeepers to pass along to their customers far removed from the cosmopolitan center of the empire, Townsend asserted that his customers could purchase “new fashion black and white Silk Mitts” as well as a “variety newest fashion figured and plated Silver Ribbons.” Both could have been used to dress up garments that might otherwise have been already passing out of style. Townsend adopted even more expansive language as he continued describing his wares: “genteel Assortment newest fashion Fans and Masks.” Other eighteenth-century advertisers commonly made appeals to fashion, but Townsend made it the centerpiece of his marketing strategy.

Not all colonists were as keen on keeping up with current fashions as the customers Townsend sought to cultivate. The Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary, a supplement for “other News and New-Advertisements,” included a notice that “In a few Days will be Published, AN ADDRESS TO PERSONS of FASHION.” The author did not look upon the consumer revolution, its rituals of purchasing and display, with fondness. This pamphlet was a warning “worthy the serious Attention of every Christian, especially at a Time when Vice and Immorality seem to have an Ascendancy over Religion.” This advertisement stood in stark contrast to the array of advertisements hawking all sorts of consumer goods that surrounded it. Seemingly separated from Townsend’s advertisement by several pages according to modern archival practices, the Extraordinary may have been inserted in the Massachusetts Gazette as a means of keeping the two publications for April 30 together. If that was the case, the advertisement for the “ADDRESS TO PERSONS of FASHION” appeared on the far left of the page that faced Townsend’s advertisement. Readers would have encountered the critique of fashion almost immediately before perusing the shopkeeper’s efforts to extoll his stylish merchandise.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:23:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 23, 1767).

“Will also sell … a Negro Man that understands Brewing and Distilling.”

As he prepared to leave Boston for Nova Scotia, Robert Whatley had the eighteenth-century version of a moving sale. He scheduled a “Public Vendue” (or auction) to sell many of his personal belongings, including beds, tables, chairs, and even a “fine large Canoe with Sails.” Whatley, a brewer by trade, also wished to sell his equipment, including “a Copper Boiler with a brass Cock to it, fit for a Coffee-House or Tavern” and his “Brewing Utensils with all Things necessary for that Business.”

In addition to his household furniture and the tools of his trade, Whatley also offered to sell “a Negro Man that understand Brewing and Distilling.” The Adverts 250 Project recently examined an advertisement that included enslaved artisans, including carpenters and coopers, exploited for their expertise and specialized skills in addition to their labor. Whatley’s advertisement further demonstrates the range of occupations and crafts enslaved men and women pursued in the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

Both the copy and the layout of Whatley’s notice suggest that colonists would not have considered it in any way extraordinary that “a Negro Man that understands Brewing and Distilling” played a role in operating the business. Readers who skimmed the advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette might even have missed the portion of Whatley’s advertisement that mentioned the enslaved brewer; that sentence was nestled in the middle of two dense paragraphs. In some respects, Whatley’s attempt to sell his slave was hidden in plain sight. It was part of his advertisement, but not its main purpose.

As my students and I have pursued the Slavery Adverts 250 Project for the past seven months, the frequency of advertisements like this one has been a striking feature. We expected to encounter advertisements exclusively devoted to slavery, especially those that offered one or more slaves for sale and others concerning runaway slaves. We have been a bit more surprised by how often slaves for sale incidentally appeared in advertisements, listed alongside consumer goods and real estate. The practice of slavery – the presence of slavery in everyday life and commerce – pervaded early American print culture, especially advertising, more subtly and to a much greater extent than we initially expected.

April 23

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

Apr 23 - 4:23:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 23, 1767).

“At his Shop opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston.”

Other than his name, “LIBERTY-TREE, Boston” appeared in the largest font in the advertisement John Gore, Jr. placed in the April 23, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. For months, in advertisements brief and lengthy, Gore consistently included that landmark in his commercial notices, directing potential customers to “his Shop opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston.” That became a distinctive part of his advertisements, making them easy to recognize at a glance. In addition to serving as rudimentary branding, this consistency also informed consumers of his politics. The Stamp Act had been repealed more than a year earlier, but the Quartering Act of 1765 was still in effect. (A letter from London elsewhere in the same issue stated, “EVERY one of the American Provinces have complied, without demur, with the orders of the government, for quartering troops, and all other requisitions, except Boston and New York.”) The Townshend Acts were on the horizon, but neither Gore nor his fellow colonists knew quite yet that they would be enacted.

Still, Gore remained suspicious, rightfully it turned out, about what Parliament might do next. After all, the repeal of the Stamp Act had been accompanied by the passage of the Declaratory Act, asserting that Parliament possessed broad authority to oversee colonies that owed their allegiance to king and Parliament: “the king’s Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled, had, hath, and of right out to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.” Given that he adopted the Liberty Tree as the sigil for his shop, Gore rejected this argument and remained vigilant about protecting the rights of the colonies. Even as he marketed “A large and general Assortment of English and India GOODS” recently “Imported from LONDON,” Gore reminded readers and potential customers that their participation in the extensive consumer culture of the era could be threatened at any time if Parliament again invoked an authority that many colonists did not believe that distant legislative body possessed.

March 26

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

“Cyder Brandy TO BE SOLD at Mrs. LeFebure’s Shop.”

Mar 26 - 3:26:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 26, 1767).

According to Patricia Cleary, the role of women as shopkeepers in the eighteenth century was an expected extension of their household duties.[1] One such example could be found in the Massachusetts Gazette, a female shopkeeper named Mrs. LeFebure. The estimated percentage of women shopkeepers during this time had varied. According to a Philadelphia tax list from 1756, thirty-eight women kept shops, which accounted for 42% of the town’s shopkeepers.[2] However, the tax list revealed that male shopkeepers were more prosperous than female shopkeepers. The evidence suggests that many of these women may have been widows, as keeping shop appeared to be a common source of income for widows in the eighteenth century.[3] Gender division was further shown when the widowed shopkeepers were labeled as widows, rather than shopkeepers. Most female shopkeepers only started trade businesses after the death of their husbands. In addition, female shopkeepers portrayed themselves as “arbiters of taste” as they attempted to increase sales and to create and meet demand during the consumer revolution.[4]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Yesterday Ceara Morse examined an advertisement for a dozen types of spirits produced in Savannah by Henry Snow, “Distiller from London.” Today’s advertisement featured only one kind of alcohol, “Cyder Brandy,” sold at Mrs. LeFebure’s shop on King Street in Boston. The wording makes it difficult to determine whether LeFebure produced the cider brandy herself or merely sold spirits distilled by an associate.

Even if she did not run an operation as extensive as Henry Snow’s or possess his level of experience and expertise, it likely would have been within LeFebure’s ability to distill cider brandy. After all, two recipes appeared in a cookbook for “ALL Good Housewives,” John Nott’s Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary: Or, the Accomplished Housewife’s Companion, published in London in 1723. The recipes have been reproduced below. Although the recipes indicate that they required some specialized equipment (including a “Copper Body and Head” and a “refrigerator Worm”), they do not suggest that LeFebure or other “housewives” needed access to a “large Distill-House,” such as the one offered for sale or rent in the advertisement immediately below the notice that LeFebure sold “Cyder Brandy.”

While distilling may have been a predominantly masculine occupation in eighteenth-century America, today’s advertisement and Nott’s cookbook suggest that women participated as well, even if on a smaller scale than their male counterparts. Unlike Snow, LeFebure did not derive her entire livelihood from selling (and perhaps making) spirits but instead diversified her inventory. The cider brandy she sold appeared alongside various “Grocery Wares,” including coffee, tea, and sugar. Perhaps this contributed to making it more acceptable for her to peddle alcohol.

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From The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary: Or, the Accomplished Housewife’s Companion

  1. To make Royal Cider.

LET your Cider be fine, and past its Fermentations, but not very stale; and put to it a Pint and a half of Brandy, or Sprits drawn off of Cider, to each Gallon of Cider; and add a Quart of Cider Sweets to every four Gallons more or less, according to the Tartness or Harshness of the Cider; the Spirits and Sweets must first be mixed together, and then mix’d with an equal quantity of Cider; then put them into the Cask of Cider; and stir all together well with a Stick at the Bung-hole for a quarter of an Hour, then stop up the Bung-hole close, and roll the Cask about ten or twelve time to mix them well together. Set it by for three or four Months, then bottle it up, or you may drink it.

  1. To make Cider Brandy, or Spirits.

TAKE Eager, very hard or sowr Cider, (for that yields by much the more Spirits) twelve Gallons; distill it as other Spirits are distill’d, in a Copper Body and Head, and a refrigeratory Worm running thro’ a Cask of cold Water, under whose Beak as Receiver is placed. From which, with a gentle Fire draw off two Gallons of Cider Brandy, or Spirits, for the use mentioned in the last Receipt. You may distil on as long as any Spirits will run, for other uses.

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[1] Patricia Cleary, “‘She Will Be in the Shop’: Women’s Sphere of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia and New York,” Pennsylvania Magazine and History and Biography 119, no. 3 (July 1995): 182.

[2] Cleary, “She Will Be in the Shop,” 185.

[3] Cleary, “She Will Be in the Shop,” 186.

[4] Cleary, “She Will Be in the Shop,” 200.

March 19

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 19, 1767).

“To be sold by WILLIAM JACKSON, at his Shop at the Brazen Head.”

This advertisement made me curious about William Jackson and the Brazen Head since I am from a town close to Boston. These curiosities led me to the Massachusetts Historical Society’s article on William Jackson.

Jackson was born in 1731. Mary Jackson, his widowed mother kept the Brazen Head Tavern next to the Town House (which is now known as the Old State House) in Boston. In 1758, William went into business with his mother, starting a “variety store” selling an assortment of goods in the same location,.

William Jackson was a Loyalist who adamantly supported the king throughout the imperial crisis and the Revolution. The Massachusetts Historical Society notes that in a Boston newspaper Jackson was named along with others for being “those who audaciously continue to counteract the united Sentiments of the Body of Merchants throughout NORTH AMERICA, by importing British goods contrary to the agreement.” He was such a loyalist to the king, that when the British abandoned Boston in March of 1776, he tried to leave as well, only to be caught and imprisoned for a year. In the end, William Jackson returned to England, where he resided until his death in 1810.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

At a glance, William Jackson’s advertisement does not appear to explicitly reveal much about women’s roles in the eighteenth-century marketplace, either as consumers or producers/sellers. However, Ceara and I did not need to do much research to discover that William Jackson’s story cannot be told without acknowledging women’s participation in commerce and consumer culture. As Ceara has already outlined, one of Jackson’s first forays into the world of business involved a partnership with his mother, already an experienced businesswoman who operated a tavern. Although widows may have been more likely to operate businesses than their married sisters, in the century before the Revolution wives stepped forward to act as what Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has described as “deputy husbands” who attended to matters of business in the temporary absence of their husbands. Many eighteenth-century advertisements make reference to wives or other female relations who worked in shops owned by their husbands, but historians have demonstrated that even if women’s contributions were not acknowledged in the marketing materials that they were indeed present and assisting in the operation of the family business.

Mar 19 - Jackson Broadside
Anonymous broadside accusing William Jackson of not abiding by nonimportation agreements (Boston:  ca. 1769-1770).  Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society.

To learn more about William Jackson, Ceara consulted the online collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. In addition to a short biography of the prominent Loyalist shopkeeper, the MHS has made available an image of an anonymous broadside (ca. 1769-1770) warning “SONS and DAUGHTERS of LIBERTY” against purchasing goods from Jackson, “an IMPORTER,” who operated in violation of a non-importation agreement that most merchants and shopkeepers had signed in 1768 in response to the Townshend Acts. Note that the broadside addressed both “SONS” and “DAUGHTERS,” imbuing decisions that both men and women made about consumption with political meaning. Barred from formal mechanisms of political participation – voting and holding office – women engaged in political debates and civic discourse through other means, including the politicization of consumer culture. Nonimportation and nonconsumption agreements, what we would call boycotts today, were effective only if they had widespread approval and adherence. Women’s role in managing their household economy took on political significance as each personal choice whether to buy certain goods made a statement about their views. As acts of consumption increasingly had political valence, neutrality became impossible. During the imperial crisis, women were political actors in the overlapping marketplace of goods and marketplace of ideas.

William Jackson’s advertisement is an especially fine choice to examine during Women’s History Month. It reminds us that much of women’s history has been obscured but not hidden beyond recovery. A willingness to conduct a little more research, to ask new questions, and to approach sources from new perspectives allows us to tell a much more complete story of the American past.