April 20

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

Postscript to the Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 20, 1769).

LOST … A Stone Sleeve Button with a red Cypher set in Gold.”

On April 20, 1769, the Postscript to the Boston Weekly News-Letter contained this advertisement for a lost “Stone Sleeve Button with a red Cypher set in Gold, and with a gold Chain.” I was interested in this piece of jewelry. According to Thomas Hamilton Ormsbee, “Although carelessness, loss by theft, and general wear and tear have taken a heavy toll on colonial jewelry so that comparatively small amount is still extant, portraits of well-to-do citizens and their families from Puritan-founded New England to South Carolina and newspaper advertisements of colonial goldsmiths show that jewelry of all sorts was in high favor. In fact, it was a natural accessory to the elaborate satin and brocaded costumes affected by both men and women of substance and social standing.” Who made the jewelry that colonists owned? “Some of this jewelry was imported; much was made by the various gold and silversmiths of the colonies.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

For the purposes of this project, Matt selected an especially interesting source to support his analysis of today’s featured advertisement. In a “Flashback” article published online in March 2009, Collectors Weekly republished Thomas Hamilton Ormsbee’s two-part series on “Colonial Americans and Their Jewelry” originally published in the March and April 1941 issues of American Collector magazine. As the twenty-first-century editors explain, “This article discusses the various types of fine jewelry that was popular among 18th-century Americans, using advertisements written by jewelers and notices written by Americans who had lost previous pieces as examples.” The advertisements for the lost “Stone Sleeve Button with a red Cypher set in Gold, and with a gold Chain” falls in the latter category. Matt selected an article that demonstrates how multiple advertisements can provide a revealing overview of the history of a particular product in early America when considered collectively.

That article also references other sorts of advertisements from eighteenth-century newspapers. Ormsbee declares that items created and sold by jewelers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths were “evidently as tempting to the ‘have-nots’ of that time as [they are] today, for news items about robberies were fairly numerous.” He then tells the story of a Boston goldsmith who inserted an advertisement in the March 21, 1765, edition of the Boston News-Letter to list the jewelry stolen from his shop and offer a reward. The Boston-Gazette later reported that the thief had been caught and punished with “40 stripes at the public Whipping Post,” but did not indicate whether the goldsmith recovered his merchandise. Although the anonymous colonist who placed today’s featured advertisement described the jewelry as “LOST” rather than stolen, he or she did worry that anyone who found it might attempt to sell it rather than return it to its rightful owner. “If offer’d to Sale,” the advertiser pleaded, “it is desired it may be stop’d.” In other words, confiscate the jewelry and inform the printer to contact the advertiser that the lost jewelry had been recovered.

Ormsbee’s two-part series about eighteenth-century advertisements for jewelry is a lively read that includes images of both jewelry and portraits of colonists wearing their precious possessions. Alas, the article does not include images of the advertisements, privileging images of material culture over the print culture that provides important context for understanding the significance of jewelry in colonial American commerce and culture.

April 19

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

Georgia Gazette (April 19, 1769).

“ABOUT TWENTY-ONE VALUABLE PLANTATION SLAVES.”

On April 19, 1769, Benjamin Fox put an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to sell a plantation. The advertisement boldly stated “ABOUT TWENTY ONE VALUABLE PLANTATION SLAVES.” I was curious about the lives of plantation slaves and learned more from the Understanding Slavery Institute sponsored by several museums in Great Britain. According to the Understanding Slavery Institute, “plantations depended on skilled slaves – masons, joiners, coopers, metalworkers – to keep factories, fields, equipment and transport prepared and functioning. The needs of the wider slave community were served by other vital workers: cooks, nurses, and seamstresses.” However, other slaves were very skilled in agriculture. Those slaves were responsible for more important decisions on the plantation. They were sometimes responsible for determining when sugar cane was ready for harvest or when tobacco leaves were ideal for picking or “how best to pack, load, and transport the commodities grown on the plantation.” Slaves had occupations and could be traded and sold from plantation to plantation as their services were required.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Although this particular advertisement did not, other advertisements concerning enslaved men and women often listed their skills or occupations. As Matt indicates, enslaved artisans contributed far more than labor to colonial commerce. Their involuntary contributions also included their skill and expertise.

Consider the advertisements that ran in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette earlier in the same week as this advertisement from the Georgia Gazette. One offered to sell a “Valuable NEGRO MAN” … who was “well qualified for a gentleman’s servant, or as a waiter in a tavern.” Another advertisement described an enslaved man who was “a very good GARDINER.” In both instances, they skillfully accomplished tasks beyond agricultural labor in the fields on plantations.

In the course of describing a plantation for sale, yet another advertisement also listed “about thirty likely NEGROES,” many best suited for working in the fields but some possessing other valuable skills. They included “a very good bricklayer, a driver, and two sawyers” along with seventeen considered “fit for the field or boat-work.” In addition, John Matthews once again ran an advertisement that had appeared for months. He sought to sell both a plot of land and an enslaved laundress. He also mentioned that he “hath not yet sold his negro Shoe-makers” and could thus supply customers with boots and shoes “as usual.” Matthews had previously attempted to sell those shoemakers, placing advertisements in Charleston’s newspapers for months. He proclaimed that “they have done all my business for nine Years past, and are at least equal to any Negroes of the Trade in this Province.” Matthews stated that he intended to “decline Shoemaking,” but his advertisement suggests that he supervised skilled enslaved artisans rather than making any shoes himself.

Considering advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children collectively, along with other sources, reveals the broad range of skills they possessed and occupations they followed in eighteenth-century America. While many did indeed labor in the fields on plantations, a significant number worked in diverse settings at various occupations that required specialized skills.

April 17

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

Boston Chronicle (April 17, 1769).

“APPRENTICES, (Wanted for the PRINTING BUSINESS).”

On April 17, 1769, John Mein and John Fleeming, the printers of the Boston Chronicle, put this advertisement searching for three young apprentices in their own newspaper. The printers wanted apprentices between thirteen and sixteen years of age. Two would work in the “PRINTING BUSINESS” and one in “BOOK BINDING.” Young men usually started apprenticeships in their teenage years and they finished in their early twenties. Bookbinding apprenticeship were not easy, according to Ed Crews. “Mastering the trade required hard work, dexterity, attention to detail, and a willingness and ability to handle painstaking tasks. By the time they became journeymen, apprentices had learned dozens of skills, including folding pages, collating them, stitching, gluing, and techniques for decorating covers.” This shows how hard it was to be a skilled bookbinder. Most apprenticeships were strenuous and not easy, but being an apprentice to a bookbinder could open new opportunities when the apprenticeship ended. Crews says, “Bookbinders with high skills, working in the right shop, could expect satisfying jobs and pay.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Residents of Boston and its environs had access to several local newspapers in the late 1760s. The Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Boston Weekly News-Letter had all been published in one form or another for several years or even decades. In December 1767, John Mein and John Fleeming commenced publication of another newspaper, the Boston Chronicle, expanding the options for disseminating both news and advertising. According to Isaiah Thomas in his monumental History of Printing in America, the Boston Chronicle was “intended to imitate in its appearance the London Chronicle.” Like their competitors, Mein and Fleeming published one issue each week. Upon successfully concluding the first year of publication, the partners altered the size of the newspaper and began distributing new issues on both Mondays and Thursdays, making it the first newspaper published twice a week in New England.

In an overview of its contents, Thomas states that the Boston Chronicle “was well supplied with essays on various subjects judiciously selected from British authors, and it contained the celebrated letters of the Pennsylvania Farmer” by John Dickinson, a series reprinted in nearly every newspaper in the colonies in late 1767 and early 1768. Thomas also notes that the newspaper “grew daily into reputation, and had a handsome list of subscribers.” He did not, however, note how successfully Mein and Fleeming attracted advertisers for their newspaper.

Examining the pages of the Boston Chronicle reveals that no matter how “handsome” the list of subscribers, the newspaper did not publish as many advertisements as any of its local competitors, especially not in 1769. This may have been due in part to Mein’s outspoken political sympathies. “Before the close of the second year of publication,” Thomas reports, Mein “engaged in a political warfare with those who were in opposition to the measures of the British administration. In the Chronicle he abused numbers of the most respectable whigs in Boston; and he was charged with insulting the populace.” Perhaps some prospective advertisers hesitated to insert their notices in the Boston Chronicle for fear of being associated with Mein’s strident politics. Others may have made principled decisions not to advertise in the pages of his newspaper. Thomas declares that as the newspaper steadily lost its subscribers “it could neither be profitable to its publishers, nor answer the design of its supporters.”[1] Again, he does not comment on the role of advertising, especially the revenues generated from paid notices, in the demise of the Boston Chronicle.

Not only did the Boston Chronicle carry fewer advertisements than its competitors, a greater proportion of those that appeared in its pages promoted Mein and Fleeming’s endeavors, including their advertisement for apprentices “Wanted for the PRINTING BUSINESS” that appeared immediately below an advertisement for a book Mein sold at the London Book-Store. Only eight advertisements ran in the April 17, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, one quarter of them placed by the publishers. The advertisement for apprentices was not explicitly political, but the politics of the printers may have influenced how many other advertisements happened to appear on the same page.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; 1874; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 264-265.

April 16

GUEST CURATOR: Matt Ringstaff

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

Providence Gazette (April 15, 1769).

“Wanted, a Quantity of good Pot-Ash.”

Before seeing the word “Pot-Ash” in Joseph and William Russell’s advertisement from 1769 in the Providence Gazette I had no idea what is was or what it was used for. I understood from the advertisement was that there was a large market for it. Potash, “a crude form of potassium carbonate,” came from the ashes of burned trees. Colonists originally used it for making soap and, later, gunpowder. According to William E. Burns, colonists used small amounts of potash for baking to help cakes rise. Colonists made potash “by burning logs and other wood to ashes, then placing the ashes in a barrel lined with twigs and straw.” After that step, “[p]otash makers poured water on top of the ashes, dissolving out the salts.” Then they boiled what was left to create potassium carbonate that “made up less than a quarter of the mass.” Potash had many uses in colonial times, “from household soapmaking to glass manufacture.”[1]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Sometimes when guest curators examine the featured advertisements I instead choose to comment more extensively on methodology, pedagogy, or the benefits and challenges of working with digitized primary sources. For this entry, I offer a few comments on Assumption College’s twenty-fifth annual Undergraduate Symposium.

Today all of the guest curators that have worked on the project this spring will make presentations about their contributions at the Symposium, sharing their work beyond the classroom in yet another forum. Designed to replicate a conference, the Symposium draws together talented undergraduate students from across the many departments on campus. Students may make oral presentations or participate in poster sessions, whichever best fits their projects and matches the practices in their disciplines.

The guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project, all of them History majors enrolled in my upper-level Revolutionary America class, will make presentations that they have previously delivered in class in preparation for the Symposium. I oversaw a workshop for each presentation. The entire class discussed what worked well and offered constructive suggestions for improvement so each guest curator could make the necessary revisions and deliver a polished presentation at the Symposium.

The ten presentations related to the Adverts 250 Project have been divided into two sessions of five presentations each. A faculty moderator from the Symposium Committee will oversee each session. I will make a formal introduction for each young scholar. Then each will make a ten-minute presentation, followed by five minutes for questions and discussion. Later in the day everyone involved in the Symposium will gather at a reception hosted by the Provost and the Symposium Committee to celebrate their accomplishments.

Preparing for and participating in the Symposium requires a lot of time. In my Revolutionary America class, we have given over three of twenty-seven class meetings to this endeavor. This means that we cover less content in the course of the semester, but I know from experience that students ultimately learn the content we do cover much better because it has been linked to other skills they have developed and honed as part of the Adverts 250 Project. From History Labs in class to the Symposium near the end of the semester, the guest curators have enhanced their information literacy, expanded their research skills, refined their writing abilities, and gained valuable experience with public speaking. All of these will serve them well in their future studies and, more significantly, beyond the classroom.

Good luck at the Symposium today, guest curators!

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[1] William E. Burns, Science and Technology in Colonial America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 25.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

Providence Gazette (April 15, 1769).

“A Quantity of Red and White Oak Hogshead STAVES.”

On April 15, 1769, Samuel Young put an advertisement put in the Providence Gazette to tell readers that he wanted “to purchase a Quantity of Red and White Oak Hogshead STAVES, for which he will make good Pay.” Staves are narrow pieces of wood used to make barrels. A hogshead is a barrel that holds 64 gallons. According to Jeremy M. Bell, “Barrels were the shipping containers of their time” in the eighteenth century. They held an abundance of items, including alcohol, corn, and tobacco. Today it is not very common to see barrels in stores, except maybe a Cracker Barrel, but in colonial times they were extremely common in shops, very noticeable objects for customers. Bell states that barrels were so frequently used that the British Parliament passed the first act to standardize hogsheads and their measurements in 1423. Starting with a tun barrel at 252 gallons, they made it so that each designation of volume would then be cut in half. A pipe barrel held 126 gallons. Therefore, a hogshead measured 64 gallons and a standard barrel at 32 gallons. Practically everyone involved in commerce in early America used hogsheads and barrels of other sizes.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

No advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children appeared in the April 15, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. None of the paid notices offered men and women for sale. None of them encouraged white colonists to engage in acts of surveillance in the service of capturing escaped slaves and returning them to those who held them in bondage, nor did any describe suspected runaways that had been imprisoned. Yet black bodies were not absent from the pages of the Providence Gazette or the commercial landscape in the city.

Before he announced that he sold an “Assortment of European, East and West-India GOODS” and sought “Hogshead STAVES,” Samuel Young proclaimed that he operated a store at “the Sign of the Black Boy.” Enslaved men and women had labored to produce many of the goods Young sold. Enslaved men and women would eventually handle the barrels made from the staves Young acquired. They were integrated into the networks of production, exchange, and consumption in the early modern Atlantic world. That was a fact that would have been difficult for residents of Providence to overlook, but Young’s choice of shop sign provided a stark visual reminder that black bodies had been appropriated and exploited for a variety of purposes. Enslaved men and women contributed their labor, their skills, and their expertise in the production of commodities. The image of a “Black Boy” then served as a marketing logo and a landmark that aided colonists in finding many of those commodities as they navigated the streets of Providence.

Elsewhere in the April 15 issue, the Providence Gazette disseminated news about the imperial crisis brewing as a result of the Townshend Acts and other abuses by Parliament. Some correspondents wrote about “AMERICAN Liberty,” while others defended the prerogatives of George III and Parliament. Calls for “AMERICAN Liberty,” however, extended only so far, only to white colonists. Most colonists who reduced enslaved men, women, and children to a stylized image on “the Sign of the Black Boy” did not contemplate how to evenly apply their rhetoric to all of the residents of Rhode Island and the other colonies.

April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 14, 1769).

“Public Vendue … at Capt. Jacob Tilton’s Tavern.”

This advertisement from the New-Hampshire Gazette on April 14, 1769, sparked my interest because of what was being sold and where the sale took place: “TO BE SOLD … at Capt. Jacob Tilton’s Tavern … SUNDRY HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE.” The location of this “Public Vendue” or auction, Tilton’s Tavern, seemed unusual. How often does a bar have an auction for household furniture? In the twenty-first century when a bar holds some type of event it is often a car or motorcycle show, but not a furniture auction. According to Leigh Zepernick, a collections intern at the Old State House in Boston, “It is difficult to overstate the importance of taverns in 18th century life. In addition to providing food, drink, and lodging, they were venues for town meetings, legal proceedings, and business transactions. Taverns were a place to debate politics, play games such as cards or dice, and catch up with the latest news and gossip. They were the hub of social life, and in Boston in particular, they were ubiquitous. In 1765, there was one tavern for every 79 adult men.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Edward Moyston’s trade card for the City Tavern (1789). Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Society Miscellaneous Collection).

As Matt notes, a lot more than eating and drinking took place at taverns in eighteenth-century America. Two decades after the New-Hampshire Gazette ran the advertisement about an auction at Tilton’s Tavern in Portsmouth, Edward Moyston distributed a trade card for the City Tavern in Philadelphia. His marketing made it clear that the City Tavern was a place for conducting business. Indeed, the “CITY-TAVERN” appeared in much smaller font than the headline for the trade card that announced the “Merchants’ Coffee-House & Place of Exchange” could be found at the tavern. Moyston had set aside the “two Front Rooms,” noting that they had been “specially appropriated to these purposes” due to a subscription agreement with “Merchants, Captains of Vessels, and other Gentlemen.” Although Moyston also marketed the rest of his establishment as “a TAVERN and HOTEL: Where Gentlemen and the Families are accommodated, as usual, with the most superior Liquors … and every article for the Table is served up with elegance,” he positioned the City Tavern as a place to conduct business. To that end, he likely supplied newspapers published in Philadelphia and other cities for his patrons so they could stay informed of politics and commerce. Those “Merchants, Captains of Vessels, and other Gentlemen” certainly also shared news and gossip with each other in conversations that took place as they cast up accounts and pursued new transactions.

Tilton’s Tavern in Portsmouth may not have been as grand as the City Tavern in Philadelphia (which has been reconstructed and serves visitors today), but it served a similar purpose. As the advertisement Matt selected demonstrates, it was a gathering place familiar to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette and other members of the community. Holding an auction at Tilton’s Tavern was business as usual in the eighteenth century, one of the many activities that took place at an establishment where people gathered to exchange information and goods in addition to consuming food and beverages. Its convenience and central location likely made it a preferred venue compared to the home of the patron who intended to auction furniture and housewares.

Welcome, Guest Curator Matthew Ringstaff

Matthew Ringstaff is a sophomore at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.  He is majoring in History and minoring in Art History.  He was born and raised in Sicklerville in southern New Jersey and never really left the state until he ventured to college in Worcester. He is the middle of three sons in his family.  His older brother, Bill, is a police sergeant in Bridgeton New Jersey. His younger brother, Mark, is in high school and works at IHOP. Matt admires his unbelievable work ethic. Most significantly, his mother, Christine Ringstaff, an amazing woman who worked three jobs to give her children every possible opportunity, inspires him.  He credits her as the best role model anyone could have. He strives to match her grit, wittiness, and resilience in all of his endeavors as a student, as an athlete, and throughout every aspect of his life.

Welcome, Matthew Ringstaff!