November 19

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

Virginia Gazette [Rind] (November 19, 1772).

“A TRACT of six hundred acres, including about two hundred of cleared land.”

George Washington possessed a “TRACT of six hundred acres … lying on the north side of Rappahannock river, opposite to the lower end of Fredericksburg” that he wished to sell, rent, or exchange “for back lands in any of the northern counties” of Virginia in the fall of 1772.  To that end, he ran advertisements in the Virginia Gazette published by Alexander Purdie and John Dixon and the Virginia Gazette published by William, calling on interested parties to “enquire of Col. Lewis in Fredericksburg” or himself in Fairfax.

Thick black lines appeared on either side of Washington’s advertisement in the November 19 edition of Rind’s Virginia Gazette, but those lines had nothing to do with the advertisement itself.  Instead, those lines adorned all four pages of that issue, separating columns of news and advertising on each page.  Readers recognized them as mourning borders, a common practice among eighteenth-century printers upon the deaths of prominent and influential people.  When readers first glimpsed the front page of the newspaper, they would have known that it contained news about the death of someone important.  In addition to the black borders between the columns, Rind also inserted thick black borders into the masthead.  Similar borders helped readers find news of the death of “the Honourable WILLIAM NELSON, Esquire, President of his Majesty’s Council of Virginia” when they turned to the second page.  Those borders ran above and below the announcement of Nelson’s death.  In contrast, a shorter item about the death of William Templeman, a merchant in Fredericksburg, did not feature mourning borders above and below, only to the sides like the rest of the contents of that edition.  Many readers in Williamsburg, the capital of the colony and the site of the printing office, would have heard the news before receiving the newspaper, but for readers at a distance the mourning borders immediately alerted them to peruse the issue for a certain kind of news.

In that issue of the Virginia Gazette, the news of Nelson’s death had an impact on the appearance of Washington’s real estate notice and every other advertisement.  Even readers who had previously heard the news could not read any of the notices without encountering a reminder of that significant event.

March 5

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 5, 1772).

“MATHEMATICAL INSTRUMENTS … At the Head of the Long-Wharf, King-Street, BOSTON.”

Thick black mourning borders enclosed the columns of the March 5, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Spy.  Isaiah Thomas, one of the most ardent patriots among the printers in Boston, commemorated the second anniversary of the Bloody Massacre, the Massacre in King Street, better known today as the Boston Massacre.  Colonial printers most often used mourning borders when announcing the death of an official (including Francis Fauquier, lieutenant governor of Virginia, in March 1768) or a prominent figure (including George Whitefield, a minister associated with the revivals now known as the Great Awakening, in September 1770), but in the 1760s and 1770s American printers also deployed mourning borders to lament the death of liberty, doing so in response to the Stamp Act and the “HORRID MASSACRE! Perpetrated in King-street.”

On the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Thomas did more than frame the content of the Massachusetts Spywithin mourning borders.  A woodcut depicting a skull and bones, familiar from the Stamp Act protests, appeared near the top of the first column on the front page, just below several lines about massacre that Thomas attributed to Shakespeare.  The printer also inserted a letter written on the occasion of the anniversary of the “fifth of March … to appear with the labours of those able and assiduous patriots, who have rendered the Spy the terror of tyrants, the scourge of traitors, and expositor of the violent and fraudulent usurpations of a set of villains partaking largely the nature of both.”  Thomas also published a memorial to “FIVE of your fellow countrymen, GRAY, MAVERICK, CALDWELL, ATTUCKS and CARR … most inhumanly MURDERED … By a Party of the XXIXth Regiment, Under the command of Capt. Tho. Preston.”  The memorial linked the Boston Massacre to the murder of Christopher Seider, an “innocent youth,” by Ebenezer Richardson, “Informer, And tool to Ministerial hirelings,” on February 22, 1770, just two weeks before the events in King Street.  The memorial expressed dismay that even though Richardson “was found guilty By his Country On Friday April 20th, 1770,” he “Remains UNHANGED” on “This day, MARCH FIFTH! 1772.”  The memorial concluded with a proclamation that “the PRESS” should “Remain FREE” as “a SCOURGE to Tyrannical Rulers.”

The mourning borders did not enclose just the memorial, editorials, and other content related to the Boston Massacre.  Instead, they appeared on all four pages, enclosing even the advertisements for cookbooks, “ENGLISH GOODS,” almanacs, and mathematical instruments.  Even if readers chose to skip over the dense essays that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper, they could not miss the mourning borders when they perused the advertisements.  Merely reading the advertisements on the final page of the Massachusetts Spy required colonizers to engage with the politics of the period.

March 5

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

Essex Gazette (March 5, 1771).

“Sermons on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”

A little more than five months following George Whitefield’s death on September 30, 1770, the commodification of that event continued in the pages of the Essex Gazette.  Printers, booksellers, and others produced and marketed a variety of commemorative items dedicated to the prominent minister in the weeks after his death.  The advertising for such items tapered off by the end of the year, but some notices occasionally appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina in 1771.  On March 5, Samuel Hall, the printer of the Essex Gazette, informed prospective customers of “Dr. Whitaker’s and Mr. Parsons’s Sermons on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD, with Mr. Jewet’s Exhortation at the Grave, annexed to the latter” available at his printing office in Salem.

This particular advertisement included thick black bands on both sides, a common symbol of mourning in early American print.  Whitefield’s death, however, was not the reason that Hall included that symbol in the March 5 edition.  The borders ran throughout the entire newspaper, enclosing every column on all four pages, to mark the first anniversary of “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston, N. England–1770.  In which Five of his Majesty’s Subjects were slain, and Six wounded, By the Discharge of a Number of Muskets from a Party of Soldiers under the Command of Capt. Thomas Preston.”  Hall devoted the entire front page to commemorating the Boston Massacre, first in a “solemn and perpetual MEMORIAL Of the Tyranny of the British Administration of Government” that extended across all three columns and filled half of the space below the masthead.  A letter reprinted from the New-Hampshire Gazette accounted for the remainder of the page.  In it, an anonymous author, “CONSIDERATION,” encouraged residents of every colony to designate a day to commemorate “the Massacre of 5 Americans” and, more generally, reflect on “the most important Events that have happened relative to the Government and Liberties of the Country.”  Unless colonists set aside a day for “delivering Discourses upon Government, the fundamental Laws of the Land, [and] the Advantages of civil and religious Liberty,” Consideration feared that “People will grow inattentive to those Concerns” and tyrants would prevail.  The black bands around Consideration’s essay underscored the gravity of the proposal.  Consideration issued a call to action, one endorsed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette when they inserted it in their newspaper and endorsed once again by Hall when he reprinted it.

Two of the most momentous events of 1770, the Boston Massacre and the death of George Whitefield, converged in the March 5, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Both events fueled acts of commemoration, sometimes mediated through commodification.  Vigilant printers played an important role in keeping those stories familiar among the general public, through news accounts, editorials, and advertisements.

Essex Gazette (March 5, 1771).

October 5

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 5, 1770)

“[illegible due to ink bleeding through from other side of sheet]”

Like many other eighteenth century newspapers, the masthead for the New-Hampshire Gazette proclaimed that it “CONTAIN[ED] the Freshest ADVICES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.”  In other words, it carried current news from the colonies and abroad.  Those “ADVICES,” however, were not confined to the news articles and editorials; advertisements also delivered news to readers, sometimes about commerce and consumption, sometimes about politics, and sometimes about current events.  Advertisements relayed an array of valuable information to readers, supplementing contents that appeared elsewhere in the newspapers.

Advertisements sometimes provided additional information about articles that ran in the same issue, but in the case of some advertisements in the October 5, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette the news bled through, literally, in a very different way.  George Whitefield, one of the most influential ministers associated with the religious revivals known as the Great Awakening, died on September 30.  The October 5 edition, the first published following Whitefield’s death, included a lengthy notice on the third page.  As was the custom in eighteenth-century newspapers, thick black borders denoting mourning enclosed the news, honoring Whitefield and attracting the attention of readers.

So thick were those borders and so firm the impression of the hand-operated printing press that ink bled through from the news item on the third page to the advertisements on the fourth page.  Among them, Neal McIntyre’s advertisement for tobacco from Virginia featured a faint unintended border.  The first lines of a notice that “the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of this Province is now Prorogued” were partially obscured by ink from the other side of the page.  Even when readers moved past the most significant news article of the October 5 issue, word of Whitefield’s death continued to reverberate in other items as the result of the printing technologies of the time.  In any newspaper, news and advertising were not delivered separately from each other.  In this particular instance, news left a very visible mark on several advertisements.