June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 25, 1769).

“He hereby offers, and assures a FREE PARDON.”

In late May 1769 Major General Alexander Mackay issued a pardon to “Soldiers who have deserted from His Majesty’s Troops quartered” in Boston, provided that they returned and surrendered by the last day of June. It was not, however, a blanket pardon; Mackay did exclude nearly twenty deserters who had committed other crimes. Instead of the promise of a pardon, he offered a reward for “apprehending and securing them in any of the public Goals [jails].” To get the word out about the pardons (and the rewards for the excluded soldiers), Mackay had one of his officers, “C. FORDYCE, Major of the Brigade,” insert notices in the public prints.

Dated May 23, the notice first appeared in the Boston Chronicle and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (published on the same broadsheet and distributed with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) on May 25. Within a week, the same notice ran in all of the newspapers published in Boston, appearing in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (published in the same broadsheet and distributed with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) at the first opportunity on May 29.

Over the next several weeks, publication of the notice concerning Mackay’s pardon radiated out from Boston. It next appeared in the Essex Gazette on May 30 and then the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette on June 2. The notice soon found its way into both newspapers published in Rhode Island, running in the Providence Gazette on June 3 and in the Newport Mercury on June 5. A week later, the same notice appeared in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant. With the exception of the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven, the notice about the pardon ran in every newspaper in New England. (Copies of the Connecticut Journal for June 9 and 23 were not available for consultation. The notice may have appeared in one or both of those issues of the newspaper published at the furthest distance from Boston.)

At the same time that more newspapers featured the notice, most continued to include it in subsequent editions. It ran in every issue of the Boston Chronicle, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Connecticut Courant, the Essex Gazette, the New-London Gazette, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette from the time of first insertion through the end of June. It appeared in most issues of the Boston Post-Boy and the New-Hampshire Gazette, though it quickly disappeared from the Boston Evening-Post after only two insertions. In total, the notice ran at least fifty-one times in at least eleven newspapers published in New England over the course of five weeks. It made sense to print the notice far and wide considering that deserters were likely to leave Boston to evade capture.

Although information about the pardon could have been considered news, in each instance the notice appeared among the advertisements in every newspaper that carried it. Purveyors of consumer goods and services sometimes published advertisements in multiple newspapers in their city, but a coordinated advertising campaign of this magnitude was extraordinary in 1769. Members of the book trade sometimes inserted subscription notices among the advertisements in as many newspapers as possible, but even their efforts did not usually match the campaign created by Fordyce. He harnessed the power of the press to spread news of the pardons throughout New England, depending on both distribution networks and subsequent word of mouth to inform deserters that they would receive forgiveness if they only returned to their posts.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 23, 1769).

“FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS … propose to celebrate the FEAST of St. JOHN the Baptist.”

Any of the “BRETHREN of the Antient and Honourable Society of FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS in New-Hampshire” who read the colony’s only newspaper could hardly have missed the calls to attend gatherings on Saturday, June 24, 1769. Not one but two advertisements about their events ran in the June 23 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, both of them placed in prominent places on the page. In addition, an announcement dated June 14 also appeared in the previous issue published on June 16.

Of the two notices that circulated on June 23, one was the first item in the first column on the second page, making it difficult for readers to overlook. Even those who skimmed the contents of the page were more likely to give that first item more attention. In it, John Marsh invited his “BRETHREN” to celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist at the King George Tavern the following day. A nota bene further clarified that dinner would be “on Table precisely at Two o’Clock.” Readers encountered a similar advertisement the previous week, though it had since been updated to reflect that the feast would occur “TO-MORROW” rather than later in the month. This required the compositor to reset some, but not all, of the type for the advertisement. Marsh had to make special arrangements (and may have incurred additional expenses) for this when he submitted the copy to the printing office.

Jun 23 - 6:16:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 16, 1769).

The other notice in the June 23 edition ran across all four columns in the margin at the bottom of the first page. Wider than the masthead (due to the continued disruption on the paper supply), its unique placement on the page also would have attracted the attention of the curious. This advertisement notified masons of another event taking place the following day. Marsh instructed them “to attend at the Lodge-Room” at nine o’clock in the evening “to proceed thence in procession to Queen’s-Chapel, where a Sermon suitable to the Occasion, will be preached by the Rev. Mr. BROWN.” Its position in the margin suggested that this notice had been a late submission to the printing office, inserted after the type had been set. Given that Marsh could not wait a week to insert the notice in the next edition, the printers made special provisions to include his notice (and collect the fees).

Limited to only two pages, that edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured an advertisement from the masons on both pages. Many readers likely read them in quick succession, first the notice at the bottom of the front page and then, flipping over the broadsheet, immediately the first item in the first column on the other side. Informing “BRETHREN” of the gatherings taking place on June 24 was not merely a matter of inserting notices in the newspaper. Where those notices appeared on the page also facilitated getting the word out, especially for the sermon that had not previously been promoted in the public prints.

Jun 23 - 6:23:1769 Page 1 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 23, 1769).

June 16

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

Jun 16 - 6:16:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 16, 1769).

“For … other new Advertisements, see the additional PAPER of this Day.”

The final column on the first page of the June 16, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette concluded with instructions to readers: “For more Articles of London News, and the other new Advertisements, see the additional PAPER of this Day.” The digitized copy that I consulted did not, however, include an “additional PAPER” for June 16. On the other hand, the digitized copy for June 9 did include a second sheet.

Regular visitors to the Adverts 250 Project may remember that the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette experienced a disruption in their paper supply late in the spring of 1769. Instead of publishing the standard four-page issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half they temporarily published two-page issues on sheets of a different size. This reduced the amount of content delivered to subscribers each week from twelve to eight columns … unless the printers distributed a second sheet, like the “additional PAPER” mentioned in the June 16 edition.

I realized that the “additional PAPER” might not have survived, but I also suspected that perhaps at some point it had been separated from the June 16 edition and mistakenly attributed to another issue … especially since I knew that the June 9 issue did have a second sheet that included many “new Advertisements.” When I looked more closely at the second sheet from June 9 I discovered that the page I examined last week, including William Appleton’s book catalog, did not include any information that invalidated the date attributed to it.

The other side of the sheet, however, told a very different story. The header for the first column read “Portsmouth, June 16, 1769.” A notice about a meeting of the “Antient and Honorable Society of FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS in New-Hampshire” was dated June 14. Other advertisements bore the dates June 14 and June 15. A second news item from Portsmouth was dated June 15. None of these items could have been published in an “additional PAPER” on June 9, leading me to believe that the second broadsheet had been presented as part of the June edition in error. Most likely, it was the “additional PAPER” mentioned in the June 16 edition.

One piece of evidence undermined that conjecture. The shipping news from the customs house bore the date June 18. Had this sheet been published even later than June 16? I ultimately decided that was unlikely, especially after determining that the previous shipping news had been dated June 8. Most likely the compositor worked too quickly to update the headline for the shipping news, inserting a “1” before the “8” but not substituting whichever digit should have appeared second (most likely a “5” or “6” that could have been mistaken for an “8” at a glance). Since no other issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette made reference to an “additional PAPER,” the second broadsheet associated with June 9 was almost definitely part of the June 16 edition.

This conundrum is exactly the sort of practical lesson that I like to present to my students to underscore that historians must constantly interrogate their sources, even those that seem unequivocally straightforward. When I first examined the second page attributed to the June 9 edition I expected it to be part of the June 9 edition and did not look closely enough at evidence that told a different story. Only after encountering contradictory evidence later did I notice some important details. When I do present this example to students, I will confess to them that I made a mistake the first time I worked with the page mistakenly associated with the June 9 edition, stressing that they should not be afraid to advance their arguments about the sources they consult for their projects but they must simultaneously be vigilant in their examination of those sources and willing to adjust their arguments when they encounter new evidence.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 9, 1769).

“A very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, experienced a disruption in their paper supply for two months in the late spring and early summer of 1769. As a result, they temporarily published the newspaper on slightly larger broadsheets, expanding the number of columns to four rather than three while reducing the length of most issues to two pages instead of four. This meant that overall they published eight columns of content in each issue (compared to the usual twelve) during the time they resorted to larger sheets. On June 9, however, the Fowles distributed a four-page edition that consisted of sixteen columns, one-third more content than a standard issue printed on slightly smaller broadsheets.

William Appleton’s advertisement for “a very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS” accounted for three of those columns. In the headline, Appleton identified several genres to entice prospective customers: “Law, Physic, History, Anatomy, Novelty, Surgery, Navigation, Divinity, Husbandry, and Mathematicks.” He then listed more than two hundred titles available at his store in Portsmouth. As many booksellers did in their notices, he concluded with a short list of stationery and writing supplies. Had it appeared on a broadside rather than in a newspaper, this advertisement would have been considered a book catalog in its own right. Indeed, many newspaper advertisements placed by booksellers in eighteenth-century America amounted to book catalogs that were not published separately but instead integrated into other media.

The amount of space that Appleton’s advertisement occupied in the New-Hampshire Gazette was impressive. Had it been included in an issue printed on a broadsheet of the usual size, it would have filled an entire page on its own. Although rare, full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century newspapers. John Mein, bookseller and printer of the Boston Chronicle, regularly inserted full-page advertisements (and some that even overflowed onto a second page) in his newspaper in the late 1760s. Other booksellers who were not printers as well as merchants and shopkeepers also published full-page advertisements, though not nearly as often as Mein since they did not have immediate access to the press or need to generate content for publication.

While not technically a full-page advertisement, Appleton’s catalog of books in the June 9, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been if it had been published during almost any other month that year. Still, it dominated the page and demonstrated that advertisers recognized the value in purchasing significant amount of space in newspapers as part of their efforts to attract customers.

June 2

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

Jun 2 - 6:2:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 2, 1769)


It was another volley in an ongoing feud that was taking place in the advertisements published in the New-Hampshire Gazette in the spring of 1769. John Simnet proclaimed himself the “Chief WATCHMAKER in AMERICA,” the sort of hyperbole intended to promote his own skills and attract prospective customers, but also designed to taunt his rival, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.

Simnet was a relative newcomer in Portsmouth, having arrived earlier in the year. Griffith quickly determined that he did not appreciate Simnet intruding on his turf and competing for local customers. To protect his share of the market, he published advertisements that disparaged the upstart. In response, Simnet, who had been trained in London and pursued his occupation there for more than two decades, mocked Griffith for not having acquired the same skills. Griffith accused Simnet of being an itinerant who stole watches from his clients. Simnet claimed that Griffith further damaged watches put in his care, ultimately making it necessary for their owners to take the course of action they should have chosen from the start and deliver their watches to Simnet for more competent attention. Throughout all of this, neither watchmaker named his rival, but readers could hardly mistake the target of each allegation in the New-Hampshire Gazette, especially since the printers often positioned their advertisements side-by-side or one after the other.

In this salvo, Simnet offered a guarantee to prospective clients, pledging the “Owner [was] insur’d from future expence, (Accidents excepted).” In other words, Simnet confidently stood by his work, but he would also make additional repairs if he did not manage to completely resolve defects after an initial consultation. Simultaneously, he made a dig at Griffith, denigrating his rival once again without naming him. The unspoken contrast between Simnet as “Chief WATCHMAKER in AMERICA” and Griffith as a backwater dolt infused the advertisement for any reader who had followed the escalating feud over the past several months. As with several previous advertisements, this short notice may have looked rather bland at first glance, but when considered in the context of the advertising campaigns waged by both watchmakers it conveyed much more meaning, despite its brevity.

May 26

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

May 26 - 5:26:1769 Detail New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 27, 1769).

“Books given at the Printing Office for clean white Linen RAGS.”

The May 26, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette concluded with a notice quite familiar to readers: “Books given at the Printing Office for clean white Linen RAGS.” The printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, frequenlty inserted some sort of call for linen rags for use in making paper. The format of the May 26 issues suggests that the Fowles’ regular supply of paper had been disrupted, making it even more important that colonists turn over their rags. This was not the first time something of the sort had happened that year. The Fowles opened the first issue of 1769 with a notice explaining why they printed it “on so small a Paper.” They had not been able to acquire the usual size, but they were determined to print their newspaper “on Paper made in New-England … some of it out of the very Rags collected in Portsmouth.” The printers explicitly stated that they refused to purchase imported paper due to the duties leveled by the Townshend Acts and “spared no Pains to get such as is manufactured here.”

In late May, they did not print on smaller sheets but instead on larger. A standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other newspapers published in the colonies in 1769, consisted of four pages of three columns each (created by folding in half a broadsheet with two pages printed on each side). The May 26 edition, as well as the next seven, had only two pages of four columns. Although the metadata for digital surrogates does not include the dimensions of the sheets, examining the masthead and colophon clearly reveals that the substituted paper was wider. The masthead ran across only three of the four columns on the front page. Other content ran the entire length of the page in the fourth column. Similarly, the colophon ran across three of the four columns on the other side of the broadsheet, with other content again extending the entire length of the fourth column. This format suggests that the Fowles made the masthead and colophon, used from week to week and from issue to issue, fit the available paper rather than setting new type to conform to a different size.

This significantly changed the appearance of the New-Hampshire Gazette for two months in 1769 as the Fowles and others collected rags to transform into paper of the usual size for the publication. This time around the Fowles did not offer an explanation about the change, perhaps assuming that since they had so recently undertaken another substitution that subscribers would readily recognize the cause this time. Even without additional comment in late May, their offer to exchange books “for clean white Linen RAGS” reverberated with political meaning.

[Note:  After working exclusively with the digital surrogates, I had an opportunity to examine the originals at the American Antiquarian Society.  As the visual evidence suggested, the Fowles did temporarily print the New-Hampshire Gazette on a paper of a different size.  Usually a page measured 15 inches by 9.75 inches, with each column 2.75 inches across.  The substitute paper measured 15 inches by 15.5 inches, allowing enough space for a fourth column also 2.75 inches across.]

May 26 - 5:26:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
Note that the colophon runs across only three of four columns. (New-Hampshire Gazette, May 26, 1769).

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 19, 1769)


At a glance, two advertisements from watchmakers that appeared one after the other in the May 19, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette appear fairly straightforward, especially considering their brevity. In the first, John Simnet simply announced, “WATCHES PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D by SIMNET, Watch-Finisher, and Manufacturer of London and Dublin, Opposite Mr. STAVERS’s TAVERN, Portsmouth.” Simnet briefly promoted his credentials, implying that he had obtained both experience and expertise practicing his trade in two of the largest cities in the empire. His competitor’s advertisement was not much longer: “N. Sheafe Griffith, CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, At his Shop opposite Dr. Langdon’s Meeting-House, WILL speedily and properly repair and rectify any CLOCKS or WATCHED out of Order, in the best and cheapest Manner. Any Clock or Watch sent to said Griffith, will be speedily re-fitted and expeditiously returned.” Griffith went into slightly more detail, emphasizing convenience, quality, and price.

Although both advertisements looked concise on the page, neither advertiser likely expected that readers would consider only the appeals presented to them in the May 19 issue. Both advertisements were part of more extensive campaigns launched by both watchmakers as they engaged in a bitter feud. Drawing on his origins on the other side of the Atlantic, Simnet positioned himself as the superior watchmaker. He had previously proclaimed that Griffith was incompetent. He suggested that his rival actually damaged watches brought to him for repairs, ultimately making it necessary to incur additional expenses to have the job done right by Simnet. For his part, Griffith expressed skepticism of the newcomer, labeling him an itinerant not to be trusted. Griffith implied that Simnet likely peddled stolen goods, so anyone who contracted his services should be wary about their watches potentially going missing. Neither actually named the other, but it was apparent from the copy in their advertisements and their proximity on the page that they meant each other when they catalogued the various shortcomings of their competition.

The latest volley appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette just two weeks earlier. Regular readers would have been aware of the animosity between the two watchmakers. Their disagreement may not have been confined to the public prints; in a town the size of Portsmouth, their disdain for each other could have been the subject of discussion and gossip. Reading their brief advertisements in the May 19 issue without taking into account additional context yields a truncated understanding of the appeals they presented to prospective customers and, more generally, the entire community. Though brief, each advertisement was laden with much more meaning than might appear to casual observers. They must be considered alongside other notices that both watchmakers inserted in the public prints.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 12, 1769).

“BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKS sold at the Printing-Office.”

Three advertisements placed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette rounded out the final page of the May 12, 1769, edition. Each appeared at the bottom of a column, immediately above the colophon that listed Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle in Portsmouth as the printers. Each notice testified to a different aspect of the printing business.

The notice in the first column warned that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printers, for News-Papers, &c. are NOW desired to make payment, if ever they design it, and would avoid unnecessary Trouble and Expence.” Colonial printers frequently inserted such appeals into their newspapers, but the Fowles did so more regularly than most others in the 1760s. Some printers incorporated their calls to settle accounts into annual messages that commemorated the completion of one year of publication and the beginning of another. Such messages to subscribers and other readers often outlined improvements to be made in the coming year, but also earnestly requested that customers pay their debts. The Fowles used some of the most creative and colorful language, once even threatening to publish the names of any who did not settle accounts within a short time, though they never followed through on that strategy for public shaming.

The advertisement in the second column informed readers that “BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKs [are] sold at the Printing-Office.” Operating the newspaper was not the extent of how the Fowles earned their livelihood. They also sold books, some that they had printed but most imported from Britain. In addition, they did job printing and produced “BLANKS of all Kinds,” better known to day as printed forms. Colonists used these blanks for a variety of commercial and legal transactions, relying on the standardized language. A similar advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette provided a list of the various sorts of blanks available at the local printing office: “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessels and seamen, summonses, warrants, and attachments, for the court of conscience, summonses before justices of the peace, executions for the use of magistrates, indico certificates.” Some, such as the indigo certificates, were specific to local usage, but most were used throughout the colonies.   Like advertisements, blanks supplied an important revenue stream for printers.

Finally, the third column concluded with an advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack, for 1769, to be Sold at the Printing Office, in Portsmouth.” This was incredibly late for an advertisement for an almanac to appear; some of the contents certainly remained useful for the remainder of the year, but more than one-third of 1769 had already elapsed. By and large, printers, booksellers, and others had ceased advertising almanacs for quite some time. The appearance of this notice indicates that the Fowles still had surplus almanacs in stock. They hoped for some sort of return on their investment if they could sell any of them at that point. Its position as the last item in the May 12 issue, with the exception of the colophon, tells another story. The Fowles needed to fill the space to complete the column and the issue. This advertisement may have been just as valuable for that purpose as for any sales that resulted from it.

Indeed, the placement of all three advertisements from the printers suggests that they served dual purposes. Each tended to some aspect of operations at the printing office in Portsmouth while simultaneously completing a column and contributing to the tidy appearance of the final page of the May 12 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

May 5

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

May 5 - 5:5:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 5, 1769).

“Mends and cleans Watches, in as neat a Manner as any Watch-Finisher in Town or Country.”

John Simnet, “Watch-Finisher, and Manufacturer of London and Dublin,” continued his advertising campaign in the May 5, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. In this installment, he took a more aggressive approach than in previous notices, especially concerning his own expertise and the quality of the service he provided compared to other watchmakers in the area.  Having previously reduced the length of his advertisements, he found himself in a position of needing to elaborate in greater detail. He boldly proclaimed, “The entire Satisfaction I have given the Public, employed on numbers of imperfect Watches, after ev’ry other Workman hath either practised on them in vain, or given them up, gives me occasion to intimate to Gentlemen, that ‘tis much easier to me to repair a Watch before, than after another has with mistaken Judgment, operated on it.” Although he did not give any names, the watchmaker clearly denigrated his competition. He informed prospective customers that they might as well save themselves the time and expense and bring their watches to him first because the lack of skill of other watchmakers would ultimately cause them to seek out Simnet’s services anyway. He promoted his services in other ways as well, offering to do “Small repairs gratis” and pledging not to charge anything if he did not “do [his] Work perfect.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith was not impressed with this newcomer and the competition he presented. In his own advertisement, conveniently placed next to Simnet’s notice, Griffith stated that he “mends and cleans Watches, in as neat a Manner as any Watch-Finisher in Town and Country, & much cheaper.” He invoked the term Simnet applied to himself, “Watch-Finish,” leaving little doubt that he referred to that rival in particular, even as he made a general appeal about his own skills, the quality of his work, and his low price. Griffith also played on his reputation as someone who had lived and worked in New Hampshire for quite some time. “As the said Griffith is well known in this Province,” he declared, “Gentlemen may with Safety leave their Watches in his Custody and depend upon their being seasonably returned.” Prospective customers could hardly have missed the implication that because Simnet was unfamiliar in the community that he could not be trusted. Griffith further demeaned Simnet, who had previously advertised that he planned to remain in New Hampshire for only a year, as an outsider by proposing that “Every Itenerant, or Walking-Watch-Manufacturer, especially those who carries their whole Stock upon ther Backs, should bring Credentials of their Honesty, before they can be trusted with Brass, much more Silver and Gold Watches.” According to Griffith, it was clear that Simnet was not to be trusted. He went so far as to imply that his competitor trafficked in stolen goods. “Some Men may have Watches to sell,” Griffith cautioned, “which for want of being known, may admit of a Doubt, whether they came honestly by them.” For his part, Simnet attempted to alleviate fears that he would steal watched from customers; the final line of his advertisement advised, “Security deposited in Hand, if requir’d.” In other words, he provided some sort of collateral when customers entrusted him with their watches. Just in case it was not abundantly clear that he targeted Simnet, Griffith invoked another aspect of the newcomer’s advertisements. He warned that by arranging for “mending for the low Price of a Pistereen, he may endanger the Loss of his whole Watch.”  Simnet explicitly stated that his price for mending and cleaning was “as low as a Pistereen.”

Simnet had been promoting his services in a series of advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette for several months. Griffith apparently did not appreciate the competition infringing on what he considered his market. While many eighteenth-century advertisers made general comparisons between themselves and others who pursued the same occupation, very rarely did they launch attacks at specific individuals. Griffith, however, launched a savage attack against Simnet, even though he never mentioned his rival by name. In so doing, he attempted to use the skepticism and anxiety of local consumers as a wedge to keep them away from Simnet.

April 28

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 28, 1769).


Peter Curtis took out an advertisement in the April 28, 1769, edition of the New Hampshire Gazette to advertise his dance school. This advertisement is particularly interesting because it demonstrates one of the ways that people found entertainment in the eighteenth century. The lives of colonists during the revolutionary era were not focused only on work and survival. The services that Peter Curtis offered might have been a great way for people to take a break and learn how to dance. The profession of dance master could be quite rewarding because, according to an online exhibition from the American Antiquarian Society, these dances were difficult to master and would require many classes. However, having the time and money to attend a dance class would have been a luxury that mostly the middling sort and elites would have been able to take advantage of. In another part of this advertisement that is interesting Curtis states that he will also teach good manners. This would be a must for elites who wanted their children to learn the proper way to behave themselves when in the company of other affluent members of society. A common way that people asserted their affluence was through consumer culture, but being able to dance and have well-mannered children also accomplished the same goal.



In this advertisement Peter Curtis announced that he “has again opened a SCHOOL for teaching young MASTERS and MISSES, DANCING and GOOD MANNERS.” In declaring that he had “again opened a SCHOOL,” he assumed that readers and prospective clients were already aware of his previous endeavors as a dancing master. The brevity of his advertisement, especially compared to another he previously inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette, suggests that was indeed the case. For instance, Curtis did not even state his location; he instead expected that others knew where to find his dancing school. In an advertisement that ran almost two years earlier, however, when Curtis launched that enterprise, he informed residents of Portsmouth that “he proposes to open a DANCING SCHOOL, at the House where the late Mr. David Horney kept a Tavern, and opposite Mr. John Stavers.” Over the course of a couple of years, his school became so familiar that Curtis no longer considered it necessary to give directions.

The dancing master himself had also become familiar in the community, so much so that he no longer underscored one of his most important credentials. When he first opened his school he introduced himself in the public prints as “Peter Curtis, From PARIS.” After outlining his services, he noted that he “has resided fifteen Years in France; he will teach them in the most polite and genteel Manner.” In so doing, he linked the experience he gained living and working in France with gentility and proper comportment. He encouraged prospective clients to desire the additional cachet of employing a dancing master with connections to Paris, at least when he first marketed his services in a community as yet unfamiliar with him. Over time, however, he apparently decided that he had established such a reputation in Portsmouth that he no longer needed to explicitly attach himself to the cosmopolitan French center of fashion and manners.

That Curtis once again advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette suggests that he experiences some success in Portsmouth and its environs. Dancing masters were notorious for being itinerant in eighteenth-century America. Curtis apparently attracted enough clients and cultivated sufficient demand that he planned to remain in the relatively small port for another season rather than seek his fortune in New York or Philadelphia or any of the larger cities in the colonies. Even beyond urban centers, genteel colonists (and those who aspired to gentility) considered dancing and the manners associated with the pastime an important signifier of their status.