April 8

GUEST CURATOR:  Jonathan Biscelgia

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

Apr 8 - 4:8:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 8, 1768).

“A few Hogsheads of Choice old Rum.”

This advertisement from the New Hampshire Gazette appears straightforward about what Thomas Bell was trying to sell. However, there is more to this advertisement when examining the vernacular more closely, specifically the word “Hogsheads.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines this as “A large cask, esp. for storing liquids; spec.one of a definite capacity, varying according to the commodity held.” This keys into the fact that Thomas Bell sold large quantities of rum. Rum was prevalent in the colonies because the ingredients, particularly molasses, were easy to acquire because of the triangular trade that connected New England to sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

The sale of alcohol in these large quantities gives insight into consumption trends of the larger population. According to Ed Crews, a public historian at Colonial Williamsburg, “Rum was king of the colonies before the Revolutionary War.  …  By 1770, the colonies had more than 140 rum distilleries, making about 4.8 million gallons annually. That was on top of the 3.78 million gallons imported each year. Production was concentrated in the Northeast.” Identifying that production was concentrated in New England and the Middle Atlantic is important because it tells the larger story of slavery in America. The molasses needed for rum was produced in the Caribbean by the work of slaves. Rum could not have been distilled in mainland North America if it had not been for the struggles of enslaved men and women in the Caribbean.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Today the Adverts 250 Project republishes fourteen advertisements that originally appeared in colonial newspapers 250 years ago today: Thomas Bell’s advertisement for “Choice old Rum” that Jonathan examines above and thirteen advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children that have been incorporated into the daily digest for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. The South-Carolina and American General Gazette published all thirteen of the notices offering slaves for sale or warning about runaway slaves.

A cursory glance at these advertisements does not necessarily reveal the connections between Bell’s notice from the New-Hampshire Gazetteand the series from one of Charleston’s three newspapers. Further examination of all of the newspapers published 250 years ago today might initially reaffirm first impressions about enslavement in southern colonies and freedom in New England.  Two other newspapers, the Connecticut Journal and the New-London Gazette, were also published on April 8, 1768.  Like the New-Hampshire Gazette, neither of them happened to include any advertisements concerning slaves.  Considered solely in this context, the distribution of newspaper advertisements suggests a striking regional different between New England and the Lower South.

Yet the contents of newspapers published on a single day do not tell the entire story of colonial American culture and commerce.  Widening the scope a little – to just newspapers published 250 years ago this week – forces us to confront advertisements for slaves from other newspapers printed in New England as well as even more from the Middle Atlantic.  Widening the scope even more – to all newspapers from 1768 – reveals that colonists placed and read advertisements for slaves in the Connecticut Journal, the New-Hampshire Gazette, and the New-London Gazette, even if they appeared in lesser numbers or frequency than in other newspapers.

This broader view of newspapers and advertisements from 1768 illustrates that that the commerce and culture of colonial New England was not devoid of enslavement.  That being said, Jonathan demonstrates that it is not necessary to identify advertisements for slaves to use eighteenth-century advertisements to examine the region’s relationship to slavery.  Instead, advertisements for a popular commodity like rum testify to New England’s participation in networks of exchange that depended on slavery. Making this connection requires looking beyond the commodity advertised for consumption to also see the process of production and commerce that made “Choice old Rum” available to consumers in New England and throughout the colonies.

April 1

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

Apr 1 - 4:1:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 1, 1768).

Good CHOCOLATE … by the Single Pound.”

Today many Christians will celebrate Easter by eating chocolate eggs, chocolate rabbits, and a variety of other chocolate treats, but 250 years ago colonists drank rather than ate the “Good CHOCOLATE” advertised in newspapers and sold by shopkeepers. Along with coffee and tea, chocolate was a popular beverage in eighteenth-century America. Colonists consumed all three hot and sweet, adding sugar to temper any bitterness. Rodney Snyder records this recipe originally published in 1769 in The Experienced English Housekeeper: “Scrape four ounces of chocolate and pour a quart of boiling water upon it; mix it well and sweeten it to your taste; give it a boil and let it stand all night; then mix it again very well; boil it in two minutes, then mix it till it will leave the froth upon the tops of your cups.”

According to Mary Miley Theobald, “Chocolate was usually sold ground and pressed into cakes wrapped in paper.” English shopkeepers and grocers usually sold cakes that weighed two to four ounces, but the one-pound cake was most common in the American colonies as a result of lower import duties making the product less expensive for consumers. Chocolate came from cacao plantations in the West Indies, but much of it arrived as cacao beans. Snyder reports that “a Boston newspaper carried an advertisement for a hand-operated machine for making chocolate” in 1737, the same year that “an inventor in Massachusetts developed an engine to grind cocoa that was inexpensive to run and could produce 100 weight of chocolate in six hours.” Chocolate makers regularly advertised in colonial American newspapers. They outnumbered their counterparts in Britain. Theobald indicates that nearly seventy chocolate makers had set up shop throughout the mainland colonies at the advent of the American Revolution, compared to only one in Britain. By then over 320 tons of cocoa beans had been imported into the colonies.

Chocolate was an important commodity and popular beverage in eighteenth-century America, especially as efficiencies in local production lowered the prices for consumers. In purchasing, processing, and drinking chocolate, colonists participated in a network of trade that connected them to plantations elsewhere in the Atlantic world. Even though some of the production took place locally, colonists who enjoyed a cup of chocolate benefitted from the labor of enslaved men and women on cocoa and sugar plantations. The “Good CHOCOLATE” advertised in colonial newspapers was not merely a sweet treat. Instead, it had a complicated history. In consuming it, colonists participated in the perpetuation of slavery.

March 25

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

Mar 25 - 3:25:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 25, 1768).

“May be supplied with the NEW HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE &c. &c. for NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.”

Today’s advertisement provides a relatively rare glimpse of the subscription rates for an eighteenth-century newspaper. While a few printers inserted both subscription and advertising rates in the colophon on the final page, transforming the publication information into a final advertisement that appeared in each issue, most did not. Printers rarely mentioned the subscription rates in the pages of their newspapers, even as they frequently published notices calling on subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts.

An advertisement in the March 25, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included the subscription and delivery costs for residents of “the Towns of Kittery, Berwick, Somersworth, Rochester, Dover, Durhan, Newmarkett, and … Stratham.” In it, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the newspaper, informed readers that “a Carrier or Post Rider” would begin delivering newspapers in those towns the following week. Those who wished to subscribe would be charged “NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.” They were expected to pay “at Entrance” rather than later become the subjects of subsequent notices calling on subscribers to pay their overdue accounts. While this notice indicated the total fees charged to subscribers serviced by the carrier who covered this route, it still obscured the base rate for subscriptions. The Fowles listed a fee with “Carriage included.” Was it the same rate as residents of Portsmouth paid for their annual subscriptions? Or had it been topped off to cover delivery expenses? Either way, the notice revealed the price of a subscription for residents of towns in Portsmouth’s hinterland, information that did not frequently appear in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

This notice also testified to the current and continuing dissemination of the newspaper beyond Portsmouth. Dated March 25, a Friday, and appearing in an issue of the same date, it advised that “FRIDAY next” the carrier would begin making deliveries along the proposed route. The Fowles invited “Those who incline to encourage so useful and advantagious a Person as a Carrier” to submit their names for a list “at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.” The printers expected that readers in those towns already had sufficient access to the New-Hampshire Gazette that they would see this notice and respond in less than a week. Even before the Fowles employed “a Carrier or Post Rider” for this particular route the news and advertising contained in the pages of their newspaper had wide distribution beyond Portsmouth. Establishing this new route only extended their efficiency and reach in disseminating information in the era of the American Revolution.

February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 6, 1768).

Williams & Stanwood Peruke Makers, Hair Cutters and Dressers.”

In eighteenth-century America wigmakers and hairdressers like Williams and Stanwood did not restrict their attempts to incite demand for their services to the better sorts who resided in the largest port cities. Their advertisement in the February 5, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed prospective clients in Portsmouth and its hinterland that “they carry on their Business together at the lower end of Queen Street.” Rather than cultivating a clientele of the local elite, they sold gentlemen’s wigs “suitable for all Ranks in Life.” In addition, they served “Ladies who live in the Country, or at a distance from a Hair Dresser,” accepting orders for wigs submitted by post or messenger. Whether potential customers lived in a busy port city or a quiet village did not matter: wigmakers and hairdressers insisted that they must keep up with current fashions by enlisting their services.

Williams and Stanwood also used their advertisement to instruct the ladies about products that might not have been familiar to them previously, including “new invented rough TOUPEES.” Such merchandise needed some explanation to help prospective clients understand their value and convenience. Sold “with or without Powder,” such wigs “preserves their Form, and want no dressing.” They made it that much easier for women to prepare themselves to receive guests in their homes or to appear in public since these wigs were “so easily fixed that Ladies may Dress themselves in five Minutes Time, fit for any Company.” Customers did not, however, benefit from this ease and simplicity by sacrificing the quality or style derived from sitting with the hairdressers at their shop. Williams and Stanwood proclaimed that their toupees “excel the finest Hair Dressing now in Practice.” Ladies did not necessarily need the advantage of leisure time to appear smartly coiffed, especially if they acquired “new invented rough TOUPEES” from Williams and Stanwood.

Urban ports like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia may have been the cosmopolitan centers of colonial life, but wigmakers and hairdressers did not allow the gentry to dictate that they be the only beneficiaries of their services. Instead, wigmakers and hairdressers encouraged much broad swaths of the colonial population to engage their products and services, portraying them as simultaneously stylish and convenient. Williams and Stanwood sold their wigs to customers of “all Ranks in Life” from city and countryside alike. To that end, they explained new products to prospective clients, training them to desire the most recent creations available in the marketplace.

January 1

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

Jan 1 - 1:1:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 1, 1768).

“Such as an Assortment of Goods, as will be most agreable to the People in general here.”

In 1768 Jonathan Moulton began the new year by announcing that he would soon make available “a new and Fresh Assortment of ENGLISH & WEST INDIA GOODS” for customers who visited his shop in Hampton, New Hampshire. Most eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers placed advertisements to promote merchandise they had commenced selling, but Moulton did not wait. Instead, he previewed his new inventory, pledging that consumers would be able to make purchases within ten days time. He incited anticipation as a means of cultivating demand in advance.

To whet consumers’ appetites, he also underscored his low prices. Moulton proclaimed that he would “sell as cheap as can be bought at any Shop in this Province, without Exception” or even in nearby Newbury, Massachusetts. To demonstrate the veracity of that claim, Moulton published prices for several popular items, including rum, molasses, sugar, and wool.

As a further means of convincing potential customers to purchase his wares, he cleverly introduced a resolution for them to achieve in the new year: supporting the local economy rather than doing business with merchants and shopkeepers in other colonies. He lamented that “for several Years past, a great part of our CASH has been carried into the other Province.” He attributed this to lower prices available at shops in Massachusetts, but Moulton’s low prices made it attractive for local customers to resolve to keep “the Money in the Province.” Furthermore, that achieved other practical advantages for his customers: purchasing from a local supplier “prevent[ed] the travelling of several Miles, and Cost of Ferriage” in addition to benefiting the local economy.

As colonists in New Hampshire acknowledged the passing of one year and the commencement of another, Moulton challenged them to think about the opportunities they would encounter as consumers in 1768 and how to respond responsibly. He previewed “such an Assortment of Goods, as will be most agreable to the People in general here.” Rather than focus solely on price and selection, he explained why purchasing from him benefited both customers and the general welfare of their local community and colony.

December 27

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

Dec 27 - 12:24:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 24, 1767).

“MEIN and FLEEMING’s Register for 1768.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a short advertisement for an almanac, “MEIN and FLEEMING’s Register for 1768,” in the final issue published in 1767. More than any other aspect, the typography of this notice distinguished it from news items and advertisements that appeared on the same page and throughout the rest of the newspaper. It appeared as a single line that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the second page. Another short advertisement, that one calling on the owner to retrieve a boat recently found adrift, mirrored the position of the Fowles’ advertisement on the facing page, running across all three columns at the bottom of the third page. Had they been set into columns, each advertisement would have consisted of three lines.

Why did the Fowles choose to deviate from the usual format in this issue of their newspaper? They may have wished to draw particular attention to the almanacs for 1768 as the first day of the new year approached. In that case, they might have inserted the notice concerning the boat on the opposite page in order to provide balance. Alternately, they may have received the notice about the boat too late to integrate it into columns that had already been set, but found a creative way to include it in the issue. In that case, the advertisement for the almanac provided balance (though they exercised their privilege as printers to place it first in the issue) and supplemented their lengthier advertisement for “AMES’s Almanack” and “Bickerstaff’s curious Almanack” on the final page.

Measuring the length of the columns on each page would aid in determining the viability of either of these options as explanations for what occurred. That, however, requires access to the original copies rather than digital surrogates. Digitized editions standardize the size of every page to the dimensions of the screen on which they appear. Although metadata, including measurements, could be included in the process of producing digital editions, that would significantly increase the time and cost, ultimately further limiting access to a format intended to broaden access for historians, other scholars, and the general public. Even as librarians and archivists and the communities they serve celebrate new opportunities presented by evolving technologies, they also acknowledge that digital surrogates supplement rather than replace original sources.

December 18

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

Dec 18 - 12:18:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 18, 1767).

“The above Advertisement coming late and being long must omit the Particulars till next Week.”

John Adams placed an advertisement in the December 18, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform readers that he sold “Philadelphia Flour and Bar Iron” and “a general Assortment of English Goods” at his shop on Queen Street in Portsmouth. An editorial note accompanied Adams’s notice: “The above Advertisement coming late and being long must omit the Particulars till next Week.” The shopkeeper’s much lengthier advertisement did appear in the next issue, but until then readers had to imagine what it might contain. Although they would not have been able to name all the “Particulars,” colonial consumers were so steeped in the print culture of marketing via newspaper advertisements that most would have accurately predicted that the complete notice included a lengthy list of merchandise that presented a multitude of choices. Adams did not benefit from sharing that list with potential customers in the December 18 issue, but when it did appear it concluded with a general description of “a variety of other Articles.” Even when allocated space for the entire advertisement, Adams chose to publish a partial list of his inventory and prompted consumers to imagine what other treasures they might discover if they visited his shop. The editorial note explaining that the advertisement had been abbreviated achieved the same purpose.

That note had at least three audiences. The first consisted of residents of Portsmouth who could easily visit Adams’s shop as part of their usual routines at some point in the coming week. The entire advertisement notified them that Adams carried an array of goods – so many that they could not all be listed in the current edition – that he sold “cheap for Cash.” Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette who resided in Portsmouth’s hinterland comprised the second audience. They might visit town only occasionally, limiting their access to any of the shops there. The editorial note alerted them that Adams would soon publish more “Particulars” about his inventory, information that they could eventually take into account when planning their excursions into Portsmouth or sending their orders to the shopkeeper. Adams himself was the third audience for the editorial note. It may not have been apparent at the time he submitted his advertisement that it would not appear in its entirety. Even if Adams had been aware in advance, the note provided an acknowledgment and assurances that the printers would allocate sufficient space for his advertisement the following week. It simultaneously informed readers that the shopkeeper had intended to share much more with them. While not the copy Adams intended to publish, the editorial note served to incite interest in his merchandise and anticipation for the complete advertisement.