February 23

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

Feb 23 - 2:23:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 23, 1770).

“(Advertisements omitted will be in our next.)”

The February 23, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette concluded with two brief notices from the printer: “(Advertisements omitted will be in our next.)” and “The Eastern Post not returned.”  Both of these concerned the production of the newspaper, especially the contents that appeared and those delayed.

In compiling the news and editorials that appeared in their newspapers, eighteenth-century printers liberally appropriated material from other newspapers that they received through networks of exchange with their counterparts in other cities and towns.  Quite simply, they literally reprinted items from one newspaper to another, often, but not always, with an attribution to either the original source or the source in which they encountered it.  The February 23 edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included a lengthy essay by “Junius” drawn “From the LONDON Evening-Post, Dec. 19.”  That issue also contained a letter “To the FREEHOLDERS, FREEMEN, and INHABITANTS of the Colony of New-York; and to all the Friends of LIBERTY in North-America” from Alexander McDougall who was confined in “the New Gaol [Jail] in New-York.”  The printer did not indicate how he came into possession of the letter, whether he reprinted it from another newspaper.  That edition of the New-London Gazette did not feature news from Boston, one of the centers of patriot activism, that the printer might have chosen if the “Eastern Post” had returned with newspapers and letters.  As in any other colonial newspaper, the news items presented to readers were contingent on which sources the printer recently received.

In contrast, printers sometimes made decisions to exclude advertisements, even advertisements with type already set.  To accommodate the two lengthy items in the February 23 edition of the New-London Gazette (together they accounted for eleven of the twelve columns), the printer opted to delay publication of some of the advertisements that might otherwise have appeared.  The notice about “Advertisements omitted” invited readers to consult the next issue for the information contained in legal notices, advertisements promoting consumer goods and services, and notices about servants and slaves who escaped, but it also served as a communication to the advertisers that their notices had not been overlooked or forgotten.  Such notices appeared fairly regularly in eighteenth-century newspapers, suggesting that advertisers generally did not make contracts for their advertisements to appear in specific issues.  Most expected that their notices would run for a set number of weeks (as the issue numbers at the end of advertisements in some newspapers indicate), but also anticipated some fluidity in the printer delivering on this service.  Although some advertisements were time sensitive, in most instances advertisers appear not to have specified particular dates but instead the number of weeks that their advertisements should run.  Printers exercised their own discretion in terms of when newspaper advertisements appeared in print.

February 16

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

Feb 16 - 2:16:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 16, 1770).

“A choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines.”

As was a common practice for colonial printers, Timothy Green often inserted multiple advertisements in the newspaper that he published.  The February 16, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included two advertisements placed by Green.  One announced that he sold the “Connecticut Colony Law-Book.”  The other advised prospective customers of a “choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines, Just come to Hand, and TO BE SOLD” by the printer. Green aimed to supplement revenues generated in his printing office.

Patent medicines might seem like unlikely merchandise for a printer to peddle, but after job printing, blanks, books, and stationery wares printers throughout the colonies advertised such nostrums and elixirs more than any other kind of goods and services.  Selling patent medicines seems to have been a side business frequently associated with printers.  In addition to advertising patent medicines in the newspapers they published, some printers also listed them in the book catalogs they distributed and in advertisements in the almanacs they printed.

Stocking and selling patent medicines may have been a relatively easy endeavor for printers.  Green marketed “Turlington’s Balsam of Life,” “Anderson’s Pills,” “Hooper’s Female Pills,” “Daffy’s Elixir,” “Dr. Hill’s Essence for Sore Eyes.” “Bateman’s Drops,” “Godfry’s Cordial,” and several other familiar medicines that purported to alleviate or eliminate specific symptoms.  Many consumers already knew the advantages of “Stoughton’s Elixir” versus “Locker’s Pills,” so Green did not have to play the role of apothecary in making recommendations.  Many patent medicines came in packaging with printed directions; Green did not have to offer instructions when he sold those items.  Printers who sold patent medicines did not take on the responsibilities associated with apothecaries.  Instead, they invited customers to participate in the eighteenth-century version of purchasing over-the-counter medications.  Selling patent medicines did not require much additional time or labor, making them attractive as an alternate source of revenue for printers who ran busy printing offices.

January 26

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

Jan 26 - 1:26:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 27, 1770).

Hopes to be able, if duly encouraged, shortly to supply the Country.”

In an advertisement in the January 26, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette, Aaron Cleveland made some big claims about the hats that he made at his “FELT MANUFACTORY” in Norwich. He asserted that his hats would “out wear any Three of the same Price that are Imported,” a bold statement about the quality and durability of his goods produced in the colonies compared to more familiar alternatives shipped from the other side of the Atlantic.

Although Cleveland stated that he placed his advertisement “to acquaint the Publick” of his new enterprise, he made particular overtures to “the Merchants in the several adjacent Towns,” apparently hoping to sell in volume to others who would then assume the risk and responsibility for further distributing his felt hats and retailing them to consumers. Nonetheless, he accepted all sorts of customers, selling the hats “Singly or by the Dozen.”

Cleveland testified that he wanted to do his part to serve the colonies in their efforts to leverage commerce for political purposes. In protest of the duties Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts, colonists adopted nonimportation agreements and pledged to support “domestic manufactures” as a means of reducing their reliance on Britain for goods that they needed or wanted. Cleveland suggested that the quality of his felt hats provided “sufficient Argument for his Encouragement, without mentioning the Inconveniences attending Importation,” yet in even alluding to imported goods he encouraged both retailers and consumers to consider the political implications of their decisions about acquiring inventory and making purchases. Cleveland could do his part for the cause only “if duly encouraged.” The successful production of goods in the colonies, the encouragement of domestic manufactures, required a receptive market comprised of consumers who purchased those wares. Cleveland challenged readers to consider their responsibilities, indeed their duty, as consumers in the political battle waged against Parliament.

December 29

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

Dec 29 - 12:29:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (December 29, 1769).

“A negro Man named TOM … has a scar on one of his wrists.”

 

The final issue of the New-London Gazette published in 1769 included several advertisements that encouraged surveillance of Black men, women, and children. The last column consisted almost entirely of advertisements concerning enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage. Those enslaved people seized their own liberty at the same time that colonists complained about their supposed enslavement to Britain as a result of various measures enacted by Parliament, including duties levied on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.

The advertisements in the New-London Gazette encouraged readers to begin the new year by carefully observing Black people they encountered, assessing whether they matched the descriptions published in the newspaper. Each offered a reward as an incentive for participating in an eighteenth-century version of racial profiling, but only if that participation resulted in the capture and recovery of enslaved people who “Ran-away from their Master.”

Theophilus Hopkins advised colonists that Joseph Cuffe “speaks good English [and] very well understands playing on a violin.” Two other characteristics may have made him even easier to identify: he “has lost both his great toes” and he “went off in company with a small indian squaw.” Hopkins reported that Cuffe had been spotted with the Indian woman in the eastern part of Connecticut in the time since making his escape. In so doing, he encouraged colonists not only to observe individual Black people but also to take note of the company they kept.

Samuel Chapman similarly emphasized looking for specific configurations of people, in this instance a family that consisted of Newport, “a Negro Man Servant … of a light swarthy Complexion,” his wife, Sarah, and six children ranging in age from two to fifteen. The three eldest were boys – Rufus, Israel, and Gershon – followed by two girls – Rhena and Chloe – and then another boy – Amos. Like Cuffe, Newport could also be recognized by a unique physical attribute: he “has lost the Top of one or two of his Fingers on one Hand, by the firing of a Pistol.” Observers may have detected that more readily than Cuffe’s missing toes, but in each instance they were encouraged to engage in careful scrutiny of Black bodies.

Isaac Tanner of South Kingston, Rhode Island, was so eager to recapture “a negro Man named TOM” that he offered “SIX DOLLARS reward” in an advertisement in the New-London Gazette, apparently suspecting that Tom made his way to Connecticut. Tanner noted that the fugitive “often calls himself TOM CARD,” suggesting that he asserted agency in shaping his identity before making his escape. Tanner described the clothes that Card wore when he departed, but also stated that he “has a scar on one of his wrists.” Once again, an advertiser invited readers of the New-London Gazette to carefully examine Black bodies to identify or eliminate the Black people they encountered as suspected runaways.

This concentration of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children who escaped on the final page of the New-London Gazette testifies to the widespread surveillance of Black bodies in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. This was not a feature of southern colonies alone. Instead, from Georgia to New England, enslavers mobilized the press for purposes of surveillance of Black people in service of recapturing those who escaped.

December 22

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

Dec 22 - 12:22:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (December 22, 1769).

“The said Watson being a stranger, the said John Champlin doth strongly recommend him.”

James Watson, a clock- and watchmaker “Late from London,” inserted am advertisement in the December 22, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette to inform prospective clients that he “hath lately removed from Mr. Robert Douglass, silver smith’s shop, to Mr. John Champlin, silver smith’s shop, near the new court house in New-London.” This was not the first time that Watson and his services appeared in the public prints. Just four months earlier Douglass ran another notice, also in the New-London Gazette, announcing that he “employs Mr. James Watson, Clock and Watch Maker, just from London.” Apparently Douglass and Watson quickly discovered some reason to go their separate ways. In the process, Watson pursued the same strategy for integrating into the local marketplace. Rather than open his own shop, he established an affiliation with another artisan already known to local consumers.

In the earlier advertisement, Douglass communicated a guarantee on behalf of the watchmaker, declaring that “Watson will Warrant his Work for Two Years.” Champlin made an even stronger statement of support for the newcomer: “The said Watson being a stranger, the said John Champlin doth strongly recommend him to all his customers or others.” Furthermore, Champlin endorsed Watson’s skill and character, asserting that he “will warrant his ability and fidelity in any thing he shall undertake in said business.” In so doing, Champlin staked his own reputation on the work that he expected Watson to undertake in his shop and the interactions he anticipated Watson would have with the clientele he had already established.

Champlin still considered Watson a newcomer or “stranger” after four months in New London. Prospective clients likely did as well, making it all the more important that Champlin vouched for Watson. Over time the watchmaker could demonstrate his skill to local consumers, but at the start he depended in part on forging relationships with local artisans who practiced affiliated trades, hoping that their clients would also become his clients.

September 15

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

Sep 15 - 9:15:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 15, 1769).

Some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.”

As summer turned to fall in 1769, Christopher Smieller took to the pages of New-London Gazette to defend his reputation and mitigate damage already done to his business. The baker had become aware of a vicious rumor about his bread. In a lengthy nota bene at the conclusion of even lengthier advertisement, he expressed his outrage that “some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.” Smellier could not let this slander pass unremarked. Instead, he offered “a Reward of Two Dollars to any Person who will inform me of such Defamers that they may be prosecuted according to law.” In order to rehabilitate his standing in the community, he also made provision for witnesses to observe him as he went about his business: “I will permit any two or three honest Men to stay with me 24 Hours, who may inspect every Article put into my Bread.”

Combatting gossip circulating about unsavory additions to his bread may have prompted Smieller to insert other aspects of his lengthy advertisement. It opened like many other advertisements for consumer goods, listing his wares. Smieller also advanced an appeal to price, stating that he sold loaf and ship bread, gingerbread, cakes, and pies “as cheap as in any of the neighbouring Governments.” In other words, his prices in New London were as good as prospective customers could find in Massachusetts, New York, or Rhode Island. He doubled down on this assertion later in the advertisement, proclaiming the he baked ship bread “as good and as cheap as in any Part of America.”

Smieller tied the prices he charged for bread to the prevailing prices for flour. He made allusion to “sundry Persons who call themselves Bakers” who had been overcharging the residents of New London and making it unaffordable for them to buy bread. To demonstrate that he charged fair prices, Smieller specified how much a loaf of bread weighed and the corresponding price at the current price for flour. He explained that he would adjust the price per loaf as his own costs for flour fluctuated, but that he would hold his profit consistent. He hoped current and prospective customers would patronize his business out of appreciation for his commitment to keeping prices low by earning “so very small” profits on his bread. Smieller might not otherwise have outlined the expenditures and profits for his business, but defending himself against the rumor that he put soap and potash in his bread may have motivated him to devise other methods of convincing the people of New London to purchase from him.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 25, 1769).

“Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.”

Even though he operated a shop in the relatively small town of New London, goldsmith and jeweler Robert Douglass, Jr., sought to convince prospective customers that he provided goods and services that rivaled those offered by his counterparts in larger cities. In an advertisement inserted in the August 25, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette, he emphasized that he “makes and sells all Kinds of Goldsmith’s and Jeweller’s Work, as cheap as can be bought in Boston or New-York.” Prospective customers did not need to send away to shops in those busy ports to find good deals, nor did they need to suspect that Douglass engaged in price gouging as a result of being some distance from urban centers with greater numbers of goldsmiths and jewelers who kept down their prices as they competed with each other.

In addition to making an appeal to price, Douglass pledged that “Whoever will please to favour [him] with their Custom, may depend on having their Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.” Prospective customers also did not have to fret that they sacrificed quality when they chose to deal with a local goldsmith and jeweler. Douglass positioned his skills and expertise in direct competition with his counterparts in Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, and even Boston. Having invoked New York when it came to price, he also implied that his work rivaled that done by goldsmiths and jewelers there.

To further entice prospective clients to visit his shop, Douglass introduced a new employee. James Watson, “who makes and repairs all Kinds of Clocks and Watches in the neatest and best Manner,” had just arrived from London. His presence in Douglass’s shop linked it to the most cosmopolitan city in the British Empire. Local customers did not have to worry that they had settled for what was available when they visited Douglass’s shop. Instead, the goldsmith and jeweler suggested, they patronized an establishment on par with those in the largest cities in the colonies and even the metropolis of London. Despite ongoing disputes over the Townshend Acts, many colonial consumers still looked to London as a center of taste and gentility.

Douglass incorporated several common marketing strategies in his advertisement: price, quality, and connections to the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. He adapted each appeal to address anxieties about hiring a goldsmith and jeweler located in a small town, assuring prospective customers that the goods and services from his shop matched those from other shops in larger towns and cities. Local customers did not need to look beyond New London to discover remarkable value when they wished to hire a goldsmith, jeweler, or watchmaker.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 4, 1769).

“Good Work … equal to any in Boston.”

The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century extended far beyond major metropolitan centers like London and into the provinces, both the English provinces and the colonies on the other side of the Atlantic. For colonists, participating in consumer culture became part of their identity and a marker of their membership in the vast British Empire. For many, acquiring goods also testified to their status. This sometimes prompted both anxiety and competition among consumers … and advertisers cultivated both for their own purposes. Some deployed an eighteenth-century version of “keeping up with the Joneses” to stimulate demand in their goods and services.

Consider the advertisement John Smith and Company placed in the August 4, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. Smith and Company introduced themselves as “Peruke-Makers and Hair-Dressers for Gentlemen and Ladies,” but before they specified their occupation they first proclaimed that they were “From BOSTON.” This inverted the usual order of information that commonly appeared in eighteenth-century advertisements. Most advertisers listed their occupation first and their place of origin or site of significant employment second, but Smith and Company made certain that their affiliation with Boston, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in New England, foregrounded everything else in their advertisement.

Smith and Company had recently opened a new shop at Norwich Landing, a much smaller town than the busy port of Boston. Despite the relatively bucolic setting, Smith and Company’s prospective clients could depend on “having good Work … equal to any in Boston.” This “good Work” presumably applied not only to the quality of the goods and services available from Smith and Company but also to the assistance they provided clients in demonstrating taste through adopting the latest styles, an important aspect of making wigs and dressing hair. Smith and Company encouraged readers of the New-London Gazette to consider current fashions and the services provided by wigmakers and hairdressers in Boston even though they lived at a distance from that busy port, much the same way that their counterparts in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia urged their prospective customers to look to London or Paris and promised to deliver the current styles from those places. No matter where consumers resided, according to advertisements in colonial newspapers, purveyors of goods and services could help them achieve the fashions currently en vogue in places they considered one rung up the cosmopolitan ladder.

June 30

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

Jun 30 - 6:30:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (June 30, 1769).

“A neat BOAT, suitable for the reception of passengers.”

Readers encountered four advertisements for transportation via “Passage Boat” in the June 30, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. Ebenezer Webb sailed between New London and Sterling on Long Island “as usual,” though he advised prospective passengers that they “may be landed on any Part of the East End of the Island.” Peter Griffing charted a similar course across Long Island Sound, but kept a different schedule than his direct competitor, Webb. A brief advertisement reminded readers that “Truman’s Passage-Boat plies between Sagharbour and Norwich Landing, as usual.”

Samuel Stockwell inserted a much more extensive advertisement to address prospective passengers; it occupied as much space on the page as the other three advertisements combined. Unlike the others, Stockwell did not transport passengers and freight across Long Island Sound. Instead, he sailed up and down the Thames River between New London and Norwich. In order to pursue that enterprise, he had “lately built and has now fitted out a neat BOAT, suitable for the reception of passengers.” In a nota bene, he added that he provided food and wine “at a very reasonable rate.”

Griffing, Truman, and Webb did not comment on why readers of the New-London Gazette might wish to travel aboard their passage boats except to move freight and passengers from one place to another. Each implied that crossing Long Island Sound was much more efficient than making a journey by land. Stockwell, on the other hand, suggested that “Gentlemen or Ladies” might wish to make a voyage aboard his boat “for their health or pleasure,” presenting his business as part of a nascent tourism and hospitality industry that began to emerge in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Realizing that passengers seeking leisure activities likely would not sustain his new endeavor by themselves, he also made a practical appeal to “Gentlemen that have occasion to attend the courts” when they were in session in New London and Norwich. Stockwell set a regular schedule, but he adapted during those weeks that prospective passengers needed to attend “the sitting of the courts.” Hiring passage on his boat, he proposed, would “lessen the vast expence of the law” by eliminating the “great expense of horse hire and keeping.” Even though less than fifteen miles separated New London and Norwich, those who traveled between the two incurred significant expenses if they made the journey on land. Stockwell provided an attractive and more comfortable alternative, one that made the journey a “pleasure” even for those who traveled to attend to business at the courts.

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.