February 3

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

New-London Gazette (February 3, 1769).

“LAST Wednesday morn, at break of day, / From Philadelphia run away, / An Irish man, nam’d John M‘Keoghn, / To fraud and imposition prone.”

The “Poets Corner” was a regular feature in the New-London Gazette in the late 1760s. It frequently ran in the first column on the final page, appearing alongside advertisements and, on occasion, news items. When readers perused the February 3, 1769, edition, they encountered a relatively short poem in the “Poets Corner” and a much lengthier one among the advertisements. This second poem, bearing the title “ADVERTISEMENT,” told the story of John McKeoghn, an Irish indentured servant who ran away from Mary Nelson in Philadelphia on January 10.

The poem told a cautionary tale about how looks and actions could be deceiving. “He oft in conversation chatters, / Of scripture and religious matters, / And fain would to the world impart, / That virtue lodges in his heart; / But take the rogue from stem to stern, / The hypocrite you’ll soon discern, / And find (tho’ his deportment’s civil) / A saint without, within a devil.” Not only had McKeoghn run away, he had also stolen several textiles and garments from Nelson. In addition, he “Can curse and swear as well as lie.” The poem warned colonists to assess inner character rather than rely on outward appearances. Just because McKeoghn possessed goods that testified to a particular status, just because he often comported himself in a particular way, did not mean that he truly belonged among the ranks of the genteel that he so successfully imitated. With sufficient observation, anyone who met him should have been able to recognize him for the fraud he was.

It seems unlikely that Nelson paid to place this advertisement in the New-London Gazette. More likely, Timothy Green, the printer, spotted the poem among the advertisements in the January 16 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and decided to reprint it as an entertaining piece for his readers. The poem did not mention any suspicions that McKeoghn was headed to Connecticut in particular. If Nelson had intended to place the advertisement in newspapers beyond Philadelphia, she certainly could have chosen others with more extensive circulation and more readers, especially newspapers published in Boston and New York. Although printers did not usually reprint advertisements free of charge, Green may have made an exception in this case, seizing an opportunity to present a curiosity to his readers.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 16, 1769).

January 27

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

New-London Gazette (January 27, 1769).

“At the Shop in Beach-Street, (lately improved by Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall.)”

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies, Winthrop Saltonstall made an appeal to consumer choice when he composed an advertisement for a “General Assortment of Ship Chandlery and Iron Monger’s Ware.” He did not merely state that he had an extensive inventory, but instead supplied a list that enumerated dozens of items. Among his wares, customers could purchase “Nails of all Sizes,” “Carpenter’s and Cooper’s Compasses,” and “long and short handled Frying Pans and Iron Tea Kettles.” For some categories of merchandise, he further underscored the range of choice: “Variety of Time and other Glasses,” “Augers various Sizes,” and “Variety Chest, Door, Cupboards and Padlocks.” He concluded with both “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century rendition of “etc. etc. etc.) and “With a Variety of Goods,” combining two standard turns of phrase that customarily appeared separately in newspaper advertisements. Saltonstall encouraged prospective customers to image a vast array of goods available ay his shop; in so doing, he suggested that he could cater to their specific needs and tastes.

Yet consumer choice was not the only marketing strategy that Saltonstall deployed. He also made appeals to price and location, though more briefly. He asserted that he sold his wares “on the most reasonable Terms.” He also informed readers of the New-London Gazette that his “Shop in Beach-Street” had been “lately improved by Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall.” He did not elaborate on what kinds of upgrades he and a partner had undertaken, but merely mentioning that they had made changes to the venue served multiple purposes. It alerted prospective customers that Saltonstall attended to their comfort and convenience while shopping. It also enticed readers, especially former customers, to visit the store out of curiosity, to see the improvements even if they did not intend to make any purchases. Such excursions could yield unanticipated sales or prime future purchases. Although Saltonstall’s comments about his venue were brief, they demonstrated a rudimentary understanding of shopping as an experience rather than a chore and the significance customers placed on location.

January 13

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

New-London Gazette (January 13, 1769).

“Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers.”

A subscription notice for “THE WORKS OF THE CELEBRATED JOHN WILKES” appeared among the advertisements in the January 13, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. The advertising copy exactly replicated that of a notice published in the New-York Journal a month earlier, with one exception. Like other subscription notices, it informed prospective customers where to submit their names to reserve a copy: “Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, Charles-Town, South-Carolina, and at New London in Connecticut.” The previous advertisement did not list New London. It had been added to the subscription notice in the New-London Gazette to better engage local readers.

Whether including New London or not, both versions of the subscription notice invoked the concept of what Benedict Anderson has famously described as “imagined community.” Print culture contributed to a sense of community among readers dispersed over great distances by allowing them to read the same newspapers, books, and pamphlets, all while imaging that their counterparts in other cities and towns were simultaneously reading them and imbibing the same information and ideas. This subscription notice envisioned readers in Boston and Charleston and place in between all purchasing and reading the same book. Anderson argues that imagined community achieved via print played a vital role in the formation of the nation. Wilkes, a radical English politician and journalist, had become a popular figure in the colonies during the imperial crisis. The subscription notice for his works appeared while the Townshend Act was in effect, at the same time that many colonists mobilized nonimportation agreements in protest and the New-Hampshire Gazette was printed on smaller sheets because the publishers refused to import paper from England that would require them to pay duties.

The slightly revised version of the subscription notice had the capacity to even more effectively invoke the idea of an imagined community among colonists. It did not limit the collection of subscriptions to the four largest port cities, the places with the most printers and the most newspapers. Instead, by listing New London with Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, the subscription notice expanded the sphere of engagement by making the proposed book more accessible on the local level for readers and prospective subscribers in New London and its environs. Reading Wilkes was not just for colonists in urban settings. Instead, it was an endeavor for colonists anywhere and everywhere.

December 23

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 23, 1768).

Ames’s Almanack, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST, 1769.”

Among the many options available to colonists in New England, An Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769 by Nathaniel Ames was quite popular. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, publishers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, advertised several almanacs in the December 23, 1768, edition. One advertisement briefly announced “WEST’s ALMANACK, for 1769, containing many useful Things, sold by the Printers hereof. ALSO, BICKERSTAFF’s famous Boston Almanac, for 1769.” A much longer advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack,” however, listed many of the contents, including “Courts in Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island” and “Public Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at.”

The position of the advertisements on the page also differentiated them. The advertisement for Ames’s Almanack was the first item in the first column of the final page, but the shorter notice for West’s Almanack and Bickerstaff’s Almanack was the last item inserted in the final column. If a reader held aloft that issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette while perusing the contents of the center pages, the advertisement for Ames’s Almanack would have been the first item observers noticed on the other side of the page. The advertisement for the other two almanacs, in contrast, did not have the same privileged place. Appearing last, it may have been filler that rounded out the last column on the final page.

The Fowles also commented on the volume of Ames’s Almanack that they anticipated selling to readers and retailers. They offered that title “by the Groce, Dozen or Single,” but did not indicate that they sold West’s Almanack or Bickerstaff’s Almanack in large quantities. If advertisements in other newspapers published the same day are any indication, there was indeed a vast market for the 1769 edition of Ames’s Almanack in New England. An advertisement in the New-London Gazette simply announced, “Ames’s Almanack, TO BE SOLD, At the Printing-Office.” An equally sparse advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy stated, “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1769, To be sold at the Printing-Office in N. Haven.” William Carter and Company’s advertisement immediately above concluded with a nota bene that informed prospective customers that “A few of AMES’s Almanacks, for 1769, to be sold at said Store.” Carter and Company apparently purchased by the gross or dozen from a printer or bookseller in order to integrate this popular almanac into their inventory of imported goods, rum, sugar, and beaver hats. The Fowles sold legitimate copies printed by William McAlpine in Boston, but the others may have peddled pirated copies produced by a cabal of rival printers who wished to claim a share of the market.

As the new year approached, printers, booksellers, and retailers promoted various almanacs to prospective customers in late December 1768. Among the many choices, Ames’s Almanack was especially popular among readers throughout New England, so much so that it appeared in advertisements printed in multiple newspapers published in several colonies. The details provided in some of those advertisements sometimes eclipsed the amount of information in notices for other almanacs. Its popularity may have resulted in more extensive advertising. In turn, that more extensive advertising likely further augmented demand for the popular almanac.

December 9

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

New-London Gazette (December 9, 1768).

“[B]OSTON Nov. 20. An Advertisement.”

The December 9, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette included an advertisement reprinted from one of the Boston newspapers. Or did it? In their effort to acquire sufficient content to fill the pages of newspapers, colonial printers liberally reprinted news and other content that previously appeared in other newspapers. This usually did not include advertisements. After all, printers expected to be paid to insert those in their newspapers. Yet sometimes printers considered an advertisement so entertaining that they reprinted them as novelties to amuse their readers.

At a glance, that appears to have been the case with “An Advertisement” for a concert in Boston. It featured an awkward poem, one even more poorly constructed than most rhymes used to promote consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century advertisements. In the New-London Gazette, it appeared immediately after news (including news from Boston) and before an assortment of paid notices, acting as a transition between the two types of content. The advertisement carried a dateline that attributed it to an unnamed newspaper published in “[B]OSTON Nov. 20.” That date, however, was impossible. November 20, 1768, was a Sunday. No printers anywhere in the colonies published newspapers on Sundays. The date was not merely an error. The “Advertisement” had not appeared in any of the newspapers printed in Boston in the past month. The missing “B” in “[B]OSTON” may have been a wink and a nod to readers of the New-London Gazette that the purported advertisement was actually a piece with another purpose, some sort of political or satirical commentary on current events.

What was its purpose? That may have been readily apparent to readers in 1768, but it has not remained clear with the passage of time. Colonial newspapers are peppered with quips considered humorous at the time that do not translate well for subsequent generations. The opening line of this “Advertisement” invited “all Ladies who paint” to attend a concert and a ball. “Ladies who paint” may have referred to those of such status that they could spend leisure time learning arts like painting, but it may have also been a jibe at women perceived to be promiscuous because they wore cosmetics. It very well could have been a conflation of the two. The invitation to a concert by “various Masters of some sort” followed by a dancing at a ball suggested close interactions with the opposite sex, as did the ambiguous suggestion that “they may retire to their Bed, or their Fire” at the end of the evening.

The advertisement never specified where concert or ball would take place or the exact time, but it did direct those interested to acquire “your Tickets near Liberty Tree.” Did that reference inject politics into the poem? Or did it merely reference a well-known Boston landmark that could complete the final rhyme. The final two lines stated that “In Lawful or Sterling, it heeds not a Farthing, / If you give a JOAN, as a Fee.” What did the author mean by that last reference? Except for the first word of the poem, which was capitalized by convention, only the words “JOAN” and “CHASE” appeared in all capitals, suggesting that readers were to take note of them. Did the “Advertisement” name an individual? Did it imply that “all Ladies who paint” should instead “CHASE JOAN?” Did it make some other sort of quip?

The Oxford English Dictionary includes two definitions for “joan,” both in use at the time the poem was written: “a generic name for a female rustic” and the “name for a close-fitting cap worn by women in the latter half of the 18th century.” Perhaps “JOAN” meant a cap of liberty, an increasingly popular symbol as the imperial crisis continued. (The same day this “Advertisement” appeared in the New-London Gazette an advertisement for an almanac on the front page of the New-Hampshire Gazette proclaimed that it included “eight curious Plates,” but described the one that depicted the “celebrated Patron of Liberty JOHN WILKES” with a “Cupid, with the Cap of LIBERTY.”) Perhaps the poem that masqueraded as an advertisement was meant to offer instruction to the women of Boston and elsewhere that they should concern themselves less with overcoming their anxieties that they were rustics who needed to resort to painting, music, and dance to secure their status and instead concern themselves with activities that advanced the cause of liberty for the colonies.

Either the printer or someone else went to some trouble to make a point to the readers of the New-London Gazette, especially the female readers. The poem in the counterfeit advertisement may have merely made some sort of jest, but it also could have delivered trenchant political or social commentary that readers would not have missed.

September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 23, 1768).

I have been informed that some of my customers have been displeased.”

Seth Wales had two purposes for placing an advertisement for his “clothier’s business” in the New-London Gazette in September 1768. He promoted the skills of the workman he now employed while simultaneously recanting and correcting an advertisement that appeared in the same newspaper a year earlier.

That advertisement originally ran in the September 11, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette. In it, Seth Wales of Norwich and Nathaniel Wales of Windham announced that “every Part and Branch of the Clothier’s Business is carried on” in their towns “under the Direction and Management of one FRANCIS GILDING.” Having recently arrived from London, Gilding was unfamiliar to prospective customers so the Waleses assured them that he is “thoroughly skilled in the Art of a Scowerer and Dyer, and can imitate or strike any Colours (that are dyed in the English Nation).” The advertisement continued to extol Gilding’s skills and abilities at some length, adopting a marketing strategy frequently adopted by artisans in newspapers published throughout the colonies.

Seth Wales ultimately found himself dissatisfied with Gilding’s “Direction and Management” of the business. In an advertisement that first appeared in the September 16 (misdated 15), 1768, issue he implied that Gilding had placed the previous notice. Although Wales did not take responsibility for misleading the public about Gilding’s work, he did acknowledge that he had been “informed that some of my customers have been displeased with some of their work done at my mill.” He indicated that those customers had responded to “Gilding’s pretences” in the earlier notice, but that he had “found by experience he no ways answers to said advertisement.” Wales then savaged Gilding’s skills before declaring that he had “dismissed him.”

In the wake of Gilding’s termination, Wales hired a new “workman at the clothier’s business, that served an apprenticeship at said trade in Europe, and understands every branch of the business.” This new employee had been on the job for six months, sufficient time for Wales to confidently exclaim that his work “shall be done this year much better than it was last.” Perhaps Wales had learned a lesson about advertising the skills of an employee too soon. The trial period gave him better opportunity to assess for himself the abilities of his “present workman” before making promises in advertisements and then finding himself in the position of retracting them.

For his part, Gilding was not pleased with how Wales portrayed him. The following week he placed his own advertisement, which appeared immediately below the second insertion of Wales’s notice. He lamented that he had been “greatly Abused and Injured in my Reputation.” He considered the entire advertisement “a Piece of Malice and Detraction.” He then explained that any shortcomings in his work should be attributed to Wales for not providing proper supplies for the dyeing business. Furthermore, Gilding asserted that Wales attempted to hire him for an additional year. Gilding quit, despite Wales pretending otherwise. Finally, Gilding reported that his former employer and “the Workman he pretends to have had Six Months experience of” had parted ways, once again due to difficulties caused by Wales.

Artisans of various sorts often used newspaper advertisements to promote their skills and training in eighteenth-century America. In this incident, Wales and Gilding did that and more. Each turned to the public prints to defend their own reputation, inserting advertisements that constructed competing narratives. Airing their dirty laundry presented risks, but calculated that the rewards of presenting their own side of the dispute would result in rewards if prospective customers believed their version of events.

August 12

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

Aug 12 - 8:12:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 12, 1768).

“Last Night the shops of the subscribers in said Middletown was broke open.”

Many advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers listed all sorts of consumer goods as a means of encouraging readers to visit shops, examine the merchandise, and make purchases. Other advertisements, however, demonstrate that not all colonists acquired goods through those means. Some colonists instead resorted to theft.

Such was the case in Middletown, Connecticut, at the end of July in 1768. On the morning of the final day of the month, George Philips, Asal Johnson, and Francis Whitmore all awoke to discover that their shops had been “broke open” during the night and several items stolen. The thief or thieves grabbed “about 6 dozen barcelona handkerchiefs, of which 2 dozen were black, the rest shaded various colours; 1 dozen black cravats, 3 or 4 pieces of black ribbons, 1 paper of white metal buckles, 1 castor hat a little moth eaten, 2 or 3 penknives,” and currency in several denominations from Philips. Similar items went missing from the shops of Johnson and Whitmore. The volume of stolen goods suggests that the thieves may not have intended these items solely for their own use. Instead, they may have attempted to fence them or otherwise distribute them through what Serena Zabin has termed an informal economy that allowed greater numbers of colonists to participate in the consumer revolution.

Philips and Johnson offered a reward to “Any person who will seize the thief or thieves with any or all of said articles, and secure them so that they shall be brought to justice.” The penalties could be quite severe for those convicted. Two years earlier in Rhode Island, for instance, Joseph Hart became a convict servant, sold into servitude “for the term of three years to satisfy the damages and costs of his prosecution and conviction, for stealing sundry goods.” Colonists who chose to gain access to the consumer revolution via extralegal means weighed the risks and rewards of acquiring goods that might otherwise have remained beyond their reach.

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 7:1:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 1, 1768).

The Medicines are the best in their Kind.”

Like many other eighteenth-century printers, publishers, and booksellers, Timothy Green supplemented the income he generated via newspaper subscriptions, advertising fees, job printing, and book and stationery sales by selling other items not specifically related to the book trades. In the July 1, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, he placed an advertisement announcing that he sold “An Assortment of Patent Medicines.” He then listed several remedies that would have been very familiar to colonists: “Dr. Hill’s pectoral balsam of Honey,” “Elixer Bardana,” “Anderson’s or Scotch Pills; Turlington’s genuine Balsam of Life; Bateman’s Drops; Locker’s Pills; Godfry’s Cordial; [and] Stoughton’s Stomach Elixer.” He concluded with a bouble “&c.” – the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera – to indicate that he stocked many more medicines. Green anticipated that these nostrums were so familiar to his readers and prospective customers that he did not need to explain which symptoms they cured, though he did briefly note that those who experienced rheumatism or gout should invest in in “Elixer Bardana.” He gave a slightly longer pitch for Dr. Hill’s balsam, promoting it as “a very useful Medicine in Consumptions and all Coughs and Complaints of the Breast, from whatever Cause.”

These patent medicines were brand names in England and its American colonies in the eighteenth century. They were widely available from apothecaries who specialized in compounding and selling medicines, merchants and shopkeepers who sold assortments of general merchandise, and those who followed other occupations (including printers) who sought to supplement their income. Shopkeepers and, especially, apothecaries regularly advertised that they filled orders for patent medicines that they received through the mail, making Bateman’s Drops and Godfrey’s Cordial and the rest even more widely available to colonial consumers. Realizing that he faced local and regional competition, Green offered incentives for customers to purchase their patent medicines from him. In a nota bene, he proclaimed, “The Medicines are the best in their Kind, and will be sold as low as in any retailing Store in America.” In an era of counterfeits, Green promised quality. He also addressed readers skeptical that he could match the prices of shopkeepers who sold patent medicines are part of their usual inventory or apothecaries who specialized in dispensing drugs. He prices were not merely reasonable; they were “as low as in any retailing Store in America.” Although he was a printer by trade, Green offered justifications for colonists to purchase patent medicines from him rather than others more versed in eighteenth-century medicines.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:6:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 6, 1768).

“An Assortment of Ironmongery and Cutlery Wares, too many to be mentioned in an Advertisement.”

The New-London Gazette was a much smaller operation than the newspapers published in colonial America’s largest port cities in the late 1760s. It rarely published supplements, in part because the volume of advertising did not warrant doing so. In particular, its advertisements for consumer goods and services tended to be shorter and less elaborate than those inserted in many other cities. New London just was not as busy a port as others in the region, including Boston, Newport, New York, and Providence. The pages of the New-London Gazette reflected that; visually, most pages of that newspaper did not have the same bustling appearance as the crowded pages of publications from the larger ports.

Yet John-Baker Brimmer’s advertisement in the May 6, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette looked as though it could have been drawn from a newspaper published in another city. In it, Brimmer made some of the standard appeals advanced in eighteenth-century advertisements, including an appeal to price (“the very CHEAPEST RATES”) and an appeal to consumer choice (“A large and compleat ASSORTMENT of ENGLISH GOODS”). He underscored the wide selection prospective customers would encounter at his shop by listing more than two dozen items from among his merchandise, everything from rum and spices to shoes and snuff. He even concluded his list with “&c. &c. &c. &c. &c.” In repeating the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera so many times, he proclaimed that he had a much more extensive inventory than space permitted him to include in his notice. He made the same point in a nota bene that concluded the advertisement: “An Assortment of Ironmongery and Cutlery Wares, too many to be mentioned in an Advertisement.” Merchants and shopkeepers who advertised in newspapers published in other cities sometimes resorted to this strategy, leaving it to readers’ imaginations to envision all sorts of wares available for purchase in their shops.

When it came to marketing consumer goods and services, advertising culture was not as developed in the New-London Gazette as in other newspapers, yet some advertisers, like Brimmer, adopted many of the same methods as their counterparts in larger cities. Brimmer amalgamated basic appeals to price and choice with several means of suggesting that he did indeed stock an array of goods, including a list, claims that his inventory was too extensive to describe in greater detail, and repeated use of “&c.” Such advertisements in smaller newspapers helped to fuel the consumer revolution far beyond colonial America’s major urban ports.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:11:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (March 11, 1768).

The Cutler’s or Whitesmith’s business is still carried on at my shop, and in a much steadier and careful manner than usual.”

As spring approached in 1768, Benjamin Butler, a cutler, needed to do some damage control or risk losing business to his competitors. A journeyman employed in his workshop had tarnished Butler’s reputation by producing inferior goods, causing Butler to take out an advertisement in the New-London Gazette to explain the situation. He hoped to convince prospective customers to give his workshop another chance now that he had remedied the problem.

After announcing that “the Cutler’s or Whitesmith’s business is still carried on at my shop,” Butler declared that work currently undertaken in the shop was completed “in a much steadier and careful manner than usual.” Here he already acknowledged that quality had been lacking for some time, but he then provided an explanation. For several months he had turned over the operation of the shop “to a journeyman, that was great part of his time incapable of performing good work.” Butler did not pull any punches about the reason the journeyman produced shoddy work: “strong drink.” Having made this confession, the cutler petitioned prospective customers to wipe clean the slate. He had resumed doing the jobs that came into the workshop himself. That being the case, he assured “Those who will favour me with their custom” that they could “depend upon being served in the best manner.”

Butler addressed his advertisement to “the public” rather than his former customers. Although he may have contacted some of them individually to make amends, he wanted the entire community to know that he was aware of the problem in his workshop and had addressed it. After all, customers could spread news of their discontent via word of mouth. In case that had happened, Butler harnessed the power of print in his efforts to dispel any lasting harm to his image. By issuing a mea culpa in a newspaper advertisement distributed far and wide in the colony, he encouraged prospective customers not to dismiss his workshop when they had need of a cutler’s services in the future. In this case, Butler advertised not only to incite demand but also to rehabilitate the reputation associated with the goods that came out of his workshop.