February 15

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

New-London Gazette (February 15, 1771).

“Wanted, a Negro Woman, that understands all Kinds of Houshold Work.”

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project seeks to identify, remediate, and republish every advertisement about enslaved men, women, and children originally published in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago each day.  The number of advertisements included in the project varies from day to day depending on which newspapers happened to have been published 250 years ago that day.  For instance, yesterday the Slavery Adverts 250 Project featured sixty-one advertisements that ran in eight newspapers on February 14, 1771.  Today the project republishes only one advertisement, a notice seeking “a Negro Woman, that understands all Kinds of Houshold Work,” that ran in the February 15, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette.

That advertisement tells a story just as important to understanding the history of enslavement in America as the dozens of advertisements from other newspapers the previous day.  Most people would not be surprised to learn that the vast majority of advertisements from February 14 ran in the Maryland Gazette, South-Carolina and American General Gazette, South-Carolina Gazette, Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette, and William Rind’s Virginia Gazette.  That some of the advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter, the New-York Journal, and the Pennsylvania Journal, newspapers published in colonies less often associated with slavery, likely comes as a greater surprise to many people.

The same goes for the advertisement seeking “a Negro Woman, that understands all Kinds of Houshold Work” in the New-London Gazette.  In the colonial and revolutionary eras, slavery was part of the everyday life and commerce throughout the colonies, including New England and the Middle Colonies.  Readers expected to encounter advertisements about buying and selling enslaved people when they perused newspapers, including colonists in Connecticut who read the newspaper printed in New London.  They also expected to read notices describing enslaved people who liberated themselves, advertisements that encouraged all readers to engage in surveillance of Black people in hopes of identifying so-called runaways and claiming rewards for participating in capturing and returning them to bondage.  The advertisement in the New-London Gazette instructed anyone with more information about “a Negro Woman, that understands all Kinds of Houshold Work” to “Enquire of the Printer.”  Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, facilitated the slave trade in print and by conversing and corresponding with enslavers.  Publishing such advertisements also generated revenues for his newspaper.

A solitary advertisement about an enslaved woman appeared in the colonial press 250 years ago today, but that does not diminish its significance.  It was one of thousands disseminated in colonial newspapers in 1771, each of them perpetuating slavery and generating revenues for printers.  While the majority ran in newspapers published in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, a significant minority appeared in newspapers in New England and the Middle Colonies.  No eighteenth-century would have been surprised to see an advertisement for “a Negro Woman, that understands all Kinds of Houshold Work” in the New-London Gazette.

January 11

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

New-London Gazette (January 11, 1771).

To be Sold by Garret Noel, at New-York … and at the Printing-Office in N. London.”

Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, augmented revenues by selling books, pamphlets, and almanacs in addition to newspaper subscriptions and advertising.  Two advertisements in the January 11, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette promoted items available at his printing office, “Ames’s Almanack” and “A Review Of the Military Operations in NORT[H]-AMERICA.”  Much of the advertisement for the latter consisted of the extensive subtitle that summarized the contents of the book.  It covered a portion of the conflict now known by several names, including the French and Indian War, the Seven Years War, and the Great War for Empire, “From the Commencement of the FrenchHostilities on the Frontiers of Virginia, in 1753, to the Surrender of Oswego, on the 14th of August 1756.”  That narrative was “Interspersed with various Observations, Characters, and Anecdotes, necessary to give Light into the Conduct of American Transactions in general; and more especially into the political Management of Affairs in New-York.”

First published in London in 1757, the Review of the Military Operations in North America was reprinted in New England in 1758 and, again, in New York in 1770.  Alexander Robertson and James Robertson printed the more recent edition that Green sold.  The advertisement in the New-London Gazette provided an overview of the network of printers and booksellers throughout the colonies who cooperated in distributing the book to consumers, listing eight individuals or partnerships in eight towns from Boston to Charleston.  Other advertisements for books printed in the colonies sometimes included similar lists, creating the impression of a community of readers that extended far beyond the local market.  Residents of New London who obtained copies at Green’s printing office joined readers who acquired theirs from Garret Noel’s bookshop in New York or from “Mr. Stephens, at the Coffee-House” in Charleston.  Printers and publishers often could not generate sufficient demand to justify producing American editions for local markets, so they strove to create regional or continental markets via networks of agents and associates as well as subscription notices and newspaper advertisements disseminated widely.

November 9

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

New-London Gazette (November 9, 1770).

“Said Negro was seen on board Capt. John Rogers’s Sloop.”

When Pompey, an enslaved man, liberated himself by running away in the fall of 1770, Aaron Waitt enlisted the power of the press in his efforts to capture him.  Waitt initially placed advertisements in his local newspaper, the Essex Gazette, to alert residents of Salem, Massachusetts, and the surrounding area that Pompey had departed without his permission.  He provided a description, noting in particular that Pompey was about twenty-three years old, had a scar on his forehead, and wore a dark coat.

The advertisements in the Essex Gazette did not produce the results that Waitt desired, in large part because Pompey understood that mobility was one of the best strategies for freeing himself.  According to advertisements that Waitt subsequently placed in the New-London Gazette, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, and the Providence Gazette, Pompey boarded “John Roger’s Sloop,” the Free Mason, “at East-Greenwich, in the Colony of Rhode Island” on October 18 and then sailed to New York.  Pompey apparently tried to place himself out of reach of his enslaver, but that only prompted Waitt to broaden the scope of his advertising to newspapers in other colonies.  When he did so, he added details to aid readers in identifying Pompey.  Waitt noted the enslaved man’s height and reported that he was “a Leather-Dresser by Trade” who “speaks good English.

Waitt’s advertisements in several newspapers published in New England and New York contributed to a culture of surveillance of Black men already in place in the colonies.  Advertisements for enslaved people who liberated themselves amounted to an eighteenth-century version of racial profiling, encouraging readers far and wide to scrutinize Black people when they encountered them.  Waitt and others asked colonists to carefully observe the bodies, clothing, and comportment of Black men and women to determine whether they matched the descriptions published in newspapers.  In the case of Waitt and Pompey, such efforts were not confined to one locality or media market but instead extended across an entire region as the enslaver inserted advertisements in multiple newspapers.

September 21

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

New-London Gazette (September 21, 1770).

“The Paper will then be one of the cheapest of its Size, printed in America.”

Newspaper printers collected two revenue streams: subscriptions and advertising.  Most did not, however, frequently note in print how much they charged for either subscriptions or advertising.  A few inserted such information in the colophon on the final page of each issue, but even those printers tended to list the prices for one or the other but not both.  Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, was among those printers who did not regularly publish his prices for either subscriptions or advertising.  In a notice in the September 21, 1770, edition, however, he informed readers that he was raising the price for subscriptions.

Following an “Enlargement” of the New-London Gazette to a larger sheet, Green determined that “the Labour and Expence of Paper is so greatly Augmented” that he could not continue to operate the newspaper at the current rates except at “a manifest Loss.”  Accordingly, he planned to raise the price by eight pence per year, bringing the total to six shillings and eight pence.  This represented an increase of eleven percent, yet Green presented it as “so small that it’s presumed no one will think much of allowing it.”  To further convince current subscribers and future customers that they should not think much of the new price, Green explained that the New-London Gazette would still be “one of the cheapest of its Size, printed in America.”  Compared to other newspapers, the New-London Gazette was still a bargain at a total of eighty pence per year.  Still, Green realized that not all subscribers would be satisfied with this explanation.  He pledged that “Some further Improvements will shortly be made in the Paper,” though he did not offer any particulars.  He concluded by pledging “the greatest Care constantly taken to render” the New-London Gazette “beneficial to the Customers.”

Apparently Green did not consider it necessary to raise his rates for advertising to help defray the expenses of acquiring larger sheets and setting more type for the enlarged New-London Gazette.  Even if he at least listed his current rates, that would have revealed the relative prices for subscriptions and advertising.  Still, notices like this one help to reconstruct some of the expenses incurred by readers who subscribed to newspapers in eighteenth-century America.

August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:23:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 23, 1770).

“Two Negro Men, supposed to have gone off in Company.”

Two Black men, known to their enslavers as Boston and Newport, liberated themselves in the summer of 1770.  They escaped from Isaac Coit and Robert Kinsman of Plainfield, Connecticut, during the night of August 8.  Coit and Kinsman, in turn, immediately set about placing newspaper advertisements describing Boston and Newport and offering rewards in hopes of enlisting other colonists in capturing the Black men and returning them to enslavement.  Unlike most enslavers who placed such advertisements in a single newspaper or multiple newspapers in a single city, Coit and Kinsman broadened the scope of their surveillance and recovery efforts by inserting advertisements in five newspapers published in five cities and towns in four colonies.  In addition to the reward they offered, they made an investment in advertisements that ran in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, the New-London Gazette, the New-York Journal, and the Providence Gazette.

Although similar, these advertisements were not identical.  The variations tell a more complete story of the escape devised by Boston and Newport.  Consider the notice that ran in the New-London Gazette.  Dated August 9 (first appearing in the August 10 edition) and signed by Coit, it featured Boston only, describing him as “a stout, thick-set fellow, of middling stature, about 30 years old, very black.”  It was the only advertisement that included a visual image, a crude woodcut of a Black person in motion, wearing a grass skirt and carrying a staff, an “R” for runaway on the chest.  Another advertisement dated August 9 ran in the New-York Journal, but that one included the descriptions of both Boston and Newport.  It did not appear until August 23, likely due to the time it took for the copy to arrive in the printing office in New York from Plainfield.  An undated advertisement with almost identical copy also ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on August 18, likely dispatched to the printing office at the same time as the one sent to New York.  Coit and Kinsman both signed it.  They noted in the final paragraph that “Said Negroes have Passes, and if apprehended, ‘tis requested the Passes may be secured for the Benefit of their Masters.”  Quite likely Coit sent the copy for his advertisement concerning Boston to the New-London Gazette, the newspaper closest to Plainfield, prior to discovering that Newport liberated himself from Kinsman.  When the enslavers realized that Boston and Newport liberated themselves on the same night, they collaborated on new advertisements with a narrative updated from what ran in the New-London Gazette.  The new version stated that Boston and Newport were suspected “to have gone off in Company,” a conspiracy to free themselves.  Determining that they had passes may have caused Coit and Kinsman to widen the scope of their efforts by publishing in multiple newspapers in New England and New York, realizing that the passes increased the mobility and chances of escape for Boston and Newport.

Two other advertisements, those that ran in the Connecticut Courant and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, had identical copy.  They included short descriptions of Boston and Newport, signed by Coit and Kinsman.  In a nota bene, they declared, “It is suspected said Negroes have got a forg’d Pass.”  These advertisements were both dated August 10.  The notice in the Hartford newspaper first appeared on August 13 and in the Boston newspaper on August 16.  As the enslavers fretted about Boston and Newport having better prospects for making good on their escape thanks to the passes, they likely determined that they needed to place notices in additional newspapers.  Doing so amounted to an effort to recruit more colonists to participate in the surveillance of Black men to determine whether they might be Boston or Newport.

Advertisements for enslaved men and women who liberated themselves appeared in American newspapers just about every day in the era of the American Revolution.  The advertisements concerning Boston and Newport were not unique in their content or purpose.  What made them extraordinary was the geographic scope of the newspapers in which they appeared and the effort and expense undertaken by the enslavers Coit and Kinsman.  They marshalled the power of the press across a vast region in their attempt to return Boston and Newport to bondage.

May 25

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

May 25 - 5:25:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 25, 1770).

I the Subscriber now carry on the Hatting Business.”

Witnessing the sense of accomplishment that undergraduate students experience when they work with digitized primary sources is one of my favorite parts of having them serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when they enroll in my Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Slavery in America, Public History, and Research Methods courses.  Much of that sense of accomplishment comes from learning to read eighteenth-century newspapers, a more difficult task than some initially expect.

Consider this advertisement from the May 25, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette.  It is not indecipherable, but it does require some effort to read, even for those with experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers.  The quality of the printing and the paper, including text bleeding through from the other side of the page, makes the advertisement more difficult to read than the crisp and clear text in books and articles students are more accustomed to reading.  They discover that historians must work with primary sources of varying condition.  The deviations in spelling compared to twenty-first century standards also present a minor challenge, including “Hatts” for “Hats,” “Furr” for “Fur,” and “chuse” for “choose” in this advertisement.  Shifts in the meaning of words over a quarter of a millennium also allow opportunities to consider context in the process of understanding what advertisers said when they used language that now seems strange.  In this advertisement, William Capron described himself as “I the Subscriber,” but he did not mean that he paid to receive the newspaper.  Instead, he deployed the common eighteenth-century usage of the word “subscriber” to mean “a person who signs his or her name to a document,” in this case the advertisement itself.

Perhaps the most significant sense of achievement for many students comes from decoding the “long “s” that they initially mistake for an “f” in eighteenth-century newspapers and other primary sources.  In this advertisement, Capron addressed his “former Customers, present Creditors, and the Public in general,” but to students with less experience reading such sources this phrase initially appears to say “former Cuftomers, prefent Creditors, and the Public.”  “Hatting Business” looks like “Hatting Bufinefs” and “too short for spinning” looks like “too fhort for fpinning.”  That Capron’s advertisement appeared in italics further compounds the difficulty for some readers.  For my part, I’ve become so accustomed to the “long s” that I no longer notice it.  When I began working with students on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, however, I quickly became aware that I took for granted how easily others with less experience reading eighteenth-century newspapers would adapt to the “long s.”  As an instructor, I’ve learned to take more time and to make more allowances for students to become comfortable with that particular element of eighteenth-century print culture.  I also reassure them that they will eventually recognize the “long s” merely as an “s.”  They might not even realize when the transition happens!

Primary sources of any sort are the cornerstone of college-level history courses.  In the absence of special collections and research libraries with original documents, access to digitized primary sources allows me to replicate the experience of working with materials from the eighteenth century.  In the process, students get a better sense of what how historians “do” history as they encounter and overcome these and other challenges.

April 20

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

Apr 20 - 4:20:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (April 20, 1770).

“He makes and sells all Kinds of FELT HATS.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s the New-London Gazette carried fewer advertisements than most other newspapers printed in the colonies, in large part due to being published in a smaller town than most of its counterparts.  Those advertisements that did appear in the New-London Gazette, however, tended to replicate the marketing strategies deployed in advertisements published in other newspapers.  T.H. Breen asserts that colonists experienced a standardization of consumer goods available for purchase from New England to Georgia.[1]  They also encountered a standardization in advertising practices when they read the notices in colonial newspaper.

Consider an advertisement that Abiezer Smith, “HATTER, at NORWICH-LANDING,” placed in the April 20, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette.  He informed prospective customers that he had “served a regular Apprenticeship to the FELT MANUFACTURE.”  Artisans frequently listed their credentials, especially upon arriving in town from elsewhere or opening a new business.  Since they did not benefit from cultivating a reputation among local consumers over time, they adopted other means of signaling that they were qualified to follow the trade they advertised.  In addition to consumers, Smith addressed retailers, the “Merchants and Shopkeepers in the Country” that he hoped would stock his hats.

Smith also made an appeal to quality and connected it to contemporary political discourse, just as advertisers in Boston and New York were doing during at the time.  The hatter at Norwich Landing proclaimed that his hats were “equal in goodness to any manufactured in this Country.”  Yet that assurance of quality was not sufficient.  He also declared his wares were preferable to any imported from Europe or elsewhere.”  Although the duties on most imported goods had been repealed, news had not yet arrived in the colonies.  For the moment, Smith stood to benefit from nonimportation agreements that prompted consumers to purchase “domestic manufactures” instead, provided that he made prospective customers aware of his product.  For retailers, he offered a new source of merchandise.  Even though his appeal would have less political resonance in the coming months, the quality remained consistent.  Many colonial consumers tended to prefer imported goods, but Smith offered an alternative that did not ask them to sacrifice the value for their money.

Smith’s advertisement could have appeared in any other newspaper in the colonies.  Indeed, given the scarcity of advertising in the New-London Gazette, he very well may have consulted (or at least had in mind) newspapers from other towns and cities when he wrote the copy for his advertisement.  His appeals that invoked his training, the quality of his wares, and the political significance of purchasing his hats made his advertisement resemble others placed by American artisans in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

**********

[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (1988): 81-84

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.