August 27

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

New-London Gazette (August 27, 1773).

“WATCHES are restored to their pristine vigour.”

A month had passed since Thomas Hilldrup, a “WATCH MAKER from LONDON” who recently relocated to Hartford, inserted an advertisement that originally ran for several weeks in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy as well.  When he did so, he revised the dateline to “July 20, 1773,” but did not otherwise alter his advertising copy.  Near the end of August, he decided that he wished for the same notice to run in the New-London Gazette.  He once again altered the dateline, this time to “Aug. 20, 1773,” but did not make other changes.  Apparently, the watchmaker felt confident in his address to prospective customers as it appeared in the Connecticut Courant for the past two months.

By the time he placed that notice in the New-London Gazette, Hilldrup had been in Connecticut for the better part of a year.  He had been there long enough that it was not the first time that he attempted to extend his share of the market by saturating the newspapers published in the colony with his advertisements.  He initially published an advertisement in the September 15, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant and then revised it a month later.  Over time, he placed the revised advertisement in the Connecticut Journal on January 8, 1773, and in the New-London Gazette three weeks later.  The watchmaker established a pattern of starting with a single newspaper, the one printed in his own town, and then attempting to reach other prospective customers in the region though the same advertisement in other newspapers.

Such industriousness may have caught the attention of John Simnet, a watchmaker in New York, as newspapers published in Connecticut circulated beyond that colony.  Simnet learned his craft in London and had decades of experience working with clients there, a point of pride that he frequently highlighted in his advertisements.  Given his background, Simnet also promoted himself as the only truly skilled watchmaker in the area.  He had a long history of denigrating his competitors in his advertisements.  The cantankerous Simnet may have taken exception to Hilldrup’s arrival on the scene, considering Hartford too close for a competitor who listed similar credentials in his advertisements.  He had not previously placed notices in any of the newspapers printed in Connecticut, but decided to run an advertisement in the January 26, 1773, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  In choosing the newspaper published in Hartford, Hilldrup’s new location and a town more distant from New York than New Haven and New London, Simnet increased the chances that Hilldrup would see his advertisement.

For his part, Hilldrup did not respond directly to Simnet in the public prints, but he did follow the other watchmaker’s lead in making veiled references to competitors in an advertisement in the April 27 edition of the Connecticut Courant.  The headline for that advertisement, “WATCHES! only,” seemed to comment on a notice in which Enos Doolittle offered his services repairing clocks and watches in the previous issue.  In addition, Hilldrup included a nota bene that seemingly mocked Doolittle for hiring a journey who completed an apprenticeship in London, proclaiming that “I am capable of going through the business myself without any assistance.”  That nota bene also appeared in the original iteration of Hilldrup’s second advertisement that eventually found its way into multiple newspapers, though he removed it after several weeks in the Connecticut Courant.

As Hilldrup worked to cultivate a clientele that would secure his position in Hartford, he published advertisements in newspapers in several towns.  Achieving that kind of reach with his notices was only part of his marketing strategy.  In addition to engaging prospective customers, those advertisements put Hilldrup in conversation with competitors, directly and indirectly.  Rather than mere announcements that readers might easily dismiss, the watchmaker crafted messages that resonated beyond any single issue of a colonial newspaper.  In an advertisement that eventually appeared in all three newspapers published in Connecticut, he requested “the favour of those gentlemen who are or may be satisfied of his abilities, to assist in recommending” his services to others.

July 9

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-London Gazette (July 9, 1773).

“Ran away … a NEGRO Man Slave named PRINCE.”

When “a NEGRO Man Slave named PRINCE” liberated himself by running away from his enslave, John Mulford “of East-Hampton, on Long Island,” in June 1773, the story became frontpage news in the New-London Gazette.  Timothy Green, the printer, did not actually treat the story as news, but he did run Mulford’s advertisement describing Prince and offering a reward for his capture and return on the front page of the July 9 edition of his newspaper.  Prince may have been familiar to some readers since he previously “lived about Six Years with Mr. Daniel Denison, at Stonington, in New-London County,” a roundabout way of saying that Denison enslaved Prince before Mulford did.  Like many other advertisements – from legal notices and estate notices to advertisements about burglaries and thefts to notices about wives who “eloped” from their husbands to advertisements about apprentices, enslaved people, and indentured servants who “ran away” to notices about lotteries that funded public works projects – this one delivered news to readers.  In many instances, advertisements provided more local news than printers inserted elsewhere in their newspapers.

Mulford’s advertisement about Prince was not the only paid notice on the first page of the July 9 edition of the New-London Gazette.  Green (or a compositor who worked in the printing office) positioned a real estate notice, an advertisement for a “variety of Goods suitable for the SEASON” available at a shop in Norwich, and the notice describing Prince as the first items in the first column.  An editorial “Continued from our last” issue filled the rest of the column and the remainder of the page.  Additional advertisements, including one about “two melatto men slaves,” Edward Peters and Rufus Cooper, who liberated themselves from Ezekiel Root of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, appeared on the third and fourth pages.  How did any advertisements land on the front page?  A standard edition of the New-London Gazette and other colonial newspapers consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  Printers usually printed the first and fourth pages on one side, let the ink dry, and then printed the second and third pages on the other side.  Since many advertisements ran for several weeks, printers used type already set when they printed the first and fourth pages, reserving the second and third pages for the latest news that arrived in the printing office.  In this instance, Green selected advertisements and the continuation of an editorial to take to press while he figured out the content for the remaining two pages.  As a result, Prince’s escape and liberation from his enslaver became frontpage news.

July 2

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

New-London Gazette (July 2, 1773).

Also at the Printing-Office in Norwich, and by Nathan Bushnell, jun. and Joseph Knight, Post Riders.”

In early July 1773, Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, ran an advertisement for a pamphlet that he “Just Publish’d” and sold at the printing office.  He noted that it was the “Third EDITION corrected.”  The Adverts 250 Project has traced the marketing of earlier editions of that pamphlet, John Allen’s “ORATION, Upon the BEAUTIES of LIBERTY, Or the essential Rights of the AMERICANS,” a publication that John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark have described as “one of the best-selling pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary crisis, passing through seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775.”[1]

In advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy on January 14, 1773, Benjamin Kneeland and Nathaniel Davis announced that the pamphlet was “Now in the press, and will be published in a few days.”  A week later, the printers announced “This Day was published” the “SECOND EDITION.”  Newspaper advertisements did not account for the first edition.  It did not take long for Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, the printers of the Essex Gazette, to advertise that they sold the pamphlet at their printing office in Salem.  Copies of the Oration circulated beyond Boston.

Green … or Joseph Knight, a post rider … apparently acquired the pamphlet and determined that the conditions were right to market a third edition in Connecticut.  The imprint on the title page stated, “Printed by T. Green, for Joseph Knight, post-rider.”  The efforts of the printer and the post rider to disseminate Allen’s Oration extended beyond the printing office in New London to include the printing office in Norwich, Knight, and another post rider, Nathan Bushnell, Jr.  Printer-booksellers frequently stocked books and pamphlets published by their fellow printer-booksellers.  They also served as local agents who collected subscriptions for proposed publications.  Newspaper advertisements, however, rarely mentioned post riders as publishers or even as local agents responsible for selling and distributing books and pamphlets.  Green and Knight devised an innovative method for marketing and disseminating this pamphlet, perhaps increasing its circulation and contributing to the popularity that led to four other editions appearing in the next two years.


[1] John M. Bumstred and Charles E. Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine: John Allen and the Spirit of Liberty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 21, no. 4 (October 1964): 562.

June 4

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

New-London Gazette (June 4, 1773).

“LONDON Coffee-House, Kept by THOMAS ALLEN.”

“THOMAS ALLEN’s Marine List.”

In the early 1770s, Thomas Allen operated the “LONDON Coffee-House” in New-London, Connecticut.  In an advertisement in that ran in the New-London Gazette in May and June 1773, he offered “genteel Entertainment … for Gentlemen Travellers.”  He also sold a variety of “Choice old Spirits by the Gallon” in addition to “Genuine” wines imported from Madeira, Faial, and Tenerife “By the Gal. or Quart.”  Presumably, he also served those wines and spirits as well as coffee, tea, and chocolate to “Gentlemen Travellers” and other patrons.

Like other coffeehouses, Allen’s establishment also served as a gathering place for merchants to conduct business and share information.  Allen likely subscribed to the New-London Gazette as well as newspapers printed in other colonies, making them available to patrons interested in all sorts of news and especially the shipping news that concerned networks of commerce that crisscrossed the Atlantic.

New-London Gazette (June 4, 1773).

In addition to that valuable service, Allen established himself as a purveyor of such information in the public prints.  Starting with the April 30 edition, the printer of the New-London Gazette supplemented the lists of ships “ENTERED IN” and “CLEARED OUT” of the customs house with “THOMAS ALLEN’s Marine List” that provided details about the location and progress of vessels.  Presumably, Allen spoke with captains when they arrived in port, then relayed the news to the printer, thus bolstering the kind of coverage offered by the newspaper.  The entry in the June 4 edition, for instance, included this news: “Capt. Newson in 21 Days from Nevis spoke with the following Vessels, viz. May 26th, Sloop Sally, Capt. Campbell, from Nevis, bound to Casco-Bay, Lat. 34 43. Long. 68 6.  May 29th, Ship Sally, Capt. Samuel Young, from Bristol, bound to Philadelphia, Lat. 38 10. Lon. 70. who had a number of Passengers on board.”  The “Marine List” also gave details about one other ship that Newsom encountered during the voyage from Nevis.  Not only merchants valued these updates; families of sailors did so as well.

Allen provided this service for more than fifteen years, bolstering his own reputation as a purveyor of shipping news.  The local newspaper benefited from his efforts, as did merchants and families who consulted “THOMAS ALLEN’s Marine List” in addition to the entries from the customs house.  The news that appeared in the public prints may have convinced some readers to visit Allen’s coffeehouse to see if they could glean more information from the proprietor, additional details that did not appear in the newspaper.

April 30

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-London Gazette (April 30, 1773).

“LILLEY … can read … may have some forged Papers.”

Like so many other enslavers, John Foster and Roger Gibson placed newspaper advertisements that asked colonizers to participate in the surveillance of Black men, women, and children when the people they enslaved liberated themselves by running away.  In the spring of 1773, Foster and Gibson both offered rewards for identifying, capturing, and returning enslaved people to their purported masters.  In so doing, they enlisted others in perpetuating slavery.

In the April 30 edition of the New-London Gazette, Foster described Cush, “a Negro Man … born in Stonington,” who liberated himself sometime in January.  Foster did not know Cush’s exact age, but instead estimated that he was about twenty-six years old.  Readers who carefully observed the Black men they encountered could recognize Cush by his height, build, complexion, and clothing, but especially by his missing “fore Teeth” and “a Scar on one of his Ears.”  To increase his chances of liberating himself, Cush either created or acquired a “forg’d Pass.”  Accomplices may have aided his efforts to achieve his freedom, just as Foster attempted to recruit colonizers to capture Cush.

In the same issue, Gibson described Lilley, an enslaved woman who liberated herself and two of her children.  She likely did so to reunite her family in the wake of Gibson selling her and Toney, her ten-month-old son, to Joseph Miner in Colchester.  That separated mother and brother from Susan, “Four Years and Six Months old, small of her Age,” who remained enslaved to Gibson in New London.  According to Gibson, Lilley thought of herself well above her station even before she liberated herself.  She demonstrated “proud Affected Airs” and behaved in a “cunning, subtil [subtle] and insinuating” fashion.  Gibson considered it dangerous that Lilley “can read” and “publishes [or claims] that she is free” when questioned by others.  Whether or not she could write, Gibson considered it “possible [Lilley] may have some forged Papers, in order to deceive People.”  Combined with “her insinuating Manner,” she very well could “ensnare the unwary” into believing that she and her children were indeed free.  Gibson, however, bellowed that “whoever pleases, may see my indisputable Title to the above Negroes.”  He sought to leverage the power of the press to overcome the documents and demeanor of a resourceful Black woman.

Although certainly not their intention, Foster and Gibson depicted Cush and Lilley as courageous and ingenious.  As the New-London Gazette carried news from Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, and London that challenged colonizers to contemplate their own liberty in relation to Parliament and the British Empire, Foster and Gibson shared stories of Black people, committed to freedom, who staged their own revolutions.  Many eighteenth-century readers may not have recognized or appreciated such narratives at the time, but those advertisements offer powerful, though truncated, accounts of Black people seizing their liberty.

April 23

Who was the subject of advertisements in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal (April 23, 1773).

“TO BE SOLD … A likely Negro Man … Enquire of the Printers.”

TO BE SOLD, A Negro Boy … Enquire of the Printers.”

Timothy Green ran a busy printing office in the early 1770s.  In addition to publishing the New-London Gazette, he sold books, some that he printed but most of them imported.  In the April 23, 1773, edition of his newspaper, Green advertised one of his own imprints, informing readers that “A Faithful HISTORY OF REMARKABLE OCCURRENCES, IN THE Captivity and Deliverances OF Mr. JOHN WILLIAMS, Minister of the Gospel in DEEERFIELD” was “Just Published, and to be Sold.”  Green also did job printing, including broadsides, handbills, and blanks (or forms).  Similarly, Thomas Green and Samuel Green oversaw a bustling printing office where they published the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  In the spring of 1773, they distributed subscription proposals for a new edition of “A Discourse on Justification by Faith alone. BY THE REVEREND JONATHAN EDWARDS.”  Those proposals also appeared in the April 23 edition of the New-London Gazette, part of a network of printers and others who cooperated in collecting the names of subscribers who reserved copies.

New-London Gazette (April 23, 1773).

Among their many other responsibilities, all three printers also served as slave brokers.  The same day that they promoted important historical and theological works, they also advised readers to “Enquire of the Printers” to learn more about enslaved people advertised for sale in their newspapers.  In the Connecticut Journal, a brief advertisement announced, “TO BE SOLD, (for no Fault, but for want of Employ,) A likely Negro Man, about 26 Years old, fit for Town or Country. Enquire of the Printers.”  An even shorter, but equally insidious, advertisement in the New-London Gazette stated, “TO BE SOLD, A Negro Boy, about 13 Years old, lately brought into the Country.  Enquire of the Printer.”  In both cases, the advertisers declined to identify themselves, instead instructing interested parties to contact the printers for more information.  In turn, the printers facilitated the sales of enslaved people twice over and generated revenue from the advertisements in the process.  First, they disseminated the notices, undertaking the labor required to print and distribute the advertisements and the rest of the newspapers.  Then, they actively participated in the sale of the “likely Negro Man” and the “Negro Boy, about 13 Years old,” responding to messages they received in the printing office and colonizers who visited to learn more.  As these advertisements demonstrate, printers in New England participated in perpetuating slavery during the era of the American Revolution, alongside their counterparts in Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and other colonies with greater numbers of enslaved people.  Such advertisements underwrote the production and dissemination of the news, while those that required readers to “Enquire of the Printers” further enmeshed printers in the slave trade as brokers for sales.

For an extended consideration of such advertisements, see Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 287-323, and the companion website.

January 29

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

New-London Gazette (January 29, 1773).

Difficult jobbs performed for those who pretend to the business.”

At the end of January 1773, watchmaker Thomas Hilldrup continued expanding his advertising campaign.  When he arrived in Hartford in the fall of 1772, he inserted notices in the local newspaper, the Connecticut Courant, starting on September 15.  His advertisement ran almost every week throughout the remainder of the year and continued into the new year.  Early in 1773, he decided to increase the reach of his marketing by placing the same advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Not much time passed before he ran that notice in the New-London Gazette as well.  With that publication, Hilldrup advertised in all of the newspapers printed in the colony at the time, making his efforts a regional campaign.

Hilldrup made a variety of appeals intended to attract attention from prospective clients who may not have otherwise considered seeking the services of a watchmaker in Hartford rather than one in their own town.  When he asked “the candid public to make a tryal of his abilities” in repairing several different kinds of watches, he emphasized his training and experience in the cosmopolitan center of the empire.  The watchmaker declared that he “was regularly bread to the finishing business in London,” implying that, as a result, he possessed greater skill than watchmakers who learned the trade in the colonies.  To underscore that point, he proclaimed that he did “difficult jobbs … for those who pretend to the business.”  In other words, he informed fellow watchmakers who did not possess the same level of skill that they could bring repairs beyond their abilities to him to complete.  Such an offer planted a seed of doubt about his competitors and prompted readers to question their capabilities.  Hilldrup also attempted to cultivate a clientele by offering free services, pledging “any other jobbs that take up but little time [done] gratis.”  That allowed him to meet new clients while also creating a sense of obligation that they would eventually purchase accessories, like chains and keys, at his shop or hire him when their watches needed more extensive repairs.

The newcomer made his presence known in the colony, first by advertising repeatedly in the Connecticut Courant and then by advertising widely in the other newspapers published in the colony.  He promoted credentials that he believed eclipsed many of his competitors and offered services intended to incite interest among prospective clients near and far.

December 11

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

New-London Gazette (December 11, 1772).

“All the above articles will be sold lower than can be bought either in [New] York or Boston.”

In the fall of 1772, Ebenezer Backus, Jr., ran multiple advertisements for goods available at his store in Norwich, Connecticut, in the New-London GazetteOne of those advertisements may very well have circulated separately as a broadside or handbill.  It occupied almost an entire page in the November 20 edition.  An advertisement of that size would have been expensive.  In subsequent issues, Backus published another advertisement, one more in line with the length of advertisements published by other purveyors of goods and services.

Like the longer advertisement, the shorter version included a list of goods.  To help prospective customers navigate that list, Backus divided his notice into two columns with only one or two items per line rather than including everything in a paragraph of dense text.  He stocked a variety of textiles, including checks, ginghams, damasks, “Pelong Sattins,” and “Plain Sattins” as well as accessories like buttons, “Barcelona Handkerchiefs of different colours,” and a “Compleat assortment of Ribbons.”  Beyond merchandise intended for making garments, Backus also sold “Cream coloured Ware of all Kinds.”

Although Backus included fewer goods in this advertisement than his previous one, he did add a new marketing appeal with the intention of capturing the attention of prospective customers.  In a nota bene that concluded the notice, Backus asserted that “All the above articles will be sold lower than can be bought either in [New] York or Boston.”  Consumers in and around Norwich may have expected to pay more to acquire goods in the small town of Norwich than in the region’s major urban ports, but Backus assured them that was not the case.  He hoped to entice them with bargains as good or even better than they would encounter elsewhere.  In so doing, he demonstrated that the consumer revolution reached even small towns where colonizers had access to the same goods at the same prices as their counterparts in the largest cities in the colonies.

November 20

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

New-London Gazette (November 20, 1772).

“A curious Assortment of new-fashion’d GOODS.”

One advertisement dominated the final page of the November 20, 1772, edition of the New-London Gazette.  Ebenezer Backus, Jr., ran a notice that filled more than three-quarters of the page, inviting customers to attend a sale of a “curious Assortment of new-fashion’d GOODS” at his store in Norwich.  Although other items appeared at the top of the page, the size of Backus’s advertisement in general combined with the size of font for the word “GOODS” in the middle of the page in particular, drew attention away from everything else.  Readers may have eventually noticed the “POETS CORNER,” a weekly feature on the final page, but the prominence of Backus’s advertisement likely meant they overlooked Thomas Hartshorn’s notice calling on those indebted to him to settle accounts, at least initially.

Backus’s notice may have circulated solely in this format, but that may not have been the case.  He could have also made arrangements with Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, to produce additional copies to distribute as broadsides or handbills.  That seems to have been a practice among printers and entrepreneurs in the early 1770s.  Smith and Coit likely did so with a broadside book catalog that also ran in the August 4, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Similarly, John Boyles may have adopted the same strategy with subscription proposals for Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws in the October 19, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

The inclusion of a colophon suggests that Green printed separate broadsides or handbills for Backus to post around town or give to prospective customers.  Green did not always publish a colophon in the New-London Gazette.  When he did, it sometimes read, “NEW-LONDON: Printed by T. Green,” and other times simply stated, “Printed by T. Green.”  In contrast, the colophon centered at the bottom of the final page of the November 20 edition gave both the place of publication and the printer’s full name, “NEW-LONDON: Printed by TIMOTHY GREEN.”  Printers often placed their colophon on broadsides and handbills they printed for others, giving announcements or advertisements intended for other purposes a secondary purpose as marketing materials promoting the services offered by printers.  The presence of the colophon on the final page of the New-London Gazette does not definitively demonstrate that a broadside or handbill circulated separately, but it does support the possibility that colonizers encountered more advertising in a variety of formats than those preserved in the collections of research libraries and historical societies might suggest.

New-London Gazette (November 20, 1772).

October 9

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

New-London Gazette (October 9, 1772).

“Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse, in Kingstreet, BOSTON.”

Ebenezer Bridgham continued his efforts to create a regional market for his “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse” in Boston with an advertisement in the October 9, 1772, edition of the New-London Gazette.  That advertisement featured copy identical to a notice in the October 2 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, though the compositors in the two printing offices made very different decisions about the format of the advertisements.  Bridgham’s advertisement ran a second time in the New-Hampshire Gazette (less the headline announcing “Crockery Ware”) the same day that it first appeared in the New-London Gazette.  He likely dispatched letters to the printing offices on the same day, but, given the distance, the New-London Gazette received its letter later and published his advertisement in the next edition after its arrival.

With advertisements in newspapers in Connecticut and New Hampshire in the fall of 1772, Bridgham continued a project that commenced more than a year earlier with advertisements in the Connecticut Courant, the Essex Gazette, and the Providence Gazette in September 1771.  He added the New-London Gazette the next month.  He placed a subsequent notice in the Connecticut Courant in June 1772, but he did not pursue the same coordinated campaign that he launched in the fall of 1771.  Although his “Crockery Ware” advertisement appeared in both the New-London Gazette and the New-Hampshire Gazette in early October 1772, it did not run in the other newspapers at that time.

That may have been the result of Bridgham learning which advertisements in which newspapers generated orders from country shopkeepers and other customers … and which did not.  His prior experience may have constituted a rudimentary form of market research that guided his decisions about where to focus his advertising efforts.  Alternately, Bridgham may have been delinquent in submitting payment for his advertisements, causing printers not to run them until he settled his debts.  His “Crockery Ware” advertisement eventually ran in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant on November 17.  In February 1772, Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, inserted a notice that “No Advertisements will for the future be published in this paper, without the money is first paid.”  The delay in publishing Bridgham’s “Crockery Ware” advertisement may have been due to waiting for payment.  Beyond these possibilities, Bridgham may have been haphazard in submitting his “Crockery Ware” advertisement to various printing offices.  If so, that deviated from the coordination he demonstrated in the fall of 1771.