February 14

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

New-London Gazette (February 14, 1772).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS … will be received by T. & J. Fleet, in Boston, T. Green in New-London, and by the other Printers in Connecticut.”

When a “Gentleman in England, of Distinguished character for many munificent deeds to the Publick,” supposedly wished to sponsor publication of “a second Volume of Collection of Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts Bay” in 1772, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the first volume, set about promoting the project.  Advertisements initially appeared in newspapers published in Boston, but eventually ran in other newspapers as well.

An advertisement nearly identical to one in the January 23, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter appeared in the New-London Gazette on February 14.  It featured the same introduction that gave the story of the “Gentleman in England” and cautioned that “None will be printed for Sale” except those reserved by subscribers in advance.  It also included the primary justification intended to persuade colonizers to support the project: “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear, from a regard to the Public.”  Readers had a duty “for the Benefit of Posterity,” the advertisement underscored, to participate in the preservation of important documents through printing them so widely that they would always remain accessible.

The version of the advertisement that ran in the New-London Gazette did have some variations.  Timothy Green, the printer of that newspaper, reserved space for other content by significantly reducing the list of local agents who worked with the Fleets.  “SUBSCRIPTIONS to encourage the Printing of this Collection,” the advertisement instructed, “will be received by T. & J. Fleet, in Boston, T. Green in New-London, and by the other Printers in Connecticut.”  The original version listed local agents in nearly a dozen cities and towns in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  It also concluded with a note that “A few of the first Volumes of Collection of Papers, may be had at the Heart and Crown.”  Compared to readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, readers of the New-London Gazettewere less likely to know that a sign depicting a heart and crown marked the location of the Fleets’ printing office.  Green edited that final note to advise readers of his newspaper that “A few of the first Volume of Collection of Papers may be had of T. & J. Fleet, in Boston.”

Green participated in an extensive network of local agents, comprised primarily of printers, who accepted subscriptions for the proposed “second Volume of Collection of Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts Bay.”  His responsibilities included marketing as well as collecting names of colonizers who wished to reserve copies.  He published advertisements consistent with those distributed by the printers in charge of the project, but edited them to suit his own purposes and to provide clarifications for readers of his newspaper.  That resulted in an advertising largely consistent from newspapers in one town to another, but with minor variations.

January 17

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

Connecticut Journal (January 17, 1772).

“All Persons Indebted to said Sherman, are desired to make immediate Payment, to prevent Trouble.”

John Sherman had two purposes in placing an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy in January 1772.  He aimed to attract customers for the “large Quantity of GOODS” available at his shop, but he also wished to collect on debts.  As was often the case in colonial newspapers, he pursued both goals in a single advertisement rather than placing multiple notices with distinct purposes.  This may have been a strategy to avoid paying for more than one notice, depending on how the printer set advertising rates, but it also suggests that advertisers expected readers to closely examine the content of advertisements as well as news articles, letters, and editorials that appeared elsewhere in newspapers.

In a slightly longer advertisement, Roger Sherman addressed three different purposes.  Like John, he marketed textiles and “a general Assortment of other GOODS.”  He also demanded that “those indebted to him by Book or Note … make immediate Payment to avoid Trouble.”  That threat of legal action echoed the language deployed in John’s advertisement. Finally, he made a much more specific request: “The Person who has his Province Law-Book is desired to return it.” Rather than place a separate advertisement solely about returning the book, he expected that readers would peruse his entire notice.

Such was the case among colonizers who placed advertisements in other newspapers.  On the same day that these advertisements ran in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, Samuel Noyes, a jeweler, ran a notice in the New-London Gazette.  He devoted the vast majority of it to listing items available at his shop, including shoe and knee buckles, rings, and lockets.  At the very end, he also announced that he “Wanted a likely Boy as an Apprentice to the Goldsmith’s Business.”  Not completely trusting readers to closely examine the conclusion of the advertisement, the compositor used a slightly larger font to draw attention, but that was not usually the case in advertisements with multiple purposes.  Neither of the notices in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy featured variations in font size except for the names of the advertisers (which also served as headlines).

November 29

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

New-London Gazette (November 29, 1771).

“He has lately employed a Workman from England.”

As winter approached in 1771, William Hill, a clothier who operated a fulling mill, took to the pages of the New-London Gazette to promote new services available at his shop.  Hill informed readers that he recently hired “a Workman from England” who provided assistance maintaining garments of various sorts.  According to the clothier, his employee “revives scarlets and other Colours when defaced,” restoring textiles after they experienced fading or other damage.  The workman also “takes Spots out of all Kinds of Silks” to make them presentable once again.  In addition, he “colours and presses Silk Gowns, as also all Kinds of Men’s Apparel in the best Manner.”  Hill was not content solely with treating fabrics in advance of making them into clothing; he also sought to generate revenues by offering them options for caring for their garments.  He did not possess the skills to deliver those ancillary services on his own, so he hired someone to work in his shop.

Whether artisans or shopkeepers, most advertisers did not mention those who labored in their shops, though wives, sons, daughters, apprentices, assistants, employees, and enslaved men and women made many and various contributions in all sorts of workplaces in eighteenth-century America.  Advertisements depicted bustling sites of production and commerce, but only testified to a fraction of the workers who interacted with customers or labored behind the scenes.  In most cases, newspaper notices mentioned only the proprietor, often in a larger font that served as a headline.  Such was the case for Joseph Gale, whose advertisement listed an assortment of textiles, housewares, and hardware in stock at his shop in Norwich, but did not mention any family members, employees, or others who served customers.  Those advertisers who did acknowledge others who worked in their shops usually sought to enhance their reputations by calling attention to supplementary services as they expanded their businesses.  Hill made sure that the public knew about the various skills his new employee possessed, but did not mention the contributions of anyone else who might have worked in his clothier’s shop.

November 8

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

New-London Gazette (November 8, 1771).

“As compleat an Assortment as is to be met with at any Store in NORWICH.”

As October became November in 1771, John-McClarren Breed continued to advertise an assortment of goods available at his store in Norwich, Connecticut.  His lengthy advertisement extended more than half a column in the New-London Gazette, cataloging an array of textiles, housewares, hardware, books, and other items in his inventory.  Prospective customers could see at a glance that Breed offered many choices to suit their tastes.

Breed was not the only merchant in Norwich who advertised in the New-London Gazette in the fall of 1771.  John B. Brimmer inserted his own notice in the November 8 edition, fortunate enough to have it appear as the first item on the first page.  A few months earlier, Brimmer ran advertisements that rivaled Breed’s in length and the number of goods enumerated, but that was no longer the case in his newest advertisement.  Instead, he “Informs his Customers, That he has just received from LONDON, A further Supply of Fall Goods” and asked readers to take into account his previous notices.  “[W]ith the other GOODS he has lately advertised,” Brimmer asserted, the new items from the latest shipment “make up perhaps, as compleat an Assortment as is to be met with at any Store in NORWICH.”

Even if readers did not recall the advertisements that Brimmer placed during the summer months, he attempted to distract prospective customers from assuming that Breed had a larger inventory just because his advertisement occupied so much space on the page.  Indeed, in the November 8 edition Breed’s advertisement began in one column and overflowed into another, giving the impression that it contained even more than it did.  Even though Brimmer was no stranger when it came to placing such elaborate advertisements, he opted for a less-is-more approach in drawing attention to his “further Supply of Fall Goods,” perhaps depending on his reputation for providing “as compleat an Assortment” to do the rest.

October 25

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

New-London Gazette (October 25, 1771).

“Scarlet, / Crimson, / Brown, / Blue, / Mix’d } Broadcloths.”

In the early 1770s, the New-London Gazette carried less advertising than its counterparts published in the major urban ports.  Newspapers in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia often overflowed with advertising; the printers sometimes resorted to disseminating supplements in order to disseminate all the advertisements.  Those newspapers tended to feature greater variation and innovation in the format of their advertisements.  The New-London Gazette rarely ran more than two pages of advertising, yet occasionally it featured notices that rivaled the advertisements in newspapers from port cities.

Such was the case for John-McClarren Breed’s advertisement in the October 25, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette.  It listed scores of items available at his store in Norwich, but rather than dense paragraphs of text, the most common format in any newspaper (and especially those printed in smaller towns), it divided the space into two columns with only one item on each line.  Items of similar sorts appeared together.  For example, Breed carried several different kinds of locks.  Each of them – “Chest, Cupboard, Desk, Till, Pad” – had its own line, with a bracket that extended five lines to the right and the word “Locks” printed only once.  The advertisement utilized the same style for various sorts of broadcloths, handkerchiefs, and hinges.  Visually, this communicated choices for consumers while also adding an unusual element to attract attention.  In the final portion of the advertisement, Breed listed more than two dozen books that he stocked, once again dividing them into two columns with one title or genre per line.

Breed carried an assortment of goods similar to the inventory prospective customers expected in any shop in the largest ports.  His advertising also looked as though it could have appeared in a newspaper published in Boston or New York.  The design guided readers through the contents, helping them locate items of interest much more easily than paragraphs of crowded text that required closer attention.  When it came to graphic design, Breed’s advertisement was an outlier in the New-London Gazette in the early 1770s, but it also testified to what was possible for advertisers to achieve in the public prints, even in smaller towns.

October 11

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

New-London Gazette (October 11, 1771).

“The Staffordshire and Liverpool WARE-HOUSE In KING-STREET.”

Ebenezer Bridgham launched a regional advertising campaign for his “Staffordshire and Liverpool WARE-HOUSE In KING-STREET” in Boston in the fall of 1771.  Beyond his own city, he began by placing advertisements in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, and the Providence Gazette, published in the neighboring colony.  Many of the readers of those newspapers resided in the hinterlands around Boston, making them as likely to order merchandise from shops in that busy port as from shops in Salem or Providence.

Bridgham, however, sought to enlarge his market to include prospective customers who resided at much more considerable distances.  Over several weeks, he inserted advertisements in most of the newspapers published in New England outside of Boston.  On October 11, 1771, Bridgham’s advertisement ran in the New-London Gazette, a newspaper just as likely to carry notices from New York as from Boston.  Indeed, another advertisement in that issue promoted the “Passage-Boat” or passenger ferry that Clark Truman operated between New London and Sag Harbor, a village on Long Island, once a week.  That service helped residents of New London other parts of Connecticut keep better connected to New York, facilitating commerce and purchasing goods from merchants and shopkeepers there.

In each instance that Bridgham’s notices ran in additional newspapers, they featured identical copy but unique formats designed by the compositor who labored in the local printing office.  That copy included a pledge that Bridgham was “able and fully inclin’d to sell” his wares “at least as low as they were ever Sold in America.”  In attempting to create a regional market in which he competed with merchants and shopkeepers beyond Boston, Bridgham considered it imperative to assure prospective customers that he offered prices as good as any they might find locally.  In stating that his prices were “at least as low” as others, he hinted at even better bargains for consumers in distant towns and villages who sent away to Boston for their “China, Glass, Delph, and Stone WARE.”

August 23

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

New-London Gazette (August 23, 1771).

“THIS Country manufactured Felt Hats.”

As the end of August approached in 1771, Abiezer Smith placed an advertisement in the New-London Gazette to promote hats he made and sold at his shop in Norwich, Connecticut.  He assured prospective customers that he parted with his hats “as cheap as can be bought in the Colony” for items of similar quality.  In addition, he promised that his hats were “made in the best Manner.”  He also suggested that colonists should acquire “this Country manufactured Felt Hats,” a phrase that appeared twice in his notice, rather than the imported alternatives that many shopkeepers kept in stock.

Indeed, Smith devoted nearly half of his advertisement to encouraging retailers and consumers to support local artisans rather than choosing hats made in England.  “If Persons would but duly and properly consider the difference there really is between this County manufactured Felt Hats and those Imported from Great-Britain,” he declared, “they would doubtless conclude that they are much cheaper for the Customer than those that are Imported.”  Yet this was not merely a matter of cost.  He continued by asserting that “certainly there is in this Colony a sufficiency of Hatters to supply it’s Inhabitants with Hats.”   Smith spoke on behalf of all hatters in Connecticut.  Rather than consider other hatters in the colony to be competitors, he made common cause with them in cultivating a market for hats produced locally.  That market depended not only on the selections ultimately made by consumers but also the choices that merchants and shopkeepers made when it came to acquiring and distributing inventory.

Smith limited his arguments in favor of domestic manufactures to price, quality, and supporting the livelihoods of colonists rather than hatters on the other side of the Atlantic.  He did not make explicitly political arguments against Parliament or Great Britain, but within the past decade colonial consumers witnessed (and many supported) nonimportation agreements enacted by merchants in response to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  While those nonimportation agreements had expired at the time Smith placed his advertisement in the New-London Gazette, both merchants and consumers would have been familiar with that context for favoring “this Country manufactured Felt Hats” as well.  Smith allowed potential customers to draw their own conclusions about the politics of purchasing his hats, likely well aware that his advertisement echoed others that much more explicitly linked domestic manufactures and the imperial crisis in the recent past.

August 16

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

New-London Gazette (August 16, 1771).

“Ran away … a Negro man slave named BOSTON.”

An enslaved man known as Boston was determined to seize his liberty in the summer of 1771.  He escaped from his enslaver, Caleb Humastun of Waterbury, Connecticut, on August 1.  Just over a week later, Boston was captured in Lyme, the town where his former enslaver, Ezra Selden resided.  Perhaps he had ventured there to visit family or friends.  Perhaps he intended to encourage or assist family or friends in freeing themselves as well.  Humastun did not concern himself with such details in the advertisement he placed in the August 16 edition of the New-London Gazette.  Like every other “runaway” advertisement, it relayed events from the perspective of the enslaver rather than the enslaved.  Whatever Boston’s motivation for heading to Lyme, he ended up “hand cuff’d” upon being captured.  That, however, did not prevent him from making his escape, freeing himself a second time.

Humastun cautioned that “Whoever shall take [Boston] up … take care he don’t again escape,” but returning the enslaved man to bondage required more than merely confining him physically “in any of his Majesty’s [jails]” or elsewhere.  Colonists seeking the reward Humastun offered first had to identify and capture (again) the fugitive seeking freedom.  Humastun warned readers against allowing Boston to fool them, noting that he was “pretty talkative, flattering,” and would use those qualities to “tell any story to deceive, so as to prevent being secured.”  In other words, Boston was smart enough to convince others that he was not a runaway, though Humastun, like other enslavers who resorted to placing advertisements in the public prints, turned positive attributes into accusations when it came to describing Boston.  He had not been able to maintain order when it came to keeping Boston laboring in Waterbury, so he instead exercised what power remained to him by shaping the narrative to his own liking when he published an advertisement in the New-London Gazette.  Doing so allowed Humastun to regain some of the authority he lost when Boston liberated himself.  In the end, Humastun’s advertisement revealed more about the enslaver and his insecurities than it did about the formerly enslaved and his reasons for returning to Lyme.

March 15

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

New-London Gazette (March 15, 1771).


Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal in New Haven, planned to publish “A careful and strict Examination of the external Covenant, and of the Principles by which it is supported.  A REPLY To the Rev. Mr. Moses Mather’s Piece, intitled, The Visible Church on Covenant with God, further illustrated” in the spring of 1771.  Before taking the book to press, however, they sought to gauge demand in order to determine how many copies to print.  To that end, they distributed subscription notices, including “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING” in the March 15, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette.  The Greens requested that those interested in reserving copies become “Subscribers” by submitting their names by May 1.  In turn, the Greens guaranteed the price of the book to those who ordered copies in advance.  Other customers who purchased surplus copies risked paying higher prices.

In addition to seeking subscribers in New Haven, the Greens attempted to incite demand in other towns.  Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, not only inserted the “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING” in his newspaper but likely also served as a local agent who collected subscriptions and sent the list to the printing office in New Haven.  The Greens devoted most of subscription notice to the lengthy title of the book and a list of its contents, demonstrating to prospective subscribers the various theological arguments presented by Joseph Bellamy.  They also listed the price, one shilling and four pence, contingent on how many pages were in the book.  They anticipated printing on twelve sheets, but would adjust the price higher or lower if they used more or less paper.  The Greens also established a timeline for receiving subscriptions and printing the book, stating that subscribers and local agents should contact them by May 1 so “it may be known how many Books shall be ready for the Subscribers at the next Commencement in New-Haven.”  The Greens planned to distribute the book at the same time as graduates of Yale College gathered.

Colonial printers often relied on networks of booksellers, local agents, and fellow printers in the marketing and distribution of books they printed.  Two other notices in the same edition of the New-London Gazette concluded with such lists.  One, another subscription notice, listed seven local agents in seven towns in Connecticut.  The other, an advertisement for a book already published, named eleven local agents in seven towns as well as a postrider who served several of those places.  Subscription notices and local agents played a vital role in determining the viability of proposed books in eighteenth-century America.

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.