June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (June 4, 1767).

“Genuine Medicines to be sold in New-York, by GERARDUS DUYCKINCK Merchant, only.”

Several apothecaries operated shops in New York and advertised in the local newspapers in the spring of 1767, but they were not the only residents who sold medicines in the city. Gerardus Duyckinck, a merchant who ran the “UNIVERSAL STORE, Or the MEDLEY of GOODS … At the Sign of the Looking-Glass, and Druggist Pot,” also peddled remedies.[1] As he was not an apothecary himself, he dressed up his advertisements with several sorts of puffery in order to compete with others who specialized in compounding drugs and selling patent medicines.

For instance, Duyckinck opened his advertisement with what appeared to be some sort of official proclamation that bestowed some degree of exclusivity on the merchant: “To the PUBLICK. By Virtue of the King’s Royal Patent for Great-Britain, Ireland, and the Plantations, for many Patent Medicines, to the Proprietors of each, to enjoy the full Benefit, are now sold under the Royal Sanction, by Messieurs William and Cluer Dicey, and Comp. of London, who now appoint their genuine Medicines to be sold in New-York, By GERARDUS DUYCKINCK Merchant, only.” Although the advertisement listed many tinctures and nostrums advertised and sold by several druggists and apothecaries in New York, the grandiloquent language implied that Duyckinck alone possessed the right to peddle those cures. Anyone else did so without official sanction.

This also allowed Duyckinck to warn readers against counterfeits and assure potential customers that he sold only authentic medicines. He did so in two ways. In a nota bene, he announced that all the drugs on his list had been “bought by William and Cluer Dicey, and Comp. from the original Ware-Houses, and warranted genuine.” In addition, he provided “Proper Directions to each … to avoid the Consequence of Counterfeits.” Duyckinck did not outright accuse his competitors of selling counterfeits, but the several aspects of his advertisement worked together to create doubts about the efficacy and authenticity of any medicines purchased from other vendors. Patent medicines were advertised far and wide in colonial newspapers. By inserting these enhancements to what otherwise would have been a standard list-style advertisement, Duyckinck devised a marketing strategy that distinguished him from his competitors.

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[1] For this description of his store, see the other advertisement Duyckinck placed on June 4, 1767, a list-style notice of an assortment of imported goods in the New-York Journal. It briefly mentioned “Drugs and Medicines” near the end.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (May 21, 1767).

“Such Work as is not executed in the best Manner, he does not expect to be taken.”

Joseph Beck made “all Kinds of Stays for Ladies and Misses” at his shop on Queen Street in New York. In marketing his corsets one of the city’s newspapers, he utilized several of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods and services. He claimed that his stays were fashionable (“in the newest Taste”) and that potential customers could not find a better deal (“at the lowest Prices”). Like many others in the clothing trades, he also underscored that he had migrated “from LONDON,” establishing a connection to the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire.

To distinguish his advertisements from others, Beck added one more element: a guarantee, of sorts, concerning the quality of the stays he made. This testified to the staymaker’s confidence in his own skills and the value of the goods he produced for the market. In a separate nota bene, he advised prospective clients that “Such Work as is not executed in the best Manner, he does not expect to be taken.” Customers not satisfied with the quality of his work had the option from the very start to reject it. Refusing to accept work deemed inferior may not have seemed especially novel to most readers. After all, customers and those who provided services haggled all the time in the regular course of their interactions and transactions. Yet this sort of guarantee was not yet widely stated in advertisements. By including it, Beck further transformed what some might consider a mere announcement into a notice that actively marketed Beck’s services. This advertisement did not simply inform the residents of New York that Beck made and sold women’s stays. Instead, it worked to incite demand along multiple trajectories: fashion, price, connections to London, and, especially, an explicit promise about the quality of the work. Like many other eighteenth-century advertisers, Beck sought to incite demand rather than just reacting to pre-existing consumer desires.

April 9

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (April 9, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, THE one Half of a good Boat.”

In many of the newspapers I looked through for this week, the sale of ships really struck me as a common trend, including this advertisement from Woodbridge, Connecticut. That town is located next to New Haven, which is located directly on the Long Island Sound. This made is a great location for coasting into New York and doing business there. This form of commerce was part of what historians call coastal trading. Rather than investing in transatlantic voyages between the colonies and England, many merchants focused on moving goods between the colonies, up and down the North American coast. In The Economy of Colonial America, Edward J. Perkins states, “[T]he real strength of the colonial economy was its prodigious agricultural production for local consumption and urban centers. The value of good and services for strictly internal consumption outweighed by far the volume of colonial exports.”[1]

Perkins states, “Colonial shipowners were also permitted to participate fully in the empire’s North Atlantic trade. Along with shipowners in the mother country’s they enjoy protection inside the empire from competition with the Dutch, French, Spanish and other outsiders.”[2] This allowed a growing coastal trade to develop. In addition, due to limited roadways and other means of transportation on the mainland, coastal trading provided an efficient alternative for colonists to move goods and earn money.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

During the initial round of selecting advertisements to examine during her week as guest curator of the Adverts 250 Project, Shannon chose several that announced ships for sale. Among those, Isaac Donham’s notice was unique in that he sold only “one Half of a good Boat … fit for the coasting Business” rather than ownership of an entire vessel. Donham explained that the “Person that owns the other Half will settle any where the Purchaser of the above Half shall think proper.” For all intents and purposes, Donham was selling a stake in a partnership with another colonial merchant.

As Shannon explains, coastal trading offered opportunities for some colonists to acquire significant wealth, but that did not mean that anyone who dabbled in moving goods between the colonies was guaranteed financial success. Coastal traders needed to be savvy entrepreneurs – and a little bit of luck never hurt anyone pursuing business opportunities. Acquiring goods to import and export among colonies represented a significant investment itself. Many merchants paid to have their goods transported on vessels owned and operated by others who regularly advertised freight services in colonial newspapers. Some of the most affluent colonial merchants sought to reduce those expenses by investing in their own ships. For those who could not afford to do this on their own, forming a partnership with one or more other merchants became a viable alternative.

Whatever the circumstances, one of Donham’s associates found himself in over his head, unable to pay his bills. He promised that there was nothing wrong with the vessel itself (“sold for no Fault”); instead, it had been “taken for Debt.” Donham apparently did not wish to operate the vessel in partnership with the “Person that owns the other Half,” preferring to sell the stake he had acquired when seizing the ship and recoup the funds owed to him. Participating in commerce in the colonies presented many opportunities for economic advancement, but with those opportunities came risks and, sometimes, failures. The matter-of-fact language in today’s featured advertisement disguised a drama that unfolded around one unfortunate merchant, his family, and his associates.

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[1] Edward J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia Univeristy Press, 1988), 43.

[2] Perkins, Economy of Colonial America, 41.

April 2

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

Apr 2 - 4:2:1767 New York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (April 2, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, A Smart likely active Negro Girl.”

I chose this advertisement because it revolves around a controversial and pivotal part of early American society: slavery. In 1767, slavery was a part of life for British North American colonists everywhere. There were large workforces of slaves used to support Southern plantation agriculture. In addition, in other regions slaves were used on smaller scale farms and in domestic service. For the modern reader, the very contemplation of such practices is appalling and repulsive. However, we cannot look at American history without recognizing the integral role slavery played in society and the economy. Slavery also shaped American politics and government.

For instance, the founders focused on slavery during the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787, just twenty years after this advertisement was published. Over the course of the Constitutional Convention the delegates discussed multiple issues, including slave importation and whether proportional representation should include slaves. These were important issues that garnered differing opinions during the debates. The Northern states pushed for no representation of slaves to reduce Southern power, while Southerners fought to include slaves in their population.[1] Eventually, the delegates decided to count three out of five slaves in matters of representation; this was known as the Three-Fifths Compromise.[2] The debates about slavery characterized the Constitutional Convention and created intense tension. While the practice of slavery was abysmal, there was no doubt that it shaped the American Constitution and the government it established.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

An anonymous slaveholder offered a “Smart likely active Negro Girl” for sale “for no Fault but Want of Employ.” In other words, the enslaved young woman evinced no shortcomings that prompted the sale. Instead, her owner simply did not have enough work to keep her busy and thus had no further use for her. Such explanations commonly appeared in advertisements offering single slaves for sale – both adults and youths – in New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies in the 1760s. This was a significant regional variation that distinguished many advertisements selling slaves in the northern colonies from their counterparts in the Chesapeake and Lower South.

“But Want of Employ” advertisements underscore the commodification of enslaved men, women, and children in eighteenth-century America. Slaveholders faced a choice when they determined that they no longer needed slaves’ labor: sell the slaves or set them free. The decision to sell them signals that slaveholders thought of their human property as any other commodity, an investment to be recouped as much as possible upon exceeding usefulness. A “Girl, about 14 Years of Age” could be traded as easily as textiles or furniture or any other goods that filled the advertising pages in colonial newspapers.

This advertisement and many more like it appeared in newspapers during the imperial crisis, the decade of tensions between colonists and Parliament that ultimately resulted in a war for independence. Colonists contemplated the meaning of liberty in their own lives even as they sold slaves “for no Fault but Want of Employ.” This advertisement makes clear that the promises of liberty were not evenly applied to all residents of the colonies during the transition from protest and resistance to severing political ties with Great Britain. This has been a central theme in my Revolutionary America course: many different kinds of experiences rather than a unified narrative.

As my students continue to curate the Slavery Adverts 250 Project they assess and verify this argument as they examine original sources. In many ways, a single advertisement for a “Smart likely active Negro Girl” to be “sold for no Fault but Want of Employ” is much more convincing than abstract statements that broadly aggregate the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children in the Revolutionary era.

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[1] Richard Beeman, Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (New York: Random House, 2009), 204-215.

[2] Beeman, Plain Honest Men, 204-215.