April 8

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

Apr 8 - 4:5:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 5, 1770).

“A few Casks of Liverpool Ale, imported before the Non-Importations Agreement.”

For four weeks in March and April 1770, John, Thomas, and Samuel Franklin inserted an advertisement for “BEST Spermaceti Candles,” “a few Boxes of Tin Plate,” and “red, green and scarlet Rattinets,” along with other goods, in the New-York Journal.  Among their wares, they listed “a few Casks of Liverpool Ale, imported before the Non-Importation Agreement.”  In so doing, they acknowledged the political movement to boycott goods imported from Britain for as long as Parliament continued to impose duties on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.  Neither the Franklins nor anyone else in New York knew it for certain at the time, but a partial repeal of the Townshend Acts was in the works on the other side of the Atlantic.

On March 5, Lord North, the new prime minister, presented a motion in the House of Commons.  It called for a repeal of the Revenue Act of 1767, eliminating the duties on paper, glass, paint, and lead.  When this Repeal Act received royal assent on April 12, only the duty on tea remained in place.  It would take weeks for news to arrive in the colonies.  When it did, the merchants and traders who signed the nonimportation agreements, associations, and resolutions in New York and other colonies considered this sufficient victory to justify discontinuing the boycott, just as they previously ended another boycott of British goods when Parliament repealed the Stamp Act.

For a time, marketing strategies shifted as purveyors emphasized that their goods had not recently arrived in the latest ships from London but instead had been on hand for months or even years.  “Just Imported” had been a standard part of many advertisements for consumer goods prior to the boycotts, a signal that customers did not have to settle for leftover merchandise that had lingered on the shelves.  Commentary on nonimportation and domestic manufactures became a familiar aspect of advertising, reflecting the editorials and current events covered elsewhere in newspapers.  As the political situation shifted and merchants and shopkeepers once again acquired goods from Britain, the language of advertising reverted back to the appeals that had been much more common before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.

March 1

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

Mar 1 - 3:1:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (March 1, 1770).

“Sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.”

On the first day of March 1770, an advertisement in the New-York Journal informed prospective customers that a “large Assortment” of goods “Remains for SALE, at WILLIAM NEILSON’s STORE.”  Those goods consisted primarily of textiles, everything from “stript and printed linens” to double milled linseys” to “flower’s and border’d printed handkerchiefs.”  Neilson asserted that consumers could have any of this merchandise “Cheap for READY MONEY.”

That was not the only appeal that Neilson made to price.  He concluded the advertisement with a nota bene that informed both prospective customers and the rest of the community that “The above goods will be sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.”  In other words, Neilson did not take advantage of the current political situation to inflate prices.  To protest duties levied on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts, merchants and shopkeepers in New York signed nonimportation agreements, pledging to abstain from importing a much wider array of goods from England for as long as Parliament left those duties in effect.  Neilson’s use of the phrase “Remains for SALE” could have implied that he received all of his merchandise prior to the nonimportation agreement; the nota bene much more explicitly invoked the intersection of commerce and politics.

Colonists suspected some merchants and shopkeepers stocked up on imported goods in advance of the agreement.  Some purveyors of goods may have seen the boycott as an opportunity to reduce surplus inventories, making a virtue of purchasing goods that had lingered on shelves and in storehouses for quite some time.  If this did contribute to a scarcity of goods over time, it had the potential to result in higher retail prices.  That Neilson found it necessary to include his nota bene suggests that conversations about those very circumstances were taking place in New York at the time he placed his advertisement.  Participating in the nonimportation agreement required sacrifices of both purveyors of goods and consumers.  Neilson proclaimed that paying higher prices need not be one of the sacrifices made by his customers.

February 25

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

Feb 25 - 2:22:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 22, 1770).

“The Best accounts of fashions have been sent over by every packet.”

Thomas Charles Willett listed “A Great Variety” of garments, textiles, adornments, and accoutrements in the advertisement he placed in the New-York Journal in February 1770.  He stocked everything from “scarlet cloth cloaks” to “Striped Lutestrings” to “French pearl, garnet and jet necklaces and ear rings” to “Italian hair powder.”  He concluded his catalog of merchandise with “Bonnets and other fashionable goods.”  In his line of business, fashion mattered, especially his ability to convince prospective customers that he was familiar with the latest fashions and would offer appropriate guidance as they made their selections.

To that end, Willett made a special appeal at the conclusion of his advertisement.  He informed potential clients that “the best accounts of fashions have been sent over by every packet.”  In other words, the vessels that sailed from London and other English ports to New York delivered news of the latest fashions to Willett.  He may have maintained correspondence with friend and business associates in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, or received magazines with descriptions of the latest tastes.  Regardless of his source, Willett had his eye on the other side of the Atlantic … and he expected that prospective customers did as well.

This stood in stark contrast to the political ideology of the period that called for boycotting goods imported from England.  In protest of the duties leveled on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts, merchants, shopkeepers, and other signed nonimportation agreements.  They pledged not to do business with their counterparts in England until Parliament repealed the duties, just as the Stamp Act had been repealed.  That did not prevent Willett and other retailers from selling goods ordered or delivered before the nonimportation pact went into effect, not did it prevent consumers from looking to England when they wished to display their own gentility and cosmopolitanism.  Willett stocked a variety of textiles and adornments.  How were they to be transformed into garments and combined together to make a statement?  As the answer to that question changed, Willett offered assistance from “the best accounts of fashions” he continued to receive.  He imported information for his customers to consume even when they collectively declined to import or purchase goods.

February 15

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

Feb 15 - 2:15:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 15, 1770).

“The Sons of Liberty in general, might there commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.”

As the fourth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act approached, the Sons of Liberty in New York prepared to commemorate the occasion. They encountered some obstacles, however, in planning their celebration. Newspaper advertisements first announced one plan, then later clarified a different one.

The first public notice appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy on Monday, February 5.   Advertisements in both newspapers extended a brief invitation: “THE sons of LIBERTY, are desired to meet at the house of Mr. De La Montanye’s, on Monday the 19th day of March next, to celebrate the repeal of the detestable and inglorious STAMP-ACT.” A slightly longer version appeared in the New-York Journal three days later. It advised that the “friends to Liberty and Trade, who formerly associated together at Barden’s, Jones’s and Smith’s to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Are requested to meet for that purpose on Monday the 19th of March next, at the house of Mr. Abraham De La Montagnie.”

Plans for a celebration were off to a good start, except that apparently no one had consulted with de la Montaigne about gathering at his house. He inserted his own advertisement in the February 8 edition of the New-York Journal in response to “AN Advertisement having appeared in last Monday’s papers, inviting the Sons of Liberty to dine at my house … to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.” De la Montaigne did indeed plan to host a celebration, but not for those who had placed an advertisement without his knowledge. He asserted that his establishment had already been booked “by a great number of other gentlemen” and, as a result, he “shall not be able to entertain any other company than those gentlemen and their connections who engaged my house for that day.” The compositor thoughtfully positioned the two advertisements, with their conflicting information about an upcoming gather of the Sons of Liberty, one after the other.

A week later the organizers announced a new plan to “commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.” When they discovered that de la Montaigne’s house was not available, a “Number of the Sons of Liberty in this City” set about “purchasing a proper House for the Accommodation of all Lovers of freedom on that Day, and for their Use on future Occasions, in the Promotion of the Common Cause.” They acquired a “Corner House in the Broad-Way,” appropriately located “near “Liberty-Pole.” In contrast to the event slated for de la Montaigne’s house, the celebration at this corner house was open “without Discrimination” to “all the Sons of Liberty … who choose to commemorate that Glorious Day.” In addition, the advertisement extended an invitation to “Sons of Liberty” to meet at the house on Tuesday evening as well, presumably to continue organizing against abuses inflicted on the colonies by Parliament.

This series of advertisements in New York’s newspapers demonstrates some disorder when it came to marking the anniversary of such an important event at a time when colonists in that city and elsewhere worked for the repeal of the Townshend Acts that infringed on their liberty much like the Stamp Act had done. One cohort of celebrants confined their event to a small number of gentlemen, while organizers of another event emphasized that all were welcome to participate in the “Promotion of the Common Cause.” Who participated in these two commemorative events? Was the one at de la Montaigne’s house limited only to the better sorts who claimed leadership of the Sons of Liberty? Did patriots from humble backgrounds plan and participate in the commemoration at the corner house “near Liberty-Pole”? Did participants in the two events share a vision of what they hoped to accomplish in their struggle against Parliament? These advertisements suggest that New Yorkers may have attached different meanings to the repeal of the Stamp Act and what they hoped to accomplish as they pursued further resistance efforts in the early 1770s.

January 25

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

Jan 25 - 1:25:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 25, 1770).

“A new Non-Importation Agreement.”

“A Likely Negro Man and a Wench.”

The first two advertisements that appeared in the January 25, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal tell very different stories about the era of the American Revolution. The first addressed efforts to resist the abuses of Parliament, the figurative enslavement of the colonies. The second offered a Black man and woman for sale, perpetuating their enslavement rather than setting them free. That one advertisement followed immediately after the other testifies to the uneven rhetoric of the era as well as the stark tension between liberty (for some) and slavery (for many) at the time of the nation’s founding.

The first advertisement called on the “Signers of the Agreement relative to the Traders of Rhode-Island” to meet and discuss how to proceed in their dealings with the merchants in that nearby colony. The trouble arose when Rhode Island did not adhere to nonimportation agreements adopted throughout the rest of New England as well as in New York and Pennsylvania. In response, merchants, shopkeepers, and others in New York decided that they would no longer engage in trade with their counterparts in Rhode Island, broadening the nonimportation agreement to include fellow colonists who acted contrary to the interests of the colonies. When New York received word from Newport of “a new Non-importation Agreement, lately come into at that Place,” those who had ceased trade with the colony met to reconsider once the merchants there had been brought into line.

The second advertisement presented “A Likely Negro Man and a Wench,” instructing “Any person inclining to purchase them” to enquire of the printer. The unnamed advertiser described the enslaved man and woman as “fit for a Farmer, or any private Family” and offered assurances of their health by noting that they “both had the Small-Pox and Measles” so would not contract those diseases again. The advertiser added a nota bene asserting that the man and woman treated no differently than commodities were “Both young,” one more attempt to incite interest from potential buyers. The anonymous enslaver opened with advertisement with an explanation that that Black man and women were “To be sold, for no Fault, but Want of Cash.” In other words, they were not disobedient, difficult to manage, or ill. The enslaver simply needed to raise some ready money; selling the man and woman provided a convenient means of doing so.

One advertisement addressed a widespread movement to use commerce as a political tool to prevent the colonies from being enslaved by Parliament. The other depicted the continued enslavement and disregard for a “Negro Man and a Wench” not entitled to the same liberty that white New Yorkers claimed for themselves. The colonial press, in collaboration with colonists who placed newspaper notices, maintained and even bolstered the contradictory discourse contained in the two advertisements.

January 14

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

Jan 14 - 1:11:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 11, 1770).

“Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any incumberance.”

Richard Norris, “STAY-MAKER, from LONDON,” made a variety of appeals to prospective customers in an advertisement he inserted in the January 11, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. When it came to making stays (corsets) and other garments, he promised high quality (“the neatest and best manner”) and low prices (“the most reasonable rates”). He proclaimed the superiority of his work compared to local competitors, stating that his stays were “preferable to any done in these parts, for neatness and true fitting.”

Norris developed two appeals in even greater detail. In one, he emphasized his London origins and continuing connections to the empire’s largest city. Despite political tensions between Parliament and the colonies, London remained the metropolitan center of fashion. Norris assured prospective clients that “he acquires the first fashions of the court of London, by a correspondent settled there.” Although the staymaker had migrated to the colonies, he maintained access to the latest styles in the most cosmopolitan of cities in the British Atlantic world. He also underscored that he constructed stays according to “methods approved of by the society of stay-makers, in London,” implying that his training and experience in that city ranked him above any of his rivals in New York.

While most of these appeals focused on Norris and his abilities, the other strategy that he developed in greater detail targeted female readers of the New-York Journal. He attempted to incite demand for his services by prompting women to feel “uneasy in their shapes.” He made a special point of exhorting “young ladies and growing misses” to question whether they were “inclin’d to casts and risings in their hips and shoulders,” compelling them to imagine that their bodies were misshapen. Young women could hide such imperfections from observers by wearing the stays that Norris made and sold, even though they would retain the knowledge that there was supposedly something wrong or undesirable about their bodies. In eighteenth-century America, quite like today, advertisers often relied on provoking anxieties among consumers, especially young women, and offering to reduce those anxieties as a means of promoting their products.

December 24

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

Dec 24 - 12:21:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 21, 1769).

The whole process … is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack.”

This notice appeared among the many advertisements that ran in December 21, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. It extolled the virtues of experimenting with the “Method used in French Flanders, Of raising and preparing FINE FLAX, For making the finest of [textiles known as] Hollands, Lawns, Cambricks and Laces.” For the most part, it resembled an editorial more than an advertisement, but the final two lines made clear that John Holt, printer of both the New-York Journal and Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the Year of Our Lord 1770, inserted it to bolster his marketing efforts for the almanac. Holt advised prospective customers that “The whole process of raising and managing this flax is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the year 1770.” This advertisement accounted for one of the most ingenious marketing strategies for almanacs deployed by printers in the 1760s.

Holt advertised the almanac elsewhere in the December 21 issue of the New-York Journal. An advertisement on the third page conformed to one of the standard formats for marketing almanacs. It announced that the almanac was “lately published” and provided an extensive list of the contents beyond the usual astronomical calculations. The almanac included all kinds of usual reference information, including a “Table of Coins, as they pass in England, New-York, Philadelphia, New-England, and Quebec,” a “List of Council, General Assembly, Judges and other Officers in New-York and New-Jersey,” and a “Table of Roads throughout all the English Dominions in America.” The overview of the almanac’s contents did not, however, list the “Method … Of raising and preparing FINE FLAX.” Holt reserved that for a separate advertisement that appeared on the following page.

The printer encouraged readers raise an prepare flax themselves, proclaiming it “the most profitable article of agriculture that ever was introduced in any country.” As an “inexhaustible source of wealth,” it accrued benefits to the farmer but also served the “national advantage.” In making this claim, Holt presented an opportunity for “gentlem[e]n and farmers in North America” to achieve “great profits,” boost local economies, and acquire new commercial advantages as disputes with Britain continued over trade imbalances and duties imposed on imported goods. In addition to encouraging “domestic manufactures,” many colonists advocated for greater diversification of the colonial economy by cultivating new commodities. In singing the praises of “raising and preparing FINE FLAX,” Holt added to the chorus while simultaneously leveraging that discourse to market Freeman’s New-York Almanack. This supplementary notice reinforced his other advertisement that took a more common approach to marketing almanacs in early America.

November 30

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

Nov 30 - 11:30:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (November 30, 1769).

“WHEREAS by an Advertisement in the Philadelphia Papers …”

Did colonists read all of those advertisements that appeared in the pages of early American newspapers? Occasionally some of the advertisements help to answer that question. Consider an advertisement that ran in the November 27, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy and, later that week, in the November 30 edition of the New-York Journal. The notice acknowledged “an Advertisement in the Philadelphia Papers, of November 2, 1769” that described a runaway named Galloway and offered a reward for apprehending him. According to the notice in the New York newspapers, “a Person answering the Description of the above-named Galloway” had been jailed in the city. The notice instructed Galloway’s master to contact one of the aldermen, “who has the Goods that Galloway had stole, in his Possession.” Someone had indeed read the advertisements, at least those concerning runaway apprentices and indentured servants and their counterparts about enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage. Such advertisements usually included a fair amount of detail, in this case enough to identify Galloway and the stolen goods. In addition to disseminating that information, this advertisement served as a testimonial to the effectiveness of inserting such notices in the public prints.

It also demonstrated that newspapers circulated far beyond the cities and towns where they were printed. This notice concerning a runaway described “in the Philadelphia Papers” appeared in two newspapers in New York, describing a suspected runaway jailed in New York. Newspapers from Pennsylvania found their way to New York … and residents of New York had a reasonable expectation that their newspapers circulated in Pennsylvania. Someone considered it effective to respond to an advertisement that originated “in the Philadelphia Papers” by placing a notice in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal. Thanks to exchange networks devised by printers and abundant reprinting from one newspaper to another, the news items and editorials in colonial newspapers created a public discourse that extended from New England to Georgia. Yet conversations in those newspapers were not confined to news and editorials selected by printers. Advertisers sometimes engaged in their own conversations that moved back and forth from one newspaper to another, further contributing to the creation of imagined communities among readers in faraway places.

October 8

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

Oct 8 - 10:5:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 5, 1769).

“Any Persons by sending, may be supplied with Victuals abroad.”

When she moved to a new location in the fall of 1769, Mrs. Brock ran an advertisement to inform prospective patrons that she now operated an inn and restaurant at “the commodious new Brick House, near the City-Hall” in New York. She promoted various amenities, indicating that the house “was lately improved by the Widow Graham.” In addition to the comfortable surroundings, she provided “the very best of neat Wines and other Liquors.” She also served “Dinners” between noon and three o’clock.

Yet readers did not have to stay at Brock’s inn or dine in her restaurant in order to enjoy the meals she provided. In a brief nota bene, she advised, “Any Persons by sending, may be supplied with Victuals abroad from 12 to 3 o’Clock.” In other words, Brock offered take out and perhaps even delivery. What could be more convenient for busy New Yorkers who did not have the time to prepare their own meals or dine at Brock’s “commodious new Brick House” in the middle of the day?

The advertisement does not specify the extent of Brock’s services. What did she mean with the phrase “by sending” in the nota bene? Did she mean sending a messenger with an order who would then carry the food back to the customer? That qualified as the eighteenth-century equivalent of take-out food. Or, did she mean sending an order in advance and depending on someone employed by Brock to deliver the “Victuals” later? Brock did not clearly indicate if the latter was an option, though she and her customers likely worked out the particulars as they began placing orders.

Even if Brock limited this service to take-out food, she still marketed convenience to eighteenth-century consumers. She identified an opportunity to augment the business she did in the dining room at her inn and restaurant by feeding patrons who did not visit in person. Take-out and delivery became centerpieces of business models and marketing campaigns for many in the restaurant industry in the twentieth century, but those conveniences were not inventions or innovations of that era. Such services were already in place in the colonies prior to the American Revolution.

September 17

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

Sep 17 - 9:14:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 17, 1769).

“As cheap … as he did before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”

According to an advertisement he inserted in the September 14, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal, Peter T. Curtenius sold a vast assortment of merchandise at his shop “At the Sign of the Golden Anvil.” He listed an array of textiles, accessories, and accouterments among “many other Articles in the Dry-Good Way,” but he also stocked housewares, hardware, and even a few books and grocery items. In many ways, his lengthy list of the wares he made available resembled other advertisements emphasizing consumer choice that had been running in American newspapers for the better part of two decades.

Yet Curtenius’s advertisement was also the product of a particular moment. It opened and closed with a nod to the politics of the period. In 1769 New Yorkers, like many other colonists, participated in a nonimportation agreement as an economic protest against the taxes levied on imported paper, tea, glass, and other items by the Townshend Acts. Before he even described his inventory to prospective customers, Curtenius pledged that he set prices “as cheap … as he did before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.” In other words, the shopkeeper did not take advantage of the situation to engage in price gouging. Curtenius suggested that as supply of imported goods dwindled that colonists could expect prices to rise, but he pledged to shield his customers from that aspect of the market. This may not have been solely an altruistic sacrifice on his part if he happened to have surplus goods in stock and welcomed an opportunity to rid himself of merchandise that had been taking too long to sell before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.

Curtenius concluded his advertisement with a list of “Goods made at the New-York Air Furnace,” including pots, kettles, and stoves of various sorts. As an alternative to importing goods from Britain, discontented colonists embraced “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies. Instead of consuming imported wares, they encouraged the conspicuous consumption of items made locally. The proprietors of the New-York Air Furnace frequently advertised their products, as did shopkeepers like Curtenius who intermixed politics and commerce. Curtenius assured prospective customers of the quality of the items produced at the New-York Air Furnace, asserting that the hammers in particular “have been found on Proof, to be superior to English Hammers.”

At a glance, the format of Curtenius’s advertisement did not look different from others that regularly appeared in the New-York Journal and other newspapers published throughout the colonies. On closer inspection, however, colonists discovered that Curtenius engaged with the politics of the imperial crisis as a means of marketing his merchandise. He promised that he did not inflate his prices while simultaneously offering consumers alternatives to some of the items they previously imported.