August 11

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

Aug 11 - 8:11:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 11, 1768).

“John Sloan, my Apprentice, has lately misbehaved.”

Advertisements for unfree laborers who ran away – indentured servants, slaves, apprentices – comprised one of the most common genres of paid notices inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers. Such advertisements appeared in newspapers printed and distributed throughout the colonies on August 11, 1768. Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, for instance, included two advertisements for runaway slaves, one concerning “a Negro Man partly Molatto named Primus” and the other “a Negro Man named Caesar.” Both advertisements offered rewards for the capture and return of the fugitive slaves. Fifteen advertisements for runaways – two for indentured servants, two for slaves, and eleven for indentured servants – appeared on the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, its supplement, and a one-page postscript. Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette carried four advertisements for runaway slaves. The main competitor, Rind’s Virginia Gazette, had twice as many advertisement, seven for slaves and another for am “English convict servant.” The New-York Journal continued publishing an advertisement for “a Welch servant man named William Walters” and another for “an Apprentice Lad, named Jacob Horsen, by Trade a Blacksmith.”

The New-York Journal carried another advertisement about an unruly apprentice, an advertisement preemptively placed in anticipation that he would attempt to run away from his master. James Sloan explained that his apprentice, John Sloan, “has lately misbehaved” and “threatened to leave.” Expecting that apprentice Sloan would attempt to make his escape imminently, master Sloan warned that “no Person will entertain, harbour, conceal, or carry off the said Apprentice, as they will answer it at their Peril.” Aggrieved masters frequently threatened legal action against anyone who aided runaways. The master also offered a reward for his apprentice’s capture and return even before he run away. James Sloan was sufficiently certain that his apprentice would make the attempt that he paid five shillings to have a notice inserted in the New-York Journal for four weeks. He may have considered this a less expensive option than waiting for apprentice Sloan to depart, especially if brought the advertisement to the apprentice’s attention. Knowledge of the advertisement and the increased surveillance directed at the apprentice may have been a preventative measure that forestalled flight from his master.

Throughout the colonies printers generated revenues by selling advertisements for unfree laborers who ran away from their masters. In this case, James Sloan adapted those familiar advertisements, devising a notice that warned of the possibility that his apprentice might attempt to flee. As the apprentice asserted his own agency by misbehaving and threatening to run away, the master sought to harness the power of the press in his efforts to manage and control a disorderly apprentice.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 4, 1768).

“All those who choose to continue taking the said Whig Papers … let the Printer know.”

Many American printers resorted to subscription notices to assess interest and incite demand for books and other items they considered publishing, but John Holt, publisher of the New-York Journal, experimented with another means of attracting customers for one of his projects. He offered a premium to those who subscribed to his newspaper. As Holt explained in an advertisement inserted in the August 4, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, he had been republishing “Half a Sheet weekly of the Papers called the American Whig, and others relating to that Controversy.” The “Controversy” referred to “the Residence of Protestant Bishops in the American Colonies.” Holt distributed the first twenty-six half sheets gratis to those who already subscribed to the New-York Journal, but he expected interested readers to subscribe to subsequent half sheets from the American Whig series. He established a subscription rate of “one Dollar for every Fifty-two Half Sheets” in addition to the usual subscription fees for the New-York Journal. Holt instructed those who wished to continue receiving the American Whig supplements to “let the Printer know it in Time, otherwise no more than the said Twenty-six Papers will be sent.”

In terms of generating content for the American Whig, Holt adapted the standard practice that printers throughout the colonies used to fill the pages of their newspapers. They participated in networks of exchange, receiving newspapers from near and far and reprinting items previously published elsewhere. This method gathered and distributed all sorts of news, but Holt suspected that some readers might be interested in creating and preserving a volume devoted specifically to the controversy over Protestant bishops. To that end, the additional half sheets featured only reprinted items relevant to that debate, published separately “for the Conveniency of binding” into a book upon collecting sufficient number. Although Holt reported that he undertook this project “at the Desire of many of his Subscribers,” his initial widespread distribution of the free half sheets combined with his notice calling for subscribers to commit to paying for subsequent items in the series demonstrates that he hoped to enlarge the number of customers who purchased the American Whig. He used the free issues as a tool for enticing subscriptions for publishing a book.

Innovative as this marketing strategy may have been, it seems to have fallen short of Holt’s goals for attracting subscribers. He issued enough half sheets for two volumes, the first drawn from the original twenty-six distributed gratis and the second consisting of the subscription series, but a proposed third volume never went to press. Through his various advertising efforts, Holt managed to generate sufficient interest to sustain the project beyond its initial stages, but not enough to continue it for as long as he intended.

July 14

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

Jul 14 - 7:14:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 14, 1768).

“Ready Money for clean Linen Rags.”

When John Keating placed an advertisement for the New-York Paper Manufactory in the July 14, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, he did not merely seek customers. Instead, he sought supplies, rags in particular, necessary for the functioning of his enterprise. Throughout the colonies, newspaper readers frequently encountered calls for rags. Printers often inserted brief, generic notices that requested readers submit clean rags that could be made into paper. In the second half of the 1760s, in the wake of the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, the calls for rags became lengthier and more elaborate, especially as the proprietors of the New-York Paper Manufactory and its counterparts in other colonies linked economic and political purposes to the formerly mundane process of collecting rags for paper production.

Keating made the stakes clear when he addressed “All those who have the Welfare of the Country at Heart.” Rather than think of linen rags as useless or contemplate the small sums they might yield in trade, he insisted that readers consider “the Benefit which will accrue to the Public in general if the Manufactory is supplied with Rags.” Increasing the volume of paper produced locally would reduce dependence on imports. Turning over rags to Keating and the New-York Paper Manufactory would “enable us to make a sufficient Quantity of Paper for our own Consumption, and by this Means keep in the Province the Sums of Money, which is annually remitted for this single Commodity.” In other words, colonists sent too much of their money to England, never to see it again due to an imbalance in trade, when they purchased paper that could otherwise be produced locally. In addition, the New-York Paper Manufactory created jobs: “by manufacturing of it here, Numbers of poor People are daily employ’d.” Overall, supporting the New-York Paper Manufactory amounted to an expression “of public Utility.”

John Keating was part of an incipient “Buy American” campaign that emerged in the 1760s and increasingly found expression in newspaper advertisements as the imperial crisis intensified. Just as consumption practices took on political valences, so too did some of the most mundane of daily activities, such as the decision to save rags for “the Welfare of the Country” rather than discard them.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:7:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 7, 1768).

“MARY PHILIPS, Has just imported … A Large and neat Assortment of MILLENARY.”

Mary Philips was certainly not the only female shopkeeper in New York in 1768, but she was the only woman who advertised consumer goods in the July 7, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal and its two-page supplement. Numerous male merchants and shopkeepers advertised imported goods, including Henry C. Bogart, Isaac Noble, Thomas Charles Willet, John Morton, Isaac Low, William Seton, and John Hawkins. Even when taking into consideration that male shopkeepers outnumbered female shopkeepers in eighteenth-century America, women who sold consumer goods were still disproportionately underrepresented in newspaper advertisements in the largest urban ports, especially New York and Philadelphia. Women comprised a significant minority of shopkeepers in those cities, as much as one-quarter to one-third or more, yet even though they participated in the marketplace as retailers rather than consumers they opted not to promote such enterprises in the public prints.

That is not to say that women did not advertise at all. Many women did – and did so quite extensively, with advertisements that usually resembled those placed by their male counterparts or, on occasion, exceeded their efforts. Mary Philips’s advertisement fell into the first category. She incorporated several popular appeals into her advertisement for “A large and neat Assortment of MILLENARY and new fancied Goods to the newest Fashion and genteelest Taste.” With a few well-chosen phrases, she made appeals to fashion and consumer choice. Unlike her male counterparts who inserted advertisements in the July 7 issue, she did not list any of her merchandise. Instead, she advised that her inventory was “too tedious to mention.” Shopkeepers of both sexes sometimes resorted to this strategy. This method also evoked consumer choice and challenged prospective customers to imagine what might be available, but also required less investment in advertising fees since such notices occupied less space on the page. While Philips’s choices for her advertisement replicated those sometimes made by her male counterparts, they still seem striking when compared to the other advertisements for consumer goods in the same issue of the New-York Journal. She was the only shopkeeper who opted not to provide even a short list, making her advertisement even less visible than those of her male counterparts.

Other women did place advertisements in that issue, though they advertised services rather than goods. Mrs. Hogan and Mrs. Gray announced plans “to open a School for the general Education of young Ladies” and Mrs. Johnston advised readers that she now operated “a Publick House of Entertainment” at “the Sign of the Duke of Rutland, in Elizabeth-Town.” Other advertisements concerned women, including two for runaway wives and one selling an indentured servant. Still, the pages of the newspaper disguised the extent that women like Mary Philips participated in the colonial marketplace as retailers rather than merely as consumers.

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (July 9, 1768).

“Doubts not to give full Satisfaction to all Gentlemen who please to employ him.”

In the process of announcing that he had moved his workshop to a new location, John Forrest, a tailor, traded on his reputation to attract an even larger clientele. For those who either had not yet employed him or were not yet familiar with his work, he trumpeted “his well known Ability in his Profession,” signaling to “the Public in general” and, especially, “Any Gentleman in City or Army” that they could depend on being well served at his shop.

Forrest pledged “to give full Satisfaction to all Gentlemen who please to employ him.” Yet he did not make general promises. Instead, he explained the various details that he considered essential in achieving customer satisfaction. This began with employing a skilled staff, “the best of Workmen.” He also adhered to deadlines and did not make promises he could not keep when setting dates for completing the garments he made or repaired. Exercising “particular Care that his Work shall be done to the Time limited” further enhanced his reputation since disgruntled clients would not have cause to express their frustration or disappointment on that count when discussing his services with other prospective customers.

At the same time, Forrest sidestepped any suggestions that work done on time might also be work done hastily. He advanced a bold claim about the quality of the garments produced in his shop; they were made “as well and neat as in any Part of Europe.” The tailor did not make comparisons to his competitors in the busy port or to his counterparts in the largest cities in the colonies. Instead, he made a much more expansive claim, one he hoped would resonate with both military officers and the local gentry. Among other markers of status, both constituencies depended on impeccable tailoring to distinguish them as the better sort.

Forrest aimed to please. He informed prospective clients that they “may have laced Work done in any Figure or Taste they please.” Along with his talented staff, his faithfulness to deadlines, and the superior quality of his work, he depicted customer satisfaction as his first priority. Such devotion to his clients may have produced the reputation he invoked in his advertisement, “his well known Ability in his Profession.”

July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (July 7, 1768).

“A fresh and complete assortment of the following goods, in the greatest variety and newest patterns.”

“WILLIAMS’s STORE, In Broad-Street, New-York, near the Exchange, facing the house of his Excellency Gen. GAGE” was so well know, or so the proprietor hoped to assert, that he did not need to list his full name in an advertisement that appeared in the supplement that accompanied the July 7, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Confident that readers already knew something of “WILLIAMS’s STORE” by reputation, the proprietor focused his efforts on enticing potential customers to visit his establishment.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Williams devoted much of his advertisement to tantalizing consumers with a list of items from among his “fresh and complete assortment” or goods. He specialized in textiles, everything from “printed cottons and chintz for gowns and furnitures” to “Irish linens of all breadths and prices” to “Manchester velvets” to “Scotch oznaburghs.” Yet Williams did more than present a list of fabrics to capture the imagination. He also provided guidance for prospective customers before they even began navigating the list of textiles available at his store. He prompted them to associate terms like “greatest variety” and “newest patterns” with his merchandise. Even as readers imagined some aspects of his inventory, they could not do it justice since that “greatest variety” of “newest patterns” had arrived in New York “in the last ships.” This “fresh and complete assortment” required examination in person.

Williams further extended this invitation with a challenge to prospective customers to assess his prices. He declared that he charged “such prices as will, on inspection, convince all who understand goods, of his ability, and inclination not to be undersold.” He offered such bargains that his prices could not be beat by any of his competitors, but potential customers needed to visit his shop to confirm this themselves. He confidently proclaimed that their inspection of both his prices and his merchandise would satisfy customers.

Williams did not rely solely on an impressive list of imported textiles to coax consumers to visit his store. He presented the list to spark their imaginations, but he also sought to guide their musings with implicit instructions about how to read the list. He primed prospective customers to think about how they could acquire the “newest patterns” at the lowest prices. In the process, he invited readers to visit his store so they could experience even more pleasures – examine more patterns – than their imaginations could conjure.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 23, 1768).

“Young ladies and growing misses inclined to casts or rises in the hips or shoulders, he likewise prevents.”

Richard Norris, a “Stay-Maker, FROM LONDON,” followed many of the usual conventions in the advertisement he placed in the June 23, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, but he also included one significant innovation. After informing prospective clients of the variety of stays and other garments he made, he also noted that “Any ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any Incumberances.” Furthermore, “Young ladies and growing misses inclined to casts or rises in the hips or shoulders, he likewise prevents by methods approved of by the society of stay-makers in London.” Staymakers regularly offered implicit commentary about women’s appearances in their advertisements, but Norris explicitly named reasons that women might feel uncomfortable about their bodies. He purposefully attempted to induce anxiety about their physical features among female readers as a means of attracting clients.

He gave priority to that marketing strategy before turning to more common appeals made by staymakers and others in the garment trades. He asserted that he produced apparel as fashionable as any currently worn in London, rather than lagging behind the styles en vogue in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Prospective patrons could be confident this was the case because Norris “acquires the first fashions of the court of London by a correspondent he has settled there.” Norris realized some sort of research was necessary and cultivated a relationship to make sure he received the most current information about the fashions currently popular among the most influential women in England. In addition, he had previously served prominent women of taste, having “had the honour of working for several ladies of distinction both in England and in this city.” Not only had he made stays and other garments for the elite, his efforts had earned him “universal applause” among his clients.

Like many artisans, Norris emphasized skill and quality in addition to his extensive experience. He pledged that he made garments “after the neatest and best manner,” but in addition to invoking that familiar phrase he proclaimed “his work preferable to any done in these parts for neatness and true fitting.” In other words, Norris considered himself the best staymaker in New York – and encouraged readers of the New-York Journal to adopt that attitude as well.

Norris combined several common appeals with an innovative marketing strategy designed to cause or enhance uneasiness among women by explicitly mentioning various qualities of their bodies. He offered the standard appeals as a remedy to those concerns. Like many modern advertisers, especially advertisers of products intended primarily for women, he attempted to create anxiety among prospective customers and then conveniently provided consumption of his goods and services as the remedy.