September 16

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

New-York Journal (September 13, 1770).

“The best Clubs, and the greatest Entertainments in this City, were at the above Tavern.”

Samuel Fraunces was one of the most illustrious tavernkeepers of his day.  His fame continues into the twenty-first century, due in part to the quality of the services he provided to guests in eighteenth-century America and in part to the continued operation of Fraunces Tavern as a restaurant and museum at the corner of Pearl Street and Broad Street in New York.  Fraunces advertised the various taverns he operated in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  More than a decade later, he hosted George Washington’s farewell to his officers at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

Fraunces ran an advertisement in the September 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal to announce the opening of his newest venture, the “QUEEN’s-HEAD TAVERN, Near the Exchange.”  He attempted to downplay the necessity of placing an advertisement even as he promoted the various services and amenities available at his tavern.  He emphasized that during his “many Years” of operating a tavern “the best Clubs” met at his establishment and experienced “the greatest Entertainments.”  Given the reputation he had built, Fraunces “flatters himself the Public are so well satisfied of his Ability to serve them, as to render the swelling of an Advertisement useless.”  Its only purpose, he declared, was to “assure his former Friends and the Public in general, that every Endeavour will be used to give them the highest Satisfaction.”

Yet other “swelling” embellished Fraunces’s advertisement as he attempted to attract patrons.  He noted renovations taking place; the tavern was “now fitting up in the most genteel and convenient Manner.”  He also inserted a nota bene to inform prospective customers that he provided take-out and delivery options for those “who live at a convenient Distance.”  Fraunces concluded with a manicule directing attention to a short note explaining that the “House at the Gardens will be duly attended as usual.”  He referred to another venture that he operated simultaneously, Vauxhall Garden, a restaurant, tavern, and pleasure garden named after the popular site in London.

Fraunces had indeed established his reputation as restaurateur and tavernkeeper before opening the Queen’s Head Tavern in the fall of 1770, yet he did not consider his past success sufficient for attracting patrons to his new enterprise.  Instead, he inserted an advertisement to spread the word about his newest venture, amplifying his reputation in the process.

September 9

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

New-York Journal (September 6, 1770).

“PETER VIANY.  CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing.”

Peter Vianey taught dancing and fencing in New York in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  To attract students, he periodically placed newspaper advertisements in the New-York Journal.  His advertisements often appeared in September in advance of a new season of lessons to commence at his “public Dancing School” in October, though he placed notices on other occasions as well.  For prospective pupils who desired more personalized attention (or who were anxious about others potentially seeing them in awkward positions as they worked to master the steps), he also taught “Ladies and Gentleman in private either at his School or at their own Houses.”

Vianey inserted a relatively short advertisement into the September 6, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  His statement that he “CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing” suggests that he expected that many residents of New York were already familiar with his services.  It was a very different tone than he took two years earlier when his advertisement included a short introduction and three additional paragraphs.  The first announced the opening of his school in October, described the dances he taught, listed his fees, and offered private lessons.  The second emphasized the quality of instruction.  Vianey proclaimed that he taught “in the Style of the best Masters in Europe.”  His methods were so effective that the results were already “discoverable in his Scholars” even though “none of them have yet had Time to be perfected in their Minuets.”  It was the final paragraph, however, that was the most important.  In it, Vianey addressed gossip and a case of mistaken identity.  “Having been informed,” he stated, “that he has been mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago, he takes Liberty to inform those who are acquainted with him, that he never was in this Country, till the Year 1764.”  He further asserted that “all who know him” could “testify that his Conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.”  Vianey sought to manage his reputation in the wake of reports that confused him with another dancing master.  Given that teaching dancing often required being in close physical proximity with his students, even touching them as they danced together and he demonstrated the steps, Vianey needed to establish that he was beyond reproach in order to protect his livelihood.

Apparently, Vianey successfully rehabilitated his reputation after placing his advertisement in 1768.  In subsequent advertisements, including the one placed in advance of a new season of lessons starting in October 1770, he did not mention further difficulties, nor was it in his interest to remind readers of gossip he wished to put behind him.  That he continued to reside in New York, offer lessons, and place advertisements testified to his success in overcoming the gossip and suspicions directed at him.

August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:23:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 23, 1770).

“Two Negro Men, supposed to have gone off in Company.”

Two Black men, known to their enslavers as Boston and Newport, liberated themselves in the summer of 1770.  They escaped from Isaac Coit and Robert Kinsman of Plainfield, Connecticut, during the night of August 8.  Coit and Kinsman, in turn, immediately set about placing newspaper advertisements describing Boston and Newport and offering rewards in hopes of enlisting other colonists in capturing the Black men and returning them to enslavement.  Unlike most enslavers who placed such advertisements in a single newspaper or multiple newspapers in a single city, Coit and Kinsman broadened the scope of their surveillance and recovery efforts by inserting advertisements in five newspapers published in five cities and towns in four colonies.  In addition to the reward they offered, they made an investment in advertisements that ran in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, the New-London Gazette, the New-York Journal, and the Providence Gazette.

Although similar, these advertisements were not identical.  The variations tell a more complete story of the escape devised by Boston and Newport.  Consider the notice that ran in the New-London Gazette.  Dated August 9 (first appearing in the August 10 edition) and signed by Coit, it featured Boston only, describing him as “a stout, thick-set fellow, of middling stature, about 30 years old, very black.”  It was the only advertisement that included a visual image, a crude woodcut of a Black person in motion, wearing a grass skirt and carrying a staff, an “R” for runaway on the chest.  Another advertisement dated August 9 ran in the New-York Journal, but that one included the descriptions of both Boston and Newport.  It did not appear until August 23, likely due to the time it took for the copy to arrive in the printing office in New York from Plainfield.  An undated advertisement with almost identical copy also ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on August 18, likely dispatched to the printing office at the same time as the one sent to New York.  Coit and Kinsman both signed it.  They noted in the final paragraph that “Said Negroes have Passes, and if apprehended, ‘tis requested the Passes may be secured for the Benefit of their Masters.”  Quite likely Coit sent the copy for his advertisement concerning Boston to the New-London Gazette, the newspaper closest to Plainfield, prior to discovering that Newport liberated himself from Kinsman.  When the enslavers realized that Boston and Newport liberated themselves on the same night, they collaborated on new advertisements with a narrative updated from what ran in the New-London Gazette.  The new version stated that Boston and Newport were suspected “to have gone off in Company,” a conspiracy to free themselves.  Determining that they had passes may have caused Coit and Kinsman to widen the scope of their efforts by publishing in multiple newspapers in New England and New York, realizing that the passes increased the mobility and chances of escape for Boston and Newport.

Two other advertisements, those that ran in the Connecticut Courant and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, had identical copy.  They included short descriptions of Boston and Newport, signed by Coit and Kinsman.  In a nota bene, they declared, “It is suspected said Negroes have got a forg’d Pass.”  These advertisements were both dated August 10.  The notice in the Hartford newspaper first appeared on August 13 and in the Boston newspaper on August 16.  As the enslavers fretted about Boston and Newport having better prospects for making good on their escape thanks to the passes, they likely determined that they needed to place notices in additional newspapers.  Doing so amounted to an effort to recruit more colonists to participate in the surveillance of Black men to determine whether they might be Boston or Newport.

Advertisements for enslaved men and women who liberated themselves appeared in American newspapers just about every day in the era of the American Revolution.  The advertisements concerning Boston and Newport were not unique in their content or purpose.  What made them extraordinary was the geographic scope of the newspapers in which they appeared and the effort and expense undertaken by the enslavers Coit and Kinsman.  They marshalled the power of the press across a vast region in their attempt to return Boston and Newport to bondage.

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:23:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 23, 1770).

“WATCHES REPAIR’D by J. SIMNETT.”

Near the end of the summer of 1770, watchmaker John Simnet went quiet in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  In late June and early July, he placed a series of advertisements attacking his competitor and rival Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  That other watchmaker sometimes responded to Simnet’s taunts in the public prints, but he chose to leave the most recent tirade unanswered.  It seemed that Simnet had the last word in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

A very public feud that played out in a series of advertisements over the course of a year and a half in the New-Hampshire Gazette came to an end when Simnet relocated to New York and began placing advertisements for his services there.  His first advertisement in his new city ran in the August 23, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  In the largest font that appeared anywhere in the issue (including the masthead) he called attention to the “WATCHES” that he “REPAIR’D in a perfect and durable manner, with expedition, at an easy expence, and kept in good order, for 2s6 sterling per year.”

Simnet also gave his current location and described himself as an “original maker from London,” attempting to take advantage of the cachet associated with training and working in the largest city in the empire.  He did not mention that he had not arrived directly from London but had instead spent the last eighteen months in New Hampshire, nor did he proclaim that his skills were superior to those of any of his competitors in New York.  He frequently made such pronouncements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, targeting watchmakers in that colony in particular.  If prospective customers wished to assume that Simnet was indeed more skilled because he was “an original maker from London,” they were free to do so, but perhaps the sharp-tongued Simnet had learned a lesson during his interactions with Griffith in New Hampshire and opted to cultivate a different persona in the public prints in New York.  Only time would tell.  After all, his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette initially took a neutral tone but became increasingly abusive toward another watchmaker over time.

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 8:2:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 2, 1770).

“A Parcel of young healthy NEW NEGROES.”

A woodcut that crudely depicted four figures, presumably enslaved men, women, and children, adorned an advertisement in the August 2, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  One of the few visual images in that issue, the woodcut likely drew attention to the advertisement, despite its shortcomings.  Its presence in the New-York Journal testifies to the presence of enslaved people and the operations of the transatlantic slave trade in New York in the era of the American Revolution.  Colonists encountered enslaved people as they went about their daily activities in the busy port.  They also encountered representations of enslaved people in the public prints as well as an even greater number of notices about enslaved people that consisted entirely of text.  John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal and an enslaver himself, aided in perpetuating slavery in America and the transatlantic slave trade by publishing advertisements offering enslaved people for sale and notices promising rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves.

The advertisement featuring the woodcut announced the arrival of “NEW NEGROES” in the colony.  Comprised of “Men, Women, Boys, and Girls” ranging in age from ten to twenty-two, these “NEW NEGROES” arrived in New York directly from Africa.  The advertisement did not indicate where in Africa, nor did it specify how many enslaved men, women, and children survived the Middle Passage.  The Slave Voyages database estimates that this “Parcel of young healthy NEW NEGROES” consisted of 103 enslaved people who made it to New York.  (See Voyage #37023.)  An estimated fifteen died during the transatlantic crossing, but such advertisements never revealed that information.  Instead, they focused solely on assuring prospective buyers that the people they treated as commodities were indeed “healthy” and thus a sound investment.

According to the Slave Voyages database, three vessels transported an estimated 376 enslaved people to New York in 1770.  The brigantine Elliot featured in this advertisement was just one of those vessels.  The advertisement placed in the New-York Journal at the culmination of the Elliot’s voyage represented only a fraction of the slave trade undertaken in New York at the time.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:12:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 12, 1770).

“Hear of good Encouragement, by applying to the Printer at the Exchange.”

By the late 1760s, entrepreneurial colonists established and advertised “intelligence offices” in Boston and New York.  The brokers who operated those establishments provided a variety of services for their clients.  They introduced merchants and traders seeking to buy and sell commodities.  They conducted real estate transactions.  They also facilitated sales of indentured servants and enslaved people in addition to aiding employers seeking workers.  Brokers made matches in the marketplace.

Yet their occupation was not unique in that regard.  Printing offices served as intelligence offices by another name.  Throughout the eighteenth century, advertisements often concluded with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.  Consider some of the advertisements that appeared in the July 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  One short notice offered a young enslaved woman for sale, but offered little detail beyond her age and a promise that she “can be well recommended.”  The advertisement did not identify the enslaver; instead, it concluded with the familiar refrain, “Enquire of the Printer.”  Another advertisement offered employment opportunities for men willing to migrate to Virginia.  The anonymous advertiser sought a “Sober single Man, of a good Character, who understand the Smith’s Business” and “a single Man of like Character, who understands the tending and Management of a Merchant’s Mill.” Candidates could learn more “by applying to the Printer at the Exchange.”  According to the colophon, John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, ran his office “near the Exchange, in Broad-Street.”

Printing offices were hubs for collecting and circulating information in eighteenth-century America.  Printers disseminated some information via newspapers, but advertisements in those publications often hinted at far more information that did not appear in print.  By visiting or sending notes to printers, readers could learn more about job opportunities and commodities, real estate, indentured servants, and enslaved people for sale.  Newspaper advertisements reveal how frequently printers acted as brokers as one of the many facets of their occupation.

May 20

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

May 20 - 5:17:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 17, 1770).

“Their ware is equal if not superior to any made in America or imported.”

Odgens, Laight, and Company, proprietors of the Vesuvius Air Furnace in Newark, New Jersey, placed an advertisement in the May 17, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal to inform prospective customers that they produced and sold “all kinds of hollow ware, and other castings.”  Their inventory included forge hammers and anvils, pots, kettles, griddles, “iron stoves for work-shops and ships cabins,” and a variety of other items.  Descriptions of some of their wares testified to their quality, such as “jamb and hearth plates neatly fitting each other,” yet Odgens, Laight, and Company made more extensive appeals to quality as well.

The partners proclaimed that “their metal is of the best quality” and underscored that “the construction of their furnace” as well as “manner of working and moulding” was “the most improved.”  Accordingly, they could claim that the items they manufactured at the Vesuvius Air Furnace were “equal if not superior to any made in America or imported.”  The comparison to imported goods held particular significance.  As colonists adopted nonimportation agreements to protest duties on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea that Parliament levied via the Townshend Acts, they also advocated supporting “domestic manufactures” as an alternate means of acquiring goods they needed and desired.  Even though colonists declared their support for goods made in the colonies, newspaper advertisements suggest that consumers experienced some skepticism that those goods matched imported wares in terms of quality.  Artisans and other who promoted domestic manufactures in the late 1760s and early 1770s frequently reassured prospective customers that they would not have to sacrifice quality in service to following their political principles.  In addition to asserting that their wares were “equal if not superior” to imported goods, Ogdens, Laight, and Company singled out their hammers and anvils, explaining that “the metal … is excellently well tempered, and found on repeated trials to be in general superior English hammers.”  They did not elaborate on who conducted those “repeated trials.”  That claim echoed marketing strategies frequently invoked by other artisans:  proclaiming that others with specialized knowledge of the product vouched for it.

Ogdens, Laight, and Company offered consumers an opportunity to demonstrate their support for the American colonies in their altercation with Parliament by purchasing goods made in the colonies rather than imported from England.  In so doing, they joined other advertisers in the New-York Journal and throughout the colonies who offered domestic manufactures to prospective customers.  The appeals they made in their advertisements resonated with the news that appeared elsewhere in the newspapers.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:10:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 10, 1770).

Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China.”

Like many other colonial shopkeepers, George Ball published an extensive list of his merchandise in an advertisement he placed in the May 10, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  Most advertisers who resorted to similar lists grouped all of their wares together into dense paragraphs of text.  A smaller number, like Ball, used graphic design to aid prospective customers in differentiating among their goods as they perused their advertisements.  Ball formatted his advertisement in columns with only one, two, or three items per line, just as Abeel and Byvanck, John Keating, and Jarvis Roebuck did elsewhere in the same issue.  Ball, however, instituted a further refinement that distinguished his notice from the others.  He cataloged his merchandise and inserted headers for the benefit of consumers.

Ball offered several categories of merchandise:  “Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China,” “Brown China,” “White China,” “White Stone Ware,” “Delph Ware,” “Plain Glass Ware,” “Flower’d Glass,” “Iron Ware from England,” and “Queen Pattern Lamps.”  These headers appeared in italics and centered within their respective columns to set them apart from the rest of the list.  The goods that followed them elaborated on what Ball had in stock, allowing prospective customers to more easily locate items of interest or simply assess the range of goods Ball offered for sale.  His method could have benefited from further refinement.  The items that followed “Queen Pattern Lamps” were actually a miscellany that did not belong in any of the other categories.  Ball might have opted for “Other Goods” as a header instead.  Still, his attempt to catalog his merchandise at all constituted an innovation over the methods of other advertisers.

In most instances, eighteenth-century advertisers submitted copy and compositors determined the layout.  However, advertisements broken into columns suggest some level of consultation between advertisers and compositors, at the very least a request or simple instructions from one to the other.  Ball’s advertisement likely required an even greater degree of collaboration between advertiser and compositor.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:26:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 26, 1770).

“Horn combs, and ivory fine teeth’d ditto.”

Nicholas Bogart sold an assortment of goods at his shop “In the Broad-Way” in New York.  He listed many of them in an advertisement that ran in the April 26, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  His inventory included “Worsted and leather womens mits,” “Broad-cloths of various colours and prices,” “A variety of Dutch books for teaching children,” and “Knee garters, various colours.”  He stocked and sold such an array of merchandise that it demanded cataloging in detail in order for prospective customers to realize the full extent.

Yet Bogart did not merely list his wares.  He deployed rudimentary graphic design principles to make them easier for readers to peruse, dividing his advertisement into two columns and mentioning only one, two, or three items on each line.  When more than one item appeared on a line, they were all related to each other.  When a category of items overflowed onto the next line, the second line was usually indented.  In comparison, most merchants and shopkeepers who enumerated dozens of items did so in dense paragraphs.  Such was the case in James Beekman’s advertisement on the same page as Bogart’s notice.  Beekman included a similar number of items, but clustered them together in a manner that required more effort to read.  As a result, Beekman’s advertisement took up only about half the space of Bogart’s.  According to the colophon at the bottom of the page, advertisers paid by the amount of space that their notices occupied, not by the number of words.  That meant that Bogart paid twice as much as Beekman even though they listed a similar number of items.

Bogart was not alone in incorporating columns into his advertisement.  Immediately above Bogart’s notice, John Keating also used columns.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Abeel and Byvanck used columns to organize their “considerable Assortment of Ironmongery and Cutlery.”  Advertisers knew that this option was available to them on request, though the dense paragraph was the default format.  The more attractive option required a greater investment, but some advertisers apparently believed they would benefit from a greater return on that investment if they made it easier for prospective customers to engage with the extensive lists of merchandise they published in newspaper notices.

April 19

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

Apr 19 - 4:19:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 19, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD … the Sign, Counters, Shelves and Drawers, and all the Shop Utensils.”

For a while, Mrs. Willett kept the shop formerly operated by her deceased husband, Thomas Charles, open.  An advertisement that listed an extensive assortment of merchandise ran in the February 22, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  It also included a note that “The business is carried on as usual,” implicitly acknowledging the death of Willett’s husband.  Two months later, however, Willett closed down the entire enterprise and prepared to sail for Europe.  She placed another advertisement in the New-York Journal in April, that one calling on “All Persons who have any Demands on the said Thomas C. Willett” to present them for payment and “those few Customers” who had not yet settled accounts to do so before she departed.  She also warned that anyone who left “Rings, Buttons, Linen,” or other goods as collateral would forfeit them if they did not pay their debts.

In addition to settling accounts, Willett also announced an eighteenth-century version of a going out of business sale.  She aimed to get rid of everything.  In addition to selling her personal belongings, she also sold the remaining inventory of the shop “at first COST.”  Consumers might have found bargains, but Willett likely hoped to attract a buyer with an entrepreneurial spirit who also wished to acquire “the Sign, Counters, Shelves and Drawers, and all the Shop Utensils” necessary to set up business.  In the absence of many contemporary visual images of the interiors of shops in eighteenth-century America, Willett’s list conjures scenes of consumption.

It also reveals that visual images associated with particular merchants and shopkeepers could be transferred from one to another.  Willett did not invoke the name of the shop sign in either advertisement she placed in the New-York Journal, but she did consider it important enough to include (and list first) among the various equipment associated with the business.  In the April 19 edition, her advertisement appeared on the same page as one of Gerardus Duyckinck’s notices featuring an elaborate woodcut that incorporated a depiction of his “Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.”  Over the course of several years, the Looking Glass and Druggist Pot most certainly became associated with Duyckinck’s business among residents of New York.  It served as a logo of sorts that made for easy identification of his business.  Even without a similar constant reiteration in the public prints, the sign marking the Willett shop most likely became similarly recognizable to colonists who traversed the streets of the busy port.  Willett did not name the sign associated with her shop, but she considered it a valuable enough marketing tool to include among the fixtures available for purchase.  The image would no longer be affiliated with the Willett family; instead, it would come to represent another enterprise in New York’s marketplace.