February 18

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

Feb 18 - 2:18:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 18, 1768).

“All those that really have the Welfare of their Country at Heart, are desired to consider seriously, the Importance of a Paper Manufactory to this Government.”

The Townshend Act assessed new taxes on all sorts of imported paper. When it went into effect on November 20, 1767, many colonists vowed to encourage and purchase domestic manufactures, especially paper, as a means of resisting Parliament overreaching its authority. Calls for colonists to collect linen rags and turn them over to local papermakers, not uncommon before the Townshend Act, took on a new tone once the legislation went into effect.

The “Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton” in Massachusetts placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette in late November 1767. In it, they addressed “All Persons dispos’d in this Wat to encourage so useful a Manufacture.” The “Manufacturers” aimed to collect enough rags quickly enough to replenish the “large Quantities of Paper” that “fortunately arriv’d from Europe before the Duties could be demanded.” Ultimately, the “Manufacturers” wished to produce so much paper that colonists would never have to purchase imported paper again (and thus avoid paying the new taxes), but that required the cooperation of consumers participating in the production process by saving their rags for that purpose.

In January 1768, Christopher Leffingwell placed a similar advertisement in the New-London Gazette. He issued a call for “CLEAN LINEN RAGS” to residents of Connecticut, calling collection of the castoffs “an entire Saving to the COUNTRY.” He encouraged “every Friend and Lover” of America to do their part, no matter how small. Leffingwell suggested that producing paper locally benefited the entire colony; the economy benefited by keeping funds within the colony rather than remitting them across the ocean as new taxes. With the assistance of colonists who collected rags, Leffingwell could “supply them with as good Paper as is imported from Abroad, and as cheap.”

John Keating joined this chorus in February 1768. In an advertisement in the New-York Journal he even more explicitly linked the production and consumption of paper to the current political situation than Leffingwell or the “Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton.” He opened his notice by proclaiming, “All those that really have the Welfare of their Country at Heart, are desired to consider seriously, the Importance of a Paper Manufactory to this Government.” Purchasing paper made in America represented a double savings: first on the cost of imported paper and then by avoiding “a most arbitrary and oppressive Duty” that “further drain’d” the colony of funds that would never return.

Keating acknowledged that collecting rags might seem small and inconsequential, yet he assured colonists that collectively their efforts would yield significant results. He recommended that they cultivate a habit of setting aside their rags by hanging a small scrap in a visible place “in every House” as a reminder. Readers who followed that advice transformed domestic spaces into political venues; otherwise mundane actions took on political meaning as both members of the household and visitors noticed clean linen rags hung as reminders to encourage domestic production and consumption. In the end, Keating predicted that this “would have the desired Effect, and supply us with Paper at home sufficient for our own Use … whereas now we are obliged to send Money abroad, not only to pay for Paper at a high Price, but an oppressive Duty upon it into the Bargain.” Keating not only advanced a “Buy American” campaign but also encouraged colonists to participate in the production of domestic manufacturers for the common good.

January 28

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

Jan 28 - 1:28:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 28, 1768).

“Committed as a Runaway … 8 11.”

In most instances it is impossible to determine what happened as the result of advertisements for runaway slaves or captured fugitives. Some runaways likely made good on their escapes, but the odds were stacked against them. Many slaveholders likely reclaimed their human property after seeing notices that they had been committed to jail or the workhouse, though the dates in those advertisements sometimes indicated that inmates remained for weeks or months without an owner collecting them.

In the case of “a well set Negro Man, who calls himself James Gale” who had been thrown in jail in Orange County on suspicion that he was a runaway, however, the notations inserted into the advertisement by the compositor suggest that the notice had its intended effect. Gale’s master likely claimed him shortly after the advertisement first appeared in the New-York Journal on January 28, 1768.

Consider the notation at the conclusion of the advertisement: “8 11.” These numbers appear unrelated to the content of the advertisement. Instead, they indicate which issues of the newspaper needed to include the advertisements. The “8” referred to the first issue that contained the advertisement, “NUMB. 1308,” published on January 28, 1768. The “11” referred to when the compositor should discontinue the advertisement, removing it from “NUMB. 1311” scheduled for publication on February 18. The notation indicates that it was slated to run in three issues, numbers 1308, 1309, and 1310.

Examination of other advertisements from the January 28 issue suggests that this was indeed the case. Mark Feely, an attorney, placed an advertisement for his legal “WRITINGS” that also featured the notation “7 10.” This advertisement originated in number 1307 and ran in the next two issues, but did not reappear in number 1310. Similarly, an advertisement announcing the auction of a “Corner House and Lot of Ground” had a notation that read “8 12” on the final line. As expected, it first ran in number 1308, continued for the next several issues, but disappeared with the publication of number 1312.

That being the case, the advertisement concerning the suspected runaway being held in jail in Orange County should have been in the three issues indicated by the notation “8 11.” However, it only ran for two weeks. Why? James Gale’s owner most likely became aware of the advertisement and made arrangements for the fugitive’s return quickly enough that John Hudson, the sheriff who placed the notice, requested that the printer discontinue it. This unfortunate conclusion demonstrates the power that print played in policing black men and women in eighteenth-century America.

January 7

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

Jan 7 - 1:7:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 7, 1768).

“I … have been cured of the Rheumatick Pains, by the above Person.”

In late 1767 and early 1768, the enigmatic “T.F.” placed a series of advertisements in the New-York Journal and other local newspapers. T.F. announced that he had “just arriv’d” from London, where he “had the Honour of curing some of the Nobility and Gentry” of their “Rheumatick Pains.” Some of his patients had been confined to hospital for nearly a year without experiencing relief until T.F. “restored [them] to their former Health.” T.F. now offered his services to the residents of New York.

The brief account of his successes in London sounded too good to be true, so T.F. attempted to assure prospective clients that he was not a quack. To that end, he inserted two testimonials in his advertisement to serve as confirmation of his claims. In the first, the more elaborate of the two, Thomas Johnson described his ailment: “My Pains being in my Knees, Ancles, &c. attended with very great Swellings, in such a Manner as deprived me of the Power of stirring about.” T.F. assisted Johnson in overcoming these debilitating symptoms. The patient proclaimed that he “had been cured of the Rheumatick Pains, by the above Person.” To increase the credibility of his testimonial, Johnson listed his occupation (“School-master”) and address (“in Broad-Street, near the Old City-Hall, New-York”). The second testimonial, signed jointly by three patients, was much shorter. It simply stated, “We have been cured of the same Disorder, by the same Person, in a short Time.” The lack of additional identification beyond the names of these patients made this endorsement more suspect. Still, readers could have been persuaded that a short note concurring with Johnson’s account was more credible than a solitary testimonial. Simply listing the names of three other patients satisfied with his services gave the impression of broader approbation for the accuracy of his claims to cure “Rheumatick Pains … so that no Persons need despair.”

Advertisers frequently incorporated testimonials into their marketing campaigns in the nineteenth century and beyond, but that strategy originated earlier. In the eighteenth century, providers of goods and services experimented with endorsements from satisfied customers to convince others to purchase their products or hire their services.

December 10

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

Dec 10 - 12:10:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 10, 1767).

“One of the most useful and entertaining Almanacks in America.”

The new year was fast approaching. Just three weeks remained in 1767 when this advertisement for “FREEMAN’s New-York ALMANACK For the Year 1768” appeared in John Holt’s New-York Journal. Over the past month advertisements for almanacs had proliferated in New York’s newspapers and their counterparts printed throughout the colonies. Some merely encouraged customers to acquire their almanacs, but others, like this one, provided much more detail about the contents as a means of inciting demand and convincing consumers to select this particular almanac over any of the alternatives.

Freeman’s New-York Almanack included the usual calendars and calculations, including “Hour and Minute of the Sun’s Rising and Setting” and the “Moon’s Age, Quartering, Full and Change, Rising, Setting,” but these were “intermixed with Proverbs or moral Sentiments.” It also contained a combination of astronomical and astrological material inserted in most almanacs, especially “The 12 signs, with an Account of the several Parts of the Body they are supposed to govern” and “a Table of the Planets’ Motions.” The almanac also featured other valuable reference information, such as a “Table of Interest at 7 per Cent,” a “List of the Council Assembly, and Officers in New-York,” and a “Table of the Value of Coins in England, New-York, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and Quebec.” The author also incorporated a variety of items to entertain and instruct readers, including “The Rose, a Fable” and “Verses on New-Year and Winter.”

Many printers relied on the contents of their almanacs to do most of the work in marketing them, but Holt added a nota bene proclaiming that Freeman’s New-York Almanack “contains more in Quantity than any other Almanack publish’d in America, and is at least as useful and entertaining as any other.” Just in case potential customers had not been duly impressed with the extensive contents listed in the advertisement, Holt underscored that this almanac overflowed with useful and entertaining material. Still, sensible that the astronomical calculations remained the foremost reason many colonists purchased almanacs, he also promised that they had been “made with the greatest Care and Accuracy.” He also placed special emphasis on the treatment of an impending eclipse on January 19, a “great Eclipse” that merited additional attention.

Holt concluded the advertisement by announcing that he also sold “DUTCH ALMANACKS,” pocket almanacs, and sheet almanacs, though he provided no other information except the prices. At his “PRINTING-OFFICE, at the EXCHANGE,” customers could select from a variety of titles and an assortment of sizes and formats. They also enjoyed a similar range of choices at other printing offices and bookseller shops throughout the city. Realizing the fierce competition to sell publications that could not be held in reserve and sold at a latter date, Holt invested significant effort in marketing the one he had published.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:3:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 3, 1767).

“Sundry other Goods … will be sold great Bargains.”

Throughout the eighteenth century, newspaper advertisers most commonly deployed a handful of marketing strategies: appeals to price, quality, gentility, and consumer choice. Many advertisers incorporated several of these appeals into their commercial notices, while others crafted advertisements that emphasized a particular appeal.

Benjamin Booth adopted the latter strategy in his advertisement for several goods he imported from London that appeared in the New-York Journal in the late fall of 1767. He made nods toward quality (“BEST English sail-Cloth”) and consumer choice (a list of merchandise followed with a promise of “sundry other Goods”), but he reiterated appeals to price four times in his advertisement. Like many other advertisements placed by colonial shopkeepers, Booth’s notice included a header and a conclusion with a list of goods between them. Many advertisers inserted an appeal to price in either the header or the conclusion, but Booth attempted to incite demand for his wares by underscoring price in all three segments of his advertisement. He relied on formulaic language used by shopkeepers throughout the colonies in the header, proclaiming that his merchandise “will be sold exceeding cheap.” In the list of his inventory, he singled out “Scotch Carpeting” as “very cheap,” indicating an especially good deal among his already low prices. In the course of a single sentence in the conclusion, Booth promoted his prices twice. He stated that his assortment of goods was “laid in upon very low Terms, and will be sold great Bargains.” Here Booth once again inserted formulaic language that appeared in other advertisements: “very low Terms.” However, he concluded with a relatively novel appeal: “great Bargains.” Although shopkeepers regularly marketed low prices in the 1760s, few invoked the word “bargain” to describe the benefits to consumers. In this regard, Booth took an innovative approach, even as the format and stock phrases for the rest of the advertisement replicated other commercial notices. He borrowed heavily from existing marketing methods, but also added his own modification to attract the attention of prospective customers.

December 3

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

Dec 3 - 12:3:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 3, 1767).

“I advertise this that the Names may be distinguished and my character not stained.”

Weert H. Banta, a carpenter, took out an advertisement in the New-York Journal in hopes of resolving a case of mistaken identity and remedying any damage done to his reputation as a result of the confusion.

Banta reported that Weert C. Banta, also a carpenter, had published an advertisement concerning the “Elopement” of his wife, Elizabeth, two months earlier. In that fairly standard runaway wife notice, the other Banta proclaimed that Elizabeth departed “without any cause” and that he was “apprehensive [she] may run me [into] Debt.” To that end, he desired to “warn all Persons, that they do not Trust, harbour or entertain her, on my Account, for I will pay no Debt of her contracting.”

Due to the similarity of their names and their shared occupation, many readers of the New-York Journal and other residents of the city had mistaken Weert H. Banta for Weert C. Banta. The former Banta clarified that he had not placed the advertisement. Furthermore, his wife’s name was Hannah, not Elizabeth. Not only did he seek to sort out the confusion, he implored “that the Names may be distinguished and my character not stained.”

Banta may have also worried about his wife’s reputation, but as a carpenter “noted through the whole City” he expressed primary concern about his own character and what friends, neighbors, and business associates would think of him. Advertisements for runaway wives typically depicted the absent women as the transgressors in marital relationships, but they still did not reflect well on the men who placed such notices in the public prints. That a wife had “eloped” revealed that her husband failed to exercise proper authority or to maintain order in his own household. These advertisements may have been considered a necessary last resort as a means of reining in recalcitrant wives or at least saving husbands money they did not authorize runaway wives to spend, but they did so at the expense of their masculinity. Anxious not to lose face, Weert H. Banta needed his fellow colonists to know that Hannah, his wife, had not run away. Instead, he competently governed his own household.

November 29

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

Nov 29 - 11:26:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (November 26, 1767).

“English and Dutch Almanacks may be had at the same Place.”

Among the many advertisements in the November 26, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal and its supplement, printer John Holt’s advertisement for almanacs appeared first. Like many other newspaper publishers, Holt carried a variety of almanacs to suit the needs and preferences of potential customers. When it came to selecting this annual reference volume, many colonists had likely developed some sort of nascent brand loyalty to particular versions and looked for their favorite publications with familiar features. Name recognition helped to move “FREEMAN’s New-York Royal Sheet Almanack” and the “New-York Pocket Almanack” out of the printing shop and into homes throughout the port city and beyond.

In promoting an array of almanacs with various features and formats, Holt acknowledged the ethnic and religious diversity of colonial New York. In addition to the particular titles mentioned first in his advertisement, Holt also proclaimed that “English and Dutch Almanacks may be had at the same place.” The English conquest of New Netherland (now New York) had occurred a century earlier. Descendants of the original Dutch settlers resided throughout the colony, comprising a potential market for almanacs in the language they passed down from one generation to the next.

In printing, marketing, and selling almanacs, Holt also catered to another constituency, one that was much smaller than the Dutch population. Still, a sufficient number of Jewish colonists resided in New York to justify the expense of printing a “Kalender of the Sabbaths, Months, and other Holy-days, which the Jews observe and keep.” This was not a separate publication but was instead added to some copies of the English almanacs, transforming them into distinctive editions intended for specific readers. Holt did not indicate whether the “Kalender of Sabbaths” had been added as a supplement or if other content had been removed in order to make room for it. Either way, almanacs for Jewish colonists were simultaneously part of and separate from the assortment of almanacs marketed and sold in the colonies, reflecting other aspects of Jewish experiences in eighteenth-century America.

Advertisements for almanacs appeared with increasing frequency in newspapers throughout the colonies during the final months of the year in the 1760s. Printers and booksellers resorted to a variety of marketing strategies to convince consumers to purchase their almanacs. In New York, a busy port with residents from many backgrounds, John Holt advertised titles that reflected some of the ethnic and religious diversity of his potential customers.