June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:9:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (June 9, 1766).

“PERMIT me thus heartily to congratulate you on the Expulsion of an Act which must have involved these respectable Colonies into the utmost Difficulty.”

A week ago the Adverts 250 Project featured a “to be continued” advertisement placed by John Coghill Knapp from the “Scrivener, Register, and Conveyancer’s OFFICE, on Rotten-Row.” The lawyer’s advertisement concluded with a not that “The Remainder of this Advertisement, with some further Remarks that may be beneficial to the Publick, in our next.” The wording raised questions about whether the advertiser or the printer made the decision to delay publication of “The Remainder.” Did Knapp devise a clever means of inciting interest in whatever might appear in “The Remainder” or did the printer run out of space and choose to truncate the advertisement? After all, it wasn’t uncommon for printers to insert notices that advertisements that had not appeared in the current issue would be published in the next.

An examination of the dates attached to each advertisement may help to answer this question. The original advertisement, published in the June 2 issue of the New-York Mercury, was dated “2d of June.” It was written the same day that it was printed (or, more likely, post-dated to be current with the issue). “The Remainder” that appeared in the June 9 issue of the New-York Mercury was dated “June 7” – after the previous issue, making it more likely that Knapp did originally intend to have the advertisement appear in separate pieces in two consecutive issues.

What were these “further Remarks that may be beneficial to the Publick” that Knapp promised and expected readers to anticipate? Knapp published an extended reflection on the repeal of the Stamp Act, “the Expulsion of an Act which must have involved these respectable Colonies in the utmost Difficulty.” In particular , he lauded “that great Defender of LIBERTY, the most Noble and Right Honorable WILLIAM PITT.” Knapp used politics and current events to appeal to potential clients who had protested the Stamp Act.

In a second paragraph, he discussed his own virtues as an attorney. In addition, he stated that he was “again admitted to Practice in that Profession to which I was regularly bred.” In his previous advertisement he had announced that he “received his Education at the University of Oxford; was regularly bred to the Profession of the LAW.” The Stamp Act disrupted attorneys’ work since legal documents were supposed to be recorded on stamped paper. Knapp lamented that “the Stagnation of Business during the Debate of that weighty Affair, has been sorely felt.” Now that the repeal had gone into effect, Knapp was “again admitted” to practicing the law now that the colonies had reverted to “Dear Liberty, the Birth-Right” of the Britons who resided there.

June 3

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

Jun 3 - 6:2:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (June 2, 1766).

For all intents and purposes, John Coghill Knapp’s advertisement for his legal service concluded with a version of “to be continued,” prompting readers to seek out his advertisement in the next issue of the New-York Mercury. Perhaps this helped to draw greater attention to the services he offered.

The wording, however, suggests that Knapp may not have devised this innovation on his own. Indeed, it may have been an accidental innovation rather than a purposeful strategy for inciting interest in the remainder of Knapp’s advertisement. The notice at the end of the advertisement states that it will be continued “in our next” issue rather than “in the next” issue. The distinction between “our” and “the” puts the statement in the printer’s voice, regardless of who composed the rest of the advertisement. This notice appeared at the bottom of a column. It seems likely that the printer ran out of space to insert Knapp’s entire advertisement but instead included as much as possible (probably adjusting the fees charged to Knapp accordingly).

What may have been the inconvenience of an incomplete advertisement could have worked to Knapp’s advantage in the end. The note that “further Remarks that may be beneficial to the Publick” would appear “in our next” issue incited anticipation and curiosity about what else Knapp would say about the legal services he provided. It certainly worked on this modern reader; I’ll feature the continuation of Knapp’s advertisement next week. (Did it work on you? Are you curious to see the updated advertisement a week from now?!)


As an aside, be sure to note that this lawyer’s office was located “on Rotten-Row.” Modern readers may make of that what they wish!

April 9

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Apr 9 - 4:7:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (April 7, 1766).

“WILLIAM ADAMS, TUTOR to the Academy at COLDINGHAM, INFORMS the Gentlemen of the City, who have their sons there, that they are well.”

In 1766, an age of a growing importance on education, especially for men, was beginning to dawn in the American colonies. In the past throughout the Western world, tutoring services were offered mainly to nobility. During colonial times, this was also mostly the case, though different colonies had different experiences. In general, children of the “lower sorts” could not afford to get an education, and they also lacked opportunity (especially outside the New England colonies).

This tutor, William Adams, did not specify the social class of the boys he desired to tutor. The fact that this advertisement was published in a newspaper indicates progress in the right direction. Yet though Adams’ advertisement moves in the direction of educational opportunity for many, the academy he was advertising was a boarding school. Though the advertisement indicated that “any one having a mind to enter their sons” had a chance to speak with the tutor, the real opportunity remained for those with sufficient money for the boarding costs.



Maia has identified some of the recurrent themes that appeared in advertisements for educational opportunities in the decade prior to the Revolution. Instructors advertising their classes frequently placed notices in newspapers. Both the men and women who ran boarding schools and Latin academies and the tutors and instructors who offered special subjects, such as foreign languages, dancing, or fencing, emphasized that they conducted their lessons in an atmosphere of morality and politeness and promoted their services by suggesting that refined individuals possessed the skills that they offered to teach. In so doing, they presented potential students and their parents with a strategy for asserting their own social status by acquiring skills and pursuing activities associated with metropolitan elites.

These advertisements preserved an aura of hierarchy in educational pursuits by associating them with elite gentility, but they opened up learning opportunities to prospective students who did not necessarily come from elite backgrounds. They sold – or attempted to sell – gentility to a broad reading public. Thus, they highlighted a tension between popularizing goods and services in order to sell them and the continued association of codes of gentility with elite social standing.

As Maia noted, we can see this tension in today’s advertisement. Adams posted this notice for two purposes. First, he let the “Gentlemen of the City, who have their Sons there” at the academy know that his charges were doing well and would be visiting the New York soon. In addition, he used this notice to recruit additional students. He addressed “Any one having a mind to enter their Sons,” suggesting that this was an opportunity open to all readers. In an era of significant social mobility, some middling readers may have seized such an opportunity to further enhance their status and their family’s prospects for the future. The tutor, for his part, appeared content to enroll middling as well as elite youths.

April 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Apr 2 - 3:31:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 31, 1766).


“To COVER, … The fine BAY HORSE, called OLD ENGLAND.”

This advertisement is for the stud services of a “fine BAY HORSE, called OLD ENGLAND” with a lineage traced back to the great Godolphin Arabian and Flying Childers. Even as early as 1766 the Godolphin Arabian was considered a horse central to the modern thoroughbred breed, having gained prestige in the 1730s. To have Old England mentioned as being the descendent of the Godolphin Arabian and Flying Childers, an undefeated horse of the 1720s, would have immediately tipped off potential horse breeders that Old England was from very good stock. I am sure many, if not all, of the other horses mentioned were notable in their own right as well. This was attested to by the fact that the advertiser listed the prizes that many of the horses in Old England’s pedigree won for their owners.

Apr 2 Godolphin Arabian by George Stubbs
Godolphin Arabian (George Stubbs, 1724-1806).

It is interesting that the advertiser signs the advertisement as “the Public’s Most Obedient Servant.” For the most part the majority of people used horses for work and would not be interested in a horse bred for racing. His audience would likely have been the people who had extra income to breed and racehorses. It is good to know as well that John Leary was “A Lover of the Turf.” That projected a sense of camaraderie among the potential horse breeders who wanted Old England to cover their mares.



Notices about horses “to cover” constituted their own genre of newspapers advertisements in the eighteenth century. They appeared frequently in the public prints, and they were easily spotted because they tended to include a woodcut of a horse. Usually these woodcuts would have been among the very few images that accompanied advertisements.

For instance, this issue of the New-York Mercury included approximately fifty advertisements. Only three had an image: Old England and another advertisement for a horse “to cover” as well as a notice that the Minerva would soon be sailing for Bristol. The first two featured different woodcuts of horses and the final one a woodcut of a ship.

Apr 2 - Hero 3:31:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 31, 1766).

As I have explained previously, such woodcuts belonged to the printer, who kept on hand a small collection of ships, houses, runaways (men and women; slaves, servants, and wives), and horses that could be used interchangeably in any advertisement about vessels arriving or departing, real estate to buy or lease, runaways, and horse breeding, respectively. That horses were included on this list suggests how common advertisements promoting their availability “to cover” mares were in eighteenth-century newspapers. In addition, several broadsides (what we would call posters today) for horses “to cover” also survive from the eighteenth century.

The woodcut in Old England’s advertisement does not do justice to the beauty of that horse, but it did help to distinguish that notice from the others that appeared on the same page.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:17:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 17, 1766).

“Baggammon tables, … flutes and fifes, … fishing reels.”

Peter Goelet presented many choices to potential customers in an advertisement that listed dozens and dozens of items that he stocked in his shop “At the Golden Key, in Hanover-Square, New-York.” What else possibly could have been included among the “great variety of other articles” listed at the end of the advertisement?!

This assortment of goods could be used to glimpse many different aspects of daily life in colonial America, from the types of tools that many artisans would have used to housewares and cooking equipment to supplies for writing letters, accounts, and other documents, to name a few.

This advertisement also suggests leisure activities pursued by some early Americans. Goelet sold “baggammon tables” on which colonists would have played the game now commonly known as backgammon. He also carried musical instruments, including violins and “German and common flutes and fifes,” and supplies, such as “hautboy [oboe] reeds, violin strings, bridges, and pins, [and] brass and steel harpsichord wire.” Although the advertisement does not list other sorts of books or pamphlets, “newest tunes, &c.” may have referred to music. Goelet concluded his advertisement with a list of fishing rods, reels, hooks, and flies.

Games, music, and fishing: advertisements offered colonial Americans the goods they needed to pursue a variety of leisure activities that in turn helped them to express their own status and gentility.

March 4


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

Mar 4 - 3:3:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 3, 1766).

“Making or mending any Kind of Diamond or enameled Work.”

Charles Oliver Bruff’s advertisement offers a wide variety of popular jewelry to be made and mended. Jewelry made between 1714 and 1847 comes from the Georgian Era. It is important to note that jewelry was not made the same way it is today. According to the International Gem Society, the process was far more labor-intensive. Gold and metal ingots needed to be rolled into thin sheets before they could be formed into the popular styles of the time.

Bruff chose to market a variety of popular merchandise, but one that is specifically interesting is pinchbeck buckles. Pinchbeck was a material commonly used that looks like gold but is much more affordable. Oliver’s choice to advertise this along with more expensive jewelry is interesting because it shows that he was trying to appeal to people of many different economic backgrounds. Jewelry was primarily a luxury of the elite society, but Oliver’s advertisement alludes to the inclusion of customers from other economic statuses.



Of all the possible items in Bruff’s advertisement that Trevor chose to investigate, he selected pinchbeck buckles. That, in turn, led me to a fascinating discovery when I clicked the hyperlink to a dictionary definition of “pinchbeck” that he included to accompany his commentary for today. The first entry refers explicitly to “the Jewellery Way” (as Bruff put it): “an alloy of copper and zinc used especially to imitate gold in jewelry.”

A second entry, however, indicates that “pinchbeck” could also mean “something counterfeit or spurious.” It seems unlikely that Bruff intended to suggest that his buckles should be considered inferior in any way, but colonial consumers would have known that pinchbeck buckles were made of something other than gold (especially since Bruff promised to sell them “cheap by the dozen”).

A variety of scholars – including those who study consumer culture, material culture, manners, and reputation – have argued that assessing the dress and comportment of others became a cultural preoccupation in the eighteenth century. Especially as greater numbers of people of diverse statuses possessed an increasing array of goods as the consumer revolution progressed, colonists attempted to distinguish the truly genteel from those who merely simulated gentility. Colonists carefully observed each other to see if inner character matched an individual’s outward appearance.

In that context, pinchbeck buckles potentially presented a bit of a conundrum. What did it say about someone who wore accoutrements that looked like gold all while knowing that the appearance of the more costly metal misrepresented the true nature of the alloy that was actually used? Could that be interpreted as a reflection on one’s own character? Social mobility was fraught with such dilemmas in the eighteenth century.

February 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 26 - 2:24:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (February 24, 1766).

“Mr. James Ramsey … Will hear of something much to his Advantage.”

Mr. James Ramsey originally from the North of Ireland, who were you and what did Mr. William Gilliland want with you? Could this William Gilliland be the prosperous merchant who bought land in the Champlain Valley where he planned to build an estate and after whom the town of Willsborough is named?

I wonder what he could have wanted with James Ramsey, whom he obviously knew a deal about: where he was born, when he came to the colonies, and where he was living for a while. Yet he does not know where he went and for some reason  Ramsey did not leave a forwarding address with the man whom he previously had his letters directed to, Samuel Scott, Esq. Maybe he did not want to be found by Gilliland. This advertisement is not addressed only to Ramsey but instead to the population at large, as if Gilliland is hoping that someone will see this advertisement and bring it to the attention of Ramsey.



This advertisement testifies to the mobility that was part of everyone’s experience in eighteenth-century America. Some colonists moved around quite regularly as they pursued opportunities to improve their lives or fled from debtors, to name just a couple of the many reasons for migration in the colonies and throughout the Atlantic world. Anyone who remained in one village, town, or city throughout his or her lifetime would have certainly witnessed others moving in, moving out, or passing through.

For instance, William Moraley migrated from England to Philadelphia and, eventually, Burlington, New Jersey, when he became an indentured servant after a series of misfortunes (some of his own making) befell him. After “earning” his freedom, he wandered around the Middle Colonies, half-heartedly seeking work, before returning to England and publishing a memoir and travelogue about his experiences.

James Ramsey also appears to have been a mobile fellow, moving from County Armagh, Northern Ireland, to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to an unknown location in New Jersey. Today we have many tools for locating long lost friends and relatives, but the situation was much more difficult in the eighteenth century. A newspaper advertisement like this one, an open announcement for all readers to see and pass along, would have been William Gilliland’s best option for contacting Ramsey. No newspapers were published in New Jersey in 1766, but issues printed in New York would have circulated in the colony. Again, Gilliland deployed one of the best technologies and most sophisticated methods of disseminating information available at the time, but his efforts still relied on chance.

January 14

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

Jan 14 - 1:13:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (January 13, 1766)

“DANIEL O’Mullen, a Run-away Servant, belonging to Mr. James Huston in Second Street, Philadelphia, was taken up in this City a few Days ago.”

This advertisement may seem a bit out of place considering that the Adverts 250 Project focuses primarily on advertisements for consumer goods and services, setting aside the other kinds of notices that colonists paid to have placed in newspapers.  This advertisement reminds us that in the eighteenth century many people were commodities themselves.  Advertisements for enslaved men and women, youths, and children provide the most compelling examples, but indentured servants were also bought and sold in colonial America — and, like other unfree laborers, their attempts to escape were often chronicled in newspaper advertisements.

I also selected this advertisement from the New-York Mercury because it demonstrates the networks of newspaper distribution and readership in the 1760s.  It references “an Advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, of December 26, 1765,” offering a reward to anyone who captured O’Mullen so “his Master may have him again.”  Rather than sending a letter to “James Huston, in Second-street, Philadelphia,” the original advertisement was met with an advertisement.  It appears that those seeking to collect the reward expected that Huston or one of his acquaintances would see the advertisement concerning O’Mullen’s capture.

Runaway Advert in PA Gaz 12:26:1765
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 26, 1765)