March 4

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (March 4, 1769).

“PAINT STORE … Yellow oaker … Prussian blue.”

This advertisement for a paint store can gives a look into status in colonial America by listing different color paints. In eighteenth-century America, some paint colors represented wealth and high social standing, but others did not. Some pigments were easier to produce so were therefore cheaper. For example, iron oxide pigment created a dark red color and was readily available and primarily used by people of a lower status. Other paint colors were hard to achieve, like “Prussian blue” and “Yellow oaker” (ochre), both in this advertisement.

When the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation was working on restoring their historic buildings, historians had to figure out what the original colors of some of the historic buildings were to return them to how they appeared in the eighteenth century. However, not all the buildings survived and some that did did not have paint residues left on them. Historians had to make educated guesses as to what the original colors were. To figure this out, they looked to the houses’ values in the eighteenth century. One house was valued at 1100 pounds in 1790, a very large amount. “This indicated a higher-status structure,” according to Paul Aron, causing the team to choose yellow ochre, an expensive and sought-after color of the gentry. Another house, only valued at 70 pounds, was painted brown, a cheaper pigment that was readily available for the lower sorts. The paint types being sold in the advertisement would be primarily only available to the middling and better sorts. Just by the color, a house and therefore a family could display their wealth and social standing. Paint colors help to tell the story about how colonists made distinctions between social classes.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

March 4 fell on a Saturday in 1769. The New-York Journal was not usually published on Saturdays, but John Holt, the printer, made an exception when he distributed a two-page supplement just two days after the newspaper’s usual publication date. Supplements usually appeared on the same day as regular issues, especially when printers already had the news in hand. Breaking news that could not wait until the next issue sometimes merited speedy publication in a midweek supplement or extraordinary issue, such as news of the repeal of the Stamp Act in the spring of 1766.

Yet this supplement did not deliver breaking news, suggesting that Holt just did not have enough time to print the supplement for distribution on Thursday. He offered a brief description of its contents at the top of the first column on the first page: “[Further Advices by Capt. Berrian, left out, on Thursday last for want of Room.]” Those “Advices” from Berlin and London, a series of news items, filled the entire first page and most of the second. To complete the supplementary issue, Holt inserted brief updates from Charleston and Boston, a little bit of local news from New York, and four advertisements. L. Kilburn’s notice concerning his “PAINT STORE, at the White-Hall” was one of those advertisements.

That advertisement, or any other advertisement from the New-York Journal, usually would not have been an option for Olivia to analyze. As I explained in a recent entry about the Adverts 250 Project’s methodology and the distribution of newspaper publication throughout the week in 1769, the Providence Gazette was the only colonial newspaper published on Saturdays in 1769 (which correspond to dates that fall on Mondays in 1769). During most other weeks, the methodology would have prescribed that Olivia choose from among the advertisements in the Providence Gazette, a newspaper overrepresented in the project because it was the only one published on Saturdays.

In selecting an advertisement from the Supplement to the New-York Journal, Olivia continues a practice that I had previously instituted: choosing advertisements from midweek supplements whenever possible as a means of addressing the overrepresentation of the Essex Gazette (published on Tuesdays in 1769), the Georgia Gazette (Wednesdays) and the Providence Gazette (Saturdays).

February 27

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 27 - 2:27:1766 Boston News-Letter
Boston News-Letter (February 27, 1766).

“WHITE Lead, red Lead, Spanish Brown, Verdigrease, Prussian Blue.”

Paint itself was not sold as we have it now; separate parts had to be purchased and were mixed right before they were needed. The entire job needed to be completed as soon as possible because the mixed ingredients would harden if left for the next day.

The white and red lead advertised here were not often used as paint by themselves but as an additive to other paints in order to change and fortify the mix. For someone who had paints and wanted to change slightly the color he or she would add this red or white lead.

According to Robert Foley, “Spanish Brown” on the other hand was one of the cheapest and therefore most common paint in the colonies. In England and the colonies, this paint was derived from grinding up dirt with the presence of iron oxide and adding linseed and turpentine. This inexact science produced a multitude of brownish colors that was determined by other elements present in the dirt and the amount used. This paint was used mainly as the “first coat” and primarily on houses, barns, and outbuildings.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

William Gooch used the Sign of Admiral Vernon to identify his shop on King Street in Boston. Given that he sold paints and painting supplies, I wonder how colorful the Sign of Admiral Vernon might have been. After all, a well-painted sign would have testified to the quality of Gooch’s wares.

Feb 27 - 10:17:1743 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (October 17, 1743).

The sign was certainly a landmark. As early as 1743 Joseph Sherburne stated that his new shop was located “opposite to the Sign of Admiral Vernon.” In 1750, James Gooch & Son (presumably William) listed their location as “at the Sign of Admiral Vernon, at the Lower End of King-Street, Boston” in an advertisement for imported groceries, spices, tea, coffee, and tableware. William Gooch operated his business out of the same shop as his father, but the merchandise changed significantly.

Feb 27 - 12:17:1750 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (December 17, 1750).

The Sign of Admiral Vernon was fitting in a port city like Boston. It was named for Edward Vernon (1684-1757), who served in the Royal Navy for forty-six years. Although famous during his own lifetime, most people today are probably much more familiar with two of his namesakes.

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, was named for Admiral Vernon. Washington’s elder half-brother, Lawrence, had served under Vernon. He named the plantation, which passed to his widow upon his death. It was not until her death that George Washington became proprietor of Mount Vernon, though he had previously lived at and managed the estate.

Grog, another name for rum diluted with water and lemon or lime juice, derives from Admiral Vernon’s nickname. In 1740, Vernon devised a means of keeping water fresher and staving off scurvy aboard Royal Navy vessels. Having earned a reputation for wearing coats made of grogram cloth, he became known as Old Grog and the rum ration, over time, simply became grog.