October 12

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

Oct 12 - 10:12:1767 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (October 12, 1767).

“The Calamitous State of the Enslaved NEGROES in the British Dominions.”

American colonists became increasingly preoccupied with their own liberty and potential enslavement by Parliament in the 1760s and 1770s. Among their many methods of protest, they gave voice to their anxieties in newspapers. For instance, Edes and Gill printed a lengthy letter warning against “parliamentary slavery” resulting from the “corruption of Parliament” alongside the text of the an “ACT OF PARLIAMENT, for granting certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America,” better known today as the Townshend Act.

Colonists concerns about the enslavement they believed they experienced stood in stark contrast to advertisements concerning enslaved Africans that appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies, including those published in New England. In the same issue of the Boston-Gazette that Edes and Gill paired the Townshend Act with a spirited critique of Parliament, four advertisements presented slaves for sale. Whether for “a very likely Negro Boy” who could “sort & cut & spin all Sorts of Tobacco” or a “healthy, stout Negro Man … who has been in this Country about three Months,” all four advertisements instructed interested buyers to “inquire of Edes and Gill” for more information. A fifth advertisement offered “A fine Negro Male Child, well provided with Cloathing” for free, “To be given away.” Again, the advertisement concluded with “inquire of Edes & Gill.” The printers who gave voice to Anglo-American colonists’ objections to the tyranny of Parliament not only generated revenues by selling advertisements for slaves but also served as agents who facilitated the trade for anonymous sellers.

Edes and Gill could not have been completely oblivious to this contradiction. After all, one additional advertisement mentioned slavery. The printers announced that they sold “A CAUTION and WARNING to Great-Britain and her Colonies, in a short Representation of the Calamitous State of the Enslaved NEGROES in the British Dominions.” Anthony Benezet, a Quaker abolitionist from Philadelphia, penned this pamphlet in 1766. Originally published in Philadelphia, it was reprinted in London the following year. Based on the supplementary materials mentioned in the advertisement, Edes and Gill sold yet another edition, this one printed by Hall and Sellers in Philadelphia in 1767.

As many colonists fretted over the tension between their own liberty and imagined enslavement, some applied such rhetoric more broadly to include enslaved Africans and their descendants in the colonies. Others conveniently ignored any contradictions. Printers like Edes and Gill, through the advertisements and pamphlets they sold and the exchanges they facilitated, stood to gain financially from the activities of slaveholders and abolitionists alike.

October 11

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

Oct 11 - 10:8:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette.jpg
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 8, 1767).

“The public is referred to a pamphlet of cases, to be had of the vender.”

Nathaniel Tweedy, a druggist, operated a shop “At the Golden Eagle, in Market-street” in Philadelphia. To promote his “fresh assortment of drugs, chemical and galenical medicines, [and] patent and family medicines of all kinds,” he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and other local newspapers in the summer and fall of 1767. In several of them he marketed the “BAUME DE VIE” in particular, listing a broad range of symptoms that it alleviated. According to Tweedy, the Baume de Vie was a cure-all that benefited patients with just about any sort of malady, from “disorders of the stomach and bowels” to “female complaints.”

Tweedy did not consider a brief newspaper advertisement sufficient for relaying the virtues of this particular patent medicine. “For a more ample account of its uses,” he proclaimed, “the public is referred to a pamphlet of cases, to be had of the vender as above.” These “cases” presumably included testimonials from patients who previously benefited from the Baume de Vie. The druggist turned to the advertising pages in the public prints to incite initial interest, but hoped to stoke even more demand by making additional information available in a pamphlet. Rather than purchasing additional space in the newspaper at considerable expense, distributing pamphlets allowed him to target those consumers most interested in his product and most likely to acquire it once they learned more. Furthermore, potential customers might hold onto a pamphlet longer than they kept a newspaper. Tweedy’s marketing efforts resembled those of printers and booksellers who previewed their inventory in newspaper notices but also informed readers that they distributed catalogs at their shops.

Newspapers, catalogs, and pamphlets were all ephemeral, but sometimes catalogs and pamphlets more so than newspapers. As a result, the only evidence of some advertising materials that survives today comes from newspaper advertisements that mention other media, such as Tweedy inviting readers to visit his shop to receive a pamphlet about the Baume de Vie. This also raises questions about Tweedy’s advertising campaign. How many copies of the pamphlet did he distribute? Did he write the copy and have it printed locally? Or did the supplier of the medicines also provide pamphlets for dissemination in local markets? In giving modern readers a more complete glimpse of eighteenth-century advertising media, Tweedy’s newspaper advertisement raises a series of questions about related marketing practices.

March 23

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 23 - 3:23:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (March 23, 1767).

“THE METHOD and plain PROCESS FOR MAKING POT-ASH.”

Before reading this advertisement, I had not even heard of potash. After a bit of research I found an article by William Roberts III, “American Potash Manufactured Before the American Revolution.” I discovered that potash, “the principal industrial chemical of the eighteenth century,” came from wood ashes and had many different uses, from bleaching cloth to making soaps to creating dyes.[1] Nonetheless, this industry did not become widespread in the colonies until a decade before the Revolution.

One reason that the potash industry grew in the colonies was because of the great amount of trees in North America while in England there was an “early depletion of English woodlands [that] had discouraged growth of the industry.”[2] Thomas Stephens had an part in the development of the potash industry in the colonies. Around the middle of the eighteenth centruy, he claimed “to have developed a method of making potash profitably in North America” to the Board of Trade.[3]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Today’s advertisement did not attempt to sell potash itself but rather Thomas Stephens’s pamphlet detailing how to produce the commodity, The Method and Plain Process for Making Pot-Ash Equal, If Not Superior to the Best Foreign Pot-Ash. As Ceara indicates, potash production and export did not become a viable enterprise in the colonies until just before the Revolution. Until that time, Britain depended primarily on Germany and the Baltic for potash. Given the competition, it makes sense that Stephens sought to assure readers and potential potash entrepreneurs that, with the guidance offered in his book, they stood to produce a profitable commodity.

Parliament was indeed interested in cultivating an American potash industry. In response to Stephens’s claim that he had developed a method that would significantly expand potash production in the colonies, Parliament promised “the sum of £3000 whenever he had done enough promoting and publicizing to satisfy the Board of Trade and the Treasury Lords.”[4] That promoting and publicizing resulted in his pamphlet, advertisements to promote the pamphlet, and perhaps even “PROOF BOTTLES belonging to this Treatise” that contained samples to verify the quality of potash made using his “METHOD and plain PROCESS.” Selling the pamphlet may have generated some revenues for printer William Weyman, but Stephens stood to benefit from a much more significant windfall once enough copies had been distributed.

According to Carl Bridenbaugh, Stephens made a tour of several southern colonies to promote his pamphlet in 1757, beginning in Charleston and visiting more than half a dozen cities and towns in the Carolinas and Virginia.[5] Stephens returned to England that same year, but a decade after his departure his pamphlet was still advertised in American newspapers. In the early 1760s, James Stewart, dispatched from London by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce, toured New England and New York. Bridenbaugh credits Stewart with being such a successful advocate that “potash became a staple commodity of New York and New England.”[6] For readers of the New-York Gazette interested in entering or improving potash production, Stephens’s pamphlet may have supplemented Stewart’s instruction.

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[1] William I. Roberts, III, “American Potash Manufacture before the American Revolution,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 116, no. 5 (October 1972), 383.

[2] Roberts, 383.

[3] Roberts, 383.

[4] Roberts, 384.

[5] Carl Bridenbaugh, The Colonial Craftsman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950), 104.

[6] Bridenbaugh, Colonial Craftsman, 105.

March 8

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

Mar 8 - 3:7:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 7, 1766).

“This masterly Performance merits the closest Attention and Consideration of every true SON OF AMERICA, the Propriety of imposing TAXES on free Subjects.”

Yesterday’s advertisements from the New-Hampshire Gazette testified to the connections between slavery and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Slavery was discussed elsewhere on the same page of that issue, though it was slavery of a different sort. The printers inserted several letters forwarded by the “true born Sons of Liberty” concerning the continuing controversy over the Stamp Act. The American protestors were “determined to use there utmost Efforts to prevent even the Appearance of Slavery.” Meanwhile, readers who glanced two columns to the left would have seen the advertisements for “BARBADOS whitest LOAF SUGAR” and “A NEGRO BOY.”

Today’s advertisement appeared on the previous page. It does not include the word “slavery,” but other items published in the same issue demonstrate that many readers consciously linked the Stamp Act and enslavement (even as they may have attempted to eschew associations between sugar and slavery). In American Slavery, American Freedom (1975), Edmund S. Morgan explored the paradox of the founding of the American nation: the rhetoric of freedom and equality during the Revolution and after occurred with the enslavement of black laborers as its backdrop throughout the colonial era and beyond. The liberty of white Americans was contingent in many ways on the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, a distressing contradiction.

Today’s advertisement is certainly evidence that advertising and consumer culture took on a political valence in the years of the imperial crisis, but a story of patriotic advertising would be an incomplete story. Just as yesterday’s advertisements for sugar and an enslaved boy were bound together, the stories of Americans advocating (and eventually fighting) for their liberties and simultaneously continuing to practice slavery cannot be separated from each other.