Reflections from Guest Curator Patrick Keane

To me the best part about this project was learning about some of the background information about the people or products that were being sold. William Ewen, for example: I had no idea what “vendue master” meant. After looking it up I found out about William Ewen and that he had a very significant role in the colony of Georgia. At first I thought that with such small advertisements there wouldn’t much to it, but I could find out very significant information to give my entries more meaning. For other aspects of what I researched, such as the European goods, other people might not have known why colonists wanted to buy them. I learned in class that colonists did it to keep up with the styles in Europe.

Looking at the advertisements and then doing research on them really helped make it easier. I learned where these products were being made and by whom. Others might not have known that sugar was made in the Caribbean by slaves working at the sugar plantations during the colonial times. While knowing where these products were coming from this was a good way to inform others who had no idea about this information to really understand what these times were like. This could also give the reader more motivation to do some research of their own to learn more about certain questions they have about these times.

The background information could sometimes be the most difficult aspect of the project. Some advertisements that I chose really didn’t give me much information to research. Picking out specific parts of the advertisements is what made it easier. With one of my advertisements I didn’t even really talk about the goods it was selling, but how the shopkeepers had a lot of competition from others in Boston due to it being one of the biggest cities. Just talking about the products being sold probably doesn’t really make other people want to read, so I wanted to talk about the significance of those advertisements and even compare them to others. Advertisements sometimes gave me a lot of information that could help me find more information, or very little, making it harder. Not directly speaking about the advertisements sometimes helped. Instead of talking just about the advertisement sometimes I talked about who was in it (such as William Ewen) or why colonists loved to buy what was in it.

This project wasn’t just about me learning about these advertisements; it was also to show other people my ideas about them. That is why this project was fun to do, creating a way for others to do their own research, whether the part of the advertisement I chose or something else that they wanted to do research on. There is so much information about these advertisements that I didn’t know about: colonial America was such a different age. When I read the advertisement about real estate I had no idea I would end up learning about the person in that being a patriotic leader in the American Revolution.

It’s those little things that made the project that much better: one search of a name or product in the advertisement and I could learn so much about it, making me want to show everyone else what I found. When I found out about that I couldn’t wait to show others how significant that advertisement really was. There is significance to every advertisement on the newspapers during these times. All the products and people (whether leaders or not) played a huge part in their colonies. These people all helped develop their colonies. They also left behind sources that still bring attention to their communities: we are still reading their advertisements today.

 

November 26

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-26-11261766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 26, 1766).

“To be sold at publick vendue … PART of a TOWN LOT … WILLIAM EWEN, Vendue-master.”

I found this advertisement interesting because of William Ewen, the “Vendue-master,” which means that auctioned the house and lot. Before he became an auctioneer he had done other significant things in Georgia. He was probably born in England, but moved to Georgia as an indentured servant around the age of fourteen. The Board of Trustees of the colony purchased his indenture and had him work in the store the chief magistrate ran. After his indentured ended, he was awarded land and wanted to try out farming. He failed at farming, causing him to lose his land. Afterwards he worked with settlers in Georgia called Malcontents, who were against the trustees. He became the voice and leader of the Malcontents, paving the way for a successful future.

William Ewen became a “commissioner for the town of Ebenezer, superintendent for Savannah, and later vendue master, or auctioneer for the colony” of Georgia. Last but not least, one of his most significant achievements was being a patriotic leader during the American Revolution. “[N]ews of the Stamp Act (1765) reached the colony and ignited a revolutionary movement, with Ewen at the forefront.” Ewen later served as the first president of the Georgia Council of Safety. It’s really interesting to know that a name from a small advertisement leads to a person who had a major impact on his colony.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Yesterday I expressed frustration that an employment advertisement teased modern readers by offering just enough information to reveal some aspects of household management and gender roles in colonial South Carolina yet not enough information to answer some of the questions it raised. The advertiser had not even signed the notice, inserting “Apply to the Printer” instead, eliminating other means of investigating the particular circumstances of the family who sought a young woman to work as housekeeper, wait on young ladies, and oversee slaves.

Today’s advertisement, on the other hand, carried the signature of “WILLIAM EWEN, Vendue-master.” In his research, Patrick discovered that the local auctioneer was actually a prominent local official who, within the next ten years, would be at the forefront of the Georgia’s patriots at the beginning of the American Revolution.

As the project manager for the Adverts 250 Project during the time that my students serve as guest curators I do not choose which aspects of the advertisements they will research. I discuss possibilities with them. I point them to sources that might be helpful, especially when they identify a particular interest. In many cases, however, I do not find out how they have approached an advertisement until they submit the first draft of their entry for it.

That being the case, I did not know that Patrick intended to do a biographical sketch of William Ewen until he submitted a draft. I was not previously familiar with Ewen, but I considered his story interesting and important. (This happens when I work with newspapers from cities and towns that are less familiar to me than Philadelphia, the focus of much of my earlier research. I am grateful, for instance, whenever J.L. Bell, who knows eighteenth-century Boston as if he lived there himself, provides additional information of the people who appeared in advertisements from that city.) I suggested to Patrick that he eliminate some other material and expand his treatment of Ewen.

I appreciate Patrick’s approach to the advertisement. Given the nature of my research, I tend to focus on the appeals in advertisements more than the biographies of the people. Like every other student who has worked on this project, Patrick has applied his own creativity and curiosity to ask other sorts of questions. Having my students work as guest curators on the Adverts 250 Project is intended to be a learning experience for them. I’m fortunate that they also make it a learning experience for me.

November 25

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-25-11251766-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 25, 1766).

“WANTED: A Young Woman industriously brought up … carefully to mind a House.”

I liked this advertisement, especially after curating the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, as this has to do with slavery. However, the advertisement did not talk directly about the slaves. Instead, the advertiser was looking for a woman willing to work in the house and watch the master’s slaves. Only women skilled enough to do the job were asked to apply for it: “none need apply that is not qualified as above-mentioned.” The advertiser specifically wanted a woman because during the colonial period woman were expected to do the housework.

One summary of Ruth Cowan Schwartz’s More Work For Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave, explains that a “division of labor kept a man and a woman together or joined them in a household in some way.” Other than watching the slaves, the woman in this advertisement would do all of the housework as well, including kitchen work, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

This employment advertisement simultaneously offers a wealth of details concerning domestic life in one South Carolina household and provides frustratingly few specifics. As Patrick indicates, the advertiser sought a young woman who would be responsible for all sorts of housework as well as overseeing slaves. In addition, the young woman was expected to be a servant to an unspecified number of “young Ladies.”

This advertisement reveals quite a bit about women’s responsibilities in early American households. Given traditional gendered divisions of domestic labor that have continued to the present, it comes as little surprise that an eighteenth-century employment advertisement positioned housework as women’s domain. Looking after a house, however, included more than cooking and cleaning, especially in a household with servants or slaves. The work of a housekeeper also included household management intended to keep everything running smoothly.

Who were “the Negroes” mentioned in this advertisement? How many slaves lived and worked in this household? What were their responsibilities? How much of the domestic labor did they perform? Was the successful applicant expected to do any cooking or cleaning herself? Or was she an overseer within the household, someone who delegated tasks and confirmed they were completed?

The advertisement also reveals little about the family that wanted to hire a young woman to join their household. Apparently it was a family of some affluence. Not only did they own slaves and intended to hire a servant, they also, according to a nota bene appended to the advertisement, wished to lease (but not buy) a harpsichord. Perhaps the young ladies of the house took lessons and entertained guests as a means of demonstrating their manners and refinement.

Despite the various details about the prospective housekeeper’s responsibilities, the advertisement does not indicate whether a mistress of the household was present. Did a wife and mother reside in this household? Did the family seek to demonstrate their wealth and status by hiring a servant to take on the tasks that the mistress of the household would have pursued in other homes? Or was the wife and mother deceased or otherwise absent, making it imperative to bring in an outsider to assume those responsibilities?

Answering those questions required applicants to “Apply to the Printer.” Unfortunately, that is not an option for modern readers. I appreciate how Patrick used this advertisement to explore women’s work in colonial America, but I remain puzzled about some of the household dynamics raised in this particular employment notice.

November 24

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

What was advertised in an American newspaper 250 years ago today?

nov-24-11241766-boston-evening-post-supplement
Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post (November 24, 1766).

“A general assortment of GOODS, suitable for the Season.”

In this advertisement Baker and Bridgham marketed imported goods “suitable for the Season.” They sold a wide variety of fabrics and accessories that appealed to men, women, and children. They also had a lot of competition for the goods they sold. There were at least ten other advertisements that were almost the same in that newspaper. Other stores sold nearly the same products.

Compared to local shopkeepers in small towns, Baker and Bridgham had it much tougher. Those local stores were better known to residents. One online encyclopedia states, “Country storekeepers became important figures in their communities because they were the primary source for goods and information about the outside world.” Compared to country shopkeepers, Baker and Bridgham had to constantly advertise themselves, because in the cities colonists did not always know all the shops. Country shopkeepers did not have as much competition as Baker and Bridgham and other shopkeepers in Boston did.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Patrick asserts, Baker and Bridgham certainly faced competition for customers from other merchants and shopkeepers in Boston. I would like to build on the work that Patrick has already done by providing a complete census of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services in Boston on November 24, 1766, in order to underscore Patrick’s main argument. (Note: I have tabulated only the advertisements for consumer goods and services. Other sorts of advertising, such as ships departing and legal notices, appeared alongside them).

In addition to its regular four-page issue, the Boston Evening-Post published a two-page supplement on November 24. As was often the case in such instance, about half of the supplement consisted of news and the other half of advertising. Overall, ten advertisements for consumer goods and services appeared in the regular issue and another thirteen, including Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement, in the supplement. T. and J. Fleet printed twenty-three newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services that week.

nov-24-11241766-boston-post-boy
Boston Post-Boy (November 24, 1766).

Yet the story does not end there. Four newspapers were printed in Boston in 1766. Two others, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy, were published on the same day as the Boston Evening-Post. Turning to them yields another ten advertisements for consumer goods and services in the Boston-Gazette and sixteen more in its supplement, as well as fourteen additional advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy. (The Boston Post-Boy had an abbreviated version of Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement.) That amounts to another forty advertisements, twenty-six in the Boston-Gazette and fourteen in the Boston Post-Boy. Although three of Boston’s newspapers were distributed on Mondays, the Massachusetts Gazette found its ways to readers on Thursdays. Its most recent issue from November 20 included twenty-three advertisements for consumer goods and services in the regular issue and another four in an extraordinary, for a total of twenty-seven. (The Massachusetts Gazette featured Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement in its entirety.)

nov-24-11201766-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 20, 1766).

This means that residents of Boston had access to ninety newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services recently printed in local newspapers at the time that Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement appeared in the Boston Evening-Post on November 24, 1766. In contrast, many of the newspapers from smaller towns ran just a handful of advertisements by shopkeepers and merchants promoting imported wares and other consumer goods and services. Competition for customers in urban ports certainly made advertising seem like a necessity to shopkeepers like Baker and Bridgham.

Even as American celebrate Thanksgiving today, many will already be thinking of the holiday season and the rampant consumption that accompanies it. Today’s holiday will be immediately followed by “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Critics will inevitably lament the rise of consumerism in America. The newspapers published 250 years ago today, however, suggest that a vibrant consumer culture has been a central part of American life since before the Revolution.

November 22

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-22-11221766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 22, 1766).

“SUPERFINE broad cloths.”

Gideon Young sold imported materials at his shop that people could use to make clothing. He sold some materials that were intended for the rich (“fashionable silks”) as well as some that were not intended for the rich (“midling and coarse broad cloths”). I found it interesting that he sold at low prices so that he could bring in rich or poor people. He wanted to bring as much attention to his shop as possible; the best way was having “cheap” prices for those who lived in Providence.

On the Colonial Williamsburg website, Edward R. Crews talks about the “18th Century love of fashion and the art of making clothes.” People who bought these materials from Young could then bring them to a milliner to make the clothing for them. Some of the colonists who bought from Young might use the materials to make fancy clothing. Young wanted to appeal to the lower class by having lower prices so that they too could make their own clothes that could also look fancy.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Who were Gideon Young’s customers? As Patrick notes, they could have included colonists from a variety of backgrounds. Young stocked some textiles that would have appealed to genteel gentlemen and ladies as well as others more likely to be purchased by the middling and lower sorts. By offering low prices, he invited all sorts of potential customers to visit his shop.

That Young attempted to cater to different kinds of clients demonstrates a tension that emerged as the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century expanded to include greater numbers of colonists. Products and fashions that had once been reserved for the elite increasingly became more widely accessible as the number of imported goods rose and prices fell. Affluent colonists engaged in conspicuous consumption as a means of continuing to distinguish themselves from their social subordinates. However, even as the elite bought more and more things, other colonists purchased what they could afford and engaged in their own acts of displaying their possessions – and their good taste – to others.

Young certainly wanted to make his customers feel special when he offered “fashionable silks” and “best black sattins, pelong, and alamode.” Yet he balanced a sense of exclusivity against “cheap” prices that suggested that not everyone who visited his shop on Union Street came from the upper echelons of Providence residents.

If all sorts of colonists could buy “fashionable” and “best” goods with all the “trimmings to suit” for low prices from shopkeepers like Young, how could the elite assert their status? A rise in concern for manners as well as attention to personal comportment accompanied the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Colonists concentrated on demonstrating their gentility through their actions and interactions with others rather than relying solely on their possessions to testify to their status. In such cases, the clothes did not, by themselves, make the man (or woman). Appearances and possessions were not enough to claim social status. Colonists who wanted to claim a place among the genteel also needed to exhibit politeness and demonstrate that they understood refined rules for social interactions.

November 21

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-21-11211766-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 21, 1766).

“Single and double refin’d Sugar.”

This advertisement, while very small, was also extremely important because it sold arguably one of the biggest products of colonial times. Sugar was one of the most important and bestselling staple crops in the world. Sugar importation was part of a trade network that brought together people from three continents: Europe, Africa, and the Americas (including the Caribbean islands). Slavery played a major part as, over time, millions of slaves on the Caribbean islands worked on sugar plantations.

During colonial times sugar was produced for all sorts of consumers, including people in the North American colonies. According to the William L. Clements Library’s online exhibit about sugar, “Between the middle of the seventeenth century and the middle of the nineteenth century, sugar was transformed from a luxury to a widely consumed commodity in Great Britain and the United States.” With this production also came high mortality rates for slaves who worked on the plantations. In addition, a lot more slaves produced sugar than other staple crops.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to sugar, the advertisement Patrick chose for today also marketed “Molasses, very reasonable.” It comes as no surprise that the proprietor of “the SUGAR HOUSE” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, also sold molasses, a byproduct of the sugar refining process. Like sugar, molasses was produced on sugar plantations in the Caribbean and then exported as part of the trading networks that crisscrossed the Atlantic Ocean. Massive quantities of molasses were transported to New England, including Portsmouth, during the eighteenth century.

Why did colonists purchase so much molasses? They used it to produce rum by fermenting the molasses with yeast and water and then distilling the mixture in copper pot stills. During the eighteenth century New England became a major center for the production of rum. In the process, the New England colonies became enmeshed in what is often called the triangular trade. Merchants shipped sugar and molasses produced on plantations in the Caribbean to New England. Distillers purchased molasses and converted it into rum, which merchants then carried to Africa to trade for captive Africans. Those Africans were then transported to the Caribbean, where they labored as slaves on sugar plantations, as Patrick explains above.

Compared to the slave societies of the Chesapeake, Lower South, and Caribbean, colonists in New England owned relatively few slaves in the eighteenth century. That did not mean, however, that their economy and ability to participate in the expanding consumer culture of the era did not depend in large part on slavery. They relied on the transatlantic slave trade and the labor of enslaved Africans as integral parts of their networks of exchange. In other words, colonists in New England were complicit in perpetuating slavery even if they did not own slaves themselves. That was a consequence of their economic decisions.

On a final note, compare the roles of sugar and molasses in today’s advertisement. The sugar was intended for sale to consumers who were end users. The molasses, on the other hand, was not necessarily intended for the consumption of local customers. Instead, it was part of the production process for creating another commodity, rum, that upon its sale allowed colonists to participate more fully in consumer culture. Rum revenues made it possible to purchase imported English goods listed in so many other advertisements in colonial newspapers.

November 20

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-20-11201766-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 20, 1766).

“A general Assortment of Goods.”

I chose this advertisement because Bartholomew Kneeland ran a store that sold a wide variety of products that almost everyone during colonial times used. These products were “imported from London” to be sold at his store in Boston. Kneeland did not sell just one category of products; he sold items such as fabrics to make clothing, tea and spices, “Writing Paper,” “English and Poland Starch,” and “many other articles not mentioned.”

Many of these are everyday products were very much needed in colonial America; many continue to be important even today. I noticed a lot of materials that colonists used to make their own clothing and other necessities. According to Virginia Johnson, “Every colonial family except for the very rich had to be able to make their own soap, candles, furniture, cloth, baskets, toys, and musical instrument.” Families in colonial Boston needed the products Kneeland sold. This made me think of today and how most people do not need to make their own clothing and other household items.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Patrick and I met to review his advertisements together, I asked him to explain why he selected this particular advertisement for his first day as guest curator of the Adverts 250 Project. Of all the possible advertisements he could have chosen, what was it about this advertisement that attracted his attention. Patrick indicated that he noticed this advertisement because of its length and the number of consumer goods listed separately in its two columns. We then had a discussion in which we compared Bartholomew Kneeland’s advertisement to others that appeared in the same issue of the Massachusetts Gazette.

Kneeland’s advertisement appeared at the top of the first column on the second page of that issue. It extended approximately three-quarters of the way down the column. Readers would have noticed it not only because it was the first advertisement in that issue but also because it occupied so much space on the page. Immediately below it, another advertisement announced “West-India Goods” for sale but did not list any specific items. To the right, similar list-style advertisements by Thomas Hickling and Samuel Eliot extended the entire second and third columns, respectively. Other lengthy list-style advertisements appeared on the third and fourth pages of the issue.

Many other advertisements, however, were markedly shorter. Richard Salter and Joshua Blanchard, for instance, each inserted short advertisements that announced goods imported for London available at low prices, but they did not deploy a list of merchandise as an appeal to attract customers to their shop. One advertisement briefly stated, “Nathaniel Appleton, At his Shop in CORNHILL, has just opened: A General Assortment of English and India Goods, which he will sell cheaper than ever for Cash only.”

nov-20-11201766-appleton-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 20, 1766).

Each advertiser attempted to incite demand and encourage potential customers to visit their shops, but they used different strategies. Bartholomew Kneeland and some of his competitors invested in lengthy list-style advertisements to demonstrate the variety of their merchandise and to make it more likely that readers noticed their advertisements. A quarter of a millennium later this method continued to succeed: Kneeland’s advertisement caught Patrick’s attention and prompted him to read through it to see what the shopkeeper offered for sale.

Welcome, Guest Curator Patrick Keane

Patrick Keane is a sophomore who transferred to Assumption College from Kennebec Valley Community College, where he was an honor student. He is majoring in History and minoring in Economics. He was on the varsity soccer and tennis teams at Waterville Senior High, in Waterville, Maine. He will be guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project during the week of November 20 to 26, 2016. He previously curated the Slavery Adverts 250 Project during the week of October 23 to 29, 2016.

Welcome, Patrick Keane!