Reflections from Guest Curator Patrick Waters

During my week as a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, I learned quite a bit about what it was like to live in revolutionary America. What I found most interesting about the advertisements were the subtle things that people were inferring through them. For example, there were many printers that took out advertisements in search of used linen cloth. To most it would just look like a potential buyer who is searching for linen, but the underlying message is much deeper. These people are searching for cloth so that they can make their own paper and resist Parliament’s taxes by hindering the British economy through boycotts. This was part of the larger idea of how print culture allowed colonists to quickly disseminate propaganda and news throughout the colonies.

While reading through dozens of advertisements in search of ones to write about, I found it interesting how the wealthy people lived in colonial and revolutionary America. There were so many advertisements that were aimed at selling high-end products that most people would be unable to afford. What I learned was that the wealthy people of 1769 were not much different than the wealthy today. They could not spend their money on lavish vacations and foreign cars; however, they bought certain items that were designed specifically to flaunt their wealth to their neighbors and guests, such as silver kitchenware, furniture, and even fruit. I found the fruit to be the most interesting way to show off how much money they had because I never thought of how difficult it would be to get fresh produce from a farm to a new destination hundreds of miles away.

While I enjoyed working on the Adverts 250 Project, it certainly came with its difficulties that I had not anticipated. The first issue that I came across was the difference in the English language today and the English language 250 years ago. I simply did not think of the fact that our language was not the same and that I would have to look up certain words for clarification or have to look at strange grammar. It was strange to me the way that they capitalized certain letters or even entire words, which would be considered improper grammar today. The biggest issue that I had to overcome was that their letter “s” looks much more like our letter “f.” This was extremely confusing at first but I eventually stopped noticing it and just read the words as they were supposed to be.

What I really enjoyed about this project was that I felt like a real historian. I have only taken a few history classes as an undergrad but I have never felt like a historian quite as much as when I was at the American Antiquarian Society searching through primary sources. I felt like I was truly unearthing something new while I was sitting in their reading room and searching their digital archive for copies of newspapers. Sitting alongside other historians while searching through primary sources was certainly my favorite part of this project.

May 4

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 4 - 5:4:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (May 4, 1769).
“Spermaceti Candles.”

In 2019 light is one of the most abundant resources that we have. Simply flip a switch and to illuminate an entire room with almost no effort. However, 250 years ago colonists needed to burn a candle to produce a small amount of light, accompanied by smoke and smell. Richard Smith published this advertisement for his sale of “Spermaceti Candles, by the quantity or single Box” on May 4, 1769. These spermaceti candles were created from the oils harvested from the heads of sperm whales. They were of much better quality than the typical tallow candle. The reason that spermaceti candles were much more desirable than others was that they would burn brighter, produce less odor, and little smoke. This was particularly important to people striving for a cleaner source of light. These candles were also far superior during the warm summer months because they were more resistant to heat. Unlike tallow candles, these high-quality candles would not bend and warp due to the heat and humidity. Because these candles were far superior to the typical tallow candle, they were very expensive and would typically be purchased by those who could afford the luxury. For more information, see Emily Irwin’s article on “The Spermaceti Candle and the American Whaling Industry.”



Richard Smith sold spermaceti candles at his store in King Street in Boston, but he was not a chandler. The candles were among the many items, “an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS,” that he sold at that location, though he did give them particular prominence in his advertisement in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. “Spermaceti Candles” served as a second headline, appearing in font the same size as Smith’s name.

While that may have been the result of design decisions made by the compositor, Smith certainly exercised control over the copy of the advertisement. He chose to highlight various aspects of the candles and merely make a nod to his other wares. For instance, he allowed customers to purchase as many or as few candles as they needed or could afford, offering them “by the Quantity or single Box.” More significantly, he offered assurances about the quality of the spermaceti candles he sold. Smith proclaimed that they were “Manufactured by Daniel Jeackes & Com. at Providence, warranted pure, and free from any Adulteration.” As Patrick notes, the materials for making spermaceti candles were rare compared to tallow or beeswax candles, which made them more expensive for consumers and introduced the possibility that chandlers had diluted the materials during the production process. To ward off any such suspicions, Smith named the manufacturers, Daniel Jeackes and Company, giving prospective customers the opportunity to assess their reputation for themselves. Even if readers were not already familiar with spermaceti candles produced by Jeackes and Company, Smith offered a warranty that they were “pure, and free from any Adulteration.” Presumably this was also a marketing strategy that Jeackes and Company deployed when they supplied Smith with the candles.

This sort of strategy was a common element of advertisements for spermaceti candles in eighteenth-century newspapers. On the same day that Smith’s advertisement ran in Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, another advertisement for “Sperma-Caeti Candles” appeared in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. It simply stated that the candles were “Warranted pure,” acknowledging the concerns of consumers but not providing nearly as much detail. Smith provided more powerful reassurances by naming the chandlers and commenting on the purity of the candles at greater length. He made those qualities, rather than the candles themselves, the centerpiece of his advertisement.

May 3

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 3 - 5:3:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 3, 1769).


On May 3, 1769, William Coachman of South Carolina took out this advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to try to find his runaway slaves named York (or Yorkshire) and Sarah. The advertisement gave descriptions of both York and Sarah. It even told readers how York spoke with a stutter.

During the eighteenth century slaves ran away for a variety of reasons, such as attempting to find family members, needing a break from work, or trying to escape from an abusive master.   In 1705 the General Assembly in Virginia passed a new law that made it very risky for slaves to flee from their masters. According to Tom Costa, plantation owners now had the legal rights to punish their runaway slaves however they saw fit. This even included disciplining a slave to death for attempting to run away. There was even a plantation owner named Robert Carter who sought permission to dismember his slaves that tried to run away from him. It is hard to imagine what slaves had to endure 250 years ago; however, this was an important part of American history as enslaved men and women ran away from their owners as acts of defiance and resistance.



As the spring semester draws to a close, Patrick is the final guest curator from my Revolutionary America class at Assumption College. For his penultimate entry, he has selected this advertisement about “A NEGROE FELLOW, named YORK, or YORKSHIRE” who was born in Georgia and Sarah, a woman from “Guiney” who had survived the Middle Passage. Despite the differences in their origins, York and Sarah found common cause in seizing their own liberty by escaping from their enslaver.

Like each of his peers, Patrick had to fulfill certain requirements with his contributions as guest curator. Among those, he had to select at least one advertisement concerning enslaved men, women, and children to analyze for the project. He chose two, one that offered “A CARGO of Three Hundred PRIME YOUNG NEGROES” for sale and the other about York and Sarah’s flight from William Coachman. In so doing, he examined the two types of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. This provides a more complete story than considering just one type of advertisement. It balances the inhumanity and exploitation of the for sale advertisements with the resistance and agency of the runaway advertisements. Both are necessary components for understanding the experiences of enslaved people. To focus on one to the exclusion of the other tells an incomplete story.

In selecting their advertisements about slavery, the guest curators did not tend to choose one type over another. Another sort of pattern, however, did emerge among their choices: most selected advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children from the Georgia Gazette. Why, when similar advertisements ran in newspapers throughout the colonies, did the guest curators independently concentrate their attention on just one newspaper to fulfill this particular requirement for the project? Consider the contents of the advertisements in the Georgia Gazette collectively. Relatively few advertisements for consumer goods and services ran in the Georgia Gazette, even though they overflowed into advertising supplements in other publications. In comparison, a disproportionate number of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children filled the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Guest curators selected these advertisements to examine out of necessity because the commerce represented in the pages of the Georgia Gazette so often revolved around the slave trade and the surveillance of black bodies to capture runaways rather than promoting consumer goods and services or marketing important commodities.

May 2

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 2 - 5:2:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 2, 1769).

“CASH is given for clean Linen Rags, coarse and fine.”

This was a common advertisement seen in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century. This advertisement published in the Essex Gazette on May 2, 1769, attempted to get people to save their rags. It was a common practice to simply throw away old linen rags; however, they were extremely important in the creation of paper. As the American colonies began boycotting goods from Great Britain, they needed to create their own paper instead of importing it. This put a great stress on newspaper printers who needed sources for paper.

It is easy to take for granted how accessible perfectly white paper is today, but 250 years ago it was not easy to create. In order to produce a piece of paper that was free from spots and speckles, according to “Paper Through Time,” papermakers needed crystal clear water that was free from metals like iron and other debris. In order to filter the water, papermakers needed an abundance of clean linen rags to act as filters. This was the first reason that they needed so many rags; the second is that the rags were also used as part of the paper. Paper products 250 years ago were not wood products as much as they were linen. This makes the advertisement so interesting in American history because it not only shows the types of products they were producing, but also the extent that people were going to in order to keep their money out of English hands.



Advertisements calling on readers to collect clean linen rags did indeed appear in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century, but these familiar notices, as Patrick notes, took on new significance during the imperial crisis. The Revenue Acts of 1767, one of the Townshend Acts, taxed paper, along with glass, paint, and lead. In the late 1760s, collecting rags to produce paper became a political act.

The day before this advertisement ran in the Essex Gazette, a similar notice appeared on the first page of the Newport Mercury. “CASH is given,” it stated, “for clean Linen RAGS, at the Printing-Office, For the PAPER-MANUFACTURE in this Colony.” This advertisement more explicitly invoked local production, perhaps hoping that an additional nudge would prompt greater diligence on the part of concerned readers looking for ways to resist ongoing abuses by Parliament.

A couple of days later, an overview of a nonimportation agreement then in effect ran on the front page of the May 4 edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. It reminded readers that the “Merchants & Traders in the Town of BOSTON” had met the previous August and “entered into an Agreement not to send for or import any Good from Great-Britain … from January 1769 to January 1770.” Furthermore, the “Merchants and Traders in other Towns in this Province, and at New-York” had devised similar agreements. Draper reprinted the original “ARTICLES of the Agreement entered into by the Merchants in August last,” concluding with the fifth article. It stated, “That we will not from and after the First of January 1769, import into this Province any Tea, Paper, Glass, or Painters Colours, until the Act imposing Duties on those Articles shall be repealed.”

In this context, linen rags were not merely trash to be discarded. They became political symbols. Collecting them allowed colonists from various backgrounds to express political views as they engaged in an act of resistance. Although the gentry dominated colonial assemblies, the laboring poor found their political voices through other means, including collecting rags to encourage the production and consumption of paper produced in the colonies. Women also embraced this means of supporting American interests, transforming mundane housework into acts that reverberated with political meaning. A two-line notice about rags might appear insignificant at first glance, but it was enmeshed in expansive debates about the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.

May 1

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 1 - 5:1:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 1, 1769).

“A compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.”

On May 1, 1769, this advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury informed the public that there would be a public sale of household and kitchen items at the house of Nicholas Roosevelt, deceased. Roosevelt was probably a silversmith since the advertisements included “a compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.” Silver was used to create many items like teapots, silverware, plates, and bowls. Silversmithing was a notable occupation in colonial America, often seen as more of an art than a trade, according to the historians at Colonial Williamsburg.

In order to create a simple silver bowl, a silversmith needed to heat silver to 2000 degrees in a graphite and clay crucible. This liquid silver was then be poured out into a large sheet which would be hammered and molded into the desired shape. This was a difficult process because the silver would be extremely fragile while in this cooling state. To keep the silver malleable the smith repeatedly heated it and then plunged into an acid bath while it was being worked. This was a long process that required many different hammers – a “compleat set” – to achieve a perfectly smooth bowl.

These silver items had to be perfect not only because of the expensive materials used, but because they were sold to elite buyers. Silver teapots, bowls, and other items were very expensive commodities that only the upper class could afford, which they would then use to show off their affluence to their guests.



The same day that the advertisement concerning the sale of items from Nicholas Roosevelt’s estate appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury it also ran in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. The copy was exactly the same, though the compositors for the two newspapers made slightly different decisions about the format. The executor certainly sought to achieve maximum exposure for this sale, having previously advertised in the New-York Journal on April 27. The copy for that advertisement, however, deviated from what appeared in the other newspapers. The first portion was consistent, but the notice did not include the second half that offered the tools of Roosevelt’s trade for sale.

What explained this difference? Usually when advertisers invested the time and expense in placing notices in multiple newspapers they submitted identical copy to the printing offices. Why did the executor expand on the original advertisement from the New-York Journal when it ran in other newspapers a few days later? Perhaps the circumstances for settling Roosevelt’s estate changed. Maybe the executor had arranged for a buyer for the tools but then the deal fell apart, prompting a revised version of the advertisement.

Whatever the reason for adding the tools to the second iteration of the advertisement, the executor did not consider it necessary to update the original advertisement when it made a subsequent appearance in the New-York Journal on May 4. It ran just as it had the previous week, without mention of the “compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.” With the revised advertisement slated for publication in the other two newspapers one more time on May 8, the executor may have considered that sufficient visibility for attracting buyers. Alternately, the executor may not have considered it worth the expense to tinker with the wording of the advertisement in the New-York Journal since the type had already been set. The executor may have already received special consideration when placing that advertisement. The colophon listed a fee to run advertisements for a minimum of four weeks with additional fees for each subsequent insertion, yet this advertisement ran only twice.

Collating advertisements that appeared in multiple newspapers sometimes produces fairly definitive conclusions. For instance, identical copy with variations in format strongly suggests that advertisers were responsible for generating copy and compositors responsible for graphic design. The variations in the advertisements concerning Roosevelt’s estate, however, raise questions about decisions made by advertisers and business practices in printing offices, questions that elude answers when examining only eighteenth-century newspapers. They may also elude answers when consulting printers’ records and other sources, but the questions themselves do provide direction for another stage of research on advertising in early America. As the guest curators in my Revolutionary America class reach the end of the semester, this is another important lesson: no matter who much we have learned in this process, there is still so much more to discover. Seeking answers sometimes leads us to far more questions.

April 30

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 1, 1769).

“NEGROES … from CAPE-MOUNT, on the WINDWARD COAST, which is in the center of a RICE COUNTRY.”

Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton took out this advertisement in the South Carolina and American General Gazette to inform readers that a slave ship had just arrived. The advertisement stated that “A CARGO of Three Hundred PRIME YOUNG NEGROES Arrived Yesterday”

from Cape Mount on the Windward Coast of Africa. The captain was looking to offload its cargo on Wednesday, May 10, 1769. The advertisement speaks volumes about the economy of South Carolina in the era of the American Revolution. A slave ship with three hundred young black men and women would have been a welcomed sight for plantation owners looking to increase their labor force. Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton made sure in this advertisement to state that these slaves came from the Windward Coast. The reason for this, according to Joseph Opala, was that these slaves would already have expertise in farming rice. Colonists had found that the climate in South Carolina was perfect for farming rice; however, very few people had the skills to do so. This made slaves coming from the Windward Coast or the “Rice Coast” even more valuable because they came from fishing and rice farming villages.



Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton’s advertisement was one of many in the May 1, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that indicated the origins of enslaved men, women, and children offered for sale. The partners provided very little information about the human cargo except to note that these “PRIME YOUNG NEGROES” came “from CAPE-MOUNT, on the WINDWARD COAST, which is in the center of a RICE COUNTRY.” Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton gave a short geography lesson, anticipating that it would resonate with prospective buyers precisely for the reasons that Patrick outlines in his analysis of the advertisement.

In another advertisement, John Chapman and Company announced the sale of “Two Hundred and Fifty NEGROES, Arrived … directly from GAMBIA.” Edmond Head placed yet another for “A CARGO of One Hundred and Twenty-six PRIME NEGROES … from GAMBIA.” Brewton, Doyley, and Brewton also placed a second advertisement, that one concerning “A CARGO of Three Hundred and Forty PRIME HEALTHY NEGROES, Arrived … directly from ANNAMABOE, on the GOLD COAST of AFRICA” (in modern Ghana). All of these advertisers expected that documenting the origins of enslaved men, women, and children made them more attractive to prospective buyers.

According to the Slave Voyages database, twenty-two vessels carrying at least 4277 captives arrived in Charleston directly from Africa in 1769. Another thirty-eight vessels from other ports, all of them in the Caribbean or mainland North America, also delivered enslaved men, women, and children to Charleston in 1769. Each of those vessels carried far fewer slaves. Still, the port of Charleston, one of the largest cities in the American colonies, was a vibrant slaving center on the eve of the American Revolution. Prospective buyers had many choices, prompting slave traders to attempt to distinguish the African men, women, and children they treated as commodities according to their particular places of origin and the types of expertise associated with laborers from those faraway places.

April 29

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

Providence Gazette (April 29, 1769).

“He also carries on the BOOK-BINDING Business.”

Edward Jones took out an advertisement in the Providence Gazette on April 29, 1769. His advertisement was for “A VARIETY of useful and entertaining BOOKS” as well as his specialty in bookbinding. Bookbinding was a very interesting career choice because it was far from a simple job. In order to become a practicing bookbinder Jones had to go through years of apprenticeship that required “hard work, dexterity, attention to detail, and a willingness and ability to handle painstaking tasks,” according to Ed Crews. However, it was a great trade to have because books were so popular and seen as a status item since they were typically expensive and demonstrated that the owner was wealthy and educated. Yet there was one book that many colonists owned that would go through quite a bit of wear and tear, the Bible. It is likely that there was a large demand for repairing bibles, as they were used frequently.



When customers purchased many of Jones’s “useful and entertaining BOOKS,” they likely did not acquire items that consumers would recognize as books today. In many cases they did not buy bound volumes but instead purchased books still in sheets. They then delivered those sheets to a bookbinder’s shop, where they could make decisions about the binding to fit their tastes and budget. In other words, customers who purchased Brady’s Psalms or Watts’s Hymns did not end up with matching volumes in their homes. They did purchase the same printed material, but their own decisions about binding resulted in different final products.

Ed Crews describes assembling books as akin to “constructing a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.” Broadly speaking, the process required two steps: forwarding and finishing. Forwarding, Crews explains, “generally involved arranging pages so they could be turned and examined.” Recall that customers purchased books in sheets. That meant that many pages were printed out of order on each side of large sheet that, when folded, ended up with the pages in the correct order. Once the pages had been folded in these closed signatures, bookbinders stitched them together and then “put a protective cover on them, typically fashioned of leather from calves, sheep or deer. At this point, the signatures (or folded pages) were cut open so readers could view every page. Already the decisions about the leather cover produced different appearances for volumes that contained the same text, but the decoration that comprised the finishing further distinguished them from each other. Finishing “could include lettering as well as design work” created with heated tools that stamped or imprinted designs into the leather covers. Bookbinders had a lot of responsibility. Not only did their work require artistry, it also required that they produce durable products. Crews notes the many ways that colonists handled their books: the structure “had to allow for repeated openings and closings, page fanning and tugging, falls to the floor, and being pulled from a shelf by a finger hooked on a spine.”

Today most consumers put little thought into the bindings of most books they buy, beyond choosing between hardcover and paperback editions. Colonial consumers, however, faced far more choices. They interacted not only with booksellers but also often with bookbinders who transformed the printed sheets they purchased into unique volumes according to consumers’ wishes.

April 28

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 28, 1769).


Peter Curtis took out an advertisement in the April 28, 1769, edition of the New Hampshire Gazette to advertise his dance school. This advertisement is particularly interesting because it demonstrates one of the ways that people found entertainment in the eighteenth century. The lives of colonists during the revolutionary era were not focused only on work and survival. The services that Peter Curtis offered might have been a great way for people to take a break and learn how to dance. The profession of dance master could be quite rewarding because, according to an online exhibition from the American Antiquarian Society, these dances were difficult to master and would require many classes. However, having the time and money to attend a dance class would have been a luxury that mostly the middling sort and elites would have been able to take advantage of. In another part of this advertisement that is interesting Curtis states that he will also teach good manners. This would be a must for elites who wanted their children to learn the proper way to behave themselves when in the company of other affluent members of society. A common way that people asserted their affluence was through consumer culture, but being able to dance and have well-mannered children also accomplished the same goal.



In this advertisement Peter Curtis announced that he “has again opened a SCHOOL for teaching young MASTERS and MISSES, DANCING and GOOD MANNERS.” In declaring that he had “again opened a SCHOOL,” he assumed that readers and prospective clients were already aware of his previous endeavors as a dancing master. The brevity of his advertisement, especially compared to another he previously inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette, suggests that was indeed the case. For instance, Curtis did not even state his location; he instead expected that others knew where to find his dancing school. In an advertisement that ran almost two years earlier, however, when Curtis launched that enterprise, he informed residents of Portsmouth that “he proposes to open a DANCING SCHOOL, at the House where the late Mr. David Horney kept a Tavern, and opposite Mr. John Stavers.” Over the course of a couple of years, his school became so familiar that Curtis no longer considered it necessary to give directions.

The dancing master himself had also become familiar in the community, so much so that he no longer underscored one of his most important credentials. When he first opened his school he introduced himself in the public prints as “Peter Curtis, From PARIS.” After outlining his services, he noted that he “has resided fifteen Years in France; he will teach them in the most polite and genteel Manner.” In so doing, he linked the experience he gained living and working in France with gentility and proper comportment. He encouraged prospective clients to desire the additional cachet of employing a dancing master with connections to Paris, at least when he first marketed his services in a community as yet unfamiliar with him. Over time, however, he apparently decided that he had established such a reputation in Portsmouth that he no longer needed to explicitly attach himself to the cosmopolitan French center of fashion and manners.

That Curtis once again advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette suggests that he experiences some success in Portsmouth and its environs. Dancing masters were notorious for being itinerant in eighteenth-century America. Curtis apparently attracted enough clients and cultivated sufficient demand that he planned to remain in the relatively small port for another season rather than seek his fortune in New York or Philadelphia or any of the larger cities in the colonies. Even beyond urban centers, genteel colonists (and those who aspired to gentility) considered dancing and the manners associated with the pastime an important signifier of their status.

Welcome, Guest Curator Patrick Waters

Patrick Waters is a senior at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is majoring in Marketing major with a minor in Information Technology. He recently made a presentation about his work on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project at Assumption College’s twenty-fifth annual Undergraduate Symposium. For the past three years he has been working for Dell in their Social Media Strategy and Governance department. He has passion for high tech and enjoys learning about American history.

Welcome, Patrick Waters!