April 25

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 24, 1769).

“CHOICE CHOCOLATE … Cocoa manufactured for Gentlemen in the best Manner.”

When most people read the word “chocolate,” they probably pictures a Hershey’s chocolate bar. However, chocolate to the typical eighteenth-century colonist was a kind of frothy drink made from cocoa beans. According to Rodney Snyder, the chocolate drink originated in Mesoamerica, its first contact with Europeans being traced back to one of Christopher Columbus’s voyages in 1502. Chocolate was mentioned in a colonial newspaper for the first time in 1705, and it quickly became a colonial staple, since it was affordable and could be consumed by people from any class. Around the time of the printing of this newspaper, the colonies were importing over 320 tons of cocoa beans. So readily available was chocolate that it was actually given out as rations to soldiers in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Colonists commonly drank chocolate in coffeehouses, a place where they met to discuss politics, current events, and anything else.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Sam first consulted with me about this advertisement via email, I had a little difficulty finding it in the Boston-Gazette. She told me that it was on the third page, yet it is actually on the second page of the supplement. Sam did not, however, make an error. Instead, she reported the information available to her as a result of a design flaw for one of the databases of digitized newspapers that make the Adverts 250 Project possible.

I regularly sing praises for America’s Historical Newspapers. That database makes my research possible. It also allows me to bring my research into the classroom in meaningful ways, especially when I invite students to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Beyond those projects, America’s Historical Newspapers is a valuable resource for examining primary sources in class, allowing me to present digital surrogates with much more context than modern editions in course readers allow.

That being said, I have learned from experience that the database does have a flaw in the manner that it incorporates supplements. Consider the April 24, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. It consists of the standard four-page issue and a two-page supplement. Ideally, the database would present the standard issue first and then the supplement. However, when viewing this issue online the first page of the supplement appears first, then the first page of the standard issue, then the second page of the supplement, followed by the second, third, and fourth pages of the standard issue. The pages appear in the same order when downloading a PDF of the entire issue. For issues with four-page supplements, the pages are interspersed back and forth between the supplement and the standard issue. I have learned to collate the pages in the correct order when I print them out to mark them up.

Guest curators with less experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers, digitized primary sources, and, especially this idiosyncrasy, do not always realize that the pages presented online and in the PDF appear out of order … nor should they expect that the pages appear in any order other than first to last. When Sam consulted her digital copy of the Boston-Gazette for April 24, John Goldsmith’s advertisement for “CHOICE CHOCOLATE” appeared at the bottom of the third page in the document, hence her notation that I could find it there. I consulted a hard copy that I had collated into the proper order, which led me to a different page and created confusion. In the end, this yielded a teachable moment about how historians must continuously assess their sources, not just the contents but also the format and the media employed to make them available to us.

April 23

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Georgia Gazette (April 26, 1769).

“Brought to the Work House, a TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW … says his name is Michael.”

This advertisement for an enslaved African named Michael who attempted to escape and had been captured and “Brought to the Work House.” In other similar advertisements, as well as runaway slave advertisements, only the first names of the slaves were usually listed. Although there have been claims made that slaves did not have last names until after they were emancipated following the Civil War, research done on the naming of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves suggests that many did, in fact, have last names (“Naming Patterns in Enslaved Families”).[1] In analyzing records of slaves beginning in the late eighteenth century, historians and other scholars found that these surnames allowed slaves to maintain family connections. Even if they were separated, which was more usual than not, slaves had a way to preserve family ties. One of the most prominent families on Jefferson’s plantation, the Hemings, can be connected to Monticello for over five generations because of their shared last name. It was also common for enslaved people to name children after themselves or relatives. Their offspring then chose to continue to preserve this attachment to their families left behind after being sold by sharing a last name or giving their own children the names of their siblings, parents, or other relatives. Enslaved people placed emphasis on family values and found ways to stay connected, no matter when they were separated.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In a recent entry I discussed the challenges of working with remediated sources rather than the original documents. While all historians face these sorts of challenges, they offer particularly valuable lessons in problem solving to the undergraduates who serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Those students “do” history in ways that are new to them when they consult multiple versions of the same primary sources, discovering that all remediation is not equal.

Compare this black-and-white image to the greyscale image of the same advertisement above. Georgia Gazette (April 26, 1769).

Consider two images of today’s advertisement concerning Michael, “A TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW” who had been captured and “Brought to the Work-house” in Savannah after attempting to make his escape from his enslavers. Both images come from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, a database that guest curators become very adept at navigating. The processes used to download the images, one originally as a gif file and the other originally as a pdf file (and both converted to jpg files to post here), resulted in one image easier to read than the other. The shades of grey in the gif file distinguished which text had been printed on the page and what had bled through from the other side, unlike the black and white image from the pdf file.

The interface for America’s Historical Newspapers has been designed such that it is much more efficient to download pdf files. Acquiring gif files would be much more time consuming, both for me as a scholar who works on this project every day and for undergraduates who make contributions as guest curators over shorter durations. Once students have acquired digital copies of the newspapers for their week as guest curator, we print copies that they may use however they wish, such as marking them up and clipping items. These black-and-white images printed on 8.5×11 office paper can be quite difficult to read, depending on the remediation process. Poorly preserved primary sources, poor photography, and conversion from one kind of digital file to another all contribute to making some digital surrogates less legible than the originals. Although students often find it most convenient and efficient to work with the hard copies we have generated, I encourage them to work back and forth between digital copies and hard copies when they encounter text that is not clearly legible. I do the same, often discovering that the digital copy becomes more legible as I manipulate it, sometimes zooming in and sometimes consulting the greyscale gif image.

This process underscores to students that when they examine a hard copy of a digitized image of a newspaper from the eighteenth century that they are working with a particular manifestation of that source, one that has been altered through repeated remediation over the years. Doing the work of an historian requires not only consulting primary sources but also learning and developing strategies for working with those sources effectively.

**********

[1] Editor’s note: “Naming Patterns in Enslaved Families” has been widely cited online. It has also appeared in the citations for at least one scholarly monograph, Sharon Block’s Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America. At the time of publication for this entry, however, the article is not available on Monticello’s website. The link currently takes visitors to Monticello’s home page. Hopefully “Naming Patterns in Enslaved Families” will be restored soon.

April 18

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

Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 20, 1769).
“[illegible]”

Working extensively with primary sources is one of the benefits of serving as a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Before I incorporated these projects into my upper-level courses on early American history, I provided students with representative advertisements that I had carefully selected to demonstrate particular aspects of consumer culture or the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children. For instance, a shopkeeper’s advertisement listing dozens or hundreds of items for sale suggested the many choices available to customers during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Another advertisement describing the skills possessed by enslaved men and women made the point that they worked as coopers, blacksmiths, midwifes, and laundresses, to name just a few examples. An advertisement describing someone who escaped and offering a reward for their capture testified to acts of resistance by enslaved men and women.

In delivering these selected examples to students, I distributed either transcripts reprinted in modern textbooks and course readers or copies drawn from my own exploration of eighteenth-century newspapers made available via databases produced by Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg, and Readex. For the latter, the legibility of the digitized editions played a role as I selected advertisements. If we only had time in class to examine a few representative advertisements, then I wanted those primary sources to be as easy to read as possible.

The idea of a few representative advertisements, however, no longer applies when students assume their responsibilities as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. They are tasked with examining digital copies of every extant newspaper originally published during a particular week in the 1760s. This means that they encounter an archive of newspapers that are not nearly as perfect as the representative examples that I would otherwise distribute in class. Some copies were damaged in the eighteenth century; others deteriorated over time. This page of the Virginia Gazette shows signs of water damage, making portions illegible. The empty space below “POETS CORNER” resulted from someone clipping the poem, removing both the verse and whatever content was on the other side of the page from the original newspaper and any subsequent remediated copies, whether microfilm or digital surrogates.

Sometimes the process of remediation from the original newspaper to microfilm to digital image to a hard copy that comes off the printer in my office alters the legibility of a document. It does not matter if an original newspaper is in perfect condition if poor photography produced an unusable image. The process of moving between PDF and JPG files also alters the appearance of these digital surrogates for primary sources. The same is true for digital images and hard copies produced on the office printer. Even when I supply students with hard copies of all the newspapers for their week as guest curator I recommend that they work back and forth between those hard copies and the digital ones they have compiled. The digital versions are often more legible. They can also be enlarged to gain a better view of a newspaper page that has been condensed to a standard sheet of 8.5×11 office paper.

In working with digital surrogates for dozens of eighteenth-century newspapers drawn from various databases, undergraduate guest curators experience some of the challenges that historians regularly face when they work with primary sources. The process of “doing” history becomes even more complicated, messy, and nuanced as they grapple with both the sources as material items (or digital representations of material items) and the ideas contained within those sources. Guest curators must engage in problem solving that they would not do if I simply handed them perfectly legible copies of representative advertisements from eighteenth-century newspapers. They must take on greater responsibilities as they develop their critical thinking skills and gain experience interpreting the past.

March 26

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (March 23, 1769).

“A HARPSICHORD, completely fitted, Maker’s Name (Mahoon, London:).”

This brief advertisement offered a harpsichord for sale. Harpsichords are often referred to as the “predecessor” of the piano. When Romance music started to come about at the beginning of the nineteenth century, everyone started to move over to pianos. This was due to the fact that pianos were more expressive and had more dynamics. This became even more true when Beethoven started working with piano builders in the early nineteenth century to make louder pianos before he went completely deaf. One of the main drawbacks to the harpsichord, that the piano did not have, was that no matter how softly or forcefully a musician pushed down on a key of a harpsichord the volume rang with the same amount of sound at all times.

During the eighteenth century many of the wealthy and elite had a harpsichord in their homes for entertainment. Ed Crews writes that “harpsichords were expensive in Great Britain and its North American colonies. During the 1700s … most harpsichords in America were made in Great Britain. Because of the cost, the instrument was a status symbol. The powerful, the refined, and the wealthy made sure they had one in their homes.” The harpsichord in this advertisement was made in London. Poorer colonists sometimes learn to sing in church or learned to play instruments that were less costly and of lower overall quality compared to the harpsichords owned by their wealthier counterparts.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Working with undergraduate guest curators sometimes offers a brief respite from examining the featured advertisements in favor of reflecting on pedagogy. All of the guest curators currently working on the Adverts 250 Project are currently enrolled in my upper-lever Revolutionary America, 1763-1815, course at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. As long as they abide by the methodology for the project they may examine whichever advertisements they wish. However, as project manager I reserve the right to review and approve all advertisements included in the project. I encourage guest curators to submit their proposed advertisements for approval before they conduct further research or begin writing about them.

This results in guest curators frequently choosing advertisements that I would not have considered or passing over advertisements that I would like to include in the project. When Sean presented this exceptionally brief advertisement for my consideration I initially attempted to wave him off of it and on to another advertisement. I thought that it might be a difficult choice for someone working as a guest curator for the first time. As an alternative I directed him to an advertisement in the same column of the March 23, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal, a subscription notice for printing “AN HISTORICAL JOURNAL OF THE CAMPAIGNS IN NORTH AMERICA, For the Years 1757, 8, 9, and 60 … By CAPTAIN JOHN KNOX.” We covered the Seven Years War at the beginning of the semester, so I reasoned that Sean could readily make connections between course content and that advertisement.

Sean, however, explained that he had intentionally chosen the advertisement about the harpsichord. As a Music minor, he previously enrolled in a course that examined the history of music. He wanted to draw together material from classes in different disciplines. Once I heard Sean’s explanation I enthusiastically approved the advertisement for the harpsichord. His choice achieved one of my goals for incorporating undergraduate guest curators into the project to fulfill the requirements of my Revolutionary America course: challenging students to consider connections between the material they encounter in my class and what they have learned in other History courses and classes offered by other departments. In addition, Sean demonstrated another point that I make to guest curators when we first discuss the project. The advertisement for the harpsichord was deceptively brief. At the beginning of the semester most of Sean’s peers may have passed over it, questioning its significance. Yet Sean used it to tell a robust story about entertainment, status, and changing technologies in the era of the American Revolution.

March 20

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Boston Chronicle (March 20, 1769).

“Wants Employment.”

This advertisement caught my eye because of the “Wants Employment” part. Someone was looking for a job that involved “Writing, either in Merchants Books or any otherwise, consisting in Penmanship” or “tak[ing] Charge of a Store.” The advertiser claimed that he was good at writing. According to E. Jennifer Monaghan in Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, students first learned “round hand,” which took several years, and “during this time the student might well be exposed to, without being expected to be fully master of, italic print and roman print.”[1] Since he mentions “Penmanship” this advertiser may have learned more than one “script.” It was difficult to learn how to write because students had so many different scripts to learn.

The end of the advertisement was in a different language. It says, “Ubi est Charitas?—Not in Town.—Honi soit qui mal y pense.” The first part is Latin for “Where is the love?” The second part is French for “Shame to him who thinks evil of it.” By inserting these quotations in other languages, the advertiser demonstrated that he was indeed well educated, the sort of person that a merchant would want handling accounts and letters. There is another aspect concerning how this advertiser tries to find a job. He says that anyone who sends him a message “shall be immediately waited on.” He is letting prospective employers know that he is punctual and eager to work.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Rather than elaborating on the advertisement that Zach has selected for today, I am devoting this entry to some comments on incorporating the Adverts 250 Project into my classes, collaborating with undergraduate guest curators, and how their work shapes the project. This is the fifth semester that I have invited students to contribute to the project to fulfill some of their course requirements. This work began in a Public History class (Spring 2016) and has continued in Colonial America (Fall 2016), Revolutionary America (Spring 2017), Public History (Spring 2018), and Revolutionary America (Spring 2019).

I ask each student to serve as guest curator for a week. They are responsible for creating an archive of all the newspapers for their week that have been digitized by Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg, and Readex. Then they select an advertisement to feature each day of the week. I specify that one of those advertisements must concern the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, giving the students an opportunity to enhance the work they simultaneously undertake as guest curators of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. The other advertisements must focus on commodities or consumer goods and services. That allows us to continue examinations of the consumer revolution that constitute a major component of readings and discussions from class. However, advertisements that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers were many and varied. Many of them had purposes other than promoting the buying and selling of goods. So I allow each guest curator to select one “exception to the consumer goods and services” rule (in addition to an advertisement concerning enslaved people) that allows them to explore other aspects of life in colonial and revolutionary America. Today Zach has chosen an employment advertisement. Recently, guest curator Olivia Burke examined a “runaway wife” advertisement. In both cases, the guest curators learned more about early American history and culture.

Undergraduate guest curators often choose advertisements that I would not have selected on my own. Sometimes this can be frustrating, especially when they pass over advertisements that I find more interesting and want to examine in more detail. Yet that is also the purpose of engaging my students as junior colleagues. They exercise the authority to determine the direction of the project during their time as guest curators. They determine their own assignments in that they choose the content that they want to include and research in greater detail. They also determine an assignment for me. Most of the time I provide further analysis of some aspect of the advertisements they examine; this entry is a rare exception in that it discusses pedagogy and methodology rather than additional aspects of early American print culture and consumer culture. When I provide additional commentary about advertisements chosen by guest curators, this allows us to continue our conversations about the advertisements they found engaging. It helps us to work together as a team, as a mentor with junior colleagues, because the students have selected the content that we all address together.

**********

[1] E. Jennifer Monaghan, Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 287.

December 20

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

dec-20-12201766-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 20, 1766).

“RUN away from their Master in New-York, two indented Servants.”

Alexander M’Cullugh was not happy when two of his indentured servants ran away. He posted an advertisement describing Joseph M’Nabb, an “English Man” who “writes a good Hand” and “is a tolerable Scholar,” and William Rankin, a “Scotch Man” who was a “Shoe-maker by Trade.” He offered rewards to anyone who “secures them, so that their Master may have them again,” ten dollars for M’Nabb, but only five for Rankin. M’Cullugh concluded his advertisement with a nota bene that made a general observation about runaway servants: “It has been remarked by several, that none elopes but Irish People, but it is evident from the above, that there are other People of as bad a Species as the Hibernians.” Such caustic comments caught my eye in the aftermath of an election that featured the worst sorts of bigotry as part of an increasingly accepted and normalized public discourse. M’Cullugh cast aspersions based on ethnicity, status, and immigration, and he did so openly, in the public prints. Historians chart change over time, but sometimes the continuities are just as significant.

Advertisements for runaway indentured servants (and for runaway convict servants, too) regularly appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers, especially those published in the Middle Atlantic colonies. They were a standard part of the advertising pages, just as much so as advertisements for runaway slaves filled the pages of newspapers printed in the Chesapeake and the Lower South. Whether enslaved or indentured, men and women who called someone else “master” and who were exploited for their labor attempted to escape.

When teaching courses about early American history and culture, my responsibilities include examining the extent and significance of unfree labor in all of its forms. Given its unique aspects and enduring legacy, slavery receives certain emphasis, but not at the expense of indentured servitude, apprenticeship, and convict servants. That multiple forms of unfree labor existed in eighteenth-century America has created a conundrum – but also an opportunity – when working with students on the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.

That project privileges the experiences of slaves, incorporating every advertisement for runaway slaves while passing over similar numbers of advertisements for runaway servants. It offers an important, but somewhat truncated, glimpse of unfree labor in early America. When I designed the project, I grappled with whether to include advertisements for runaway servants and apprentices, but ultimately decided that would make the project too diffuse and perhaps too large to tackle with students. If the project included advertisements for runaway servants, then it would also need to include advertisements for servants for sale. It was better, I reasoned, to start with the slavery advertisements as an experiment and see how that unfolded before adding other sorts of runaways to the mix. Perhaps in the future the project might expand to include all unfree laborers. Perhaps my students and I could develop an alternate project devoted to runaways of all sorts (including runaway wives).

That’s where the opportunity arises. Even as my students passed over advertisements for runaway servants when doing the research for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, they recognized that they were indeed excluding a fair number of advertisements that resembled those included in the project. Although runaway servants were not incorporated into the digital humanities projects we pursued, they made it into one-on-one and classroom discussions about colonial American society and economics throughout the semester.

October 8

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

oct-8-1081766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 8, 1766).

“WENT AWAY from the subscriber about a week ago, AN INDENTED IRISH SERVANT MAN.”

This advertisement caught my eye because my ancestry is Irish. My father came to Boston in 1956. As with many Irish immigrants across time, he did not come with much money.   His aunt who lived in Boston sponsored him, and he had to work very had in the carpenters union to get to where he is now. Jeremiah Herrington, the “INDENTED IRISH SERVANT MAN” in this advertisement from the Georgia Gazette, made a similar journey for Ireland to North America.

In terms of culture and climate, Georgia was a big difference from what Jeremiah was used to in Ireland. Slavery had been banned in colonial Georgia until 1750, so indentured servitude was another way to get laborers during early years of settlement in the colony.

This advertisement had also been placed the week before on October 1, and not taken down. This leads me to believe that Joshua Vaughan had not heard from his Irish servant or any subscribers of the Georgia Gazette.   This could have meant that Herrington as still on the run.   Runaway advertisements were very popular in colonial newspapers; unfortunately, at the time owning a person was very common and desensitized. Missing servants and slaves were noticed quickly and often times if not found reported. If returned to their masters they were often punished. In some colonies, such as Virginia, masters could punish runaways with death if they were repeat offenders.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth has chosen an advertisement that provides an important corrective to some of the research she and her classmates are doing this semester. In addition to guest curating the Adverts 250 Project for a week, each student in my colonial America class is also curating the newly established Slavery Adverts 250 Project on Twitter. Regular visitors here know that all of the advertisements from that project are republished here in a daily digest.

In designing that project, I chose to focus exclusively on slaves in colonial America, excluding other sorts of unfree laborers, such as indentured servants and convict servants. In part, I wanted to keep the project focused rather than risk becoming too diffused. In addition, modern Americans continue to grapple with the legacy of slavery in our culture, politics, and economics every single day; we are rather confronted with a legacy of indentured servitude that challenges us in the same way.

From a practical standpoint, I knew that the Slavery Adverts 250 Project would be an experimental collaborative research effort with my students. In launching something new like that I wanted to start off relatively small and leave room to expand at a later time, if the project worked out. As an instructor, I knew that the project needed to be self-contained and manageable for undergraduates who were studying colonial America for the first time and who were new to using digitized primary sources to conduct independent research. To test the viability of the project, I gathered all the slavery advertisements for a single week several months ago. In the process, I determined that the scope in terms of research, effort, and time was an appropriate substitute for the essay assignment the project replaced on the syllabus.

Still, I have questioned my decision because featuring slavery advertisements exclusively tells only part of the story of unfree laborers in early America. Each student submits hard copies of all the newspapers printed in colonial America during his or her week as curator of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. I carefully skim through them to confirm that all the advertisement they have highlighted belong to the project as well as flag any that they might have missed. In the process, my students and I have encountered significant numbers of advertisements for indentured servants (and a smaller number for convict servants), both for sale and runaways. Such advertisements were especially common in newspapers published in Philadelphia and New York in 1766.

I stand by my decision to focus exclusively on advertisements concerning slavery for the class project, but that does not mean that our conversations in class exclude other forms of unfree labor, nor does it mean that the Adverts 250 Project cannot examine advertisements for indentured servants and convict servants in colonial America. This week Elizabeth has examined and advertisement for each.