July 4

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

Jul 4 - 7:4:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 4, 1768).

“RAN away … a Mulatto Slave, named HARRY.”

July 4 is the day Americans celebrate their independence from Britain. It is a familiar story about campaigns of resistance to abuses by Parliament that steadily intensified and ultimately led to a revolution against the king, a revolution that created a new nation. In the Declaration of Independence the founders asserted “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The founding generation, however, applied these ideals unevenly to various constituencies within the new United States of America. The American Revolution launched a struggle to achieve those ideals, a struggle that has unfolded over nearly a quarter of a millennium and continues to this day. As a nation, the United States has certainly made progress, but those ideals have not been universally achieved. Unfortunately, much of that progress has come under attack in the twenty-first century, making it clear that Americans must be vigilant in safeguarding not only their own liberty but also the liberty of others as they continue to strive to achieve those ideals endorsed in Independence Hall in 1776 and promulgated throughout the new nation.

As Americans once again tell the story of their independence today, consider another story of an American who seized his freedom in the era of the Revolution. Harry, “a Mulatto Slave … about 40 years of age,” ran away from Levin Crapper on September 13, 1767. More than nine months later he had not been captured or returned, prompting Crapper to place an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. According to Crapper, Harry possessed a variety of talents that would allow him to make a living on his own: “He was bred a miller, and understands very well how to manufacture flour.” Crapper also acknowledged, grudgingly, that Harry “understands the carpenter’s and mill-wright’s business middling well.” To offset those indications of his competence at those trades, Crapper accused the fugitive of being “much given to strong drink.”

That was not the entirety of Harry’s story. Crapper also reported that Harry “has a free Mulatto wife, named Peg, and two children.” Of all the motivations that could have prompted Harry to make his escape, reuniting with his family was probably the most compelling. Even though Peg and the children did not depart at the same time as Harry, Crapper stated that he believed “they will endeavour to get together” and flee “to the province of East New-Jersey.” Crapper suspected that Harry had a forged pass that would aid him in his flight from the man who held him in bondage.

Thomas Jefferson had not yet penned the phrase “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” when Harry determined to make himself a free man. The Declaration of Independence had not yet been printed in newspapers throughout the colonies or read aloud in churches and town commons. Yet the Revolution had begun. Colonists had protested the imposition of the Stamp Act in 1765 and celebrated its repeal in 1766. At the time that Harry made his escape in 1767 white colonists complained about their impending enslavement via the Townshend Act and other laws passed by Parliament. Harry knew something about enslavement. He had likely heard other colonists talking about liberty and the necessity of resistance to an oppressive Parliament. In that environment, he made his own choice to seize his freedom, for himself and for his family.

There are many stories to celebrate on Independence Day. Harry managed to remain free for at least nine months. Hopefully he and Peg and the children made it to safety and he eluded capture for the rest of his life. Harry’s story is one of determination and an individual commitment to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” in the era of the American Revolution, a story that deserves to be told and celebrated alongside so many of the familiar stories that so many already know so well.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post- Boy (June 6, 1768).

“His House is very well calculated for an Inn.”

When Josiah F. Davenport opened an inn on Third Street in Philadelphia, he advertised in newspapers published in both Philadelphia and New York. Doing so made sense since he billed “the Bunch of Grapes” as “a genteel House of Entertainment, for Travellers and others, who may depend on the best Fare and civilest Treatment.” Davenport positioned his tavern and inn as a destination not only for visitors to the city but also for local residents “who may have Occasion to meet on Business or Recreation.” In addition to the “best Liquors” and the “elegant and spacious” accommodations for guests, Davenport also promoted the location. He proclaimed that Third Street “is becoming one of the grandest Avenues into this City.” The Bunch of Grapes “stands in the Neighbourhood of many principal Merchants and capital Stores.” Furthermore, it was also located “very near the Market.” Visitors traveling to Philadelphia on business could lodge in an establishment close to their associates, one that also happened to be in a swank neighborhood. Local patrons could also take advantage of the convenient location for conducting business or enjoying the various entertainments at the Bunch of Grapes.

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 6, 1768).

Davenport submitted identical copy to the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the Pennsylvania Chronicle (but the compositors for each made their own decisions about capitalization and italics throughout the advertisement). He also adorned the notice in the Chronicle with a woodcut depicting the sign that marked his establishment, a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. He acknowledged that the “large and commodious Inn” he now operated had been “for some time known by the Name of the Bull’s Head.” However, it was now known as the Bunch of Grapes under the management of the new proprietor. The new sign and an image in one of the city’s newspapers helped to cement the switch in branding for the inn. This was especially important considering that the Bull’s Head had established its own reputation for operating at that location.

Davenport realized that the success of the Bunch of Grapes depended on attracting a mixture of customers, both residents of Philadelphia who patronized his “House of Entertainment” for an afternoon or evening and visitors from other places who spent one or more nights. Accordingly, he highlighted a variety of amenities and, especially, the location of the inn in newspapers published in more than one city. Through his marketing efforts, he encouraged travelers to think of the Bunch of Grapes, rather than Philadelphia, as their destination.

May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 16, 1768).

“BURROWS DOWDNEY … MAKES and repairs all Kinds od Clocks and Watches.”

 

When it came to advertising, watch- and clockmaker Burrows Dowdney was industrious, advertising in more than one newspaper published in Philadelphia in the late 1760s. Although he deployed fairly standard language to describe his services, pledging “the utmost care and dispatch” in doing his work “after the neatest and best manner,” he adopted other means of distinguishing his advertisements from those placed by other artisans. In particular, Dowdney embellished his notices with visual images related to his occupation and his wares.

Yesterday the Adverts 250 Project examined one of those advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It included a woodcut of an engraved clock dial with hours in Roman numerals and minutes in Arabic numerals as well as other decorative elements. Dowdney placed another advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle the same week that he advertised in the Gazette, repeating the copy almost exactly but with a different and even more impressive woodcut. It depicted an elegant dial with an arched top that denoted the phases of the moon. Readers could also view the day of the month on the dial. These additional elements further testified to the complexity of the clocks Dowdney constructed, proclaiming to prospective customers that they were not intended merely for keeping time. Instead, they were meant for display, to create genteel living spaces, to impress friends and visitors. Although not depicted in the woodcut, readers could expect the ornamentation of the cases to rival the engraved dials.

Commissioning not one but two woodcuts represented a significant investment for Dowdney, but he may have considered it a necessary expense as he commenced his own business “in the Shop lately occupied by Mr. Emanuel Rouse” on Front Street. As a newcomer, he needed to attract a clientele for his shop quickly to avoid failing before even having a chance to get started. Commissioning woodcuts that featured much more detail than most of the images that appeared in colonial newspapers demonstrated his commitment and attention to detail, reassuring prospective customers that he did not merely reiterate the usual marketing pitches but did indeed construct clocks “after the neatest and best manner.” The woodcuts certified the quality and elegance associated with clocks made by Burrows Dowdney.

April 11

GUEST CURATOR:  Sean Sullivan

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

Apr 11 - 4:11:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 11, 1768).

“BOHEA TEA in large Chests, HYSON TEA in small Chests or Cannisters.”

Tea was an established part of life in the colonial America, consumed both in metropolitan centers along the coast as well as further inland, nearly ubiquitous across the British colonies. This advertisement from the Pennsylvania Chronicle mentioned two varieties, Bohea and Hyson. Bohea was a more expensive black tea while hyson was a cheaper and more common green variant. However, savvy merchants likely would not have hindered themselves with selling one variety and thus limiting their potential clientele. By importing both varieties of tea, Christopher and Charles Marshall appealed to the widest market available, increasing both potential profits and their presence in the sphere of public business. Such an action would be in the best interests of any aspiring entrepreneur, as the tea market in colonial America was massive not only economically but, as Rodris Roth argues, as a part of the wider culture. Colonial customs were highly reflective of trends prominent in Europe, and the consumption of tea was among the most significant of these trends. By the middle of the eighteenth century, tea had become the social lubricant of choice. Anyone in the mercantile realm who could find a steady market for tea would therefore be almost guaranteed a lucrative business.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Tea was indeed a major commodity consumed throughout the British colonies in the eighteenth century.  Many assume that tea was a luxury in colonial America, but that interpretation reflects its position when it was first introduced to consumers rather than the position it eventually held in the marketplace and in the social lives of colonists.  As Rodris Roth reports, “During the first half of the eighteenth century the limited amount of tea, available at prohibitively high prices, restricted its use to a proportionately small segment of the population.  About mid-century, however, tea was beginning to be drunk by more and more people, as supplies increased and costs decreased, due in part to the propaganda and merchandising efforts of the East India Company.[1]  The expanding market for tea placed it at the center of the consumer revolution that took place throughout the British Atlantic world in the eighteenth century.

Indeed, tea might be considered emblematic of colonists participating in the consumer revolution since consuming it required acquiring a variety of other goods, some of them for its preparation and some considered necessary for the social rituals associated with consuming the beverage. Shopkeepers advertised and colonists purchased elaborate tea sets that included cups, saucers, teapots, sugar bowls, containers for cream or milk, waste bowls, tongs, strainers, canisters for storing tea, spoons, and other items.  Yet the equipage did not end there.  Depending on their means, colonists also bought tea tables and chairs as well as trays and tablecloths.  Whether made of metal or imported porcelain, the popular styles for tea sets changed over the years, just as the fashions for garments shifted. Merchants and shopkeepers noted such changes in their advertisements, spurring potential customers to make additional purchases and further fueling the consumer revolution.  Yet consuming tea contributed to importing other goods, especially sugar.  No matter how genteel the setting for socializing while sipping tea, colonists were enmeshed in networks of exchange that depended on the involuntary labor of enslaved men and women who worked on sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

Today’s advertisement for tea may appear rather simple at first glance, yet upon closer examination it tells a much larger story about the consumption and culture in eighteenth-century America.  For even more information, see Rodris Roth’s “Tea-Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America:  Its Etiquette and Equipage,” available in its entirety via Project Gutenberg.

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[1]Rodris Roth, “Tea Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America:  Its Etiquette and Equipage,” in Material Life in America, 1600-1860, ed. Robert Blair St. George (Boston:  Northeastern University Press, 1988), 442.

February 15

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

Feb 15 - 2:15:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 15, 1768).

“She continues to sell … the genuine flour of mustard.”

Mary Crathorne advertised the mustard and chocolate she “manufactured” at “the Globe mill on Germantown road” in more than one newspaper published in Philadelphia in February 1768. She inserted one notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette on February 11 and another in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 15. Although they featured (mostly) the same copy, the visual aspects of the tow advertisements distinguished one from the other.

A headline consisting of her name, “Mary Crathorne,” introduced the advertisement in the Chronicle. Such design was consistent with that in other advertisements placed by purveyors of goods and services, including Robert Bass and John Lownes. It added readers in identifying the advertisement, but did not call special attention to it. In contrast, her advertisement in the Gazette featured a woodcut depicting a seal for her company flanked by a bottle of mustard on one side and a pound of chocolate on the other. It was the only advertisement in that issue of the Gazette (including the two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising) that incorporated a visual image, distinguishing it from all others. On the other hand, Crathorne’s advertisement in the Chronicle ran on the same page as four advertisements that included woodcuts (a house, a ship, a male runaway servant, and a female runaway servant). In addition to those stock images that belonged to the printer, elsewhere in the issue Howard and Bartram’s advertisement featured a woodcut of dog with its head in an overturned bucket. The “Copper-Smiths from London” ran a shop at “the sign of the Dog and Golden Kettle, in Second-Street.” They effectively deployed the visual image in multiple media, the newspaper advertisement and the shop sign, to create a brand for their business.

Crathorne attempted something similar with her own woodcut in the Gazette, noting that “All the mustard put up in bottles, has the above stamp pasted on the bottles, and also the paper round each pound of chocolate has the said stamp thereon.” She had to revise the copy, however, for inclusion in the Chronicle without the woodcut. “All the mustard put up in bottle has a stamp” (rather than “the above stamp”) “pasted on the bottles, and also the paper round each pound of chocolate has the same stamp thereon.”

Apparently Mary Crathorne (or her late husband who previously ran the business) had commissioned only one woodcut of this trademark image. That made it impossible to publish advertisements featuring the same image in multiple newspapers simultaneously. The aspect that most distinguished her advertisement in the Gazette was completely missing in the Chronicle, where other advertisers treated readers to a series of woodcuts that dressed up their notices. Crathorne engaged in innovative marketing efforts by associating a specific image with her products to distinguish them from the competition, but she did not consistently advance that campaign by inserting the image in all of her advertisements that appeared in print. She recognized that branding could be useful in selling her wares, but she did not apply the strategy to full effect. That required further experimentation by other advertisers.

January 18

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

Jan 18 - 1:18:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 18, 1768).

“THE Publisher of this Paper … shall ever esteem it his Duty to serve and oblige them.”

As was his privilege as the printer and publisher, William Goddard placed his advertisement first among those inserted in the January 18, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, which happened to be issue “NUMB. 53” of its publication. The newspaper had just completed its first full year! Goddard used the occasion for reflecting on publication and distribution during the previous year and promoting the newspaper, especially certain improvements, as he continued to supply the public with new issues.

Goddard opened his advertisement with an expression of gratitude to subscribers and other readers for their “generous Encouragement,” especially recommendations for “the Improvement of his Paper.” He pledged to continue serving them “to the utmost of his Ability” and offered “Proof” that he listened to their suggestions. He pledged to continue publication “upon the same extensive Plan” in terms of content and schedule, but planned to alter the dimensions of each issue to “Quarto Size … which will render it much more convenient … to his kind Readers and Friends.” Goddard suggested that the smaller size would make the issues much more manageable for reading than the broadsheet issues distributed by competitors. He requested that potential subscribers enthusiastic about this modification “transmit their Names and Places of Abode, as soon as possible” so he could print sufficient copies to meet demand for future issues.

Goddard also acknowledged that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had faltered at various times during its first year of publication. He noted that he had experienced difficulty “obtaining faithful and capable Journeymen” to work in his printing office. As a result he had hired “the most inartifical of the Profession … which made it impossible for him to execute or dispatch the Paper in the Manner he could have wished.” Goddard resolved to improve on that. He had just hired, “at a great Expence, a regular and valuable Set of Hands” with the necessary skill and experience that would allow him to publish and deliver the newspaper “with much greater Regularity and Expedition.”

The publisher concluded by offering premiums to his customers. Realizing that some had “preserved the Paper for binding” rather than discarding issues after reading them, he promised to issue a title page and print a notice “when it is ready to be delivered.” He also proposed, but did not promise, a table of contents, “if Time permits.” He also offered back issues for free, allowing anyone who had misplaced one to complete the set before sending it off to the binder. In making it possible for readers to compile complete runs of the first year of publication Goddard also encouraged them to continue to purchase subsequent issues in order to maintain their collections.

All in all, Goddard proclaimed that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had experienced a good first year. Yet he also proposed improvements that would allow his newspaper to compete with the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, both of which had been published in Philadelphia for decades. He acknowledged some of the difficulties that had an impact on serving customers to the best of his ability, but bookended that portion of his advertisement with plans to publish a more convenient size at the start and premiums, both title pages and back issues, at the conclusion. Goddard knew that colonists passed newspapers from hand to hand, sharing issues beyond just the subscribers. As he commenced a new year of publication, he worked to retain his initial subscribers as well as attract new subscribers who previously read copies acquired from others.

December 14

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

Dec 14 - 12:14:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (December 14, 1767).

“Webster has had the honour of working, with applause, for several of the nobility and gentry.”

John Webster, an “Upholsterer from London,” knew that establishing his reputation in Philadelphia would help build the clientele for his endeavors in his new location. To that end, he reported in an advertisement in the December 14, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle that he previously “had the honour of working, with applause, for several of the nobility and gentry, both in England and Scotland.” While providing credentials always helped artisans to promote their businesses, Webster probably did not need to reside in Philadelphia very long to realize that even in the largest city in the colonies the residents experienced anxiety about being perceived as backwater provincials by the better sorts in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire. He depended on potential customers responding to his pledge of “having their work executed in the best and newest taste,” but indicating that he previously served prominent clients testified to his ability to deliver on that promise.

Yet Webster did not want to give the impression that he had experience only on the other side of the Atlantic. In addition, potential customers may have been skeptical about how extensively he had worked with “several of the nobility and gentry” before arriving in the colony. To alleviate such concerns, Webster extended “his most grateful thanks to those good gentlemen and ladies who have been pleased to honour and favour him with their custom, since he came to Philadelphia.” While this could have also been a ploy, the upholsterer implied that he had already attracted local clients satisfied with his work. Webster created the impression that genteel “ladies and gentlemen” sought after his services. Potential customers who had not yet hire him risked being excluded if they did not contact him before he took on too many other projects.

Webster attempted to attract clients to his upholstery business by creating a buzz among the residents of Philadelphia. Even the location of his new shop, “facing the London Coffee-House,” increased his visibility in the city. His report that he previously served “several of the nobility and gentry” in England and Scotland before working for the “good gentlemen and ladies of Philadelphia” suggested his popularity to colonists concerned with demonstrating their taste and status through the goods they acquired. Implicitly playing on those anxieties, he encouraged them to contract his services in order to keep up with their friends and neighbors.