July 4

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

Pennsylvania Journal (July 4, 1771).

“RUN-AWAY … a Mulatto Woman Slave, named VIOLET.”

On July 4, 1771, Philip Kearney told the story of Violet, an enslaved woman who liberated herself, though he certainly did not do so in celebration of her fortitude and courage.  In an advertisement that ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazetteand the Pennsylvania Journal, Kearney provided a brief account of what he knew about Violet’s whereabouts for the past decade.  Violet first liberated herself in October 1762.  In 1764, she was spotted “in company with one James Lock, somewhere on the Susquehanna.”  That led to her capture and imprisonment at the jail in Fredericks-Town (now Frederick), Maryland, “on suspicion of having runaway.”  Violet escaped and for seven years managed to elude detection by those who sought to return her to bondage.  In the spring of 1771, however, she “was discovered about fifteen miles from Ball-Fryer’s ferry” in Maryland.

According to Kearney, Violet now had three children.  He wished to enslave the entire family, including children who had only known freedom in the wake of their mother liberating herself.  According to the law, children followed the condition of the mother, and the law still considered Violet a slave.  When Kearney purchased Violet from the executors of Edward Bonnel’s estate, he also acquired any of her children born after the transaction.  Kearney offered ten pounds as a reward for the capture and return of Violet and fifteen pounds for Violet and her children.  Kearney was determined to re-enslave Violet, but she was equally determined to preserve her liberty and protect her children.  Kearney warned that anyone “who may take her up must secure her strictly, or she will certainly escape again, being remarkably artful.”  That artfulness already resulted in nearly a decade of freedom.  With three children, Violet now had even more reason to outwit anyone who attempted to capture her.  Kearney’s advertisement had the potential to bring Violet’s liberty to an end, but it may have also alerted her, her friends, or sympathetic members of her community that she and her children faced new danger.

As the American colonies experienced an imperial crisis that ultimately culminated in a war for independence, Violet seized freedom for herself, repeatedly.  In 1771, colonists did not know the significance that July 4 would gain five years later, but they did discuss liberty and lament their figurative enslavement to Parliament.  Violet, in contrast, experienced literal enslavement before liberating herself.  More than a decade prior to the first shots at Lexington and Concord, she waged her own fight for freedom, an ongoing battle that she might lose at any moment despite the many victories she won.  While certainly not Kearney’s intention, his advertisement told a story of hope and resistance … but it was an unfinished story because the enslaver most certainly aimed to enslave a family who experienced freedom as a result of a woman’s steadfast determination.

On Independence Day, the Adverts 250 Project commemorates the complicated history of the founding of the nation, the grand ideals and the unfulfilled promises, by recounting the experiences of enslaved people who liberated themselves during the era of the American Revolution.  Newspaper advertisements that offered rewards for their capture and return told incomplete stories of freedom, for each a tenuous liberation that brave men and women sought to make permanent but without any guarantee.  Violet and so many others waged their own battled for liberty, as countless advertisements from the early eighteenth century through the late nineteenth century demonstrate.

For other stories of enslaved people liberating themselves originally published on July 4 during the era of the American Revolution, see:

June 30

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 27, 1771).

“THE CARPENTERS ARMS.”

The woodcut that adorned the upper left corner of Samuel Caruthers’s advertisement demanded attention from readers, perhaps making it well worth the investment.  Three compasses appeared within an ornate cartouche, itself enclosed within a simple square border with “THE CARPENTERS ARMS” across the top.  In the advertising copy, Caruthers advised readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that he no longer operated a hardware shop but instead returned to making tools for carpenters.

The visual image made his advertisement unique among those in the June 27, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Only five advertisements included woodcuts of any kind; the other four all featured images of ships at sea, each announcing the upcoming departure of one vessel or another and seeking passengers and freight.  The printers, David Hall and William Sellers, supplied those woodcuts to the advertisers, drawing from stock images that most colonial printers kept on hand.  Those images could be used interchangeably.  It did not matter whether a ship set sail for Charleston, Dublin, or London.  Similarly, most printers also had woodcuts depicting houses (but not any particular house), horses, indentured servants running away (but not any particular indentured servant), enslaved people for sale (but not any particular enslaved person), and enslaved people liberating themselves (but not any particular fugitive from slavery). Each generic image corresponded to a common kind of advertisement that ran in colonial newspapers; the lack of specific details made these woodcuts appropriate to accompany any advertisement from the genre they represented.

On the other hand, Caruthers published an advertisement with an image specific to his business, making his notice both more visible on a page that consisted almost entirely of text and more memorable for the uniqueness of the image.  Caruthers incurred additional expense in commissioning a woodcut for “THE CARPENTERS ARMS,” but the image testified to his skill in creating all sorts of planes, saws, and other edged tools.  The rococo cartouche, reminiscent of those that appeared on trade cards that circulated in London and, to a lesser extent, Philadelphia and other major American port cities, enhanced his claims to “long experience” by presenting him as an accomplished craftsman rather than a mere mechanic.  Associating such a genteel image with tools suggested quality and a positive reputation, characteristics that Caruthers likely believed would resonate with fellow artisans.  Incorporating baroque images into advertisements was not a strategy reserved for merchants, shopkeepers, tailors, and milliners marketing their wares and services to the better sorts.  Instead, advertisers like Caruthers suspected that such images engaged customers from other backgrounds looking to purchase tools for earning a living.

June 16

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 13, 1771).

Advertisements … are by him translated gratis.”

When printer Henry Miller (Johann Heinrich Müller) moved to a new location in the spring of 1771, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal to alert current and prospective customers.  He also used the opportunity to advise them of specialized services he provided, proclaiming that he performed “all Manner of PRINTING-WORK, in English, German, and other Languages.”  In particular, Miller noted “English and German ADVERTISEMENTS done on the shortest Notice; and a German NEWS-PAPER published every Tuesday.”  A migrant from Germany himself, Miller granted prospective advertisers greater access to the sizable German community in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Miller commenced printing the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote in 1762, making it well established by the time he ran his advertisements in the colony’s English newspapers in 1771.  The final line of those advertisements in those newspapers echoed a note that appeared in the masthead of his own newspaper, usually the only portion printed in English rather than German.  “All ADVERTISEMENTS,” it read, “to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.”  In offering his services as a translator and not charging for it, Miller sought to generate revenue by increasing the number of advertisers who placed notices in the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote.

The printer also produced other forms of advertising.  Items “printed single” likely included broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, and catalogs.  Like their counterparts printed in English, those advertisements were ephemeral compared to the newspapers and almanacs that came off of Miller’s press.  Few survive today, but Miller’s newspaper advertisements and masthead suggest that various kinds of advertisements in German enhanced the vibrant advertising culture that emerged in Philadelphia in the decades before the American Revolution.  As newspapers, handbills, and other items printed by Miller circulated in Philadelphia and beyond, colonists encountered marketing in more than one language, underscoring global networks of commerce and migration in vast early America.

May 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (May 2, 1771).

“They manufacture and sell as usual at Frederick-Town.”

According to their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Hamilton and Leiper sold tobacco and snuff at several locations.  For consumers in Philadelphia, they listed their location as “Second-street, between Market and Arch-streets.”  The primary purpose of their advertisement in the May 2, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, however, was to inform customers in Maryland that they had “established a MANUFACTORY in Market-street, Baltimore.”  At that location, they sold “the various kinds of manufactured TOBACCO and SNUFF (of the best quality) on the most reasonable terms.”  In addition, the tobacconists declared that they “manufacture and sell as usual at Frederick-Town” in western Maryland.  Altogether, Hamilton and Leiper sold tobacco and snuff in three towns in two colonies, their multiple locations providing for “the conveniency of their customers.”

Their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette also testified to the reach of that newspaper in the early 1770s.  Baltimore would not have its own newspaper until August 1773.  Fredericktown (now Frederick) did not have a newspaper until after the American Revolution.  For half a century, the Pennsylvania Gazette served as a regional newspaper for readers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey.  Although most of the advertisers who promoted consumers goods and services in its pages were located in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Gazette also carried notices from Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore and Frederick, Maryland; Burlington and Trenton, New Jersey; and several other towns in those colonies.  Similarly, the Pennsylvania Gazette carried legal notices and advertisements about runaway apprentices and indentured servants and enslaved people who liberated themselves submitted by colonists throughout the region.  In the same column as Hamilton and Leiper’s advertisement, Henry Wells, a jailer, described a runaway servant who made his escape from William Anders or Andrews in Joppa, Maryland, but had been taken into custody and confined in Dover, Delaware.

Several colonies constituted a single media market for the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers published in Philadelphia before the revolution.  Enterprising entrepreneurs like Hamilton and Leiper also recognized the potential to create larger markets for their wares rather than serve only a single town and its hinterlands.  In the early 1770s, they branched out from locations in Philadelphia and Frederick to a third location in Baltimore.  Advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette alerted consumers in and near all three places about the tobacco and snuff that Hamilton and Leiper sold at their several convenient locations.

February 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 28, 1771).

”All Persons … who may incline to have their Advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette … are requested to send the Money with them.”

Advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream for early American printers … when advertisers opted to pay for the notices they inserted in newspapers.  Printers regularly called on their customers to settle accounts.  In most instances, they addressed subscribers, advertisers, and others, but on occasion they singled out advertisers.  Such was the case when David Hall and William Sellers directed a missive to prospective advertisers in the February 28, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

“NOTICE is hereby given,” Hall and Sellers proclaimed, “to all Persons, living at a Distance from this City, who may incline to have their Advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, that they are requested to send the Money with them.”  Apparently, the printers experienced particular frustration with advertisers who lived far from Philadelphia. In the era of the American Revolution, newspapers served entire colonies or regions rather than just the cities in which they were printed.  The same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette that included this notice from the printers also carried real estate notices from other parts of the colony and advertisements offering rewards for apprentice and convict servants who ran away from masters in Maryland and Virginia.  In their efforts to convince customers to pay their bills, Hall and Sellers had more difficulty contacting faraway advertisers than their local counterparts.  Another issue exacerbated the situation.  The printers asked advertisers “also to pay the Postage of Letters in which they may be contained,” warning that “otherwise they will not be inserted.”  Colonists often sent letters with the expectation that the recipients would pay for postage upon receiving them.  That cut into the revenues gained by printing advertisements.  Hall and Sellers lamented that they had “already been great Sufferers in that Respect.”

This notice ran among the other advertisements in the February 28 edition.  The printers placed it at the top of a column, perhaps to give it greater visibility.  Beyond the stories told in ledgers and account books, this notice and others inserted by printers in newspapers from New England to Georgia reveal eighteenth-century business practices and some of the challenges of running printing offices.

January 27

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 24, 1771).

“All Persons that now choose to encourage American Manufactures.”

On January 24, 1771, Robert Bell continued marketing an American edition of “Robertson’s History of Charles the Fifth” with advertisements in both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In the latter, the flamboyant printer, publisher, bookseller, and auctioneer announced publication of the second volume and promised that the “THIRD VOLUME of this celebrated History is now in the Press, and will soon be finished.”  Bell noted that the second volume was “now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers,” purchasers who reserved copies in advance.  In a nota bene, he advised “SUBSCRIBERS in the Jerseys” to visit Isaac Collins in Burlington or Dunlap Adams in Trenton to retrieve their copies.

Bell also invited those who had not yet subscribed to join the fellowship of their peers who “choose to encourage American Manufactures.”  Both before and, especially, after the American Revolution, Bell was one of the eighteenth-century’s leading proponents of creating a distinctly American literary market in terms of the production of books.  Printers and booksellers imported most of the books they offered for sale, a situation that Bell sought to modify.  In deploying the language of “American Manufactures,” he made this into a political project familiar to both producers and consumers as a result of nonimportation agreements enacted in opposition to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  Yet prospective customers had another reason to choose Bell’s American edition over an imported alternative:  price.  Bell charged one dollar for each volume of Robertson’s history.  In comparison, “the British Edition cannot be imported for less than Four Dollars each Volume.”  Bell’s customers enjoyed significant savings, acquiring the entire set of the American edition for less than a single volume of the British edition.

Bell concluded his advertisement with some of the verbose language that became a hallmark of his marketing efforts over the course of several decades.  Those who wished to become subscribers by sending their names to Bell or other booksellers “may depend upon Ebullitions of Gratitude.”  Bell’s advertisement incorporated several marketing strategies, including the politics of “American Manufactures,” the financial advantages for customers, and his colorful language and personality.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

benjamin-franklin
Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-19-161736
Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children as well as notices offering rewards for those who escaped from bondage.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-slave-19-161736
Advertisement for an enslaved woman and an enslaved child from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

general-magazine
General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 315th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

January 6

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 3, 1771).

“Said EVITT prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”

At first glance, many readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that William Evitt’s notice in the January 3, 1771, edition was yet another advertisement for an almanac.  Such advertisements were common at the turn of the new year as printers attempted to sell surplus copies not purchased before the new year began.  David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of both the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack, inserted their own advertisement on the previous page.  The prologue to Evitt’s advertisement suggested that he would devote the entire notice to describing the contents of “THE UNIVERSAL and POOR ROBIN’S ALMANACKS, for the year 1771.”  Although he did promote those two publications, as well as “The GENTLEMAN and CITIZEN’S POCKET ALMANACK” with its “greater variety of useful lists, tables, &c. &c. &c. than any other almanack printed in America,” Evitt addressed a variety of other endeavors in the second half of his advertisement.  He informed customers that he sold books, stationery, and patent medicines, like many other printers, but he also carried other merchandise, including stockings, handkerchiefs, sieves, brushes, soap, and common grocery items.

Near the conclusion of his advertisement, Evitt returned to goods and services more closely associated with printers.  He advised prospective clients that he “prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”  In other words, he did job printing.  Jobs included advertisements, broadsides (today known as posters), circular letters, and a vast array of printed blanks (or forms).  Clients submitted copy or, in the case of blanks, chose from among popular options, then Evitt set the type and produced the specified number of copies.  Evitt did not elaborate on the forms of advertising he printed, but they likely included handbills, catalogs, trade cards, bill heads, broadsides, and circular letters.  He produced them quickly, though the process of manually operating the press meant that he could produce only a limited quantity in that time.  Still, most orders were likely relatively small, in the range of a couple hundred copies.  Evitt considered job printing, especially advertisements, lucrative enough and potentially steady enough to merit mentioning alongside his other enterprises.  In emphasizing the speed of production, he suggested that he competed to provide a service already in demand.  It is quite likely that handbills, broadsides, and other advertisements that came off his press have been lost over time.  Evitt’s newspaper advertisement testifies to a more extensive circulation of other forms of advertising, each of them more ephemeral than newspapers systematically collected and preserved since the eighteenth century.  While newspaper advertising was by far the most common form of marketing in early America, colonists likely encountered other formats more regularly than the numbers of those that survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest on their own.

December 20

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (December 20 1770).

“He doubts not but every merchant and shop-keeper in this city, and towns adjacent that regard the good of this oppressed country, will encourage such an undertaking.”

Abraham Shelley, a “THREAD-MAKER, in Lombard-street” in Philadelphia, sought to convince colonial consumers that purchasing his wares amounted to a civic duty.  In an advertisement in the December 20, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he informed prospective customers that he continued “to make and sell … all sorts of fine coloured thread” that he asserted was “much better, and cheaper, than what is imported from Europe.”  Quality and price were important, but Shelley gave consumers additional reasons to purchase his thread.  He offered alternatives to imported goods to colonists who had widely pledged to encourage “domestic manufactures” as a means of correcting a trade imbalance with Britain as well as practicing politics through commerce in the wake of duties that Parliament imposed on certain imported goods.  Even after colonists ended their nonimportation pacts following the repeal of those Townshend duties, some advertisers continued to proclaim the virtues of domestic manufactures.  More than ever, they depended on consumers making conscientious decisions in the marketplace.

When customers selected Shelley’s thread over imported alternatives, they did not have to sacrifice quality or price.  They also demonstrated support for American efforts to achieve greater self-sufficiency to protect against subsequent attempts by Parliament to harass the colonies.  He asked consumers to take into account “the good of this oppressed country.”  In addition, he underscored that his enterprise “supplies a great number of poor women with market money, who, otherwise, with their children, would become a public charge.”  Civic responsibility inherent in purchasing thread from Shelley extended beyond politics to poor relief.  That meant that consumers could serve their communities in many ways simultaneously when they decided to buy from Shelley, who proclaimed that he “doubts not but every merchant and shop-keeper in this city, and towns adjacent” should acquire thread from him to sell to others.  The civic responsibility he described belonged not only to consumers but also to those who sold goods to them.  Merchants and shopkeepers also made important decisions in choosing which items to stock in their stores and shops.  Quality and price matter, but Shelley believed that civic responsibility further enhanced his appeals to customers.

November 29

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 29, 1770).

“He may take the LIBERTY of craving the continuance of their favours.”

John Mason, an upholsterer who ran a shop at the Sign of the Crown and Cushion in Philadelphia, had a habit of injecting politics into the newspaper advertisements he placed in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He often emphasized the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY” in notices offering his services to consumers.  For instance, in an advertisement in the August 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he requested “LIBERTY to inform his friends and customers that he has removed his PROPERTY” to a new location.  He then provided a short history of mattresses to argue that those he stuffed with wool were superior to others stuffed with straw or feathers, but after that bit of frivolity he concluded with a jeremiad about Parliament imposing duties on certain imported goods.  He proclaimed that “Liberty is the Common Cry” due to the Townshend Acts that would “Deprive [colonists] of our Liberty and property.”  Nearly a year later, he placed an advertisement for paper hangings “(not lately imported),” mattresses, and trimmings in the July 19, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  He concluded with a poem that decried New York for abandoning liberty by discontinuing the nonimportation agreement before Parliament repealed all of the duties on imported goods.

A few months later, Mason placed a new advertisement in the November 29, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He once again accentuated the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY,” though this time he did not include more extensive commentary about the current political climate in Pennsylvania and the rest of the colonies.  In this instance, he declared that he “presumes he may take the LIBERTY of craving the continuance” of the “favours” of his “friends and customers in general” in his efforts “dispose of his PROPERTY.”  Along with “FURNITURE CHECKS,” the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY” were the only words in all capitals in the body of Mason’s advertisements.  Accordingly, they likely attracted attention, priming readers to think about current events as they perused Mason’s notice, especially those already familiar with the outspoken upholsterer’s politics.

At the conclusion of his notice, Mason testified that “it is the distinguishing character of noble and generous minds to employ the industrious.”  He then pledged “his utmost endeavours to give general satisfaction.”  Although not as explicitly political as the short sermons in some of his earlier advertisements, Mason may have intended for that statement to resonate with conversations about encouraging domestic manufactures as alternatives to imported goods.  He suggested that his prospective customers had both an obligation and an opportunity; they had an obligation to support “industrious” colonists and an opportunity to demonstrate their “distinguishing character” and “noble and generous minds” by doing so.  Given the contents of the rest of the newspaper as well as the pattern the upholsterer established in his marketing, readers likely recognized Mason’s message in this advertisement even without a more elaborate lecture about politics.