September 16

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 16, 1772).

“A sample of the TOBACCO may be seen at the Bar of the London Coffee-House.”

In a series of newspaper advertisements, Hamilton and Leiper informed readers that they sold “the various kinds of manufactured TOBACCO and SNUFF (of the best quality)” at their store on Second Street in Philadelphia.  In addition, they “established a MANUFACTORY” in Baltimore “for the conveniency of their customers in Maryland.”  Over time, the partners became the most successful tobacconists in the region.  Their advertisements and other marketing efforts likely played a role in their success.

As fall approached in 1772, the partners promoted their “KITE-FOOT TOBACCO” in an advertisement in the September 16 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  As usual, they lauded their tobacco’s “excellent quality.”  Like other entrepreneurs who hawked “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies, Hamilton and Leiper proclaimed their product “equal to any imported from Europe.”  Consumers were familiar with tobacco exported to England and Scotland as raw materials, processed in those places, and then imported into the colonies.  Hamilton and Leiper, however, asserted that quality tobacco did not need to cross the Atlantic twice.

Prospective customers could decide for themselves.  In addition to visiting Hamilton and Leiper’s shop, consumers had the option of examining a sample “at the Bar of the London Coffee-House.”  That almost certainly enhanced the visibility of Hamilton and Leiper’s product, exposing patrons of an establishment already popular with merchants and other colonizers to their brand of tobacco.  Patrons did not need to enter the London Coffee House with the intention of scrutinizing Hamilton and Leiper’s “KITE-FOOT TOBACCO” to determine if they wished to make a purchase.  Instead, they could be incidentally exposed to the product as others examined and discussed it.  Making samples available had the potential to incite interest and enthusiasm among multiple prospective customers engaging with each other and the product simultaneously.  That marketing strategy had the potential to create a very different kind of experience among consumers than reading newspaper notices.

September 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 2, 1772).

“All kinds of office and other blanks, hand-bills, &c. &c.”

When James Humphrey, Jr., opened a printing shop in Philadelphia in the summer of 1772, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Journal to inform the public that he sought orders for “PRINTING, In all its VARIOUS and DIFFERENT BRANCHES.”  Perhaps he received a discount for notices he placed in that newspaper, despite being a competitor for job printing, having apprenticed to William Bradford, one of the partners who printed the Pennsylvania Journal.  Humphreys stated that he “earnestly requests the favour and encouragement of the Public in general, and of his friends and acquaintance in particular.”  That encouragement likely commenced with a mentor who had a thriving business and could afford to help his former apprentice establish his own printing office.  Humphreys eventually published the Pennsylvania Ledger from January 1775 through November 1776 with a brief revival when the British occupied Philadelphia, but he focused on books and job printing when he first entered the business.

In particular, he solicited orders for “All kinds of office and other blanks, [and] hand-bills.”  Throughout the colonies, printers produced and sold a variety of blanks, printed forms that facilitated common commercial and legal transactions.  Humphreys listed some of the blanks available at his printing office, including “arbitration bonds, bonds and judgments, common bonds, powers of attorney, bills of lading, bills of sale, [and] apprentices and servants indentures.”  Concluding the list with “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) signaled that he had others on hand to sell “either by the ream, quire, or single sheet.”  Some colonizers purchased blanks in volume, making them an even more lucrative revenue stream for printers.  Humphreys also declared that he printed handbills “in the neatest and most speedy manner.”  When they advertised, printers often included handbills among the items they produced, suggesting that many more advertisements circulated in eighteenth-century America, especially in urban centers, than survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.  Such ephemera may have been much more numerous and visible than bibliographies of early American imprints suggest.  Newspaper advertisements like the one that Humphreys inserted in the Pennsylvania Journal in 1772 hint at a vibrant culture of advertising during the era of the American Revolution.

August 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 5, 1772).

“Probably will endeavour to pass for a freeman.”

Jem, a “Mulattoe SLAVE,” made his escape during the night of July 15, 1772, liberating himself from Thomas May in Elk Forge, Maryland.  In his efforts to capture Jem and return him to enslavement, May ran an advertisement in which he described Jem as a “cunning ingenious fellow” who “probably will endeavour to pass for a freeman.”  Jem possessed several skills that may have helped him elude May, but those skills also made him even more valuable to the enslaver.  In addition to being able to read “pretty well” and speak Dutch, Jem was a “good workman in a forge, either in finery or chafery, can do any kind of smith’s or carpenter’s work, necessary about a forge, [and] can also do any kind of farming business.”  May also described the clothes that Jem wore when he liberated himself.  No doubt Jem would have offered other details had he been given an opportunity to publish his own narrative.  Even in Jem’s absence, May exerted control over his depiction in the public prints.

Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (August 4, 1772).

May also made decisions about how widely to disseminate advertisements describing Jem and offering “FIVE POUNDS REWARD” for capturing him.  His advertisement appeared in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on August 5.  Of the newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time, those had the longest publication history.  That likely gave May confidence that those newspapers circulated to many readers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.  Apparently, however, he did not consider that sufficient.  May was so invested in capturing and returning Jem to enslavement at the forge that he also placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on August 8 and the Pennsylvania Packet on August 10.  Considering the skills that Jem possessed, May probably thought it well worth the fees to place notices in all four English-language newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.  He even took advantage of the translation services that Henry Miller, printer of the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, offered to advertisers in a nota bene that appeared at the bottom of the masthead.  May’s advertisement describing Jem ran in that newspaper on August 4, further increasing the number of colonizers who might read it, carefully observe Black men they encountered, and participate in capturing the fugitive seeking freedom.  Thomas May expended significant money and effort in attempting to re-enslave Jem, using the power of the press to overcome the various advantages Jem sought to use to his own benefit.

July 22

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

Pennsylvania Journal (July 22, 1772).

“We have determined to publish the PENNSYLVANIA JOURNAL, or WEEKLY ADVERTISER, regularly every Wednesday.”

When William Bradford and Thomas Bradford shifted the weekly publication day of the Pennsylvania Journal from Thursdays to Wednesdays in July 1772, they inserted a notice at the top of the first column on the first page in the first issue published on a Wednesday.  That notice appeared in larger font than the news items that filled the rest of the page. The following week, they removed the notice from the first page, but not entirely from the newspaper.

The shift in the publication day was no longer breaking news, but the Bradfords wished to continue promoting both the change in particular and their newspaper in general.  The notice underscored the reason for shifting the publication day.  Both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal had been published on Thursdays.  According to the Bradfords, a “Great number of our friends, thinking that the publication of two Papers on the same day was rather inconvenient to the public, have solicited us to alter our from Thursday to Wednesday.”  The adjustment, they claimed, amounted to a public service.  In addition, the Bradfords pledged to continue to “make it our constant endeavour, to keep up the well-known spirit and impartiality of the paper” for the benefit of both subscribers and advertisers.  When addressing prospective advertisers, the Bradfords underscored that they published an “extensive paper” that attracted many readers.  They also made a bid for other business, promising that colonizers who “employ us un any other kind of printing” would have their jobs “done with care, punctuality, and dispatch.”

A compositor reset the type for this message “To the PUBLIC” and moved it from the first page to the third page in the July 22 edition, inserting it among the various advertisements published there.  Unfortunately for the Bradfords, that was their last opportunity to publish that notice.  A week later the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette moved their publication day to Wednesdays in order to compete with the Pennsylvania Journal.

July 15

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

Pennsylvania Journal (July 15, 1772).

“The publication of two Papers on the same day was rather inconvenient to the public.”

In the summer of 1772, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, altered their publication schedule, moving their weekly issues from Thursdays to Wednesdays.  They placed an announcement on the first page on July 15, explaining that a “Great number of our friends” convinced them to make the change because “the publication of two Papers on the same day was rather inconvenient to the public.”  They did not name the Pennsylvania Gazette, but residents of Philadelphia knew that new issues of both newspapers became available on Thursdays as well as new issues of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Packet on Mondays.  Heeding the advice of their friends, the Bradfords decided to publish the Pennsylvania Journal “regularly every Wednesday,” but assured readers that all other aspects of the newspaper remained the same.  They pledged that they “shall still make it our constant endeavour, to keep up the well-known spirit and impartiality of the paper” to serve subscribers and those who “chuse to have advertisements inserted in this extensive paper.”

Whether or not the publication of two newspapers on the same day was “inconvenient” for readers or advertisers, that remained the schedule for the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal as well as the newspapers published in Boston.  In that city, all five newspapers clustered publication on just two days, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on Mondays and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy on Thursdays.  In New York, the printers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal distributed new issues on different days in 1772, but other newspapers previously competed with them.  In Charleston, the printers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette, and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal usually managed to publish new issues on different days of the week, but their schedules had significantly more variability than newspapers in other cities and towns.

The Bradfords may or may not have been counseled by a “Great number” of friends and patrons to publish the Pennsylvania Journal on a different day than their competitors published the Pennsylvania Gazette, but they certainly recognized an opportunity to promote the change to prospective subscribers and advertisers.  That change will have an impact on the advertisements featured on the Adverts 250 Project.  No other eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized were published on Wednesdays, making it necessary to necessary to select advertisements from newspapers published earlier in the week.  The change in the Pennsylvania Journal’s publication schedule means that the Adverts 250 Project will feature one of its advertisements once a week.  That has the benefit of giving readers access to an advertisement published 250 years ago that day, but the shortcoming of disproportionately representing content from the Pennsylvania Journal … at least “until” another eighteenth-century printer commences (commenced) publication of a newspaper on Wednesdays.

May 28

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

Pennsylvania Journal (May 28, 1772).

“CATHERINE DESSENER … came and stole away said boy.”

Beyond the articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in eighteenth-century newspapers, advertisements often relayed news, gossip, or a combination of the two.  In a notice that ran in the May 28, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Thomas King relayed the story of a child that he had sheltered for more than five years and the child’s mother who “stole away said boy.”  Like advertisements about wives who “eloped” from their husbands, apprentices and indentured servants who ran away from their masters, and enslaved people who liberated themselves from their enslavers, King’s notice relayed the perspective of the advertisers and included only the details he chose to share with readers.  The mother, Catherine Dessener, might have given quite a different account had she placed her own advertisement.

According to King, Dessener left her son, Johannes, with him when the child was “only ten weeks old.”  Over the course of the next five and a half years, Dessener “made no satisfaction for [King’s] trouble of maintaining her child.”  King did not specify the details of any agreement he and Dessener reached when he agreed to shelter Johannes or how often he and the child had contact with Dessener while Johannes resided in his household.  He did warn others “not to take an indenture on said child, or entertain him at their peril.”  He might have been worried about Dessener earning the trust of another colonizer and then absconding with Johannes again … or he might have already had a claim on the child as an apprentice or servant when he reached an appropriate age.  King did not address issues that could have prompted Dessener to flee with her child, such as the quality of the food, clothing and shelter he provided or the treatment the child received in the King household.

King presented a straightforward story of a generous patriarch who welcomed a child of little means into his home, only to have the mother take advantage of the situation for years.  Whether or not that was accurate, King’s version framed the narrative for the public.  Dessener and her friends and relations may have circulated an alternative account via word of mouth, but they did not have the benefit of the power of the press that King purchased when he paid to place an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal.

May 17

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

Pennsylvania Packet (May 14, 1772).

“Enquire only for Dr Hill’s American Balsam.”

Advertisements for patent medicines frequently appeared in early American newspapers.  In the spring of 1772, William Young took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal to promote “Dr. HILL’s AMERICAN BALSAM, LATELY imported from London.”  For those unfamiliar with this remedy, Young explained that “Experience has fully testified, that by the proper use of this excellent medicine, great numbers of people in America have been relieved in the consumption, gravel [or kidney stones] and rheumatic pains.”  In addition, it helped with colds, coughs, and “swimmings in the head.”

Many consumers may have been more familiar with popular patent medicines commonly sold by apothecaries, merchants, shopkeepers, and even printers and booksellers.  Newspaper advertisements suggest that colonizers could easily acquire Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, Hooper’s Pills, Turlington’s Balsam, and a variety of other patent medicines in shops from New England to Georgia.  Hill’s American Balsam, in contrast, was not as readily available.  Instead, a small number of sellers in the colonies exclusively handled the distribution, including merchants in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, North Carolina; shopkeepers in New York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania; a printer in Germantown, Pennsylvania; and a goldsmith in Wilmington, Delaware.  Young proclaimed that consumers would find this patent medicine “no where else.”

Such exclusivity had the potential to lead to confusion or even counterfeits.  In a nota bene, Young warned that “People, in buying this so highly esteemed medicine, should be careful not to get a wrong one and be deceived.”  To prevent that from happening, he gave instructions “to enquire only for Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.”  Consumers could confirm that they obtained the correct product by looking for Hill’s “direction wraped about each bottle.”  Printed materials played an important role in marketing this patent medicine, via the advertisements that appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal and via the ancillary materials that accompanied each bottle of Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.

May 10

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

Pennsylvania Journal (May 7, 1772).

“JUST IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt. Falconer from London.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Journal and other colonial newspapers did not have to rely solely on the list of vessels “Entered In” that appeared in the shipping news from the customs house to learn which ships recently arrived in port.  Advertisements often carried that information as well.  Consider, for instance, the first advertisement in the May 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  It included a standard introduction that named the ship that transported the goods offered for sale before naming the purveyor of those goods or listing the merchandise.  Richard Bache began his advertisement for an assortment of textiles with “JUST IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt, Falconer from London.” His notice appeared on the first page, two pages before the shipping news.

Even if readers skipped over that advertisement, it would have been difficult for them to miss every reference to the arrival of the Britannia from London.  Several other advertisements included introductions nearly identical to the one in Bache’s notice.  George Fullerton began his advertisement (on the third page, one column to the right of the shipping news) with “IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt. Falconer, from London.”  The fourth and final page featured four more advertisements that mentioned the Britannia.  Mark Freeman and Townsend Speakman both opened their advertisements with that introduction, while John White and the partnership of Duffield and Delany listed their names first and then credited “the Britannia, Captain Falconer, from London” for delivering their “FRESH” merchandise.  On the first page, Daniel Roberdeau hawked “A COMPLEAT EDITION of the GENUINE LETTERS of the Late Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD … Received from his Executors, per Capt. Falconer.”  He did not need to provide more information since other advertisements provided context about Falconer.

Prospective customers likely found such notes helpful as they perused newspaper advertisements, especially when merchants and shopkeepers ran advertisements for weeks or even months.  Noting which vessel transported the merchandise in an advertisement helped readers determine if it was still “FRESH” or if other shops carried textiles, garments, housewares, and other goods that arrived more recently and, as a result, might include more recent fashions and styles.  This standard introduction to so many advertisements thus yielded its greatest advantage for advertisers when their notices first appeared in the public prints, but contained to provide useful context for consumers throughout the entire run of those advertisements.

March 8

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

Pennsylvania Journal (March 5, 1772).

“There is another edition, JUST PUBLISHED.”

Get a copy while they are still available!  That was the message that William Bradford and Thomas Bradford delivered to prospective customers in Philadelphia when they advertised their own edition of A Dissertation on the Gout, and All Chronic Diseases by William Cadogan, a “Fellow of the College of PHYSICIANS.”  The Bradfords noted that “a number of Gentlemen were disappointed in the purchase of the first publication” so they set about producing “another edition” in order to meet demand.  Still, copies went so fast the first time around that the Bradfords warned consumers not to miss their opportunity to purchase the volume this time.

The printers underscored the popularity of the book on both sides of the Atlantic, stating that it was “so much esteemed in England, that it has already past through Eight Editions.”  This testified to the reputation it had earned.  Printers would not have published so many editions, the Bradfords implied, if the public did not clamor for them.  Furthermore, all sorts of people, not just physicians, found the “rational METHOD of CURE” helpful.  “The Doctrines advanced,” the Bradfords advised, “are delivered in a familiar style, which renders them intelligible to Gentlemen of all professions, as well as to Physicians.”

The Bradfords were not alone in publishing American editions of Cadogan’s Dissertation on the Gout in 1772.  Printers in two other cities produced their own editions.  Hugh Gaine did so in New York, while John Boyle, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, and Henry Knox published competing editions in Boston.  In Philadelphia, Robert Aitken appended the work to William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine or, The Family Physician, perhaps as a bonus intended to make the entire volume more attractive to perspective customers.  With a “first publication” that sold out in 1771, the Bradfords confirmed that Cadogan’s Dissertation on the Gout likely had as much potential in American markets as it did in England.

February 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 30, 1772).

“A carpenter he is by trade, / Clandestinely from me he stray’d.”

Like newspapers published throughout the colonies, the Pennsylvania Journal regularly ran advertisements about indentured servants who ran away and enslaved people who liberated themselves.  When Richard Grosvenor, a carpenter indented to Joseph Lamb, ran away in January 1772, Lamb placed such an advertisement.  To distinguish his notice from others and make it more memorable, Lamb composed a verse that described Grosvenor and the horse that he stole.

Rather than the standard “RUN AWAY” that appeared at the beginning of similar advertisements, Lamb commenced with “JANUARY the nineteenth day, / RICHARD GROSVENOR rode away.”  He then simultaneously described the runaway servant and mocked him.  “Short, thick, and chunkey, five feet four / His height appears, – I think no more,” Lamb pronounced.  He then explained that Grosvenor was “fat and plump, the cause I reckon / ‘S with eating of my beef and bacon.”  Lamb had provided for the ungrateful servant, only to be betrayed.  As for Grosvenor’s clothing, most of it was old, worn, and faded, “And yet the proud, presumptuous cur / Must place upon each heel a spur, / Brass joined ones, some of the best; / The drunken sot’s compleatly dressed.”  Lamb peppered the carpenter with insults before describing the horse he stole.  His advertisement concluded, as most did, with the terms of the reward for capturing and returning the runaway servant.  “Whoever takes up the miscreant, / A good reward they shall not want, / THREE DOLLARS cast, I do declare, / Just one for him, and two the mare.”  As a final insult, Lamb offered twice as much for recovering the horse as he did for his “drunken sot” of an indentured servant.

Readers of the Pennsylvania Journal encountered so many advertisements about runaway servants that Lamb sought to increase the chances that they took note of his notice about Grosvenor.  The unusual format likely made the description of Grosvenor more memorable as well.  Lamb was certainly not the first aggrieved advertiser to resort to stilted verses to describe a runaway servant, but so few adopted that strategy that he probably believed it stood a good chance of engaging readers as they perused the advertisements.