February 21

What do newspaper advertisements published 250 years ago today tell us about the era of the American Revolution?

Pennsylvania Journal (February 21, 1771).

“LIBERTY.  A POEM.”

“RUN-AWAY … a Negro Boy named SAY.”

Like every other newspaper printer in colonial America, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford published advertisements about enslaved people.  The pages of the Pennsylvania Journal contained advertisements offering enslaved men, women, and children for sale as well as notices that described enslaved people who liberated themselves and offered rewards for their capture and return to their enslavers.  The Bradfords generated revenues from both kinds of advertisements.  In the process, they facilitated the buying and selling of enslaved Africans and African Americans.  Their newspaper became part of a larger infrastructure of surveillance of Black people, encouraging readers to scrutinize the physical features, clothing, and comportment of every Black person they encountered in order to determine if they matched the descriptions in the advertisements.

Simultaneously, the Bradfords published news about politics and current events that informed readers about colonial grievances and shaped public opinion about the abuses perpetrated by Parliament.  In addition, advertisements underscored concerns about the erosion of traditional English liberties in the colonies when they underscored the political dimensions of participating in the marketplace.  Purveyors of goods encouraged consumers to support “domestic manufactures” by purchasing goods produced in the colonies as alternatives to imported items.  News, editorials, and many advertisements all supported the patriot cause.

Those rumblings for liberty, however, stood in stark contrast to advertisements that perpetuated the widespread enslavement of Black men, women, and children.  The two ideologies did not appear in separate portions of the Pennsylvania Journal or any other newspaper.  Instead, they ran side by side.  Readers who did not spot the juxtaposition chose not to do so.  Consider, for instance, two advertisements in the February 21, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  The Bradfords advertised “LIBERTY.  A POEM” available at their printing office.  Their advertisement appeared next to a notice about “a Negro Boy named SAY,” a chimneysweeper born in the colonies.  Isaac Coats offered a reward to whoever “secures [Say] so that his Master may have him again.”  For his part, Say seized the liberty that so animated the conversations of those who attempted to keep him in bondage.

That was not the first time that the Bradfords placed advertisements about liberty and slavery in such revealing proximity to each other.  Three months earlier, they advertised the same poem and placed an advertisement offering a young man and woman for sale immediately below it.  “LIBERTY” in capital letters and a larger font appeared right above the words “To be sold by JOHN BAYARD, A Healthy active young NEGRO MAN, likewise a NEGRO WENCH.”  This paradox of liberty and slavery was present at the founding of the nation, not only in the ideas expressed by the founding generation but also plainly visible among the advertisements in the public prints.

February 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 14, 1771).

“HART and PATTERSON … opened a VENDUE-STORE.”

Unlike the vast majority of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements composed primarily of text, a visual image dominated the notice that Hart and Patterson placed in the February 14, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal to announce that they “opened a VENDUE-STORE, in Front-street, below the Draw-bridge.”  The partners pledged that “ALL those who please to favour them with their custom, may depend on their best endeavours to render satisfaction,” but a woodcut depicting a hand holding a bell enclosed in a frame occupied far more space than the copy of the advertisement.  With the exception of the masthead, Hart and Patterson’s notice featured the only visual image in that edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Both its size and its uniqueness surely demanded attention from readers.

When images did accompany newspaper advertisements, they were usually a fraction of the size of Hart and Patterson’s woodcut.  They tended to depict ships at sea, houses, horses, and enslaved people, a small number of standard images that could adorn any relevant advertisement.  Printers provided those woodcuts for advertisers interested in including them in their notices.  For other images, those associated with specific businesses, advertisers commissioned woodcuts that then belonged to them.  Such woodcuts often replicated shop signs or represented some aspect of the business featured in the advertisement.  For Hart and Patterson, the hand and bell suggested that they vigorously called attention to the items available for sale and auction after their “VENDUE-STORE.”

The previous publication history of that woodcut makes clear that it belonged to the advertisers rather than printers of the Pennsylvania Journal.  A year earlier, Hart included it in an advertisement he placed in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on January 8, 1770.  Irregularities in the border, perhaps due to damage sustained from making so many impressions on a hand-operated press, demonstrate that the same woodcut appeared in both newspapers.  Hart originally provided it to William Goddard and Benjamin Towne, the printers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but later reclaimed it.  After Hart formed a new partnership with Patterson, the auctioneers supplied William Bradford and Thomas Bradford with the woodcut when they submitted their advertising copy to the Pennsylvania Journal.

A year after first including the woodcut in an advertisement, Hart aimed to achieve a greater return on the investment he made in commissioning it.  He used the image of the hand and bell once again when he launched a new advertising campaign after embarking on a new enterprise with a new partner.  That the woodcut ran in a different newspaper than the one that first published it demonstrates that advertisers, not printers, usually owned any specialized images that appeared in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.

January 31

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 31, 1771).

“A DISCOURSE, Occasioned by the DEATH of the Revd. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

The death of George Whitefield in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, was one of the most significant news events of the year.  Newspapers throughout the colonies reported on the death of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  They also carried news of local reactions and commemorations as well as poetry that memorialized the minister.  Almost immediately, printers, publishers, booksellers, and others commodified Whitefield’s death, marketing a variety of memorabilia via newspaper advertisements.

Such marketing tapered off after a couple of months as the immediacy of Whitefield’s death faded.  Printers and booksellers who previously placed advertisements designed solely to promote items devoted to Whitefield began listing such memorabilia among other merchandise available for sale.  At the end of January and beginning of February 1771, however, a resurgence of marketing commemorative items occurred, this time in places that had not witnessed the same intensity of advertising for Whitefield memorabilia as New England and New York in the final months of 1770.

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, began advertising sermons delivered in memory of the minister in the January 31 edition of their newspapers.  The Bradfords informed the public that they published “A DISCOURSE, Occasioned by the DEATH of the Revd. GEORGE WHITEFIELD … delivered October 14, 1770, in the Second Presbyterian Church, in this city, By JAMES SPROUTT, A.M. Pastor of said Church.”  They also carried another sermon by Ebenezer Pemberton, “Pastor of a Church in BOSTON.”  The Bradfords likely acquired copies of Pemberton’s sermon from printers in New England or New York, perhaps in exchange for promises of receiving copies of Sproutt’s sermon when it went to press.  The latter was a new publication not previously marketed elsewhere.  The Bradfords offered their customers choices; they could acquire a sermon delivered locally that already may have been familiar or one delivered in Boston that featured new content.  They could even purchase both, allowing them simultaneously to honor the influential minister and compare the memorials.

Whitefield’s death prompted mourning throughout the colonies, but it also presented opportunities for printers, publishers, booksellers, and others to attempt to profit from leveraging current events into commemorative items.  From New England to South Carolina, newspapers carried both reports of the minister’s death and advertisements for memorabilia. Widespread commodification accompanied the death of the famous minister.

January 24

Who was the subject of advertisements in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today?

Maryland Gazette (January 24, 1771).

Will be SOLD, by PUBLIC VENDUEin Baltimore Town, Maryland.”

On January 24, 1771, Jacob Giles and W. Young placed an advertisement about an upcoming “PUBLIC VENDUE” or auction of several enslaved men, women, and children.  The sale was scheduled for March 6 “in Baltimore Town, Maryland.”  That advertisement appeared in the Maryland Gazette, published in Annapolis.  Simultaneously, the same advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Journal, published in Philadelphia.  That Giles and Young advertised in two newspapers published in different cities demonstrates an important aspect of the circulation of newspapers prior to the American Revolution.  They tended to serve entire colonies or regions rather than just the cities or towns of publication and their hinterlands.

In order to run newspaper advertisements, Giles and Young had to look to Annapolis and Philadelphia, the nearest places where printers published newspapers.  Baltimore did not have a newspaper printed locally in 1771.  William Goddard commenced publication of the Maryland Journal in Baltimore on August 20, 1773, but until then residents of that port on the Chesapeake relied on newspapers published in Annapolis, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg, Virginia, for their news and advertising.  Giles and Young certainly welcomed prospective bidders from other places to their auction, but their advertisement was not intended solely for faraway readers who might not see any broadsides or handbills that may have been posted or distributed in Baltimore.  Giles and Young anticipated that prospective bidders in Baltimore and its environs would see their notice in the Maryland Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.

Pennsylvania Journal (January 24, 1771).

At the beginning of 1771, there were only twenty-seven newspapers published throughout the thirteen colonies that eventually became the United States.  No newspapers were published in Delaware or New Jersey.  Of the remaining eleven colonies, newspapers emanated from only one city or town in seven of them, though some of the major ports had multiple newspapers.  The Georgia Gazette (Savannah), the Maryland Gazette, and the New-Hampshire Gazette(Portsmouth) were the only newspapers published in those colonies.  Three newspapers were published in New-York City, four in Philadelphia (including one in German), three in Charleston, South Carolina, and two in Williamsburg.  In each case, those newspapers served readers far beyond those cities.  Rhode Island had two newspapers, one in Newport and the other in Providence.  North Carolina also had two, one in New Bern and the other in Wilmington.  Massachusetts had the greatest number of newspapers, six in total, with five published in Boston and one in Salem.  Only Connecticut had newspapers published in three towns, the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, the Connecticut Journal in New Haven, and the Connecticut Gazette in New London.  That they all bore the name of the colony rather than the town testifies to their dissemination to other places in Connecticut as well as portions of Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.

When Giles and Young sought to advertise an auction of enslaved people in Baltimore, necessity prompted them to insert notices in newspapers published in Annapolis and Philadelphia.  Those newspapers served extensive regions, making them the local newspapers for readers in Baltimore, especially in the absence of any newspaper published in that town.

January 17

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 17, 1771).

“Each articles will be put up singly, and in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Both the size and format of Richard Tidmarsh’s advertisement on the final page of the January 17, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal likely attracted attention.  Rather than appearing in a single column, it ran across two columns.  It also extended half a column, creating a large rectangle of text that seemed to dominate the page even though it accounted for about one-third of the content.

Tidmarsh, a druggist, announced an upcoming auction of “DRUGS, MEDICINES, and SHOP FURNITURE” in advance of his departure from the colony “by the first spring vessels.”  He listed the items up for sale, in effect publishing an auction catalog as a newspaper advertisement.  That list made the format of his advertisement even more distinctive.  The introductory material extended across two columns, but the list of items for sale ran in three narrow columns that also did not correspond to the width of any columns that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  To help prospective buyers navigate the list, Tidmarsh arranged entries for medicines in alphabetical order.  In the final column, he inserted headers in capital letters for sections enumerating “PERFUMERY,” “PATENT MEDICINES,” and “SPARE UTENSILS and FURNITURE.”  In the introduction, the apothecary explained his rationale for selling items separately rather than as a whole.  He envisioned that “practitioners, as well as Gentlemen of the trade, will have an opportunity of being supplied with such articles as they may be out of.”  Tidmarsh apparently did not anticipate any buyers for his entire inventory, but did anticipate demand for the various drugs and medicines on their own.  He offered credit to buyers who purchased a sufficient quantity and promised that the “whole of the stock of MEDICINES and DRUGS are of the first quality.”  To guide prospective buyers through the auction, he asserted that each article would be sold “in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Tidmarsh advertised an eighteenth-century version of a “going out of business” sale.  In an effort to liquidate his inventory before leaving Philadelphia, he organized an auction that would allow buyers to acquire medicines “of the first quality” at bargain prices compared to retail and perhaps even wholesale transactions.  He published an auction catalog in the public prints, its organized columns guiding prospective bidders through both the items for sale and the order.  He also encouraged participation by offering credit to those who purchased in sufficient quantities.  The unusual format of the apothecary’s advertisement also drew attention to the upcoming auction, helping to generate interest and incite bidders to attend.

December 23

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 20, 1770).

“D.K’s performance is scandalous and preposterous.”

Lewis Fay’s advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal caused some controversy.  For several weeks in November 1770, the “Periwig Maker and Hair Dresser” originally from Paris, announced that he now offered his services to the ladies and gentlemen of Philadelphia.  He proudly proclaimed that he could style women’s hair “in fifty different manners” and men’s hair “in thirty fashionable and different manners.”  As Kate Haulman and others have shown, many colonists considered elaborate hairstyles an unnecessary luxury that also signaled a lack of character and predisposition to vices.

D.K. was one such critic.  Upon encountering Fay’s advertisement in the November 8 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, D.K. was so incensed as to send a letter to the editor of the Pennsylvania Chronicle about it.  That letter ran on December 3.  Even though Fay clearly identified both ladies and gentlemen as prospective clients in his advertisement, D.K. thought “on the first perusal” that it was “probably a satire on the Ladies, who in general are too fond of new fashions.”  Critiques of consumption and fashion often devolved to gendered attacks on women, even when they engaged in the same practices as men.  D.K. went on to describe Fay as “a worthless daring animal” and an instrument of the devil, “the arch-enemy of mankind,” because he sought “to propogate his infernal arts” in Philadelphia.  D.K. then quoted extensively from Fay’s original advertisement, thus supplementing a different advertisement that Fay happened to insert on the previous page of that issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  After quoting Fay’s claims about how many hairstyles he had mastered, D.K. exclaimed, “I think Cerberus himself could not belch forth more horrid and hateful language.”  As far as D.K. was concerned Fay should have labored in the workhouse rather than “dressing hair, in the shameful ridiculous manner he proposes.”  Still, D.K. imagined that Fay might attract a clientele of “poor thoughtless vain Girls, or some giddy wanton Matrons, or brainless fluttering Fops.”  D.K. did not want to see them become victims of “this French Metamorphoser.”  The anonymous critic concluded by stating that he hoped to “prevent so abominable a practice from getting encouragement in any of our provinces” by raising the alarm with his letter.

That editorial garnered a response among the advertisements in the December 20, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Another anonymous correspondent, who signed as “ADMIRER of ARTS,” defended Fay.  Admirer described D.K.’s “censure upon the Ladies in general, and Mr. Fay in particular” as “scandalous and preposterous.”  Admirer did not wish to further dignify most of the editorial with a response, but did clarify that Fay “has resided at Boston with the greatest applause, for his superior Knowledge of dressing and preserving the hair, exactness and sobriety.”  Fay’s original advertisement ignited a passionate response that was part of a larger discourse about consumption, fashion, luxury, and vice in the era of the American Revolution.  The debate in the public prints took place in various formats, sometimes among letters to the editor and other times in advertisements.  Paid notices did not operate independently of other contents of newspapers.  Instead, colonists read … and responded … back and forth as they imposed political and cultural meaning on consumption.

December 6

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 6, 1770).

“FOR NEWRY, The SHIP SALLY, WILLIAM KEITH, Master.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and, especially, the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal did not have to walk along the docks and wharves on the Delaware River to glimpse the ships that transported people and goods to and from Philadelphia.  Instead, they saw visual representations of the bustling coastal and transatlantic trade depicted in newspaper advertisements.  Consider the woodcuts that adorned advertisements for freight and passage that appeared in those newspapers in the first week of December 1770.

The Pennsylvania Chronicle featured the fewest such advertisements, only three, but the first item in the first column of the first page, immediately below the masthead, incorporated a woodcut of a vessel at sea into a notice about the Elizabeth and Mary departing for Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica.  The Pennsylvania Gazette, in turn, included eleven images of ships at sea, listing destinations such as Belfast, Dublin, Newry, and Londonderry in Ireland, Glasgow in Scotland, and Barbados and Granada in the West Indies.  Ten of those advertisements ran one after the other, filling almost an entire column on the final page of the December 6 edition.

The Pennsylvania Journal had the greatest number of advertisements with depictions of trading vessels, a total of sixteen.  Fourteen of them ran consecutively, filling half of the final page.  Some also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette on the same day, but others did not.  The map of commerce depicted in the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal was the most extensive, including Charleston, South Carolina, on the mainland; Barbados, Granada, and Jamaica in the West Indies; Cork, Dublin, Newry, and Londonderry in Ireland; and Bristol and London in England.

The pages of Philadelphia’s newspapers testified to the port city’s participation in a bustling network of commerce that crisscrossed the Atlantic.  Readers encountered that story not only in text but also in images that depicted fleets of ships that visited the busy port.  The array of woodcuts depicting ships that accompanied advertisements for passengers and freight often made the pages of newspapers appear as busy as the Delaware River and the wharves that lined it.

November 22

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 22, 1770).

“LIBERTY.”

“To be sold … A Healthy active young NEGRO MAN.”

Liberty and enslavement were intertwined in the 1770s, a paradox that defines the founding of the United States as an independent nation.  As white colonists advocated for their own liberty and protested their figurative enslavement by king and Parliament, they continued to enslave Africans and African Americans.  Even those who did not purport to be masters of Black men and women participated in maintaining an infrastructure of exploitation.  The juxtaposition of liberty and enslavement regularly found expression in the pages of newspapers during the era of the American Revolution as news items and editorial letters rehearsed arguments made by patriots and advertisements encouraged consumers to factor political considerations into the choices they made in the marketplace while other news items documented fears of revolts by enslaved people and other advertisements offered Black men, women, and children for sale or announced rewards for capturing enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from those who held them in bondage.

Such contradictory items always appeared within close proximity to one another, especially considering that newspapers of the era usually consisted of only four pages.  In some instances, the juxtaposition should have been nearly impossible for readers to miss.  Consider two advertisements that ran in the November 22, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the newspaper, inserted a short notice about “LIBERTY.  A POEM” available for sale at their printing office.  Immediately below that notice appeared John Bayard’s advertisement offering a “Healthy active young NEGRO MAN” and an enslaved woman for sale.  The word “LIBERTY” in the Bradfords’ very brief notice appeared in all capitals and such a large font that it could have served as a headline for the next advertisement, an exceptionally cruel and inaccurate headline.  Both advertisements represented revenues for the Bradfords, the first potential revenues of potential sales and the second actual revenues paid by Bayard to insert the advertisement.

Examining either advertisement in isolation results in a truncated history of the era of the era of the American Revolution.  The advertisement for “LIBERTY.  A POEM” must be considered in relation to the advertisement for a “Healthy young NEGRO MAN” and woman to tell a more complete story of the nation’s past, even when some critics charge that the inclusion of the latter is revisionist and ideologically motivated.  It is neither.  Instead, it is a responsible and accurate rendering of the past.  The Bradfords positioned these advertisements together on the page 250 years ago.  We cannot separate them today.

November 8

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 8, 1770).

“Experience has taught him to cut hair according to art.”

Lewis Fay, a “Periwig Maker and Hair Dresser,” offered his services to the residents of Philadelphia, especially “the Ladies,” in an advertisement in the November 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  His message to prospective clients was as elaborate as some of the styles that he created.  As a newcomer in the city, he aimed for his advertisement to help establish his reputation.

To that end, he first informed readers that he was “From Paris,” perhaps the most cosmopolitan center of fashion on either side of the Atlantic.  Hiring his services, he suggested, came with some extra cachet.  Thanks to his Parisian origins, he was familiar with the “newest fashion” and had gained the experience “to cut hair according to art.”  Fay proclaimed that he “can dress Ladies in fifty different manners with their own natural hair,” but for those “who have not sufficient hair” he could outfit them “with false curls so well as not to be distinguished from their natural ones.”  He did so with such skill that others would not be able to recognize those “false curls” even “by the nearest inspection.”  He also accepted male clients, stating that he “dresses also Gentlemen’s hair in thirty fashionable and different manners, agreeable to their faces and airs.”  Fay apparently offered advice, consulting with his clients about which styles indeed suited their physical features and the impressions they wished to make on others.  The hairdresser also provided ancillary services, including cutting children’s hair “at a reasonable rate” and selling products like “Pomatum, which changes the red and grey hair into black.”

Although he was new in town, Fay anticipated running a thriving shop in Strawberry Alley.  Expecting that his services would certainly be in demand, the French hairdresser instructed ladies who would “favour him with their commands” to make appointments at least a day in advance.  Otherwise, they might end up being “disappointed” due to “previous engagements” that would prevent Fay from dressing their hair.  He sought to incite demand for his services through puffery that emphasized his origins and skills while lending the impression that his services were already popular among genteel ladies in the city.

November 4

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 1, 1770).

“His house is extremely well calculated for the accommodation of GRAND and SHERIFF’S JURIES.”

Josiah F. Davenport operated an inn and tavern, the Bunch of Grapes, in Philadelphia in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He occasionally placed newspaper advertisements, both in that in city and in New York to attract the attention of travelers who planned to visit for business or pleasure.  When he commenced operations, Davenport focused on the amenities in his marketing efforts.  He promoted the quality of the neighborhood, the food and drink served at the inn, the convenient stables, and the customer service extended to all guests.  His advertisements often included a woodcut depicting a bunch of grapes, a logo that supplemented his branding efforts.

In an advertisement in the November 1, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Davenport deployed another marketing strategy.  Rather than entice individual visitors, he invited groups to make use of his facilities.  The innkeeper proclaimed that “his house is extremely well calculated for the accommodation of GRAND and SHERIFF’S JURIES.”  Davenport suggested that he had already established a foothold in that market, asserting that such juries had “honoured him with their commands for two years past.”  Based on when his advertisements indicate he began operations, Davenport had been serving those patrons almost from the start even if he did not incorporate that part of his business model into his advertisements until the fall of 1770.

For all of his customers, the innkeeper pledged “his constant and unwearied attention to give them satisfaction” and promised that he “furnish[ed] himself with everything necessary for that purpose.”  He hoped that such hospitality would attract the attention of colonists planning meetings, realizing that providing accommodations for groups generated greater revenues than working solely with individual patrons.  Davenport likely figured that guests who stayed there on business would choose his house of entertainment over competitors on other occasions.  That juries would select the Bunch of Grapes also enhanced the establishment’s reputation.  Before the hospitality industry became the distinct segment of the economy that it is today, Davenport identified the benefits of promoting his inn and tavern as an attractive location for meetings and events.