January 20

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 20, 1773).

“I accused her wrongfully, and beg her pardon for the same.”

Newspaper advertisements delivered many kinds of information in eighteenth-century America.  Some described consumer goods and services offered by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans.  Legal notices and estate notices supplemented news articles about local events.  Advertisements about enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from their enslavers and indentured servants who ran away before their contracts ended provided descriptions and promised rewards for their capture and return.  Notices about wives who “eloped” from their husbands and, as a result, no longer had access to credit kept readers informed about some of the gossip in their community.

Other advertisements carried other kinds of gossip.  In the January 20, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, for instance, Mary Doyle inserted a notice in which she confessed that she mistakenly accused an acquaintance of stealing her pocketbook, realized her error, and asked for forgiveness.  “I MARY DOYLE,” she stated, “having mislaid my Pocket-Book, and missing it in the Market place, most injustly charged Mrs. Mary M’Clean, (wife of Hugh M’Clean, Stone-cutter,) with taking the same.”  Doyle apparently found her missing pocketbook and realized her error, prompting her to published the advertisement.  “I therefore think myself bound to inform the public,” she continued, “that I accused her wrongfully, and beg ger pardon for the same.”

Like most advertisements about recalcitrant wives who vexed their husbands, this advertisement did not include all the juicy details about what happened at the market.  Readers could imagine the scene that unfolded.  Some may have already been aware of what transpired, having witnessed it themselves.  Others may have already heard gossip about an altercation between the two women.  Those learning about the confrontation for the first time may have wanted to learn more and decided to ask their friends and acquaintances about what occurred.  Rather than quiet the gossip about Doyle’s missing pocketbook and the accusations she made against McClean, the advertisement may have helped in inciting more gossip.  New chatter, however, had a conclusion in which Doyle set the record straight by restoring McClean’s reputation.  She shifted the story away from a possible theft to her own mistake in making an erroneous accusation.  Doyle sought to repair her relationship with McClean, though publishing a newspaper advertisement also facilitated gossip about a recent argument in the market.

January 6

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 6, 1773).

“RUN AWAY … an Irish servant man, named Michael Nugent.”

James Riddle’s advertisements concerning an indentured servant who had “RUN AWAY” shortly before the new year received a privileged place in January 6, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  It was the only advertisement on the first page of the newspaper.  As readers perused an “Extract of a letter from a Gentleman in London,” “Extracts from the Minutes of the House of Burgesses in Virginia,” and news from Warsaw, they encountered a notice that described Michael Nugent, “an Irish servant man, … by trade a taylor,” and offered a reward for capturing and imprisoning him or delivering him to Riddle on Shippen Street in Philadelphia.  The advertisement appeared at the bottom of the middle column of the first page.

That an advertisement appeared on the front page of a colonial newspaper was not uncommon.  Printers frequently ran paid notices on the first page, often as a practical matter.  Newspapers consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Some printers placed advertisement, which ran for multiple weeks, on the first and last pages, printed those first, and reserved the second and third pages for the most recent news that arrived in the printing office.  Even when they did not devote the entire first page to advertising, printers tended to cluster notices together in complete columns.  The front page of a newspaper, for instance, could feature two columns of news and one column of advertising or one column of news and two columns of advertising.

A single advertisement, especially one that did not promote some aspect of the printer’s own business, was unusual.  In this instance, the printers placed all other advertisements in the final column of the third page and filled the final page with notices, segregating news from advertising except for the lone notice about a runaway indentured servant on the front page.  Its placement may have also been a practical matter since it was just the right length to complete the column that included news from Virginia before starting a new column of news from Warsaw.  Riddle’s advertisement generated revenue for the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, but it served another purpose as well.  It functioned as filler when laying out the first page of the newspaper.

December 23

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 23, 1772).

“Repeated INSULTS the City has lately received, by damaging, and taking away, the Public Lamps.”

On one of the shortest days of the year, the “WARDENS of the CITY” of Philadelphia offered a significant reward “for discovery of the person or persons, who … TOOK AWAY, one of the PUBLIC LAMPS” on Fourth Street.  To draw attention to this act of vandalism and theft, the wardens placed advertisements in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on December 23, 1772.  The wardens had determined that someone removed and stole the lamp sometime between ten and eleven on Saturday night.  That they could pinpoint the time that precisely suggested that members of the public took enough notice of the light provided by the lamps to notice when that particular lamp was lit for their safety and convenience and when it disappeared.

The wardens considered the removal of the lamp more than an act of vandalism.  They framed it as an assault on the city and its residents.  “The repeated INSULTS the City has lately received, by damaging, and taking away, the Public Lamps,” the wardens proclaimed, “WILL, doubtless, be PROPERLY RESENTED by the INHABITANTS.”  That being the case, the wardens “Request the ASSISTANCE of their FELLOW-CITIZENS, in order to a discovery of the Perpetrators of those infamous practices, that a check may be put, to a growing evil, of the most dangerous tendency.”  Public works, like street lamps, only benefited the public when they remained in place and optional.  The entire community, the wardens argued, shared the responsibility of identifying the vandals, just as the entire community benefitted from the installation of “Public Lamps” to light the streets during the winter months.

The compositors for the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal did their part in alerting the public to this call to action from the wardens of the city.  In the former, the notice ran immediately below the shipping news from the customs house.  As readers finished perusing news items, they encountered the advertisement offering “TWENTY-FIVE POUNDS REWARD” upon the conviction of the vandals.  Even if they did not closely examine other advertisements in the remainder of the issue, readers interested in the news likely saw this notice.  In the Pennsylvania Journal, the compositor placed the notice at the top of the first full column of advertising in the issue.  In the upper right corner of the third page, it appeared next to local news from Philadelphia.  For added measure, the compositor added a manicule to direct readers to the advertisement, the only manicule anywhere in that issue.

December 16

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 16, 1772).

“Physicians prescriptions, or family receipts put up in the most careful manner.”

Moses Bartram ran a shop that he called “the OLD MEDICINAL STORE.”  In December, 1772, he ran a newspaper advertisement advising residents of Philadelphia that he “CONTINUES to carry on the business in its various branches” and offered a variety of goods and services.  He stocked “a fresh and general assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES, Chymical and Galenical preparations of the best quality.”  He also carried patent medicines and, like many apothecaries, both “shop furniture for Practitioners” and “painters colours for either oil or water.”  Bartram filled “orders from town and country.”  He also prepared “Physicians prescriptions” and “family receipts” or remedies “in the most careful manner.”

In marketing the goods and services available at the Old Medicinal Store, Bartram placed his advertisement in three of the five newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.  Doing so helped him achieve greater market saturation with his notices.  His notice first appeared in the Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, a German-language newspaper, on December 15.  A note that ran across the bottom of the masthead advised “All ADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.”  The following day, Bartram’s advertisement ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.

Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (December 15, 1772).

The apothecary chose not to place his advertisement in the two newest newspapers published in the city, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Packet.  Both of them had a healthy number of advertisements each week, suggesting that other advertisers had confidence in the circulation numbers for those newspapers.  The Pennsylvania Packet frequently distributed a two-page supplement to accommodate all of the advertisements submitted to the printing office.  In making his choices about where to advertise, Bartram clustered the dissemination of his notices on Tuesdays (Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote) and Wednesdays (Pennsylvania Gazette and Pennsylvania Journal).  He could have spread out the days by placing his advertisements in the Pennsylvania Packet, published on Mondays, or the Pennsylvania Chronicle, published on Saturdays.

Given that all of these newspapers were published only once a week rather than daily, allowing readers more time to peruse the contents before discarding an earlier issue in favor of the newest one, Bartram may not have considered it necessary to spread out the days that his advertisements initially appeared in print.  Other factors, including price, his existing relationships with the various printers, and his perceptions of the circulation of each newspaper, may have been more important to Bartram in choosing where (and when) to advertise.

December 9

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 9, 1772).


When furriers John Fromberger and John Siemon formed their partnership, they placed advertisements in newspapers published in Philadelphia.  A woodcut depicting a miff and tippet adorned the notice they placed in the Pennsylvania Journal in September 1771.  Several weeks later, they transferred the woodcut to the printing office of the Pennsylvania Chronicle so it could appear in advertisements they ran in that newspaper.  In December, the furriers once again made arrangements for the image to accompany their advertisements in the Pennsylvania Journal.  Within in a few weeks, it appeared in yet another newspaper, the New-York Journal.  Siemon visited the city, advised prospective customers that “he intends to stay a month only,” and took the woodcut with him to help draw attention to his advertisements.  Given his short stay, Siemon did not manage to transfer the woodcut from one printing office to another.  His advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury did not feature any image.

Siemon returned to New York in November 1772.  In a new advertisement in the New-York Journal, he informed readers that “he intends settling here” and requested “a further continuance of those Ladies and Gentlemen who were pleased to favour him with their custom last winter.”  That advertisement did not mention any connection to Fromberger; apparently the furriers dissolved their partnership.  The advertisement did include a familiar image, at least a portion of one.  Siemon included the muff, but not the tippet formerly arranged above it.  Perhaps he modified the woodcut to acknowledge his new enterprise.  Perhaps the portion depicting the tippet had been damaged so he had that part removed and salvaged the rest.  Perhaps he had the tippet removed because it occupied so much space.  A smaller woodcut cost less to include in his advertisements.  Whatever the explanation, Siemon had a familiar, but updated, image for customers to associate with his business.

Fromberger apparently thought that was a good idea.  A month after John Siemon and Company advertised in the New-York Journal, John Fromberger and Company placed a notice with an image in the Pennsylvania Journal.  Since Siemon retained the original woodcut, Fromberger commissioned a new woodcut.  He exercised some consistency in selecting what appeared in the image, a muff and a tippet.  This time, however, the muff and the tippet appeared side by side rather than one above the other.  Both items had the same patterns as the muff and the tippet in the original woodcut. Fromberger likely believed that consumers in Philadelphia associated a similar image with the business he operated.  A similar image repeatedly accompanied his previous notices, making a new one that depicted both a muff and a tippet familiar and appropriate for marketing his new enterprise.

December 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 2, 1772).


The Pennsylvania Journal relayed shipping news from other ports as well as lists of vessels that “Entered in,” “Outwards,” and “Cleared” from the customs house in Philadelphia.  In addition, the newspaper carried advertisements about vessels seeking freight and passengers heading to various ports throughout the British Atlantic world.  Stock images of ships at sea often adorned those advertisements.

Sometimes the pages of the newspaper may have seemed as crowded as the docks in Philadelphia, a bustling port and the largest city in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution.  Fourteen such advertisements, each with an image of a ship, ran in the December 2, 1772, edition in advance of vessels departing for Antigua, Belfast, Charleston, Drogheda, Londonderry, and Newry.  Ten of them appeared on the final page.  Filling an entire column, they impressed on readers the connections between Philadelphia and other parts of the empire.

Other newspapers published in Philadelphia also ran such advertisements, but the Pennsylvania Journal seemed to be the most popular place for merchants and captains to promote upcoming voyages.  On December 2, the Pennsylvania Gazetteran ten of those advertisements, eight of them clustered together in a single column.  Earlier in the week, the Pennsylvania Packet carried only three such advertisements on November 30.  Later in the week, the Pennsylvania Chronicle carried just one on December 5.  Many, but not all, of the advertisements that ran in other newspapers also ran in the Pennsylvania Journal.  The notice concerning the Fame, headed to Londonderry, for instance, appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Packet as well as the Pennsylvania Journal.  The notice about the Minerva’s upcoming voyage to Newry ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  On the other hand, the advertisement announcing that the Industry would sail to Newry and Drogheda appeared solely in the Pennsylvania Packet.

Whether they had been published for decades or just a few years, each of the newspapers printed in Philadelphia featured extensive advertising.  Those who placed notices expressed confidence in the circulation of each newspaper to reach readers who would benefit from the information they paid to insert.  At the same time, merchants and masters of vessels seemed to have the greatest confidence that advertising in the Pennsylvania Journal would yield the results they desired, at least during one week late in the fall of 1772.  This raises a question worth exploring in more detail: did advertisers … and readers … have different expectations about the kinds of notices they would encounter in the various newspapers published in Philadelphia in the 1770s?

November 25

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 25, 1772).


Most of the advertisements in the November 25, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal ran on the third and fourth pages.  News occupied the first two pages and a portion of the third.  Then the remainder of the issue featured paid notices, including an advertisement for a “Hearty, Strong NEGRO LAD” for sale, notices from ships seeking passengers and freight, and advertisements for consumer goods and services.  William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers, did not intersperse news and advertising … with one exception.  Andrew Bunner’s brief advertisement advising that he “Just imported … A LARGE and neat ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS, suitable for the SEASON” appeared on the front page.

Consisting of only six lines, that advertisement ran at the bottom of the first column.  The printers generated revenue by publishing Bunner’s notice, but they also treated it as filler that conveniently completed a column otherwise devoted to an essay about raising cattle submitted by a reader, “A RURAL RESIDENT.”  The remainder of the column had enough space for the byline and a few lines of the news item that ran at the top of the second column, but the printers likely decided that readers would find that format confusing or less attractive than starting the news at the head of the column.

Did that work to Bunner’s advantage?  He may have benefited from the unusual placement of his advertisement.  Readers interested only in news and editorials may have only quickly glanced at the final pages of the newspaper, but when they reached the end of the letter about raising cattle on the first page they may have read through Bunner’s advertisement in expectation of more news rather than paid notices.  Whether or not the placement enhanced the visibility of the notice, it certainly aided the printers in achieving even columns and a flow of news items easy for readers to navigate.

November 11

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 11, 1772).

“Would be much obliged to any merchant or others for employment.”

Employment advertisements regularly appeared among advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, and other advertisements in early American newspapers.  Colonizers placed notices seeking work while prospective employers alerted readers about opportunities.  On November 11, 1772, for instance, the Pennsylvania Journal carried both sorts of notices.

One had a headline that proclaimed “WANTED” in larger font.  The anonymous advertiser sought a “Single man, that understands driving a carriage and taking care of horses.”  Any candidate “must be well recommended for his honesty and sobriety, as none other need apply.”  To learn more, including the identity of the potential employer, the advertisement instructed readers to “enquire of the Printers” of the Pennsylvania Journal or “at the Bar of the London Coffee-House.”  Both places served as clearinghouses for information that did not appear in the public prints.

A notice placed by a “YOUNG MAN” who “WANTS EMPLOYMENT” advised that the advertiser considered himself qualified for various positions, including “an assistant in a store, bar-keeper, or steward of a ship.”  He boasted that he was “well acquainted with Arithmetick” and “can be well recommended for his honesty and sobriety.”  The young man requested that anyone interested in hiring him contact “Mr. Allen Moore, tavern-keeper, Mr. Fegan, store-keeper, store-keeper in Water-Street, Mr. John Cunningham, at the Center-House, on the Commons, or the Printers of this paper.”  In so doing, he did the eighteenth-century equivalent of listing his references.

The most extensive of the employment advertisements attempted to play on the sympathy of prospective employers.  An anonymous “PERSON residing in this city” reported that he “lately met with real and unavoidable misfortunes.”  Furthermore, he had “a large family to support,” compounding his difficulties.  To meet his responsibilities, he would be willing to “travel to any part of the continent, or even to the West-Indies, to settle accompts, collect money, &c. &c. for the sake of his family.”  The advertiser claimed that he had experience “serv[ing]a respectable body of merchants” in Philadelphia “as their clerk” for several years.  He also offered to provide references, declaring that he could “bring sufficient testimonials for his integrity and abilities from some of the first merchants in the city.”  He demonstrated his familiarity with how merchants conducted business by instructing prospective employers to “Enquire at the bar of the Coffee-House.”  His advertisement, longer than the others, reflected his experience and, likely, his anxiety to secure a position in order to provide for his family.

November 4

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 4, 1772).

“MARGARET DUNCAN … has for sale, A LARGE assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”

Newspapers published in urban ports carried advertisements placed by female shopkeepers hawking their wares, though women were generally less likely to resort to the public prints to promote their businesses than their male counterparts.  Those female shopkeepers and “she merchants” who did advertise demonstrate that women participated in the marketplace in a variety of ways, not solely as shopkeepers.

Margaret Duncan was one of those women who ran newspaper advertisements.  On November 4, 1772, her notice appeared in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  She advised current and prospective customers that she moved to a new location on Second Street, “three doors below the corner of Arch-street” and “four doors above where she formerly dwelt.”  Duncan stocked a “LARGE assortment of MERCHANDIZE, suitable to the season, imported in the last vessels from Europe.”  She declared that she sold her wares “on the lowest terms for cash or the usual credit.” In terms of substance and style, Duncan’s advertisement did not differ from those placed by other retailers.  She did not address women in particular as prospective customers, nor did she make any feminized appeals to consumers.  Duncan apparently understood that men were consumers as well as producers and retailers, just as women inhabited multiple roles in consumer society.

The shopkeeper did benefit from enhanced visibility the first time her advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal.  It ran in the middle of the second column on the front page, immediately below news items that began in the first column and overflowed into the next.  She was almost as fortunate with the placement of her notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In that publication, it also appeared in the middle of the second column on the first page, though in that instance it was the second advertisement.

Duncan was the only female shopkeeper to run an advertisement in either of those newspapers that week, but she was not the only woman in Philadelphia who was selling goods to consumers.  Despite their relative absence in the public prints, women running businesses were much more visible to colonizers as they traversed the streets of the busy port and went about their daily activities.  The prominence of Duncan’s advertisement on the front page of two newspapers only hinted at the visibility of women in the marketplace.

October 21

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

Pennsylvania Journal (October 21, 1772).


Newspaper advertisements help in revealing some of the entertainments enjoyed by colonizers in the eighteenth century.  For instance, two advertisements in the October 21, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal promoted upcoming performances and encouraged residents of Philadelphia to purchase tickets.  The first offered feats of “HORSEMANSHIP, BY Mr. BATES,” promising that he did tricks “On ONE, TWO, AND THREE HORSES.”  Bates and his act would have been familiar to regular readers at the time this advertisement appeared, so to entice anyone who had already seen the show to come again he proclaimed that he added “several NEW PERFORMANCES.”  Patrons needed to purchase tickets in advance since “No Money [would] be taken at the DOORS, nor Admittance without a TICKET,” yet they also received a discount for purchasing more than one.  The first ticket cost five shillings and the second only two shillings and six pence.  In other words, Bates advertised a “buy one, get one half off” promotion.

The other advertisement announced that “MR. SAUNDERS will exhibit his DEXTERITY and GRAND DECEPTION … at the Bunch of Grapes.”  Most likely, Hyman Saunders, the illusionist and itinerant performer who previously advertised in newspapers in both New York and Philadelphia, placed this notice.  He boasted that he “had the honour of performing before his Excellency the Earl of Dunmore, now Governor of Virginia … and most of the nobility and gentry in Great-Britain and America, and in particular in the capital cities.”  Saunders described his act as “dexterity by hand, surpassing everything of the kind that has hitherto been seen, or attempted, on this side of the Atlantic,” intending that such hyperbole would motivate readers to come to the show.  As a bonus, they would also see “Mr. ABRAHAM BENJAMIN … exhibit several curious BALANCES,” feats of “DEXTERITY, in a different manner from Mr. Saunders.”  Benjamin previously “had the honour of performing before the King of Denmark, and all the nobility of that kingdom.”  The pedigrees of both performers likely resonated with residents of Philadelphia who aspired to be as cosmopolitan as their counterparts in European cities.  Patrons could purchase tickets in advance at the Bunch of Grapes or “at Mr. Abraham Franks’s, Tobacconist.”  Saunders advised that performances would “continue [on] Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.”  Colonizers could also hire him for private performances in their own homes, entertaining themselves and guests fortunate enough to receive invitations.

Performers used newspaper advertisements to drum up interest in their performances in early America.  They likely resorted to handbills and broadsides as well, though those kinds of advertisements were more ephemeral.  Itinerant performers depended on publicity to draw audiences to their shows.  Even those who spent some time in town had to resort to promoting their acts to keep audiences coming or coming back for more.