May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

“THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”

At first glance the advertisement did not look much different than others that offered books and pamphlets for sale: “Very lately published in the City of Philadelphia, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, two Discourses by a Layman of the Church of England.”  Hugh Gaine inserted that notice in the May 28, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He offered further description of the “Discourses,” stating that they contemplated “the two following Texts; Matt. xv. 15. 25, Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord help me; Isaiah xlv. 15. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Saviour.”  Gaine likely drew directly from the title page in composing that portion of the advertisement.

That part of the advertisement could have stood alone.  It provided the same amount of information as others placed by printers and booksellers in colonial American newspapers.  It was in the second portion that the printer made a sales pitch that distinguished this particular advertisement from others for books and pamphlets that ran in the same issue and in other newspapers.  Gaine informed prospective readers that “THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”  Purchasing it, he suggested, was an act of charity and an expression of concern for the public good.  If that was not enough to influence readers to buy the pamphlet, then they could consider it an opportunity to practice philanthropy at a bargain.  Gaine asserted that even though the pamphlet sold for eight pence in Philadelphia, he charged only “the small Sum” of four pence for each copy.  He ran a half-price sale.

Though brief, Gaine’s advertisement contained two marketing strategies that the printer expected would resonate with prospective customers: a bargain price and an opportunity to aid the less fortunate.  That he sold the pamphlet also enhanced Gaine’s own reputation, demonstrating that he supported efforts to benefit the prisoners in Philadelphia. Eighteenth-century advertisements should not be dismissed as simple because they were short or lacked striking visual elements.  In a few short sentences, Gaine made a powerful case for purchasing the pamphlet.

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 19, 1770).

“The COLLEGE about to be built in this Colony, shall be erected in the Town of Providence.”

On behalf of the “Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work” of erecting a building to house Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in Providence, Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes regularly inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette throughout the first several months of 1770.  They called on “all who already Subscribers” (or benefactors) and “those who may incline them to become such” to inform the committee of the funds they wished to pledge or “an Account of such Materials fit for the Building, as they would choose to furnish in Lieu of their Subscriptions.”  The fundraising effort was ongoing.

When this notice ran in the May 19 edition of the Providence Gazette, it coincided with news about the college.  Colonial newspapers ran little local news.  Since newspapers were generally published once a week, printers assumed that most local news spread by word of mouth before they had a chance to go to press.  The most momentous local news, however, did appear in the public prints.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, considered news about Rhode Island College significant enough to include in his newspaper.  A short article informed readers that “Monday last the first Foundation Stone of the COLLEGE about to be erected here was laid by Mr. JOHN BROWN, of this Place, Merchant, in Presence of a Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution.– About twenty Workmen have since been employed on the Foundation, which Number will be increased, and the Building be completed with all possible Dispatch.”

This brief article and the committee’s advertisement each informed the other, telling a more complete story for readers.  The news article also provided further publicity that aided the committee in their fundraising.  It was not too late to make a contribution and join that “Number of Gentlemen, Friends to the Institution” as a supporter of the college and, by extension, the civic welfare of the town of Providence.  The committee continued to welcome new benefactors.

April 25

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

Apr 25 - 4:25:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 25, 1770).

“Sincere and hearty thanks to the benefactors of Rhode Island College.”

In March 1770 Hezekiah Smith prepared to depart Charleston after a successful stay in the city.  He visited to raise funds for Rhode Island College (now Brown University) and met many benefactors during his time in South Carolina.  In advance of leaving, he inserted an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to express his appreciation as well as offer instructions for anyone who still desired to make contributions but had not yet done so.

Smith did not collect the funds and immediately return to Providence, the site of a new building and a new location for the college.  Instead, he headed further south to Savannah to continue seeking contributions.  In an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette, he outlined a strategy similar to the one he deployed in South Carolina.  He commenced by offering his “sincere and hearty thanks to the benefactors of Rhode Island College” that he had encountered so far, alerting others who had not yet donated that others in the community considered the college a worthy cause.  He also drew attention to the “subscription paper” that listed all of the benefactors and the amount they pledged.  Smith invited benefactors and others to visit Benjamin Stirk, a local agent and counterpart to David Williams in Charleston, to examine the list and confirm “that his donation goes towards making up the sum to be collected and got subscribed” in Georgia.  In the process, benefactors and prospective benefactors would also observe who else had donated and how much, spurring them on to make sure that their own contribution reflected well on themselves.  Smith implicitly relied on raising funds by placing donors in competition with each other as they participated in this sort of philanthropy as a means of asserting status and enhancing reputations.

Advertisements calling on local residents to contribute to Rhode Island College regularly appeared in the Providence Gazette in 1770, but representatives of the college did not confine their fundraising efforts to Rhode Island.  Advertisements that Smith placed in newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina demonstrate that the college sought benefactors near and far.

March 27

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

Mar 27 - 3:27:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 27, 1770).

“I shall leave a List of the Subscribers Names, together with their Benefactions.”

In late March 1770 Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes continued their efforts to raise funds and acquire materials to erect a building for Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in Providence.  On behalf of the “Committee for providing Materials and overseeing the Work,” they placed a notice in the Providence Gazette that thanked the “many Gentlemen [who] have been so generous to this very useful Institution, as to become Benefactors to it” while simultaneously calling on both current supporters and “those whose beneficient Minds may incline them to become such” to send updates about their intended donations.

Yet advocates for the college did not confine their fundraising efforts to the Providence Gazette alone.  Hezekian Smith inserted a similar notice in the March 27, 1770 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  He visited the colony to promote the college and the building it needed once its sponsors made a determination to move its location from Warren, Rhode Island, to Providence.  Smith extended his “humble and hearty Thanks to the Benefactors of RHODE-ISLAND COLLEGE, whom he has met since his first Arrival in this Province.”  He also announced that he planned to depart soon, prompting him to encourage “those Gentlemen who were so Kind as to promise to send their Benefactions for the College to him” to do so.

In a nota bene, Smith declared that he would leave behind a “List of the Subscribers Names, together with their Benefactions” that each supporter could consult in order to confirm “that his Donation goes towards making up the Sum I have collected since my Arrival here.”  Smith likely had an additional motive for drawing up such a list for “Subscribers” to consult.  As they perused the list to find their own names and “Benefactions” they would also see who else had donated and how much.  They could congratulate themselves on their civic responsibility and the company they kept, but also compare their donations to those made by others.  Benefactors could judge for themselves whether they appeared generous or miserly in comparison to others on the list.  Did an unexpectedly large donation enhance their status or an unaccountably small donation diminish it?

Today, colleges and nonprofit organizations regularly publish lists of benefactors, often classifying them according to how much they donated and organizing the lists to give preeminence to the most generous.  This is both an expression of appreciation and a challenge to current and prospective donors to secure their positions on subsequent lists of benefactors.  In his efforts to raise funds for Rhode Island College, Hezekiah Smith similarly extended an acknowledgment and a challenge to benefactors in South Carolina.  In promising to leave behind a list of donors and the sums they donated, he encouraged benefactors to increase their pledges.

December 27

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 27, 1768).

“Certificates of which, she can produce from the Gentleman whose Lectures she attended.”

When Mrs. Grant arrived in South Carolina in late 1768, she placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform colonists in her new home that “she proposed to practise MIDWIFERY.” In introducing herself to the public, she deployed many of the same strategies as her male counterparts, though she also expanded on some of them.

As a newcomer, Grant did not benefit from having a reputation gained from building a clientele over the years. Instead, she needed to offer assurances that she was indeed capable of providing the services she claimed. To that end, she first emphasized her credentials, formal training, and experience. She was qualified to practice midwifery, “having studied that Art regularly, and practised it afterwards with success at EDINBURGH.” When men who provided medical services moved to a new town or city in the colonies and placed advertisements, they usually provided a similar overview. Grant, however, did not expect her prospective clients to trust the word of a stranger when it came to such an important service. In addition to noting her training and experience, she stated that she could produce “Certificates … from the Gentleman whose Lectures she attended, and likewise from the Professors of Anatomy and Practice of Physic” in Edinburgh. Male practitioners rarely offered documentation to confirm their narratives. In an era during which medicine increasingly became professionalized (and, as part of that process, masculine), Grant may have believed that she need to do more in order to level the playing field when competing with male counterparts for clients.

To help establish her reputation, Grant also indicated in a nota bene that she would “assist the Poor, gratis.” Doing so allowed her to demonstrate her skills while simultaneously testifying to her good character and commitment to her new community. She was not alone in offering free services to the poor as a means of introducing herself. Men sometimes did so as well. Still, Grant may have considered it especially imperative as a way of breaking into the market upon arriving as a stranger in Charleston.

November 3

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

Nov 3 - 11:3:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (November 3, 1768).

“Circumstances may yet enable him to set one Day in Six apart to give Advice to indigent Persons, Gratis.”

John Coghill Knapp, “Attorney at Law,” was a familiar figure to colonists who read the New York newspapers in the 1760s. He frequently placed lengthy, chatty advertisements offering a variety of legal services. In November 1768 he inserted a new advertisement, one that extended half a column, in the New-York Journal. He proclaimed that he “WILL continue to give the most candid Opinion and Advice, in all Cases of Law or Equity, with such Reasons laid down in Support thereof, as fully to give the desired Satisfaction.” He drew up “Memorials, Remonstrances, or any Case” as well as “Writings and Conveyances of every Kind, from the smallest Agreement, to Deeds of the greatest Consequence.” Although he did not state it explicitly in this new advertisement, earlier notices made clear that “Conveyances of every Kind” included the buying and selling of enslaved men, women, and children. As he had done in previous advertisements, he promised “strict Secrecy, Integrity, and Dispatch” in serving all his clients no matter what kind of work they brought to his office.

In addition to those attributes particularly valued in an attorney, Knapp concluded by declaring that he had “some Hopes, Circumstances may yet enable him to set one Day in Six apart to give Advice to indigent Persons, Gratis.” He aspired to some day be in a position to provide free legal services to those who could not otherwise afford his fees, but he did not have the means to do so at the moment. The lawyer cleverly leveraged his best intentions, which testified to his character, to attract clients who could pay. He did so while simultaneously promoting his industriousness, indicating that he pursued his profession six days of every week. Just as he set the seventh day aside for worship, he desired to set the sixth day aside for altruism. That was only possible, however, if he earned enough throughout the rest of the week to support himself. Knapp suggested that he wanted to provide aid “to all indigent Persons,” but called on prospective clients to give him the opportunity to do so. By engaging his services, they indirectly contributed to a charitable enterprise. Knapp attempted to distinguish himself from other attorneys by deploying philanthropy as a marketing strategy.

November 1

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

Nov 1 - 11:1:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 1
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 1, 1768).

“Offers his Attendance gratis, to every Person in Charles-Town, whose Circumstances or Situation demand it.”

When T. Lowder arrived in Charleston and established his own medical practice in 1768, he placed an advertisement to introduce himself to the residents of the city and its environs. Like many other physicians who placed newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, Lowder first provided his credentials to potential clients who might avail themselves of his services. He indicated that he had worked as “MIDWIFE and APOTHECARY, to St. Peter’s Hospital” in Bristol. Furthermore, he reported that “he has for some Years been largely engaged in” the “Practice of Midwifery.” Although he did not provide the particulars, Lowder stated that he had received “a regular, physical Education.” He hoped that prospective clients would consider it, in combination with “a considerable Degree of Experience,” as “sufficient Qualifications.” He also pledged to exert the “utmost Assiduity” in attending to his patients. As a newcomer to the city, Lowder did not enjoy a local reputation. Until he could establish that he was not “deficient” as a midwife and apothecary, he relied on his credentials to promote his services to prospective clients who otherwise knew little else about him.

To aid in establishing his reputation in the busy port, Lowder “offers his Attendance gratis, to every Person in Charles-Town, whose Circumstances or Situation demand it.” To that end, he reserved three hours each afternoon for consulting with “The Poor” at his office on Church Street. Offering “Advice in all Cases” provided an opportunity to work with local patients who could then testify to his skill and care. Lowder likely hoped that demonstrating his competence in cases that he attended without charge would yield additional clients from among the ranks of residents who could afford to pay his fees. Providing free medical advice to the poor also attested to his character, further enhancing the public relations campaign Lowder launched in an advertisement introducing himself to colonists in Charleston. In case his credentials were not enough to attract clients, his altruism might attract the attention necessary for the newcomer to sustain his practice.

September 16

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

Sep 16 - 9:16:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 16, 1767).

“TWO POOR BOYS … will be taught to read, write, and cast accounts … by the bounty of Gentleman.”

As fall arrived in 1767, schoolmaster John Francklin incorporated philanthropy into his advertising campaign in the Georgia Gazette. Thanks in part to his previous newspaper notices, residents of Savannah and its hinterland may have already been aware that he taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, though in the newest iteration of his advertisement he further elaborated on his methods. That he utilized “a new and most concise method,” however, was not the most significant new information he provided for prospective pupils and their parents.

Francklin offered a scholarship, funded “by the bounty of a Gentleman,” to “TWO POOR BOYS … within the Town of Savannah.” Over the course of a year, these two students would learn “to read, write, and cast accounts.” In addition to tuition, the anonymous benefactor also provided “books, &c.” Presumably “&c.” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc.”) included other school supplies purchased from local booksellers or other shopkeepers, but not room or board. Francklin’s advertisements all suggested that he ran a day school, which may help explain why the recipients of this beneficence had to reside “within the Town of Savannah.”

Although Francklin may not have induced the anonymous gentleman to make this donation, he certainly attempted to extract as much benefit from it as possible. His association with this philanthropic effort would have made his services look even more attractive to the parents of prospective students. In evaluating the schoolmaster, parents would have been as interested in Francklin’s character and the morals imparted in the classroom as in the quality of his instruction. Lest anyone express concern about the influence “POOR BOYS” might have on other students at the school, Francklin specified that they would come from “industrious honest parents,” minimizing the possibility of introducing corrupting factors into interactions among students. The schoolmaster walked a fine line, welcoming recognition of his public spiritedness while simultaneously reassuring current and prospective students and their families that the scholarship students would not cause disruptions. Philanthropy made for a powerful marketing appeal, but Francklin also had to manage it carefully.

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:6:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (August 6, 1767).

“JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston.”

The proprietor of “JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston” deployed a philanthropic appeal to increase the allure of the spa. In a set of “RULES” published among the advertisements in the August 6, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, Jackson first specified the rates for enjoying the waters: one copper for “the Use of the Water” and then another copper for “every Quart Bottle to carry away.” Lest he be seen as withholding access to the therapeutic qualities of the “Mineral-Well” by focusing exclusively on how much revenue it could generate from entry fees paid by middling and affluent colonists, Jackson also proposed a plan that more broadly served the interests of the general public. Should “any Physician in Town” prescribe visiting the spa to impoverished patients, Jackson offered free admission “to any poor Persons” who could produce a certificate verifying their circumstances. These “poor Persons” could enjoy the baths “gratis,” but only after providing sufficient documentation from their doctors. Charity, it seemed, had its limits; Jackson did not want his spa overrun by the lower sorts.

The advertisement also noted that “Rules for the hot, and for the cold Baths, will be fixed up in one of the Rooms.” That Jackson did not specify or elaborate on these additional rules in his notice suggests that he was less interested in informing the public of all the procedures for enjoying the “Mineral-Well” and more concerned with getting out the word that he incorporated humanitarian ventures into his business model. Other eighteenth-century advertisers made similar bids for approval from potential customers and the community in general, including schoolmasters who provided free lessons to less fortunate children. In modern times, corporate philanthropy is a standard public relations practice, but it was not invented after the rise of Madison Avenue. Some eighteenth-century entrepreneurs experimented with promoting their businesses by engaging the needs of the community, demonstrating that they were good citizens and neighbors who merited patronage from consumers.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 2
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 9, 1767).

“He first introduced into this Province the most expeditious Method of teaching Writing.”

Osborne Straton was not the only schoolmaster who advertised his services in the newspapers printed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1767. He needed to distinguish his instruction from that provided by W. Adams and William Johnson, both of whom inserted much more extensive notices in the public prints. Rather than going into as much detail about his curriculum and teaching methods, Straton advanced two other reasons “Parents and Guardians” should enroll their children in “the British Academy on the Green, at the West End of BROAD-STREET.”

First, he underscored his experience, implying that the parents of prospective students should choose his academy because his competitors were newcomers who had not yet gained the public trust. Straton had been teaching in Charleston for half a decade; he considered it “his Duty to remind the Public, That A.D. 1762, he first introduced into this Province the most expeditious Method of teaching Writing, Drawing, &c. &c. in all their Branches.” His methods were particularly designed “to qualify Youth for Business in general,” a goal that Straton identified in an advertisement published several months earlier. He noted his long experience in that notice as well, stating that he had “forty years experience as head book-keeper in some of the first counting-houses in Europe” before migrating to South Carolina and becoming a schoolmaster. According to Straton, his experience, both in business and in teaching local youth, should cause parents to give him precedence over other schoolmasters.

Straton also argued that he served the public good in addition to earning a living by charging tuition of students who could afford it. He pledged to “Instruct six poor Children Gratis, every Thursday and Saturday in the Afternoon.” This was not the first time he made such an offer. Several weeks earlier he announced that “one youth may be qualified for business gratis, on a private benevolence,” an eighteenth-century scholarship of sorts. In making a new commitment to teach several poor children, Straton again played on his ties to the community established over the course of several years. He set a philanthropic example to make his academy more appealing to prospective students and their parents, suggesting that service rather than revenues motivated his instruction.

Compared to his competitors, Straton’s advertisement was relatively short. Despite its length, he included two appeals that made his academy both distinctive and attractive to residents of Charleston as they considered several options. Other schoolmasters might have offered effective instruction, but for Straton the work seemed to be a vocation rather than a mere occupation.