April 30

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (April 30, 1772).

“A servant lad of slender fame, / And WILLIAM COCHRAN is his name.”

To increase the chances that readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would take note of his advertisement about a runaway indentured servant, James Wilson resorted to more than a dozen rhyming couplets.  In the spring of 1772, he advised that “THIS instant April the twelfth day, / From the subscriber run away, / A servant lad of slender fame, / And WILLIAM COCHRAN is his name.”  Wilson then described Cochran’s clothing, age, and physical characteristics, incorporating as much information as appeared in other advertisements placed for the same purpose but in verse to entertain and to hold the attention of readers who might recognize the fugitive.  In addition, Wilson commenced his advertisement with a headline that proclaimed, “SIX DOLLARS Reward,” and concluded, as was common practice in such notices, with more details about the reward.  “Whoever will this lad secure, / That I again may him procure,” Wilson declared, “As I my honour do regard, / He shall get the above reward, / And all costs reasonable thereon, / By the subscriber, JAMES WILSON.”

Many of the rhymes were quite strained, though Wilson generally did better with the meter.  Still, composing a great work of literature was not his goal.  Instead, he sought to produce an advertisement that readers would notice and remember, especially considering how frequently advertisements for runaway apprentices and indentured servants as well as notices offering rewards for enslaved people who liberated themselves appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers published in the colony.  The combination of rhyming couplets and the white space within the advertisement that resulted from that format distinguished Wilson’s notice from others.  Three notices about runaway indentured servants appeared immediately above Wilson’s advertisement in the April 30, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, each of them a dense paragraph of text.  Such advertisements were so familiar to eighteenth-century readers that Wilson apparently believed that bad poetry was better than no poetry in drawing attention to his advertisement.

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.

December 31

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

Essex Gazette (December 31, 1771).

“CHOCOLATE … as good and cheap as any in the Government.”

On the final day of 1771, Francis Symonds placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform the public that he “continueth to entertain Gentlemen and Ladies in the most agreeable Manner” ay the Bell Inn near Salem.  In addition, he “hath for SALE a good Assortment of English & West-India Goods.”  Symonds devoted the final portion of his advertisement to promoting one item in particular: chocolate.  He proclaimed that “he not only grinds, but hath for Sale, in large or small Quantities, CHOCOLATE.”  To entice prospective customers, he declared that his chocolate was “as good and cheap as any in the Government.”  In other words, consumers would not find chocolate of a higher quality for a lower cost elsewhere in Salem, Boston, or any other town in the colony.

Symonds did not conclude his efforts to win over consumers there.  Instead, he continued with a short poem to capture the attention of readers, a precursor to the advertising jingle of the twentieth century.  He suggested to readers wondering about the quality and price of his chocolate:

If for Confirmation you incline,
And would have that that’s genuine,
Then please to come and try mine.

Chocolate frequently appeared among the goods listed in advertisements in the Essex Gazette as well as in notices published in newspapers in Boston.  Consumers in the region had many choices among purveyors, so Symonds sought to increase the chances that they would acquire chocolate from him rather than his competitors.  He hoped that the poem would help to make his chocolate more memorable and more appealing, tempting prospective customers to see for themselves if the product lived up to the promises Symonds made.  Most of the advertisements in the Essex Gazette adhered to standard formats, but Symonds and a few others experimented with making their notices more distinctive.  Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., for instance, used ornamental type to enhance the visual appeal of his advertisement.  As an alternative, Symonds relied on text alone, devising a poem unlike anything that appeared in advertisements elsewhere in the issue.  Glimpsing something different, readers may have paused to take note.

November 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 28, 1771).

“My boy JOHN COFFE ran away.”

Advertisements for runaway indentured servants and apprentices as well as enslaved people who liberated themselves by fleeing from their enslavers regularly appeared in colonial newspapers.  The November 28, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, carried several.  Peter Care informed readers that “a Dutch servant man, named George Foell” absconded a month earlier, described the runaway’s appearance and clothing, and offered a reward to whoever “apprehends and secures the said servant, so that his master may have him again.”  In another advertisement, John Anderson, the jailkeeper in Newtown in Bucks County, reported that he had in custody “a likely NEGROE man” suspected of liberating himself from George Adam Widner of Reading.  “His master,” Anderson instructed, “is desired to come and pay charges, and take him away.”

Among the many runaway advertisements that competed for the attention of readers, Andrew Moore sought to distinguish his notice by resorting to verse.  “THE ’leventh month, the sixteenth day, / My boy JOHN COFFE ran away,” the poem began.  Moore described Coffe’s age and appearance, but did so in rhyming couplets in hopes of keeping readers interested.  “His age uncertain, yet appears / To be at least full fifteen years,” Moore asserted, before providing an extensive description of Coffe’s clothing.  “A good wool hat he took away, / Quite new, just bought the other day … His jacket was, as I am told, / Too big for him, and something old.”  He commented on the fit of another garment as well.  “Old buckskin breeches too he had, / Too big I’m sure for such a lad.”  Moore may have intended this attention to the size of Coffe’s clothing to allude to his lack of experience and maturity.  As with most advertisements about runaway servants and apprentices, this one concluded with an overview of the reward.  “Whoever takes him, pray don’t fail / To lay him fast in any jail, / And then, to you I’ll freely give / Full Thirty Shillings if I live.”

Moore frequently forced the rhymes to make his poem about Coffe work, but his intention was not to write a work of literature but instead to create an advertisement that took a familiar theme and made it fresh and memorable.  Rather than a dense paragraph of text, he gave readers a breezy poem that entertained as well as informed.  It certainly took more effort to compose than typical runaway advertisements, but Moore likely that a worthy investment that would aid in recovering the recalcitrant Coffe.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 22, 1769).

“BETWEEN the sixth and seventh day, / MARY NOWLAND ran away.”

Advertisements for runaway servants and slaves regularly appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette in the 1760s. The June 22, 1769, edition, for instance, featured several such advertisements. To distinguish his notice from others, Abraham Emmit opted for a format other than the usual dense block of text that provided a description. Instead, he published a poem about Mary Nowland, deploying a style intended to encourage readers to give the advertisement more than a cursory glance and, as a result, better remember how to recognize this particular runaway. In addition, the novelty of his poem imbued his advertisement with greater entertainment value, further contributing to the likelihood that readers would take note.

Among the rhyming couplets, Emmit provided a physical description of Nowland. Although in verse, it simultaneously described and denigrated the runaway servant. She had “Brown hair, red face, short nose, thick lips” and was “large and round from neck to hips.” Indeed, the aggrieved Emmit suggested that Nowland was so chubby that it affected her movement – “Short, thick, and clumsy, in her jog” – so much so that he compared her to a “fatten’d hog.” Like many other advertisements for servants, this one reported Nowland’s origins as a means of helping readers identify her. Emmit did not, however, simply state that Nowland had been born in Ireland. Instead, he mentioned that she was “The same religion with the Pope” and “Upon her tongue she wears a brogue,” expecting readers to reach the conclusion that Nowland was an Irish Catholic. In presenting this puzzle, albeit not a particularly difficult one, Emmit encouraged greater participation by readers from their first encounter with the text than most runaway advertisements expected of them. This notice did not merely charge readers with reporting or capturing a runaway if they happened to spot her; it invited them first to engage with the printed page much more actively than they would have when perusing other advertisements concerning runaways.

The clever Emmit did not merely sign his verse. He incorporated his own name into the final couplet, promising a reward of forty shillings to anyone who delivered Nowland to him: for any reader “Who brings her home I will give them it, / Your humble servant, ABRAHAM EMMIT.” These last lines were just as stilted as the rest of the poem, but composing a piece of great literature had not been Emmit’s purpose. Given how many notices about runaway servants and other advertisements ran in the Pennsylvania Gazette, he sought a means to differentiate his advertisement and draw greater attention from readers. The format of the poem alone, compared to dense paragraphs of text in other advertisements, separated it from others on the page, encouraging readers to have a closer look. Emmit speculated that once they discovered the novelty he had composed that they would pay more attention to his description of the runaway Nowland. Providing this simple entertainment increased the chances that someone would recognize Nowland and either return her to Emmit’s household or send word of her whereabouts.