February 13

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

Feb 13 - 2:13:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 13, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD … A healthy likely Negroe Wench.”

The pages of colonial newspapers regularly featured black women, including the unnamed “healthy likely Negroe Wench” that John Lyon advertised for sale in the February 13, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. These women appeared either as commodities to be bought and sold or as fugitives who seized their own freedom in an era that white colonists debated the meaning of liberty within the British Empire.

As a result of their bondage and the complicit role the eighteenth-century press played in maintaining systems of unfree labor, black women were more likely to appear in the public prints among “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic” than white women. News items sometimes mentioned notable women. Female shopkeepers occasionally placed advertisements, but not in proportion to their numbers in the marketplace. Widows affixed their names as executrixes and administrators to legal notices when they settled the estates of their deceased husbands. English, Irish, and other women of European origins were often the subject of advertisements for runaway indentured servants, especially in newspapers published in New York and Pennsylvania, but throughout the colonies black women – both Africans and African Americans – achieved an unsettling prominence among the paid notices inserted in newspapers. Barely a day passed in the 1760s that at least one newspaper did not feature at least one advertisement about one or more enslaved women and girls.

Those advertisements help to reconstruct the history of black women in early America, even though the advertisements provide only truncated stories. Consider the “Negroe Wench” from today’s advertisement. Even though she could “do all Kinds of House-Work” well enough that her master found “no Fault” with her efforts, Lyon decided to sell her “on Account of her breeding fast.” In other words, the unnamed woman had too many children too quickly. Yet the advertisement does not reveal anything about the woman’s relationships with others in the household or the community. Who was the father of her children? A fellow slave or a free black man? A member of the Lyon household? John Lyon himself? This advertisement quite likely chronicled a sexual relationship that was not consensual, even though the wording places the blame on the unnamed woman for “breeding fast.” What of the “two male Children” also offered for sale? Were these children the unwanted result of the woman “breeding fast”? If so, did Lyon sell them with their mother or separate the family? The advertisement hints at the experiences of an unnamed enslaved woman yet reveals precious few details. In broad strokes, it paints a picture of the experiences of countless enslaved women in early America.

February 6

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

Feb 6 - 2:6:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 6, 1768).


Despite the headline, Benjamin West’s “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1768” had not been “JUST PUBLISHED” when the advertisement appeared in the February 6, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Marketing for the almanac commenced nearly four months earlier with a short notice in the October 17, 1767, issue. That notice briefly announced the almanac was “NOW IN THE PRESS, and speedily will be PUBLISHED.” The same notice ran again the following week before being replaced in the October 31 issue with a much more extensive advertisement. The new version ran exactly as it would appear for the next several months with the exception of the first line. The interim notice stated “On Saturday next will be Published” before being updated to “JUST PUBLISHED” in all subsequent advertisements. The notice in the February 6 issue had been inserted in the Providence Gazette regularly throughout November and December 1767 and January 1768.

Just like leaves changing color on trees, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs in colonial newspapers marked the arrival of fall, starting with just a few sporadically published in a couple of newspapers yet gradually increasing in number until just about every newspaper printed in the colonies featured advertisements for one or more almanacs by the time winter arrived. The frequency of such advertisements tapered off after the first of January, but they did not disappear immediately. Some printers continued to hawk surplus almanacs well into the new year, even as portions of the contents became obsolete with each passing week. In addition to the daily astronomical calculations, by early February the “neat TYPE of the solar Eclipse that will happen on the 19th of January” had already passed. Printers still attempted to generate as much revenue as possible by selling leftover almanacs to any customers they could attract.

Unlike modern merchandisers, however, they did not experiment with discounts that acknowledged that an almanac for 1768 did not have the same utility in early February that it possessed in late December. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers of the Providence Gazette, did not reduce the prices of their almanacs, at least not in their advertisements. They set a rate of “Two Shillings and Eightpence … per Dozen, or Fourpence single” in the fall and continued to list the same prices in February. Goddard and Carter aggressively marketed the almanac by extensively listing the contents and advertising it every week, but, like their counterparts throughout the colonies, they overlooked an opportunity for innovative pricing that later became standard practice when it came to merchandising calendars.

January 30

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

Jan 30 - 1:30:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 30, 1768).

“JUST OPENED, and to be Sold by Nathl. Greene.”

To modern readers it may appear that Nathaniel Greene had just launched a new venture when he placed his advertisement in the January 30, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. After all, the first line announced in capital letters that he had “JUST OPENED” his shop at “the West End of the Great Bridge.” Residents of Providence in the late 1760s, however, would have understood this advertisement rather differently. Even if they had never visited, a great many would have been aware of his shop already. Readers of the Providence Gazette would have been exposed to Greene’s advertisements fairly regularly for more than a year. For instance, in August 1766 he had placed an advertisement that included the same location for “his Shop, on the West Side of the Great Bridge, Providence.”

So what did Greene mean when he proclaimed that he had “JUST OPENED” in late January 1768? This phrase described his merchandise rather than his location. His advertisement informed potential customers that he had updated his inventory and now offered a “neat Assortment of English and India GOODS, of all Kinds” that he had not previously made available. He attempted to entice consumers to examine his wares by presenting those goods as new rather than leftovers that had been lingering on the shelves.

That appeal may have lost some of its initial power to persuade by the end of January. Greene’s advertisement first ran in the January 2 issue, the promise of new merchandise coinciding with the new year. It then ran in five consecutive weekly issues, becoming as familiar to readers as the location of Greene’s shop, before being discontinued in the first issue published in February.

When it first appeared, however, the headline “JUST OPENED” distinguished Greene’s goods from those carried by his competitors – Joseph and William Russell, John Mathewson, Benoni Pearce, Thompson and Arnold, Jonathan Russell, and Darius Sessions – who had been advertising in late December and continued in January. Many of those competitors composed longer advertisements and purchased more space in the Providence Gazette. Only one, however, utilized a headline that promoted some aspect of their goods: Thompson and Arnold underscored they set “Very CHEAP” prices. In response, Greene chose an alternate appeal to emphasize in his headline. In the body of his notice he did pledge “to sell as low as any that are sold in this Town,” but only after demanding prospective customers’ attention with his “JUST OPENED” headline.

January 23

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

Jan 23 - 1:23:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 23, 1768).

“Three very compleat Stage-Boats, for the Carriage of GOODS and PASSENGERS.”

In the late 1760s, Thomas Lindsey and Benjamin Lindsey frequently advertised their ferry service or “STAGE-BOATS from Providence to Newport” in the Providence Gazette, sometimes directly competing with advertisements inserted by Joshua Hacker. That competition may have inspired the Lindseys to provide additional services and market them in their notices aimed at potential customers. In November 1767, Hacker had upstaged them when he published a list of prices and promoted several services he provided gratis, including storage of goods at his warehouse until they were ready for shipment. The Lindseys’ advertisement that ran at the same time much more briefly promised “excellent Accommodations for Passengers.”

In their subsequent advertisement, however, the Lindseys elaborated on the sort of experience travelers could expect on their “very compleat Stage-Boats.” As a convenience for their passengers, they “supply their Boats with Provisions and Liquors of all Kinds” to make the journey more enjoyable. Furthermore, they also pledged that “Passengers will be treated in the most genteel Manner.” In addition, the Lindseys augmented their schedule, sailing between Providence and Newport “every Day” instead of “twice a Week” as they had done just a couple of months earlier. In that regard, they now matched Hacker’s itinerary, making their schedule just as convenient for prospective clients. For customers who wished to ship commodities, they now offered “a convenient Store for the Reception of Goods, with Conveniences for weighing the same, at Arnold’s Wharff.” Again, their services matched those Hacker previously outlined in his advertisement.

The differences between the Lindseys’ advertisements published in November 1767 and January 1768 suggest that they determined that they needed to augment their services if they wanted to compete with Hacker. Yet improving their services was not sufficient: they also needed to market them in the public prints lest Hacker become the preferred carrier of passengers and goods between the two ports by default. They did not want potential clients to gain the impression Hacker offered superior services based on the more extensive advertising campaign he previously launched. The Lindseys may have considered their expanded services and expanded advertisement necessary to maintain and improve their position in the marketplace, especially if they felt they previously had been at a deficit that resulted from Hacker besting their advertisements with his own.

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 16, 1768).

“BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”

The shortest advertisement – consisting of only nine words – in the January 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette appeared at the bottom of the first column on the final page. In it, Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers, advised readers that that they sold “BLANKS of all Kinds,” deploying contemporary terminology for items known today as forms. Goddard and Carter suggested that they could supply any sort of printed blanks customers desired, making it unnecessary to provide a list. Other printers, however, sometimes specified the various types of blanks they produced on their presses.

For instance, James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement in his newspaper that enumerated more than a dozen blanks, each with a distinct purpose. He kept on hand “bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessel and seamen, summonses, warrants,” and other legal or commercial documents. He also concluded his list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that the list was not exhaustive. Goddard and Carter likely stocked all or most of these forms. They could also print any others for clients who submitted orders for job printing.

The advertisement about “BLANKS of all Kinds” supplemented the announcement in the colophon published in every issue of the Providence Gazette. In addition to specifying the printers and place of publication, Goddard and Carter treated the colophon as advertising space for the various endeavors undertaken in their shop. They invited others to submit “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence” for the newspaper to their printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head,” but they also stated that they did “all Manner of PRINTING WORK” at the same location. Despite its brevity, their advertisement for “BLANKS of all Kinds” testified to a wide range of printed forms that circulated widely and would have been familiar to colonists in Providence and beyond.

January 9

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

Jan 9 - 1:9:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 9, 1768).

“At their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.”

Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon informed residents of Providence and its hinterland that they had formed a partnership in an advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1767. In their initial notice the shopkeepers emphasized their retail space, trumpeting that they “have built and compleated the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.” They also proclaimed that they had “furnished it with a very large and general Assortment of the very best of English and India Piece Goods, Hard Ware, all Sorts of West-India Goods, and Groceries of all Kinds.”

In their subsequent advertising Thurber and Cahoon turned to demonstrating the extent of their inventory, listing dozens of items available for purchase “at their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.” Just as they claimed to operate the largest shop in town, their advertisement occupied the most space in the January 9, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, although it had been rivaled by Jonathan Russell’s advertisement in the previous issue. Thurber and Cahoon may have been motivated, in part, by Russell’s lengthy advertisement and its extended run in their local newspaper. It commenced in mid November, shortly after they announced their partnership, and continued for eight weeks, disappearing from the pages of the Providence Gazette after the first issue of the new year. Thurber and Cahoon may have determined that they needed to place an advertisement of similar length to challenge Russell and to remind potential customers of the size of their shop, supposedly the largest in Providence.

Their advertisement extended nearly three-quarters of a column, twice the length of the next longest advertisement in the January 9 issue. It also featured unique typography. Rather than list their wares in a single continuous and dense paragraph, they instead enumerated one or tow items per line and created two narrower columns within the single column that contained their advertisement. Not only did this typographical strategy make their notice appear even longer, it may have conjured up rows of shelves in their shop, suggesting how much space Thurber and Cahoon made available for customers to leisurely browse through their merchandise. By comparison, the other advertisements in the same issue looked much more cramped, implying that their shops were equally crowded and difficult to navigate.

Thurber and Cahoon used the amount of space on the page and design elements to their advantage when they placed their advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Although they echoed many of the same appeals to price, quality, and service that appeared in other commercial notices, the typography set their advertisement apart and buttressed the claims they made to potential customers.

January 2

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

Jan 2 - 1:2:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 2, 1767).

“Very CHEAP.”

The typography of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement in the January 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette deviated from the standard format for notices placed by merchants and shopkeepers throughout the rest of the issue. Each advertisement had a headline of sorts, but in most instances the headline announced the name of the advertiser. In fonts several sizes larger than the text for the rest of the advertisement, those headlines marked notices inserted by Samuel Carew, Nathl. Greene, J. Mathewson, Benoni Pearce, Jonathan Russell, J. & Wm. Russell, and Darius Sessions. Some of them abbreviated their names in order to fit on a single line.

Thompson and Arnold’s notice, on the other hand, included their names in larger font than most of the advertisement yet reserved the largest font for a marketing appeal that appeared first, preceding their names and all other information included in the advertisement. “Very CHEAP” proclaimed their headline, immediately signaling to prospective customers what kinds of prices they could expect to pay if they decided “to call at [Thompson and Arnold’s] Store, near the Great Bridge.” Each of the other advertisers included an appeal to price somewhere in their notices. Some deployed elaborate language to convince consumers that they sold their wares “cheaper than any Person or Persons in Providence” or “at the very cheapest rate.” Yet readers had to at least skim the notices places by J. Mathewson, Jonathan Russell, and their counterparts to encounter those appeals to price. Associating low prices with Thompson and Arnold required nothing more than a quick glance at their advertisement.

Perhaps the deployment of this typography was merely circumstantial in this case. After all, the name of their partnership contained more characters than the much shorter Samuel Carew or Darius Sessions and could not be abbreviated conveniently like Nathl. Greene or J. & Wm. Russell. Neither situation, however, prevented advertisers and the compositor devising other solutions that still gave primacy to the name of the advertiser in other advertisements elsewhere in the same issue. Nicholas Brown and Company, for instance, listed Brown’s name in large font on the first line, followed by “and COMPANY” in middling-sized font (but strategic capitals) on the next line. “THURBER AND CAHOON” used fonts as large as those in any other advertisement for their names, inserting one word on each of the first three lines of their advertisement.

Thompson and Arnold could have adopted a similar strategy. Doing so would have adhered to custom when it came to the standard format for advertisements in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers throughout the colonies in the 1760s. Finding themselves in the same position as their competitors – making an appeal to price – the partners innovatively wrote their copy in such a way that made their marketing strategy double as the headline for their advertisement. As a result, the typography of their advertisement promoted their business in a manner unique among the paid notices that appeared throughout the same issue.