December 10

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

Providence Gazette (December 10, 1768).

“The Sign of the Black Boy and Butt.”

No advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children happened to appear in the December 10, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, but that did not mean that the black body was absent from the commercial landscape of the port city that newspaper served. Jonathan Russell inserted an advertisement for his “large and fresh Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS,” noting that readers would easily recognize his store “on the West Side of the Great Bridge” because “the Sign of the Black Boy and Butt” marked its location. It was not the first time that he invoked his shop sign when giving directions to prospective customers, though he had previously referred to it simply as “the Sign of the BLACK-BOY.” Perhaps he had acquired a new sign, but it may have always included a depiction of a butt, a large cask. Russell’s description of it could have shifted over time.

Even when Russell was not advertising in the local newspaper, his sign was constantly on display in Providence, reminding residents and visitors alike of the connections between black bodies and colonial commerce. Nor was Russell the only merchant or shopkeeper to adopt such iconography. Two years earlier Augustus Deley placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant to proclaim that he “CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO … for chewing or smoaking.” Interested parties could find him “At the Sign of the Black Boy, Near the North Meeting-House in Hartford.” Signs depicting black boys had a long history in New England. More than thirty years earlier, Jonathan Williams placed an advertisement for imported wine and New England rum sold “at the Black Boy and Butt.”[1] In some instances, the youths represented enslaved workers closely associated with the products sold. Such was the case for Deley’s tobacco, grown on plantations in other colonies, and Williams’s rum, produced from molasses acquired as a byproduct of sugar cultivation on Caribbean plantations. The connection between Russell’s “Black Boy” and his “ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” was not as immediate. Instead, it offered a shorthand description of the networks of trade, production, and consumption that crisscrossed the Atlantic in the eighteenth century. Commercial exchange in Providence was part of a larger system that included the transatlantic slave trade and forced labor at sites of cultivation and production. Residents of Providence did not need “the Sign of the Black Boy and Butt” to inform them of that. Instead, it testified to a reality that was familiar to consumers throughout the Atlantic world.

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[1] New England Weekly Journal (March 8, 1737).

December 3

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

Dec 3 - 12:3:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 3, 1768).

“My Son, ELISHA BROWN, has undertaken to tend my Grist-Mill in Providence.”

Elisha Brown operated a family business. Late in 1768 he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to inform residents of the city and its surroundings that his son, also named Elisha Brown, “has undertaken to tend my Grist-Mill.” Rather than the younger Brown advertise on his own behalf, the elder Brown realized that perhaps he possessed more authority to convince prospective clients to patronize the mill.

To that end, the elder Brown acknowledged that readers may not have had much knowledge of the new mill operation and, as a result, might be hesitant to entrust processing their grain to him. “Those who are unacquainted with his Character,” the father proclaimed, “may satisfy themselves by enquiring of the Neighbourhood up Street, where he used to live, or of DANIEL JENCKES and JAMES ANGELL, Esquires, down Street.” Rather than take the elder Brown’s word that the son was a fair dealer, potential clients were encouraged to speak with others familiar with “his Character.”

Realizing that this might not be enough to overcome the hesitation of some, the elder Brown also underscored that he continued to oversee the business, but only when necessary. “In case of any just Reason for Complain, either of bad Meal, Loss of Part, or Change of Bags,” he explained, unsatisfied clients “first are desired to apply to the Miller.” The younger Brown was a responsible entrepreneur who would remedy any concerns. However, just in case anyone had lingering doubts or required more security, the elder Brown did present the option that if his son “fail[ed] to give Satisfaction, it shall be given by applying to me.” Prospective clients continued to have recourse to the more established and more experienced miller, if circumstances warranted.

When he took a significant step in passing along the family business to the next generation, the elder Brown not only trained his son in its operations but also cultivated the community of prospective clients who might avail themselves of the mill’s services. His advertisement provided assurances that anyone who sent their grain to the mill would be well served.

November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:26:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 26, 1768).

“The GAZETTE is daily receiving an additional Number of Subscribers.”

John Carter became the sole proprietor of the Providence Gazette upon the retirement of his partner, Sarah Goddard, in November 1768. He immediately inserted an editorial note to that effect as the first item of the first page in the November 12 edition. His notice “To the PUBLIC,” however, functioned as more than a mere announcement. It also marketed the newspaper to readers, encouraging current subscribers to continue patronizing the publication and all readers to support the various enterprises undertaken at the printing office. Carter stated that he had purchased the “compleat and elegant Assortment of Types, and other Printing Materials.” He stood ready to pursue the printing trade “in all its various Branches,” including publishing the Providence Gazette. Carter promised “that no Consideration whatever shall induce him, in the Course of his Publications, to depart from the Principles of Rectitude and Honour.” He touted himself as an “impartial Printer” who provided a valuable public service to the entire colony.

Carter apparently considered his notice as much an advertisement as an editorial. Had it been an editorial he would have inserted it once and then discontinued it in favor of other content. He did, after all, promote the Providence Gazette as “a regular weekly Communication of the freshest and most interesting Intelligence.” Yet Carter published “Intelligence” that included news items, editorial content, and advertisements, including his own. His notice ran in five consecutive issues, not unlike paid advertisements contracted by other colonists. For regular readers of the Providence Gazette, it would have become as familiar as advertisements placed by Samuel Chace or Joseph Bucklin and Company. In subsequent issues it moved from the front page to the third or fourth page. No longer did it appear alongside news items exclusively. In most instances both news and advertising were featured on the same page as Carter’s notice, but at the end of its run it did appear on a page otherwise devoted entirely to advertising. The placement within each issue testifies to the various purposes Carter intended for his address “To the PUBLIC.”

November 19

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

Nov 19 - 11:19:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 19, 1768).

“To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE.”

An advertisement that ran several times in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1768 informed readers quite simply of “TAR, PITCH and TURPENTINE, to be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE.” The notice did not provide additional information about the location of the shop or the proprietor. In another advertisement inserted simultaneously, Joseph Russell and William Russell hawked a variety of hardware goods they carried “at their Store and Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House, Providence.”

Other entrepreneurs who advertised in the Providence Gazette provided directions to aid prospective customers in finding their places of business. E. Thompson and Company stocked a variety of merchandise “At their STORE, near the Great Bridge.” Samuel Chaice also relied solely on a prominent landmark when he advised readers of the inventory “At his Store, just below the Great Bridge, in Providence.” Others deployed a combination of landmarks and shop signs. James Arnold and Company, for instance, promoted an assortment of goods available “At their STORE, the Sign of the GOLDEN FOX, near the Great Bridge.” Clark and Nightingale invited customers to visit them “At their Store, the Sign of the Fish and Frying-Pan, opposite Oliver Arnold’s, Esquire.” The colophon doubled as an advertisement for job printing done “by JOHN CARTER, at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespears Head.”

Those advertisements that included shop signs also developed a brand that identified the proprietors, though not necessarily their merchandise. The shop signs became sufficient identification for their enterprises, as was the case with the Russells’ advertisement that did not list their names but instead simply noted readers could purchase tar, pitch, and turpentine “at the GOLDEN EAGLE.” The Russells were among the most prominent merchants in Providence. They were also the most prolific advertisers in the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s. As a result, they did not need to provide their names or further directions in some of their advertisements. They trusted that the public was already familiar with the sign of the “GOLDEN EAGLE,” so familiar as to render any additional information superfluous. Their frequent advertisements aided in associating the image of the “GOLDEN EAGLE” with their business and their commercial identity.

November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:12:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 12, 1768).

“To plead and defend the glorious Cause of Liberty … the Publisher trusts has been one grand Design of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE.”

When John Carter assumed control of the Providence Gazette as the sole publisher on November 12, 1768, the colophon dropped Sarah Goddard’s name and slightly revised the description of services available at the printing office. “Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received for this Paper.” Carter added articles, indicated his willingness to accept news items from readers and others beyond the network of printers and correspondents that previously supplied content for the newspaper. In addition, he expanded on the previous description of the printing work done at the office. Where Goddard and Carter had proclaimed that they did job printing “with Care and Expedition,” Carter now stated that he did that work “in a neat and correct manner, with Fidelity and Expedition.” This may not have been commentary on work previously produced at the printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” but rather assurances that Carter took his new responsibilities seriously now that the partnership with Goddard had been dissolved and he alone ran the printing office.

In addition to updating the colophon, Carter placed a notice “To the PUBLIC” on the first page of his inaugural issue. He offered a brief history of the Providence Gazette following its revival after the repeal of the Stamp Act, an expensive undertaking given that the newspaper had difficulty attracting sufficient subscribers. He thanked those friends, subscribers, and employers who had supported the Providence Gazette and the printing office over the years, but also pledged “that nothing shall ever be wanting, on his Part, to merit a Continuance of their Approbation.”

Carter also took the opportunity to assert the primary purpose of the newspaper, the principle that justified its continuation even when expenses overwhelmed revenues. “To plead and defend the glorious Cause of Liberty,” Carter trumpeted, “and the inestimable Blessings derived from thence to Mankind … the Publisher trusts has been one grand Design of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE: This, with whatever else may contribute to the Welfare of America, in general, or the Colony of Rhode-Island in particular, will continue to be the principal Ends which it is intended to promote.” Carter further indicated that the newspaper daily increased its number of subscribers, suggesting that readers in Providence and beyond endorsed its purpose and recognized the necessity of a newspaper that kept them apprised of current events and attempts to inhibit the liberty of the colonists. Although it took the form of an editorial, Carter’s address to the public was also an advertisement intended to boost his business. He leveraged politics and patriotism in his effort to increase readership of the Providence Gazette, arguing that the press played a vital role in maintaining liberty.

November 5

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

Nov 5 - 11:5:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 5, 1768).

“Sentiments of Gratitude to the Subscribers for the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE.”

The colophon of the Providence Gazette read “Printed by SARAH GODDARD, and JOHN CARTER, at the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” for the last time on November 5, 1768. For over two years Sarah Goddard had been the publisher of the Providence Gazette, ever since it recommenced in August 1766 following the repeal of the Stamp Act. It had not been the Stamp Act, however, that caused the newspaper’s suspension. Instead, insufficient subscribers prompted William, Sarah’s son and the original publisher of the Providence Gazette, to suspend the newspaper in May 1765. He hoped that local readers would so miss the publication that enough would subscribe in order to revive it in six months. Then the Stamp Act made doing so prohibitively expensive. Once that legislation had been repealed and sufficient subscribers had pledged to support the newspaper, the Providence Gazette returned, but now published by Sarah rather than William. For approximately a year the colophon listed “SARAH GODDARD, and Company” as the printers, before Carter’s name replaced “and Company.”

On the occasion of her retirement, Goddard inserted a farewell address after the news and before the paid notices in her final issue as publisher. It served as an announcement, a note of appreciation, and a promotion of the continued publication of the Providence Gazette under the direction of Carter. She planned to relocate to Philadelphia, where William published the Pennsylvania Chronicle, though she would have been content “to have passed the Remainder of her Days in a Town where she has so many Friends and Acquaintance, for whom she entertains the highest Regard, and from whom she has received many Favours and Civilities.” Only the “more endearing Ties of Nature which exist between a Parent and an only Son” motivated her to leave Providence.

As she prepared for her departure, Goddard recognized both the subscribers and Carter for everything they had done, each in their own way, to make the Providence Gazette into a successful venture. For the subscribers and “all who have kindly favoured the [Printing] Office with their business” (including advertisers), she “acknowledges herself peculiarly obligated.” She then endorsed Carter, encouraging readers to continue their patronage of the newspaper now that he took the helm alone. She proclaimed that it was due to his “Diligence and Care” that “the GAZETTE has arrived to its present Degree of Reputation.” Combining her affection for the readers and her support for her successor, Goddard “takes the Liberty to request a Continuance of the public Favour in his behalf, which will be considered as an additional Mark of their Esteem conferred on her.”

Goddard’s notice served multiple purposes in the final issue of the Providence Gazette that bore her name as printer and publisher. It was simultaneously a news item, an editorial, and an advertisement. In fulfilling each of those functions, it promoted print culture to the residents of Providence and beyond.

October 29

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

Oct 29 - 10:29:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 29, 1768).

Weatherwise’s ALMANACK, For the Year 1769, To be Sold by the Printers hereof.”

During the fall of 1768 printers throughout the colonies participated in an annual ritual: advertising new almanacs for the coming year. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers of the Providence Gazette, got an early start that year. They first advertised Abraham Weatherwise’s “N. England Town and Country Almanack” at the end of August. That advertisement extended nearly three-quarters of a column and advanced several appeals to prospective customers.

It ran for just two weeks before Goddard and Carter replaced it with a different advertisement of a similar length. This one focused on various aspects of the contents, including “a beautiful poetical Essay on Public Spirit, wrote by an American Patriot,” “a Table of Roads,” and “Bearings of different Places from the Rhode-Island Light-House, with Directions for entering the Port of New-London, very serviceable to Navigators, more particularly to those unacquainted with the Coast.” The notice concluded with some comments on its brisk sales so far: “The first Impression of Weaterwise’s Almanack, through the Encouragement of the Public, having met with a Sale far exceeding the Printers most sanguine Expectations, they were nearly all disposed of before several large Orders from our Country Friends came to Hand; but as another Edition will be published on Monday, they may depend on having their Orders immediately completed.” The following week Goddard and Carter updated that advertisement, eliminating the final paragraph and adding a bold new headline proclaiming that they had “Just PUBLISHED” a “SECOND EDITION.” Weatherwise’s almanac was popular, or so the printers wanted it to seem.

Over the next several weeks Goddard and Carter irregularly inserted that advertisement. It appeared in some issues, but not in others. Perhaps other content sometimes crowded out the lengthy notice. At the end of October, the printers shifted to yet another advertisement, this time resorting to a notice of only three lines: “Weatherwise’s ALMANACK, / For the Year 1769, / To be Sold by the Printers hereof.” Like other short advertisements place by printers, this one likely served two purposes. It complete a column that otherwise did not have sufficient content while also promoting a product that generated revenues beyond the newspaper’s subscription and advertising fees. Goddard and Carter had already committed significant space to marketing the almanac to readers of the Providence Gazette. This brief advertisement reminded prospective customers who had not yet purchased copies of their availability without occupying as much space as other notices had in previous issues.

October 22

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

Oct 22 - 10:22:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 22, 1768).

“The Snow TRISTRAM … WILL be ready to sail in 14 Days.”

In the late 1760s Joseph Russell and William Russell advertised frequently in the Providence Gazette. Unlike most advertisers throughout the colonies, they sometimes ran multiple advertisements in a single issue, a tactic that enhanced their prominence as local merchants and gave their enterprises even greater visibility. Such was the case in October 1768. On October 1 they placed a new advertisement for “a neat and fresh Assortment of GOODS” that they had just imported “in the Ship Cleopatra.” It appeared in all five issues published in October. On October 15 they inserted a new advertisement that solicited passengers and cargo for the Tristram, scheduled to sail for London in fourteen days. In the same advertisement the Russells seized the opportunity to hawk their “stout Russia DUCK, best Bohea TEA, [and] an neat Assortment of Irish LINENS.”

That advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette on two more occasions, but never with updated copy. It ran in the October 22 edition, still proclaiming that the Tristram “WILL be ready to sail in 14 Days.” Anyone interested in arranging “Freight or Passage” needed to pay attention to the date listed at the end of the advertisement: “October 15, 1768.” The advertisement made one final appearance on October 29 – the day the Tristram was supposed to set sail – still stating that the ship would depart in fourteen days. It may have still been possible to book passage, but unlikely that Captain David Shand took on additional cargo at that time. The Russells, however, continued to peddle textiles and tea along with the assortment of other merchandise promoted in the companion advertisement published elsewhere in the issue.

The Russells provided enough information for prospective clients to determine the sailing date of the Tristram even though they did not revise the copy as the date approached. Listing the date they submitted the advertisement to the printing office was an imperative component because once the type had been set the notice would run without changes until it was discontinued. Very rarely did advertisements undergo any sort of revision in colonial America. Instead, they were eventually replaced with new advertisements comprised of completely different copy, if advertisers wished to continue at all. This meant that advertisements that ran for any length of time might include outdated portions, an aspect that likely contributed to skepticism of marketing efforts by readers.

October 8

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

Oct 8 - 10:8:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 8, 1768).

“[48—6W.]”

Thurber and Cahoon placed a new advertisement in the October 8, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette.   The partners promoted a “new and general Assortment of English and India GOODS, Imported in the last Ships from London and Bristol.” They listed some of that merchandise in a two short paragraphs, one for textiles and trimmings and the other for hardware. They also informed prospective customers about the location of their store at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES,” across the street from their houses in “the North End of Providence.”

Yet not all of the contents of their advertisement provided information intended for readers and consumers. The final line included a notation in brackets – “[48—6W.]” – intended to aid the compositor when laying out the pages of subsequent issues. The printers also likely referred to that notation in the course of their own bookkeeping. The “48” revealed that the advertisement first appeared in issue number 248. The “6W” presumably indicated that it was supposed to run for six weeks before being discontinued.

Several other advertisements concluded with issue numbers that corresponded with when they first appeared in the Providence Gazette. John White’s advertisement for candles and soap, for instance, listed “(46)” on the final line. Similarly, prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell inserted a notice about their “neat and fresh Assortment of GOODS” that also stated its initial issue number, “(47).” None of those advertisements, however, included any indication of their intended duration, but “6W” did apparently mean six weeks. Thurber and Cahoon’s advertisement ran in the next five issues, appearing for the last time in the November 12 edition. It moved from column to column and page to page, but the notation apparently served its purpose in reminding the compositor when to remove the advertisement.

The Providence Gazette was not the only newspaper that inserted such notations into advertisements in the colonial era. Throughout the colonies compositors and printers used this device to facilitate operating their publications. Readers may have taken note and decoded the notations on their own, but they were not the primary audience for those portions of the advertisements.

October 1

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

Oct 1 - 10:1:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 1, 1768).

The Establishment of Manufactories is essentially necessary to the Well-being of the British Colonies.”

Resistance to the Townshend Act played out in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods published in the fall of 1768. Two types of boycotts – nonimportation agreements and nonconsumption agreements – were among the most effective means of resistance adopted by colonists during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Colonists sought to leverage their economic power to achieve political goals. As Americans throughout the colonies prepared to participate in a new nonimportation agreement set to go into effect on January 1, 1769, John White, a “Tallowchandler and Soapboiler, from London,” joined an increasingly familiar refrain of artisans who promoted goods produced in the colonies.

White placed an advertisement in Providence Gazette to inform readers in “Town and Country” that he had “set up a Manufactory … in the main Street of the Town of Providence.” The tallow chandler and soap boiler devoted a significant portion of his advertisement to advancing an appeal that resonated with contemporary discussions about politics and the relationship between Parliament and colonies. “At a Time when the Establishment of Manufactories is essentially necessary to the Well-being of the British Colonies,” White proclaimed, “it is hoped and expected that a suitable Encouragement will not be found wanting in a people, who, upon all Occasions, have manifested a high Regard to the true Interests of their Country.” He did not merely announce the availability of locally produced soap and candles; he framed purchasing those items as the civic responsibility of colonists, a means of demonstrating that they indeed “manifested a high Regard to the true Interests of their Country.” Lest any should suspect that they might do so at the expense of acquiring quality goods, White offered assurances that his soap and candles were “wrought as well as they are done in London, or any Part of Europe.” Prospective customers did not need to fear sacrificing quality when they made consumer choices inspired by political ideals.

Individual colonists ultimately made their own decisions about their consumption habits during the imperial crisis. However, several constituencies attempted to persuade, cajole, shame, and sometimes even bully colonists into observing boycotts of imported goods. Friends and neighbors encouraged and watched each other, especially as the Sons of Liberty, colonial legislators, and other political leaders gained greater visibility in promoting nonimportation agreements. Coverage of their activities often appeared among the news items in colonial newspapers. Yet elsewhere in those same newspapers artisans and others who sold locally made goods placed advertisements that joined in the chorus, launching their own appeals in support of domestic manufactures in hopes of shaping consumer demand in the colonies.