May 4

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

Providence Gazette (May 4, 1771).

“They have just arrived from London, in the Ship Providence, Captain Gilbert, a large Assortment of GOODS.”

The arrival of ships in port meant not only new goods in stores and shops but also new advertisements in colonial newspapers.  Such was the case in Providence in the spring of 1771.  The Providence delivered goods to merchants and shopkeepers.  In turn, they placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette.  Joseph Russell and William Russell published a notice to “INFORM their Customers, that they have just arrived from London, in the Ship Providence, Captain Gilbert, a large Assortment of GOODS, suitable for the Season, which are now opened and ready for Sale.”  John Brown placed a similar advertisement for a “compleat Assortment of European and India GOODS.”  He also reported that he imported his wares “from LONDON … In the Ship Providence, Phineas Gilbert, Master.”  Brown and the Russells placed their advertisements very shortly after the arrival of the Providence, hoping to convince customers that new merchandise meant more desirable merchandise.  The Providence had been in port for only three days, according to news accounts elsewhere in the May 4 edition of the Providence Gazette.

In addition to “European and India GOODS,” Captain Gilbert also delivered news, some of it concerning events in England and elsewhere in Europe and some of it concerning other vessels that made transatlantic voyages.  For instance, Gilbert reported that the Providence “met the Snow Tristram, Capt. Shard, of this Port, in the River as he came down” shortly after departing London on February 6.  Families with seamen working aboard the Tristram and merchants with business interests connected to the vessel must have been relieved to learn that it arrived safely in the Thames and continued toward London.  Furthermore, “Capt. Shand was to leave London the 10th of March, and may daily be expected” in Providence.  Gilbert also reported on three other ships the Providence encountered during its transatlantic journey, noting “all well on board each Vessel.”  More extensive news items also arrived via the Providence.  The printer, John Carter, reserved the front page for news from London “By the Ship Thomas, Capt. Davis, arrived at Boston” previously printed in newspapers in that city, but Gilbert and the Providence almost certainly carried other news “From a late London Paper” that Carter inserted in the Providence Gazette.

The arrival of the Providence in Providence on May 1, 1771, generated various kinds of content for the next edition of the Providence Gazette.  Among the advertisements, merchants hawked consumer goods delivered on the ship.  The printer selected items from London newspapers carried by the captain to reprint for local readers.  The news also included updates about the progress of several vessels crossing the Atlantic, providing welcome updates for both families and merchants.

April 20

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

Providence Gazette (April 20, 1771).

“His Design is … to exclude his Wife from all Interest in, or Advantage from said Farm.”

On occasion, advertisements published in colonial newspapers generated responses disseminated in subsequent advertisements.  Such was a case when Moses Lyon advertised a farm in South Brimfield, Massachusetts, in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1771.  Nathaniel Child placed an advertisement in response, apparently on behalf of Lyon’s wife.  Child asserted that potential buyers needed to know more about the conditions of the sale before they purchased the property.

“Justice requires,” Child proclaimed, “the Public should be informed, that [Lyon’s] Design is, if possible, to exclude his Wife from all Interest in, or Advantage from said Farm.”  In an effort to prevent such an injustice, Child published his advertisement.  He explained that Lyon’s “now lawful Wife … sustains a reputable Character” and had not “done any thing that might justly forfeit an Interest in his Affections, any more than in his Estate.”  Child did not provide all the details about the discord in the Lyon household, but he did accuse Moses of “repeated Declarations,” a “Series of public Conduct,” and “certain notorious Facts, more loudly speaking than Words” that all indicated he sought to “prevent [his wife] having the least Advantage from any of his Estate.”

Child did not specify his relationship to the Lyon family.  Perhaps he was father, brother, or cousin to the aggrieved wife.  Whatever the relationship, he framed his intervention as a matter of “Justice” so “no Person should be misled, or act in the Dark” when purchasing the farm.  Why did this warning come from him?  By law and by custom, Lyon’s wife did not possess as much power as her husband.  As a result, enlisting a male ally to act as her advocate in the public prints may have been one of the best strategies at her disposal for protecting her interests.  A third party, even a male relation, who testified to Lyon’s “Conduct towards her” likely stood to garner more trust in the veracity of that account than if she relayed a similar story on her own.  Publishing an advertisement in response to Lyon’s real estate notice gave his “now lawful Wife” and her defender greater leverage than had she pursued the matter in private.

April 13

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

Providence Gazette (April 13, 1771).

“Speedily will be published … The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Most of the final page of the April 13, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette consisted of advertisements.  They filled two of three columns, but John Carter, the printer, devoted the first column to news reprinted from London newspapers published in early January.  That content featured an item originally published as an advertisement that Carter considered newsworthy for readers of the Providence Gazette.  “Speedily will be published,” the reprinted advertisement announced, “The works of the REV. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, … containing his sermons and tracts on various subjects.”  The volume also included “a complete collection of his letters, never before printed, written to his most intimate friends, and to several persons of distinction in England, Scotland, Ireland and America, revised and prepared by himself for the press.”  In addition, the book contained a biography of Whitefield and an engraved portrait, the image taken “from an original painting.”

In reprinting this advertisement, Carter updated readers about the reaction to Whitefield’s death on the other side of the Atlantic.  Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  News quickly spread via the colonial press.  Almost as quickly, printers, booksellers, and others marketed funeral sermons delivered in memory of the minister as well as poetry that celebrated his life and lamented his death.  The Providence Gazette carried advertisements for several of those items.  Commodification and commemoration became inextricably linked in the pages of American newspapers as colonists mourned Whitefield’s death.  That impulse, however, was not confined to the colonies.  As soon as colonial newspapers began printing accounts of reactions to Whitefield’s death in England, they also noted the publication of funeral sermons and other memorabilia.  In this case, Carter did not publish additional news about Whitefield from the London newspapers but instead treated an advertisement about “The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” as news in and of itself.  In so doing, he revealed to readers that the intersections or print culture, consumer culture, and mourning they experienced took similar shape among their counterparts in England.  Near and far, reprinting this advertisement suggested, people mourned the minister by purchasing commemorative items.

April 6

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

Providence Gazette (April 6, 1771).

Consider his Misfortunes, and to favour him with their Custom.”

When Elisha Brown resumed “his former Right and Estate in the GRIST-MILL” that he once operated, he took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to increase his chances of success.  He outlined his plans for running the mill, but also attempted to play on the sympathies of prospective clients in an advertisement that first ran on April 6, 1771.  He acknowledged that he was back in business thanks to “the Favour and Assistance of many of his Creditors, and some of his Friends” and requested “the Favour of his former Customers … to consider his Misfortunes, and to favour him with their Custom.”  Brown did not elaborate on those “Misfortunes,” apparently believing the community was already familiar with them and would respond to his plea that they once again entrust their grain to him for processing.

To serve his customers, Brown planned “to give constant Attendance” at the mill from sunrise until nine o’clock at night.  He would “make their Meal good” as well as replace any bags lost by mistake, but specified that he needed customers’ assistance in bringing him grain that was “clean and dry” in well-marked bags.  Achieving customer satisfaction depended in part on the care that clients took in preparing their grain for the mill, yet the miller also played an important role in the process.  Brown aimed “to please his Customers,” but resumed operations on a trial basis.  He pledged that if he “should be so unfortunate as not to please them” he would “procure some other Person to tend said Mill to their Satisfaction.”  Brown hoped to earn the approbation of his clients on his own, but he recognized that the success of the business might ultimately depend on hiring an associate.

In the process of informing the community that he once again operated his mill, Brown constructed a narrative of redemption to encourage clients to avail themselves of his services.  He already benefited from the “Favour and Assistance” of creditors and friends who overlooked his “Misfortunes” and now called on former customers and prospective new ones to do the same.  He asked them to give him an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment and competence during a trial period, intending to win their trust and return business.

March 30

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

Providence Gazette (March 30, 1771).

“He continues to carry on the Sail-making Business.”

In an advertisement in the March 30, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, John Sinkins advised readers that “he continues to carry on the Sail-making Business, in all its Branches, in the cheapest and neatest Manner.”  His notice was one of only a few that promoted goods and services.  Others placed advertisements for a variety of reasons, many of them delivering news of various sorts.  The notice that Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer of the colony, placed on behalf of the General Assembly concerning the conversion of “Old Tenor Bills” into “Treasurer’s Note or Notes” appeared once again, alerting readers to take action before July 1.  An advertisement concerning “a fifth Packet-Boat” to transport mail between Falmouth and New York that ran in newspapers throughout the colonies found a place in the Providence Gazette again.

Many of the advertisements focused on real estate, including one from Thompson and Arnold that described two houses in Providence, a “Lot of excellent Land on the main Street,” and several acres of salt marsh for sale.  Sylvanus Sayles sought to sell or lease a farm in North Providence, while John Andrews had a farm in Coventry to sell and a house in Providence to lease.  Moses Lyon and Hezekiah Carpenter both placed notices about other properties, as did an anonymous advertiser who instructed anyone interested in a “Large Brick DWELLING-HOUSE” in East Greenwich to “enquire of the Printer” for “further Particulars.”  Elizabeth Arnold, administratrix for her deceased husband, ran an estate notice that called on “all Persons who are indebted” and “all Persons who have just Demands” to settle accounts.  She also noted that she had a “large and commodious Lot directly opposite the Court-House” to lease.  James Seamans also ran an estate notice concerning Mary Jenckes, “late of Providence, deceased, and Widow of the late William Jenckes, Esq; of Pawtucket.”

John Jenkins continued to hawk a “NEAT Assortment of QUEEN’s WARE,” while Joseph Russell and William Russell sold garden seeds and Abiel Wood accepted orders for “North-American LUMBER.”  Along with Sinkin’s advertisement for sails, these advertisements comprised a small fraction of the paid notices that appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  Purveyors of goods and services certainly attempted to harness the early American press in their efforts to generate sales, but many other kinds of advertisements ran alongside their notices.  Those other notices relayed a variety of news and updates about local events that did not appear elsewhere in the newspaper.

March 23

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

Providence Gazette (March 23, 1771).

“A NEAT Assortment of QUEEN’s WARE.”

When John Jenkins opened a shop in Providence in 1771, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to advise prospective customers of the merchandise he offered for sale.  He focused on “A NEAT assortment of QUEEN’s WARE” or creamware, listing cups, saucers, plates, dishes, bowls, mugs, tea pots, and mustard pots.  Thomas Wedgwood adopted the trade name Queen’s ware to describe his line of cream-colored earthenware with a lead glaze.  Staffordshire potters developed the technique around 1750 to compete with Chinese export porcelains popular throughout the British Atlantic world.  Wedgwood and his contemporaries crafted fashionable and refined styles similar to porcelain in their efforts to both meet and expand consumer demand.

Jenkins apparently thought that Queen’s ware would capture the attention of prospective customers, but he peddled other items as well.  He included in his advertisement “Spices of all Sorts,” sugar, tea, and coffee in his advertisement as well as pins, needles, thread, and fish hooks.  He devoted less space to those items, listing them in a single paragraph rather than two columns with only one or two items per line as he did for the Queen’s ware.  The format suggested which items Jenkins anticipated would most excite consumers and convince them to visit his shop.

The shopkeeper concluded his advertisement with a nota bene about repairs to “China Bowls and Glass Ware.”  Lewis Jenkins, presumably a relation, riveted broken or cracked items “with Silver or Brass, in the neatest Manner,” preserving them for further use or display.  This was a common technique for making repairs in the eighteenth century.  In marketing Queen’s ware to readers of the Providence Gazette, Jenkins also provided an option for maintaining and repairing items purchased as his shop as well as damaged items previously purchased elsewhere.  He saw to the longevity of his fragile wares rather than just getting them into the hands of consumers.

March 16

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

Providence Gazette (March 16, 1771).

“Both the above Houses are well situated for Business.”

Location, location, location!  Several real estate notices ran in the March 16, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, many of them noting locations conducive to commercial activities.  The partnership of Thompson and Arnold, for instance, advertised several properties, including a “NEW House and Lot of Land in Providence, with a Wharff a Warehouse theron” and “another new House and Lot in Providence.”  Thompson and Arnold noted that “Both the above Houses are well situated for Business.”  Elizabeth Arnold inserted an estate notice concerning her husband, Oliver.  In addition to calling on “all Persons who are indebted to the Estate” and “all Persons who have just Demands against said Deceased” to settle accounts, she advertised a property to lease.  Arnold provided a description of a “large and commodious Lot directly opposite the Court-House, … situate in the most convenient Part of the Town for Stores or Shops.”

Others advertised properties outside of Providence, noting each location’s potential for pursuing various commercial enterprises.  Sylvanus Sayles listed a farm with one hundred acres for sale or lease.  In addition to a “large Dwelling-House,” it also had “a Number of Out-Buildings, among which are a Shop and Store” located “on the Post Road to Boston.”  Sayles implied that purchasers or renters could depend on prospective customers regularly passing by the shop and store as they traveled between the two cities.  Hezekiah Carpenter advertised “a Tract of Land … lying in Hopkinton, 16 Miles West of Newport.”  It included a house that needed some repair.  Instead of shops and stores already on the property, he emphasized the potential for other kinds of enterprises, noting that “a large Stream of Water runs through the Land, with good Falls, very convenient for erecting Mills.”  Furthermore, the property “lies near and Iron-Work, so that making of Coal would be very profitable to the Purchaser.”

Whether in Providence or beyond, many advertisers who offered real estate for sale or lease did not focus exclusively on residential aspects in their efforts to incite interest.  Instead, they also explained the potential for conducting commercial activities, acknowledging that each property doubled as home and workplace.  Whether purchasers planned to run a shop or operate a mill, advertisers understood that location mattered and structured their notices accordingly.

March 9

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

Providence Gazette (March 9, 1771).

“Several Kinds of Blanks.”

Like his counterparts in other cities and towns, John Carter did more than print a newspaper at his printing office.  In addition to distributing a new edition of the Providence Gazette on Saturdays, Carter also produced and sold blanks (or printed forms) and did job printing on behalf of customers.  Many also sold books, most of them imported.  Those various services established multiple sources of revenue for printers throughout the colonies.

Printers regularly promoted blanks in short advertisements in their own newspapers.  Some of those notices were very brief, just a couple of lines that completed a column, but others were more extensive.  In the March 9, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, Carter died more than inform readers that he provided blanks for sale at his printing office “at Shakespear’s Head, in King-Street, near the Court-House.  Instead, he listed many of the different kinds of blanks on hand, including “SUPERIOR and INFERIOR Court Executions, … long and short Powers of Attorney, … Bills of Sales, Bills of Lading, … Policies of Insurance, [and] Apprentices Indentures.”  The Providence Gazette served an entire region, not just local residents, so Carter also printed and sold “several Kinds of Blanks for the Colony of Connecticut, such as Writs of Attachment, [Writs] for Recovery of Notes and Book-Debts at a County Court, [and Writs] before a Justice.”  Colonists used standardized blanks to facilitate a variety of legal and commercial transactions.

Carter focused primarily on the many different kinds of blanks available at his printing office, but he also promised quality.  He assured prospective customers that no matter which of his blanks they selected, they were “all neatly printed on good Paper.”  The printer combined skill in execution and quality of materials in his appeal to customers.  The appearance and durability of these blanks enhanced any legal or financial transaction they recorded.

Carter supplemented revenues from subscriptions and advertisements in the Providence Gazette with additional revenues from printing and selling blanks intended for a variety of legal and financial purposes.  Like other printers, he inserted notices about blanks in his newspaper, leveraging one of his endeavors in support of another for the overall benefit of the entire operation of his printing office.

March 2

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

Providence Gazette (March 2, 1771).

“Advertisements should be inserted in the Newport and Providence News-Papers, calling upon all Persons to bring in their Old Tenor Bills.”

Colonists often found information relayed in advertisements just as newsworthy or important as the contents of articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in early American newspapers.  Consider, for instance, an announcement by Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer of Rhode Island, on behalf of the General Assembly that ran in multiple issues of the Newport Mercury and Providence Gazette in 1771.  Clarke informed readers that “from and after the First Day of January, 1771, no Old Tenor Bills should be received in Payment for Goods sold, or paid away for any Goods bought, but that they should wholly cease passing as a Currency” in Rhode Island “and be all carried into the Treasury.”  In turn, the General Treasurer would issue “a Treasurer’s Note or Notes, for the Sums they shall deliver into the General Treasury.”  Colonists had six months to tend to this matter.  Clarke warned that “all those Persons who shall neglect to bring in their bills … shall lose the Benefit of having them exchanged.”

As part of this act, the General Assembly specified that “Advertisements should be inserted in the Newport and Providence News-Papers, calling upon all Persons to bring in their Old Tenor Bills.”  The Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette were the only newspapers published in the colony at the time.  Both ran the advertisement widely.  It appeared in the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in 1771 and then in eighteen consecutive issues of that weekly newspapers.  From January through June, it appeared in every issue except May 25 and June 1 and 15.  Curiously, it also ran in three issues in July and one in August, after the deadline for exchanging bills passed.  Perhaps Clarke or the General Assembly wanted readers to be aware they had missed their opportunity.

Not as many issues of the Newport Mercury are available via Early American Newspapers, likely the result of few extant issues in research libraries and historical societies.  For the first six months, only the editions from February 25, March 6 and 20, and June 17 and 24 are available in their entirety.  The first two pages of the May 27 issue are available, but not the last two.  Clarke’s advertisement ran in each of the issues available in their entirety.  In the February 25 edition, a notation at the end specified “(51),” matching the issue number, 651.  Printers and compositors often included such notations to keep track of when an advertisement first appeared or should last appear, aiding them in determining which content to include when they prepared new editions.  Both iterations of the advertisement for March bore “(40)” as a notation.  The advertisements published in June, in the final weeks before the deadline for exchanging bills,” both had notations for “(40 – 68).”  The “68” corresponded to the issue number, 668, for the final issue for June.  The “40,” on the other hand extended back to the middle of December, earlier than the advertisement would have initially appeared.  It may have been an estimation to remind the printer or compositor of the longevity of the notice.

Whatever the explanation for that small inaccuracy, the “(40 – 68)” notation strongly suggests that the advertisement ran consistently in the Newport Mercury over the course of the first six months of 1771.  It certainly appeared in the Providence Gazette almost every week during the same period.  The General Assembly depended on delivering news to colonists via advertisements in the colony’s two newspapers, realizing that readers would consult the notices in addition to news accounts and editorials for important information.

February 23

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

Providence Gazette (February 23, 1771).

“Brass candlesticks.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell regularly placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Like many other purveyors of goods, they listed some of the many items in stock at their store, including “Mens silk hose,” “Womens newest fashioned furr’d hats,” “Brass candlesticks,” and “Looking glasses.”  In so doing, they demonstrated to consumers the wide array of choices available to them.  The descriptions of some items further underscored that prospective customers could choose according to their own tastes and desires, such as “SCarlet, claret, tyrean, mixed, drab, cinnamon, green & blue broadcloths” and “Sewing silks of all colours.”  The Russells’ notice in the Providence Gazette constituted a catalog of their merchandise in the format of a newspaper advertisement.

In addition to making an appeal to consumer choice, the Russells also deployed graphic design to draw attention to their advertisement and aid readers in navigating it.  Their notice featured two columns of goods with a line down the center.  Only one or two items appeared on each line, creating white space that made the entire advertisement easier to read.  In contrast, most other items in the Providence Gazette (and other colonial newspapers) ran in dense blocks of text.  News items almost invariably took that form.  Most advertisements did as well, including the majority that enumerated the many items offered for sale.  As a result, the design of the Russells’ advertisement likely caused readers to notice it before they actively set about reading it, encouraging them to look more closely.  When they did read it, they could scan the contents more efficiently than working through a lengthy and dense paragraph.  Primitive by modern standards, the two-column design distinguished the Russells’ advertisement from most other items in the newspaper.

That design cost more money since newspaper printers charged by the amount of space advertisements occupied rather than the number of words.  The Russells apparently considered the additional expense worth the investment if it increased the number of readers who engaged with their advertisement.