September 12

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

Providence Gazette (September 12, 1772).

“This lottery being evidently designed to serve the Public … the Managers are persuaded it will meet with general Encouragement.”

Advertisements for lotteries that funded public works project accounted for a substantial amount of the content in the September 12, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  A notice for the “GLOUCESTER South Road Lottery” asserted that it was “evidently designed to serve the Public, as travelling from Providence to Connecticut will be thereby rendered very commodious.”  Another lottery held for the purpose of raising funds “to build a Town Wharff in Warwick” was similarly described as “being designed to serve the Public,” prompting the manager appointed by the General Assembly to expect “good Encouragement” from colonizers purchasing tickets.    A third lottery advertised in that issue would pay for “repairing the Meeting House in the Town of Barrington; and also for purchasing and opening some Highways in said Town.”  Each of those advertisements indicated that “a List of the Prizes, when drawn, will be published in the Providence Gazette.”

Many colonial newspapers regularly carried lottery results.  Those results usually appeared in elaborate tables that listed dozens or even hundreds of winning tickets and the prize associated with each ticket.  The advertisement for the Gloucester South Road Lottery, for instance, indicated that it consisted of 1400 tickets with prizes for 467 of those tickets.  Similarly, the lottery for the wharf in Warwick had 353 prizes for “CLASS I,” its first drawing, and another 248 prizes for “CLASS II.”  On September 12, the Providence Gazette published the “LIST of the fortunate Numbers in the MARKET-HOUSE LOTTERY, CLASS III.”  A table that contained ten columns each for the winning tickets and prizes listed approximately eight hundred of those “fortunate Numbers.”  It spread across two of the three columns on the second page, extending three-quarters of the page, seeming to displace news from Quebec and London inserted in what space remained below the table.

Considered collectively, the advertisements for lotteries in Rhode Island and the list of winners in the Market House Lottery filled an entire page in a weekly newspaper that consisted of only four pages.  Just as those lotteries raised funds for various projects, they also generated revenues for John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette.  He may or may not have considered the list of “fortunate Numbers” news that he printed gratis as a public service, especially since it appeared on a page that otherwise did not feature advertising, but the notices encouraging readers to purchase tickets did run alongside other paid advertisements … and they ran for multiple weeks.  Colonizers who bought lottery tickets took a chance on winning a payout, but printing advertisements for lottery tickets was a sure thing for Carter and other colonial printers.

September 5

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

Providence Gazette (September 5, 1772).

“Lemuel Gustine, who was committed on Suspicion of counterfeiting New-York Money.”

Advertisements in colonial newspapers often delivered news to readers, supplementing the news that printers selected to appear elsewhere in their publications.  Colonizers who perused the September 5, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, learned of the death of Joshua Spooner, “late of Providence, Carpenter,” in an estate notice placed by John Smith.  They also found details about lotteries approved by the General Assembly for the purposes of raising funds “to build a Town Wharff in Warwick” and “for the repairing the Meeting House in the Town of Barrington; and also for the purchasing and opening some Highways in said Town.”  Another advertisement informed readers that Peter Heynes, “SCHOOLMASTER from DUBLIN,” planned to open an evening school with a term that ran from October 10 through April 10.

Advertisements also delivered news about crimes and their perpetrators.  Paul Tew, the sheriff, ran an advertisement about Lemuel Gustine, who had been committed to “his Majesty’s Goal in Providence … on Suspicion of counterfeiting New-York Money.”  That notice previously appeared in the August 22 and August 29 editions.  Disseminating news in the form of an advertisement had the advantage of keeping it in the public eye for longer durations.  It also reached readers who only occasionally perused newspapers and might have missed an article that ran only once in an issue they did not read.  Tew described Gustine, noting both the clothing he wore at the time he made his escape and a distinctive “cut on the Forehead in the Cherokee Mode.”  Gustine had been born in Saybrook, Connecticut.  The sheriff suspected that he was headed in that direction.  No matter where Gustine may have been at the time Tew’s advertisement spread the news of his escape from the jail in Providence jail for the third time, readers in Rhode Island, western Connecticut, and southern and central Massachusetts had access to information about his alleged crime, his appearance, and the reward for capturing and returning the fugitive to the sheriff.  Both Tew and the public had an interest in repeatedly disseminating news about criminals via advertisements in colonial newspapers.

August 15

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

Providence Gazette (August 15, 1772).

“Such as are indebted to the Printer for advertising … are requested to discharge their Accounts.”

In the colophon that appeared at the bottom of the final page of each issue of the Providence Gazette, John Carter offered a variety of services, asserting that “all Manner of Printing-Work is performed with Care and Expedition” in his printing office and “Hand-Bills in particular done in a neat and correct Manner, at a very short Notice, and on reasonable Terms.”  Even as he attempted to generate new business, he inserted notices calling on customers to pay their bills.  Throughout the colonies, newspaper printers regularly placed such notices after extending credit to subscribers and other customers.  Some subscribers fell years behind on settling accounts, but they were not alone in failing to make payment to printers.

In a notice in the August 15, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, Carter declared that “THE Subscribers to this Gazette, who are one or more Years in Arrear, likewise such as are indebted to the Printer for advertising, or in any other Manner (particularly those who have been repeatedly called on) are requested to discharge their Accounts, that he may be enabled to pay his own Debts.”  This notice merits particular attention because Carter included advertising among the unpaid bills.  Similar notices usually addressed subscribers as well as customers who engaged other services, but they did not identify advertising as one of those services.  That suggests that printers did not allow credit for advertising, choosing instead to build their subscription lists via extensive credit while generating significant revenue from advertisers who paid in advance.  That was indeed the practice adopted by some colonial printers.  It was even Carter’s policy at one point.  In February 1771, the colophon for the Providence Gazette advised readers that “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings.”  That line subsequently disappeared from the colophon and Carter apparently accepted advertisements without “the Pay.”  Other printers experienced similar difficulties with overdue payments for advertising, including the printers of the Connecticut Courant, the Connecticut Journal, and the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Even if most printers did demand payment for advertisements before running them in their newspapers, that does not seem to have been a practice adopted universally in colonial America.

August 1

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

Providence Gazette (August 1, 1772).

“At the very lowest Rates that any Merchants sell for in America.”

John Brown, a prominent merchant who made a portion of his fortune through participation in the transatlantic slave trade, wanted it both ways in an advertisement for “English and India GOODS” he placed in the August 1, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  He declared that it “would be needless to particularize every Article in a News-Paper,” but them provided an extensive list of items that customers would find “among the great Variety” of items he imported from London.  Extending two-thirds of a column, the catalog of goods included “a neat assortment of looking glasses,” “a compleat assortment of hard ware, consisting of almost every article ever imported,” “beads and necklaces,” “boys furred caps,” and “ivory and horn combs.”  Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Brown listed dozens of textiles. Despite considering it “needless to particularize every Article,” Brown published the longest advertisement, by far, in that issue of the Providence Gazette.

In addition to demonstrating the range of choices available at his store, Brown sought to distinguish his advertisement by promising low prices to merchants and shopkeepers who made wholesale purchases.  He promised the “very lowest Rates that any Merchants sell for in America,” making a bold claim that extended far beyond his competitors in Providence.  Brown claimed that his prices matched or beat those set by merchants in Newport, the other major port in the colony, as well as merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.  Retailers in Providence and other towns in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts did not need to acquire their merchandise from merchants in Boston or New York in hopes of getting the best deals.  Instead, they could streamline the supply chain by working directly with Brown.  Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes claimed they offered the lowest prices in town or in the colony or region.  Just as he “went big” with his list of imported goods, Brown attempted to awe and entice prospective customers with hyperbolic declarations about offering the best prices anywhere in the colonies.

July 18

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

Providence Gazette (July 18, 1772).

Thurber and Cahoon WANT to purchase … Red Oak Staves.”

In the early 1770s, Thurber and Cahoon regularly advertised imported goods for sale at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES” in Providence.  For instance, they hawked a “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS, Of almost every Kind” in an advertisement in the July 18, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  In addition, they promoted a “general Assortment of WEST-INDIA GOODS” in the same notice.  A notation at the end, “(3 M),” indicated that they planned to run the advertisement for three months.

Thurber and Cahoon did not turn to the public prints solely to market merchandise to consumers in Providence and nearby towns.  They also placed advertisements seeking resources they needed to participate in transatlantic trade, including wooden barrel staves.  Two such advertisements ran on the final page of the Providence Gazette on July 18, 1772.  In one, Thurber and Cahoon joined with Edward Thurber in calling on the public to supply them with a “Quantity of LONG STAVES.”  They needed the staves “immediately,” offering “good Pay” for them.  In another advertisement, they stated that they “WANT to purchase a Quantity of square edged Yellow Pine Boards, and Red Oak Stvaes.”  Again, they offered “good Pay” for those items.  The notation “(T. b. c.)” appeared on the final line, alerting the compositor that that Thurber and Cahoon intended for the advertisement “to be continued” until they alerted the printing office to discontinue it.

As Thurber and Cahoon utilized the Providence Gazette for both selling merchandise at their shop and acquiring supplies from other colonizers, John Carter, the printer, enjoyed a steady revenue stream.  Those advertisements helped in funding the distribution of news from London, Marseilles, Albany and Boston that appeared in the July 18 edition, including “the report of a Committee of the Honourable House of Representatives” in Massachusetts “to consider of a message from his Excellency the Governor.”  That report raised concerns about the governor, Thomas Hutchinson, “receiving his support, independent of the grants and acts of the General Assembly,” considering it a “dangerous innovation” because it made the governor less accountable to “the people” of Massachusetts.  Readers of the Providence Gazette learned about some of the most important issues that eventually resulted in the colonies declaring independence in part because Thurber and Cahoon ran advertisements seeking barrel staves “(T. b. c.)”

July 11

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

Providence Gazette (July 11, 1772).

“Attention will be paid to their Learning and Morals.”

James Manning took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to promote his “Latin School” in the summer of 1772.  He pursued that venture, he claimed, upon the request of “several Gentlemen … to take and educate their Sons.”  His advertisement served as a mechanism to inform those gentlemen “and others disposed to put their Children under my Care” that he offered lessons “in the College Edifice,” the building constructed for Rhode Island College (now Brown University) two years earlier.

Presumably the “several Gentlemen” who encouraged Manning to establish a Latin school already had some familiarity with his qualifications and methods.  For others, he offered assurances that he was “a Master duly qualified” and familiar with “the most effectual Methods to obtain a competent Knowledge of Grammar.”  He supplemented the Latin curriculum with “spelling, reading, and speaking English with Propriety,” attending to the comportment of his pupils.

Such concerns extended to their morals as well.  Manning trumpeted, “I flatter myself, that such Attention will be paid to their Learning and Morals, as will entirely satisfy all who may send their Children.”  Throughout the colonies, schoolmasters and -mistresses, especially those who boarded students, posted newspaper advertisements that inextricably linked “Learning and Morals.”  In this case, reading Latin and “speaking English with Propriety” accounted for only a portion of the education that Manning’s students received.  As markers of gentility, they mattered little if the words and deeds of his charges belied upright morals.

Manning concluded his notice with a brief note that he sold “All Books for the School” in addition to providing instruction and lodging for his scholars.  He also had copies of “the classical Authors read in College” for sale “at the Lowest Rate.”  In so doing, he likely sought to leverage his location and affiliation with Rhode Island College as an additional reason for gentlemen to send their sons to his Latin school.

July 4

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

Providence Gazette (July 4, 1772).

“RAN away … a Negro Man Servant, named CAESAR … sometimes pretends to be free.”

On July 4, 1772, American colonizers did not know that on that day just four years later the Continental Congress would declare the independence of a new nation.  They did know that for the better part of a decade they experienced an increasingly turbulent relationship with Great Britain.  Following the empire’s victory in the Seven Years War and the expulsion of France from North America, the George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763.  In it, the king decreed colonizers were not to settle west of the Appalachians.  Instead, he reserved that territory for the crown’s new Indian subjects.  Colonizers felt betrayed.  They fought and died to gain access to that land, but the king chose favor the Indians who allied with the French.  After the war, Parliament sought to regulate trade more systematically, imposing first the Stamp Act in 1765 and the Townshend Acts a few years later.  Colonizers responded with protests of various sorts, including boycotts of imported goods.  In addition, Britain quartered troops in American cities.  On March 5, 1770, some of those troops fired into a crowd in Boston, killing several people.  Colonizers continued to protest, sometimes resorting to violence.  On June 9, colonizers in Rhode Island boarded and burned the Gaspee, a British customs schooner, when it ran aground in Narragansett Bay.

Throughout this period, colonizers discussed their rights and demanded their freedom.  They did so in the town square, in taverns, in coffeehouses, in newspapers, and in petitions.  Simultaneously, enslaved people liberated themselves throughout the era of the American Revolution.  Black men and women “RAN away” from their enslavers rather than endure bondage.  Caesar, “a Negro Man Servant” enslaved by “Mrs. Payson, Widow,” in Woodstock, Connecticut, liberated himself in June 1772.  He “RAN away” at the same time that word spread about colonizers striking a blow against Britain by burning the Gaspee.  The Providence Gazette carried Caesar’s story, at least a truncated version of it as written by enslavers and their accomplices, in an advertisement that ran for several weeks, including on July 4.  That notice described Caesar, “a Fellow well made, about 5 Feet 8 Inches high, between 50 and 60 Years of Age, his Hair grey, speaks tolerable good English,” and offered a reward for his capture and return.  In so doing, the advertisers encouraged colonizers to participate in the surveillance of Black men they encountered to determine if any of them matched the description in the newspaper.  They also threatened legal penalties for anyone who assisted Caesar, warning that “All Persons are hereby strictly forbid to entertain or employ the above described Negro, as they would avoid being prosecuted with the utmost Rigour of the Law.”

The advertisement also mentioned that Caesar “sometimes pretends to be free.”  As colonizers proclaimed that they deserved freedom from British oppression and participated in protests of various sorts, Caesar determined that he was done pretending.  He did not need a Declaration of Independence to assert his freedom.  Instead, he declared independence by refusing to remain enslaved in Woodstock.  He was one of countless enslaved men, women, and children who liberated themselves in the eighteenth century.

For other stories of enslaved people liberating themselves originally published on July 4 during the era of the American Revolution, see:

June 27

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

Providence Gazette (June 27, 1772).

“SCHEME Of a LOTTERY.”

Two notices concerning lotteries appeared among the advertisements in the June 27, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Managers alerted the public to the “MARKET-HOUSE LOTTERY” and a lottery for “mending the Gloucester South Road, leading to Connecticut.”  The General Assembly approved both lotteries and appointed managers “who have given Bond for the faithful Performance of their Trust” to oversee them.  Readers of the Providence Gazette regularly encountered advertisements for lotteries, a popular means of funding public works projects in Rhode Island and other colonies in the eighteenth century.

Managers often sponsored several stages or classes for their lotteries, giving colonizers multiple opportunities to participate.  The managers of the Market-House Lottery opted not to elaborate on the various classes, feeling that the “Scheme” of the lottery “has been lately published at large.”  Instead, they focused on “the Class now in Hand,” but did remind colonizers that “each succeeding Class becomes more valuable than the former.”  Why not wait for later classes?  The managers sold a limited number of tickets for each class.  Colonizers who participated in the previous class had “the Preference given them, before any other Persons, of purchasing an equal Number of Tickets in the next Class.”  The “Scheme” of the lottery incentivized buying tickets in the first class and continuing to buy tickets for each class.

The managers of the lottery intended to raise funds for mending the Gloucester South Road also described the “SCHEME” of their lottery.  They planned a drawing for the “First Class” of tickets “in a very short Time,” as soon as they sold 1400 tickets for a dollar each.  To entice readers to purchase tickets, the managers promoted both the prizes and the purpose of the lottery.  They reminded readers that the lottery was “evidently designed to serve the Public, as Travelling from Providence to Connecticut will be thereby rendered very commodious.”  They hoped to incite public spiritedness as a means of encouraging colonizers not enticed solely by the prizes.

June 20

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

Providence Gazette (June 20, 1772).

“A Negro Man Servant, named CAESAR … sometimes pretends to be free.”

If readers perused the June 20, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette from the first page to the last, the first advertisement they encountered concerned “a Negro Man Servant, named Caesar” who “RAN away” earlier in the month.  On behalf of Mrs. Payson, a widow in Woodstock, Connecticut, Paul Tew placed a notice that described Caesar, offered a reward for his capture and return, and threatened anyone who assisted him with prosecution.  That advertisement appeared immediately below a short news article about a spinning bee that took place in Barrington, Rhode Island, a few days earlier.  Even as John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, celebrated the industriousness and patriotism of “a Number of Ladies” who participated in safeguarding liberty by producing linen yarn as an alternative to imported textiles, he disseminated an advertisement that sought to deprive Caesar of his liberty.  The revenue Carter generated from that advertisement helped to make coverage of the spinning bee possible.

Tew provided an extensive description of Caesar that included his age, physical characteristics, linguistic ability, and clothing.  He invited colonizers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island who read the Providence Gazette, whether or not they were enslavers themselves, to participate in the surveillance of Black men to determine if anyone they saw or met matched the description in the newspaper.  Tew encouraged colonizers to take note of the appearance, comportment, and speech of Black men, judging for themselves what constituted “speak[ing] tolerable good English.”  Complicity in perpetuating slavery extended beyond Tew, the widow Payson, and the printer of the Providence Gazette to include readers who scrutinized Black men and, especially, those who confronted and detained anyone they suspected of being Caesar.  Tew reported that Caesar “sometimes pretends to be free,” but even being free did not protect Black men and women from inspection and harassment by colonizers accustomed to slavery as part of everyday life, even in New England, during the colonial era.

June 13

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

Providence Gazette (June 13, 1772).

“BOOKS … for Sale at the PRINTING OFFICE.”

John Carter exercised his prerogative as printer of the Providence Gazette in placing an advertisement for “BOOKS … for Sale at the PRINTING OFFICE” immediately below the governor Joseph Wanton’s proclamation about the GaspeeAffair.  The Gaspee, a British schooner that enforced the Navigation Acts in Rhode Island, ran aground near Warwick while pursuing another vessel on June 9, 1772.  Colonizers boarded and burned the ship.  For several years, colonizers in Rhode Island and other colonies protested against increased British regulation of trade and Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes via the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  The Boston Massacre in March 1770 intensified tensions.  Although colonizers had not yet determined to declare independence, the Gaspee Affair became significant for deploying violence in resistance to the crown’s authority.  The Boston Tea Party, more famous today, occurred more than a year after the burning of the Gaspee.

Just four days after that event, the Providence Gazette carried Wanton’s proclamation.  Many colonizers likely already heard what happened, but the weekly newspaper offered an opportunity to examine the governor’s account and his response.  Wanton stated that “a Number of People, unknown, boarded his Majesty’s armed Schooner the Gaspee[,] … dangerously wounded Lieutenant William Dudingston, the Commander, and by Force took him, with all his People, put them into Boats, … and afterwards set Fire to the said Schooner, whereby she was entirely destroyed.”  Wanton called on “His Majesty’s Officers” in Rhode Island, “both Civil and Military, to exert themselves, with the utmost Vigilance, to discover and apprehend the Persons guilty of the aforesaid atrocious Crime.”  He also offered a reward to anyone “who shall discover the Perpetrators of the said Villainy.”  Finally, Wanton commanded “the several Sheriffs in the said colony” to post the proclamation “in the most public Places in each of their Towns in their respective Counties.”

Readers of the Providence Gazette likely encountered the proclamation there before it appeared on broadsides posted in their towns.  As breaking news, it may have attracted more attention than many other items that appeared elsewhere in the issue.  Anticipating that would be the case, Carter made a savvy decision to place his own advertisement immediately after the proclamation, increasing the likelihood that prospective customers would take note of it.