March 31

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 31, 1770).

We have neither Time nor Room for any Extracts.”

Several advertisements ran at the bottom of the final column on the third page of the March 31, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, concluding with a notice from the printer:  “A New-York Paper, which came to Hand before the Publication of this Day’s Gazette, contains addresses of both Houses of Parliament to the King, and some London Articles to the 13th of January; but we have neither Time nor Room for any Extracts.”  This notice reveals quite a bit about the production and dissemination of the news in eighteenth-century America.

First, it alludes to the widespread practice of reprinting articles, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, indicated that he planned to publish “Extracts” from the other newspaper, but often printers copied important or interesting items in their entirety.  Sometimes they credited their sources; other times they did not.  Either way, printers often tended to edit or compile news from other publications instead of producing new content.

Carter’s notice also testifies to the production of newspapers as material objects, not just amalgamations of ideas.  Each weekly edition of the Providence Gazette took the form of a four-page issue, the standard for colonial newspapers prior to the American Revolution.  Each copy consisted of a single broadsheet with two pages printed on each side and then folded in half to produce a four-page newspaper.  This usually meant that the first and last pages were printed first and then the second and third pages later.  The position of Carter’s notice as the last item in the last column on the third page suggests that it was the final item added by the compositor before taking the issue to press.  Carter asserted that he did not have “Room for any Extracts,” indicating that the front page had been printed and the type already set for the remaining pages.  In stating that he also did not have time to insert extracts, the printer explained why he could not make substitutions for some of the material on the second and third pages as well as why he did not produce a supplement to accompany the issue.

Finally, Carter’s notice served as an advertisement for the newspaper itself.  The printer previewed the contents for the following week, enticing readers to return to read extracts or possibly even the entire “addresses of both Houses of Parliament to the King” as well as articles drawn from the London press by way of a “New-York Paper.”  In general, Carter’s notice evokes images of a busy printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head in Providence.

March 24

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

Mar 24 - 3:24:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 24, 1770).

(23).”

A brief advertisement in the March 24, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette announced, “GARDEN PEASE.  The very best Early Garden Pease to be sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE. (23).”  Consisting primarily of information for consumers, this advertisement also featured a notation intended solely for the printer, compositor, and others who labored in John Carter’s “PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head.”  The “(23)” at the far right of the final line corresponded to the issue number in which the advertisement first ran, “NUMB. 323” on March 17.  Other advertisements included similar notations to the far right on the final line.  Robert Nesbitt’s advertisement for a variety of textiles ended with “(22).”  James Lovett’s advertisement for bread and flour concluded with “(20).”  Another advertisement offering a “Likely, healthy, smart NEGROE BOY” for sale also featured “(20)” on the final line.  The issue numbers presumably aided with bookkeeping and alerted compositors when to remove advertisements that had appeared for a specified number of weeks.

Not all advertisements, however, included issue numbers, suggesting that the system was more complicated than simply signaling whether a notice should continue publication.  Carter’s own advertisement for printed blanks did not feature an issue number, but that was because the printer could insert notices promoting various aspects of his business at his own discretion.  In another notice that lacked an issue number, Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes called on local “Gentlemen … to become Benefactors” of the college being built in the town.  Perhaps it did not carry an issue number because Carter was not concerned about when it commenced or how many times it appeared in the Providence Gazette.  Perhaps his contribution consisted of running the fundraising advertisement gratis in his newspaper for as long as the committee desired.  Other advertisements, including two for real estate and one about runaway indentured servants, also did not have issue numbers on the final line.  The advertisers may not have contracted for a certain number of weeks but instead determined for them to run until they achieved their purpose.

The issue numbers that appeared in some, but not all, advertisements in the Providence Gazette (and other eighteenth-century newspapers) hint at the day-to-day operations in colonial printing offices, but they raise as many questions as they answer.  They suggest that printers, compositors, and others followed a system for organizing and keeping track of advertisements, but they do not reveal all of the particulars.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 17, 1770).

“Dwelling-House (improved last by Messieurs Jackson and Updike).”

Location!  Location!!  Location!!!  An advertisement in the March 17, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette offered a “House, Lot, and Dwelling-House thereon” for sale.  That real estate notice focused primarily on location and amenities lending themselves to commerce as the means of marketing the lot and buildings.  Currently “in the Occupation of Mr. James Green,” the premises, described as “the best Situation for Trade of any in the Place,” were on “the main Street” of Providence, “opposite Messieurs Joseph and William Russell’s Shop” at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.  With some renovation, the “lower front Part” of the could be “wholly made into a Shop” of generous proportions.  That same advertisement offered another “commodious Shop and Store” for sale “at a small Distance from said Dwelling-House.”  Green had “built and improved” the shop and adjoining warehouse, ultimately constructing “the most convenient Shop for a large Trader of any in the Town.”

The advertisement did not offer further description of the houses and shops offered for sale.  Although the “commodious Shop and Store” may have been the best option for “a large Trader” in 1770, the Russells had their own ideas for erecting a dwelling that testified to their stature among the city’s mercantile elite.  In 1772, Joseph Russell and William Russell built what the Providence Preservation Society now describes as the “earliest extant and most impressive of the cubical, three-story houses that symbolized wealth and social standing for several generations beginning at the eve of the American Revolution.”  The principal entrance, a segmented-arch portico with Corinthian pilasters, came from an English architectural pattern book, the Builder’s Compleat Assistant published in London in 1750.  Nearly two centuries after it was constructed, the Joseph and William Russell House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, but only after its interiors had been removed in the 1920s and installed in museums in Brooklyn, Denver, and Milwaukee.

March 10

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

Mar 10 - 3:10:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 10, 1770).

“WEST’s … ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS.”

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted a familiar advertisement in the March 10, 1770, edition.  It announced “WEST’s ALMANACKS, For the present Year, Likewise, his ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS, To be sold by the Printer hereof.”  Carter also happened to be the printer of both of those volumes penned by West, an astronomer, mathematician, and professor at Rhode Island College (now Brown University).  Given the practices of colonial printers, it might be tempting to assume that Carter inserted the short advertisement in order to complete the final column on the last page of that issue when lacking other content … or that he once again attempted to rid himself of surplus copies of an almanac that became more obsolete with each passing day.  Careful examination of the news items in that issue of the Providence Gazette, however, suggest that Carter may have had another motive.

The second page featured an item reprinted “From the MASSACHUSETTS GAZETTE” that filled an entire column and then some.  It detailed “THE COMET, which we saw in the beginning of September,” declaring that it disappeared from visibility “for near six weeks in the neighbourhood of the Sun” and then “shewed itself again towards the end of October on the other side of the Sun.”  Unsigned, this account was probably written by John Winthrop (1714-1779), described by Frederick E. Brasch as “America’s First Astronomer.”  According to Brasch, “In 1769 Winthrop published an account in the Boston journals of the observations of the brilliant comet which appeared on September 1st.  The remarkable feature of this comet was the length of its tail.”[1]  Colonial printers frequently copied news items and editorials from one newspaper to another as they traded their publications through exchange networks.

Carter may have glimpsed an opportunity to tie a book about astronomy he had recently published an account of a comet that he republished, hoping that the latter incited demand for the former.  He could have intended for Winthrop’s extensive description of the comet to whet the appetites of readers interested in astronomy.  He offered them more, reminding them that he sold West’s “ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS.”  The printer engaged in a sort of product placement.  Though certainly not as sophisticated as modern practices, it was an innovation in eighteenth-century America.

**********

[1] Frederick E. Brasch, “John Winthrop (1714-1779), America’s First Astronomer, and the Science of His Period, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 28, no. 165 (August-October 1916):  169.

March 3

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

Mar 3 - 3:3:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 3, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD, A Likely, healthy, smart, NEGROE BOY.”

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles how newspaper advertising contributed to the perpetuation of slavery during the era of the American Revolution.  Every day the project identifies, remediates, and republishes advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children originally published in British mainland North America 250 years ago that day.  In so doing, the project seeks to undo the forced forgetting of enslavement throughout the thirteen colonies that became the United States, especially northern colonies that became free states through immediate or gradual emancipation in the decades following the Revolution.  Newspaper advertisements demonstrate that slavery was part of everyday life in colonies from New England to Georgia during the first three quarters of the eighteenth century.  Readers regularly encountered notices about enslaved people in the public prints, just as they encountered enslaved people in public and private spaces.

Consider the March 3, 1770 edition of the Providence Gazette.  It contained two advertisements that sought to sell enslaved men, women, and children.  The first announced that an unnamed enslaver wished to sell a “Likely, healthy, smart NEGROE BOY” who had been “in the Country nine Months.”  Presumably he survived the Middle Passage from Africa or transshipment from the Caribbean to arrive in Rhode Island in the summer of 1769.  The anonymous advertiser assured prospective purchasers that the enslaved youth was “Sold for no Fault” other than “Want of Employ.”  In other words, the enslaver did not have enough tasks to keep the “NEGROE BOY” busy and wished to recoup the investment.  The second notice focused primarily on a farm “TO BE LETT” and eventually sold in Smithfield.  Henry Pacet advertised more than the farm “with some Stock thereon.”  In a nota bene, a device deployed to draw particular attention to important information, he announced that he would rent or sell “several Negroes of both Sexes,” if tenants or purchasers wished.  They need not have been part of the deal.  Pacet and prospective buyers would determine whether any of the enslaved men and women would remain on the farm.  Those men and women, reduced to commodities, did not have a say.

Along with an array of other sources, newspaper advertisements demonstrate that slavery was not merely a southern phenomenon.  Enslaved people lived and labored in Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England in the era of the American Revolution.  Although historians and other scholars are well aware of their presence, too often the general public has “forgotten,” perhaps all too conveniently, that enslaved people were part of the fabric of everyday life and commerce in New England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

February 24

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

Feb 24 - 2:24:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 24, 1770).

“To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE.”

An advertisement in the February 24, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette advised readers of “CHOICE FRESH LEMMONS To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE, in Providence.”  The advertiser realized that many prospective customers, especially those who resided in Providence, did not need additional information to locate the shop with the lemons.  Simply stating the name of the sign that adorned the location was sufficient to allow readers to make their way to the shop operated by Joseph Russell and William Russell.  In other advertisements they noted that their “Store and Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle” was “near the Court-House, Providence,” but they frequently listed their location solely as “the GOLDEN EAGLE.”

In so doing the Russells created a brand to represent their business.  The “Sign of the Golden Eagle” did more than merely mark a location in Providence.  The Golden Eagle was not fixed in place, tied to a specific building or street, but instead circulated as an idea, a depiction of the Russells, their “Store and Shop,” and the goods they sold to colonial consumers.  The proprietors considered it such a powerful symbol that they did not even deem it necessary to include their names in many of their advertisements.  “To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE” communicated to prospective customers all that they needed to know, not only about the location of the goods but also the reputation of the purveyors of those goods.

The Russells were not alone in adopting a shop sign as a representation of their enterprise in eighteenth-century America, but they were on the leading edge when it came to completely substituting their sign for themselves.  In the late 1760s and early 1770s, few other advertisers so regularly ran notices that eliminated their names in favor of solely invoking the image that they had chosen to depict their business.

February 17

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

Feb 17 - 2:17:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 17, 1770).

Providence.”

This semester I am teaching my department’s Research Method’s course, an upper-level class required for all History majors before they enroll in the capstone research seminar in their senior year.  Teaching that class has allowed for many opportunities to introduce students to the primary sources at the center of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project as well as the various resources that allow historians to access those sources.  In particular, we have learned how to navigate several databases of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers, each with a different interface and internal logic.

Throughout the process, I have cautioned students that they must be careful when consulting these databases.  If they encounter something that deviates from what they expected to find, then they need to ask why.  Historians must often act as detectives, interrogating what happened in the past but also interrogating the manner in which sources have been presented to them.  This is in part because no matter how careful any historian or archivist or librarian or cataloger who contributes to the production of these databases it is impossible to exclude human error from the process of making historical documents available for scholars, students, and others to consult.

Feb 17 - Providence Gazette Calendar
Calendar of Issues of Providence Gazette for February 1770 Available via America’s Historical Newspapers.

Consider the February 17, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  When consulting the calendar of issues available via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers it appears that either John Carter did not publish the Providence Gazette on that day or no extant copies have yet been digitized for the database.  Yet the February 17 edition is indeed in the database, just not in the place that users expect to find it.  Anyone going through the Providence Gazette in order, issue by issue, as is the methodology for this project, would discover that the February 17 edition has been digitized and made available as part of the February 10 edition.  In fact, the calendar indicates that multiple copies of the February 10 edition are available.  Upon closer investigation however, it turns out that the first copy is the standard four-page issue for February 10 and the second copy comes in two parts, a two-page Supplement to the Providence Gazette for February 10 and the standard four-page edition of the Providence Gazette for February 17.  The database has complete coverage of the Providence Gazette, just not organized as expected or labeled correctly.

This is a minor inconvenience for historians and other users of the database, but it does effectively demonstrate that readers must be careful when examining their sources.  The date appears at the top of each page of the Providence Gazette, alerting database users that the issue they expected to find is not the issue they acquired.  I advise students that America’s Historical Newspapers rarely deviates from its internal logic, but no database or other method of cataloging historical sources is perfect.  Just as we carefully examine and ask questions of our sources, we must also carefully examine and ask questions of the methods for making those sources accessible to us.

February 3

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

Feb 3 - 4:3:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 3, 1770).

“AUCTION HALL, In Court-Square, near the Town-House, opposite the Royal Exchange.”

Like other auctioneers, John Gerrish frequently inserted advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston. In a single week, he placed notices about upcoming sales in three local newspapers. On Monday, January 29, 1770, he ran nearly identical advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette to advise prospective customers of a “publick Vendue” or auction that would take place at his “Auction-Hall,—King-Street” the following evening. On Thursday, February 1, Gerrish placed another advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, this time announcing an auction scheduled for ‘THIS EVENING.” Often promoting specific events happening within a matter of days, advertisements by auctioneers tended to run only once or twice, though Gerrish and others industriously submitted new notices to several printing offices almost every week.

Vendue masters in Boston, however, did not tend to advertise in the Providence Gazette. The short time that elapsed between announcing a sale and it taking place did not allow for sending notices to the printing office in Providence or for readers of that newspaper to make their way to Boston to participate in a particular auction. Yet Gerrish did not solely sell merchandise at auction. He ran a “Wholesale and Retail” operation out of his auction hall to supplement his revenues. For that enterprise he acquired a stable inventory that did not go to the highest bidder at the next sale, prompting him to experiment with placing an advertisement for those goods in the Providence Gazette in hopes of widening the market.

In so doing, Gerrish addressed “Country Gentlemen, Traders, [and] Shopkeepers,” that he offered a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES.” He listed several items, including popular textiles, different kinds of paper, and more than one brand of snuff. Realizing that he addressed prospective customers much less familiar with his auction hall than residents of Boston, he provided much more extensive directions than he usually included in his local newspapers. Instead of “Auction-Hall,—King-Street,” he directed readers to the “AUCTION HALL, In Court-Square, near the Town-House, opposite the Royal Exchange.” He also assured prospective customers of “Constant Attendance given at said Hall.” Prospective customers from Providence and elsewhere in the “Country” need not worry about traveling some distance and arriving at the auction hall only to be inconvenienced by finding it closed or understaffed.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, most purveyors of consumer goods and services did not advertise in newspapers other than those published in their own towns. Some, however, did make the investment in hopes of enlarging their clientele. They imagined regional rather than local markets for their wares.

January 27

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

Jan 27 - 1:27:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 27, 1770).

JUST PUBLISHED … A SERMON … by the Rev. MORGAN EDWARDS.”

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, continued to advertise “WEST’S ALMANACKS, For the present Year” and “his ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS” in the January 27, 1770, edition of his newspaper. Both were written by Benjamin West, an astronomer, mathematician, and one of the first professors at Rhode Island College (now Brown University), and printed by Carter. The printer also advertised another book for sale at his printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, though he had not published “A SERMON delivered January 1, 1770, by the Rev. MORGAN EDWARDS, A.M. one of the Fellows of Rhode-Island COLLEGE, and Pastor of the Baptist Church in Philadelphia.” The advertisement announced that the sermon was “JUST PUBLISHED at NEWPORT,” though Carter had acquired copies to sell in Providence.

This advertisement referred to A New-Years-Gift: Being a Sermon, Delivered at Philadelphia, on January 1, 1770, and Published for Rectifying Some Wrong Reports, and Preventing Others of the Like Sort, but Chiefly for Giving It Another Chance of Doing Good to Them Who Heard It. Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, reprinted the sermon after Joseph Crukshank first printed an edition in Philadelphia. Southwick presumably believed that the sermon would find a market in Newport because of Edwards’s affiliation with the college and his role as a “prime mover” in its founding. Similarly, Carter likely hoped to capitalize on the college’s imminent move to its permanent home in Providence in 1770 when he advertised the sermon.

Both printers may have also expected a particular passage in the sermon, one not mentioned in its long and ponderous title, would attract the attention of prospective customers. Carter’s advertisement stated that it had been “occasioned by his having been strongly impressed for a Number of Years past, that he should die on the 9th Day of March next.” According to Martha Mitchell in the Encyclopedia Brunonia, Edwards’s wife, who died in 1769, “had somehow foreseen the time of her death. Edwards now recalled a dream he had fifteen years earlier and became convinced he would die the next year.” Edwards survived the year, but his credibility did not. Another minister suggested “that the year was not to be that of Edwards’s death but of the death of his ministry,” which turned out to be the case. He resigned as pastor and did not preach again. Preaching the sermon damaged his reputation; that it circulated in print in several colonies compounded the problem, even as it provided an opportunity for printers and booksellers to augment their revenues.

January 20

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

Jan 20 - 1:20:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 20, 1770).

“WEST’s ALMANACKS … To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

In late January 1770, John Carter, publisher of both the Providence Gazette and Benjamin West’s New-England Almanack, continued to advertise the almanac in the newspaper, though he shifted his strategy. He commenced the new year by running the lengthy advertisement that previously ran in the Providence Gazette for many weeks once again in the January 6 edition, but then he did not advertise the almanac the following week. An advertisement appeared once again in the January 20 edition, though much abbreviated. Rather than enticing prospective customers with an extensive description of the almanac’s useful and entertaining contents, the new advertisement simply announced, “WEST’s ALMANACKS, For the present Year … To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Perhaps Carter weighed the space occupied in the Providence Gazette by continuing to insert the longer advertisement against how many surplus copies of the almanac remained in stock. As time passed, it became less likely that readers would purchase an almanac for 1770, but they did desire “the freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic,” as the masthead described the news. Carter may have determined that he better served his subscribers and, in turn, his own business interests by designating space in subsequent issues for news items and editorials rather than an advertisement for an almanac with decreasing prospects of being purchased. He continued to promote the almanac in hopes of reducing his inventory, but he did so less intensively.

In the same short advertisement, Carter also noted that he sold West’s “ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS,” another publication previously the subject of more extensive advertisements that ran in the Providence Gazette for multiple weeks. He also kept that title before the eyes of readers who might decide to purchase it, but devoted much less space to it.

The same short advertisement ran the following week, in the final issue of the newspaper for the month of January, but in the lower right corner of the final page, the very last item in that issue. Its placement may have been intended to leave an impression on readers who perused the Providence Gazette from start to finish, but it also suggests that Carter inserted the advertisement only after allocating space for news items and advertisements placed and paid for by other colonists. In compiling the contents of those issues of the Providence Gazette, he balanced his responsibilities as editor and publisher of the newspaper and his interests as printer and bookseller, choosing the shorter advertisements for the goods he sold.