January 23

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

Providence Gazette (January 23, 1773).

“Opposite the East End of the Great Bridge.”

American cities and towns did not have standardized street numbers before the American Revolution.  Some of the largest cities began assigning street numbers in the late 1780s and 1790s, but prior to that residents and visitors relied on combinations of shop signs, landmarks, and directions of varying lengths to specify the locations of homes and businesses.

Consider how some advertisers directed prospective customers to their shops in advertisements that ran in the January 23, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Joseph fuller made and sold tools “At his Shop in Broad-street, on the West Side of the Great Bridge, next Door to Samuel Nightingale, Esq.”  Thomas Stoddard and Benjamin Clap established a smithy “on the East Side of the Great Bridge, opposite Dr, Sterling’s.”  Daniel Spencer, a cabinet- and chairmaker, had a workshop “Opposite the East End of the Great Bridge, in Providence.”  Not all advertisers listed their locations in relation to the Great Bridge, but enough did so to demonstrate that it was a major landmark in the city.

The Great Bridge connected the portions of Providence located on opposite sides of the basin created by the confluence of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers.  A map of the “BAY of NARRAGANSET in the Province of NEW-ENGLAND,” published in London in 1777, shows the larger part of the city on the eastern side of the basin, the smaller part on the western side, and a bridge connecting the two.  According to an account of the Providence Great-Bridge Lottery of 1790, the bridge measured twelve feet wide when constructed in 1711 and eighteen feet wide following alterations in 1744.  Following the lottery, the bridge was widened to fifty-six feet in the early 1790s.  Although it was not as “great” in terms of width in 1773 as it would become by the end of the century, the Great Bridge served as an important landmark that artisans and other entrepreneurs noted when directing prospective customers to their businesses.

December 19

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

Providence Gazette (December 19, 1772).

“He proposes to tarry in Providence, and continue the Practice of Physic and Surgery.”

Thomas Truman was an obvious choice for assisting the executors of the estate of Samuel Carew in December 1772. Truman placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette “to give Notice to all Persons who have Accounts unsettled with Doctor SAMUEL CAREW … that his Books are put into my Hands, by the Executors.”  Truman had previously served an apprenticeship with Carew, making him familiar with the doctor’s business and, likely, some of the patients and others who had outstanding accounts.  The former apprentice stated that anyone wishing to settle accounts could find him “at the House and Shop lately occupied by Doctor CAREW.”

Truman used this notice in the Providence Gazette for more than assisting the executors in finalizing Carew’s estate.  He also informed readers that he planned to remain in town and “continue the Practice of Physic and Surgery” at the same location where Carew previously saw patients.  That made it all the more important that Truman remind the community of “his Apprenticeship with Doctor CAREW” and that many “Gentlemen and Ladies” were already familiar with him because they “kindly favoured him in the Way of his Business” during that apprenticeship.

Truman adroitly positioned himself as Carew’s successor, hoping to acquire and expand that clientele.  He had learned “the Practice of Physic and Surgery” from Carew, knew many of his patients, and now provided services at the same location, “the well known Shop, lately improved by Dr. CAREW.”  In this endeavor, patients could expect him to “giv[e] the closest Attention” and that “his Bills will be reasonable.”  All of this meant that Carew’s patients did not need to experience any sort of disruption in the services he formerly provided if they opted to treat Truman as the doctor’s successor.  Simultaneously, the advertisement also advised readers who had not been Carew’s patients that a new doctor provided care and sold “an Assortment of genuine Medicines” in Providence.

December 5

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

Providence Gazette (December 5, 1772).

“The PRINTING and POST-OFFICES are removed to Meeting-Street.”

John Carter’s printing office had a new location.  In early December 1772, the printer of the Providence Gazette moved from his location “in King-Street, opposite the Court-House” to a new location “in Meeting-Street, near the Court-House.”  The colophon in the November 28 edition listed the former address.  Carter updated the colophon in the December 5 edition.

That was not his only means for letting readers know that the printing office moved.  He also inserted a notice that stated, “The PRINTING and POST-OFFICES are removed to Meeting-Street, nearly opposite the Friends Meeting-House.”  To draw attention to it, Carter enclosed the notice within a border made of decorative type and gave it a prominent spot on the front page.  It was the first item in the first column, making it difficult for readers to miss it, even if they only skimmed other content in that issue.  That strategy was not new to Carter.  The printing office previously “removed to a new Building on the main Street” in October 1771.  At that time, Carter published an announcement enclosed within on a border as the first item on the first page of the October 12 edition.  He also revised the colophon to reflect the new location.

Other elements remained the same.  Carter continued to use a sign depicting “Shakespear’s Head” to identify the printing office.  Colonizers still encountered it as they traversed the streets of Providence, a familiar sight in the commercial landscape of the city.  The printer also continued to promote other services in the colophon, advising that “all Manner of Printing-Work is performed with Care and Expedition” at his office.  In particular, “Hand-Bills … done in a neat and correct Manner, at a very short Notice, and on reasonable Terms.”

Carter placed a subscription proposal for an edition of “ENGLISH LIBERTIES, OR The free-born Subject’s INHERITANCE” below the notice about the new location.  In the previous issue, that subscription proposal and an advertisement for the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK” that Carter published and sold appeared on the front page.  As usual, all other advertisements ran on the final pages.  Carter exercised his prerogative as printer to give his own notices prime spots in the newspaper.

November 28

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

Providence Gazette (November 28, 1772).

“He has had the Advantage of several Years Experience in some of the principal Shops in London.”

John Sebring, a “Saddler, Chaise and Harness Maker,” used solely his last name, “SEBRING,” as the headline for his advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette in November 1772.  Occasionally advertisers deployed that strategy, perhaps intending to suggest to prospective customers that their reputations were already so well established that they did not need to give their full names.  That did not prevent Sebring from providing plenty of information about his business to refresh the memories of prospective customers who could not quite place him by last name alone.

The saddler listed all sorts of saddles and accoutrements that he made “in the newest Fashion” at his shop.  He also provided details about some of the specialized merchandise that he produced, including “Men and Womens Saddles on such a Construction, that if the Horse should throw his Rider, and the Foot should hang in the Stirrup, the Stirrup will leave the Saddle before the Horse takes three Steps.”  Sebring emphasized safety in marketing his saddles, indicating that his concern for his customers extended beyond the point of sale.

He also highlighted the experience he gained in London, using an appeal often made by artisans who migrated across the Atlantic.  In addition to introducing himself as “from London,” Sebring declared that he “has had the Advantage of several Years Experience in some of the principal Shops in London.”  Artisans often believed that such declarations served as testimonials to their skill and experience, pledging that they would deliver the same quality workmanship to prospective customers in their new towns as they did for former customers in the cosmopolitan center of the empire.  Sebring stated that he “hopes to merit the Approbation of all that may please to favour him with their Custom” by fulfilling their expectations for the saddles, harnesses, and other items he made and sold at his shop.

Sebring’s advertisement contained a lengthy list of his wares, a common element in newspaper advertisements of the era, but the saddler also incorporated elements intended to distinguish him for his competitors.  He used a flashy headline, emphasized his experience in “principal Shops” in London, and featured a saddle with detachable stirrups for the safety of his customers.  Any of those strategies could have piqued the interest of prospective customers, inciting them to visit the saddler’s shop to satisfy their curiosity.

November 21

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

Providence Gazette (November 21, 1772).

“At the Sign of the Greyhound.”

Nathaniel Wheaton sold a “new Assortment of English and India GOODS, of almost every Kind,” as well as “West-India Goods” at his shop on Williams Street in Providence.  In an advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette for several weeks in November 1772, he thanked his current customers and invited new ones to examine his merchandise, pledging that all of “their Favours will be gratefully acknowledged.”

To help readers find his shop, Wheaton noted that “the Sign of the Greyhound” marked his location.  A woodcut depicting a greyhound, sitting on its haunches and its town hanging out, adorned the advertisement.  The image may have replicated the shop sign.  Even if Wheaton had not been that precise, he still resorted to some sort of depiction of a greyhound to encourage consumers to associate that emblem with his shop.  Like other eighteenth-century newspaper advertisers who published images that correlated to their shop signs, Wheaton devised a marketing strategy that could be considered a precursor to branding his business.  The woodcut encouraged readers to associate the greyhound with Wheaton’s shop, especially when considered in combination with the sign displayed on Williams Street.

The image also directed attention to Wheaton’s advertisement.  Except for the image of a lion and a unicorn flanking a crown and shield in the masthead, the greyhound was the only image in the November 21 edition of the Providence Gazette.  Readers could not have missed it!  Wheaton incurred additional expense to achieve that.  He paid for the woodcut and he paid for the space it occupied.  Newspaper advertisers paid for the amount of space required to publish their notices, not by the number of words, so both larger fonts and images increased the costs of running advertisements.  Wheaton devoted as much space to the image of the greyhound as he did to advertising copy, doubling the price of his notice compared to what he would have paid if he published solely text.  He likely considered the additional expense a good investment to distinguish his advertisement from those of his competitors.  After all, it was not the first time he incorporated the image into his newspaper advertisements.

An imperfection in the copy of the November 21 edition available in the database of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers mars the image of the greyhound in Wheaton’s advertisement. This image shows the woodcut without flaws. (Providence Gazette, November 14, 1772).

October 31

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

Providence Gazette (October 31, 1772).


In advance of having copies of the “The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1773” available for sale, John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, inserted an announcement among the local news to inform prospective customers that the almanac “is now in the Press, and will be speedily published.”  The following week, he once again exercised his power as printer to give an advertisement for the almanac a privileged place in the newspaper.  It ran first among the advertisements in the October 31, 1772, edition.  Even if readers did not peruse all of the advertisements, they likely noticed the one about the almanac that immediately followed the news.  In subsequent issues, Carter placed the advertisement among the paid notices, but the first time it appeared it occupied a prime place on the page.

Prospective customers would have been familiar with the New-England Almanack, written by West.  The astronomer and mathematician had a decade of experience authoring the almanac and collaborating with the printers of the Providence Gazette in marketing and selling it.  As the newspaper changed hands over the years, the new printers continued publishing both the Providence Gazette and the New-England Almanack, augmenting their revenue by doing so.  For the 1773 edition of the almanac, Carter and West declared that it included “Some valuable Improvements” and “is a Quarter Part larger than usual, but the Price is not advanced.”  For the same price they paid the previous year, customers could acquire an almanac that contained thirty-two pages rather than twenty-four, certainly a bargain.

Providence Gazette (October 31, 1772).

In addition to the notice placed “by the Printer hereof, and by the Author,” the New-England Almanack received attention in another advertisement the first week it was available for sale.  Thurber and Cahoon ran a lengthy advertisement that listed scores of items available at their shop at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes.  They included “WEST’s ALMANACKS” among the books in the final paragraph.  That item appeared in all capitals, distinguishing it from the rest of the merchandise mentioned in the advertisement.  Did Thurber and Cahoon arrange to have the almanac highlighted in their advertisement in hopes of benefitting from retail sales?  Or did Carter make the intervention in their advertisement, recognizing any sales of the almanac as beneficial to his bottom line?  Either way, the advertisement suggests that Carter and West quickly distributed the almanac to retailers to increase sales.  As soon as it came off the press, consumers could purchase the almanac at several locations in Providence.

October 24

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

Providence Gazette (October 24, 1772).

“WEST’s ALMANACK … is now in the Press.”

Where advertisements appeared in colonial newspapers varied from publication.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, placing news items on the front and interior pages.  Others placed advertisements on the first and last pages since those were the first pages printed when producing a standard four-page edition.  Advertisements, which often repeated for multiple weeks, could be set in type and printed first, saving the second and third pages for the latest news that arrived in the printing office.  In some instances, printers distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing paid notices in the rightmost column on each page.

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, consistently placed advertising at the end of the newspaper.  Paid notices usually filled the final page, though sometimes news items ran in the upper left corner.  The third page often had advertising that appeared to the right of the news.  In general, Carter printed news and editorials in the first two pages.

That made the placement of an announcement about “WEST’s ALMANACK, for the Year of our Lord 1773, with some valuable Improvements and Additions” all the more noteworthy for its placement in the October 24, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Rather than appearing among the advertisements or even as the first of the advertisements, the notice ran on the third page, immediately below local news from Providence and above shipping news from the customs house, a regular news feature.  The first advertisements in the issue appeared lower in the column.  The notice about the almanac, authored by Benjamin West in an annual collaboration with the printer of the Providence Gazette, declared that it was “now in the Press, and will be speedily published by the Printer hereof.”  The notice appeared in larger type than the news above and below it, helping to draw attention to it.

Given his interest in the success of the almanac, Carter treated the notice about its publication as a news item.  In so doing, he exercised his prerogative as the printer of the newspaper to give the notice a privileged place, separate from other advertisements.  The following week, Carter inserted an advertisement to inform prospective customers that he “Just PUBLISHED” the almanac, placing it first among the advertisement in that issue.  In both his initial effort to incite interest and his subsequent attempt to market the almanac, Carter took advantage of his access to the press to increase the likelihood that consumers saw his notices.

October 10

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

Providence Gazette (October 10, 1772).

“The Shop of Holden and Grainger, Taylors, was broke open.”

Advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers sometimes served as precursors to police blotters that recorded crimes in later centuries.  In particular, they most often provided details about burglaries, in part because the victims offered rewards for the return of stolen goods and the conviction of the culprits.

Two burglaries occurred in Providence on the night of September 22, 1772.  Perhaps the same “Thief or Thieves” perpetrated both crimes.  William Barton reported his shop “was broke open, and robbed of … five new Beaver Hats, not coloured; one second handed Hat, cut in the new Fashion; and one Cloth coloured Surtout, with Basket Buttons.”  Similarly, tailors Holden and Grainger declared that their shop “was broke open” and an even greater array of items taken.  The details that the tailors provided would have made it easy to identify the stolen goods, including “one Suit of Claret coloured Broadcloth, not finished, the Lining nearly of the same Colour, with Leather Pockets, a Pocket in the Lining of the left Forebody, having Gold Basket Buttons, and Gold Knee-straps, the Breeches not lined” and “a light grey Broadcloth lapelled Jacket, with Basket Buttons of the same Colour, partly worn, having new Lining to the Skirts, and Tow-cloth Pockets.”  Holden and Grainger also stated that “the same Shop was broke open” near the end of August.  Unfortunately for Barton, that had been the case for his shop as well.  The “Thief or Thieves” may have kept some or all of the stolen items for themselves, but they more likely fenced them.  The articles then entered what Serena Zabin has called an “informal economy” that made participating in the consumer revolution more accessible to the lower sorts – free, indentured, and enslaved – who did not have the means to purchase new goods directly from shopkeepers who retailed them or artisans who produced them.

Barton offered a reward of fifteen dollars for apprehending the burglars or five dollars for recovering the stolen articles.  Similarly, Holden and Grainger promised twelve dollars to “Whoever apprehends the Thief or Thieves” and six dollars for the stolen items.  They also decided to take advantage of placing their notice in the Providence Gazette by concluding with a nota bene that informed the public that they “have for Sale choice Deer Skins, and ready made Breeches, cheap for Cash or Grain.”  Like many other advertisers, they placed an advertisement with more than one purpose.  As long as they had the public’s attention, they figured they could benefit from promoting their services in addition to seeking assistance in recovering their stolen goods.

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.