September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 19, 1767).

“Every proper Measure has been concerted to render the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE as useful and entertaining as possible.”

In September 1767, Sarah Goddard and Company inserted an impassioned notice in the newspaper they published. They thanked subscribers of the Providence Gazette for their patronage, especially those who had already paid their bills, while also calling on others to settle accounts. They politely requested that “those who have not yet settled for the last Year’s Papers, will be so considerate as to follow the Example of those who have already paid.” Settling the “Company Accounts” would allow Goddard and Company to “carry on the useful and necessary Business of Printing in this Town.” They concluded their advertisement with an elaborate argument about the value derived from a local newspaper, portraying their work not only as a means of earning a living but, more importantly, as a service to the entire community.

The timing and urgency of that advertisement became even more apparent in a notice that appeared at the top of the first column on the first page of the September 19, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette. In an address “To the PUBLIC,” they reported the dissolution of the “Partnership between SARAH GODDARD and COMPANY.” In his monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, Clarence Brigham states that a history of the newspaper appeared in the March 6, 1779, edition.[1] This history identified Samuel Inslee as Goddard’s partner. The advertisements calling on subscribers to pay their bills had not merely been part of the regular business of operating a printing office. The publishers knew that one partnership was coming to an end and another on the verge of commencing. They wanted subscriber to settle accounts in order to facilitate the transition.

The advertisement in the September 19, 1767, issue indicated that Sarah Goddard and John Carter now operated the printing office and published the newspaper. The colophon also shifted to read: “Printed by SARAH GODDARD and JOHN CARTER.” This partnership lasted until Goddard’s retirement in November of the following year. In the meantime, Goddard and Carter assured readers that publication of the Providence Gazette would continue without disruption to the quality they had come to expect: “every proper Measure has been concerted to render the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE as useful and entertaining as possible.” Goddard and Carter promised that “Care and Diligence shall not be wanting” in the production of the newspaper as they invited the public to “continue to favour this Paper with their Subscriptions.”

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[1] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 2: 1008.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 12, 1767).

The useful and necessary Business of Printing in this Town.”

Throughout the eighteenth century, printers regularly turned to the pages of their own newspapers to insert notices calling on subscribers (and sometimes advertisers) to settle their accounts by paying their overdue bills. Printers often accompanied these reminders with threats to sue recalcitrant subscribers who did not respond.

Sarah Goddard and Company took a different approach when they called on “all those who have not yet settled for the last Year’s Papers.” First, they extended their “most sincere Thanks” to all subscribers, but then lauded the “Example of those who have already paid.” The printers pointed to them as role models to emulate; in so doing, they also implicitly shamed their counterparts who had not yet paid.

In addition, Goddard and Company suggested that the future of their printing business depended on settling accounts, yet it was not only their own livelihood at stake. Instead, the entire community benefitted from the “useful and necessary Business of Printing” undertaken by Goddard and Company. They positioned the Providence Gazette, revived thirteen months earlier after a hiatus that had lasted more than a year, as a public service, one that had met with great approval. More than just a service, the printers proclaimed that their newspaper was “absolutely necessary for many of the most useful Members of Society amongst us.”

Goddard and Company could have wheedled subscribers and threatened legal action. Instead, they asked readers to consider the benefits associated with the continuation of the Providence Gazette. They anticipated that such idealistic appeals would “enduce all our former Subscribers” to renew their commitment to the publication through a “Continuance of their past Favors.” They also expected this argument to convince others who had not previously subscribed to “encourage this Work.” Rather than inserting an ugly admonition, Goddard and Company challenged the community to provide “ready Assistance” and join in common cause in “promoting the Growth and extending the Progress of our Gazette” for the benefit of its printers and readers alike.

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 5, 1767).

“JUST PUBLISHED, And to be Sold by the Printers hereof …”

When Sarah Goddard and Company placed an advertisement for a recently published book, Letters of the Right Honorable Lady M–y W—–y M——e, in the Providence Gazette, they followed a course common among printers in early America. From New Hampshire to Georgia, printers who published both newspapers and books reserved space in the former for advertising the latter, one of the advantages of running the press. In some newspapers, notices placed by the printer disproportionately filled the advertising pages.

In such cases, the question of who wrote the copy – the printer or the advertiser – often becomes much more certain since they were often one and the same. There were some exceptions. Sometimes printers produced books on behalf of local authors, as was the situation with Lambertus de Ronde’s True Spiritual Religion printed by John Holt and advertised in his New-York Journal. The author, rather than the printer, generated the copy for the advertisement. In instances that printers also served as publishers, however, they assumed the responsibility for crafting the contents of the advertisements.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an English aristocrat who gained special prominence after the publication of letters she wrote while traveling to the Ottoman Empire with her husband, an ambassador, certainly was not a local author. Goddard and Company published their edition of the Letters of their own accord. This suggests that the partnership should have been responsible for composing the advertisement, yet the author (or perhaps the publisher of the first edition in England) exercised great influence. The second half of Goddard and Company’s advertisement repeats the book’s extended title nearly verbatim: “written, during her travels in Europe, Asia and Africa to persons of distinction, men of letters. &c. in different parts of Europe. Which contain, among other curious relations, accounts of the policy and manners of the Turks; drawn from sources that have been inaccessible to other travellers.”

Goddard and Company made their own contributions to promoting the book, asserting that Montagu’s Letters “will shew … the sprightliness of her WIT, the solidity of her JUDGMENT, the extent of her KNOWLEDGE, the elegance of her TASTE, and the excellence of her real CHARACTER.” Yet the firm did not find it necessary to generate additional copy when the title of the book itself provided a synopsis already designed to entice readers.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 29, 1767).

“He desires all Persons who want to lay their Money out to Advantage, to come and see for Love.”

John Mathewson opened a new shop “on the West Side of the Great Bridge” in Providence during the summer of 1767. To attract customers, he regularly inserted advertisements in the Providence Gazette in July and throughout August, deploying some of the most common marketing appeals yet also giving some of them his own twist in an effort to distinguish him form his competitors.

Prospective customers would have recognized Mathewson’s appeals to current styles and consumer choice within a transatlantic marketplace centered in Britain. To that end, he included formulaic language that could have been drawn from advertisements that appeared in any newspaper throughout the colonies: “a very fashionable and neat Assortment of English Goods.” He also made a standard appeal to price, following a recent trend among shopkeepers who advertised in the Providence Gazette to compare their own prices to others in the port city, colony, or region. Many local shopkeepers had moved away from merely stating that customers could acquire their merchandise at low costs in favor of making bolder pronouncements. Mathewson, for instance, asserted that he would “sell as cheap as are sold in New-England,” suggesting that prospective customers did not need to do any comparison shopping because he already offered the best bargains.

Yet Mathewson did not simply reiterate the language of standard marketing appeals or recent trendy updates. He infused his advertisement with some of his own personality as well. He extended a special invitation to potential customers: “He desires all Persons who want to lay their Money out to Advantage to come and see for Love, and buy for Money.” Mathewson did not depict just a commercial transaction, an exchange of money for goods. Instead, he encouraged readers to imagine the pleasures of shopping, the joys of sorting through the “neat Assortment” he made available to them. More explicitly than most of his competitors, Mathewson depicted a visit to his shop as an experience in and of itself, a pleasant outing that included being “genteely served” while selecting among the many options presented for their consideration. That they would “come and see for love” suggested the delights of window shopping even if customers did not ultimately purchase every item that caught their fancy. In addition, an invitation to “come and see for love” addressed critiques of excessive luxury that accompanied the consumer revolution. Mathewson signaled to potential customers that it was acceptable to entertain their desires without being deemed frivolous or irresponsible, especially since his low prices meant they could “lay their Money out to Advantage.”

August 22

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

Aug 22 - 8:22:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 22, 1767).

“A large Assortment of English Goods and Hard-Ware.”

Joseph and William Russell were among Sarah Goddard and Company’s most loyal advertisers in the Providence Gazette. Even when the publication experienced a lull in paid notices during the winter and into the spring of 1767, the Russells continued to place advertisements for the imported goods they sold at their shop at the Sign of the Golden Eagle. On occasion, their full-page advertisement dominated the entire newspaper.

Some of their other advertisements were more modest, but even as they placed notices for purposes other than marketing their goods the Russells made sure to remind readers and potential customers that they “have to sell a large Assortment of English Goods and Hard-Ware” at low prices. Such was the case in this advertisement announcing that they sought tenants to rent “a Convenient Dwelling-House” in the northern part of Providence. This was not the first time they adopted such a strategy in their advertisements. Six months earlier they had evenly divided the space in a previous advertisement, first issuing a call for prospective renters for what might have been the same “Convenient Dwelling-House” and then hawking their “compleat Assortment of English GOODS” and, especially, “Excellent Bohea Tea, which for smell and flavor, exceeds most any ever imported.”

The Russells’ advertisement from August 1767 was not nearly as elaborate, yet the shopkeepers still determined that it should fulfill multiple purposes. They may have figured that as long as circumstances forced them once again to advertise a house for rent in the Providence Gazette that they might as well attempt to gain as much of a return on their investment in advertising as possible. Greater numbers of competitors had turned to the local newspaper to advertise throughout the spring and summer. Having previously established their reputation as retailers in the public prints, Joseph and William Russell reminded readers that they sold similar merchandise also advertised by William Brown, John Mathewson, Benjamin West, and others elsewhere in the issue.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15: 1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 15, 1767).

“Will also sell with or without the Walk, two likely Negro Men.”

When William Mumford and John Cole decided to sell their ropewalk in Newport, Rhode Island, they published an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. In it, they described the property where they made rope as “well found,” “very level,” and “convenient for the Business.” In addition, it property came with all the equipment “necessary for spinning, tur[n]ing, and laying of Cordage of all Sizes.” Most of the major colonial cities had ropewalks that produced some of the supplies essential for outfitting the vessels that passed through the busy ports.

Mumford and Cole did not, however, advertise just the ropewalk. Prospective buyers could also purchase “two likely Negro Men.” These were not mere laborers; instead, each “understands the Business of Rope-making.” One was “a very good Spinner.” The other was not quite as adept at that task, but “spins well for his Practice.” His primary value derived from another contribution he made to the operation of the ropewalk: he “understands the dressing of Hemp.” These “likely Negro Men” enhanced the value of the business through their skill and experience. They made its sale more attractive to potential buyers who would not need to be as concerned with hiring and retaining workers as they otherwise might have been.

Many of the commodities advertised in the Providence Gazette and other colonial newspapers had direct connections to enslaved Africans. Consumers knew that slaves produced sugar, rice, indigo, tobacco, and other staple crops, yet that was not where the presence of slaves in the networks of eighteenth-century commerce ended. They also participated in transporting commodities from the sites of production to the places of sale. Some served on merchant vessels. Others labored in shipyards, building and repairing the vessels that carried goods from port to port. Still others worked in shops and other businesses where artisans made the equipment that outfitted those ships.

When residents of Newport and Providence drank tea sweetened with sugar, they realized that they consumed a commodity produced by enslaved men, women, and children. Yet not all of the enslaved labor that made it possible for them to enjoy sweetened beverages took place on faraway plantations. The sugar colonists purchased from local shopkeepers may very well have been transported on a vessel outfitted with ropes and other equipment made by slaves in their very own colony.

August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 8, 1767).

“The Publishers of this Paper, hereby inform their candid Readers, that his Week’s Paper compleats the Year.”

Sarah Goddard and Company had two purposes for placing this advertisement in the August 8, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. First and foremost, they wished to acknowledge that the new issue “compleats the Year” since the newspaper “was revived.” On the occasion of that anniversary, they called on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle their accounts “as speedily as possible.” As a secondary goal, the publishers announced that “This Paper will still be carried on as usual” and requested further “Encouragement” from readers. In other words, if residents of Providence and its hinterland valued the Providence Gazette and wished for it to continue, they needed to subscribe, advertise, and pay their bills.

The previous iteration of the Providence Gazette had ceased publication with its May 11, 1765, issue and, except for extraordinary editions published on August 24, 1765, and March 12, 1766, did not resume publication until August 9, 1766. In the year since it sometimes struggled to attract advertisers, especially in the winter months. Goddard and Company may have developed certain innovations out of necessity, especially frequent oversized and full-page advertisements. Although the design would have caught the attention of reader-consumers, the format may have inspired primarily as a means of filling the page in the absence of other content.

The Providence Gazette was the only newspaper in colonial America printed and distributed on Saturdays in 1766 and 1767. In contrast, at least ten newspapers were published on Mondays (though not all have since been digitized). Similarly, multiple newspapers were published on Thursdays as well. As a result, the Adverts 250 Project has featured at least one advertisement from the Providence Gazette each week while selecting an advertisement from one among many newspapers on other days. Many of those newspapers featured a greater variety and volume of advertising that would merit more attention in a book or article; that being the case, given the nature of this digital humanities project the Providence Gazette might seem overrepresented among the advertisements included. On the other hand, the project’s methodology has required, at least as an outcome even if not originally by intentional design, attention to a smaller publication from a middling-sized port city, shifting focus away from the most significant population and commercial centers in colonial America. The history of advertising in early America would look very different if it focused exclusively on the cities with the most vibrant newspapers: Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Sustained consideration of the Providence Gazette and newspapers from other cities and towns tells a more nuanced story of the mobilization of print to influence consumer choices via advertising in the colonial era.