November 7

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

Providence Gazette (November 6, 1773).

“Those indebted for advertising, or in any other Manner, are likewise requested to pay.”

Like many other colonial printers, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, published advertisements in his own newspaper.  Many of those notices concerned additional revenue streams.  For instance, in the November 6, 1773, edition, Carter ran an advertisement that promoted “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, For the Year of our LORD, 1774,” offering to sell the popular pamphlet “in large or small Quantities.”  For many years, Benjamin West, a mathematician and astronomer, collaborated with Carter in publishing and marketing an almanac.  Another advertisement drew attention to a different project undertaken by Carter, a local edition of Daniel Fenning’s Universal Spelling-Book.  The printer proclaimed that he sold this reprint “Cheaper by the Dozen than any imported.”  A third advertisement hawked “BLANKS [or printed forms] of various Kinds,” another common source of revenue for printers.

In addition to notices about other goods and services available in their printing offices, printers also placed advertisements that tended to the business of publishing their newspapers.  In the same issue that carried advertisements for the almanac, the spelling book, and blanks, Carter inserted a notice to inform readers that “THIS DAY’s GAZETTE closes the Year with ALL the old Subscribers.”  That being the case, “the Printer therefore earnestly intreats of every one in Arrear to make immediate Payment.”  He did not, however, address only subscribers.  “Those indebted for advertising, or in any other Manner,” Carter continued, “are likewise requested to pay.”  That notice reveals an important aspect of how Carter ran his business.  Many historians of the early American press have asserted that printers extended to credit to subscribers, sometimes allowing them to fall behind in payments over several years, but insisted that advertisers had to pay for their notices in advance.  The advertising revenue supposedly amounted to more than the overdue subscriptions.  Yet some colonial printers published notices indicating that they did indeed allow credit for advertisements as well as subscriptions.  The Adverts 250 Project compiles such advertisements to demonstrate that practices in printing offices throughout the colonies varied when it came to paying upfront for advertisements.  Even if most printers did insist on payment in advance, a significant minority adopted other policies.

October 9

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

Providence Gazette (October 9, 1773).

“FENNING’s much-approved SPELLING-BOOK.”

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted an advertisement for “FENNING’s much-approved SPELLING-BOOK” in his own newspaper on October 9, 1773.  With news items, editorials, and other advertisements, Carter had so much content that he did not provide much detail in the advertisement except to note that he sold copies “Wholesale and Retail” and set prices “Cheaper by the Dozen than any imported” for those who purchased a quantity.  The printer also advised that Jacob Richardson sold the spelling books in Newport in case some readers of the Providence Gazette might find it more convenient to make their purchases in that town.  Carter kept his advertisement for “WEST’s ALMANACK, For the Year of Our Lord 1774” similarly brief, noting that it “is now in the Press, and will be published seasonably.”

Had Carter inserted a more extensive advertisement, he likely would have generated much of it from the title of the spelling book.  Advertisements for books often quoted the lengthy subtitles common for books published in the eighteenth century.  In this case, Carter could have promoted the spelling book as a “new and easy guide to the English language” and invoked the author’s credentials as a former schoolmaster in Suffolk and author of The Use of Globes, Practical Arithmetic, Royal English Dictionary, and Young Man’s Book of Knowledge.  Both of these books, Fanning’s spelling book and West’s almanac, were so popular and widely known that Carter likely considered it worth announcing that he sold them even if he did not have additional space to promote them in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  After all, he and his predecessors who worked with West to publish an almanac each year undertook extensive advertising.  Carter’s reprint of Fanning’s spelling book was the “fifteenth edition, with additions,” according to the title page.  Prospective customers presumably already knew a lot about both books.

Even though Carter sold Fanning’s spelling book “by the Dozen,” today only one known copy survives in a research library, historical society, or private collection.  That copy, held at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, has been damaged, a portion of its title page missing.  Carter, Richardson, booksellers, schoolmasters, shopkeepers, and peddlers may have distributed that edition of the spelling book widely in Rhode Island and nearby colonies in the early 1770s, but over time and perhaps through use those copies became as ephemeral as many of the broadsides, pamphlets, handbills, and other items produced on printing presses prior to the American Revolution.

October 2

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

Providence Gazette (October 2, 1773).

“A Number of other Articles, which will be sold as cheap as can be bought in New-York.”

James Mather, “From New-York,” took to the pages of the Providence Gazette in October 1773 to inform residents of the town and the surrounding area that he “HAS opened a cheap Shop” where he sold a variety of goods at low prices.  To entice prospective customers, the shopkeeper listed many of the items that he stocked, including “large and small Damask Tablecloths,” “Gauze Aprons and Handkerchiefs,” and “Breeches Patterns.”  To underscore the choices that he made available to consumers, Mather included several “assortments” as he cataloged his wares, including “a neat Assortment of japanned and hard Wares,” “a choice Assortment of the newest fashioned printed Cottons, Calicoes and Chintz,” “a neat Assortment of flowered, striped and plain Scotch Lawn for Aprons,” and “an Assortment of Jewellery.”  In addition, his inventory included “a Number of other Articles.”

Mather also emphasized price as he promoted his “cheap Shop.”  Like other retailers, he used the word “cheap” to mean inexpensive rather than as an indication of inferior quality.  Advertisers expected “cheap” would resonate positively with prospective customers instead of signaling to them that bargain prices came at the expense of quality.  Mather concluded his list of goods with a declaration that he would sell them “as cheap as can be bought in New-York,” provided that purchasers paid in cash.  When he described himself as “From New-York” he established his credibility for making such a claim about his prices.  Why did the shopkeeper expect that references to prices in New York would get the attention of consumers in Providence?  Even though the town was a busy port in its own right, many more vessels visited New York, transporting goods from England to the colonies.  More imported goods in the marketplace often meant lower prices, in part because of the number of merchants and shopkeepers who had negotiated for good deals from their suppliers.  In addition, merchants in New York received goods from England and then distributed them to retailers near and far.  Such was the case with other major ports, including Boston, Charleston, and Philadelphia.  Consumers sometimes expected to find lower prices in those urban centers, yet Mather and other retailers frequently sought to disabuse them of that notion with promises of setting the same low prices without the inconvenience of traveling or sending away for goods.

September 11

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

Providence Gazette (September 11, 1773).

“He now rides Post from Providence to Norwich, and will engage to deliver the Providence Gazette.”

In the early 1770s, the Providence Gazette simultaneously served as both local and regional newspaper.  With only two newspapers printed in Rhode Island, the Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette, those publications provided news and advertising to towns throughout the colony as well as central and southeastern Massachusetts and western Connecticut.  Advertisements testify to the reach of the Providence Gazette, its dissemination beyond the port where John Carter printed the newspaper.

For instance, Reuben Bishop advertised his services as a post rider from in the fall of 1773.  He covered a route between Providence and Norwich, Connecticut, forty-five miles to the southwest.  Bishop offered to deliver the newspaper to “the present Subscribers on that Road, or to any others that may subscribe.”  Those others would have seen his advertisement when they perused copies of the Providence Gazette that passed from hand to hand, from household to household.  Colonial newspapers rarely had a single reader.  In addition to carrying letters and newspapers, Bishop proposed that he could “other Business, on reasonable Terms,” on behalf of those who engaged his services.  Customers in the Providence area could find him “at the House of Col. Knight Dexter” on Saturday mornings, the same day that Carter published a new weekly edition of the Providence Gazette.  Bishop presumably departed for Norwich once he had the newspapers to deliver to subscribers along his route.

Other advertisements in the September 11 edition also demonstrate that the Providence Gazette kept colonizers near and far informed about current events.  In one notice, Uzal Green of Coventry lamented that his wife, Martha, “hath eloped from me, and refuses to return to my Bed and Board.”  The aggrieved husband, who very likely gave his wife good reason for departing from his household, warned that he would not pay “any Debt of her contracting.”  He cut her off from his credit.  Unlike most husbands who placed such advertisements, he addressed his wife, declaring that he “will receive her kindly” if she “will return home to me.”  He trusted that she would read or hear about that overture thanks to the wide distribution of the Providence Gazette.  In another advertisement, the “Directors of the Congregational Meeting-House Lottery” in East Greenwich provided an update about their endeavor and directed colonizers to purchase tickets from agents in their town, Providence, and Newport.

After the American Revolution, printing offices established newspapers in many more towns, but throughout the colonial period newspaper publication was concentrated in major and minor ports.  Post riders like Reuben Bishop provided a valuable service in disseminating the Providence Gazette and other newspapers far beyond their places of publication.

August 28

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

Providence Gazette (August 28, 1773).

“A large Quantity of Ordure, supposed to have been taken from some Privy-House Vault.”

Samuel Young and William Tyler were not happy.  Who could blame them?  Who, that is, except for “some evil-minded Person or Persons” who had befouled their well?  Upon making an unpleasant discovery, Tyler and Young took to the pages of the Providence Gazette with an advertisement describing how the perpetrators had, “in a most filthy Manner, bedaub[ed] the Stones, Curb and Bucket, of Tyler and Young’s Well, with a large Quantity of Ordure.”  The victims of such a disgusting act of vandalism suspected that the miscreants had taken the excrement “from some Privy-House Vault.”  What explained such an assault?  Tyler and Young attributed it to “the Instigation of the Devil.”

The aggrieved colonizers did not exclude any possible suspects, describing the “Party or Parties concerned” as “he, she, or they.”  Whoever was responsible for carrying out the devil’s work, Tyler and Young wanted them held accountable.  They had not published their advertisement to advise the public about what had happened to their well but rather to enlist the aid of anyone with information that would allow them to identify or “discover” the perpetrators that they “may be brought to Justice.”  Tyler and Young offered a reward, conditional on the conviction of the “Offender or Offenders.”

As was often the case, an advertisement supplied readers with a combination of local news and gossip … and perhaps even a bit of amusement, depending on their predilections for scatological humor or how they felt about Tyler and Young.  Other advertisements in the August 28, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette also delivered news, gossip, or a combination of the two.  Uzal Green, for instance, advised others not to extend credit to his wife, Martha, because he would not pay any of her bills since she “hath eloped from me, and refuses to return to my Bed and Board.”  Another advertisement recounted how “the Shop of Robert Leonard, Taylor, was feloniously broke open … and robbed.”  That notice offered rewards for recovering the stolen goods and capturing the thief.  In an estate notice, the executors of Dr. Samuel Carew encouraged “all those who have unsettled Accounts” to “pay their respective Debts” or face legal action.  In yet another advertisement, Nehemiah Underwood promised a reward for the capture and return of his sixteen-year-old runaway apprentice, Daniel Sanders.  None of those advertisements may have been as remarkable as Tyler and Young’s effort to identify the villain or villains who defiled their well, but each of them did incorporate local news that did not appear elsewhere in the newspaper.

August 14

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

Providence Gazette (August 14, 1773)

“Can be better recounted to any who shall be pleased to make personal Application.”

When Nicholas Tillinghast and William Holroyd built a new shop in the summer of 1773, they placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to inform “their old Customers, and the Public,” about their new location.  They provided extensive directions, but did not mention if the Sign of the Elephant continued to adorn their business.

The partners gave a brief overview of their “Assortment” or inventory, stating that it “consists of English Piece Goods, and Hard Ware of various Sorts, West-India Goods, Groceries and Wines of several Sorts.”  Some merchants and shopkeepers demonstrated the choices they made available to consumers with lists of merchandise.  Joseph Russell and William Russell, two of the most prominent merchants in Providence, did so in the advertisement immediately above Tillinghast and Holroyd’s notice.  In addition to declaring that they stocked a “general Assortment of ENGLISH and HARD-WARE GOODS,” they named dozens of items and arranged them into two columns.  Tillinghast and Holroyd took a different approach, exclaiming that “the Particulars” of their inventory “would be tedious to enumerate in an Advertisement.”  They had deployed that strategy in the past, asserting that “The Articles are too many to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement.”

Instead, Tillinghast and Holroyd advised that their merchandise “can be better recounted to any who shall be pleased to make personal Application.”  They invited “old Customers, and the Public” to visit their shop, examine the merchandise, compare items, ask questions, get recommendations, and chat about the “Assortment.”  That gave Tillinghast and Holroyd opportunities to cultivate relationships with consumers and, in the process, encourage them to make purchases rather than merely browse.  They might even convince shoppers to buy items that they had not even previously considered before making “personal Application” at Tillinghast and Holroyd’s new shop.  In their advertisement, the partners emphasized interacting with “their good Customers” rather than treating sales as nothing more than transactions.  They apparently believed that many consumers responded better to that personal touch compared to lengthy lists of goods.

August 7

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

Providence Gazette (August 7, 1773).

“He is under absolute Engagements to return to Boston by the last of October.”

At the same time that Mr. Bates waged his limited-time-only marketing campaign for his final performances exhibiting feats of horsemanship in newspapers in New York, Mr. Delile, “Professor of the French Language,” utilized a similar advertising strategy in Providence.  On August 7, 1773, the tutor introduced himself to readers of the Providence Gazette.  He stated that he taught French in Boston and Cambridge, but planned to spend three months in Providence and Newport.  An invitation “by several Gentlemen” in the two towns convinced him to spend the late summer and early fall in Rhode Island “for the Purpose of teaching said Language.”

Most language tutors who placed advertisements in colonial newspapers did so when they opened schools or academies with set days and times for classes.  They hoped to provide instruction to multiple students simultaneously, collecting tuition from several pupils for each lesson they taught.  Most also promoted an option for private instruction, either at the school or in the homes of families who engaged their services.  Delile did not mention any sort of academy; instead, he offered private lessons exclusively.  He advised that “those Gentlemen or Ladies who please to employ him” should “send a Line to Mrs. Westran’s, when he will immediately wait on them.”  Delile scheduled tutoring sessions around the “several Appointments” or schedules of his students.

Whether they wished to start learning French, continue lessons taken at another time, or brush up on their skills, prospective pupils had only a limited time to benefit from Delile’s instruction.  In a nota bene he underscored that he “is under absolute Engagements to return to Boston by the last of October.”  He could not tarry in Providence and Rhode Island.  A couple of days earlier, he placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letterto alert his pupils in Boston and Cambridge that he planned to spend three months in Rhode Island and return after “the present Vacation at Cambridge.”  Delile apparently taught Harvard students while classes were in session there, lucrative and steady employment that explained his resolve to return to Boston after only a few months.  Colonizers in Providence and Newport had only a limited time to engage his services.

July 31

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

Providence Gazette (July 31, 1773).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the Royal American Magazine are taken in by the Printer hereof.”

Although it took longer for Isaiah Thomas to publish the subscription proposals for the Royal American Magazine than he first anticipated, once they appeared in his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, on June 24, 1773, he set about building an advertising campaign to attract subscribers from Boston and beyond.  In the month of July, the subscription proposals appeared in newspapers fourteen times.  In the initial insertion, Thomas declared that he accepted subscriptions, as did “many gentlemen in the country whose name will short be published” and “the printers and booksellers in AMERICA.”  He had plans to create an extensive network.

By the end of July, the subscription proposals ran in the Massachusetts Spy four more times (July 1, 8, 15, and 29) and in six other newspapers.  They first appeared in another newspaper published in Boston and then in newspapers in four other cities.

  • July 12 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Bost-Boy
  • July 19 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
  • July 22 – New-York Journal
  • July 24 – Providence Gazette
  • July 26 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
  • July 26 – Newport Mercury
  • July 26 – Pennsylvania Chronicle
  • July 29 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
  • July 29 – New-York Journal
  • July 31 – Providence Gazette

Booksellers throughout the colonies imported magazines from England, but no other colonial printers published magazines.  Thomas intended that the Royal American Magazine would serve all of the colonies rather than one city or region.  He also realized that he needed to enlist subscribers from beyond Boston and the surrounding towns if he wanted to make the magazine a viable venture.  Printers had attempted about a dozen magazines in the colonies over the past thirty years, but most of them folded within a year.  None lasted longer than three years.  Thomas marketed a monthly publication of “essays, instructive and entertaining to all classes of men,” that “men of the greatest abilities in the literary world” would collect and preserve in their libraries, unlike newspapers “only noticed for a day, and then thrown neglected by.”  At ten shillings and four pence, the Royal American Magazine cost more than a subscription to the Massachusetts Spy, at six shillings and eight pence, for only twelve issues rather than fifty-two weekly issues throughout the year.  Even if the contents appealed “to all classes of men,” only certain colonizers could afford to subscribe.  That meant that Thomas needed to widen his marketing efforts far beyond Boston.  Inserting the subscription proposals in newspapers published in New York and Philadelphia, two of the largest cities in the colonies, as well as Newport and Providence, two more busy ports, helped the printer reach the sorts of genteel and affluent colonizers likely to have an interest in supporting an American magazine that catered to them as an alternative to imported English publications.

July 24

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

Providence Gazette (July 24, 1773).


For quite some time in 1773, William Hawxhurst “In NEW-YORK” advertised widely, seeking customers for the “Best ANCHORS, Made of Sterling Iron,” among mariners in several colonies.  Consider the notice that appeared in the Providence Gazette on Saturday, July 24.  During the previous week, the same advertisement ran in the Newport Mercury on Monday, July 19, the Connecticut Courant (published in Hartford) on Tuesday, July 20, and the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy and the New-London Gazette on Friday, July 23.  Curiously, Hawxhurst did not place notices in any of the newspapers published in New York.  Perhaps he relied on personal connections and the visibility of the anchors “in a Yard between [Burling’s] Slip and Byvank’s Store, on the Dock,” to market them to prospective customers in that busy port.  The publications he did choose for his advertisements represented every newspaper in Connecticut and every newspaper in Rhode Island, suggesting that he carefully crafted a regional marketing campaign.

In addition to the anchors, Hawxhurst advertised other goods.  Several years earlier, he “erected a Finer and great hammer, for refining the Sterling pig iron, into bar” in New York.  He continued to produce and sell “the best Sterling-refined Iron, warranted good” and “Pig-Iron of the Sterling new Mine, cast in Cinder, warranted good” as well as “Scythe [Iron]” and “Keen’s best Bloomery Iron.”  Hawxhurst also made clear that he was willing to barter, accepting several commodities, including “pickled Cod Fish, Mackarel, Liver-Oil, and New-England Tobacco,” in exchange for anchors and iron.  That list of commodities certainly reflected what mariners operating from ports in Connecticut and Rhode Island could offer as payment.  While he had the attention of readers of several newspapers, Hawxhurst also announced that he sought to hire a “Person well qualified to manufacture Steel from Pig Iron, in the German Way.”  Like many advertisements that appeared in early American newspapers, this one served multiple objectives that defied classification for a single purpose.  It ranged widely in terms of both distribution and the results that the advertiser wished to achieve.

July 17

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

Providence Gazette (July 17, 1773).

“He now employs an excellent Workman from London.”

Charles Stevens, a goldsmith and jeweler, occasionally advertised in the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  A new development in his workshop prompted each of his advertisements.  On September 24, 1768, for instance, Stevens advised the public, “particularly those who have hitherto kindly favoured him with their Custom,” that he moved to a new location “in the main Street of Providence, where he continues to carry on his Business, in all its various Branches, and engages to execute his Work in the best and most elegant Manner.”  The goldsmith and jeweler made the same appeals as other artisans, yet they appeared in the public prints only when Stevens wanted to make sure that former clients knew about his new location.  Similarly, when he “removed to BROAD-STREET” in the summer of 1771, Stevens placed an advertisement to inform the public, “particularly his old Customers,” that he “carries on his Business in all its Branches, as usual.”

The goldsmith and jeweler had other news to share two years later.  In July 1773, he placed an advertisement to announce that “he now employs an excellent Workman from London, and will undertake to make, in the neatest Manner, all Kinds of Jewellers Work.”  Artisans who placed newspaper advertisements rarely gave credit to employees and relations who labored in their workshops.  Those who did so usually emphasized one or more of three specific reasons.  Sometimes an employee or associate possessed expertise that the proprietor did not, expanding the offerings available at the shop.  Sometimes their connections to London or other cities suggested greater familiarity with current fashions and tastes as well as superior training in their craft.  Sometimes an additional employee testified to the popularity of a workshop, suggesting that the artisan who ran it required assistance to keep up with orders.  All three reasons may have applied to the “excellent Workman from London” who produced “all Kinds of Jewellers Work” in Stevens’s shop.  The proprietor noted, “All Kinds of Gold and Silversmith’s Work are carried on at his Shop, as usual.”  Stevens may have shifted his focus to that work, leaving jewelry orders to his new employee.  He had already established his reputation in Providence, accepting jobs “as usual,” yet the addition of an employee with specialized skills merited an advertisement to keep existing customers and the public aware of new developments that benefited his patrons.