November 24

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

Providence Gazette (November 24, 1770).

Many other articles not enumerated.”

Consumer choice was a key element of Nicholas Tillinghast and William Holroyd’s advertisement in the November 24, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The partners informed the public that they stocked “a Variety of Articles, both of wet and dry Goods,” at their new shop at the Sign of the Elephant.  To help prospective buyers imagine the choices available to them, Tillinghast and Holroyd provided a list of some of their many wares, naming everything from “WOOLLEN and linen cloths” to “best French brandy.”  They placed special emphasis on “an assortment of stationary ware,” cataloging “writing paper by the ream, account books of different sizes, ink cake, red and black ink powder, wafer, quills and pens ready made, ink stands, sand boxes, pounce boxes, [and] pencils.”  In addition to all of those accessories, Tillinghast and Holroyd carried “many other articles not enumerated.”  While the list helped prospective customers imagine some of the wares available at the Sign of the Elephant, promising even more items than would fit in the advertisement challenged them to consider what else they might encounter when visiting the shop.

Purveyors of goods often deployed these marketing strategies in newspaper advertisements in the second half of the eighteenth century.  Elsewhere in the same issue of the Providence Gazette, Clark and Nightingale promoted a “COMPLEAT Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” at their store at the Sign of the Fish and Frying Pan.  Other advertisers provided lists of merchandise, though all of them were short in comparison to what appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Still, merchants and shopkeepers in Providence attempted to entice prospective customers by presenting them many choices intended to incite demand.  Many advertisers throughout the colonies concluded their lists with one or more “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that consumers would discover many other goods when visiting their shops.  Tillinghast and Holroyd deployed a variation, “many other articles not enumerated,” that delivered the same message.  Along with price and quality, consumer choice was among the most common marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.  Merchants and shopkeepers invited consumers to be make a pastime of shopping by considering the many choices available and contemplating the power they possessed in making selections for themselves.

November 17

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

Providence Gazette (November 17, 1770).

“A Collection of HYMNS for social Worship … By that eminent and illustrious Servant of Christ, the late Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

In the weeks after George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, printers, booksellers, and others supplied the grieving public with commemorative items that honored the memory of one of the most influential ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  The commodification of Whitefield’s death was widespread.  Advertisements for broadsides and books appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  As colonists joined together in mourning the minister, they also joined together to participate in a culture of consumption inspired by his death.

Garrat Noel, a bookseller in New York, advertised titles by Whitefield already in his inventory.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to turn a profit by reprinting Whitefield’s popular Collection of Hymns for Social Worship.  He inserted a subscription notice in the November 17 edition of the Providence Gazette, calling on prospective buyers to indicate their interest by “subscribing” for their own copies.  Subscription notices helped printers assess demand for proposed publications.  As Carter explained in his advertisement, “As soon as a Sufficiency of Subscriptions are obtained barely to defray the Charge of Printing, the Work will be prepared for the Press.”  If he did not attract enough subscribers then he would not lose money on the enterprise.  As a means of confirming their commitment, Carter asked subscribers to pay half “at subscribing” and the other half upon delivery.

Carter made several marketing appeals to entice subscribers to reserve their copies.  They should acquire it, he argued, as a means of religious edification.  “This valuable Work,” the printer stated, “forms of itself a Body of Divinity, and ought to be in the Hands of every Christian.”  Furthermore, it was a bargain.  The previous twelve editions printed in London sold for twice as much as Carter charged for his American edition.  If that was not reason enough, then prospective subscribers needed to take into account the politics of making this purchase.  Carter asserted that the hymnal would be printed on “good Paper, of the Manufacture of America,” rather than imported paper that had been subject to duties under the Townshend Acts until only very recently.  Subscribers could demonstrate their righteousness in honoring the memory of Whitefield while simultaneously encouraging domestic production that served as an alternative to relying on imported goods.

November 10

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

Providence Gazette (November 10, 1770).

“NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771.”

In eighteenth-century America, November was one of the most important months for marketing almanacs. Advertisements began appearing as early as August or September in some newspapers, but those were usually brief notices that printers planned to publish almanacs in the coming weeks or months.  More advertisements appeared with greater frequency in October, November, and December, many of them much more extensive than the earlier notices.  Those advertisements often included lists of the contents to convince prospective buyers that almanacs contained a variety of practical, educational, and entertaining items.  Sometimes they also featured excerpts taken from one of those features.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, ran a lengthy advertisement on November 10, 1770.  It extended more than half a column, much of that space filled with a list of its contents.  Practical entries included “High Water at Providence, and Differences of the Time of High Water at several Places on the Continent” and “Courts in the New England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method.”  The almanac also contained items intended to educate or entertain or both, such as “select Pieces of Poetry” and “an Essay on ASTROLOGY.”  A few verses appeared near the end of the advertisement, previewing what readers would encounter when they perused the almanac.  The astronomical calculations were “Fitted for the Latitude of PROVIDENCE,” but the almanac also included useful information for anyone venturing beyond the city, such as a “Table of Roads, enlarged and corrected, with the most noted Inns prefixed, for the Direction of Travellers.”

West and Carter aimed their advertisement at both consumers and retailers.  They promised “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity” or a discount for buying by volume.  They hoped to supply shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others with almanacs to sell to their own customers, further disseminating them beyond what the author and printer could accomplish by themselves.  The lengthy advertisement in the Providence Gazette also served the interests of those prospective retailers.  They did not need to post their own extensive advertisements to convince buyers of the benefits of acquiring this particular almanac but could instead advise customers that they carried the New England Almanack.  West and Carter already did much of the marketing for retailers gratis.

Readers of the Providence Gazette could expect to see similar advertisements throughout the remainder of November and into December and January before they tapered off in late winter.  Just as falling leaves marked the change of the season in New England, the appearance and length of newspaper advertisements for almanacs also signaled that fall had arrived and winter was on its way.

November 3

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

Providence Gazette (November 3, 1770).

“RUN away … a Negro Man Servant, named Pomp.”

Like all newspapers published in colonial America, the Providence Gazette ran several sorts of “runaway” advertisements.  These included notices about indentured servants and apprentices who departed from their masters before their time of service concluded.  Other notices described enslaved people who seized their liberty, offering rewards to readers who captured them and returned them to bondage.  Husbands also turned to the public prints to place notices about disobedient wives who “eloped” from them.  Unlike the advertisements for indentured servants, apprentices, and enslaved people, these did not seek the return of wives to their husbands but instead warned that the aggrieved spouse would no longer pay debts accumulated by their absent wives.  The subjects of these notices were uniformly depicted as the transgressors, yet the advertisements implicitly testified to discord and exploitation perpetrated by the advertisers.  Runaways exercised one form of power available to them as they sought to improve their circumstances.

The various kinds of runaway advertisements promoted a culture of surveillance in early America, enlisting colonists to scrutinize the bodies, clothing, and comportment of people they encountered.  In particular, such notices focused attention on people who, at a glance, appeared to belong among the ranks of the lower sorts.  The November 3, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette featured an advertisement concerning Pomp (or Pompey), “a Negro Man Servant,” who escaped from his enslaver.  Aaron Waitt described Pomp’s age, physical characteristics, including a scar on his forehead, clothing, and linguistic ability, noting that he “speaks good English.”  Waitt resided in Salem, Massachusetts, and also placed notices in the Essex Gazette, the newspaper published in that town.  Yet he apparently traced Pomp as far as Rhode Island, asserting that he received reports that the fugitive seeking freedom boarded the Free Mason when it sailed from East Greenwich to New York and Carolina.  Waitt used the public prints to encourage surveillance of Black men while targeting Pomp far beyond the towns in the vicinity of Salem. No matter the distance that Pomp put between himself and his enslaver, he had to be wary about encountering colonists who had seen the advertisements that described him and offered rewards for his capture and return.

October 27

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

Providence Gazette (October 27, 1770).

“WANTED immediately, Fifteen likely NEGROES.”

As it did in most issues, the Providence Gazette published on October 27, 1770, featured advertisements placed for various purposes.  Benoni Pearce and Elijah Bacon announced that they had “opened a BAKE-HOUSE.”  Joseph Russell and William Russell sought passengers and freight for a ship departing for London in early November.  Joseph Whipple offered a house to rent and a store and wharf for sale.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, hawked printed blanks and an almanac for 1771.  Hampton Lillibridge proclaimed that he “WANTED” to purchase enslaved women and children “immediately.”

Advertisements like the one placed by Lillibridge were not uncommon in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers published in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  Colonists turned to notices in the public prints to aid them in buying and selling enslaved people.  In other instances, they inserted advertisements to warn about runaways who liberated themselves from those who held them in bondage, offering descriptions to identify them and rewards to colonists who captured and returned them to their enslavers.  Even colonists who did not themselves make claims to owning enslaved people participated in the surveillance of Black people — carefully scrutinizing their bodies, clothing, and comportment — that helped to maintain the institution of slavery.

Printers played a critical role in perpetuating slavery in early America.  From New England to Georgia, they printed advertisements that were disseminated as widely as their newspapers and brokered information that did not otherwise appear in print.  In his effort to purchase enslaved women and children, Lillibridge instructed readers to contact him directly in Newport or via “the Printing-Office in Providence.”  Carter not only garnered revenues from publishing notices about enslaved people, he also facilitated sales through “enquire of the printer” advertisements.  In many instances, the buyers and sellers remained anonymous to the public, though the evidence of the slave trade was quite visible on the printed page, interspersed among other advertisements.

Such notices were a familiar sight when readers perused eighteenth-century newspapers.  Lillibridge’s advertisement for “Fifteen likely NEGROES” in the Providence Gazette may seem stark and out of place to modern readers unfamiliar with the history of slavery in Rhode Island and the rest of New England, but it was unremarkable at the time, just another element of a massive cultural and commercial infrastructure that maintained a system of bondage and exploitation.

October 20

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

Providence Gazette (October 20, 1770).

“The Subscriber proposes undertaking the Practice of the Law.”

In the fall of 1770, John Cole took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to advertise his services as an attorney.  In introducing himself to prospective clients, Cole noted that “several Gentlemen of the LAW have lately removed from Providence.”  Furthermore, there was “another Vacancy at the Bar” caused by the death of “the late worthy and ingenious Oliver Arnold, Esq.”  As a result, residents of Providence and nearby towns and villages no longer had access to as many attorneys.  Cole sought to fill that gap in the market.

When he informed the public that he “proposes undertaking the Practice of the Law,” Cole asserted that he had been “brought up” to the business, though he did not provide additional details about his training and credentials.  Instead, he focused on his demeanor, assuring prospective clients that he would serve them “with the utmost Fidelity, Dispatch and Punctuality.”  Advertisers of all sorts made such promises, whether attorneys or artisans, but an emphasis on fidelity had a different resonance when invoked by those practicing the law.  It implied both confidentiality and consistently working in the best interests of clients, two aspects of the profession that some attorneys more explicitly highlighted in their advertisements.  Cole made more general commitments that his clients would be satisfied with his services.

He also cast his net widely for clients, seeking them in Providence and “the neighbouring Towns or Governments.”  The Providence Gazette served much of Rhode Island as well as portions of Massachusetts and Connecticut.  For instance, Joseph Jewet and Darius Adams’s advertisement on the same page as Cole’s notice in the October 20, 1770, edition addressed readers in several towns in Connecticut who might wish to engage them as postriders to deliver their newspapers.  Jewet and Adams also promised fidelity, but in their case they meant that patrons would receive their newspapers rather than have them go missing.

With the departure of several attorneys and the death of another, Cole sought to establish himself as an attorney in Providence.  To attract clients, he not only announced that he opened an office but also suggested that he had some sort of training and offered assurances that he would be trustworthy and competent in delivering his services.  Compared to modern advertising for legal services, Cole was considerably less bombastic.  He aimed to earn the confidence of prospective clients, not attract them with spectacle.

October 6

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

Providence Gazette (October 6, 1770).

“The regular and speedy Delivery of their Papers.”

In the 1770s, the Providence Gazette served as the local newspaper for many readers in the northeastern region of Connecticut as well as northern Rhode Island.  An advertisement that ran in the October 6, 1770, edition outlined the route that Joseph Rickard, a former postrider, took from Providence to several towns in Connecticut.  Joseph Jewet and Elijah Nichols intended to assume Rickard’s responsibilities, informing the public, “particularly the Customers to the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE,” that they now carried letters and newspapers to Killingly, Pomfret, Woodstock, and Ashford.

In their attempt to build their clientele, Jewet and Nichols offered improvements over the service that Rickard provided.  They pledged the “greatest Attention will be paid to the regular and speedy Delivery of the Papers” in order that “Customers may receive them earlier than usual.”  The masthead of the Providence Gazette proclaimed that it contained “the freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic.”  That “speedy Delivery” enhanced the careful selection of contents and the speed that the printer took news to press, putting “the freshest Intelligence” in the hands of subscribers and other readers in northeastern Connecticut.  Jewet and Nichols also indicated that they would “extend their weekly Ride to other Towns” if they encountered sufficient demand.

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, gave Jewet and Nichols’s advertisement a privileged place.  It was the first advertisement that appeared in the October 6 edition, running immediately below the list of prices current in Providence.  Readers more interested in news than advertising were more likely to peruse Jewet and Nichols’s notice as a result of where the printer chose to place it on the page.  Carter had his own interest in the success of the postriders’ endeavor.  Reliable and speedy delivery to northeastern Connecticut meant that he could maintain and possibly even expand the number of subscribers in that region.  Success for Jewet and Nichols meant better prospects for Carter and the Providence Gazette.

September 22

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

Providence Gazette (September 22, 1770).

Cutting his throat, and stabbing him in the belly.”

The advertising section of the Providence Gazette in the early 1770s sometimes read like a late nineteenth-century police blotter.  Consider the September 22, 1770, edition.  Among the advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, and one advertisement offering a good price for a flying squirrel, several other advertisements relayed stories of thefts and worse crimes.

The first recorded a theft, its tone suggesting unpleasant consequences for the thief.  An anonymous advertiser suggested that the “Person who took a new Beaver Hat out of the Court-House” on the previous Thursday evening “will do well to leave it” at the printing office for the owner to retrieve.  By doing so, the thief “may thereby prevent the disagreeable Circumstance of a personal Application.”  Whether or not the advertiser actually knew the identity of the thief, he suggested that he did.  The prospect of a “personal Application” suggested retribution for refusing to voluntarily return the hat.

In an advertisement that had already been running for many weeks, Seth Wetmore of Middletown, Connecticut, described how his house “was broke open … by some Person or Persons unknown” at the beginning of July.  The burglars absconded with a variety of clothing and other personal articles.  Wetmore suspected that they may have been the same men who escaped from the jail in New Haven the previous night, John Armstrong and John Galloway, and their accomplice, James Burne.  Wetmore offered a reward for the return of his goods “or the greater Part of them” and the capture of the “Felons” over and above the reward offered by the jailer.

In the most disturbing of these advertisements, Charles Keen of Providence described the depraved acts of “notorious offenders … instigated by the devil.”  An “evil-minded person or persons” had entered his pasture in the dead of night and attempted to kill his horse.  The unfortunate horse had been “peaceably feeding and fettered” when the perpetrators set about “cutting his throat, and stabbing him in the belly, with a large knife, or other weapon.”  The horse initially survived the ordeal, but Keen suspected that he could still die of the wounds.  Keen offered a substantial reward to anybody “who will make such discovery of any person or persons that were guilty of the above wicked act.”

When it came to crime reporting, from a hat nicked at the courthouse to a brutal attack on a horse in the middle of the night, the advertisements in this issue of the Providence Gazette carried far more news than the rest of the newspaper.

September 15

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

Providence Gazette (September 15, 1770).

“The extraordinary Forwardness of the College Edifice.”

To make possible the move from Warren to its permanent home in Providence, Rhode Island College (now Brown University) constructed a new building in 1770.  The college launched a fundraising campaign in Rhode Island and other colonies, including South Carolina and Georgia.  Advertisements in the Providence Gazette kept the community apprised of progress on the building … and reminded “Subscribers,” those who had pledged funds or supplies for the cause, to fulfill their commitments.  In early June, for instance, a committee comprised of Stephen Hopkins, John Jenckes, and John Brown placed an advertisement calling on “ALL Persons who have undertaken to supply any of the Timber for the COLLEGE” to deliver it as soon as possible since work on the foundation was nearing completion.

A new advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette in the middle of September.  It provided an update about the building, using it as an occasion to remind subscribers of their obligations.  On behalf of the “Corporation of the COLLEGE in this Colony,” the notice trumpeted “the extraordinary Forwardness of the College Edifice” that had taken shape over the summer months.  What had been merely a foundation a few months earlier now had “Timber for the fourth Floor” in place.  Such progress meant that the college had incurred expenses.  Accordingly, the advertisement called on “the several Subscribers [to] immediately pay their Subscriptions to the Treasurer of the Corporation, or the Committee for carrying on the Building.”

This notice was part of the continued fundraising efforts of Rhode Island College, but it also served as a news item that kept readers of the Providence Gazette updated about the progress of the building.  Those who resided in town might have been aware of the status of the building based on their own observations as they went about their daily business, but others who lived elsewhere did not witness the various stages of erecting the building.  Fundraising advertisements aimed at subscribers helped keep the entire community informed.

September 8

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

Providence Gazette (September 8, 1770).

An Advertisement to be inserted three Weeks successively in the Providence Gazette, in the Newport Mercury, in one of the Boston, and in one of the New-York News-Papers.”

The misfortune of others generated advertising revenue for John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, and other newspaper printers in the 1770s.  Consider the September 8, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  It featured six advertisements concerning insolvent debtors placed by Henry Ward, secretary of Rhode Island’s General Assembly.

Those notices reiterated formulaic language.  Each named a colonist and his place of residence, stating that he “preferred a Petition unto the General Assembly … representing that he is an insolvent Debtor, and praying that he may the receive the Benefit of an Act passed in June, 1756, intituled, ‘An Act for the Relief of insolvent Debtors.’”  According to the notice, the General Assembly deferred consideration of the petition until the next session, but also specified that “his creditors should be notified” via newspaper advertisements.  On behalf of the General Assembly, Ward invited those creditors to attend the next session and “there to shew Cause, if any they  have, why the said Petition should not be granted.”

Four of these notices called for such advertisements to appear in the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury, the two newspapers published in Rhode Island in 1770.  The two other notices each cast a wider net.  One added “one of the New-York News-Papers” and the other added “one of the Boston, and … one of the New-York News-Papers.”  All six called for the advertisements to run “three Weeks successively” in each newspaper.

Carter solicited advertisements for the Providence Gazette in the colophon at the bottom of the final page of every issue.  He may have been especially grateful for these notices in early September since he had few others to insert and he continued to run his own notice calling on “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer” to settle accounts or face legal action.  Assuming that he could depend on the General Assembly to pay for these advertisements in a timely manner, they might have been a windfall for Carter.