August 31

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

Providence Gazette (August 31, 1771).

“A few of Mr. Wesley’s Sermons on the Death of the Rev. George Whitefield.”

Eleven months had passed since George Whitefield died on September 30, 1770, while visiting Newburyport, Massachusetts, when John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, once again advertised “A few of Mr. Wesley’s Sermons on the Death of the Rev. George Whitefield.”  The death of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening was one of the most significant news stories of the year.  Coverage originated in Boston’s newspapers the day after Whitefield’s death and then spread to newspapers throughout the colonies.  From New England to Georgia, printers inserted stories reprinted from one newspaper to another to another.  They also provided original coverage of local reaction, noting funeral sermon delivered in the minister’s memory and children named after Whitefield at their baptisms.

In addition to commemorating the minister, printers and others also quickly turned to producing and marketing items that commodified his death.  Almost immediately, printers in Boston announced that they would publish funeral sermons.  In the next several weeks, they advertised broadsides with verses memorializing Whitefield (including one penned by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet) as well as funeral sermons and other books and pamphlets associated with the minister. Marketing tapered off by the end of the year, only to be rejuvenated in the spring when vessels arrived carrying news of reaction to Whitefield’s death in England.  Those ships also carried pamphlets published in London, including John Wesley’s funeral sermon in memory of the deceased minister.  A new round of advertising Whitefield memorabilia, including notices about a medal, commenced.

That also lasted only a couple of months, though printers and booksellers did occasionally continue to include Whitefield items among the many other goods they listed in their advertisements.  Carter did so when he advertised a variety of stationery items, books, and pamphlets in the August 31, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  He concluded with an entry for Wesley’s sermon, calling attention to it with three asterisks.  No other item in his notice featured any sort of similar adornment.  Even as Whitefield memorabilia became one item among a more extensive inventory, rather than the subject of its own advertisement, it still received special treatment to distinguish it from other merchandise.

December 8

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

Providence Gazette (December 8, 1770).

Fresh from one of the best Druggists in London.”

Like many other apothecaries in colonial America, Amos Throop of Providence resorted to newspaper advertising to promote his wares and attract clients.  In an advertisement in the December 8, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, he informed the public that he carried “A GENERAL Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES” recently imported from London.  Those included popular patent medicines, such as “Tarlington’s Balsam of Life, Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Anderson’s Lockyer’s and Hopper’s Pills, Stoughton’s Elixir, [and] Bateman’s Drops.”  Throop expected that these remedies were so familiar to prospective clients that he did not to describe the symptoms each eliminated.

Throop sought clients of various sorts, both “Families in Town or Country” and “Practitioners” like Ephraim Otis, whose own advertisement stated that he “offers himself in the Capacity of Physician and Surgeon, in every Branch (particularly Osteology and Bone setting).”  The apothecary also found himself in competition with William Bowen.  In his advertisement, Bowen declared that he “continues to practice Physic, Surgery and Midwifry” as well as sell “a neat Assortment of Drugs and Medicines, at as cheap a Rate as can be bought in this Town.”  Throop also pledged that his customers “may depend on having everything good and cheap,” but he further enhanced his appeal to distinguish it from Bowen’s promise of low prices.  He explained that he acquired his medicines “twice a year … fresh from one of the best Druggists in London.”  His clients did not have to worry that nostrums they purchased at his shop had been sitting on the shelves or in the storeroom so long as to diminish their effectiveness.  Furthermore, Throop explained that he had received a shipment “in the Snow Tristam, Captain Shand, from London.”  Readers familiar with vessels that arrived and departed could judge for themselves how recently Throop had updated his inventory.

Bowen and Throop both advertised “DRUGS and MEDICINES” in the Providence Gazette.  While Bowen relied primarily on low prices to market his merchandise, Throop offered more extensive appeals to prospective clients.  He underscored quality by asserting connections to a respected colleague in London, outlined his schedule for replenishing his inventory, noted which vessel recently delivered new items, provided credit to practitioners “who will open a Trade with him,” sold ancillary products, and made his wares available at bargain prices.