March 30

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

Providence Gazette (March 30, 1771).

“He continues to carry on the Sail-making Business.”

In an advertisement in the March 30, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, John Sinkins advised readers that “he continues to carry on the Sail-making Business, in all its Branches, in the cheapest and neatest Manner.”  His notice was one of only a few that promoted goods and services.  Others placed advertisements for a variety of reasons, many of them delivering news of various sorts.  The notice that Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer of the colony, placed on behalf of the General Assembly concerning the conversion of “Old Tenor Bills” into “Treasurer’s Note or Notes” appeared once again, alerting readers to take action before July 1.  An advertisement concerning “a fifth Packet-Boat” to transport mail between Falmouth and New York that ran in newspapers throughout the colonies found a place in the Providence Gazette again.

Many of the advertisements focused on real estate, including one from Thompson and Arnold that described two houses in Providence, a “Lot of excellent Land on the main Street,” and several acres of salt marsh for sale.  Sylvanus Sayles sought to sell or lease a farm in North Providence, while John Andrews had a farm in Coventry to sell and a house in Providence to lease.  Moses Lyon and Hezekiah Carpenter both placed notices about other properties, as did an anonymous advertiser who instructed anyone interested in a “Large Brick DWELLING-HOUSE” in East Greenwich to “enquire of the Printer” for “further Particulars.”  Elizabeth Arnold, administratrix for her deceased husband, ran an estate notice that called on “all Persons who are indebted” and “all Persons who have just Demands” to settle accounts.  She also noted that she had a “large and commodious Lot directly opposite the Court-House” to lease.  James Seamans also ran an estate notice concerning Mary Jenckes, “late of Providence, deceased, and Widow of the late William Jenckes, Esq; of Pawtucket.”

John Jenkins continued to hawk a “NEAT Assortment of QUEEN’s WARE,” while Joseph Russell and William Russell sold garden seeds and Abiel Wood accepted orders for “North-American LUMBER.”  Along with Sinkin’s advertisement for sails, these advertisements comprised a small fraction of the paid notices that appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  Purveyors of goods and services certainly attempted to harness the early American press in their efforts to generate sales, but many other kinds of advertisements ran alongside their notices.  Those other notices relayed a variety of news and updates about local events that did not appear elsewhere in the newspaper.

March 16

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

Providence Gazette (March 16, 1771).

“Both the above Houses are well situated for Business.”

Location, location, location!  Several real estate notices ran in the March 16, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, many of them noting locations conducive to commercial activities.  The partnership of Thompson and Arnold, for instance, advertised several properties, including a “NEW House and Lot of Land in Providence, with a Wharff a Warehouse theron” and “another new House and Lot in Providence.”  Thompson and Arnold noted that “Both the above Houses are well situated for Business.”  Elizabeth Arnold inserted an estate notice concerning her husband, Oliver.  In addition to calling on “all Persons who are indebted to the Estate” and “all Persons who have just Demands against said Deceased” to settle accounts, she advertised a property to lease.  Arnold provided a description of a “large and commodious Lot directly opposite the Court-House, … situate in the most convenient Part of the Town for Stores or Shops.”

Others advertised properties outside of Providence, noting each location’s potential for pursuing various commercial enterprises.  Sylvanus Sayles listed a farm with one hundred acres for sale or lease.  In addition to a “large Dwelling-House,” it also had “a Number of Out-Buildings, among which are a Shop and Store” located “on the Post Road to Boston.”  Sayles implied that purchasers or renters could depend on prospective customers regularly passing by the shop and store as they traveled between the two cities.  Hezekiah Carpenter advertised “a Tract of Land … lying in Hopkinton, 16 Miles West of Newport.”  It included a house that needed some repair.  Instead of shops and stores already on the property, he emphasized the potential for other kinds of enterprises, noting that “a large Stream of Water runs through the Land, with good Falls, very convenient for erecting Mills.”  Furthermore, the property “lies near and Iron-Work, so that making of Coal would be very profitable to the Purchaser.”

Whether in Providence or beyond, many advertisers who offered real estate for sale or lease did not focus exclusively on residential aspects in their efforts to incite interest.  Instead, they also explained the potential for conducting commercial activities, acknowledging that each property doubled as home and workplace.  Whether purchasers planned to run a shop or operate a mill, advertisers understood that location mattered and structured their notices accordingly.

October 18

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

“FOR SALE, THE FOLLOWING VALUABLE TRACTS OF LAND.”

South-Carolina Gazette (October 18, 1770).

This advertisement for “VALUABLE TRACTS OF LAND” offered for sale in South Carolina raises questions about its production and distribution.  Accessible Archives includes it as the fifth page of the October 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Like most colonial newspapers, the South-Carolina Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Peter Timothy, the printer, distributed one new issue each week, occasionally printing a supplement to accompany the standard four-page issue when he had sufficient content to justify doing so.

This advertisement deviates from several common elements of newspaper publication familiar to historians of eighteenth-century print culture.  Even though printers sometimes circulated supplements, they rarely distributed one-page supplements.  Instead, they created two-page or four-page supplements by printing on both sides of a sheet.  On rare instances did they print one-page supplements, an expensive venture given that paper was such a valuable commodity.  Blank space that could have been filled with news or, even better, advertising that generated revenues was wasteful.  Timothy included a short note on the final page of the October 18 edition that “ADVERTISEMENTS omitted this Week, will be in our next.”  It seems that he had additional content that could have been printed on the other side of the sheet promoting tracts of land for sale.

This suggests that Timothy did not consider the advertisement on the additional sheet part of the issue he published and distributed that week.  Like most newspaper printers, he did job printing as an additional revenue stream.  Orders included broadside advertisements, today known as posters, that could be handed out or hung up around town.  This advertisement was most likely a broadside printed separately.  How did it get associated with the October 18 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette?  It is possible that the advertisers made a deal with Timothy to distribute the broadside with the standard issue, though that was not a common practice.  More likely, at some point someone who acquired the newspaper and the broadside put them together.  Whether that person was a reader, collector, or librarian, their association of the two items took hold.  Accessible Archives replicated it when producing the digitized database of extant issues of the South-Carolina Gazette.

That is the most likely scenario, but certainly not a definitive answer.  The broadside’s inclusion with the October 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette in the digital archive suggests that it could have been part of that issue from the very start.  If so, that raises questions about innovation on the part of both the printer and the advertisers who deviated from standard practices.  It also raises questions about negotiations between the printer and the advertisers, especially in terms of cost and format.  That the broadside is now treated as the fifth page of the newspapers may be the result of an error introduced sometime after the two were printed.  Alternately, this may be evidence of creativity and innovation in the production and distribution of advertising in eighteenth-century America.

September 2

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

Sep 2 - 8:30:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 30, 1770).

“Some People have surmised that the above Advertisement was inserted only to amuse the Publick.”

Henry Barnes, a merchant, did not meet with success the first time he offered the “Whole of the Real-Estate” he owned in Marlborough for sale in an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury in the summer of 1770.  He inserted his advertisement for three consecutive weeks in the issues distributed on July 5, 12, and 19.  In it, he described “a Dwelling-House in good Repair, very pleasantly situated, with the Out-Houses” as well as a large store conveniently located and “extremely well-calculated for Business both Wholesale and Retail.”  The property also included “a very large Pearl-Ash Work,” a still that could produce five hundred barrels of cider a year, seven acres of land for mowing and pasturing, and “a Number of Asparagus Beds in their prime.”  Prospective buyers could anticipate making a living, not just residing, on this property.  Yet the “Whole of the Real-Estate of HENRY BARNES” did not sell.

Barnes had an idea why that was the case.  Four weeks after his advertisement originally ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, he placed it again, but this time with an addition.  In a nota bene that concluded the advertisement, Barnes stated, “Whereas some People have surmised that the above Advertisement was inserted only to amuse the Publick: This is to Certify, that I am determined to sell, provided anybody comes up to my Terms which are thought to be very reasonable.”  Apparently, Barnes’s advertisement had not gone unnoticed, even though it had not produced the results he intended.  Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury and others in the community became aware of Barnes’s real estate notice, discussed it, and dismissed it.  That prompted Barnes to return to the public prints to address the gossip, rumors, and idle talk that the first iteration of his advertisement produced.  He ran the advertisement with the addendum on August 16, 23, and 30.

How effective were newspaper advertisements in eighteenth-century America?  Answering questions about reception is difficult.  Barnes testified to an unintended consequence of placing his advertisement.  It did not initially result in a sale of his real estate, but other colonists did notice it and talk about it.  They read the notice, even if they did not respond in the manner that Barnes hoped.

June 12

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

Jun 12 - 6:12:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (June 12, 1770).

“A large convenient House … finely situated on the main Street.”

Location!  Location!  Location!  Francis Symonds highlighted the location of the “front Part of a large convenient House” that he offered for sale or rent in the June 12, 1770, edition of the Essex Gazette.  He noted that the property was “finely situated on the main Street in Danvers, within about a Quarter of a Mile of the Rev. Mr. Holt’s Meeting-House.”  Symonds also reported an array of goods and services available in close proximity to the house, inserting a census that was not a standard feature of eighteenth-century real estate notices.  Within a quarter mile, buyers or renters would be “accommodated with a very capable Schoolmistress, a Victualler, a Baker, 2 Merchants, 4 Shopkeepers, 2 Doctors, 1 Surgeon, 3 Carpenters, 2 Masons, 3 Blacksmiths, 3 Potters, 2 Tanners, 2 Curriers, 1 Saw-Mill, 1 Weaver, 2 Tailors, 1 Barber, 1 Chaisemaker, 2 Saddlers, 2 Joiners, 1 Glazier, and 8 Cordwainers.”  In addition, they had access to “a good Grist-Mill within half a Mile.”  Although not nearly as bustling as nearby Boston, the town of Danvers was “so growing, that most of the said Tradesmen have lately set up their Businesses.”  Symonds suggested that buyers or renters would reside in an up-and-coming neighborhood.

While that made daily life more comfortable, it also contributed to the prospects of earning a livelihood in the area, especially for anyone interested in the “Shop on the lower Floor” of the house.  In addition to prospective customers who lived nearby, Symonds declared, “It is thought about three Quarters of the Marketing that goes into the two great Towns of Salem and Marblehead passes by said House.”  Furthermore, the house was “situated within a Mile and an half of Salem Court-House” as well as “near the Bell Inn.”  Anyone who intended to operate a business in the shop would not lack for foot traffic.  Prospective customers passed by on their way to market, court, and a popular tavern.

Unlike others who advertised real estate, Symonds offered only a brief description of the house and land.  He focused primarily on the location and the businesses located nearby, his extensive account of the area conjuring images of a lively neighborhood where residents could readily access services and entrepreneurs could easily engage customers.  Considering that many of the local “Tradesmen have lately set up their Businesses,” he may have considered this necessary to attract buyers or renters unaware of the recent growth in the town of Danvers.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 17, 1770).

“Dwelling-House (improved last by Messieurs Jackson and Updike).”

Location!  Location!!  Location!!!  An advertisement in the March 17, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette offered a “House, Lot, and Dwelling-House thereon” for sale.  That real estate notice focused primarily on location and amenities lending themselves to commerce as the means of marketing the lot and buildings.  Currently “in the Occupation of Mr. James Green,” the premises, described as “the best Situation for Trade of any in the Place,” were on “the main Street” of Providence, “opposite Messieurs Joseph and William Russell’s Shop” at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.  With some renovation, the “lower front Part” of the could be “wholly made into a Shop” of generous proportions.  That same advertisement offered another “commodious Shop and Store” for sale “at a small Distance from said Dwelling-House.”  Green had “built and improved” the shop and adjoining warehouse, ultimately constructing “the most convenient Shop for a large Trader of any in the Town.”

The advertisement did not offer further description of the houses and shops offered for sale.  Although the “commodious Shop and Store” may have been the best option for “a large Trader” in 1770, the Russells had their own ideas for erecting a dwelling that testified to their stature among the city’s mercantile elite.  In 1772, Joseph Russell and William Russell built what the Providence Preservation Society now describes as the “earliest extant and most impressive of the cubical, three-story houses that symbolized wealth and social standing for several generations beginning at the eve of the American Revolution.”  The principal entrance, a segmented-arch portico with Corinthian pilasters, came from an English architectural pattern book, the Builder’s Compleat Assistant published in London in 1750.  Nearly two centuries after it was constructed, the Joseph and William Russell House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, but only after its interiors had been removed in the 1920s and installed in museums in Brooklyn, Denver, and Milwaukee.

January 30

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

Jan 30 - 1:30:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 30, 1770).

“Valuable PLANTATION … THIRTY VALUABLE NEGROES.”

John Rose and Alexander Rose, administrators of the estate “of the deceased Dr. WILLIAM ROSE,” turned to the newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina, to announce the sale of the late doctor’s “valuable PLANTATION” as well as “About THIRTY VALUABLE NEGROES,” livestock, furniture, and tools. The Roses included visual images in their advertisements to help draw the attention of prospective buyers. Indeed, they included two woodcuts, one depicting a house and another an enslaved man, in their advertisement in the January 30, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. If they included a visual image at all, most advertisements featured only one, even in similar advertisements that offered both real estate and enslaved men, women, and children for sale.

The inclusion of two woodcuts seems not to have been a choice made by the compositor working independently at the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. The following day an advertisement with identical copy ran in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. It also included two woodcuts, one of a house and fields and another of several enslaved people. It was not a coincidence that the two advertisements each had more than one visual image. A notice with the same copy also ran in the February 1, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. It also had two woodcuts, one depicting a house and the other several enslaved people, both adults and children. The typography (fonts, fonts size, capitalization, italics) varied among the advertisements, but the copy was consistent, as was the inclusion of two visual images that set these advertisements apart from others. It seems clear that the Roses instructed each printing office that their notice must include both. Although the compositors made most of the decisions about the format of these advertisements, the Roses did exert some influence over the graphic design. They were certainly not the first or only advertisers to adopt this strategy for drawing attention to their notices, but they did experiment with an uncommon approach to visual images when they submitted the copy and specified that their advertisements must include two woodcuts rather than one or none.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 20, 1767).

“For further Particulars inquire of EDWARD SPALDING, in Providence.”

Edward Spalding (sometimes Spauldin in other advertisements) had two purposes when he took an advertisement in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1767. First, he wished to sell a farm in Coventry. As long as he was purchasing space in the newspaper, he also opted to promote his business. He reminded readers that he “still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS and WATCHES” at his shop across the street from the printing office. In the past, Spalding advertised fairly regularly. He was one of the first advertisers to insert commercial notices in the Providence Gazette when it resumed publication the previous year. He must have considered it a good return on his investment since he decided to include commercial marketing at the end of his notice concerning real estate.

Spalding’s hybrid advertisement presents a conundrum for conducting any sort of quantitative study of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspapers of the era did not have classifieds. They did not organize advertisements in any particular order or by categories that suggested the general purpose of the notices. Sometimes, as seen here, individual advertisements had multiple purposes. Spalding and the printers of the Providence Gazette did not classify this advertisement. How should historians do so? It would not be appropriate to categorize it solely as a real estate notice or solely as marketing consumer goods and services. More appropriately, it should count as both, but that sort of double counting does not address another issue. Together or separately, both halves of Spalding’s advertisement were relatively short compared to many others for both real estate and consumer goods and services inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers. This suggests that tabulating column inches devoted to advertisements (or portions of advertisements) might produce more accurate data for assessing the proliferation of advertising in relation to news and other content as well as comparing the quantity of advertising space utilized for various purposes. This, however, would be extremely labor intensive. It also requires access to the original newspapers rather than digital surrogates. Working with digitized sources allows for examining other sorts of questions concerning advertising in early America.

Earlier in my career I was much more enthusiastic about incorporating quantitative analysis into my study of advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America. Over time, however, I have determined that identifying general trends rather than hard numbers provides a sufficiently accurate portrait of the expansion of advertising in the era that the colonies became a nation.

November 27

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

nov-27-11271766-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 27, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD, A plantation in the bounds of Middletown.”

This notice in the Supplement to the New-York Journal advertised a large plot of land that belonged to Obadiah Bowne.

His wife, the executrix for his estate, tried to appeal to certain types of buyers, aiming for someone with some wealth, either “a farmer or a gentleman.” What I wanted to know from this advertisement was more about the type of house offered for sale. From the description of the house it seems that Anna Bowne described a Georgian style home. She wrote that the house was two floors with three rooms on a floor, had two fireplaces on each of the first and second floors, and the first floor was “handsomely finished.” According Historic New England’s Architectural Style Guide, Georgian style houses were popular in the colonies from 1700 to 1780. The article also states that the upper classes in the colonies displayed their adoption of “European taste and station by maintaining codes of dress, speech, and behavior. This status was also aptly displayed by the orderly symmetry of Georgian architecture.”

The style of the house in the advertisement suggests that interest in a higher standard of living was rising in colonial America. Colonists wanted to live more refined lives.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

The trading networks that connected faraway places around the Atlantic world facilitated more than just an exchange of goods. Ideas and cultural practices traveled with people and their possessions. As Nicholas notes, colonists like those who lived in houses like the one offered for sale in today’s advertisement would have looked to Europe for cues about how to dress, which household wares to purchase, and how to comport themselves. They may have lived in a colonial outpost, but many were determined to demonstrate that did not mean they were backwater relations who lacked the taste and gentility of their cousins in England. Through their participation in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century, colonists outfitted their homes with the vast assortments of European goods listed in so many advertisements regularly featured by the Adverts 250 Project.

In addition to the things that filled these homes, the architecture of the homes themselves also testified to the flow of ideas across the Atlantic. Georgian architecture in the American colonies had its roots in the Italian Renaissance, especially the work of Andrea Palladio. In 1570, Palladio published The Four Books of Architecture, which “emphasized classicism, order, and symmetry regardless of function.” In turn, Palladio influenced English architects, including Christopher Wren, and, eventually, his ideas started appearing in the colonies around 1700. Imported architectural pattern books aided colonists in designing homes during the Georgian period.

Historic New England provides a list of several characteristics of Georgian homes. The exterior features include:

  • Symmetry, centered façade entry with windows aligned horizontally and vertically
  • One or two-story box, two rooms deep
  • Raised foundation
  • Paneled front doors, capped with a decorative crown (entablature); often supported by decorative pilasters; and with a rectangular transom above
  • Double-hung sash window with small lights (nine or twelve panes) separated by thick wooden muntins
  • Center chimneys are found in examples before 1750; later examples have paired chimneys
  • Wood-frame with shingle or clapboard walls

Interior features include:

  • Central hall plan
  • High ceilings (10-11 feet) smoothly plastered, painted and decorated with molded or carved ornament (high style)
  • Elaborate mantelpieces, paneling, stairways and arched openings copied from pattern books (high-style)

While it is impossible to know if the house from Anna Bowne’s advertisement possessed all of these features, it appears that several were present. The “large entry” could indicate a central hall plan. That “the whole house is shingled with cedar” aligns with “shingle or clapboard walls” from Historic New England’s list. The “good stone cellar under the whole house” indicates a raised foundation. Bowne noted that “the lower story is handsomely finished,” which also corresponds with Georgian style. She did not state how elaborately the lower floor had been finished, but the fact that the second floor had not received similar treatment suggests that the house had been completed to a middling, rather than high, style. Even as colonists used consumer goods and architecture to assert their status and identity, they also had to operate within their budgets.

November 26

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-26-11261766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 26, 1766).

“To be sold at publick vendue … PART of a TOWN LOT … WILLIAM EWEN, Vendue-master.”

I found this advertisement interesting because of William Ewen, the “Vendue-master,” which means that auctioned the house and lot. Before he became an auctioneer he had done other significant things in Georgia. He was probably born in England, but moved to Georgia as an indentured servant around the age of fourteen. The Board of Trustees of the colony purchased his indenture and had him work in the store the chief magistrate ran. After his indentured ended, he was awarded land and wanted to try out farming. He failed at farming, causing him to lose his land. Afterwards he worked with settlers in Georgia called Malcontents, who were against the trustees. He became the voice and leader of the Malcontents, paving the way for a successful future.

William Ewen became a “commissioner for the town of Ebenezer, superintendent for Savannah, and later vendue master, or auctioneer for the colony” of Georgia. Last but not least, one of his most significant achievements was being a patriotic leader during the American Revolution. “[N]ews of the Stamp Act (1765) reached the colony and ignited a revolutionary movement, with Ewen at the forefront.” Ewen later served as the first president of the Georgia Council of Safety. It’s really interesting to know that a name from a small advertisement leads to a person who had a major impact on his colony.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Yesterday I expressed frustration that an employment advertisement teased modern readers by offering just enough information to reveal some aspects of household management and gender roles in colonial South Carolina yet not enough information to answer some of the questions it raised. The advertiser had not even signed the notice, inserting “Apply to the Printer” instead, eliminating other means of investigating the particular circumstances of the family who sought a young woman to work as housekeeper, wait on young ladies, and oversee slaves.

Today’s advertisement, on the other hand, carried the signature of “WILLIAM EWEN, Vendue-master.” In his research, Patrick discovered that the local auctioneer was actually a prominent local official who, within the next ten years, would be at the forefront of the Georgia’s patriots at the beginning of the American Revolution.

As the project manager for the Adverts 250 Project during the time that my students serve as guest curators I do not choose which aspects of the advertisements they will research. I discuss possibilities with them. I point them to sources that might be helpful, especially when they identify a particular interest. In many cases, however, I do not find out how they have approached an advertisement until they submit the first draft of their entry for it.

That being the case, I did not know that Patrick intended to do a biographical sketch of William Ewen until he submitted a draft. I was not previously familiar with Ewen, but I considered his story interesting and important. (This happens when I work with newspapers from cities and towns that are less familiar to me than Philadelphia, the focus of much of my earlier research. I am grateful, for instance, whenever J.L. Bell, who knows eighteenth-century Boston as if he lived there himself, provides additional information of the people who appeared in advertisements from that city.) I suggested to Patrick that he eliminate some other material and expand his treatment of Ewen.

I appreciate Patrick’s approach to the advertisement. Given the nature of my research, I tend to focus on the appeals in advertisements more than the biographies of the people. Like every other student who has worked on this project, Patrick has applied his own creativity and curiosity to ask other sorts of questions. Having my students work as guest curators on the Adverts 250 Project is intended to be a learning experience for them. I’m fortunate that they also make it a learning experience for me.