January 10

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

Essex Gazette (January 10, 1768).

“THE Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Salem would be glad to bind out a Number of poor Children.”

Colonial newspapers tended to be regional rather than local, as the names sometimes indicated. Consider the newspapers published in 1769. The Georgia Gazette (published in Savannah), the Massachusetts Gazette (published in Boston), the Pennsylvania Gazette (published in Philadelphia), the South-Carolina Gazette (published in Charleston), and the Virginia Gazette (published in Williamsburg) all served their respective colonies and beyond. Other newspapers with names that specified their places of publication also circulated far beyond the towns and cities that appeared in their mastheads. Such was the case for the Boston Evening-Post, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette. The title of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette summed up the extensive communities served by colonial newspapers. They were simultaneously local and regional publications.

That was the case for advertising as well as news. The majority of paid notices that appeared in any newspaper concerned local affairs, yet a smaller number of advertisements from beyond the city or town where a newspaper was published were interspersed. Artisans and shopkeepers in Albany, for instance, placed advertisements in newspapers published in New York. Colonists in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey as well as towns in Pennsylvania beyond Philadelphia placed advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, estate notices, and other sorts of notices in the newspapers published in Philadelphia. In each instance, they depended on the extensive circulation across a vast geography to place their notices before the eyes of readers in their own communities.

By the end of the eighteenth century, however, the number of newspapers increased dramatically. Especially after the American Revolution, printers established newspapers in smaller cities and towns, eliminating some of the need for newspapers to serve regional audiences. Those new publications allowed advertisers to target local readers more effectively. The process began prior to the Revolution. When Samuel Hall commenced publication of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in August 1768, he offered his community more than just “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic.” As the colophon indicated, he took in subscriptions and advertisements at the printing office. Not just for news but also for advertising, residents of Salem and the surrounding towns now had a local alternative to the several newspapers published in Boston. Residents of Salem could continue to insert advertisements in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Post-Boy, and their competitors as a means of placing them before larger audiences, yet some advertisers likely considered the local alternative more appropriate and more effective for their purposes, whether selling goods or keeping the community informed about local affairs.

December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 1, 1768).

“David Nelson returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC.”

When David Nelson opened “his new STORE, next door but one to the Rose and Crown, in High-street, Wilmington,” he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Although published in Philadelphia, that newspaper served both local and regional audiences. Colonists in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and cities and town in Pennsylvania beyond the busy port read the Pennsylvania Gazette and inserted advertisements in it. Nelson most likely did not anticipate gaining any customers from Philadelphia, but he knew that the Pennsylvania Gazette was one of the newspapers that residents of Wilmington and the surrounding area regularly read, in the absence of any printed locally.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Nelson provided a short list of merchandise he sold. His “VARIETY OF GOODS” included textiles (“velvets and velverets, serges, flannels, camblets, shaloons, tammies, durants, calimancoes,” and others), adorments (“knee and shoe buckles, mohair and metal buttons”), and groceries (“sugar and melasses”). Yet Nelson offered only a preview of his inventory, enticing prospective customers with a promise that he also stocked “a variety of other GOODS, too tedious to enumerate.” Those who visited his store would encounter many other wonders.

In addition to promoting his wares, Nelson inserted a nota bene that expressed his appreciation for those who had already patronized his new store. He “returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC, for the encouragement he has already had, and hopes for their further favours.” Many colonial merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged their customers in their advertisements. Doing so served two purposes. It encouraged those who had already made purchases to return, but it also communicated to others that their friends and neighbors shopped at that store. Especially since Nelson operated a “new STORE,” providing early indications of its success may have helped to convince other prospective customers to make a visit and examine the goods on offer. Even if Nelson had not yet done much business at that location, he attempted to make his store seem popular to the public. His expression of gratitude suggested that customers already appreciated the “variety of GOODS, too tedious to enumerate,” that he “sold at the lowest prices.”

June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:2:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (June 2, 1768).

“JOHN BOYD, Druggist, Has just imported, and now sells, at BALTIMORE TOWN.”

John Boyd placed an advertisement for “A Neat and general assortment of Drugs, and Medicines” in the June 2, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Unlike many others who advertised consumer goods and services in the Journal, Boyd did not operate a business in Philadelphia.  Instead, he sold his array of remedies “at BALTIMORE TOWN” in neighboring Maryland. Residents of Philadelphia were not the intended audience for Boyd’s advertisement, especially since several druggists and shopkeepers who stocked medicines among their general merchandise served that busy port city.  Some of them, including Nathaniel and John Tweedy and John Sparhawk, advertised in the same issue that carried Boyd’s notice.

Instead, Boyd sought the patronage of other residents of “BALTIMORE TOWN” as well as colonists who lived in the hinterlands between Baltimore and Philadelphia.  He depended on the wide distribution of the Pennsylvania Journal as a regional newspaper that served readers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and beyond. He expected that readers outside Philadelphia would at least skim the advertisements for local content in addition to reading news items that reported on events throughout the colonies, Europe, and the Atlantic world.  Yet he also realized that other advertisers, especially direct competitors who specialized in medicines, often provided mail order services. Accordingly, he assured potential customers that “The Prices will be the same, or as low as in Philadelphia.” Henry Stuber, a druggist in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, made the same promise in his own advertisement that ran once again in the supplement that accompanied the June 2 edition.

Boyd in Baltimore and Stuber in Lancaster vied for local and regional clients by advertising in a newspaper published in Philadelphia, seizing the best option available to them in the middle of the eighteenth century.  Yet that would not be the case for much longer.  Throughout the years of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution the number of newspapers printed in the colonies and the new nation fluctuated yet expanded over time, a trend that only intensified in the final decade of the eighteenth century as printers in an increasing number of cities and towns published local newspapers.  After all, the fate of the republic, an experiment with an uncertain outcome, relied on educated and informed citizens.  Both before and after the Revolution, the revenues from advertisements contributed to the publication and dissemination of the news, even though conceptions of what counted as a local newspaper for the purposes of advertising changed over time.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 17, 1768).

“HENRY STUBER, DRUGGIST in Lancaster.”

Although he ran a shop in Lancaster, Henry Stuber sought local customers by placing advertisements for his “FRESH and universal supply of DRUGS and MEDICINES” in the Pennsylvania Gazette, printed in Philadelphia more than fifty miles to the east. His advertisements demonstrate the reach of colonial newspapers in an era before most towns had printing presses and local newspapers. Lancaster did not have its own newspaper in 1768. Instead, English-speaking residents treated those printed in Philadelphia – the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal – as their local newspapers, while others who spoke German read the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote printed in Germantown, just outside of Philadelphia. As the titles of the English-language newspapers suggest, they served the entire colony of Pennsylvania – and beyond. Colonists in Delaware and portions of New Jersey and Maryland also considered these regional newspapers to be their local publications, reading them and inserting advertisements in them.

Stuber relied on the extensive geographic distribution of the Pennsylvania Gazette when he composed his advertisement. Realizing that he would probably not attract many customers from the busy port where residents had access to many apothecary shops, he instead targeted customers who lived in the hinterlands. In particular, he addressed “Doctors in the country” who were likely to purchase in volume, informing them that it “will be much easier to get [medicines] from Lancaster” than from Philadelphia. He also promoted his wares to “families who live at a distance from a Doctor” in towns and villages throughout the colony. He supplied “medicine boxes, with ample directions” so they could tend to their own minor ailments as necessary. In addition to convenience, he suggested other benefits: acquiring drugs from his shop could be done with “much less risk” and “will save the expence of so far carriage.” Just in case skeptical prospective customers assumed that the prices would already reflect the costs Stuber paid for transporting his inventory to Lancaster, he assured readers that “he will sell as cheap as any one in Philadelphia.”

That Henry Stuber, a “DRUHGGIST in Lancaster,” opted to advertise in a newspaper printed in Philadelphia in hopes of enticing customers from throughout the countryside testifies to the wide dissemination and readership of eighteenth-century newspapers. Those publications not only delivered information far and wide but also facilitated commerce beyond the largest and busiest port cities.