September 25

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

Connecticut Courant (September 25, 1770).

“My Husband has attempted by an Advertisement to ruin my Character.”

Advertisements warning against extending credit to runaway wives were a standard feature in American newspapers in the eighteenth century.  The one that Benoni Griffen, Jr., inserted in the September 10, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant resembled so many others that appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia.  “Whereas Martha the Wife of me the Subscriber,” Griffen proclaimed, “hath for some Tome past, behaved herself in a very Disorderly Manner, by endeavouring to run me in Debt, THESE are Therefore to want all Persons not to Trust of Credit her on my Account, as I will pay no Debt she may Contract after this Date.”  Like Griffen’s notice, most advertisements concerning runaway wives did not provide further details about the alleged “Disorderly” conduct.

Most also did not garner a response.  Usually husbands had the last and only word in the public prints.  Yet Martha objected to how Benoni described her to friends, acquaintances, and strangers in the pages of the Connecticut Courant. She inserted her own advertisement, more than twice the length of his, to set the record straight.  Martha accused Benoni of attempting to “ruin my Character,” but she asserted that she could “produce the fullest Proof that my Conduct has been prudent and blameless, especially with Respect of running my Husband in Debt.”  Furthermore, she had a very different tale to tell about which spouse had treated the other poorly.  Martha complained that Benoni’s “Temper and Conduct and Disposition has been extremely Ill.”  Indeed, he had abandoned her and “a Family of small Children” more than once.  During his most recent escapade, he had been away for almost two years, leaving Martha and the children “in bad Circumstances.”  When he finally appeared again was not a free man but instead “a bound Servant.”  Martha found it irritating that Benoni warned against extending credit to her on his behalf because she and her father had so often paid off his debts.  Benoni’s shenanigans became so notorious that the town’s selectmen intervened.

Martha did not expect that Benoni’s advertisement had influence anyone who actually knew the couple.  “[W]here he and I are known,” she stated, “‘tis beyond his Power to injure my Character.”  Yet not all readers knew Martha and Benoni.  It was for the benefit of “Strangers” that she ran her own advertisement to dispute her husband’s version of events.  He used the public prints to defame her.  In turn, she inserted an advertisement in the same newspaper to defend her reputation.  Martha and other women who absconded from their husbands and became subjects of newspaper advertisements asserted their will in a manner considered unbecoming of their sex, further compounding any offenses they supposedly committed within their households.  Martha’s challenges to her husband’s authority, however, did not end there.  She continued to exercise her own will, publishing an advertisement that portrayed Benoni as an unsavory character incapable of fulfilling his responsibilities as husband and head of the household.

September 16

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

New-York Journal (September 13, 1770).

“The best Clubs, and the greatest Entertainments in this City, were at the above Tavern.”

Samuel Fraunces was one of the most illustrious tavernkeepers of his day.  His fame continues into the twenty-first century, due in part to the quality of the services he provided to guests in eighteenth-century America and in part to the continued operation of Fraunces Tavern as a restaurant and museum at the corner of Pearl Street and Broad Street in New York.  Fraunces advertised the various taverns he operated in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  More than a decade later, he hosted George Washington’s farewell to his officers at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

Fraunces ran an advertisement in the September 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal to announce the opening of his newest venture, the “QUEEN’s-HEAD TAVERN, Near the Exchange.”  He attempted to downplay the necessity of placing an advertisement even as he promoted the various services and amenities available at his tavern.  He emphasized that during his “many Years” of operating a tavern “the best Clubs” met at his establishment and experienced “the greatest Entertainments.”  Given the reputation he had built, Fraunces “flatters himself the Public are so well satisfied of his Ability to serve them, as to render the swelling of an Advertisement useless.”  Its only purpose, he declared, was to “assure his former Friends and the Public in general, that every Endeavour will be used to give them the highest Satisfaction.”

Yet other “swelling” embellished Fraunces’s advertisement as he attempted to attract patrons.  He noted renovations taking place; the tavern was “now fitting up in the most genteel and convenient Manner.”  He also inserted a nota bene to inform prospective customers that he provided take-out and delivery options for those “who live at a convenient Distance.”  Fraunces concluded with a manicule directing attention to a short note explaining that the “House at the Gardens will be duly attended as usual.”  He referred to another venture that he operated simultaneously, Vauxhall Garden, a restaurant, tavern, and pleasure garden named after the popular site in London.

Fraunces had indeed established his reputation as restaurateur and tavernkeeper before opening the Queen’s Head Tavern in the fall of 1770, yet he did not consider his past success sufficient for attracting patrons to his new enterprise.  Instead, he inserted an advertisement to spread the word about his newest venture, amplifying his reputation in the process.

August 27

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

Aug 27 - 8:27:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 27, 1770).

“I took Dr. Weed’s Syrup for the Bloody Flux, which gave me immediate ease.”

An advertisement for “Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux” in the August 27, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle consisted almost entirely of testimonials.  One after another, four patients who had taken the elixir described how it had cured them.  For instance, Margaret Lee testified, “FOR the good of those who are afflicted with the Bloody Flux, I would inform them that I was lately seized with the disorder, and had it very bad; but by taking Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux, according to directions, I found immediate ease and by repeating it a few times was perfectly cured.”  Each of the testimonials was dated within the past month, making them current endorsements of the nostrum.

Except for a headline that read “To the PUBLIC,” the advertisement did not include any additional information, not even instructions about where to purchase Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux.  George Weed apparently did not believe that such details were necessary given his stature in the community and long experience serving residents of Philadelphia.  Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux was not a mass-produced patent medicine imported from across the Atlantic.  It did not bear the name of a physician or apothecary famous throughout the British Empire.  Instead, Weed prepared his syrup and powder in Philadelphia and sought to cultivate local and regional acclaim for those medicines.  In an advertisement he placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette three years earlier, he touted his thirty of experience, including “the last seven Years of which he served in the Pennsylvania Hospital” where he “attended to all the Administrations of Medicine, and Chirurgical Operations in that Infirmary.”  Even though Philadelphia was the largest city in the colonies in 1770, it was still a small enough town that Weed could assume that readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle either already knew of him or could easily learn more by asking their acquaintances.  Whether or not that was the case, Weed gambled on making an impression by devoting his entire advertisement to testimonials and trusting that his reputation would do the rest of the work necessary to direct prospective patients to his shop.

July 3

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

Jul 3 - 7:3:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 3, 1770).

The Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer.”

On July 3, 1770, Thomas Robie of Marblehead, Massachusetts, placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette.  In it, he promoted “GUN-Powder, Shot, Bar-Lead, and Wool-Cards” as well as nails in a variety of sizes and “a Number of other Articles, in the Hard Ware Way, imported in August last.”  Yet Robie did more than merely mention the merchandise he offered for sale.  The shopkeeper devoted just as much space in his advertisement to explaining the circumstances for acquiring those goods, asserting that he abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of the duties on certain imported goods.  In so doing, he defended his reputation and responded to rumors that apparently circulated about the origins of his inventory.

He hereby informs the Public,” Robie proclaimed, “that notwithstanding the Pains taken by some to represent him in the unpopular Light of an Importer, he is not now, nor ever has been , possessed of any Goods ordered since April, 1769 (six or eight Months before the nonimportation Agreement was entered into by this Town) excepting the four first mentioned Articles, which are allowed by said Agreement.”  He offered an accounting of his activities, noting both when he ordered goods and which items did not fall under the nonimportation agreement and thus did not count as violations.  In specifying that he ordered (rather than received) goods prior to the agreement going into effect, he may have revealed the source of some of the confusion if those orders had not arrived before the prohibition on placing new orders went into effect.  Some merchants and shopkeepers parsed the provisions of nonimportation agreements, especially when they allowed for gradual implementation that allowed for the receipt of orders already placed but not new orders.  Robie noted that his hardware had been imported in August 1769, but he had not placed any new orders since April 1769.

Whether Robie adhered to the letter of the agreement, the spirit of the agreement, or neither, he believed that gossip that “represent[ed] him in the unpopular Light of an Importer” damaged his standing in the community.  That prompted him to turn to the public prints to address those stories and offer reassurances to prospective customers that they would not become complicit in undermining the political principles that inspired the nonimportation agreement if they purchased his goods.

June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:21:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 21, 1770).

“Large quantities of sickles, stamped S. PACHALL, in imitation … of my stamp.”

For several months in the spring and summer of 1770, Stephen Paschall ran an advertisement for scythes, sickles, knives, and similar items in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Paschall made all of his wares and sold them, appropriately enough, “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” on Market Street in Philadelphia.  Paschall was confident in his skill, declaring that the products of his workshop “will prove as good as any made elsewhere.”

Others apparently shared this assessment, so much so that for several years counterfeit sickles attributed to Paschall circulated in Philadelphia.  He devoted half of his advertisement to describing the fraud and instructing prospective customers how to recognize authentic Paschall sickles.  He lamented that “some merchants of this city have … imported from Great Britain … and sold great quantities” of sickles “stamped S. PACHALL.”  Paschall marked his own sickles with his name, “S. PASCHALL.”  The difference could be easy to overlook:  “the letter S, between the A and C, is left out in the stamp on the English sickle.”  He deplored the unscrupulous purveyors of the counterfeit sickles for profiting off of his name and reputation when selling inferior goods, “many of which have been brought to me by farmers to alter.”  To add insult to injury, Paschall often found himself in the position of repairing sickles after farmers purchased them because they had been duped by the counterfeit mark.  He experienced some chagrin that those farmers confided that they “bought them for my make” only to discover “the workmanship is by no means equal to those formerly made by me.”

In addition to rehabilitating his own reputation, Paschall considered it important to bring this deception to public notice because he was in the process of “establishing my son in the same business (who is an apprentice to me).”  He defended his work not only for his own benefit but to safeguard the prospects of the next generation following the family business.

Labels, stamps, and other means of marking goods played an important role in marketing some products in the eighteenth century, but they could also be abused, adapted, and deployed to confuse consumers.  Paschall and others used newspaper advertisements to inform the public of this trickery, simultaneously protecting their own business interests and providing a service to unsuspecting consumers.

May 14

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

May 14 - 5:14:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 14, 1770).

“She has had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”

Mary Morcomb did not indicate how recently she had arrived in New York in her advertisement, but it was recently enough that she described herself as a “Mantua-Maker, from London.”  After migrating to the colonies, she hoped to establish a new clientele.  To that end, she informed readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that she made “all sorts of negligees, Brunswick dresses, gowns, and every other sort of lady’s apparel.”  In addition, she extended her skills working with textiles to “cover[ing] UMBRELLOES in the neatest and most fashionable manner.”  Invoking her London origins testified to her access to the latest styles and taste, reassuring prospective customers that she did indeed produce both garments and umbrellas, a new and exotic accessory in the early 1770s, in the “most fashionable manner.”

As a newcomer who could not depend on a reputation established through interacting with clients and acquaintances over time, Morcomb instead attempted to accelerate the process.  She claimed that she already “had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”  Those ladies, Morcomb reported, were satisfied with the garments she made for them and had “declared their approbation of her work.”  This was a secondhand testimonial, delivered by the provider of the goods and services, yet Morcomb hoped it would be sufficient to garner “encouragement from the ladies, in her business.”  She concluded by pledging that if prospective clients put their trust in her that they “May depend upon having their work done with all possible care and dispatch.”

In her effort to attract new customers, Morcomb deployed strategies often used by artisans, especially those in the garment trades, who only recently arrived in the colonies.  Many emphasized their connections to cosmopolitan cities where they had access to the latest fashions and then suggested that this already translated to serving select clients in their new location.  Although unfamiliar to many residents in their communities, Morcomb and other artisans attempted to incite demand by asserting that their services were already in demand.  Prospective customers should be eager to hire them, they proposed, because they had already successfully demonstrated their proficiency at their trades.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:3:1770 Pennsylvania Journal Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (May 3, 1770).

“Carry on the business with the same head workman as manufactured for Jackson and Gibbons.”

At the beginning of 1770, William Norton and Company placed an advertisement for “MUSTARD and CHOCOLATE” in the Pennsylvania Journal and then continued to insert it on occasion over the next several months.  They advised prospective customers that they “fitted up a shop” on Front Street.  Buyers could visit them there or, if they lived “at a distance,” send orders to the company.  Norton and Company made both wholesale and retail sales of their mustard and chocolate.  To encourage others to purchase in bulk for resale, they offered a discount.  They also pledged good customer service.

Yet these were not the only appeals deployed by Norton and Company.  Their business may have been new, but the enterprise was not.  They built on a foundation that had already been established by Jackson and Gibbons, familiar names in Pennsylvania when it came to the production of mustard and chocolate.  Jackson and Gibbons previously ran their own advertisements, complete with a woodcut depicting their seal flanked by a bottle of mustard and a brick of chocolate, in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Norton and Company opened their own notice by proclaiming that they had “purchased the mills, late Benjamin Jackson’s, and carry on the business with the same head workman as manufactured for Jackson and Gibbons.”  They assumed that for many consumers it mattered less whose names appeared at the top of the advertisement and oversaw the business and more who actually produced the mustard and chocolate for Norton and Company.

They sought to benefit from the reputation Jackson and Gibbons already earned.  In prior advertisements, their predecessors proclaimed, “The said JACKSON is the Original, and indeed only, proper Manufacturer on this Continent … and has brought his Machines to greater Perfection than any other even in England.”  Having acquired Jackson and Gibbons’s mill and head workman, Norton and Company were prepared to provide the same quality products to consumers without interruption.

March 22, 1770

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

Mar 22 - 3:22:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (March 22, 1770).

My customers are therefore requested to be upon their guard against such deceptions.”

Counterfeit hams!  In an advertisement that ran in the March 22, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Joseph Borden warned consumers against purchasing hams that unscrupulous retailers passed off as his product.  That warning comprised half of his advertisement.

Borden opened his notice by advising prospective customers that he supplied the “best Salt-peter’d HAMS, flitch BACON, or JOWELS.”  He did not give his location, only that he raised hogs outside of Philadelphia.  Francis Hopkinson in Front Street accepted orders on his behalf and then communicated them to Borden.  In turn, Borden delivered the hams, bacon, and jowls to customers “as soon as the distance will permit.”

Below his signature, Borden inserted a nota bene to advise consumers to beware of counterfeit hams.  “I have not this year, not any preceeding year,” he asserted, “sent Hams to Philadelphia to be stor’d and retail’d.  Whoever, therefore, offers any for sale as mine, would impose upon the public – my customers are therefore requested to be upon their guard against such deceptions.

Borden’s notice suggests two possibilities.  Others may have been trafficking in counterfeit hams, hoping to benefit from Borden’s reputation.  If that was the case, Borden sought to protect both his reputation and his share of the market by insisting that consumers accept no substitutes.  Alternately, neither Borden nor consumers had been victims of such trickery.  Instead, Borden may have invented the tale of hams being sold as his, intending to enhance his reputation and incite demand by suggesting that his hams were so widely recognized for their quality that his business became a casualty of counterfeiters.  Borden did not actually accuse any merchants and shopkeepers in Philadelphia of attaching his name to their hams, but he did present the scenario for consumers to contemplate.

Whether or not counterfeit hams were circulating in Philadelphia in the late 1760s and early 1770s, Borden apparently believed that consumers would consider such a scheme plausible.  After all, manufacturers of patent medicines sometimes warned against imitations in their advertisements.  Artisans occasionally did so as well.  Borden followed their lead in declaring that pork was also a product subject to counterfeiting.

October 12

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

Oct 12 - 10:12:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 12 1769).

“We have suffered much by the generous Sacrifice of the Mercantile Interest to the public Freedom and Happiness.”

This “ADVERTISEMENT” by John Barrett and Sons most likely was not a paid notice but rather a letter to the editor of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Either the Barretts or the printer used the word “advertisement” to mean a notification or a written statement calling attention to something, common usage in the eighteenth-century but chiefly historical today. Unlike most paid notices that ran for multiple weeks, this “ADVERTISEMENT” appeared only once, suggesting that the printer did indeed insert it as an article of interest for readers. Still, this “ADVERTISEMENT” appeared immediately above a paid notice for consumer goods. It testifies to some of the discourse that animated the appeals made in paid notices that promoted consumer goods and services.

Barrett and Sons sought to address rumors that dogged their business in the midst of the nonimportation agreement. Others had “maliciously reported” that they engaged in price gouging, charging much more than they did “before the general Non-Importation” to take advantage of the perceived scarcity of goods. The Barretts assured readers, both their customers and the general public, that they had “invariably, on the same Terms” sold their wares at the same prices “as we have done for three Years last past.” Just as significantly, they had accepted the ramifications to their business for doing so, indicating that they had “suffered much by the generous Sacrifice of the Mercantile Interest to the public Freedom and Happiness.” They pledged to continue “selling at the same low Rates” as to support the cause. The prospects for their business and their personal interests mattered less than virtuously participating in the nonimportation agreement for the benefit of all colonists.

That being the case, Barrett and Sons addressed a second rumor that accused them of ordering surplus stock ahead of the nonimportation agreement going into effect in order to have plenty of merchandise to continue selling to colonial consumers. The Barretts argued that was exactly the opposite of what happened: the “Rumour is as groundless as it is injurious.” Instead, in June 1768, two months before the merchants of Boston signed the nonimportation agreement, Barrett and Sons cancelled their orders for fall goods. They feared that the merchants would not reach agreement on nonimportation and, if that happened, the general public would then assume adopt nonconsumption as an alternative strategy, refusing to purchase imported goods. The Barretts expected that a broad nonconsumption movement by colonists would sway merchants, convincing them to overcome their hesitation about nonimportation. That had not become necessary, but Barrett and Sons informed the public (and prospective customers) that they envisioned the possibility of such a plan going into effect.

The politics of commerce and consumption tinged every word in this “ADVERTISEMENT” by Barrett and Sons. They defended their reputation to the general public, presenting a narrative of their own actions in relation to nonimportation and nonconsumption intended to enhance, rather than merely rehabilitate, their standing in the community. They sought to convince their fellow colonists that they were savvy but not unscrupulous traders who simultaneously tended their own business interests and promoted the public good … and when the two came into conflict, they opted for the public good over their own enterprises. Civic virtue imbued the decisions they made about their business.

September 15

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

Sep 15 - 9:15:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 15, 1769).

Some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.”

As summer turned to fall in 1769, Christopher Smieller took to the pages of New-London Gazette to defend his reputation and mitigate damage already done to his business. The baker had become aware of a vicious rumor about his bread. In a lengthy nota bene at the conclusion of even lengthier advertisement, he expressed his outrage that “some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.” Smellier could not let this slander pass unremarked. Instead, he offered “a Reward of Two Dollars to any Person who will inform me of such Defamers that they may be prosecuted according to law.” In order to rehabilitate his standing in the community, he also made provision for witnesses to observe him as he went about his business: “I will permit any two or three honest Men to stay with me 24 Hours, who may inspect every Article put into my Bread.”

Combatting gossip circulating about unsavory additions to his bread may have prompted Smieller to insert other aspects of his lengthy advertisement. It opened like many other advertisements for consumer goods, listing his wares. Smieller also advanced an appeal to price, stating that he sold loaf and ship bread, gingerbread, cakes, and pies “as cheap as in any of the neighbouring Governments.” In other words, his prices in New London were as good as prospective customers could find in Massachusetts, New York, or Rhode Island. He doubled down on this assertion later in the advertisement, proclaiming the he baked ship bread “as good and as cheap as in any Part of America.”

Smieller tied the prices he charged for bread to the prevailing prices for flour. He made allusion to “sundry Persons who call themselves Bakers” who had been overcharging the residents of New London and making it unaffordable for them to buy bread. To demonstrate that he charged fair prices, Smieller specified how much a loaf of bread weighed and the corresponding price at the current price for flour. He explained that he would adjust the price per loaf as his own costs for flour fluctuated, but that he would hold his profit consistent. He hoped current and prospective customers would patronize his business out of appreciation for his commitment to keeping prices low by earning “so very small” profits on his bread. Smieller might not otherwise have outlined the expenditures and profits for his business, but defending himself against the rumor that he put soap and potash in his bread may have motivated him to devise other methods of convincing the people of New London to purchase from him.