Calendar Considerations: When Were Newspapers Published?

Last week I documented which newspapers printed during the third week of January 1766 were accessible via my campus library’s subscription to the Readex database of America’s Historical Newspapers. I included the following list, arranged geographically.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • Massachusetts-Gazette (Boston)

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury
Massachusetts Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the Massachusetts Gazette (January 16, 1766)

The list for the fourth week of January 1766 is the same. As I indicated last week, each of these newspapers was printed only once each week, making a list organized by chronology rather than geography more helpful in selecting which issues to examine and, eventually, which advertisements to select. This is what the publication history of these ten newspapers for the third week of January 1766 looks like when mapped out on a calendar.

January 16 (Thursday in 1766, but Saturday in 2016)

  • Massachusetts-Gazette (Boston) – plus a Supplement

January 17 (Friday in 1766, but Sunday in 2016)

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)
  • New-London Gazette

January 18 (Saturday in 1766, but Monday in 2016)

January 19 (Sunday in 1766, but Tuesday in 2016)

January 20 (Monday in 1766, but Wednesday in 2016)

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • Newport Mercury
  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury

January 21 (Tuesday in 1766, but Thursday in 2016)

January 22 (Wednesday in 1766, but Friday in 2016)

Note that January 22, 1766, fell on a Wednesday, while January 22, 2016, fell on a Friday. It is important to realize when during the week these newspapers first came into the hands of eighteenth-century readers. Of these ten newspapers, seven were published on Monday, one on Thursday, and two on Friday. Three of the Boston newspapers appear to have competed with each other at the beginning of the week, while Richard Draper and Samuel Draper may have been attempting to eke out a space of their own with a fresh issue of the Massachusetts-Gazette midway through the week. Similarly, subscribers and other readers in New York enjoyed new issues of John Holt and Hugh Gaine’s newspapers on the same day. Overall, most printers distributed their current issue either at the very beginning or at the end of the week.

The fact that publication was clustered on just a few days affects which advertisements I select to include in this project. Whenever possible, I aim to feature an advertisement published on the same date exactly 250 years ago. As the calendar above demonstrates, this is not always possible because there are dates on which no newspaper was published (or at least no newspaper included in my subscription to Early American Newspapers, but more on that another time). In such cases I work backwards, going to the most recent date on which a newspaper had been published. As a result, I feature an advertisement that would have been among those most recently available to colonial American readers, somewhere, exactly 250 years ago.

Boston Post-Boy Masthead
Masthead for Boston Post-Boy (January 20, 1766)

Here’s how I worked through the past week. I only had one choice for last Saturday; the featured advertisement came from the Massachusetts-Gazette.

But I had two options for Sunday: the New-Hampshire Gazette or the New-London Gazette. I have discovered, however, that few advertisements were inserted in the New-London Gazette in 1766, which means that it rarely gets incorporated into this project. That also means that when I do discover an advertisement for goods or services in that newspaper I select it.

The fact that I do not have access to any newspapers on Monday or Tuesday further contributes to including the New-London Gazette whenever possible because most weeks I find myself in the position of featuring multiple advertisements – as many as three days in a row – from the New-Hampshire Gazette.

By comparison, I have access to an embarrassment of riches on Wednesday: seven newspapers were published on that date 250 years ago. This certainly gives me a lot more choice and flexibility. Looking ahead, I see that no other newspapers were printed on the next two days, which means that I will have to choose from among these seven for three days. In such instances, I do not draw from the same newspaper twice in the course of those three days. Not only do I seek to spread out coverage among multiple publications, I also attempt to achieve the most extensive geographic reach possible.

For Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week I was able to choose from three newspapers printed in Boston, two in New York, and two more from southern New England. This narrowed down my choices. I keep a running tabulation of which newspapers have been included (and how many times) since the project launched as a blog at the beginning of the year. This allows me to rotate through the newspapers to give relatively even coverage of each.

New-London Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the New-London Gazette (January 17, 1766)

Here’s what this process yielded for the past week:

  • Saturday, January 16: Moses Deshon, advertisement for female slave in Massachusetts-Gazette (January 16, 1766)
  • Sunday, January 17: Robert Hebbard, advertisement for runaway wife in New-London Gazette (January 17, 1766)
  • Monday, January 18: Thomas Bell, advertisement for tailoring services in New-Hampshire Gazette (January 17, 1766)
  • Tuesday, January 19: Jonathan Jackson, advertisement for imported goods in New-Hampshire Gazette (January 17, 1766)
  • Wednesday, January 20: Samuel Fletcher, advertisement aimed at women in Boston Post-Boy (January 20, 1766)
  • Thursday, January 21: Thomas Green, advertisement for almanacs in Connecticut Courant (January 20, 1766)
  • Friday, January 22: Joseph Fox, advertisement for legal services in Newport Mercury (January 20, 1766)

This is an interesting glimpse of early American advertising, commerce, and consumer culture during the third week of January 1766. In some ways it is representative, but in a variety of others it is also problematic. I believe that I have developed a methodology that is well-crafted and appropriate given the sources available, but I will devote next week’s extended commentary to an examination of some of the shortcomings that are apparent to those who work with early American newspapers regularly.

This may seem like excessive detail to some, but I had two purposes in writing this post. I wanted those who have not previously worked systematically with colonial newspapers to gain a better understanding of the process. In addition, my Public History students will soon be guest curating. I hope that this is a resource that will help them through selecting advertisements, in addition to our in-class workshops.

Selecting Adverts: Newspapers Published this Week (250 Years Ago)

This week I would like to spend some time discussing the sources that make the Adverts 250 Project possible and my methods for selecting which advertisements to feature. Each advertisement reveals something about early American life and culture, some because they offer unique features of one kind or another and others because they are so common or formulaic that they provide a glimpse of everyday life. One of the challenges of working with some print (newspapers, broadsides, pamphlets) and manuscript (letters, diaries, journals) sources is that historical actors often considered aspects of daily life, such as their use of material culture items, so common that they did not merit comment. All too often I commiserate with fellow scholars as we wish that we could find that crucial piece of evidence, the “smoking gun,” that would tell us more about eighteenth-century attitudes and behaviors that are hidden and unknown to us today. Advertisements, however, often explicitly provide details about some of the most mundane aspects of everyday life in eighteenth-century America.

This is a project that began in my living room. Thanks to ongoing projects to photograph and digitize eighteenth-century newspapers, I am able to continue this project anywhere I have access to the Internet. To date, I have not consulted original newspapers (except to get a better quality image to accompany the link on The Octo), relying instead on the digital surrogates made available via a Readex database, “America’s Historical Newspapers.” At my request, my campus library purchased a subscription, which I use in both my own research and the classes I teach. This makes it possible for me – and my students – to access primary sources that certainly were not readily available just a couple of decades ago. There’s no need to go to an archive that houses the originals or a major research library that possesses microfilm copies. In a future post I will reflect on the benefits of both those methods. I am not trying to suggest that digital surrogates are superior to other formats. Rather, I want to acknowledge how new technologies and digital humanities projects have made this particular public history project possible.

To choose advertisements to feature I first need to identify which newspapers printed in 1766 are included in my library’s subscription to “America’s Historical Newspapers.” This amounts to fifteen newspapers from seven colonies:

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Gazette, or Weekly Post-Boy
  • New-York Journal
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (Philadelphia)

Georgia

  • Georgia Gazette (Savannah)
Jan 15 - Masthead for 1:13:1766 New-York Mercury
Masthead for New-York Mercury (January 13, 1766)

In choosing advertisements for the past week, not all of these newspapers were viable options. The Georgia Gazette, for instance, had been suspended near the end of 1765. It did not resume publication until the third week of May 1766. Other newspapers were in a similar situation, though it is worth mentioning that even if a newspaper was in operation during this period in 1766 that does not guarantee that any copies are still extant. And, even if a copy does survive, it may not have been photographed or digitized and made available in “America’s Historical Newspapers.” Such resources are often built around the collections from a particular historical society, research library, or other institution. As a result, digital surrogates available in many databases are limited to what is physically part of the collections at the institution where the project originated. This is changing over time as those overseeing a variety of digital humanities projects seek to fill in gaps and provide more comprehensive coverage, but it remains a limiting factor that anybody pursuing research using eighteenth-century sources should take into consideration.

Similarly, consumers of their research – whether fellow scholars, self-proclaimed history buffs, or general audiences – should also be aware that many of the resources that have facilitated research over the past couple of decades are not exhaustive. Impressive, yes, but a variety of factors have determined what is actually available to modern researchers: factors that range from which documents survive from the eighteenth century to decisions made by librarians and curators in cataloging and preserving those items to practical and financial considerations of project managers and their corporate partners in the process of designing and executing databases and other projects. For the Adverts 250 Project, this means that I have relatively easy access to many eighteenth-century newspapers, but certainly not every newspaper published in 1766, nor even every newspaper from that year that happens to survive.

Another factor influences which advertisements I select to feature. I confess that I do not speak or read German. Unfortunately, the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote will not be a regular part of this project. As a result, I acknowledge that I am overlooking the particular experiences of a sizable number of settlers in Pennsylvania and other Middle Atlantic colonies.

In the end, I had access to ten newspapers from five colonies as I selected advertisements to feature this past week.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury
Jan 15 - Masthead for 1:13:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Masthead for Boston Evening-Post (January 13, 1766)

While this may seem like copious sources at first glance, those who regularly work with eighteenth-century newspapers realize that this is deceptive because newspapers were not published daily in colonial America. New issues were never printed on Sundays. Indeed, each of these titles appeared only once a week. So, a list that initially suggests seventy issues (or sixty, if discounting Sundays) based on modern publication practices actually yields merely ten issues. This is certainly sufficient for this project, but I believe it is important context for readers, for the consumers of my work, especially those who do not have as much familiarity with eighteenth-century newspapers.

For my extended commentary essay next week, I will explain how I chart each issue on a calendar to gain a sense of which newspapers were being published where in the colonies on any given day of the week in 1766. Centuries after these newspapers were printed, the timing of their publications exerts significant impact on the contours of the Adverts 250 Project.

The Story So Far

It may seem strange for the first entry for this blog to be titled “The Story So Far,” but that title recognizes that The Adverts 250 Project began elsewhere. Since October 24, 2015, it has existed exclusively as part of my Twitter feed (@TradeCardCarl for those who would like to visit and follow me there or #Adverts250 for just the featured advertisements). Good advice from friends and colleagues, however, prompted me to seek out a more permanent home for this digital humanities and public history project, one that will make the advertisements and commentary more easily accessible over time.

I plan to continue a daily update, here and on Twitter, featuring both an advertisement published in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago and brief commentary. This blog will make possible additional content, including periodic reflections on pursuing this project. I am interested in exploring advertising and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America, but I would also like to discuss the process of conducting the research and making it available to other audiences. Innumerable interesting and informative advertisements were published in American newspapers and other media during the eighteenth century, but only a fraction of them are available to be featured as part of this project. My supplementary posts will explore the sources currently available, noting how archiving and digitization processes have sometimes limited access even while opening it to a greater degree than at any time in the past.

In the future I also plan to feature contributions from guests, especially undergraduates enrolled in my Public History, Colonial America, and Revolutionary America courses at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

I have a lot I want to accomplish. Eighteenth-century advertisements have so many stories to tell about the people and culture of early America. I have also generated my own stories throughout the research process. The first story I would like to share gives credit to those who have inspired me and reveals the genesis of this project.

This project began as a whim. I had no idea what it might become when I featured the first advertisement.

During the first two months of the Fall 2015 semester I had been following The Stamp Act at 250 (@KillingStamp), a group project for Joseph M. Adelman’s History 304 – American Revolution course at Framingham State University. As Adelman noted in his instructions to his students, “This summer and fall marks the 250th anniversary of the protests against the Stamp Act, one of the first major acts of resistance during the imperial crisis that resulted in the American Revolution. During this project, the entire class will jointly produce a Twitter feed to commemorate the protests.”

Using primary sources previously digitized and made available online, especially America’s Historical Newspapers (offered by Readex), Adelman’s students tweeted the debates and protests against the Stamp Act in real time, but 250 years later. Throughout the fall, followers “witnessed” how events in the colonies unfolded as colonists became increasingly discontent with the imminent implementation of the Stamp Act.

I was relatively new to Twitter at the time, having first established an account a few months earlier when I participated in the American Antiquarian Society’s Digital Antiquarian Conference and Workshop. I figured that if I was going to learn that much about digital humanities and their public history applications that I should at least have a Twitter handle. Still, I found Twitter to be an acquired taste. I did not tweet much until I began the Adverts 250 Project.

Inspired in part by the work being done by Adelman’s students, one Saturday afternoon I decided to tweet an image of an advertisement that had appeared in a colonial newspaper exactly 250 years ago that day. I chose an advertisement from “Wm Murray At the Sign of General WOLFE” for several reasons. Its typography was interesting, with “William” shortened to “Wm” and in a much larger font than anything else in the advertisement, as well as “WOLFE” in all capitals. The shop’s location “At the Sign of General WOLFE” evoked visual images of the streets of eighteenth-century Boston. Murray made some (but not all) of the standard appeals in eighteenth-century advertising when he noted that he stocked “AN Assortment of English Goods … which he will sell cheaper than can be had at any other Shop in Town.” In the midst of the consumer revolution, he offered potential customers a choice of many goods at low prices.

Oct 24 - 10:24:1765 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 24, 1765)

He also made an appeal to patriotism and a sense of belonging in the nation. Here context was especially important. I have previously published work on advertising’s role in creating an American identity during the era of the American Revolution and into the early nineteenth century. That work, however, has focused almost exclusively on American patriotism as distinctive and intentionally separate from former connections to the British Empire. In 1765, however, that rupture had not yet occurred. For colonists, a sense of patriotism and nationhood was imbedded in their identity as part of the British Empire. Major General James Wolfe, a British army officer, was remembered chiefly for his victory over the French during the Battle of Quebec in 1759. Wounded during the battle, Wolfe died on the Plains of Abraham outside the walled city, making him a hero and martyr for the British Empire in the wake of Britain’s decisive victory in this battle and its repercussions. French forces in North America came under increasing pressure. Eventually the French were ejected from North America at the conclusion of the war.

Death of General Wolfe
The Death of General Wolfe (Benjamin West, 1770)

I understood why Murray chose “the Sign of General WOLFE” at first glance, but the day after I tweeted the advertisement I realized that perhaps it needed a little more explanation for others less familiar with the history of the Atlantic World in the eighteenth century. Twitter does not allow for such extensive commentary, but I was able to provide an overview in 140 characters: “Invoking hero of British Empire to market imported English goods: such shop signs replaced with symbols of American patriotism in 1780s.”

An image of an advertisement accompanied by brief commentary: the Adverts 250 Project was born!