June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:14:1770 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (June 14, 1770).
“This mill was erected principally with a view of encouraging our own manufactures.”

Although advertisements promoting local industry and encouraging “domestic manufactures” most often appeared in newspapers published in New England and the Middle Atlantic in the era of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution, advertisements that made similar appeals also appeared, though less frequently, in newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South.  William Rind’s Virginia Gazette ran just such an advertisement as spring turned to summer in 1770.  Benjamin Brooks operated a fulling mill, cleansing and dyeing cloth for his customers.  He pledged that clients “may depend upon having their cloth finished with the utmost expedition, and in the neatest manner.”  Brooks also rehearsed many of the same appeals linking his enterprise to politics and current events that artisans and others incorporated into advertisements in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Brooks proclaimed that his mill “was erected principally with a view of encouraging our own manufactures at this time, when the use of British is utterly destructive of our liberty.”  In so doing, he invoked disputes between Parliament and the colonies concerning taxation and regulation of commerce as well as the nonimportation agreements first adopted in response to the Stamp Act and later renewed when the Townshend Acts imposed duties on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea.  Colonists vowed to cease importing a vast assortment of goods, not just those enumerated in the Townshend Acts.  As an alternative to imported goods, many called for increased production in the colonies while simultaneously asserting that consumers had a duty to purchase those items.  When it came to domestic manufactures, production and consumption both constituted acts of resistance.  Realizing that some consumers would be skeptical of the quality of goods produced in the colonies, many producers offered reassurances.  In addition to stating that his mill finished cloth “in the neatest manner,” Brooks also declared that he and his workers “dye and dress jeans and fustians to look as well as those from England.”  Producers and retailers often made such pronouncements to convince prospective customers that they would not be disappointed when they acted on their political principles when making choices about consumption.

Brooks also made a less common observation in his advertisement, one that further mobilized colonists to do their part to support American interests.  He noted that “It is impossible to make good work, un less the cloth has been properly managed before it is sent to the mill.”  To that end, he inserted directions that “if complied with, will enable me to give … satisfaction to my customers.”  The fuller encouraged the production of homespun, but also noted that the quality of his finishing work depended in part on the quality of the untreated cloth delivered to him.  He provided a brief primer on spinning and other parts of the process customers undertook on their own before delivering cloth to the mill.  If colonists hoped to produce cloth that rivaled English imports, they all had to do their part.

Politics were not confined to the news items and letters published in the Virginia Gazette and other newspapers in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Instead, politics overflowed into other parts of newspapers, inflecting advertisements for consumer goods and services with additional meaning.  Brooks did not need to elaborate on what he meant when he stated that “the use of British [manufactures] is utterly destructive of our liberty.”  That simple phrase allowed him to connect his fulling mill to a larger project of American industry that required the active support of all who read his advertisement.

December 14

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

Dec 14 - 12:14:1769 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (December 14, 1769).
“She has an assistant just arrived from London.”

In the late 1760s, relatively few women in Williamsburg, Virginia, resorted to the public prints to advertise consumer goods and services. Many certainly worked in shops operated by husbands and other male relations, their contributions hidden when it came to marketing. Others ran their own shops but neglected to make themselves more visible to the public by placing newspaper advertisements. They participated in the marketplace without calling attention to themselves, perhaps relying on friends and regular patrons to promote them via word of mouth.

Sarah Pitt, however, joined the ranks of women who did advertise. On December 14, 1769, she placed an advertisement in William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. She did not run the same advertisement in the other newspaper printed in Williamsburg, Alexander Purdie and John Dixon’s Virginia Gazette. Her marketing did not reach as many readers as notices that other advertisers placed in both publications. Still, she informed readers of Rind’s newspaper that she sold an array of textiles, accessories, and other merchandise, most of it intended for women and children.

To maintain and even enlarge her customer base or, as she described it, “a continuance of the Ladies custom,” Pitt also reported that “she has an assistant just arrived from London.” This assistant, presumably a woman, “understands the millinery business.” This allowed Pitt to expand her enterprise by providing a service associated with the goods she sold. She provided one-stop shopping for customers who wished to purchase, for example, “Balladine silk,” “rich black lace,” “white blond thread,” “fine cap wire,” and “shaded flowers” to be made into a hat. Having “just arrived from London,” Pitt’s assistant would have been familiar with the current fashions in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. With that knowledge, she could recommend other accouterments and combinations of goods to purchase for the purpose of making hats or “mounting fans, and making cardinals and bonnets.”

Sarah Pitt made savvy decisions when she advertised in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. She emphasized consumer choice by listing a vast array of goods available at her shop. She also promoted a service that many other shopkeepers did not provide, noting the contributions her new assistant made to the business.

April 27

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Virginia Gazette [Rind] (April 27, 1769).
To be SOLD … before Mr. Anthony Hay’s door, in Williamsburg … TWENTY LIKELY VIRGINIA BORN SLAVES.”

Since slaves were being sold outside of Anthony Hay’s door, I wondered if he was a prominent figure in Virginia in the 1760s. I learned that Hay was a Scottish immigrant and owned one of the largest cabinetmaking shops in Williamsburg. According to the historians at Colonial Williamsburg, he primarily sold to the middle class and above, catering to their “modern tastes.” These people bought elegant furniture made by Hay and other artisans to show off their status or convey the importance of an event. His shop made the ceremonial chair for the Virginia governor, but his most beautiful works were elaborate tea and china tables designed to impress guests. Around the middle of the eighteenth century, about one-third of stylish furniture was imported from England, but as the colonies used commerce and consumption as acts of resistance in the years before the American Revolution, Virginians bought more and more domestically made furniture. Today, Williamsburg has a reconstructed cabinet shop located where Hay’s business used to reside. It is open to the public to learn more about the history of cabinetmaking.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

For today’s entry, Sam selected an advertisement also included among those from the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. That companion project to the Adverts 250 Project seeks to demonstrate the ubiquity of advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children in eighteenth-century newspapers. From New England to Georgia, slavery was an everyday part of life. Enslaved people lived and labored throughout the colonies. They were also visible in the public prints, the subjects of advertisements that offered men, women, and children for sale or encouraged white colonists to participate in a culture of surveillance of black bodies in order to recognize their descriptions and claim awards for capturing those who attempted to escape from bondage.

This advertisement for “TWENTY LIKELY VIRGINIA BORN SLAVES” demonstrates another aspect of the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century America: the venues where enslaved men, women, and children were sold. W. Mitchell planned to conduct this sale “before Mr. Anthony Hay’s door, in Williamsburg.” Anyone who traversed the street where Hay kept his shop was exposed to this sale, whether or not they wished to engage in a transaction, whether or not they wished to observe. Just as white colonists regularly encountered enslaved men, women, and children, they also regularly glimpsed the buying and selling of them since such business was not restricted to auction houses or other venues specifically for that purpose.

Another advertisement published in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette on the same day described a “SCHEME for disposing of … LANDS, HOUSES, and SLAVES” through a lottery. The “Prizes” included several enslaved men, women, and children. Although some were described as parents and children or sister and brothers, the trustees who organized the lottery as a means of settling an estate listed each of them as separate prizes. Almost certainly they would be separated from each other at the time of the drawing. The entire process was just as callous and casual as the sale held in the street “before Mr. Anthony Hay’s door.” The advertisements made these sales all the more visible. Quite likely far more readers became aware of them from the advertisements in the public prints than colonists viewed them when they occurred.

December 22

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

Virginia Gazette [Rind] (December 22, 1768).

“A SCHEME of a LOTTERY.”

Bernard Moore did not specify why he set about “disposing of certain LANDS, SLAVES, and STOCKS” when he published “A SCHEME of a LOTTERY” in the December 22, 1768, edition of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. Whether he planned to leave the colony or needed the funds to settle debts or some other reason, Moore aimed to raise a guaranteed £18,400 through the sale of lottery tickets rather individual sales of “LANDS, SLAVES, and STOCKS” or an auction that may not have raised the same revenue as the lottery. Of the 124 possible prizes, real estate and livestock comprised the majority, but a total of fifty-five enslaved men, women, and children accounted for the prizes for thirty-nine winning tickets.

Approximately half of Moore’s advertisement listed those men, women, and children held in bondage, describing their relationships and their skills. In some instances Moore intended to keep family members together as a single prize. Such was the case for a “Negro man named Billy, … an exceeding trusty good forgeman” and “his wife named Lucy, … who works exceeding well both in the house and field” as well as a “Negro woman named Rachel … and her children Daniel and Thompson.” Moore separated other families. One prize consisted of a “Negro man, Robin, a good sawyer, and Bella, his wife,” but not their children. “A negro girl named Sukey, about 12 years old, and another named Betty, about 7 years old; children of Robin and Bella” constituted a different prize. Barring some stroke of luck, parents and children would be separated on the day of the drawing.

As the descriptions of Billy, Lucy, and Robin indicate, Moore owned enslaved workers who possessed a variety of skills beyond agricultural labor. Many of them worked in the “forge and grist-mill” also offered as a prize. Moore included these descriptions of their abilities: “a very trusty good forgeman, as well at the finery as under the hammer, and understands putting up his fire,” “a fine chaferyman,” “an exceeding good hammerman and finer,” “an exceeding good forge carpenter, cooper, and clapboard carpenter,” “a very fine blacksmith,” and “a very fine master collier.” Moore also acknowledged gradations of skill level, describing other colliers as “very good” or “good.” Other workers possessed skills not necessarily related to operating the forge, including “a good miller,” “an exceeding trusty good waggoner,” “a good carter,” “a good sawyer,” and “the Skipper” of a flat-bottomed boat.

Moore described a community, though his “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” and his treatment of enslaved men, women, and children as prizes for the winners did not acknowledge it. Indeed, good fortune was not the lot for the twenty-eight men, fourteen women (including the pregnant Pat), and thirteen children. Other sorts of advertisements concerning slaves typically described only one or a few individuals, but the extensive list of names, ages, relationships, and skills in Moore’s notice about his lottery sketched an entire community. Moore intended to raise funds, but he unintentionally produced a document that aids subsequent generations in uncovering the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children who had far fewer opportunities than slaveholders to tell their own stories.

November 24

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

Nov 24 - 11:24:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (November 24, 1768).
“SUKEY HAMILTON, cook to the late Governor, with her youngest daughter.”

The name Sukey Hamilton, belonging to an enslaved woman of some repute, appeared among the advertisements in the November 24, 1768, editions of both Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette and William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. Despite variations in typography, identical copy appeared in the notices: “SUKEY HAMILTON, cook to the late Governor, with her youngest daughter, 7 years old, will be sold before Mr. Hay’s door on Thursday the 15th December next. Credit will be allowed for six months, bond and proper security being given.” Francis Fauquier, the lieutenant governor of the Virginia colony who had served as acting governor in the absence of the Earl of Loudon and Jeffrey Amherst for the past decade, had died at the beginning of March. Nine months later, representatives of his estate advertised the sale of his enslaved cook and one of her daughters to take place three weeks later.

Hamilton would bring her own qualifications to any household that purchased her. Prospective buyers likely recognized some cachet in acquiring the cook who formerly served the governor. Yet the notice offered more than just the skill and expertise that Hamilton would contribute to the kitchen. She was to be sold “with her youngest daughter. In Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine, Kelley Fanto Deetz that enslaved children were “valued with the cook” because they “helped in the kitchen and contributed to the production of meals.” Hamilton’s unnamed seven-year-old daughter likely performed tedious tasks, including picking stems and shucking corn. Over time, Hamilton likely taught her daughter to cook in an attempt to pass down her knowledge to the next generation. According to Deetz, the “practice of having their children working and living next to [enslaved cooks] … carried into the profits of slavery.”

Advertisements for enslaved men often touted their abilities as artisans or skilled laborers. In the same issue of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette, for instance, another advertisement listed “two Negro men …, both of whom have been accustomed to attend a mill, and one of them is an extraordinary good cooper.” Many enslaved women, however, also possessed skills and expertise, even when their duties did not place them beyond the household. Their own abilities should not be overlooked merely because they undertook tasks traditionally considered women’s work. Preparing meals in an eighteenth-century kitchen, Deetz declares, “required skill, strength, and perseverance.”[1]

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[1] Kelley Fanto Deetz, Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017).

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1768 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (July 21, 1768).
“I shall … give relief in all sicknesses, even the most desperate.”

When De Lacoudre, a “FRENCH Doctor,” settled in Norfolk in the summer of 1768, he placed an advertisement in Rind’s Virginia Gazette to inform readers of the services he provided. “I possess the most efficacious remedy,” he boasted, “to cure some sicknesses with which the country appears to be much afflicted,” especially “scurvy distempers.” In addition, he claimed that he could “cure distempers of the eyes, ears, and deafness, couching or taking away cataracts, though the person may have been deprived of sight or hearing for many years.” Furthermore, De Lacoudre promoted his “infallible remedy for all sorts of wounds, and scorbutick, schirrous, and scrophulous ulcers of all sorts.” To top it all off, he was qualified to perform “all sorts of operations in surgery and man midwifery,” including when women were “in imminent danger of life.” The doctor could even make diagnoses and recommend treatments from afar. He instructed those who lived “too great a distance” from Norfolk to send their urine. In turn, “they shall have proper advice.”

De Lacoudre did not merely announce that he possessed these various abilities. Considering that he was new to the colony and the community of readers and prospective patients did not know him or have previous experience seeking his advice and remedies, the doctor first listed his credentials. He began with his education, indicating that he bad been a “pupil of Doctors Guerin and Morant, both members of the Royal Academy of Paris and Montpelier, Physicians and Surgeons to the King of France.” Upon receiving that training, he performed operations in several countries, “authorized by certificates, from Princes, Generals, Governors, and City Corporations.” De Lacoudre expected one certificate in particular to impress the residents of Virginia, the one issued “from his Britannick Majesty, King George III.” Developing relationships of trust with patients required time. Until he had time to interact with patients and establish a reputation among Virginians, De Lacoudre expected his credentials would offer reassurance about his skills as a physician. This was a common strategy among advertisers who provided medical services, especially those who recently migrated from Europe. They sought to impress prospective patients by providing extensive descriptions of their training, experience, and approbation by nobles and other elites on the other side of the Atlantic.

June 30

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

Jun 30 - 6:30:1768 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (June 30, 1768).
“THE VIRGINIA ALMANACK, AND LADIES DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1769.”

William Rind got a jump on the market for almanacs for 1769, publishing The Virginia Almanack, and Ladies Diary, for the Year of Our Lord 1769 in June of 1768. He began advertising the almanac more than six months before the new year commenced, deviating significantly from the practices of most printers who published almanacs. Usually advertisements for almanacs began appearing in September and October, often announcing plans for publishing specific titles and promising that they would go to press soon. Such advertisements attempted to incite demand for products that were not yet available for purchase, seeking to predispose customers to specific titles long before they needed to acquire an almanac for the coming year. Advertisements announcing that almanacs had indeed been published and calling on customers to obtain their copies usually began appearing in November and December, increasing in number and frequency as January approached. Some of those advertisements continued after the first of the year as printers sought to relieve themselves of surplus copies, but they steadily tapered off. Most disappeared by the middle of February, though some advertisements continued to pop up at irregular intervals. The day before Rind promoted the Virginia Almanack in the Virginia Gazette, Charles Crouch inserted a brief advertisement in his South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that simply announced, “BALL’s ALMANACKS for the Year 1768, to be sold by the Printer.” Attempts to sell leftover almanacs for the current year continued even as the earliest of advertisements marketed almanacs for the coming year.

Rind realized that the end of June 1768 was indeed early for distributing an almanac for 1769. Accordingly, his advertisement did not include the usual information about the accuracy of the astronomical calculations or other aspects of the calendar specific to certain days or months. Instead, he focused on the “Variety of improving and entertaining Particulars” contained within the almanac, contents that could be consulted and enjoyed no matter the season or year. These included “Enigmas, Acrosticks, Rebusses, Queries, Paradoxes, … [and] Mathematical Questions” that were “Designed for the Instruction, Use and Diversion of BOTH SEXES.” Rind also listed “Nosegays of Flowers” and “Plates of Fruit.” Although these could have refered to illustrations, the American Antiquarian Society’s entry for the Virginia Almanack indicates that “[t]he Anatomy … is the only illustration.” Rind likely meant “Nosegays of Flowers” and “Plates of Fruit” figuratively, evoking the pleasures to be derived from perusing the many and varied contents of the almanac. Considering the schedule followed by most other printers, it was indeed early for publishing and advertising an almanac, but Rind adjusted his marketing to compensate and perhaps even generate greater demand than if he had waited until the fall.

August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (August 8, 1766).

“The MARYLAND LOTTERY. … A few Tickets still remain unsold.”

The Maryland Lottery offered “Land (lying in Kent County)” among its profits. Those operating the lottery described the terrain, assuring readers that “the Whole of this Estate is capable of producing very g[ood] Profit to Persons who give the least Attention to the Improvem[ent] of Land.” They also outlined the “Scheme” of the lottery, detailing the price and how many total tickets were to be sold so “Adventurers” could assess the risk and odds. The drawing was slated to take place in Annapolis, but the Maryland Lottery had attracted attention beyond the Chesapeake colonies. Tickets had already been sold Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Given the popularity of this lottery and the quality of the land offered as prizes (“the Garden of the Continent, nay, there is no[t a] County in the Dominion of Great-Britain superior to it”), why did any tickets remain at all? Why hadn’t they been sold out for some time.

Well, most had been sold, but “A few Tickets still remain,” the promoters explained, due to “the late total Stop to Business, and other Discouragements too obvious to be [re]lated.” Indeed, in 1766 the “Stop to Business, and other Discouragements” were indeed well known. The Stamp Act interfered with the operation of lotteries in addition to infringing on the printing of newspapers and hampering the ability of lawyers and merchants to draw up the legal documents necessary to conduct business.

Several months had passed since the colonies received word that the hated Stamp Act had been repealed, but many colonists continued to revel in its demise. Even newspaper advertisements expressed their jubilation: “now, the whole Empire is rejoicing on the Triumph [of] a most righteous Administration over the Enemies of America.” Items published elsewhere in newspapers, either written or selected by printers, often expressed political sentiments, but advertisements gave colonists another venue for sharing their views.

July 20

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

Jul 20 - 7:18:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (July 18, 1766).

“ALL the PERSONAL ESTATE of the said Dr. Alexander Jameson.”

Today’s advertisement, a notice for an estate sale, features two focal points, the “A” in “ALL” set inside a decorative border near the beginning of the notice and the word “NEGROES” in capital letters and larger type dividing the notice in half. Arguably, “NEGROES” is the primary focal point.

I’ve previously argued that, generally, advertisers wrote their own copy but printers assumed responsibility for design and format. In examining some advertisements, especially when comparing them to the “standard” format established in others printed throughout an issue or multiple issues of the same newspaper, it’s possible to discern examples in which advertisers likely made special requests or gave specific instructions concerning design and visual aspects. It seems likely that this was such an advertisement. While it may have been standard for the printer to capitalize general categories of commodities to be sold at estate sales (“HOUSEHOLD and KITCHEN FURNITURE, HORSES, CATTLE, MEDICINES, … INSTRUMENTS, … BOOKS”), it appears to have been a calculated decision to make the word “NEGROES” into a single line of text with type significantly larger than any found elsewhere in the advertisement. Thomas Yuille, the executor of the Dr. Alexander Jameson’s estate, likely provided some direction on this count.

Why? Why emphasize “NEGROES” over any of the other commodities that comprised the estate? Possibly their collective value amounted to the most significant assets within the estate. Given the real estate, property, and personal items listed in the notice, Jameson appears to have been fairly affluent, with perhaps the bulk of his personal finances tied up in the bodies of the slaves he owned.

On several occasions I have commented on the stories only partially revealed in eighteenth-century advertisements. Here, again, we see only part of a story, but we can imagine others. This was certainly a time of mourning for the family and friends of Dr.. Alexander Jameson, but it was also a time of mourning for the slaves he possessed. Their futures were uncertain. They stood to be separated and sold away from spouses, children, and parents. The death of Jameson marked a time of transition for his family, neighbors, and others in the community, but his slaves were likely to be among the most significantly affected.

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette 3rd page
Third page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766).

Two weeks the Adverts 250 Project featured the entire first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to examine the extent of advertising that appeared in that newspaper when it commenced publication. Although Rind included a limited number of advertisements in that initial issue, he issued a call for prospective advertisers to submit announcements and commercial notices.

How did William Rind fare when it came to generating advertisements, an important source of revenue for those who printed newspapers in the colonial period? Unfortunately, no copies of the second issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette have survived, but the third issue (published two weeks after the first) suggests that advertising picked up relatively quickly. The entire final page was covered with advertising, as well as an entire column on the third page. While not as extensive as advertising in some long-established newspapers in urban ports, the amount of space devoted to advertising in the third issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette was on par with other newspapers in smaller towns in the 1760s. In other words, Rind seems to have attracted a critical mass of advertisers fairly quickly.

This issue carried a variety of different kinds of advertisements: some for consumer goods and services, some legal announcements, some lost and found (including stray livestock), a horse “to cover,” a runaway apprentice (but not yet any runaway slaves, unlike the those that dominated the advertising section in the competing Virginia Gazette), and some placed by the printer himself to promote his own enterprises. A least one advertisement previously appeared in the pages of the local competitor. It appears that John Mercer wanted to cover all his bases when it came to the beer, porter, and ale from his Marlborough Brewery.

May 31 - 5:30:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Final Page of Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 30, 1766)