February 27

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 27, 1771).

“THE TRIAL of the SOLDIERS of His Majesty’s Twenty-Ninth Regiment of Foot.”

“A FUNERAL SERMON … on the Death of the Rev. Mr. Whitefield.”

In a single advertisement in the February 27, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, Robert Wells marketed commemorative items associated with the two of the most important events that occurred in the colonies in 1770, the Boston Massacre on March 5 and the death of George Whitefield on September 30.  Both events were covered widely in newspapers throughout the colonies, articles reprinted from one newspaper to another.  Both also spurred commodification of the events within days or weeks.  Advertisements for prints depicting the “late horrid Massacre in King-Street” appeared soon after soldiers fired into the crowd.  Advertisements for funeral sermons, poems, and other items memorializing the prominent minister found their way into newspapers within days of his death.

Printers, booksellers, and others continued hawking commemorative items many months later.  John Fleeming, a printer in Boston, announced publication of “THE TRIAL of the SOLDIERS of His Majesty’s Twenty-ninth Regiment of Foot” in January 1771, a few months after the trials concluded and coverage appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Several newspapers in New England carried advertisements for Fleeming’s volume by the end of January.  A month later, advertisements also ran in newspapers as far away as South Carolina.  On February 19, Wells inserted a brief notice that “A few Copies of The TRIAL at large of the SOLDIERS … for the Murders at Bostonmay be had at the Great Stationary and Book Store.”  In the next issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he promoted the book at greater length.  The new advertisement included the lengthy title as well as a list of the contents. Overall, it featured only slight variations from an advertisement Fleeming placed in the Boston Evening-Post on January 21.  When the bookseller in Boston sent copies to his associate in Charleston, he may have included a copy of the advertisement.  Alternately, Wells may have received the Boston Evening-Post directly from its printers as part of an exchange network that facilitated reprinting news and other items of interest.

Wells listed other items available at “the Great Stationary and Book-Shop,” concluding with a short paragraph about “A FUNERAL SERMON preached in Georgia on the Death of the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD wherein his Character is IMPARTIALLY drawn. By the Rev. Mr. ZUBLY.”  Wells advertised Zubly’s sermon three weeks earlier in a lengthier notice.  In contrast to most commemorative items in memory of Whitefield, that sermon was neither delivered nor printed in New England.  Zubly preached it in Savannah, the same town where James Johnston printed it and then disseminated copies to both Wells and John Edwards, a merchant in Charleston.  The production and marketing of commemorative items was not confined to New England.

Wells, like many other printers and booksellers, sought to generate revenues through the commodification of significant events that captured the public’s interest and attention.  Most purveyors of these items promoted only one at a time.  Their many advertisements testify to the extent of commodification of major events in the colonies in the 1770s.  Wells’s advertisement for both an account of the trials of the soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre and a funeral sermon memorializing one of the most prominent ministers of the era underscores the extent of the commodification of current events.

February 19

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 19, 1771).

A few Copies of The TRIAL … of the SOLDIERS … for the Murders at Boston.”

In January 1771, John Fleeming, a printer in Boston, published an account of the trial of the soldiers involved in the “horrid MASSACRE” on March 5, 1770.  He advertised in the Boston Evening-Post in advance of taking the book to press and then continued advertising once copies were available.  Additional advertisements of various length and detail soon appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Providence Gazette.  Printers and booksellers in New England believed that a market existed for this volume, but they also sought to enlarge that market by inciting more demand.

Commemoration and commodification of the events that culminated in the colonies declaring independence began long before fighting commenced at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.  Writing to Thomas Jefferson in 1815, John Adams reflected on the American Revolution as a process or a series of experiences rather than a military conflict.  “What do we mean by the Revolution?  The war?  That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it.  The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760-1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.”  In other words, the American Revolution took place in the hearts and minds of colonists prior to declaring independence.

The commodification of events like the Boston Massacre contributed to those transformations.  Advertisements for Fleeming’s book found their way into newspapers published in towns beyond New England, including the February 19, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  “A few Copies,” printer and bookseller Robert Wells announced, “of the TRIAL at large of the SOLDIERS of the 29th Regiment, for the Murders at Boston, March 5th, 1770 … may be had at the Great Stationary and Book Store.”  Far away from Boston, residents of Charleston did not experience the “horrid MASSACRE” in the same way as the inhabitants of the town where it happened.  It did not have an immediate impact on their daily lives.  Yet newspaper coverage and opportunities to purchase commemorative items kept them informed and allowed them to feel as though they also participated in events that unfolded in the wake of the Boston Massacre.  They could not attend the trials, but they could read about them and then discuss politics with friends and neighbors, their views shaped in part by what they learned from newspapers and commemorative items, including books and prints depicting the event.  Printers like Robert Wells helped shaped colonists’ understanding of politics and current events not only through publishing news but also through selling commemorative items.

February 5

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 5, 1771).

“A FUNERAL SERMON … on the much lamented Death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Robert Wells, bookseller and printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, placed an advertisement for “NEW BOOKS” in the February 5, 1771, edition of his newspaper.  The advertisement extended an entire column, listing dozens of titles and concluding with “TOBLER’s ALMANACK” and “A FUNERAL SERMON” in memory of George Whitefield.  With the latter, Wells presented consumers an opportunity to participate in commemorations of the prominent minister that occurred from New England to Georgia.  Commodification of Whitefield’s death made it possible for colonists to purchase mementos that testified to their grief and regard for the minister; simultaneously, such commodification generated revenues for printers, booksellers, and others.

Whitefield, one of the most influential ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30 1770.  The next day news appeared in several newspapers published in Boston and from there quickly spread to other towns and other colonies.  Within a month, residents of Georgia learned of the minister’s death.  Wells advertised a sermon delivered in Whitefield’s memory “at Savannah, in Georgia, November 1, 1770 … By J.J. ZUBLY, Minister of an English and German Congregation.”  According to the imprint, James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, printed and sold the sermon.  He most likely advertised it in his own newspaper, but few editions of the Georgia Gazette from late 1770 and beyond survive.  Johnston apparently dispatched copies to Charleston in hopes of capturing another market.

Yet the advertisement for Zubly’s sermon was not the only appearance Whitefield made among the advertisements in the February 5 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  John Fleeming’s subscription notice for an annotated “FAMILY BIBLE” filled two columns on the front page, the second of those columns devoted almost entirely to an endorsement Whitefield penned for an earlier edition.  Fleeming leveraged the minister’s notes of approbation written years earlier into a posthumous testimonial for his proposed project.  He distributed that advertisement widely in newspapers published in New England, but this was the first time it appeared in any of the newspapers published in South Carolina.  Fleeming and his local agents updated it to indicate that “Subscriptions for said laudable Undertaking, are taken in at Charlestown by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Great Stationary and Book Store; In Savannah by JAMES JOHNSTON, at his Printing-Office.”

The frequency of advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia tapered off by the end of 1770 as the immediacy of the minister’s death faded, but a couple of months later they experienced a resurgence as printers and booksellers renewed their efforts to provide commemorative items to consumers who wished to feel connected to such a significant event.  Much of this resurgence occurred beyond New England, the center for most, but not all, of the marketing for Whitefield paraphernalia in the first few months after his death.  Just as news spread, reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, so did the commodification of the Whitefield’s death.

November 20

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1770).

“DOUBLE BEER, fine ALE, TABLE and SMALL BEER.”

Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, had too much news and advertising to include all of it in a standard four-page issue on November 20, 1770.  Like other printers who found themselves in that position, he distributed a supplement with the surplus content.  Both news and advertising appeared in the standard issue, but the supplement consisted entirely of advertisements.

Taking into account the number of advertisements that did not make it into the standard issue, Wells used a smaller sheet for the supplement.  That decision led to an unusual format for the supplement.  Each page of the standard issue featured four columns, but each page of the supplement had only three columns.  Two of those ran from top to bottom of the page, as usual, but Wells printed the final column perpendicular to the others.

Why such an awkward format?  It saved time while also maximizing the amount of content Wells could squeeze onto the page.  Most of the advertisements ran in previous issues.  The type had already been set.  Wells wished to use it again rather than investing time in resetting type to fit a page of a different size.  The smaller sheet allowed him to insert two columns of the usual width.  With the remaining space, he rotated the advertisements and formed columns that ran perpendicular to the others.  Wells managed to fit three of these perpendicular columns, but that left a small space at the bottom of the page.

Rather than waste that remaining space by leaving it blank, Wells finally opted to set type for a narrower column.  On one side of the page this permitted him to include two more short advertisements, one for beer and ale and the other for candles.  On the other side he inserted a notice from the Charleston Library Society calling on members to return books.  Engaging with these advertisements required active reading and further manipulation of the page by subscribers.

Wells was simultaneously ingenious and frugal in designing the format for the advertising supplement that accompanied the November 20 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  His competitor, Charles Crouch, found himself in a similar position when it came to supplements for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, choosing to eliminate white space between columns in order to make the content fit the page without having to reset the type.  Publishing advertisements generated important revenues for newspaper printers, but they were not so lucrative to prevent printers from carefully managing the additional expenses of producing advertising supplements.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 18, 1770).

“Valuable pieces, professedly written in defence of the Liberties of Englishmen.”

An advertisement for the March edition of “THE FREEHOLDER’s MAGAZINE; Or Monthly CHONRICLE of LIBERTY,” published in London, appeared in the July 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Who placed the advertisement was not clear.  The advertisement attributed the magazine to “a PATRIOTICK SOCIETY” and declared that it was “Printed for ISAAC FELL, No. 14, in Pater-noster Row.”  Fell may have arranged with Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, to insert the advertisement or Wells may have independently done so.  The advertisement concluded with a note that “Some of the Numbers, as a Specimen of the Work, may be seen by applying to ROBERT WELLS, Bookseller and Printer in Charlestown, South-Carolina.”  Wells may have acquired copies of the Freeholder’s Magazine and reprinted an advertisement from a London newspaper as part of his effort to make sales in his local market.

Either way, a publisher in London or a bookseller in Charleston believed that they could incite demand for the Freeholder’s Magazine in South Carolina given current events and public discourse.  After all, the “Magazine contains many curious and valuable pieces, professedly written in defence of the Liberties of Englishmen; and highly proper to be perused at this important juncture.”  The March issue included a frontispiece depicting “LIBERTY presenting MAGNA CHARTA to BRITANNIA.”  The advertisement stated that the April edition would feature “a curious Engraving of the Arms of John Wilkes,” a noted defender of the liberties of Englishmen who resided on both sides of the Atlantic, continuing the theme of the publication via images as well as print.  (The May edition included an engraving of “The Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston” pirated from Paul Revere’s print.)  Fell or Wells or both likely believed that the tone of the magazine would resonate with readers in South Carolina.  Most who lamented the abuses of Parliament and condemned the Boston Massacre had not settled on demanding independence.  Instead, they valued being part of the British Empire and expected that they would enjoy “the Liberties of Englishmen” in the colonies.  By selling the Freeholder’s Magazine, Wells contributed to the print and visual culture that shaped debates about the position of the colonies in the British Empire.  In turn, consumers who read and viewed the contents of the Freeholder’s Magazinebecame better informed and better able to participate in the discourse of liberty as it evolved during the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 11, 1770).

“May be had … till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails.”

The colophon for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated that it was published by Robert Wells “at the Old Printing-House, Great Stationary and Book Shop.”  Like many other eighteenth-century printers, Wells simultaneously operated several affiliated enterprises from his printing office.  An advertisement in the May 11, 1770, edition of his newspaper alerted prospective customers to an item for sale among the books and stationery at his shop, “A PLAN of the CITY of NEW-YORK by Capt. Ratzer, Engineer.”

The advertisement declared that this map was “most elegantly engraved,” but that was not the only marketing strategy deployed to incite demand among consumers.  The advertisement also proclaimed that the map was available for a limited time only.  Customers could acquire their own copies for one dollar each “till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails, in which will be returned all the Copies then unsold.”  None would be held in reserve at the printing office to sell in the future.  Anyone potentially interested in this map, the advertisement warned, needed to visit Wells’s shop to examine the map and make a decision about purchasing it as soon as possible or else they would miss the opportunity to obtain it easily from a local bookseller.

May 11 - 10:15:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 15, 1770).

In its notes on Plan of the City of New York, in North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library cites two states of the map, the first “undated but about 1770” and the second from 1776.  Furthermore, the “attribution of 1770 for the first state of the map is based on a ‘New-York Gazette’ advertisement for the map in October 1770,” according to Margaret Beck Pritchard and Henry G. Taliaferro.  Although available for purchase in two of the largest urban ports in the colonies in 1770, there are “only two known examples of the map in the first state” today.  The advertisements aid historians in telling a more complete story of the production and distribution of the Plan of the City of New York in the late colonial era.

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:27:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 27, 1770).

“It is impossible to carry on Business without Money.”

Printers, like members of other occupations, frequently extended credit to their customers in early America.  Indeed, the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century depended on extensive networks of credit on both sides of the Atlantic.  As a result, colonial newspapers carried notices calling on consumers to settle accounts nearly often as advertisements hawking goods and services.  Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, profited from both sorts of advertisements … provided that his customers paid their bills.  He sometimes found himself in the position of placing his own notices “earnestly request[ing] all his good Friends and Customers to pay off their Accounts.”

Such was the case at the end of April 1770.  He declared it “impossible to carry on Business without Money.”  Wells offered generous terms to his “Friends and Customers,” asking them to catch up only “to the End of last Year.”  He did not call on them to pay any charges incurred in the past five months, nor did he threaten legal action.  Most similar advertisement concluded with such warning, some of them more polite than others.  Wells also challenged his customers to compare what they owed him to the magnitude of credit he extended to all of his customers.  Their “Accounts separately amount only to small Sums,” he declared, while implicitly suggesting that those small sums represented a much larger total when considered together.  Wells pleaded with customers not to dismiss the impact of settling accounts just because they considered what they owed so trifling as to not matter.  The printer issued a special appeal to “Ladies and Gentlemen in the Country” to pay for their “Gazettes, Advertisements, and other Articles,” advising that they could have “their Factors or other Friends in Town” settle accounts on their behalf.  Rather than overlook his entreaty because they lived at a distance, Wells offered a solution.  What they owed made it just as “impossible to carry on Business” as what those who resided in Charleston owed.

Like other printers, Wells frequently placed notices in his own newspaper.  Usually he advertised books and stationery, but on occasion he placed another sort of notice.  He could not continue to publish the South-Carolina and American General Gazette if “Friends and Customers” did not settle accounts.  More than any advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, or others calling on customers to pay what they owed, Wells stood to generate the most revenue from this particular advertisement, provided that his customers heeded it and submitted payment.

November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette.jpg
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 7, 1769).

Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS for this Paper … are gratefully received.”

Advertising accounted for half of the content in the November 7, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Readers encountered advertisements before any news or editorials; paid notices ran from top to bottom of the entire first column on the first page, with “EUROPEAN INTELLIGENCE” filling the other three columns. News from Europe continued on the second page and spilled over onto the third, but three of the columns on that page consisted of advertising. Except for the colophon, advertising comprised all of the content on the final page.

Yet even the colophon served as an advertisement. It included far more than just the name of the printer and the place of publication. The South-Carolina and American General Gazette sported one of the most elaborate colophons in any newspaper published in the colonies in the 1760s: “CHARLESTON; Printed by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the Bay where Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS for this Paper, which is circulated through all the SOUTHERN COLONIES, are gratefully received; Also, ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES, of which a large Stock is constantly kept up, and, For all Kinds of PRINTING and BOOK-BINDING Work, which continue to be executed with Accuracy and Expedition, at the most reasonable Rates.” This colophon filled more space and contained more words than some of the advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

Its placement at the bottom of the final page guaranteed that no matter the order of the other contents of the newspaper those who perused it start to finish, even if they did not read every item, concluded with an advertisement that promoted goods and services offered by the printer. Those services included printing more advertising in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, a good investment considering the reach of the newspaper. Wells informed prospective advertisers that his newspaper circulated far beyond Charleston and even beyond South Carolina. He did not, however, merely solicit advertisements and subscriptions for the newspaper. He also emphasized other goods and services. He accepted job printing orders. He sold stationery and books. As an ancillary service, he either bound books or employed a bookbinder.

The colophon could have been merely informational – “CHARLESTON: Printed by ROBERT WELLS” – yet the printer dramatically expanded it to engage both consumers and prospective advertisers who read the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. He exercised his privileges as the printer and his access to the press to promote his own business interests.

August 30

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

Aug 30 - 8:30:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (August 30, 1769).

To be sold …”

Like most other newspaper published in the colonial era, a standard issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Robert Wells, the printer, distributed a four-page issue once a week. On occasion, however, Wells had too much content – news, editorials, advertisements, to include in the standard issue. In order to publish the latest intelligence and paid notices in a timely manner, he supplemented the standard issue with an additional sheet.

Such was the case with the August 30, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. It consisted of six pages, the standard four-page issue and another sheet with one page printed on either side. When other printers resorted to this means of increasing the length of an issue, many tended to distribute an additional half sheet that included a masthead that read “Supplement to the …” The half sheet thus matched the size of rest of the issue. It maintained the same format as the standard issue. Wells, on the other hand, distributed his supplemental pages on smaller sheets.

Consider the format of a standard issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Four columns spanned the page. The supplemental sheet that accompanied the August 30 edition did not bear a separate masthead. Instead, the title ran across the top, as it did on every page, and the numbering continued uninterrupted, making a date unnecessary. The additional sheet featured two columns that ran vertically and a narrower third column that rotated the text of the advertisements ninety degrees in order to make them fit on the page. Why do this? It avoided the time and effort of resetting type for notices that previously appeared in other issues. Wells and the compositor devised a system that allowed them to cover every square inch of the supplementary sheet with content. It avoided wasting any paper when they did not have enough content to fill an entire half sheet, especially important now that paper was in short supply due to the import taxes levied by the Townshend Acts. The supplemental sheet did not match the rest of the issue in its appearance, but it was an efficient way to circulate all the news and advertising received in Wells’s printing office that week.

Unfortunately, working with digital surrogates for the original sources does not allow for exact measurements of the standard issue and the supplementary sheet. Accessible Archives and its counterparts do not include that sort of metadata, in large part because it would be prohibitively expense to do so. The size of both sorts of pages – the standard issue and the supplement – appear the same when viewed in digital format, even though visual evidence demonstrates that the printer used sheets of very different sizes. Digitized primary sources allow for greater accessibility, but they cannot answer every question. Scholars and others must remember that digitized sources are supplements to, rather than replacements for, the original documents.

October 18

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

Oct 18 - 10:18:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 18, 1768).

“Those who intend to encourage this Work are requested to send their Names to Peter Valton, Mr. Peter Timothy, or Mr. Robert Wells.”

When it came to publishing newspapers, Peter Timothy, Robert Wells, and Charles Crouch were competitors. All three operated printing shops in Charleston, where Timothy published the South-Carolina Gazette, Wells published the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, and Crouch published the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. This did not, however, preclude their cooperation when it came to other ventures.

In the fall of 1768, Peter Valton circulated a subscription notice that announced his intention to publish “SIX SONATAS For the HARPSICHORD or ORGAN, WITH An Accompanyment for a VIOLIN.” Valton intended for the subscription notice to incite demand. For instance, he highlighted the quality of the paper, promised to print the names of subscribers in recognition of their support for this genteel endeavor, and offered to provide a seventh copy free to anyone who pledged to purchase six. Valton also used the subscription notice to gauge interest in the project. He needed to know if he could attract enough subscribers to make it a viable venture and, if so, how many copies to print without ending up with an unprofitable surplus. To that end, he instructed, “Those who intend to encourage this Work are requested to send their Names to Peter Valton, Mr. Peter Timothy, or Mr. Robert Wells.” When Valton inserted the advertisement in the October 18 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, its appearance brought together all three of Charleston’s newspaper publishers.

All three stood to profit from the venture, either directly or indirectly. According to Odai Johnson, Wells was the intended printer.[1] Robust sales of the prospective publication would certainly benefit him. Yet all three printers generated revenues by publishing Valton’s subscription notice in their newspapers. Timothy further lent support for the project by collecting the names of subscribers. Promoting a culture of consumption contributed to their livelihoods, even if they were not the producers or purveyors of the printed materials advertised in their newspapers.

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[1] Odai Johnson, London in a Box: Englishness and Theatre in Revolutionary America (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2017), 167.