Reflections from Guest Curator Sam Surowiec

“Doing” history has always been something I dreamed about but never actually had the opportunity to do. The closest I feel like I have ever been to “doing” history has been whenever I visit museums or historical sites. After those visits, I usually spend the car or train ride home on Google, trying to learn as much additional information as possible. Coming into college as a history major, I was prepared to read many primary and secondary sources that I would then have to analyze and write about, but never did I imagine that my sophomore year I would be doing hands-on work that explored my favorite period of American history in more depth than ever before. The opportunity to read through colonial newspapers and be able to pick my own advertisements to analyze was even more exciting to me than trying to test my Boston history knowledge against my Freedom Trail tour guide.

When first presented with the project, it seemed daunting. There were pages upon pages of newspapers to read through, much of them written in print so small that I had to look over them very closely, each including many different types of advertisements. Most of the newspapers could be accessed on databases available from the d’Alzon Library at Assumption College; however, some required that I make a trip to the American Antiquarian Society (AAS). For the last three semesters of college, I had driven past the AAS building, always wanting to go inside but not having a need. Sitting in that beautiful building that contains such vast archives as I completed my own digital archives only bolstered my love of being immersed in history.

Having to complete work that was actually going to be published online for the whole world to see was much more intimidating than the thought of completing a research project for my professors in other classes. Compiling the newspapers for my week was not as difficult as I imagined it would be, but choosing only seven advertisements to analyze started off as nearly impossible. There were so many advertisements that piqued my interest, many of them appearing in newspapers printed on the same day. Once I got over my indecisiveness and chose my advertisements, the rest of the project seemed to flow much more naturally. With each advertisement I researched and analyzed, I learned a new piece of a puzzle I have been working on since I fell in love with early American history in elementary school. Never have I felt more connected to the past I so ardently enjoy studying. One small detail, like the name of a cabinetmaker, could illuminate for me what type of furniture Virginia colonists wanted to display for guests in their houses. A single advertisement for a ship provided me with links between eighteenth century shipbuilding in my home state, Massachusetts, and the current status of the United States as the strong world power it is today.

It amazed me to learn just how important print culture in the colonies was, especially during the revolutionary era, while I completed the project. Since newspapers were a major form of communication between colonies, reading through them gave me insight to what household goods were more highly sought than others, in addition to what kind of sentiments the colonists truly held for the British. Knowing that I have been able to make a small contribution to the American history field is something I am so proud of. Working on the Adverts 250 Project helped to hone my information literacy and research skills that will help me through the rest of my college career and provided me with insight into the life of a historian.

 

 

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.

**********

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.

April 26

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Georgia Gazette (April 27, 1769).

“HOUSE, SIGN, and SHIP PAINTING, done by ROBERT PUNSHON.”

Signs were very important in colonial America, since they served as a way for colonists to distinguish between private homes and those that served as taverns for the public. According to Susan P. Schoelwer, tavern signs in the eighteenth century typically had impressive woodwork, but the paintings were not very elaborate. This was because there were more skilled woodworkers in the colonies than there were painters. As the nineteenth century drew closer, and the new United States of America matured, so did the signage. Travel became more common, and more skilled artists lived in the new nation, which resulted in more sophisticated signs, as well as more signs being advertised in newspapers. The images painted on these signs ranged from animals to horse-drawn carriages to even portraits and landscapes as painters became more skilled. To view images of tavern signs from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, visit “Tavern Signs Mark Changes in Travel, Innkeeping, and Artistic Practice.”

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

What kind of market for sign painting did Robert Punshon encounter in Savannah? The answer is difficult to determine. Entrepreneurs who placed advertisements for consumer goods and services in the Georgia Gazette rarely indicated that shop signs marked their location. In the same issue that Punshon advertised, for instance, Lewis Johnson inserted a notice about “An Assortment of MEDICINES” but did not list a sign to help prospective clients navigate to his shop.

In contrast, shopkeepers, merchants, and artisans in other places, especially the largest port cities, regularly included signs in the notices they placed in the public prints. In the April 23, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Samuel Young stated that “the Sign of the Black Boy” marked his store near the Baptist Meeting House. In another advertisement (as well as the colophon), John Carter reminded readers and potential customers that “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” adorned the printing office. The next day in the Boston-Gazette, Elias Dupee advertised a “PUBLIC VENDUE” to be held at his “NEW AUCTION ROOM” located “near the Golden Key.” Although he did not have a sign for his own business, he made use of the sign marking a nearby shop in giving directions to his clients. Another auctioneer promoted a vendue “at the Bunch of Grapes” in an advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy published the same day.

The absence of shop signs in newspaper advertisements does not necessarily mean that advertisers did not have signs of their own. Two advertisements by Joseph Russell and William Russell ran in the Providence Gazette that week. Neither of them gave their location as “the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” although they advertised prolifically and frequently inserted that detail into their notices. The Golden Eagle became their logo, perhaps so well known that they considered it unnecessary to include it in every advertisement.

That being the case, Robert Punshon may have worked in a market for sign painting in Savannah that was much more vibrant than other advertisements in the Georgia Gazette indicated. Some eighteenth-century advertisers regularly associated their businesses with specific images, such as “Shakespear’s Head” or the Golden Eagle, as they experimented with developing brands and logos. Others who had shop signs did not necessarily advertise in newspapers or incorporate their signs when they did. That Punshon even listed sign painting along with house and ship painting suggests that either a market for signs already existed or he believed that one could be cultivated among the merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans of Savannah.

April 25

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 24, 1769).

“CHOICE CHOCOLATE … Cocoa manufactured for Gentlemen in the best Manner.”

When most people read the word “chocolate,” they probably pictures a Hershey’s chocolate bar. However, chocolate to the typical eighteenth-century colonist was a kind of frothy drink made from cocoa beans. According to Rodney Snyder, the chocolate drink originated in Mesoamerica, its first contact with Europeans being traced back to one of Christopher Columbus’s voyages in 1502. Chocolate was mentioned in a colonial newspaper for the first time in 1705, and it quickly became a colonial staple, since it was affordable and could be consumed by people from any class. Around the time of the printing of this newspaper, the colonies were importing over 320 tons of cocoa beans. So readily available was chocolate that it was actually given out as rations to soldiers in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Colonists commonly drank chocolate in coffeehouses, a place where they met to discuss politics, current events, and anything else.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Sam first consulted with me about this advertisement via email, I had a little difficulty finding it in the Boston-Gazette. She told me that it was on the third page, yet it is actually on the second page of the supplement. Sam did not, however, make an error. Instead, she reported the information available to her as a result of a design flaw for one of the databases of digitized newspapers that make the Adverts 250 Project possible.

I regularly sing praises for America’s Historical Newspapers. That database makes my research possible. It also allows me to bring my research into the classroom in meaningful ways, especially when I invite students to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Beyond those projects, America’s Historical Newspapers is a valuable resource for examining primary sources in class, allowing me to present digital surrogates with much more context than modern editions in course readers allow.

That being said, I have learned from experience that the database does have a flaw in the manner that it incorporates supplements. Consider the April 24, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. It consists of the standard four-page issue and a two-page supplement. Ideally, the database would present the standard issue first and then the supplement. However, when viewing this issue online the first page of the supplement appears first, then the first page of the standard issue, then the second page of the supplement, followed by the second, third, and fourth pages of the standard issue. The pages appear in the same order when downloading a PDF of the entire issue. For issues with four-page supplements, the pages are interspersed back and forth between the supplement and the standard issue. I have learned to collate the pages in the correct order when I print them out to mark them up.

Guest curators with less experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers, digitized primary sources, and, especially this idiosyncrasy, do not always realize that the pages presented online and in the PDF appear out of order … nor should they expect that the pages appear in any order other than first to last. When Sam consulted her digital copy of the Boston-Gazette for April 24, John Goldsmith’s advertisement for “CHOICE CHOCOLATE” appeared at the bottom of the third page in the document, hence her notation that I could find it there. I consulted a hard copy that I had collated into the proper order, which led me to a different page and created confusion. In the end, this yielded a teachable moment about how historians must continuously assess their sources, not just the contents but also the format and the media employed to make them available to us.

April 23

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Georgia Gazette (April 26, 1769).

“Brought to the Work House, a TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW … says his name is Michael.”

This advertisement for an enslaved African named Michael who attempted to escape and had been captured and “Brought to the Work House.” In other similar advertisements, as well as runaway slave advertisements, only the first names of the slaves were usually listed. Although there have been claims made that slaves did not have last names until after they were emancipated following the Civil War, research done on the naming of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves suggests that many did, in fact, have last names (“Naming Patterns in Enslaved Families”).[1] In analyzing records of slaves beginning in the late eighteenth century, historians and other scholars found that these surnames allowed slaves to maintain family connections. Even if they were separated, which was more usual than not, slaves had a way to preserve family ties. One of the most prominent families on Jefferson’s plantation, the Hemings, can be connected to Monticello for over five generations because of their shared last name. It was also common for enslaved people to name children after themselves or relatives. Their offspring then chose to continue to preserve this attachment to their families left behind after being sold by sharing a last name or giving their own children the names of their siblings, parents, or other relatives. Enslaved people placed emphasis on family values and found ways to stay connected, no matter when they were separated.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In a recent entry I discussed the challenges of working with remediated sources rather than the original documents. While all historians face these sorts of challenges, they offer particularly valuable lessons in problem solving to the undergraduates who serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Those students “do” history in ways that are new to them when they consult multiple versions of the same primary sources, discovering that all remediation is not equal.

Compare this black-and-white image to the greyscale image of the same advertisement above. Georgia Gazette (April 26, 1769).

Consider two images of today’s advertisement concerning Michael, “A TALL STOUT ABLE NEGROE FELLOW” who had been captured and “Brought to the Work-house” in Savannah after attempting to make his escape from his enslavers. Both images come from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, a database that guest curators become very adept at navigating. The processes used to download the images, one originally as a gif file and the other originally as a pdf file (and both converted to jpg files to post here), resulted in one image easier to read than the other. The shades of grey in the gif file distinguished which text had been printed on the page and what had bled through from the other side, unlike the black and white image from the pdf file.

The interface for America’s Historical Newspapers has been designed such that it is much more efficient to download pdf files. Acquiring gif files would be much more time consuming, both for me as a scholar who works on this project every day and for undergraduates who make contributions as guest curators over shorter durations. Once students have acquired digital copies of the newspapers for their week as guest curator, we print copies that they may use however they wish, such as marking them up and clipping items. These black-and-white images printed on 8.5×11 office paper can be quite difficult to read, depending on the remediation process. Poorly preserved primary sources, poor photography, and conversion from one kind of digital file to another all contribute to making some digital surrogates less legible than the originals. Although students often find it most convenient and efficient to work with the hard copies we have generated, I encourage them to work back and forth between digital copies and hard copies when they encounter text that is not clearly legible. I do the same, often discovering that the digital copy becomes more legible as I manipulate it, sometimes zooming in and sometimes consulting the greyscale gif image.

This process underscores to students that when they examine a hard copy of a digitized image of a newspaper from the eighteenth century that they are working with a particular manifestation of that source, one that has been altered through repeated remediation over the years. Doing the work of an historian requires not only consulting primary sources but also learning and developing strategies for working with those sources effectively.

**********

[1] Editor’s note: “Naming Patterns in Enslaved Families” has been widely cited online. It has also appeared in the citations for at least one scholarly monograph, Sharon Block’s Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America. At the time of publication for this entry, however, the article is not available on Monticello’s website. The link currently takes visitors to Monticello’s home page. Hopefully “Naming Patterns in Enslaved Families” will be restored soon.

April 22

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Providence Gazette (April 22, 1769).

“Wanted, a Quantity of good Pot-Ash.”

The word “Pot-Ash” caught my attention as I was looking at this advertisement, since I had never heard of it. After doing some research, I learned from a journal article by Henry Paynter that potash is a type of potassium carbonate that was made from the ashes of trees and plants during the eighteenth century. Home potash production was encouraged during the American Revolution, since it could be used to produce saltpeter for gunpowder. For more day-to-day life, it was used to make goods such as soap and glass, to dye fabrics, and for baking. Potash soap was very popular in England during the middle of the eighteenth century. Similar to South Carolina indigo compared to indigo from French and Spanish colonies, Great Britain imported potash produced in the American colonies rather than Russia because of its cheaper price, sacrificing quality to save money. As the colonial potash industry matured, production shifted north in order to utilize trees more favorable for making potash. Unfortunately, this process led to mass amounts of forests being cleared by the late eighteenth century, and Americans had to find other ways to produce the money-making potash.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Like many other colonial newspapers, the masthead of the Providence Gazette proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.” Although the printer, John Carter, and many readers may have considered news items the most significant of those “Advices,” advertisements also kept colonists informed of events and commerce by providing details not necessarily available elsewhere in the newspaper. On occasion, Carter did not have sufficient space to publish all of the “Advices,” whether classified as news or paid notices. The April 22, 1769, edition included a brief note to that effect: “Sundry Articles of Intelligence composed for the Day’s Paper, and a few Advertisements, omitted for Want of Room, shall be in our next.”

Even though some advertisements did not make it into the April 22 issue, Joseph Russell and William Russell were well represented in its pages. News comprised the first two pages, a portion of the third, and most of the fourth. Overall, advertising accounted for slightly less than an entire page. Yet the Russells managed to have two advertisements included among the contents, the notice concerning potash on the final page and another promoting “Barrel Pork,” pepper, indigo, and other commodities on the third page. Both would have been familiar to regular readers of the Providence Gazette, having appeared the previous week and in earlier issues. As a result, these “Advices” may have seemed less pressing than the information in other advertisements or the “Sundry Articles of Intelligence” already composed but omitted until the following week.

Carter may have granted preferential treatment to the Russells precisely because they were such prolific advertisers. They advertised often, sometimes placing multiple advertisements in a single issue. They also tended to insert lengthy advertisements, especially when they listed dozens or hundreds of items they imported and sold at their shop. Carter relied on revenues from advertising to make the Providence Gazette a viable enterprise. In the colophon, every week he called on readers to submit both subscriptions and advertisements to the printing office. Given that the Russells did so regularly advertise in the pages of his newspaper, Carter may have prioritized their advertisements over others when running low on space, even though the “Advices” provided by the Russells had already become familiar in Providence and beyond over the course of several weeks.

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

New-London Gazette (April 21, 1769).

“JUST IMPORTED … from Charlestown, South Carolina … INDICO.”

Indigo was used as a dye to create vibrant blues and some greens. Although this indigo from Charleston was sold in Connecticut, in an article on South Carolina indigo and its role in the European textile industry R.C. Nash points out that plantation owners preferred to sell their indigo in London rather than in the colonies.[1] During the mid to late eighteenth century, South Carolina indigo made up 25 percent of the product being traded in the Atlantic. The colony first began producing the dye after its rice industry started to fail following the Seven Years War. According to Nash, they quickly gained a foothold in the British market as textile industries in Great Britain grew.[2] Scholars have found that South Carolina indigo was actually of much poorer quality than its competitors from French and Spanish colonies, but it continued to dominate the market because of how cheap it was. As indigo production became more popular, those plantations that produced both rice and indigo began to acquire more and more slaves, eventually coming to own 30 percent more slaves than those that only sold rice or indigo.[3] By producing both rice and indigo, South Carolina plantation owners adapted to and shaped the changing Atlantic trade economy.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

With the exception of a short verse in the “Poets Corner” in the first column, advertisements filled the entire final page of the April 21, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. Some of those notices marketed commodities, such as “CHOICE Indian Corn, and INDICO,” “SALTS OF LYE,” and “Linseed Oil.” Others offered services, such as “WEBB’S Passage-Boat” that “Continues to ply between New-London and Sterling, as usual.” One offered a reward for the return of an apprentice who ran away from his master. Another reported that twenty-eight hogsheads of rum had been stolen from Nathaniel Shaw’s store and offered a reward for information about the culprits. Several legal notices appeared among these various advertisements, as did an advertisement for a book recently published and for sale by the printer. No classification system aided readers in navigating these advertisements. The compositor arranged them according to where they fit on the page, not by their contents or purpose.

The compositor did not, however, leave readers completely to their own devices. The advertisement for “CHOICE Indian Corn, and INDICO,” immediately below the “Poets Corner” bore the title “ADVERTISEMENTS,” presumably to inform readers that only advertisements appeared throughout the remainder of that issue. Even the placement of that headline did not signal a strict classification system. A paid notice appeared on the previous page. In other issues of the New-London Gazette, the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline also appeared immediately below “Poets Corner” on the final page, even though numerous advertisements ran on the previous page. Such was the case a week earlier in the April 14 edition; the third featured page half a dozen paid notices before readers encountered the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline on the fourth page. Advertisements appeared immediately after the shipping news form the customs house, a visual marker just as reliable for indicating the placement of paid notices as the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline.

The first advertisement in the final column on the last page of the April 21 edition included an additional headline: “NEW ADVERTISEMENT.” All the others on the page, including those underneath it, ran in one or more previous issues. This headline likely aided readers in identifying new content if they skimmed the paid notices quickly. It was the closest the newspaper came to using a classification system for paid notices, though this classification was not based on the contents of advertisements.

**********

[1] R.C. Nash, “South Carolina Indigo, European Textiles, and the British Atlantic Economy in the Eighteenth Century,” Economic History Review 63, no. 2 (May 2010): 386.

[2] Nash, “South Carolina Indigo,” 363-4.

[3] Nash, “South Carolina Indigo,” 379.

Welcome, Guest Curator Samantha Surowiec

Samantha Surowiec is a sophomore at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she is majoring in History and minoring in Political Science and Psychology. Growing up near Boston, she developed a love for Revolutionary America and U.S. history from a young age, but she is also very interested in many other periods and places in history. She is a member of the Honors Program and SOPHIA (Sophomore Initiative at Assumption) Program. She is one of twelve Admissions Ambassadors on campus, an executive board member of the Residence Hall Association, and a writer for the school newspaper, Le Provocateur.

Welcome, Samantha Surowiec!