Reflection from Guest Curator Samuel Birney

I will admit this project was a new challenge for me as an historian. I have done research for essays and, for the most part, delved into books and treatises or reviews regarding medieval or early modern Europe, which has been the focus for most of my studies at Assumption College. So, researching eighteenth-century newspapers from colonial America was a new transition for me. It was interesting to read through the newspaper advertisements and get an impression about what life was like for colonists just prior to the Revolution that defines most of American history.

I had assumed that colonists would have been more removed from European culture and influences, but they proved to be more interested in fostering and strengthening their ties and identity to England and Europe. The colonies were also widely involved with other colonial settlements and powers, such as the West Indies, Africans, and the Dutch and French, to name a few. As I suspected, alcohol played a large role in the colonists’ lives, due to its establishment as a far more reliable drink than water or milk. I learned a lot about how colonial life varied depending on one’s economic and social standing, from transportation in single seat private carriages for the elites to a relaxing drink at work for a poor laborer. The newspaper advertisements were interesting gateways to examine colonial life and culture, from a period when the American identity had yet to form, in spite, or perhaps, because of emerging tensions between colonists and the British.

For my research I mostly focused on sources available through a simple google search because the work was going to be featured on a blog page, admittedly one that goes through a somewhat extensive research review and editing process, and as such should have been easily accessible for readers. It was also much easier to scour through google for related articles and information on the newspaper advertisements and products or related subjects than going through a college database and having to narrow down the search results. Although because of this it was a little more difficult to find creditable sources of information, although I suppose that’s where the editing and reviewing process with Prof. Keyes came in to either give a go ahead or provide alternative options. It was nice being able to send in an analysis of my research and get suggestions for improvement or new articles to explore and incorporate. I would have to say that it made the experience less stressful than I thought it was going to be.

All in all, I would have to say that this has been a bit of an eye-opening experience for me as a historian. I have seen how useful it is to have other historians available to assist and guide one’s research and writing, something that has also been a part of special topics courses and the capstone research seminar. I have utilized newspapers, and advertisements, in a way I had never considered before, due to either a lack of interest or the lack of relevance with regards to my previous classes. It’s been difficult at times trying to juggle constantly working on this project with other assignments from both the main coursework and my other classes, but as with any project or essay, seeing the final result is a pretty cathartic experience. I got to learn more about a period of history that I had been sorely lacking in knowledge and appreciation of up until this point, and as an American and a student I am grateful for this experience.

March 4

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

mar-4-341767-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 4, 1767).

“Five Pounds Sterling Reward. RUN AWAY … NEGROE MAN, named DAVID.”

This advertisement for a runaway slave named David provides a brief description of his appearance, including special features like the holes in his ears and the blanket, hat, and pair of “cheque trowsers, and an old cheque shirt” he took when he escaped. Slaves’ appearance was crucial to advertisements seeking their capture because clothing was one of the most important means of identifying people in the colonial and Revolutionary periods. Runaway slaves attempted to disguise themselves through altering or changing their clothes when possible.

Charmaine A. Nelson recently discussed the use of clothing in runaway slave advertisements. The amount of control slaves had over their appearance varied, and while David may not have had much choice in the clothes he possessed he still could have attempted to change his appearance after escaping his master. Nelson draws attention to David Waldstreicher’s arguments regarding the importance of describing slaves’ appearance and clothing in runaway advertisements, along with “trades or skills, linguistic ability or usage, and ethnic or racial identity.” Nelson also focuses on the case of a runaway woman named Cash, whose description included clothes she owned and that she presumably produced.

It’s depressing to realize that at a time when ideas of liberty and democracy were taking root in the American consciousness, people were also callously trampling on other humans’ attempts to gain freedom and prosperity.

For more information see “Cash’s Bundle: Fugitive Slave Advertisements, Clothing, and Self-Care” at The Junto.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Thomas Lee’s notice offering a reward for David included all four of the most common types of descriptions in runaway advertisements identified by David Waldstreicher.[1] Sam has already investigated the clothing David took with him. Lee also implicitly remarked on David’s trade or skills when he mentioned that the enslaved man fled “from the subscriber’s brick-yard.” He explicitly incorporated linguistic ability (“can speak no English”) and ethnic identity (“of the Gambia country”). This notice was one of nineteen runaway advertisements printed in newspapers throughout the colonies during the week of February 26 through March 4, 1767. Most deployed some or all of these common means of describing runaways.

From the clothes that David wore to his height to the “large hole in each year,” Lee provided means for identifying the fugitive slave according to his physical features, but doing so required surveillance by readers of the Georgia Gazette. In order for runaway advertisements to be effective, colonists needed to scrutinize black bodies – carefully, actively, and constantly. Using text rather than images, runaway advertisements put the bodies of Africans and African Americans on display in the pages of newspapers, but this effect was not limited to print. Such advertisements demanded that readers take special notice of any and all black people they encountered, especially any not previously familiar to them. Such advertisements required close inspection of black bodies as readers compared published descriptions to the flesh-and-blood people who stood before them. As a result, runaway advertisements targeted specific individuals, but they potentially affected all black people subject to being sized up by readers on the lookout for fugitives.

Readers of the Georgia Gazette grappled with only one runaway advertisement in the March 4, 1767, issue. However, other runaway advertisements had appeared recently in previous issues, including one for Maria that ran for six months. Such descriptions would have become very familiar to readers who encountered them week after week. Often multiple runaway advertisements appeared in any given issue of the Georgia Gazette. As a result, readers could mentally conjure up an assortment of mental images of various runaways whenever they encountered unfamiliar Africans and African Americans. Print furthered the display and examination of black bodies in colonial and Revolutionary America.

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[1] David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways: Self-Fashioning, Print Culture, and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic,” William and Mary Quarterly 56, no. 2 (April 1999): 248.

March 3

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

mar-3-331767-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 3, 1767).

Imported from GRENADA … A Quantity of RUM.”

Anthony Lamotte advertised a shipment of rum and sugar to be sold at his store “next door to Mansell, Corbet & Co.” Lamotte wanted to assure his customers that he continued to supply them with the best Grenada rum, equal to imports from Jamaica. As I explained in an earlier entry, alcoholic beverages were a staple of colonial American life, consumed throughout the day. However, unlike other drinks, rum was a major commodity for the colonies due to its central role in the “Triangular Trade” arrangements between America, Africa, and Europe.

mar-3-classic-triangular-trade
Routes for one version of the triangular trade.

Colonists were part of multiple triangular trades. Each was a series of arrangements where raw resources and manufactured goods were traded throughout the Atlantic. One triangle began with Europe sending textiles, rum, and other manufactured goods to Africa. From there, slaves were sent to the Americas (primarily the Caribbean and southern colonies). Americans then produced and exported sugar, tobacco, and cotton to Europe. Another triangle saw Africa transport slaves to the West Indies. The slaves then worked on plantations where they produced sugar and molasses to be sent to the New England colonies. Colonists in New England then used the sugar and molasses to make rum to ship to Africa. These trade arrangements were self-propagating.

mar-3-triangle-trade-rum
Routes for an alternate version of the triangular trade that emphasized rum production in New England.

While these trade networks are important to understanding economic relationships — and the importance of rum — they do not account for all trade in the eighteenth century. Many other vessels transported goods that did not neatly fit this pattern, such as the one that carried rum from Grenada to South Carolina.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Anthony Lamotte regularly placed advertisements in Charleston’s newspapers. Whether relatively brief or more extensive, his notices advanced a common theme when it came to marketing the rum he imported from Grenada. The phrase “superior in quality to what is usually imported from the other Windward Islands” appeared in both his short advertisement from the October 20, 1766, issue of the South Carolina Gazette and today’s advertisement from the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal published four months later.

Lamotte likely realized that he faced quite a challenge: Jamaican rum was widely considered superior to all others produced in the West Indies. As Sam notes, rum was a popular commodity that colonists enjoyed consuming, but rum from Jamaica was more popular than others. To sell his rum from Grenada, Lamotte needed to change the perception that Jamaican rum was categorically superior to all others.

He initiated his advertising campaign by seeking to establish that rum from Grenada was preferable to rum produced elsewhere in the Windward Islands. Once he advanced that argument in multiple newspapers over the course of several months he raised the stakes by claiming that “GRENADA RUM, of the finest flavor and colour” not only exceeded the quality of rum from nearby islands but should have also been considered “in every respect equal to the best Rum imported from Jamaica.”

Lamotte had “A Quantity of RUM” available for sale, but his advertisement suggested that it might have been a limited quantity that might sell out quickly. He promised “his friends and customers, that in a few months he will be able to supply them constantly” with rum imported from Grenada. Lamotte may have been hoping that by making available a limited supply he could generate word-of-mouth endorsements or, at the very least, make supplies seem temporarily rare and incite anticipation for a time in the future, but not too distant, when he could supply discerning customers with greater quantities.

 

March 2

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

mar-2-321767-new-york-gazette
New-York Gazette (March 2, 1767).

“THE BOSEM, OR, ORIENTAL BALSAM; FOR Preventing the APOPLEXY, SUDDEN DEATH, &c.”

Today’s advertisement offered “BOSEM, OR, ORIENTAL BALSAM,” described as a “CEPHALIC CORDIAL Medicine” that imbued the user with strength and energy for the heart, body, and spirit as well as cured certain diseases. This product supposedly revitalized the nervous system and dealt with ailments gained from old age like poor sight, dizziness, weak joints, shaking limbs, and loss of strength. The medicine was used for to treat fainting, strokes, epilepsy, and other diseases affecting the brain. D. Ingram also claimed that it helped reduce dangers both prior to pregnancy and those that arose after giving birth. The Bosem was also useful for dealing with tropical diseases picked up in the West Indies.

This sort of product was commonly referred to as patent medicine, a trend dating back to medieval Europe. A patent medicine was a product advertised by swindlers and apothecaries, whose “noisily hawking, or ‘quacking,’” gave rise to the term quack. Americans brought patent medicines over from Europe, and even developed their own home grown varieties, although there was preference for European products. Patent medicine had strong ties to newspaper advertisements, sometimes purchasing much of the advertising space, thus filling both the swindler and editor’s pockets.

Jim Cox states that the appearance of patent medicines actually held more credibility than the contents, with American producers reusing old bottles of European products and refilling them with either addictive or foul tasting substances before selling them off as the original product. The bosem advertised here originated in the ancient world as a perfume, although later apothecaries used it in medicines in the Far East before, if the advertisement is to believed, it spread throughout the British empire in the 1760s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Providers of goods and services who resided in England rarely placed advertisements in American newspapers. Among the exceptions, purveyors of patent medicines most commonly hawked (or quacked about) their wares in colonial publications – or at least seemed to do so. Although all but the final two lines of this notice seem to have been composed by D. Ingram, “Man Midwife, Professor of Surgery and Anatomy, and Surgeon to Christ’s Hospital” in London, McLean and Treat most likely made the arrangements with the printer of the New-York Gazette to insert the advertisement. Note that the description of the medicine was dated October 1, 1765, more than a year before this appearance among advertisements in the New-York Gazette. Ingram likely distributed the same copy to newspapers in London as well as agents in the English provinces and American colonies whenever he made arrangements to enter new markets.

As Sam explains, patent medicines were particularly susceptible to counterfeiting. Producers and sellers of these nostrums worked out various means to assure potential customers who read their advertisements that they would indeed acquire authentic medicines. As this advertisement suggests, one method was making their concoctions available exclusively from select agents. In the case of Ingram’s Bosem, this notice informed residents of New York that it was “Sold by M‘LEAN, and TREAT only.” Similarly, Dr. Hill, who peddled a variety of medicines (each for different symptoms – none seemed to be the cure all Ingram purported the Bosem to be), placed a notice in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette announcing that he had “appointed Messrs. CARNE and WILSON my agents, for the sale of my medicines in CAROLINA.” Limiting the number of sanctioned sellers of particular patent medicines allowed producers to exert control over the distribution of their products, protecting their reputation from fraudulent imitators. It may have also allowed the designated agents to charge a premium thanks to their exclusive access to the product.

March 1

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

mar-1-2281767-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (February 28, 1767).

“A LARGE and general Assortment of English and India Goods.”

Today’s advertisement was more of an invitation for customers to peruse the goods being sold at “Benjamin & Edward Thurber’s Shops” as opposed to advertising the actual goods themselves. The advertisement offered a wide variety of imported goods from England, India, and the West Indies, all of which were being sold at low prices and could be purchased cheaply. Note that the advertisement offered goods from India which—while becoming a part of Colonial British rule—was on the other side of the world than the American colonies. Through further research I learned that the American colonists had a more significant economic relation to India than I had previously known.

Jonathan Eacott recently published a book about trade within the British Empire, specifically analyzing how India played a role in the economic development of both Britain and America. According to Thomas R. Metcalf’s review of the book, Eacott indicates that the British initially sought to use India to supply the American colonies with goods, such as spices and textiles, which the Americans might then cultivate themselves.[1] However, due to regional differences this endeavor failed. The English began to enjoy India goods themselves, while also exporting Indian goods to the colonies through the East India Company. When India textiles caused problems for the English at home they banned the importation of the goods in Britain, although the East India Company continued to monopolize the sale of Indian goods in the American colonies.

Americans began to associate the Indian goods with the East India Company, its influence in India, and the tyrannical British control over colonies. This did not, however, halt the importation of Indian luxury goods, which increased after the Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Sam makes an important observation in noting that this advertisement served as an invitation for prospective customers to visit the Thurbers’ shops and explore the merchandise on their own rather than listing any particular items for sale. Their notice could be divided into two parts, the first of which could run without the second and not look out of the ordinary. The first portion announced they had “JUST IMPORTED” a variety of goods and made some of the most common appeals – quality, choice, price. Indeed, price seemed particularly important to the Thurbers. They opened by stating that they sold their ware “Cheap” and concluded the first part of the advertisement by pronouncing that they offered “the very lowest Prices.”

The Thurbers then devoted the second (and lengthier) section to convincing potential customers that they did indeed sell their merchandise at low prices. Most eighteenth-century advertisers who made appeals to price quite simply inserted phrases about “reasonable rates” or “low prices.” Some elaborated by devoting a sentence or two to their prices. In presenting an entire paragraph to the cost of the goods they sold, however, the Thurbers provided an extraordinarily extensive discussion of their low prices.

They began by noting that they obtained their inventory “much cheaper” than at any time in the past, which in turn allowed them to sell their imported goods “lower than they ever yet sold.” They then made a old pronouncement that compared their prices to others in Providence and throughout the colonies: their prices, the Thurbers “dare presume to say,” were “as low as any Person in this or the neighbouring Towns, or in North-America.”

To underscore their ability to offer low prices, the Thurbers explained that they did not provide the list of goods so common in other eighteenth-century advertisements because they had they made only a “very moderate Profit” and to “enumerate each Particular in an Advertisement” would cancel their small gains as retailers. Joshua Blanchard, a shopkeeper in Boston, made a similar argument in the Massachusetts Gazette two months earlier, though he did not go into such extensive detail. The Thurbers’ objection to lengthy list advertisements raises additional questions about the oversized advertisements they previously published in the Providence Gazette, once again raising suspicions that the printer inserted such advertisements when lacking other content rather than advertisers themselves clamoring to pursue such an innovation.

The Thurbers concluded their advertisement by further extending invitations to potential customers to visit their shops. They even shifted away from the usual use of rather impersonal address, such as “the Public in general, and their former good Customers in particular,” to directly invite readers: “come and look for yourselves,” “you will be kindly and thankfully received,” and “they again invite you to come and trade with them,” and “whatever you want you will not be disappointed.” Low prices did not have to result in impersonal transactions.

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[1] Thomas R. Metcalf, review of Jonathan Eacott’s Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830, in Journal of Interdisciplinary History 47, no. 4 (Spring 2017): 579-580.

February 28

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

feb-28-2281767-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (February 28, 1767).

“Excellent Bohea Tea.”

This advertisement directed colonists to “the Sign of the Golden Eagle” in Providence to buy a variety of English goods imported from London as well as other goods that passed through London, including Bohea Tea. During the colonial period the colonists heavily invested in the importation of luxury goods and general commodities from London and other territories of the British Empire. The purchase of imported goods from across the Empire showcased colonists’ view of themselves as subjects of the British crown, thereby possessing the same rights as other Britons.

In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen draws attention to the common language of consumer culture throughout the colonies that helped join the colonists in a common language of complaints and issues regarding the British taxes on imported goods. He draws attention to the Tea Act of 1773, which drew particular ire towards British rule due to the place tea held at the time as a staple of American life, available to “the wealthiest of merchants and the poorest of labourers.”[1] It’s really remarkable how such a simple product could spark the tinder of a socio-political revolution, and turn it into a raging wildfire that could bring about a new nation. I can only liken the colonists’ response to the tax on tea to the response modern day Americans might have if coffee beans were suddenly subject to special taxes.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph and William Russell certainly stocked “a large and compleat Assortment of English GOODS” at their shop, at least according to the full-page advertisement that appeared in the Providence Gazette a week earlier. Most likely the Russells could have depended on readers to remember that advertisement because it had been included in several issues since late November 1766, running for a few weeks at a time, disappearing for a few issues, and then appearing once again. As I have previously suggested, it is not clear if its publication history resulted from directions by the Russells or instead from the printers attempting to fill space when lacking other content or possibly a combination of the two.

Even in the absence of their full-page advertisement, the Russells maintained a presence in the Providence Gazette, regularly publishing shorter advertisements, such as the one featured today, to remind potential customers of the merchandise they offered “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.” In so doing, they resorted to some of the most common marketing strategies of the eighteenth century – appeals to choice and price – even when they did not provide a list of their wares.

Like many other shopkeepers who placed short advertisements, they selected one product to highlight. In this case, as Sam has noted, they promoted their “Excellent Bohea Tea.” To draw attention to this commodity, they advanced yet another sort of appeal by underscoring its quality. In terms of its “smell and flavor,” the Russells’ tea “exceeds most any ever imported.” That was a bold claim to make, one that virtually challenged readers to purchase this tea and decide for themselves whether such a description was warranted. Without being heavy-handed about it, the Russells also made a nod toward the luxury consumers could expect to experience when they drank this “Excellent Bohea Tea.”

The Russells managed to incorporate multiple appeals – choice, price, quality, luxury – into just a couple of lines of advertising copy. Shrewdly promoting one notable product may have also generated additional foot traffic into their shop, exposing potential customers to the “compleat Assortment of English GOODS” they carried.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 87.

February 27

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

feb-27-2271767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 27, 1767).

“LONDON, New-York, and other MADEIRA WINE, by the Pipe, Hogshead, Quarter Cask, or Dozen.”

Colonial Americans drank alcoholic beverages all the time and at any time they wanted. According to Ed Crews, colonists commonly had a drink for breakfast, brunch, lunch, pre-dinner snacking, during supper, and right before bed. Colonists enjoyed drinking at social events, work, and, even during studies at colleges. In fact, Crews reports, in 1639 Nathaniel Eaton, the President at Harvard College at the time, “lost his job” when he did not provide enough beer for students and staff. Alcohol was a wonder drink believed to have many beneficial properties ranging from warming the body, making people stronger, aiding the sick, and generally causing people to have a good time.

Today’s notice advertised the sale of a variety of wines and spirits imported from across the Atlantic, including Madeira, Port, Burgundy, Claret, and Brandy, as well as Jamaican Rum from the Caribbean. Colonists had a variety of different drinks they preferred, including mixers called Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle, Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip, and just as many names for being drunk.

Wine, rum, and whiskey were favored drinks among the colonists, with rum being king amongst the common man. Elites imported wine, especially Jefferson who loved French wine and attempted to produce wine in America, a failed endeavor. George Washington, on the other hand, owned and operated a private whiskey distillery on his property at Mt. Vernon.

American colonists consumed a large variety of alcoholic beverages for various occasions and at times throughout the day, with wine, rum, and whiskey being especially favorite drinks.

For more on “Drinking in Colonial America,” see Ed Crews’ article on the Colonial Williamsburg website.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Cunningham and Sands, purveyors of all sorts of alcohol, emphasized quality and service in their advertisement. Whether customers purchased any of a dozen different varieties of wine or instead opted for rum from Jamaica and other locales in the West Indies, all were “warranted to be excellent in Quality.” This was possible because Cunningham and Sands took “the greatest Care” in choosing which wines and rum to import and sell, implying a certain level of expertise on their part. They also took great care in “the Management” of the wines they stocked, suggesting that they were shipped and stored under the best conditions in order to avoid any sort of contamination or turning. Cunningham and Sands implied that they knew wine as well as artisans knew their trades.

In terms of service, the partners offered several options to potential customers interested in obtaining their products. Consumers could visit Cunningham and Sands at one of two locations in Charleston, either “at their Counting-House fronting the Bay, on Mr. Burn’s new Wharf, or at their Store in Union-street.” Realizing that not all readers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette – and prospective customers – resided in the Charleston or had easy access to either of their two locations, Cunningham and Sands also announced that “All Orders from the Country will be punctually complied with.” In effect, they offered mail order service! They apparently believed this convenience would attract customers. Not only did they include it in their advertisements, they also drew special attention to it by inserting it as a separate nota bene rather than including it in the paragraph of dense text that detailed the other aspects of quality and service they provided. (Whether Cunningham and Sands or the printer decided that the nota bene should be printed in italics is much more difficult to determine. Advertisers generally wrote their own copy and printers generally made decisions about layout, but occasionally advertisers exercised some influence over format.)

Sam notes that Americans consumed a fair amount of alcohol and enjoyed various sorts of wines and spirits. Today’s advertisement reveals some of the options available to them as well as part of the process involved in shopping for these items.