August 2

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

Aug 2 - 8:2:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 2, 1769).

“THE subscribers being desirous to close all their concerns, in the dry good business.”

Inglis and Hall were among the most prolific advertisers in the Georgia Gazette in the late 1760s. They frequently inserted lengthy advertisements listing goods imported from Britain, the Caribbean, and other faraway places. They also participated in the transatlantic slave trade, advertising enslaved men, women, and children.

In the summer of 1769, the partners placed an advertisement announcing that they intended to “close all their concerns, in the dry good business.” Like other merchants and shopkeepers, Inglis and Hall extended credit to their customers. In preparation for going out of business, they asked their “friends” to pay any debts incurred prior to January 1. Those who made purchases since then presumably had more time to settle accounts. Despite their amicable description of their customers as “friends,” Inglis and Hall expressed exasperation that some of them “have given little or no attention to their repeated calls” to submit payment.   This was the last warning, the partners proclaimed, because those who did not “settle to their satisfaction” in one month’s time “may depend on being sued without further notice.” After first dispensing with that important piece of business, Inglis and Hall promoted their remaining merchandise, advising prospective customers that they still had “a variety of the most useful articles” in stock.

For several years Inglis and Hall provided residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony with vast assortments of goods, encouraging them to participate in the consumer revolution that was taking place throughout the British Atlantic world and beyond. During that time they were also important customers for James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. For eighteenth-century newspaper printers, selling advertisements was often more lucrative than selling subscriptions. Most advertisements that ran in the Georgia Gazette were fairly short, extending three to fifteen lines. At fourteen lines, Inglis and Hall’s advertisement announcing the end of their dry goods business was short compared to many others that they placed in the Georgia Gazette, advertisements that filled half a column or more. Although Johnston did brisk business when it came to advertisements, he must have been disappointed to lose such an important customer and all of the revenue Inglis and Hall contributed to the operations of the Georgia Gazette.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 12, 1769).

“BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKS sold at the Printing-Office.”

Three advertisements placed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette rounded out the final page of the May 12, 1769, edition. Each appeared at the bottom of a column, immediately above the colophon that listed Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle in Portsmouth as the printers. Each notice testified to a different aspect of the printing business.

The notice in the first column warned that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printers, for News-Papers, &c. are NOW desired to make payment, if ever they design it, and would avoid unnecessary Trouble and Expence.” Colonial printers frequently inserted such appeals into their newspapers, but the Fowles did so more regularly than most others in the 1760s. Some printers incorporated their calls to settle accounts into annual messages that commemorated the completion of one year of publication and the beginning of another. Such messages to subscribers and other readers often outlined improvements to be made in the coming year, but also earnestly requested that customers pay their debts. The Fowles used some of the most creative and colorful language, once even threatening to publish the names of any who did not settle accounts within a short time, though they never followed through on that strategy for public shaming.

The advertisement in the second column informed readers that “BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKs [are] sold at the Printing-Office.” Operating the newspaper was not the extent of how the Fowles earned their livelihood. They also sold books, some that they had printed but most imported from Britain. In addition, they did job printing and produced “BLANKS of all Kinds,” better known to day as printed forms. Colonists used these blanks for a variety of commercial and legal transactions, relying on the standardized language. A similar advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette provided a list of the various sorts of blanks available at the local printing office: “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessels and seamen, summonses, warrants, and attachments, for the court of conscience, summonses before justices of the peace, executions for the use of magistrates, indico certificates.” Some, such as the indigo certificates, were specific to local usage, but most were used throughout the colonies.   Like advertisements, blanks supplied an important revenue stream for printers.

Finally, the third column concluded with an advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack, for 1769, to be Sold at the Printing Office, in Portsmouth.” This was incredibly late for an advertisement for an almanac to appear; some of the contents certainly remained useful for the remainder of the year, but more than one-third of 1769 had already elapsed. By and large, printers, booksellers, and others had ceased advertising almanacs for quite some time. The appearance of this notice indicates that the Fowles still had surplus almanacs in stock. They hoped for some sort of return on their investment if they could sell any of them at that point. Its position as the last item in the May 12 issue, with the exception of the colophon, tells another story. The Fowles needed to fill the space to complete the column and the issue. This advertisement may have been just as valuable for that purpose as for any sales that resulted from it.

Indeed, the placement of all three advertisements from the printers suggests that they served dual purposes. Each tended to some aspect of operations at the printing office in Portsmouth while simultaneously completing a column and contributing to the tidy appearance of the final page of the May 12 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

February 17

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 17, 1769).

“ALL Persons Indebted to the Printers hereof are desired to make immediate payment.”

Like many colonial printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted their own notices in the newspaper they published. The February 17, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included three advertisements placed by the printers. One announced, “RAGS Taken in at the Printing-Office as usual, in case they are white and clean.” The Fowles collected linen rags to manufacture into paper. For several weeks earlier in the year they had printed the New-Hampshire Gazette on smaller sheets because their paper supply had been disrupted. They refused to purchase imported paper because doing so would have required paying duties levied by the Townshend Act. Instead, the Fowles waited on supplier in New England to produce more paper, choosing temporarily to print their newspaper on smaller sheets. By February the New-Hampshire Gazette had returned to its usual size, but the Fowles continued to advertise for rags in order to maintain access to paper produced in New England.

In another advertisement the Fowles marketed goods they offered for sale: “BLANKS of all sorts, and a great variety of BOOKS, are sold at the Printing-Office.” Selling books and job printing for blanks (or printed forms) supplemented the revenues gained from newspaper subscriptions and advertising fees, especially when subscribers and advertisers did not settle their accounts in a timely manner. The Fowles’s third advertisement addressed that situation: “ALL Persons Indebted to the Printers hereof are desired to make immediate payment.—Some of those whose Accounts are of long standing will very soon be put in Suit, unless speedily Settled.” This was a constant refrain for many colonial printers, especially the Fowles. Three months earlier they had published a similar message, though they had been much more strident in their threats of legal action. They also made another threat, one that went beyond the usual means of cajoling recalcitrant subscriber to pay their bills. The Fowles declared that would “publish a List of those Customers … whose Accounts are of long standing, with the Sum due.” The printers did not follow through on this extraordinary plan. Perhaps it convinced a sufficient number of customers to settle their accounts, or maybe the Fowles decided that such a public shaming of their customers would have a significant negative impact on their business.

Either way, they soon found themselves once again placing a notice in their newspaper to instruct their subscribers to make payment or else face the consequences. Their advertisements not only looked to the future of their business, such as their call for rags to make paper or the books and blanks they provided for sale, but also played an important role in concluding transactions previously initiated.

January 18

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

Georgia Gazette (January 18, 1769).

“WILLIAM SAUNDERS, Sailmaker, … flatters himself with the hopes of their commands.”

In an advertisement placed in the January 18, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, William Saunders, a sailmaker, lead former and prospective customers through a dance in which each move achieved some purpose related to running his business. First, he expressed gratitude to those who had ordered sails from him in the past, stating that he “TAKES this opportunity of returning his sincere thanks to the gentlemen merchants and others of the town of Savannah, for the kind encouragement he has met with at their hands since his arrival at this place.”

The wording suggested that he might have been a relative newcomer to the colony’s most significant port. If that was the case, acknowledging that some “gentlemen merchants and others” in Savannah had already expressed their support for his venture or perhaps even engaged his services would have been particularly important in setting up his next move. He pivoted from a note of appreciation into calling on those same boosters to submit more orders. He pledged that “they may be assured of the strictest dispatch imaginable” when they contracted with him and his partner, Callighan McCarthy, for sails. For prospective customers who had not previously purchased sails from him, Saunders signaled that he was a capable artisan, as demonstrated by his interactions with those “gentlemen merchants and others.”

Only then did the sailmaker become more vigorous. In a final paragraph his called on “those gentlemen who are indebted to him” to settle accounts by the first of March. If they did not, he would “be under the disagreeable necessity of putting their accounts into the hands of an attorney at law.” That was a last resort, a step that Saunders wished to avoid. Compared to another advertisement in the same issue, his initial movements softened the warning that followed. Thomas Morgan inserted a notice for the sole purchase of informing his debtors “that they will find their accounts in the hands of an attorney at law to be sued for without distinction” if they did not pay by the first of March. Saunders and Morgan issued the same threat, but Saunders did so only after nurturing his rapport with customers and other readers of the Georgia Gazette.

January 4

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

Georgia Gazette (January 4, 1769).

“They desire all persons indebted to them … to settle their respective debts.”

Among purveyors of consumer goods in Savannah, the partnership of Inglis and Hall placed the lengthiest advertisements in the Georgia Gazette in the late 1760s. They also advertised more frequently than many of their counterparts, so regular readers of the colony’s only newspaper were probably not surprised that the first issue for 1769 included an advertisement from Inglis and Hall. As a new advertisement, it appeared first among all of the paid notices in that edition.

With the arrival of the new year, the partners took the opportunity to announce that they “HAVE now on hand, A Neat Assortment of Dry Goods, consisting of a great variety of the most useful articles.” In many of their advertisements Inglis and Hall elaborated on this appeal to consumer choice by listing dozens of items included among their inventory. They placed less emphasis on enticing end-use consumers among colonists than cultivating clients who participated in “the Indian Trade.” They did list strouds, an especially popular textile among Indians who bartered with colonial traders, “Trading Guns, Tomahawks, Gunpowder, Ball, &c. &c.” When it came to those items, they offered a discount “to any person taking a quantity” or the entire stock. They began the new year with an attempt to dispose of significant portions of their inventory in large transactions.

Inglis and Hall also seized on the first of the year as an appropriate time to call on customers and associates to settle accounts. Instead of “N.B.” (for nota bene or “take notice”), they used three stars to call attention to that request: “They desire all persons indebted to them by bond, note, or book account, to settle their respective debts on or before the first day of March.” Unlike other advertisers throughout the colonies, they did not allude to the ramifications of neglecting to make payment. That could wait for subsequent advertisements if “persons indebted to them” did not respond to the initial notice.

Although Inglis and Hall’s first newspaper advertisement for 1769 did promote consumer goods, the partners devoted much more space to other business operations: settling accounts and wholesale transactions with colonists involved in “the Indian Trade.” Merchants, shopkeepers, and other purveyors of consumer goods often pursued multiple purposes in their newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, providing an overview of their business practices.

November 18

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

Nov 18 - 11:18:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 18, 1768).

“Preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, meant business. They placed a notice in their own publication to inform subscribers, advertisers, and other customers that they needed to settle their accounts or else face the consequences. The Fowles periodically placed such notices, but they ratcheted up the rhetoric in November 1768. The printers were exasperated and they made that clear to readers.

The Fowles declared that they were “determined in a few Weeks, to publish a List of Customers … whose Accounts are of long standing.” With this warning, they offered a grace period. Those subscribers delinquent in settling their accounts could avoid public embarrassment by resolving the matter soon after this notice appeared in the newspaper. If they chose, however, not to take advantage of the grace period then they could expect to have their public shaming compounded by having “the Sum due” printed alongside their name. The printers aimed “to show how injuriously they are treated” by customers who refused to pay their bills.

Furthermore, the Fowles made it clear they were aware of some of the stratagems used by those who owed them money. “Many Customers who live in the Country,” they observed, “are often seen in Town, but if possible avoid coming to the Printing Office.” To add insult to injury, those who did visit often informed the Fowles “how they are involved in such and such a Law Suit, and that they have just paid all their Money to such a Lawyer.” The printers reasoned that two could play that game: “Therefore as they fancy paying Money to Attorneys best, we have left, and are preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.” The Fowles would not hesitate to take legal action if it became necessary.

They made that threat, however, only after publishing gentle reminders for customers to submit payments. Less than two months earlier, they inserted a notice that celebrated the twelfth anniversary of the New-Hampshire Gazette but also called on “a considerable Number of our Customers” to settle accounts. They considered doing so a “great Service.” Several weeks later they abandoned the language of service in favor of legal obligation. Rather than flaunting the money they spend on lawsuits against others, it was time for customers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to invest those funds in paying the printers.

November 4

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

Nov 4 - 11:4:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 4, 1768).

“Said BARRELL having an utter Abhorrence of Law Suits.”

In the fall of 1768, William Barrell placed an advertisement in advance of departing New Hampshire on a voyage. He did not indicate where he was going, how long he planned to be away, or whether he intended to return to the colony. He did make it clear, however, that he wished to settle accounts, especially with those who owed him money. Merchants and shopkeepers frequently extended credit to customers, one of the factors that contributed to the widespread consumer revolution during the eighteenth century. Their advertisements for all sorts of imported goods often included or ran alongside calls for settling accounts.

Barrell made an investment in recovering what he was owed. His notice ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette for six consecutive weeks, commencing in the September 30 edition (the same date that appeared on the final line of the advertisement each time it appeared) and appearing for the last time on November 4. He advised that he planned to depart “within six or eight weeks at farthest.” He gave those who had done business with him plenty of opportunities to spot his notice, as well as time to make arrangements for payment. He “begs they wou’d be so obliging as to wait on him at his Store for that Purpose, any Day within the said Time.”

Yet Barrell anticipated that he might need to make an additional investment to “discharge any Ballances.” He confided that he had “an utter Abhorrence of Law Suits.” To that end, he pleaded that no one would “lay him under the painful Necessity of impowering an Attorney” to pursue payment. After all, everyone would be much happier if they voluntarily settled accounts “with but little Trouble, and no charge.” In other words, his customers would find their purchases much more expensive, despite having received credit to acquire them initially, if they found themselves in the position of paying legal fees as well as the price of the merchandise. Like other merchants and shopkeepers, Barrell was polite but firm in making this point. Given his “utter Abhorrence of Law Suits,” those found themselves prosecuted to make payment would have only themselves to blame.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 3, 1768).

“We have a sensible Pleasure in finding, that our weekly Publications, have hitherto afforded general and entire Satisfaction.”

With the exception of two extraordinary issues (extras) published on August 24, 1765, and March 12, 1766, the Providence Gazette went on hiatus between May 11, 1765, and August 9, 1766. Some of this period coincided with the Stamp Act, but other factors played a role as well. The Providence Gazette halted publication nearly six months before the Stamp Act went into effect and did not resume until a couple of months after colonists learned that it had been repealed. When Sarah Goddard and Company revived the Providence Gazette they explained that “the Procrastination of a weekly Paper in this Town, was unavoidably owing to the inadequate Number of Subscribers to carry it on with Credit, and to defray the necessary Charges that will always attend such an Undertaking.” By early August 1766 they had enough subscribers to risk printing weekly issues once again, thus offering an important service to the public. As they explained in an address in the first issue upon commencing publication once again, “the Productions of the Press have ever been esteemed one of the principal Means of defending the glorious Cause of Liberty.”

A year later, Sarah Goddard and Company inserted a short notice to “inform their candid Readers, this this Week’s Paper compleats the Year since the PROVIDENCE GAZTTE, &c. was revived.” They encouraged subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts, but also invited the further “Encouragement” of those who understood the importance of a having a newspaper published in Providence. A year later, the publishers – now Sarah Goddard and John Carter – composed a lengthier acknowledgment that ran for several weeks. Rather than merely calling on readers to pay their bills, Goddard and Carter had three purposes. First, they thanked their “Friends” who had “patronized and endeavoured to promote the Success of this Paper.” Then they pledged to continue serving the public in general and their readers in particular by further improving upon a newspaper that had “hitherto afforded general and entire Satisfaction.” They vowed that “no Pains or Expence shall be spared,” but they also requested “the Assistance of Gentlemen of Learning and Ingenuity.” The usefulness of the Providence Gazette to all readers depended on the publishers’ ability to acquire interesting and timely content to better inform the public. Goddard and Carter invited readers to become correspondents who submitted items for publication. Only after expressing their gratitude for past favors and their plans for further improvements did Goddard and Carter turn to settling accounts. In so doing, they underscored that their ability to serve the public depended on debtors paying their bills.

Many eighteenth-century printers inserted similar notices alongside other advertisements that appeared in their publications. They called for payment, but argued that readers, advertisers, and others also performed a service to the public when they settled accounts. Such transactions were not strictly a private matter. Instead, they had repercussions that reverberated throughout the community, determining whether or not a newspaper continued publication and pursuing its mission to keep the public informed and vigilant.

September 26

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

Sep 26 - 9:26:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 26, 1767).

“WANTS to buy a Quantity of good and well clean’d FLAX-SEED.”

Advertisers typically had a single purpose for placing notices in colonial newspapers, but such was not the case for Robert Taylor when he inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette during the late summer and early fall of 1767. Taylor, however, did appear to have a primary goal: acquiring flaxseed. Most eighteenth-century advertisements did not include headlines as we think of them today. Taylor’s advertisement, on the other hand, offered a summary in capital letters, “HARD MONEY for FLAX-SEED,” and then reiterated the offer in more detail in the body of the notice. Taylor wished to acquire “a Quantity of good and well clean’d FLAX-SEED, for which he will give a good Price.”

Having decided to place an advertisement, Taylor determined to put the space in the local newspaper to good use. He also needed other commodities that he either planned to use in his own business or exchange with other traders, so he informed readers that he “likewise wants to buy a Quantity of RAW HIDES.”

Yet Taylor’s notice did not focus exclusively on acquiring goods. He also attempted to incite demand for the boots and shoes “He still continues to make … in the neastest and best Manner” at his shop located on the west side of the Great Bridge in Providence. Like many other artisans and shopkeepers, he promoted not only his goods for sale but also the quality of customer service they could expect to experience. He pledged to serve “Gentlemen … with Fidelity and Dispatch.” An arrangement of three small stars marked this new portion of the advertisement, both calling attention to the retail component and distinguishing it from the calls for acquisition that preceded it.

Finally, Taylor also seized an opportunity to settle accounts. In a nota bene, he issued a request for “all Persons indebted to him to make speedy Payment.” To demonstrate that he meant business, he also warned that if they paid their bills then “they would avoid being put to further Trouble.” Taylor politely threatened former customers with legal action if that was what it would take to balance his ledgers. While not a standard element of all eighteenth-century advertisements, the contents of his nota bene were not uncommon either. Advertisers regularly appended similar requests to notices about buying and selling consumer goods and other commodities. Many advertisers also placed separate notices exclusively devoted to settling accounts.

Robert Taylor sought to accomplish four distinct goals in a single advertisement: acquiring flaxseed, acquiring hides, selling boots and shoes, and settling accounts. In so doing, he offered glimpses of several different aspects of operating his business and earning a living in colonial Providence. He did not merely labor away in his shop but instead interacted with other colonists along multiple trajectories as he participated in shaping the local market.

August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 8, 1767).

“The Publishers of this Paper, hereby inform their candid Readers, that his Week’s Paper compleats the Year.”

Sarah Goddard and Company had two purposes for placing this advertisement in the August 8, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. First and foremost, they wished to acknowledge that the new issue “compleats the Year” since the newspaper “was revived.” On the occasion of that anniversary, they called on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle their accounts “as speedily as possible.” As a secondary goal, the publishers announced that “This Paper will still be carried on as usual” and requested further “Encouragement” from readers. In other words, if residents of Providence and its hinterland valued the Providence Gazette and wished for it to continue, they needed to subscribe, advertise, and pay their bills.

The previous iteration of the Providence Gazette had ceased publication with its May 11, 1765, issue and, except for extraordinary editions published on August 24, 1765, and March 12, 1766, did not resume publication until August 9, 1766. In the year since it sometimes struggled to attract advertisers, especially in the winter months. Goddard and Company may have developed certain innovations out of necessity, especially frequent oversized and full-page advertisements. Although the design would have caught the attention of reader-consumers, the format may have inspired primarily as a means of filling the page in the absence of other content.

The Providence Gazette was the only newspaper in colonial America printed and distributed on Saturdays in 1766 and 1767. In contrast, at least ten newspapers were published on Mondays (though not all have since been digitized). Similarly, multiple newspapers were published on Thursdays as well. As a result, the Adverts 250 Project has featured at least one advertisement from the Providence Gazette each week while selecting an advertisement from one among many newspapers on other days. Many of those newspapers featured a greater variety and volume of advertising that would merit more attention in a book or article; that being the case, given the nature of this digital humanities project the Providence Gazette might seem overrepresented among the advertisements included. On the other hand, the project’s methodology has required, at least as an outcome even if not originally by intentional design, attention to a smaller publication from a middling-sized port city, shifting focus away from the most significant population and commercial centers in colonial America. The history of advertising in early America would look very different if it focused exclusively on the cities with the most vibrant newspapers: Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Sustained consideration of the Providence Gazette and newspapers from other cities and towns tells a more nuanced story of the mobilization of print to influence consumer choices via advertising in the colonial era.