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.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:30:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 30, 1767).

“John Hansen, Of the City of Albany, INTENDING soon for England …”

As part of his preparations in advance of his departure for England, John Hansen placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal calling on “every Person or Persons whatsoever, that have any lawful Demands against him” to visit his house “and receive immediate Payment.” He also wished to settle accounts with “all Persons, who are indebted unto him.”

Such notices were fairly common in the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers, but this one merits attention because of what it reveals about reading habits and the distribution of newspapers as well as networks of commerce in the colonial era. John Hansen did not reside in the urban port where the New-York Journal was printed. Instead, he described himself as “Of the City of Albany,” on the Hudson River approximately 150 miles to the north. Despite the distance, placing a notice in the New-York Journal was advertising in a local newspaper.

Who was the intended audience for Hansen’s advertisement? Quite possibly he did business with residents of Albany and New York as well as places in between. He needed a means of distributing his announcement to as many of them as possible. To that end, Hansen purchased space in the New-York Journal with a reasonable expectation that neighbors and business associates in Albany would see his notice nestled among so many others.

That was the case because local newspapers were not so much local as regional throughout most of the eighteenth century. Americans experienced an explosion in print after the Revolution: newspapers began publication in a far greater number of smaller cities and towns in the 1780s and 1790s. Until then, however, newspaper publication was concentrated in relatively few places, simultaneously serving local residents as well as all those in the vast hinterlands that surrounded the major settlements. John Hansen could place an advertisement in a newspaper printed in New York and expect his neighbors in Albany to read it because some were subscribers themselves or had access to newspapers from faraway places at local taverns, coffeehouses, or the post office (often the shop operated by a printer). In addition to post riders who delivered newspapers, readers encountered copies that passed from hand to hand.

Subscription lists and notices placed by post riders demonstrate the reach of colonial newspapers, but advertisements by colonists like “John Hansen, Of the City of Albany” further illustrate their broad dissemination. In addition, such advertisements suggest that colonists in faraway places read or skimmed entire issues (including advertisement), not solely foreign and domestic news.

March 15

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 15 - 3:14:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 14, 1767).

“Knight Dexter DESIRES all those indebted to him … to make speedy Payment.”

Knight Dexter put out this advertisement for those indebted to him to pay their bills. His customers bought on credit rather than paying at the time of purchase. Credit was one of the more popular means for buying items. The other, less popular, means were barter (trading goods for other goods) and paying with physical money.

The concept of credit in colonial America and its importance are both similar to today’s standards. Merchants allowed customers to purchase items in exchange for payment that would occur later in time, with interest included. According to David T. Flynn, this was an advantage to customers who could purchase items outside their financial resources. T.H. Breen argues that this helped create a consumer revolution in the eighteenth century. In “Baubles of Britain,” he details the variety and number of options for consumers that increased, paid for by credit.[1] The advantage for merchants was they could turn over goods faster and they would increase their profits from the interest collected. Merchants did run the risk of giving out too much credit that they could not cover their immediate expenses.

Dexter mentioned “Book Accounts.” This most likely meant he was using book credit, according to Flynn. Book credit was when merchants recorded who they gave credit to within their account books or ledger. This was a way to streamline tracking who owed how much money for what products. Other forms of credit included overseas credit and promissory notes. Dexter might have benefited from overseas credit extended by English merchants when he received imported goods. English merchants sold goods to colonial merchants, waiting six months to one year before demanding payment.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Last week I noted that as spring approached in 1767 the Providence Gazette experienced a resurgence in advertising after several months of only a small number of paid notices within its pages combined with running the same few advertisements repeatedly. Knight Dexter was among the local entrepreneurs who began inserting notices in the Providence Gazette, along with Nathaniel Jacobs. Not only did their advertisements appear one after the other in the same column of the March 14 issue, Dexter and Jacobs adopted parallel structures for their notices.

Marketing goods for sale may not have been the primary purpose either had in mind when they decided to place their advertisements. Both Dexter and Jacobs devoted half or more of their notices to calling on former customs with outstanding debts to visit their shops and settle up accounts. Both threatened legal action against any recalcitrant customers who refused to do so, though Jacobs was much more subtle and polite when he claimed that he wanted to “avoid the disagreeable Necessity of troubling them.” Dexter was more blunt, lamenting that “he should be sorry to have any Business at June Court.” Either way, the message was the same: pay up or face the consequences.

Only after dispensing with that bit of business did either shopkeeper turn to marketing their current inventory. Each promised to “sell as cheap for Cash as any in this Town.” At the same time they called on customers to pay their bills, neither seemed inclined to extend more credit to anyone else, but they balanced their insistence on paying cash with the allure of low prices.

In so doing, they placed what might be considered hybrid advertisements that amalgamated what otherwise might have been separate notices. In each case, the portion of the advertisement that promoted items they currently stocked could have run separately and not looked out of place. Indeed, other advertisements on the same page mirrored the second half of the notices inserted by Dexter and Jacobs. The Adverts 250 Project regularly features similar advertisements. Many merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently placed notices requesting that customers pay their bills, though those have not been examined nearly as often on the Adverts 250 Project. In choosing Knight Dexter’s advertisement, Daniel helps to demonstrate the various stages of commercial relationships established between consumers and retailers in the eighteenth century.

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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): 73-104.

December 28

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

dec-28-12271766-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

“A Variety of Books and Stationary.”

Like many other colonial American printers, John Holt inserted his own advertisements into the newspaper he published. The two-page supplement to the New-York Journal from December 27, 1766, for instance, included three advertisements for “the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” None of them included Holt’s name, but that may have been less important than providing sufficient direction for current and prospective customers to make their way to Holt’s printing shop. Besides, many readers likely would have already known Holt as “the Printer at the Exchange.” For those who did not, the masthead of regular issues of the New-York Journal proclaimed that it was “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, NEAR THE EXCHANGE.”

Each of Holt’s advertisements in the December 27 issue addressed a different aspect of his business. One attempted to drum up new business, succinctly announcing “A Variety of Books and Stationary, to be sold at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Between subscriptions and advertisements, publishing the New-York Journal generated revenue, but Holt, like many others in his occupation, also acted as bookseller. This yielded an additional flow of income to keep the entire operation running.

dec-28-12271766-ad-2-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Another advertisement solicited supplies necessary for the New-York Journal to continue publication. “READY MONEY,” it announced, “given for clean Linen RAGS, of any Kind, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Printers throughout the colonies frequently placed such notices. They printed their newspapers on paper made of linen. Rags were essential to their business; they were recycled and reused as paper. Holt placed this particular advertisement in the upper right corner of the second page. Except for the masthead, it included the largest font in that issue, increasing the likelihood that readers would see and take note of it.

dec-28-12271766-ad-3-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Holt’s third advertisement addressed prior operations of his business as well as its future. In the final issue of the New-York Journal for 1766, he called on former customers to settle accounts: “ALL PERSONS who are a Year or more indebted for this Paper, and all who are on any other Account indebted to the Printer at the Exchange, are earnestly requested immediately to discharge their Accounts.” Once again, similar notices appeared in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Subscribers notoriously fell behind in paying for their newspapers. Printers extended credit for subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing of various sorts as well as the books and stationery they sold. In designing the layout for this supplemental issue, the crafty Holt placed this advertisement second, immediately after a notice listing the winning numbers for a recent lottery. He may have hoped to capture readers’ attention as they eagerly examined nearly two columns of winning tickets and moved directly to the next item.

The December 27 supplement of the New-York Journal included relatively little news. Of its six columns, only the third and fourth were given over to news items. Holt devoted the remainder of the supplement to advertising, including three advertisements that either promoted his own printing shop or saw to its general maintenance.