May 13

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

May 13 - 5:13:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 13, 1768).

“Not be obliged to wear out one Pair of Shoes, coming after another.”

Zechariah Beal, a cobbler, placed an advertisement in the May 13, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette to announce that he had moved to a new location in Portsmouth. In addition to giving directions to his new shop, Beal also offered commentary on what he considered a sorry state for footwear in the port city. He pledged that his customers would “not be obliged to wear out one Pair of Shoes, coming after another,” a situation “which he is very sorry to hear is too much the Case in Portsmouth.”

In making this assertion, Beal buttressed his appeal to quality. He included one of the standard phrases to describe his workmanship, asserting that he made shoes “in the neatest and best Manner,” but he elaborated on that commonly deployed phrase by favorably contrasting his shoes others sold in the city, whether imported or made locally. Too many colonists purchased shoes that wore out too quickly, forcing them to continuously replace them. Beal set about remedying that situation.

The industrious shoemaker balanced that marketing strategy with an appeal to customer service. Like many others in the garment trades, he declared that his clientele “may depend on being punctually served,” but once again he elaborated on the standard language inserted in many eighteenth-century advertisements. Beal guaranteed that his customers would “have their Work done at the Time appointed.” He would not inconvenience or disappoint them by not meeting the deadlines determined at the time customers contracted his services.

Beal took an innovative approach to writing the copy for his notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette. He started with some of the most common appeals to quality and customer service, but then elaborated on those appeals as a means of distinguishing both his advertisement and his business. Eighteenth-century newspapers advertisements for consumer goods and services often appear static at first glance, but Beal and others incorporated all sorts of variations to make their notices distinctive as they sought to incite demand among prospective customers.

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 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 25, 1767).

“Coarse shoes for Negroes.”

From fabrics to foodstuffs to decorative housewares, James McCall sold an array of merchandise at “Messrs. LLOYD and NEYLE’s store in Broad-street” in Charleston. He carried clothing items intended for a variety of customers. For instance, his advertisement distinguished between “men’s buck gloves” and “women’s white unglazed kid gloves and mitts, with flowered backs.”

McCall made even greater distinctions among his assortment of shoes for all sorts of colonists: “women and girls leather and black callimanco shoes and pumps, men and boys shoes and pumps, coarse shoes for Negroes, a great choice of childrens black leather and Morocco shoes and pumps.” This short catalog of shoes and their intended wearers underscores that not everyone who eventually wore clothing sold by McCall qualified as customers in their own right. The slaves who donned the “coarse shoes for Negroes” never visited the store or made their own selections. They put consumer goods to use, but they did not participate in obtaining them. They did not engage in the processes of imagining alternatives and making choices about which shoes and other clothing items to acquire and wear.

Advertisements for consumer goods targeted broad swaths of the colonial population, but they also excluded or did not envision direct participation by enslaved men, women, and children. In addition to McCall’s “coarse shoes for Negroes,” advertisers in South Carolina and other colonies with significant slave populations frequently announced that they sold “NEGRO CLOTH” (as did Atkins and Weston in the same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that carried McCall’s advertisement). Slaveholders purchased negro cloth, a coarse material, to outfit their slaves, even as they selected among almost innumerable textiles of higher quality for their own apparel.

In publishing an extensive list of shoes he stocked, McCall marketed fashion to prospective customers, but not when it came to “coarse shoes for Negroes.” In that case, McCall merely advertised provisions. The “coarse shoes for Negroes” would have more appropriately appeared in other parts of the advertisement, along with “flour in barrels” or the half dozen different kinds of nails. “Negroes” certainly used some of the clothing items McCall imported and sold, but they did not qualify as customers. Their participation in the consumer culture was circumscribed by their status as slaves.