November 9

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

Nov 9 - Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 9, 1769).

“The Whole of which were imported by himself before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”

William Greenleaf’s advertisement in the November 9, 1769, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter looked much like others that promoted consumer goods. Extending half a column, it listed a vast assortment of items available at his shop, everything from “Silk & worsted Sagathies” to “Ivory, Bone, & Ebony Fans” to “Necklaces and Earings of various sorts” to Persia Carpets three yards square.” In addition to its celebration of consumer culture and encouragement for colonists to acquire more goods, Greenleaf’s advertisement also addressed the politics of the day. The shopkeeper assured the entire community that his entire inventory had been “imported by himself before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.” In so doing, he protected his reputation and signaled to prospective customers that they could buy his wares without compromising their political principles.

When it came to advertising textiles and accessories, the bulk of Greenleaf’s merchandise, most merchants and shopkeepers emphasized how recently their goods had arrived in the colonies. “Just Imported” implied that these items represented the latest fashions from London and other English cities. In 1769, however, this popular appeal no longer possessed its usual power to entice prospective customers. New merchandise was politically problematic merchandise. The merchants and traders of Boston and other towns in Massachusetts adopted nonimportation agreements to protest the duties Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea. If Parliament intended to tax those items, then colonists resolved not to import an even greater array of goods from Britain. The goods that merchants and shopkeepers stocked and sold possessed political significance based on when those items arrived in the colonies.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, colonists observed the commercial practices of their friends, neighbors, and other members of their communities. Greenleaf realized that all merchants and shopkeepers were under scrutiny to detect if they violated the nonimportation agreement. Committees investigated suspected violations and published names and accounts of their actions in newspapers, alerting consumers not to do business with them and warning others to abide by the agreement. In such an environment, Greenleaf considered it imperative to assert that he sold merchandise that did not breach the nonimportation agreement. In his business practices, he expressed a commitment to the patriot cause.

October 1

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

Oct 1 - 9:28:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 28, 1769).

“A likely healthy Negroe … to dispose of.”

Shopkeeper Magdalen Devine occasionally advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the late 1760s. She usually promoted “A LARGE assortment of dry GOODS,” as she did in the September 28, 1769, edition. Her advertisements were notable because they sometimes included a woodcut that depicted some of her wares, two rolls of fabric and two swatches unfurled to display the patterns. Devine relied on images rather than an extensive list of merchandise to communicate the choices available at her shop. Woodcuts commissioned by merchants and shopkeepers were relatively rare in early American newspaper advertisements. Devine was one of an exceptionally small number of women who deployed visual images in her marketing.

Yet Devine sought to accomplish more than just selling dry goods in some of her advertisements. The notice she ran in late September 1769 included a nota bene seemingly unrelated to her merchandise: “She has a likely healthy Negroe wench, about 18 years old, to dispose of, having no cause to part with her but want of employment.” Although most eighteenth-century readers would have found nothing notable about attempting to sell both textiles and an enslaved woman in a single advertisement, modern readers might find this notice particularly striking for the casual manner in which Devine treated another woman as a commodity.

Furthermore, the advertisement testifies to the presence of enslaved men and women in urban ports like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston during the era of the American Revolution. Throughout the colonies and throughout the Atlantic world, consumer culture and enslavement were inextricably linked. Commerce depended on the transatlantic slave trade as well as the skills and involuntary labor of enslaved men, women, and children. The advertisements for consumer goods that filled eighteenth-century newspapers, many of them listing dozens of items offered for sale, usually did not make direct reference to slavery, but colonists had access to those wares, the “LARGE assortment of dry GOODS” advertised by merchants and shopkeepers like Devine,” thanks to networks of exchange that included the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved labor, and the profits from both as an integral component. It was practically impossible to be either a retailer or a consumer in the eighteenth century without perpetuating slavery, directly or indirectly. More readily than most others, Devine’s advertisement makes clear that was the case.

September 26

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

Sep 26 - 9:26:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 26, 1769).

“A single article of which has not been imported since last year.”

As summer turned to fall in 1769, Nathan Frazier of Andover placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform prospective customers that he stocked “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS” that he sold both wholesale and retail. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he provided an extensive list of his merchandise as a means of demonstrating the many choices available to consumers. This catalog consisted primarily of textiles and accessories (everything from “Devonshire and Yorkshire kerseys and plains” to “taffaties and Persians of all colours” to “a genteel assortment of ribbons”), but Frazier also carried a “very large assortment of glass, delph and stone ware” and a “general assortment of hard ware goods” imported from London. Such advertisements became a familiar part of the consumer revolution in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Most such advertisements, however, emphasized that imported goods had only just arrived in the colonies, that they were fresh from London and other English ports. Merchants and shopkeepers usually promoted only the newest merchandise, tacitly assuring prospective customers the latest fashions rather than leftovers that consumers previously refused to purchase. Frazier did not adopt that approach in his advertisement, and with good reason. He framed his list of goods with assurances that “a single article of which has not been imported since last year,” which meant that his entire inventory had been in his possession for at least nine months and perhaps even longer. These were not the newest goods presented to customers as soon as they became available, but making that appeal was not politically viable in the fall of 1769. Colonists in Boston and other towns in Massachusetts adopted nonimportation agreements that commenced on January 1, 1769. They deployed this form of economic resistance to protest an imbalance of trade with Britain and, especially, the taxes on certain imported goods that Parliament imposed in the Townshend Acts. Boycotting goods imported from Britain previously contributed to repealing the Stamp Act. Colonists hoped a new round of nonimportation agreements would have a similar effect with the Townshend Acts.

Nonimportation may have been an opportunity rather than a sacrifice for Frazier and other merchants and shopkeepers. Imported goods glutted the American market. Frazier’s lengthy list of merchandise suggests he had surplus goods that he had not managed to sell for the better part of a year. Adhering to the nonimportation agreement made a virtue of selling goods that lingered on shelves and in storerooms for some time, goods that consumers might otherwise not have even considered purchasing. The politics of the periods sometimes provided convenient cover for merchants and shopkeepers to rid themselves of goods they had difficulty selling in a crowded marketplace.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 8:31:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 31, 1769).

“Orders from the country will be punctually answered.”

When William Wilson placed an advertisement about “a fresh Assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” in the August 31, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, he listed dozens of the items in his inventory. Wilson stocked everything from “Womens black Silk Gloves and Mitts” to “Steel Coffee-Mills” to “Coopers and Carpenters Adzes.” In addition to the merchandise that he named, he also carried “several other Articles, too tedious to enumerate.” As they contemplated their participation in the consumer revolution that was taking place throughout the British Atlantic world, Wilson invited colonists to imagine the vast array of goods he made available to them. He encouraged them to savor the choices.

Although Wilson addressed “his Friends and Customers,” his advertisement made clear that those “Friends and Customers” did not need to do their shopping in person at his store on Broad Street in Charleston. For those who lived some distance from the busy port, he pledged that “Orders from the Country will be punctually answered.” Customers who placed such orders could depend on the same level of service bestowed on patrons who visited Wilson’s shop. As a convenience to his customers, he offered a precursor to mail order or internet shopping.

That service made the extensive list of goods in Wilson’s advertisement even more imperative to operating his business. His notice in the South-Carolina Gazette doubled as a catalog for much of his merchandise, advising prospective customers “from the Country” which items they could order from afar. Wilson did not merely name items like “playing Cards” and “Womens and Girls Velvet Masks” to impress readers with the variety of goods in stock; instead, he provided a list that ranged from common items to unexpected novelties so customers placing orders became aware of the many possibilities. Wilson’s advertisement included clothing and textiles, accessories, housewares, hardware and tools, and groceries, signaling to those who could not examine the “several other Articles, too tedious to enumerate” that they had a good chance of a favorable response when submitting special requests not listed in his catalog of goods. This shopkeeper’s lengthy list was more than a conspicuous display of consumer goods; it was a critical element of a service he offered for those who wished to place “Orders from the Country.”

July 28

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

Jul 28 - 7:28:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 28, 1769)

They will be Sold as cheap as at any Shop in Boston.”

Robert Robertson advertised a “large Assortment of English GOODS” available at his shop in Portsmouth in the July 28, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Samuel Bowles and Stephen Hardy advertised similar wares. All three listed dozens of items; collectively, their advertisements filled almost an entire column in that issue, presenting consumers with many choices. Prospective customers could choose among the merchandise, but they could also choose among the purveyors. To help them make those choices, Bowles and Robertson each described their prices as “very cheap.”

Robertson, however, did more than deploy a standard appeal to price. He concluded his advertisement with a nota bene that underscored the bargains at his shop: “As the above Goods are a Consignment to me, they will be Sold as cheap as at any Shop in Boston.” In making this pronouncement, Robertson acknowledged that he competed not only with Bowles and Hardy and other shopkeepers in Portsmouth but also with all of the merchants and shopkeepers not so far away in the largest and busiest port in New England. Their advertisements filled the pages of the several newspapers printed in that city that certainly found their way to Portsmouth. Robertson revealed that he expected at least some of his prospective customers engaged in comparison shopping, not only in Portsmouth but ranging farther away as well. He also suggested that consumers in New Hampshire had grown accustomed to paying higher prices than their counterparts in Massachusetts.

Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes proclaimed that they matched or beat the prices of their local competitors in the 1760s; only rarely did they address prices throughout an entire region or make comparisons to prices in other cities and towns. Robertson was innovative in that regard, but it may well have been innovation born of necessity if he suspected that he regularly lost business when colonists in New Hampshire visited Boston or sent away for goods supplied by the merchants and shopkeepers who resided there.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 17, 1769).

“Almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.”

Thomas Green inserted a lengthy advertisement for “All Sorts of English, India, West-India, and Homespun Goods” in the July 17, 1769, edition of the Newport Mercury. Although the advertisement listed hundred of items available at his shop at the Sign of the Roe Buck, Green concluded with a note that he also carried “almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.” Prospective customers could hardly have doubted that this shopkeeper offered choices to suit their own tastes.

Green did “enumerate” so many items that his advertisement extended more than a column, which was relatively rare even for the most extensive list-style advertisements of the period. At a glance, however, it may not have looked as dense and difficult to navigate as other advertisements. The compositor, likely with instructions from Green, devised a unique format that gave much of the advertisement the appearance of a series of shorter notices. Each section concluded with a line that ran across the remainder of the column, creating a visual effect similar to the lines that separated notices from each other. In addition each new section commenced with one or two lines in a larger font, similar to the format for the headers for other advertisements. This technique highlighted particular goods for sale while also breaking this advertisement into shorter segments that readers could more easily peruse.

Compare Green’s advertisement to another lengthy advertisement in the same issue of the Newport Mercury. Gideon Sisson sold similar merchandise at his shop on Thames Street. His advertisement fell a few lines shy of filling an entire column. Below the header, it featured only two sections of equal length, approximately half a column each. Many readers likely found the format imposing compared to the inviting layout of Green’s advertisement. Sisson required prospective customers to work harder when examining his inventory of goods.

Without close examination, many readers may have found it difficult to determine where Green’s advertisement ended. Encountering a series of shorter segments forced readers whose attention fixed on any particular section to scan backwards until they determined that it was part of Green’s lengthy advertisement. This exposed them to the rest of the advertisement, sometimes repeatedly if they happened to note more than one section of Green’s advertisement as they made their way through the newspaper. Such reiterative viewing would have introduced prospective customers to even more merchandise Green stocked at the Sign of the Roe Buck while simultaneously underscoring the extent of the choices he presented to consumers.

The format of Green’s advertisement played an important role in introducing prospective customers to his wares and increasing the likelihood that they took notice of his advertisement. Copy and layout played off each other to increase the effectiveness of both.

May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 16, 1769).

“His Want of a full Assortment arises … from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.”

As spring turned to summer in 1769, explicit references to the nonimportation agreements adopted by merchants and shopkeepers as a means of economic resistance to the duties on imported paper, glass, and other goods leveled by Parliament in the Townshend Acts appeared with greater frequency in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods. By then the boycott had been in effect for more then four months and had begun to take its toll on the inventories in many shops.

Consider John Appleton’s advertisement in the May 16, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Dated a day earlier, it began with the familiar “imported from LONDON in the last Ships,” but readers discovered on closer examination that the shopkeeper stocked very few items recently transported across the Atlantic, seemingly only those excluded from the boycott. Appleton also addressed the array of goods he usually carried and how his current selection compared. First stating that he “has also a good Assortment of English Piece Goods, suitable for the Season,” he then clarified that “he has not so full an Assortment as is usual for him at this Season of the Year.” He hoped that this would not deter prospective customers from visiting his shop. His diminished inventory resulted “not from any Neglect in him, but from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.” In other words, Appleton faithfully abided by the terms of the boycott. He asked for the understanding of prospective customers and, more generally, demanded the respect of all readers who supported the boycott.

To offset any inconvenience, Appleton also acquired alternate merchandise: “a Quantity of Germantown Stockings.” The shopkeeper explained that he now retailed those items “to encourage the Home Manufacture.” In so doing, he demonstrated that he supported another prong of the plan for overcoming the abuses of Parliament. Colonists realized that boycotts by themselves likely would not be enough; they also needed to become more self-sufficient, especially if they wished to correct a trade imbalance with Great Britain. Producing and consuming “domestic manufactures” had been part of the larger plan as soon as colonists began discussing nonimportation agreements. Once again, Appleton made certain that members of his community, especially prospective customers, knew that he had done his part to faithfully execute the plan.

Ordinarily, having a vast assortment of merchandise would have been a selling point for Appleton or any other shopkeeper. Running low on goods would not have been a point of pride. Yet in these circumstances Appleton turned a shortcoming into a virtue, arguing that customers should indeed patronize his shop precisely because he had less to offer than usual. By implication, doing so demonstrated their own patriotism.

March 27

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (March 27, 1769).
“TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen.”

Jolley Allen, a merchant from London, had been selling goods in Boston since 1755. In this advertisement he listed many things, from clothes to china to tea. I am interested in the man selling those goods. Allen was a known Loyalist. He had remained in Boston under the British occupation in 1775 and 1776. He planned to leave with his family on a private ship named Sally whose captain was Robert Campbell when the British and all of the other Loyalists planned to evacuate in March 1776. The Allens planned to leave on March 14, 1776. They boarded the ship for their voyage, planning to follow the British vessels to Nova Scotia. According to the New England Historical Society, on March 17 “it became clear just how inept Robert Campbell was. Over the next 24 hours, Campbell managed to collide with two other fleeing British ships, nearly capsize Sally and finally run it aground while the British ships sailed away for Nova Scotia.” The crew then anchored the ship near Provincetown, which was not under British control. Allen then lost all of his possessions to the residents of Provincetown. He later went back to his old home in Boston and found that his barber had taken up residence in his house. For a short time Allen rented a room in his former home. He eventually escaped to London in Febraury 1777, where he published “Account of the Sufferings and Losses of Jolley Allen, a Native of London” in hopes of being compensated for his losses during the American Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Almost without fail, Jolley Allen placed distinctive advertisements in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. They were not distinctive so much for their contents. After all, Allen listed the same sorts of items stocked by shopkeepers throughout the city and throughout the colonies. Instead, his attention to graphic design made Allen’s advertisements distinctive. In most cases advertisers submitted copy to the printing office and compositors assumed responsibility for the format of newspaper advertisements. However, the consistency of graphic design elements in Allen’s advertisements across multiple newspapers, whether borders enclosing his lists of goods or ornamental type flanking his name in the headline, demonstrate that Allen negotiated with printers and compositors to have specific visual elements included in his advertisements. That made his advertisement in the March 27, 1769, edition of Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette particularly noteworthy, in addition to its size. Filling two of three columns on the final page, Allen’s advertisement dominated the page.

Such attention to graphic design made Allen’s advertisements easy for prospective customers to recognize. Multiple iterations of his advertisements, especially over extended periods, also suggest that after initially agreeing with the printer and compositor on the format that Allen simply submitted a copy of an earlier advertisement cut from the newspaper, along with revisions marked or attached, when he wished to revive his marketing campaign. His advertisement from March 27, 1769, replicated almost exactly an advertisement that he previously ran nearly nine months earlier in the July 3, 1768, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. The new version included a slightly altered headline, “TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen” rather than “Now ready for Sale, at the most reasonable Rate, BY Jolley Allen,” but the shopkeeper’s name still appeared in a much larger sized font than anything else in the newspapers with the exception of the masthead. Decorative ornaments forming diamonds flanked his name. The list of goods he offered for sale was almost exactly the same in terms of both content and order. For the few items missing from the previous version, he likely crossed them off the copy he submitted to the printing office. A limited number of new items appeared at the bottom of the first column and the top of the second, perhaps written in the margins or on a separate sheet by Allen. A final note to “Town and Country Customers” ran across both columns at the bottom, replicating the format of the earlier advertisement. In addition, manicules appeared in all the same places in both advertisements, including three printed upside down at the end of lines rather than at the beginning. This suggests that the compositor faithfully followed the graphic design elements present in the earlier advertisement.

Note the manicules enclosing Allen’s money back guarantee for tea. Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (March 27, 1769).
Allen likely had to invest some time in working with printers and compositors to achieve the format he desired for his advertisement the first time it ran in any of Boston’s newspapers. That facilitated the process for subsequent insertions since he could simply submit a copy from a previous publication with any revisions marked, trusting the compositor to replicate a design already established.

January 23

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

Boston-Gazette (January 23, 1769).

“John Nazro, At his Shop in Cornhill, BOSTON.”

To increase the chances that prospective customers would see his advertisement for a “Fresh Assortment of English and India GOODS,” John Nazro inserted it in more than one newspaper during the week of January 23, 1769. His options included the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy (co-published with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (co-published with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette). Occasionally advertisers sought to maximize the exposure for their advertisements by placing them in all or nearly all of the newspapers printed in Boston in the late 1760s, but Nazro was more modest in his approach. He selected only two, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy.

Finances may have played a role in his decision. Once he determined to limit the number of publications he likely took into account his impression of the circulation of each newspaper as well as the day of the week they were published. The Evening-Post, the Gazette, and the Post-Boy were all published on Mondays. The Weekly News-Letter was published on Thursdays. Earlier the month the Chronicle had moved to semi-weekly publication, expanding from Mondays to both Mondays and Thursdays. Nazro did not spread his advertisements throughout the week by choosing one newspaper published on Monday and another on Thursday. Perhaps he considered Monday the best day to introduce consumers to his merchandise. Alternately, he may have considered the circulation of the Gazette and the Post-Boy so superior to any of the newspapers published on Thursday that he would receive a better return on his investment by advertising in them.

Due to the culture of reprinting in eighteenth-century America, many newspapers often featured the same content when it came to news items. For instance, on January 23, the Evening-Post, the Gazette, and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette (co-published with the Post-Boy) all included “The Humble Address of the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled” from November 8, 1768, as well as “The Humble ADDRESS of the HOUSE of COMMONS to the KING.” By then, those items had already appeared in the January 19 edition of Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette (co-published with the Weekly News-Letter). Only the Chronicle did not run them.

As these news items and Nazro’s advertisement demonstrate, colonial readers often encountered the same content in multiple newspapers, though for different reasons. Printers reproduced news items that appeared in other newspapers or arrived by ship, but advertisers paid to have their notices populate the pages of colonial newspapers.

December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 1, 1768).

“David Nelson returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC.”

When David Nelson opened “his new STORE, next door but one to the Rose and Crown, in High-street, Wilmington,” he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Although published in Philadelphia, that newspaper served both local and regional audiences. Colonists in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and cities and town in Pennsylvania beyond the busy port read the Pennsylvania Gazette and inserted advertisements in it. Nelson most likely did not anticipate gaining any customers from Philadelphia, but he knew that the Pennsylvania Gazette was one of the newspapers that residents of Wilmington and the surrounding area regularly read, in the absence of any printed locally.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Nelson provided a short list of merchandise he sold. His “VARIETY OF GOODS” included textiles (“velvets and velverets, serges, flannels, camblets, shaloons, tammies, durants, calimancoes,” and others), adorments (“knee and shoe buckles, mohair and metal buttons”), and groceries (“sugar and melasses”). Yet Nelson offered only a preview of his inventory, enticing prospective customers with a promise that he also stocked “a variety of other GOODS, too tedious to enumerate.” Those who visited his store would encounter many other wonders.

In addition to promoting his wares, Nelson inserted a nota bene that expressed his appreciation for those who had already patronized his new store. He “returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC, for the encouragement he has already had, and hopes for their further favours.” Many colonial merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged their customers in their advertisements. Doing so served two purposes. It encouraged those who had already made purchases to return, but it also communicated to others that their friends and neighbors shopped at that store. Especially since Nelson operated a “new STORE,” providing early indications of its success may have helped to convince other prospective customers to make a visit and examine the goods on offer. Even if Nelson had not yet done much business at that location, he attempted to make his store seem popular to the public. His expression of gratitude suggested that customers already appreciated the “variety of GOODS, too tedious to enumerate,” that he “sold at the lowest prices.”