May 7

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

May 7 - 5:4:1769 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 4, 1769).
“Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box.”

In the spring of 1769, Freer Armston,, a chandler and soap boiler in Norfolk, Virginia, attempted to enlarge his market by expanding his operations into Williamsburg. He placed an advertisement in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette to inform prospective customers that he had opened a new shop where he sold “TALLOW CANDLES as good as any on the continent.” With such a bold statement, Armston favorably compared his wares to any others that consumers could acquire.

To make his candles even more attractive, he took the unusual step of naming their price in his advertisement: “by the box 11 d. paying freight from Norfolk.” Advertisers rarely listed prices in eighteenth-century newspapers, though many often made general appeals to low or reasonable prices. Readers likely knew what to expect to pay for a box of tallow candles from other chandlers and shopkeepers in Williamsburg. As a newcomer, Armston attempted to stimulate interest in his merchandise by allowing prospective customers to assess on their own whether he offered a deal. He did the same for his “Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box, or 7d. halfpenny [sic] small quantities.” He was not as verbose about the quality of his soap, simply describing it as “Best,” and instead emphasized the price and potential savings by buying in bulk. Customers saved twenty percent when they purchased an entire box of hard soap.

Armston also sought to establish that he was a careful and responsible entrepreneur. In addition to selling candles and soap, he asked readers to provide him with supplies, especially “good WOOD ASHES” used in the production of soap, for which he offered “goods or money.” He was vigilant when it came to accepting ashes from Black men and women, assuming that some did not acquire them by legitimate means. Armston instructed that “all persons that send by or give their ashes to Negroes” must also send a note specifying that they had done so or else he would not accept them. The chandler and soap boiler was not about to give “goods or money” to Black people who could not demonstrate how they came into possession of ashes they delivered to his shop. In addition to offering quality goods at low prices, Armston depicted himself as a good neighbor who attended to maintaining proper order in his business dealings.

April 2

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

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

Boston Chronicle (March 30, 1769).

“Several BARRELS of SOAP.”

Elias Dupee advertised “several BARRELS of SOAP” and other goods for auction in the spring of 1769. This made me think about cleanliness shortly before the start of the Revolutionary War Pretty much everyone smelled. Deprived of our modern cleaning methods, like showering, people in colonial and revolutionary America used much simpler cleaning methods. According to Edward Park, “In America’s colonial days, getting clean meant sponging off, usually with just face and hands.” Bathhouses existed in the colonies, but they were not used for cleaning the body. They were used to cool down from the sweltering hot summers of the southern colonies. Also, washing in the northern colonies during the winter was more or less impossible because there was no heat to keep the cold out, so the cold could freeze the water or make it extremely cold. To learn more about the colonists’ cleanliness, visit “To Bathe or Not to Bathe: Coming Clean in Colonial America.”



Serving as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project has given Aidan and the other students enrolled in my Revolutionary America class opportunities to examine consumer culture in eighteenth-century in greater detail. In readings, research projects, and discussions we have learned about the proliferation of goods during the consumer revolution, the social and political meanings colonists associated with those goods, and acts of political resistance undertaken through nonimportation agreements. Throughout most of our consideration of the many valences of consumer culture, we have taken into account the experiences of consumers on the one hand and shopkeepers, merchants, and artisans on the other, but we sometimes overlook other purveyors of goods, auctioneers like Elias Dupee.

When we take some time in class today to discuss the work that Aidan has completed so far during his week as guest curator, we will spend a few moments discussing the prevalence of vendues (or auctions) in eighteenth-century America. Retailers not always purchase their wares from merchants. Consumers did not always make their purchases from shopkeepers. Instead, as advertisements and other sources readily make apparent, auctions provided an alternate means of acquiring goods and participating in the consumer revolution (as did theft, another frequent subject of notices in the public prints). Dupee’s “New AUCTION-ROOM” was not the only such establishment in Boston in 1769. During the same week that Dupee placed his advertisement, “J. RUSSELL, Auctioneer” ran his own for “the Auction Room, in Queen Street.” John Gerrish also advertised an upcoming auction at “the VENDUE-OFFICE, NORTH END.” Both advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post.

Residents of Boston had many options when it came to auctions. Dupee, Gerrish, and Russell were prolific advertisers in the local newspapers. In the late 1760s their notices appeared more frequently than advertisements placed by most merchants and shopkeepers, in part because conducting auctions allowed them to move merchandise quickly. No sooner did one auction end than these industrious vendue masters placed new advertisements listing the goods available at the next auction. Advertisements for goods incited interest and awareness of consumer culture among colonists. Auctioneers played a vital role in that process, their notices often achieving as much visibility as those placed by merchants and shopkeepers.

March 24


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

Boston Chronicle (March 23-27, 1769).

“Several BARRELS of SOAP, and a variety of European GOODS.”

In this advertisement Elias Dupee is trying to sell a few different kinds of goods, including apparel and other goods useful around the house. He points out specifically that he has several “BARRELS of SOAP” as well as “a variety of European GOODS.” This soap may have been produced in the colonies since Dupee listed it separately. This is worth noting because soap was a very large import into the colonies from Britain; the colonists preferred to import soap from overseas instead of making soap themselves. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen talks about how this was the case. He notes, “One English traveler discovered to her surprise that in rural North Carolina women seldom bothered to produce soap. It was not a question of the availability of raw materials. Good ashes could be had at no expense. But these rural women were consumers, and they preferred to purchase Irish soap ‘at the store at a monstrous price.’”[1] That the soap that Dupee advertised may have been made in the colonies points to a shift in the colonies moving towards more self-reliance at a time that they reduced imports to resist the taxes from the Townshend Acts.



Today Sean and I have deviated slightly from the Adverts 250 Project’s methodology in order to explore an aspect of early American newspaper publication that often confuses modern readers the first time they examine eighteenth-century newspapers: the date listed in the masthead and, sometimes, at the top of each page.

Consider the Boston Chronicle. The masthead for issue 78 includes this date: “From THURSDAY, MARCH 23, to MONDAY, MARCH 27, 1769.” The top of each page included the name of the newspaper and a date, “March 23—March 27.” What does this mean? When was that issue printed and distributed to subscribers? Does that date mean that it was printed on March 23 and readers should not expect another issue until March 27? Or does that date mean that the issue was printed on March 27 and covered the period since March 23? Twenty-first-century readers cannot make a determination in a glance. Sean and his peer were confused by the dates when they first encountered them, as was I when I began working with eighteenth-century newspapers.

Examining the content of issue 78 of the Boston Chronicle reveals when it was published. In particular, the dates listed in some of the advertisements prove useful, unlike the dates attached to some of the news items. For instance, news from Philadelphia was dates March 9, news from New York March 20, and news from New London March 17. The advertisement immediately below Dupee’s auction notice, however, reported that “a likely Negroe Fellow, (named CATO)” ran away from George Watson of Plymouth on March 25. That date indicates that issue 78 could not have been published on March 23. Instead, it was published on March 27 and contained all of the news, advertising, and other content for the period since the previous issue that bore the date “From MONDAY, March 20, to THURSDAY, MARCH 23, 1769.”

This example points to an aspect of working with undergraduate guest curators that I particularly enjoy: the fresh eyes that they bring to sources that have become very familiar to me. As I mentioned above, I also questioned the dates on newspapers like the Boston Chronicle when I first began examining eighteenth-century newspapers, but I have become so accustomed to that convention that I hardly remembered it until Sean and others raised questions about what appeared to be a confusing date. Over the course of this semester, as in past semesters, I have observed undergraduate guest curators achieve greater mastery of early American history, including gaining some of the expertise of print culture specialists. They have done so via exploration of primary sources they have selected on their own rather than merely responding to readings that I have gathered for them.

In the process, Sean and I decided to depart from the methodology that dictates that the featured advertisement must have appeared in a newspaper published exactly 250 years ago today. Instead, he chose one published 250 years ago this week so we could examine how colonists thought about the dates on newspapers in addition to the goods and services advertised in those newspaper.


[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 79.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:10:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 10, 1766).

“As the Merchants in the Colonies propose a Manufacture of Cloths, this Soap will be of great Advantage.”

In the months after the colonies received word that the Stamp Act had been repealed the frequency that advertisements for goods and services incorporated explicitly political appeals decreased. Yet those appeals did not disappear completely. After all, the Declaratory Act was in effect and wary colonists continued to eye Parliament with suspicion.

In this advertisement for soaps, Thomas Smith and Company referenced recent conversations about the necessity of the colonies becoming more self-sufficient by developing new industries and improving others rather than rely on imports from England. Domestic manufacture and consumption were presented as complementary means of resistance to Parliamentary abuses.

Smith and Company continued this conversation, noting that “the Merchants in the Colonies propose a Manufacture of Cloths” to reduce or eliminate imported textiles. Smith and Company realized that increasing textile production in the colonies would have ripple effects on related industries, including the production of soap that would then be used for washing wool and fulling cloth. Their advertisement emphasized that the soap they made was “such as is made in London” and “known as to be used by most of the Woollen Manufacturers in England, in their various Branches, likewise by the Linen Factories.” The “Manufacture of Cloths” in the colonies would be most successful, Smith and Company suggested, if supported by related ancillary industries. To that end, they provided the same sort of soap of the same quality and “at the same Price Currency as it is sold in England.” This vision, however, would only be possible with “the Favour and Encouragement of the Public.”

Thomas Smith and Company deployed other appeals in this advertisement for their “SOAP FACTORY,” but the political ramifications of supporting their enterprise received the most sustained attention. Their rhetoric was not as shrill as in advertisements published while the Stamp Act was still in effect, but consumers would have recognized the conversation and understood their intent.