April 17

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 17, 1771).

“Grand Feast of Historical Entertainment … XENOPHONTICK BANQUET.”

Robert Bell advertised widely when he published an American edition of William Robertson’s History of the Reign of Charles the Fifth in 1771.  Though he printed the three-volume set in Philadelphia, he placed advertisements in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  In seeking subscribers in advance of publication and buyers after the books went to press, Bell did not rely on the usual means of marketing books to consumers.  Instead, he adopted a more flamboyant style, an approach that became a trademark of his efforts to promote the American book trade in the late eighteenth century.

For instance, Bell announced “the Completion of the grand Feast of Historical Entertainment” with the imminent “Publication of the third Volume of Robertson’s celebrated History of Charles the Fifth” in an advertisement in the April 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  He invited “all Gentlemen that possess a sentimental Taste” to participate in “this elegant XENOPONTICK BANQUET” by adding their names to the subscription list.  In continuing the metaphor of the feast, Bell invoked Xenophon of Athens, an historian and philosopher considered one of the greatest writers of the ancient world.  The phrase “XENOPHONTICK BANQUET” appeared in all capitals and a slightly larger font, as did “HISTORY,” the headline intended to draw attention to the advertisement.

Essex Gazette (April 16, 1771).

The previous day, a very similar advertisement ran in the Essex Gazette.  It featured “HISTORY” and “XENOPHONTIC BANQUET” in capital letters and larger font.  Most of the text was identical as well, though local printers adjusted the instructions for acquiring copies of the book.  The version in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette directed subscribers to “any of the Booksellers in Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, or to ROBERT WELLS,” bookseller and printer of the newspaper, “in Charlestown.”  The variant in the Essex Gazette also mentioned “Booksellers in Boston, New-York, [and] Philadelphia,” but also listed local agents in seven other towns, including Samuel Orne in Salem.  Wells also inserted a note that he sold writing paper and trunks in addition to the first and second volumes of Robertson’s History.

Published just a day apart in Charleston, South Carolina, and Salem, Massachusetts, these advertisements with such similar copy and format created a near simultaneous reading experience in towns located hundreds of miles distant.  Reprinting news accounts from one newspaper to another to another had a similar effect, though it took time to disseminate news in that manner.  Bell engineered an advertising campaign without the same time lapse as coverage of the “freshest Advices” among the news accounts.  Among the imagined community of readers and consumers in South Carolina and Massachusetts, the simultaneity of being encouraged to purchase an American edition of Robertson’s famed work was much less imagined than the simultaneity of keeping up with current events by reading the news.

April 10

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 10, 1771).

“Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.”

Elisabeth Russel, John Giles, and William Russel, the executors of Alexander Russel’s estate, harnessed the power of the press in fulfilling their duties.  In the spring of 1771, they ran an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, calling on “ALL Persons indebted to the Estate … to make immediate Payment, and all Persons having Demands thereon to bring them in.”

The estate notice also attended to the continuation of the business that Alexander operated before his death.  “THE SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS,” the executors announced, “is carried on as heretofore, under the Direction of a proper Person.”  Furthermore, “Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.”  In similar circumstances, some widows took over managing the family’s business, continuing responsibilities they previously pursued and expanding others.  After all, they made significant contributions before their husbands died, even if their names never appeared in advertisements.  Husbands tended to be the public face, but wives provided various kinds of labor, including keeping ledgers and interacting with customers, that did not receive the same recognition and notice.

When it came to the managing the Russels’ “SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS,” however, the widow did not assume all of the responsibilities previously undertaken by her husband.  Instead, the executors assured prospective clients that “a proper Person” oversaw the day-to-day operations.  Yet they did not erase the widow.  They made clear that “Mrs. Russel” was now the proprietor.  The employees were “her Hands.”  She appreciated customers who continued to hire their services.  This formulation positioned the widow as both a proprietor who took appropriate steps in maintaining the business and an object of sympathy who merited consideration following the death of her husband.  Her livelihood depended, at least in part, on the family’s business remaining a viable enterprise.  In the interests of both her customers and herself, the executors suggested, the widow made responsible decisions.  Prospective customers could have confidence that the Russel family’s business, now headed by Elisabeth, maintained the same quality and continued uninterrupted in the wake of Alexander’s death.

February 27

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 27, 1771).

“THE TRIAL of the SOLDIERS of His Majesty’s Twenty-Ninth Regiment of Foot.”

“A FUNERAL SERMON … on the Death of the Rev. Mr. Whitefield.”

In a single advertisement in the February 27, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, Robert Wells marketed commemorative items associated with the two of the most important events that occurred in the colonies in 1770, the Boston Massacre on March 5 and the death of George Whitefield on September 30.  Both events were covered widely in newspapers throughout the colonies, articles reprinted from one newspaper to another.  Both also spurred commodification of the events within days or weeks.  Advertisements for prints depicting the “late horrid Massacre in King-Street” appeared soon after soldiers fired into the crowd.  Advertisements for funeral sermons, poems, and other items memorializing the prominent minister found their way into newspapers within days of his death.

Printers, booksellers, and others continued hawking commemorative items many months later.  John Fleeming, a printer in Boston, announced publication of “THE TRIAL of the SOLDIERS of His Majesty’s Twenty-ninth Regiment of Foot” in January 1771, a few months after the trials concluded and coverage appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Several newspapers in New England carried advertisements for Fleeming’s volume by the end of January.  A month later, advertisements also ran in newspapers as far away as South Carolina.  On February 19, Wells inserted a brief notice that “A few Copies of The TRIAL at large of the SOLDIERS … for the Murders at Bostonmay be had at the Great Stationary and Book Store.”  In the next issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he promoted the book at greater length.  The new advertisement included the lengthy title as well as a list of the contents. Overall, it featured only slight variations from an advertisement Fleeming placed in the Boston Evening-Post on January 21.  When the bookseller in Boston sent copies to his associate in Charleston, he may have included a copy of the advertisement.  Alternately, Wells may have received the Boston Evening-Post directly from its printers as part of an exchange network that facilitated reprinting news and other items of interest.

Wells listed other items available at “the Great Stationary and Book-Shop,” concluding with a short paragraph about “A FUNERAL SERMON preached in Georgia on the Death of the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD wherein his Character is IMPARTIALLY drawn. By the Rev. Mr. ZUBLY.”  Wells advertised Zubly’s sermon three weeks earlier in a lengthier notice.  In contrast to most commemorative items in memory of Whitefield, that sermon was neither delivered nor printed in New England.  Zubly preached it in Savannah, the same town where James Johnston printed it and then disseminated copies to both Wells and John Edwards, a merchant in Charleston.  The production and marketing of commemorative items was not confined to New England.

Wells, like many other printers and booksellers, sought to generate revenues through the commodification of significant events that captured the public’s interest and attention.  Most purveyors of these items promoted only one at a time.  Their many advertisements testify to the extent of commodification of major events in the colonies in the 1770s.  Wells’s advertisement for both an account of the trials of the soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre and a funeral sermon memorializing one of the most prominent ministers of the era underscores the extent of the commodification of current events.

February 19

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 19, 1771).

A few Copies of The TRIAL … of the SOLDIERS … for the Murders at Boston.”

In January 1771, John Fleeming, a printer in Boston, published an account of the trial of the soldiers involved in the “horrid MASSACRE” on March 5, 1770.  He advertised in the Boston Evening-Post in advance of taking the book to press and then continued advertising once copies were available.  Additional advertisements of various length and detail soon appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Providence Gazette.  Printers and booksellers in New England believed that a market existed for this volume, but they also sought to enlarge that market by inciting more demand.

Commemoration and commodification of the events that culminated in the colonies declaring independence began long before fighting commenced at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.  Writing to Thomas Jefferson in 1815, John Adams reflected on the American Revolution as a process or a series of experiences rather than a military conflict.  “What do we mean by the Revolution?  The war?  That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it.  The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760-1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.”  In other words, the American Revolution took place in the hearts and minds of colonists prior to declaring independence.

The commodification of events like the Boston Massacre contributed to those transformations.  Advertisements for Fleeming’s book found their way into newspapers published in towns beyond New England, including the February 19, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  “A few Copies,” printer and bookseller Robert Wells announced, “of the TRIAL at large of the SOLDIERS of the 29th Regiment, for the Murders at Boston, March 5th, 1770 … may be had at the Great Stationary and Book Store.”  Far away from Boston, residents of Charleston did not experience the “horrid MASSACRE” in the same way as the inhabitants of the town where it happened.  It did not have an immediate impact on their daily lives.  Yet newspaper coverage and opportunities to purchase commemorative items kept them informed and allowed them to feel as though they also participated in events that unfolded in the wake of the Boston Massacre.  They could not attend the trials, but they could read about them and then discuss politics with friends and neighbors, their views shaped in part by what they learned from newspapers and commemorative items, including books and prints depicting the event.  Printers like Robert Wells helped shaped colonists’ understanding of politics and current events not only through publishing news but also through selling commemorative items.

February 5

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 5, 1771).

“A FUNERAL SERMON … on the much lamented Death of the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Robert Wells, bookseller and printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, placed an advertisement for “NEW BOOKS” in the February 5, 1771, edition of his newspaper.  The advertisement extended an entire column, listing dozens of titles and concluding with “TOBLER’s ALMANACK” and “A FUNERAL SERMON” in memory of George Whitefield.  With the latter, Wells presented consumers an opportunity to participate in commemorations of the prominent minister that occurred from New England to Georgia.  Commodification of Whitefield’s death made it possible for colonists to purchase mementos that testified to their grief and regard for the minister; simultaneously, such commodification generated revenues for printers, booksellers, and others.

Whitefield, one of the most influential ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30 1770.  The next day news appeared in several newspapers published in Boston and from there quickly spread to other towns and other colonies.  Within a month, residents of Georgia learned of the minister’s death.  Wells advertised a sermon delivered in Whitefield’s memory “at Savannah, in Georgia, November 1, 1770 … By J.J. ZUBLY, Minister of an English and German Congregation.”  According to the imprint, James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, printed and sold the sermon.  He most likely advertised it in his own newspaper, but few editions of the Georgia Gazette from late 1770 and beyond survive.  Johnston apparently dispatched copies to Charleston in hopes of capturing another market.

Yet the advertisement for Zubly’s sermon was not the only appearance Whitefield made among the advertisements in the February 5 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  John Fleeming’s subscription notice for an annotated “FAMILY BIBLE” filled two columns on the front page, the second of those columns devoted almost entirely to an endorsement Whitefield penned for an earlier edition.  Fleeming leveraged the minister’s notes of approbation written years earlier into a posthumous testimonial for his proposed project.  He distributed that advertisement widely in newspapers published in New England, but this was the first time it appeared in any of the newspapers published in South Carolina.  Fleeming and his local agents updated it to indicate that “Subscriptions for said laudable Undertaking, are taken in at Charlestown by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Great Stationary and Book Store; In Savannah by JAMES JOHNSTON, at his Printing-Office.”

The frequency of advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia tapered off by the end of 1770 as the immediacy of the minister’s death faded, but a couple of months later they experienced a resurgence as printers and booksellers renewed their efforts to provide commemorative items to consumers who wished to feel connected to such a significant event.  Much of this resurgence occurred beyond New England, the center for most, but not all, of the marketing for Whitefield paraphernalia in the first few months after his death.  Just as news spread, reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, so did the commodification of the Whitefield’s death.

December 19

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 19, 1770).

“ALL Persons indebted to CARNE & WILSON, are requested to discharge their respective Debts.”

Apothecaries Carne and Wilson advertised widely when they dissolved their partnership in the fall of 1770, calling on clients to “discharge their respective Debts” or else face the consequences.  They threatened that those who disregarded their notices would “have to settle with a Gentleman of the Law.”  They also expressed some exasperation, stating that they had inserted advertisement “in the several Gazettes” published in Charleston so none of their customers “may plead ignorance.”  Such notices were common in South Carolina and throughout the colonies.

Neither Carne nor Wilson retired, moved to another town, or ceased working as apothecaries when their partnership came to an end.  Instead, they each pursued other opportunities.  Wilson ran his own shop, while Carne embarked on a new partnership.  Both ran advertisements for their new endeavors, notices that overlapped with their advertisements instructing former customers to settle accounts.  In the December 19, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, a single column on the front page included advertisements representing all three enterprises.  Wilson’s advertisement for a “LARGE and compleat ASSORTMENT of DRUGS, CHEMICAL, GALENICAL, and FAMILY MEDICINES” appeared at the top of the column, followed immediately by Carne and Poinsett’s advertisement for a “Large Parcel of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”  Even though they were now competitors rather than partners, the proximity of their advertisements kept their names associated with each other.  Several other advertisements appeared in that column, with Carne and Wilson’s notice for customers to discharge their debts at the bottom.
The public prints featured reverberations of Carne and Wilson’s former partnership even as they launched and promoted new ventures.  The success of those new ventures may have depended in part on closing the books on the partnership, hence their stern warning that recalcitrant customers might have to deal with an attorney “as no longer indulgence can possibly be given, there being an absolute necessity for having every thing relative to that concern closed.”  Colonial entrepreneurs placed advertisements throughout the various stages of operating their businesses, announcing that they would soon open, promoting goods and services available at their shops, and informing the public when they closed.  The three advertisements that Carne and Wilson placed simultaneously in the South-Carolina and American General Gazetteencapsulated this cycle, telling a more complete story about their commercial activities.

December 5

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 5, 2020).

“Will sell by vendue … a neat assortment of CABINET-WORK.”

John Dobbins, a cabinetmaker, operated a shop on Tradd Street in Charleston in 1770.  As the year came to a close, he inserted an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to alert the public that he planned to leave the colony in the spring.  In preparation for his departure, he planned a vendue or auction for December 17.  His inventory consisted of “a neat assortment of CABINET-WORK,” including “chairs and tables of all kinds, china tables, carved and plain, mahogany bedsteads, neat double and half chests of drawers, French [c]hairs, brass nailed chairs,” and “many other articles not mentioned.”  Dobbins sought to liquidate his wares.  In effect, he ran a going-out-of-business sale.  Prospective customers stood to acquire better bargains by buying at auction.  The cabinetmaker faced improved prospects of finding purchasers for the array of furniture that remained in stock.

In his effort to attract bidders to the auction, Dobbins offered “Three months credit to any purchaser above Twenty Pounds.”  Providing such flexibility likely increased the number of prospective customers who considered attending the vendue.  After all, the cabinetmaker’s first goal was to get people through the door.  The number and amount of sales depended on the crowd that gathered, so announcing that he extended credit – and set the threshold at twenty pounds – was a savvy tactic for encouraging attendance and participation at the auction.

Dobbins also took the opportunity to express his appreciation to his customers for their patronage during the time he made and sold furniture at his shop on Tradd Street.  Although he was leaving the colony, the business would continue at the same location.  Dobbins endorsed his successor, John Forthet, asking “his friends … for their continuance as the business will be carried on at the same shop.”  As one last service to his customers, he offered a recommendation and a transition to another artisan who made and sold furniture.  As part of maintaining good relationships during the time that he remained in the colony, he prepared for a smooth departure that included bargains at auction, credit for preferred customers, an expression of gratitude, and recommending a successor.

November 20

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1770).

“DOUBLE BEER, fine ALE, TABLE and SMALL BEER.”

Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, had too much news and advertising to include all of it in a standard four-page issue on November 20, 1770.  Like other printers who found themselves in that position, he distributed a supplement with the surplus content.  Both news and advertising appeared in the standard issue, but the supplement consisted entirely of advertisements.

Taking into account the number of advertisements that did not make it into the standard issue, Wells used a smaller sheet for the supplement.  That decision led to an unusual format for the supplement.  Each page of the standard issue featured four columns, but each page of the supplement had only three columns.  Two of those ran from top to bottom of the page, as usual, but Wells printed the final column perpendicular to the others.

Why such an awkward format?  It saved time while also maximizing the amount of content Wells could squeeze onto the page.  Most of the advertisements ran in previous issues.  The type had already been set.  Wells wished to use it again rather than investing time in resetting type to fit a page of a different size.  The smaller sheet allowed him to insert two columns of the usual width.  With the remaining space, he rotated the advertisements and formed columns that ran perpendicular to the others.  Wells managed to fit three of these perpendicular columns, but that left a small space at the bottom of the page.

Rather than waste that remaining space by leaving it blank, Wells finally opted to set type for a narrower column.  On one side of the page this permitted him to include two more short advertisements, one for beer and ale and the other for candles.  On the other side he inserted a notice from the Charleston Library Society calling on members to return books.  Engaging with these advertisements required active reading and further manipulation of the page by subscribers.

Wells was simultaneously ingenious and frugal in designing the format for the advertising supplement that accompanied the November 20 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  His competitor, Charles Crouch, found himself in a similar position when it came to supplements for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, choosing to eliminate white space between columns in order to make the content fit the page without having to reset the type.  Publishing advertisements generated important revenues for newspaper printers, but they were not so lucrative to prevent printers from carefully managing the additional expenses of producing advertising supplements.

November 6

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 6, 1770).

“AN ELEGY on the Reverend GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Following the death of George Whitefield, one of the most influential ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, news radiated out from New England.  Brief reports first appeared in Boston’s newspapers the day after the minister died.  Other newspapers then reprinted the news, first in other colonies in New England and then in New York and Pennsylvania and eventually in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina.  (The Georgia Gazette presumably carried the news as well, but few copies from 1770 survive.)  Coverage of Whitefield’s death also included poems written in his memory, reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, and advertisements for commemorative items, all of them printed materials that ranged from broadsides to pamphlets to books.

The widespread marketing of that memorabilia amounted to the commodification of Whitefield’s death as printers and others sought to capitalize on the event.  That does not mean that expressions of mourning among producers and consumers were not sincere.  They were, however, mediated through acquiring goods that allowed consumers to experience a connection to the minister and feel as though they were participating in current events alongside others who mourned.  Even as producers and sellers of the commemorative items facilitated that process, they also strove to generate revenues from Whitefield’s death.

The commodification began in New England almost as soon as newspapers published the news.  In its first article about Whitefield’s death, published four days later, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter noted that a “FUNERAL HYMN” that the minister wrote several years earlier was for sale at another printing office in Boston.  Not long after that, freestanding advertisements began appearing in all of the newspapers published in that city as well as in newspapers from other towns in New England.  As news spread to other colonies, printers and booksellers in New York and Pennsylvania also ran advertisements that marketed Whitefield memorabilia.  Due to the distance, it took more than three weeks for the news to reach South Carolina.  Just two weeks after that, an advertisement for a commemorative item ran in the November 6, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

That advertisement offered a short history of Whitefield’s death.  Coverage had not been as extensive that far from New England, so the advertisement likely helped prospective customers recall the key details that Whitefield “departed this Life ay Newbury-Port in New-England, on the Morning of the Lord’s-Day, September 30th 1770, in the 56th Year of his Age.”  The advertisement promoted an “ELEGY” in memory of the minister as well as “A HYMN, composed by the Rev, Mr. WHITEFIELD to be sung over his own Corpse.”  By then the hymn had already been widely marketed in New England and additional advertisements ran in other colonies.  The advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated a different method of distributing the memorabilia than in most advertisements in other newspapers, stating that “CARRIERS of this GAZETTE” sold the elegy and hymn.  A couple of advertisements published in New England offered discounts for shopkeepers and peddlers who bought large numbers for resale, but this was the first advertisement that specified that those who delivered newspapers also sold Whitefield commemorative items.  Opportunities to purchase memorabilia in South Carolina apparently were not confined to the urban port of Charleston but instead available in places removed from the busy city.

Mourning, celebrating the life of a prominent minister, and business were intertwined as colonists reacted to the death of George Whitefield.  His celebrity helped to make possible the commodification of his death and the appearance of newspaper advertisements hawking broadsides, pamphlets, and books.  Although concentrated in New England, that commodification also occurred as far away as South Carolina.  Colonists experienced print culture that informed them of the minister’s death, but they also participated in consumer culture that helped them to make meaning of it while simultaneously generating revenues for the producers and sellers of Whitefield commemorative items.

October 31

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 31, 1770).

“MRS. SWALLOW begs Leave to inform the Publick.”

Newman Swallow and Mrs. Swallow, presumably husband and wife, both ran newspaper advertisements in late October and early November 1770.  Newman advised prospective clients that he “proposes carrying on the FACTORAGE BUSINESS,” serving as a broker in Charleston.  Mrs. Swallow planned to open a boarding school for “young Ladies” at a new house “next Door to his Honour the Lieutenant-Governour’s” in Broad Street.  Their advertisements first appeared, one above the other, in the October 30, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  The following day both advertisements also ran, again one above the other, in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The November 1 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included both notices, once again one above the other.  In the course of three consecutive days, the Newmans disseminated their advertisements in all three newspapers published in Charleston, maximizing exposure for their enterprises among readers throughout the busy port and the rest of the colony.

Careful examination of their advertisements reveals differences in format but not content.  The Newmans submitted the same copy to the three printing offices in Charleston, but the compositors who set type for the newspapers exercised discretion over typography and other aspects of graphic design.  Variations in font sizes, font styles, words appearing in all capital letters or italics, and the use of ornaments all testified to the role of the compositor in making decisions about how each advertisement would look on the page.  In two of the newspapers, “NEWMAN SWALLOW” and “MRS. SWALLOW” served as headlines, but not in the third.  Similar examples appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg during the era of the American Revolution.  In towns large enough to support more than one newspaper, advertisers frequently placed notices in two, three, or more publications.  The copy remained consistent across newspapers, but the graphic design varied.  This demonstrated an important division of labor in the production of newspaper advertisements in eighteenth-century America.  Advertisers dictated the contents, but usually asserted little control over the format.  Compositors exercised creativity in designing how the copy appeared on the page, influencing how readers might engage with advertisements when they encountered them in the public prints.