January 29

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

Boston Weekly News-Letter (January 26, 1769).

“Sundry stolen Goods.”

News did not appear solely among the news items in eighteenth-century newspapers. Instead, several sorts of advertisements, including legal notices and estate notices, frequently covered the news, making readers aware of recent events in their communities and beyond. Advertisements concerning stolen goods also relayed news to readers. The last two advertisements in the January 26, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter did just that.

The first reported that on January 6 “sundry stolen Goods, the Property of Joshua Winslow & Son and John Rowe,” had been found concealed in the home of Thomas Vickers. In the wake of that discovery, Vickers had fled. The remainder of the advertisement, placed by Rowe, offered a description of his physical appearance and clothing. Rowe suggested that Vickers might try to escape Boston “on board some foreign bound Vessel,” alerting mariners and others to keep their eyes open for him on the docks. Rowe offered a reward to anyone who apprehended Vickers and presented him to Edmund Quincy, “Justice of Peace in Boston.”

The second advertisement also told the story of a theft, but this one perpetrated “by some evil-minded Person or Persons yet unknown.” Rather than a description of the thief, it provided descriptions of the items stolen from onboard the sloop “Wilkes, William Campbell, Master,” on January 9. The stolen goods included “One Piece check Linnen narrow strip’d, 32 Yards,” “Three Dozen Pair dark speckled Hose,” and “A Suit blue Broad-Cloth Cloaths, Waistcoast and Breeches.” Campbell hoped that descriptions of the goods would aid in capturing the thief as well as recovering the property he had lost.

These two advertisements appeared immediately below others placed by John Gerrish, Richard Smith, and William Jackson. Gerrish advertised an auction scheduled to take place the following day. Smith and Jackson both listed merchandise available at their stores. All three named wares that corresponded closely to the kinds of items stolen from aboard the Wilkes and presumably those discovered in Vickers’s house. In their efforts to participate in the consumer revolution, not all colonists acquired goods from merchants, shopkeepers, and auctioneers. Some stole them and other purchased items either knowing that they had been pilfered or not inquiring too carefully about their origins. A single column of advertisements in the Boston Weekly-Mercury reveals the spectrum of choices available to colonists when it came to acquiring consumer goods.

December 14

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

Georgia Gazette (December 14, 1768).

“STOLEN out of the subscriber’s shop, A SILVER LANCET CASE.”

Readers of the Georgia Gazette encountered several means for acquiring consumer goods in the December 14, 1768, edition. They could make choices from among the inventory of merchants and shopkeepers. William Belcher, for instance, advertised a variety of textiles, housewares, and hardware imported from London and Boston. For those inclined to purchase secondhand goods rather than new, David Moses Vallotton, the administrator of the estate of Paul Dubois, offered “HOUSEHOLD GOODS, WEARING APPAREL, some TOOLS and TANNED LEATHERS, and sundry other articles.” Several others executors also announced estate sales and auctions.

Lewis Johnson’s advertisement, however, testified to other ways of obtaining goods in colonial America: theft and purchase of stolen goods. “STOLEN out of the subscriber’s shop,” his advertisement proclaimed, “A SILVER LANCET CASE with five lancets. Ten shillings will be given for returning it, and no questions will be asked. If it should be offered for sale he begs it may be stopt.” Similar advertisements regularly appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies, reporting thefts and describing stolen items in hopes of recovering them. Most offered rewards. Many expressed interest in punishing the perpetrators, though Johnson seemed more interested in recovering the stolen lancet case.

Such advertisements encouraged readers to engage in surveillance of other colonists and their belongings. In particular, they called on the community to be on the lookout for particular items and to assess the possessions of others to determine if they matched those described in the public prints and thus might have been acquired in an unscrupulous fashion. Advertisements for stolen goods cultivated attitudes and behaviors similar to those encouraged in many advertisements that encouraged readers to purchase goods.   Both prompted colonists to evaluate the character and status of others by taking into account the goods they possessed, their comportment, and other factors. Both suggest that consumer goods played an integral role in shaping interactions between colonists. Whether the new textiles sold by Belcher, the secondhand housewares from Dubois’s estate, or the lancet case stolen from Johnson, consumer goods were more than mere things. They possessed meaning that played into the appraisals colonists made of others.

August 12

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

Aug 12 - 8:12:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 12, 1768).

“Last Night the shops of the subscribers in said Middletown was broke open.”

Many advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers listed all sorts of consumer goods as a means of encouraging readers to visit shops, examine the merchandise, and make purchases. Other advertisements, however, demonstrate that not all colonists acquired goods through those means. Some colonists instead resorted to theft.

Such was the case in Middletown, Connecticut, at the end of July in 1768. On the morning of the final day of the month, George Philips, Asal Johnson, and Francis Whitmore all awoke to discover that their shops had been “broke open” during the night and several items stolen. The thief or thieves grabbed “about 6 dozen barcelona handkerchiefs, of which 2 dozen were black, the rest shaded various colours; 1 dozen black cravats, 3 or 4 pieces of black ribbons, 1 paper of white metal buckles, 1 castor hat a little moth eaten, 2 or 3 penknives,” and currency in several denominations from Philips. Similar items went missing from the shops of Johnson and Whitmore. The volume of stolen goods suggests that the thieves may not have intended these items solely for their own use. Instead, they may have attempted to fence them or otherwise distribute them through what Serena Zabin has termed an informal economy that allowed greater numbers of colonists to participate in the consumer revolution.

Philips and Johnson offered a reward to “Any person who will seize the thief or thieves with any or all of said articles, and secure them so that they shall be brought to justice.” The penalties could be quite severe for those convicted. Two years earlier in Rhode Island, for instance, Joseph Hart became a convict servant, sold into servitude “for the term of three years to satisfy the damages and costs of his prosecution and conviction, for stealing sundry goods.” Colonists who chose to gain access to the consumer revolution via extralegal means weighed the risks and rewards of acquiring goods that might otherwise have remained beyond their reach.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:18:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 18, 1768).

“No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office.”

John Gerrish had a bone to pick with Elias Dupee. Gerrish operated the North-End Vendue-Office. Dupee, his rival, ran the New-Auction Room. The two competed for both clients who supplied merchandise and bidders who purchased those wares.

On February 15, 1768, Dupee placed advertisements impugning Gerrish’s reputation in two newspapers, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy. Gerrish was so concerned about the accusations leveled against him that he did not wait a week to respond in the publications that originally ran Dupee’s advertisement. Instead, he published his own rebuttal just three days later in the Massachusetts Gazette. After devoting just a few lines to promoting his upcoming auction, Gerrish addressed Dupee’s allegations at length. Though he never mentioned his rival by name, Gerrish did closely paraphrase a portion of Dupee’s advertisement.

Dupee had offered a reward “to be paid to any Body, who shall bring to Justice, one John Taylor, who Stole out of the New Auction Room, the Night the Fire was, a blue Surtout Coat, and had it Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Anyone who resided in Boston would have know that John Gerrish was the auctioneer at the North-End Vendue-Office, especially anyone who regularly read any of the local newspapers. Gerrish, like Dupee and Joseph Russell from the Auction-Room in Queen Street, advertised regularly in several newspapers.

In his advertisement, Dupee explicitly accused Taylor of being a thief, but he also implicitly alleged that Gerrish was Taylor’s fence when he stated that the stolen coat had been “Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Such allegations had the potential to do significant damage to Gerrish’s reputation, scaring away bidders who did not wish to obtain stolen merchandise as well as suppliers who did not want their own names or ware associated with illicit business practices. Gerrish answered Dupee’s charges with a detailed timeline. The “Coat Sold for Taylor” had entered the North-End Vendue-Office ten days before the fire at Dupee’s New Auction Room, therefore it could not have been the same coat stolen the night of the fire. In addition, Gerrish identified discrepancies between the quality and price of the coat auctioned at his establishment and the one stolen from Dupee. Furthermore, the coat had been on display and “every Day exposed for Sale,” suggesting that many witnesses could attest to having seen it at the North-End Vendue-Office. Some of them could confirm the quality and value of that coat.

Gerrish acknowledged the possibility that Taylor had stolen a coat from Dupee, but if he had it was not the one that Gerrish auctioned. “Taylor may be a Thief,” he stated, “but verily he did not look more like one, than the Advertiser.” Dupee had attacked Gerrish’s reputation. Gerrish responded in kind. He also underscored, just in case readers had not followed all the complexity of his timeline, that “there is not the least probability, that the Coat Advertised, is the same that was Sold at the North-End Vendue-Office.”

Gerrish concluded with a message for prospective clients and potential bidders. “No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office, in endeavouring to detect suspected persons, –he has detected several, –let others beware.” Many colonists participated in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century via an informal economy that included secondhand and stolen goods. Newspaper advertisements frequently alerted readers about stolen goods. In addition, court records show that theft and fencing regularly occurred. That being the case, Gerrish devoted significant effort to demonstrating that he conducted a legitimate business that did not truck in stolen wares. He needed buyers and sellers, as well as the community more generally, to trust in his character if he wished to continue his business and compete against the rival auction houses in Boston.

Feb 21 - 2:15:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 15, 1768).

December 21

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

Dec 21 - 12:21:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (December 21, 1767).

John M’Lane stop’d last Wednesday Night a Large Silver Spoon.”

Watchmaker John McLane advertised his services in the Boston Post-Boy for several weeks in December 1767. He relied on two marketing strategies to attract potential clients, one commonly used by artisans and the other a clever innovation that testified to his character in addition to his credentials.

McLane opened his advertisement with a recitation of his training to assure customers that he was qualified to work as a watchmaker. He had completed an apprenticeship, having “serv’d his Time in Dublin to one of the best Finishers there.” On its own, this might have impressed prospective clients, but McLane also reported that he received additional training when he “work’d in London for improvement.” Artisans who migrated across the Atlantic frequently asserted their connections to the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the empire, often providing details about their previous training and work.

McLane’s second strategy, however, deviated from colonial artisans’ usual marketing practices. He appended a nota bene that reported he had “stop’d last Wednesday Night a large Silver Spoon.” In other words, a man that McLane deemed untrustworthy had attempted to sell him a spoon, but the watchmaker suspected stolen goods. He confiscated the spoon and advertised descriptions of both the spoon and the man who attempted to sell it to him. The owner, upon recognizing the monogram or “Marks of the Spoon,” could contact McLane to have it returned.

When he “stop’d” the silver spoon, McLane prevented it from circulating in an informal economy or black market, an alternative means for many colonists to participate in the consumer revolution. Less scrupulous artisans would have purchased it at a bargain price and not questioned how the stranger who presented the spoon had acquired it. By taking this action, McLane demonstrated his character to potential customers in a manner they might remember longer than they would recall his training in Dublin and additional experience in London. Not only was he skilled, he was also trustworthy.

September 18

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

Sep 18 - 9:18:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 18, 1767).

“Stolen from the subscriber … a plaid jacket.”

Peter Bulkley was the victim of a theft! In an advertisement in the New-London Gazette, he listed several items (mostly clothing, but also some cash) stolen on the night of September 13, 1767. He accused John Nicholas, “a Frenchman,” of stealing a hat, a coat, a jacket, a shirt, a pair of breeches, a pair of trousers, a pair of stockings, a pair of shoe buckles, and a pair of knee buckles. Nicholas made off with an entire outfit!

What did the thief intend to do with these items? He may have been on the move to another town or another colony, somewhere that he could wear the clothes himself without attracting notice (provided others did not see Bulkley’s advertisement). Alternately, he might have planned to sell the clothes, either one piece at a time or as a package. If the latter, he may have known someone who received secondhand (sometimes stolen) goods with the intention of reselling them. In Dangerous Economies, Serena Zabin describes an informal economy in eighteenth-century America, an extralegal marketplace that included fences who worked with thieves in the redistribution of consumer goods.[1]

Bulkley was not alone in advertising that someone stole an assortment of goods from him. Throughout the colonies, victims of theft placed advertisements describing the stolen items and offering rewards for the return of their goods and the capture of the thief. Whether Nicholas planned to keep or sell the stolen clothing, Bulkley’s advertisement and the many others like it provide evidence that some colonists devised alternate methods for participating in the consumer revolution. Rather than read the lengthy advertisements listing all sorts of imported goods and then purchasing them from merchants and shopkeepers, some colonists – especially those without the means to purchase new items – instead resorted to theft or buying secondhand goods of uncertain origins.

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[1] Serena R. Zabin, Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009). See especially chapter 3, “The Informal Economy.”

July 5

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

Jul 5 - 7:2:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 2, 1767).

“If the Goods are recovered a handsome Reward will be given.”

Shopkeeper Thomas Fisher got duped! He placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal that related the story of a customer who lied to him and then absconded with quite a selection from his inventory. Fisher wanted his goods back and the thief punished. To that end, he offered “a handsome Reward.”

Fisher was too trusting when a young man visited his shop and introduced himself as “the Son of Mr. John Riker of this City” and then provided further embellishments to his tale. He claimed that “he had served an Apprenticeship” at sea with Captain Prince, a regular client in Fisher’s shop. As was the tradition at the end of many apprenticeships and indentures, the young man was to receive a set of clothes from his former master, a parting gift to launch him into the world. Fisher did not question the young man’s identity or doubt that Prince had dispatched him to his shop “to take of me such Clothes as were necessary for his outfit,” even though he had not heard directly from the captain about charging items to his account. After all, the young many told this story “with so many probably Circumstances,” prompting Fisher to give him all the goods eh chose. It was only the next day that Fisher learned that neither Riker nor Fisher knew anything about the young man. By then, he had made off with considerable merchandise, including “Three Yards of blue and Pink mixt seven Quarter broad cloth, yellow double gilt Metal Buttons, with all other Trimmings suitable for a Coat and Breeches.” Although neither Thomas Fisher nor Captain Prince knew this con man, he knew enough about their business relationship to pull the wool over the shopkeeper’s eyes.

Not all colonists participated in the consumer revolution through lawful means. Some resorted to stealing; others bought stolen goods through an informal economy that operated along extralegal avenues. Fisher suspected that the young man who fooled him might attempt to sell the stolen textiles and adornments. Alternately, he might take them to a tailor to be made into a suit that he could then wear or sell. Whatever eventually happened to these particular fabrics and buttons, frequent advertisements about items stolen from shops and homes suggest that many consumer goods circulated in colonial America that had not been exchanged in the legitimate marketplace. Some colonists found alternate means of acquiring the goods they desired.

January 6

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

jan-6-161767-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal-page-3
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 6, 1767).

“A Bill of – PHIPPARD, Clock and Watch-Maker, at POOL, inclosed in the Case.”

An unnamed advertiser alerted readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that his “gilt Metal WATCH” had recently been stolen. The victim of the theft offered a two dollar reward (and “no Questions asked”) to anyone who delivered the watch to the printer. In addition, he offered a more significant reward “on Conviction of the Offender.”

In addition to demonstrating one means that consumer goods circulated in eighteenth-century America, this notice also reveals another form of marketing. To help readers identify the stolen watch, the advertiser noted that a “Bill” for “PHIPPARD, Clock and Watch-Maker, at POOL” was “inclosed in the Case.” Like other artisans, watchmakers sometimes marked their work with printed items. Cabinetmakers affixed paper labels, which often resembled trade cards, to furniture produced in their shops. Bookbinders pasted labels inside the covers of books they bound. Smiths packaged buckles and other adornments in boxes that had labels reminding customers who had crafted the items and where similar items were sold. Watchmakers also inserted watch papers to protect the glass faces of the watches they made.

From the description in the advertisements, it appears that the watchmaker, Phippard, did not necessarily include a watch paper (or, if he had, it had been misplaced or discarded), but instead resorted to some sort of label or small billhead intended to be stored with the commodity and its packaging. As a result, Phippard created an advertisement that his customer encountered regularly, long after the initial purchase had been completed. This operated as an eighteenth-century precursor to more intentional efforts to brand merchandise. Clock- and watchmakers made other efforts to permanently mark – or brand – their work, often engraving their names directly onto the items they created. Another advertisement in the same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal indicated that readers could identify a lost watch by looking for the “Makers Name J. FINCIM” on the watch itself.

Eighteenth-century artisans marked their work out of pride, but they also did so as a means of establishing and maintaining their reputation for quality work and promoting further sales.

November 16

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-16-11161766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 16, 1766).

Opened my House … for the Reception of such Gentlemen and Ladies who may travel this Way.”

In this advertisement from the Providence Gazette, Abijah Hunt wrote that he had just opened up his house to the public. He promised “every Thing suitable for their Accommodation” to any gentlemen and ladies who might stop by.

When I first read through this advertisement I was confused about what exactly Hunt was advertising to readers: an inn or a tavern. He promised to accommodate travelers, but he also mentioned entertainment. On the Colonial Williamsburg webpage, Ed Crews writes that taverns were also called “inns, ordinaries, and public houses” in colonial America. Traveling performers often provided the entertainment in these inns. A wide variety of performers put on acts at these inns, such as magicians, actors, and musicians. Some acts included the use of animals, such as trained pigs. The most common instruments musicians used in their performances were violins, flutes, and trumpets. On nights when there was no provided entertainment, customers often sang together in groups.

Hunt wrote that some of the public taverns in Providence were “not so agreeable as those (to be found in most other large Towns).” Taverns and inns could vary greatly in their atmospheres. Crews describes many inns as “male-domains” where men drank too much and used foul language. Furthermore, “Felons planned crimes, fenced goods, and passed counterfeit money in inns. Fights and murders were common.” Refined women avoided taverns, but prostitutes visited often. In this advertisement, Hunt offered an alternative place of shelter and entertainment for those colonists who wanted a more safe and refined experience.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Mary paints a vivid picture of some of the activities that took place in taverns in the eighteenth century. In addition to being places of entertainment where colonists socialized, Mary also indicates that taverns provided a venue for participating in consumer culture in various ways, including fencing stolen goods and passing counterfeit money.

Such activities were part of what Serena R. Zabin has described as the “informal economy” in colonial America. Not all colonists had the means to purchase new goods directly from merchants and shopkeepers, but that did not prevent them seeking out other ways to obtain the “English, India, and West-India GOODS” that Samuel Nightingale, Jr., marketed on the page after Abijah Hunt’s advertisement appeared. Zabin and others have demonstrated that a vibrant secondhand economy operated in eighteenth-century America; colonists bought and sold used clothing and other goods. Yet others turned to more nefarious means to get their hands on the goods they desired, either stealing or purchasing stolen items. In today’s advertisement Abijah Hunt announced that he opened a house of entertainment to be a place of refuge for visitors “to this Town, both on Business and Recreation,” patrons that he believed wished to avoid some of the more unsavory activities (including the exchange of stolen goods) that took place in some taverns.

While newspaper advertisements reveal a lot about the availability of goods during the consumer revolution, they do not tell the entire story. Occasionally shopkeepers and others placed advertisements lamenting thefts and announcing rewards upon the capture and conviction of the perpetrators, but those who stole the goods almost certainly did not turn to newspapers to offer them for sale. Piecing together the informal economy that included fencing stolen goods, as Zabin has done, requires consulting court records. Those documents provide insight into how some colonists – consumers themselves – used and thought about goods, while newspaper advertisements, for the most part, suggest how retailers, producers, and suppliers attempted to shape colonists’ attitudes and behaviors related to consumption.

 

August 18

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

Aug 18 - 8:18:1766 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 18, 1766).

“The Store of Habijah Savage on the Long Wharff was broke open.”

Earlier this week the Adverts 250 Project featured an announcement that Simon Rhodes placed in the New-London Gazette. In late July 1766, a thief or thieves broke into his home in Stonington, Connecticut, and stole two silver watches and a pair of silver buckles. He offered a description of the missing items, warned against anybody purchasing the stolen goods, and offered a reward for their return and the capture of the culprits.

In today’s advertisement, Habijah Savage offered a similar story out of Boston. In this case, however, the thieves “broke open” Savage’s store, rather than his house, and made off with a significant amount of merchandise, amounting to “Forty Pounds Lawful Money.” This was a quite a loss for Savage’s business. Indeed, his list of stolen merchandise was as extensive as those that frequently appeared in advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers seeking to sell new goods and auctioneers sponsoring vendue sales.

Despite Savage’s announcement about the theft in the public prints, it seems unlikely that he would have been able to recover all (or any) of the stolen goods. For the most part, they were fairly common items that would have been easily absorbed into an underground economy that paralleled the more legitimate means of acquiring goods. In a fascinating chapter on “The Informal Economy” in Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York, Serena R. Zabin has traced how many marginalized colonists – the poor, slaves and free blacks, women – participated in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century through alternative means that worried authorities and elites. This was an economy that incorporated crime and threatened to disrupt traditional social and economic hierarchies.

The goods stolen from Habijah Savage’s store likely became part of that informal economy. Who might have ended up wearing that “new Beaver Hatt” or making clothes from the “English Stone Sleeve Buttons” and assorted textiles?