April 13

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 13, 1772).

“A Select Collection of Letters Of the late Reverend GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

It was one of the biggest news stories of the year.  George Whitefield died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  The next day, newspapers in Boston informed colonizers of the death of one of the most influential ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Over the next several weeks, news spread throughout New England and to other colonies as printers exchanged newspapers and reprinted coverage from one to another.  Those printers also sensed an opportunity to generate revenues by producing and marketing broadsides, funeral sermons, and books that commemorated the minister’s death.  Throughout the colonies, but especially in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, printers advertised commemorative items as they continued to publish updates about how colonizers near and far reacted to the news of Whitefield’s death.

Such advertising declined by the end of the year, but experienced a resurgence in the spring of 1771 when ships from England arrived in American ports with commemorative books and pamphlets published on the other side of the Atlantic.  Printers and booksellers encouraged colonizers to participate in another round of commodifying Whitefield.  That lasted for a couple of months before mentions of the minister faded from advertisements in the public print.  That did not mean, however, that entrepreneurs believed that the market for such commodities had disappeared, only that it was no longer so robust.  In the spring of 1772, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, advertised “A Select Collection of Letters Of the late Reverend GEORGE WHITEFIELD … Written to his most intimate Friends, and Persons of Distinction, in England, Scotland, Ireland, and America.”  The minister wrote those letters between 1734 and 1770, “including the whole of his Ministry.”  In addition, the three-volume set contained “an Account of the Orphan House in Georgia” founded by Whitefield.  In an advertisement in the April 13, 1772, editions of the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, the Fleets indicated that they “Just received” the books “by the last Ship from London.”  Printers in England continued producing Whitefield memorabilia.  Apparently believing that demand existed or could be cultivated for such materials on both sides of the Atlantic, they presented consumers with another opportunity to acquire printed items associated with the minister.

January 7

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 7, 1771).

“Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”

In addition to publishing the Boston Evening-Post, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet sold a variety of books at their shop at the Sign of the Heart and Crown.  Throughout the colonies, printers commonly augmented their incomes by selling books and pamphlets, mostly items that they either imported or acquired from associates in other towns alongside a few titles they produced on their own.

Such was the case in the advertisement the Fleets inserted in their own newspaper on January 7, 1771.  They concluded the notice with Jeremiah Dummer’s Defence of the New-England Charters, a pamphlet they reprinted in 1765, but they first listed titles published by others.  The Fleets devoted half of the notice to a pamphlet printed by William Goddard.  In The Partnership, Goddard detailed his disputes with “Joseph Galloway, Esq; Speaker of the Honorable House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania, Mr. Thomas Wharton, sen.,” a prominent merchant, “and their Man Benjamin Towne,” a journeyman printer.  The four men had formerly been partners in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but their disagreements led to a dissolution of the partnership in the summer of 1770 and a war of words in newspapers, handbills, and pamphlets.

The other titles available at the Heart and Crown included “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”  George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  In the wake of his death, printers and others produced, marketed, and sold a variety of commemorative items, including funeral sermons preached in memory of the minister.  For several months, advertisements for those items appeared alongside reports about reactions to the news in towns throughout the colonies and poetry composed for the occasion.  The Fleets’ advertisement, listing the funeral sermon third among four titles, marked a transition in the marketing of items commemorating Whitefield.  No longer was Whitefield the sole or even primary focus of the advertisement.  As time passed and the minister’s death became more distant in the memories of prospective buyers, the Fleets recognized that demand for such commemorative items waned.  Funeral sermons no longer had the same immediacy as when the news was fresh.  As a result, they became one item among several in booksellers’ inventories rather than items that merited advertisements of their own in the public prints.

After several months of Whitefield fervor, especially in newspapers published in New England, printers and booksellers like the Fleets recalibrated their advertising efforts.  In this case, a spirited account of a bitter feud among printers and politicians in Pennsylvania received top billing over a sermon in memory Whitefield.

January 8

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (January 5, 1769).
“Most of these Papers will, probably, be irrevocably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing.”

An advertisement concerning a proposed companion volume to a well-known publication appeared in the January 5, 1769, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. In 1764, Boston bookseller Jeremiah Condy published the first volume of The History of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay by Thomas Hutchinson, lieutenant governor of the colony at the time. Thomas Fleet and John Fleet printed the book, which covered the period “from the first settlement thereof in 1628 until its incorporation with the colony of Plimoth, province of Main, &c. by the Charter of King William and Queen Mary, in 1691.” Three years later, Condy published the second volume, also printed by the Fleets. It extended the narrative “from the charter of King William and Queen Mary, in 1681, until the year 1750.” Both volumes were widely advertised in Boston’s newspapers and beyond.

Condy had been working on a related project when he died in 1768. As the Fleets explained, “THE late Mr. CONDY intended to have published a Volumne of curious Papers, to have served as an Appendix to the Lieutenant-Governor’s HISTORY of the MASSACHUSETTS-BAY, but Death prevented.” Not to be deterred, the Fleets issued a subscription notice “to encourage the Printing of the same Collection.” The proposed volume would be the same size and approximate length as the other two in the series, “about 600 Pages in Octavo.”

The Fleets deployed several strategies to convince readers to purchase the companion volume. They declared that they would publish it only “as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers appear to defrey the Expence.” If not enough buyers made a commitment in advance, the book would not go to press. Furthermore, the Fleets warned that “No Books will be printed for Sale.” This suggested a limited edition. They would print only enough copies to fulfill the orders placed by subscribers and no additional copies for subsequent retail sales. The printers attempted to maneuver prospective customers into reserving a copy for fear of missing out if they delayed. This may have been an especially effective strategy targeting those who acquired the first and second volumes as they contemplated completing the series with the companion volume.

In addition, the Fleets called on a sense of civic pride among prospective subscribers. They painted a stark portrait of what might happen if the proposed volume did not garner sufficient interest to go to press. “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear.” According to the Fleets, the survival of the original documents mattered less than the proliferation of copies produced on the press. Any single document or copy could be lost or destroyed, but the proliferation of copies guaranteed that subsequent generations would continue to have access to the important documents that comprised the history of the colony. In that regard, subscribers practiced a significant public service. Those who subscribed to the companion volume did so not only “for the sake of their particular Entertainment” but also “from a regard to the Public.” The printers layered the act of purchasing this book with social meaning. Acquiring this volume, the Fleets argued, fulfilled a civic responsibility that would benefit the entire community, both now and in the future.