July 9

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

Connecticut Courant (July 9, 1771).

“As cheap, and equal in goodness to any sold in New York.”

Purveyors of goods in Hartford and nearby towns frequently assured prospective customers that they had the same opportunities to participate in the marketplace as if they lived in bustling urban ports like Boston and New York.  Such was the case in two advertisements that ran in the July 9, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  In the first, Barzillai Hudson, a tobacconist, announced that he sold the “best pig tail and paper tobacco in small or large quantities as cheap, and equal in goodness to any sold in New York.”  Like other advertisers in smaller towns, Hudson asserted that he offered the same bargains and the same quality that consumers enjoyed in colonial cities.

In another advertisement, Peter Verstille of Weathersfield demonstrated the vast array of choices he made available to consumers.  Divided into two parts, that advertisement extended an entire column.  The first portion listed a “fine assortment of GOODS” imported from London and Bristol and received via Boston and New London.  Verstille enumerated various kinds of textiles, tableware, and housewares before concluding that portion of his notice with “&c. &c. &c.”  Invoking the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera three times underscored consumers could expect to discover many more choices when they visited his shop.  That portion of the advertisement initially ran on its own, but Verstille later updated it with another litany of imported goods that arrived via Boston.  In particular, he listed hardware items that did not appear in the original.  That addition meant that his customers enjoyed one-stop-shopping for their various needs and desires.  Verstille also promoted prices that matched those in Boston and New York.

The pages of the Connecticut Courant did not overflow with advertising for consumer goods and services like newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Ebenezer Watson did not need to publish advertising supplements.  That did not mean, however, that readers of the Connecticut Courant in the countryside did not participate in the vibrant consumer culture taking place in urban ports.  Entrepreneurs like Hudson and Verstille invited and made it possible for even colonists who resided in remote places to participate in the consumer revolution.

May 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (May 2, 1771).

“They manufacture and sell as usual at Frederick-Town.”

According to their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Hamilton and Leiper sold tobacco and snuff at several locations.  For consumers in Philadelphia, they listed their location as “Second-street, between Market and Arch-streets.”  The primary purpose of their advertisement in the May 2, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, however, was to inform customers in Maryland that they had “established a MANUFACTORY in Market-street, Baltimore.”  At that location, they sold “the various kinds of manufactured TOBACCO and SNUFF (of the best quality) on the most reasonable terms.”  In addition, the tobacconists declared that they “manufacture and sell as usual at Frederick-Town” in western Maryland.  Altogether, Hamilton and Leiper sold tobacco and snuff in three towns in two colonies, their multiple locations providing for “the conveniency of their customers.”

Their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette also testified to the reach of that newspaper in the early 1770s.  Baltimore would not have its own newspaper until August 1773.  Fredericktown (now Frederick) did not have a newspaper until after the American Revolution.  For half a century, the Pennsylvania Gazette served as a regional newspaper for readers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey.  Although most of the advertisers who promoted consumers goods and services in its pages were located in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Gazette also carried notices from Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore and Frederick, Maryland; Burlington and Trenton, New Jersey; and several other towns in those colonies.  Similarly, the Pennsylvania Gazette carried legal notices and advertisements about runaway apprentices and indentured servants and enslaved people who liberated themselves submitted by colonists throughout the region.  In the same column as Hamilton and Leiper’s advertisement, Henry Wells, a jailer, described a runaway servant who made his escape from William Anders or Andrews in Joppa, Maryland, but had been taken into custody and confined in Dover, Delaware.

Several colonies constituted a single media market for the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers published in Philadelphia before the revolution.  Enterprising entrepreneurs like Hamilton and Leiper also recognized the potential to create larger markets for their wares rather than serve only a single town and its hinterlands.  In the early 1770s, they branched out from locations in Philadelphia and Frederick to a third location in Baltimore.  Advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette alerted consumers in and near all three places about the tobacco and snuff that Hamilton and Leiper sold at their several convenient locations.

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:6:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 6, 1770).

“He hopes this will be an additional recommendation to every sincere lover of AMERICA.”

In the summer of 1770, Dennis McReady, a tobacconist on Horse and Cart Street in New York, advertised that he had for sale “a large quantity of the choicest snuff.”  To convince prospective customers to buy his product, he made a “Buy American” argument and proclaimed that his snuff was “equal in quality to any that has ever been imported in this city.”  The city’s merchants had withdrawn from their nonimportation agreement a few months earlier, shortly after receiving word that most of the duties imposed on imported goods in the Townshend Acts had been repealed.  With only the tax on tea remaining, New York’s merchants chose to resume trade with their counterparts in Britain.

Not all New Yorkers universally approved of that decision.  For those who had pursued “domestic manufactures” or local production of alternatives to imported goods, the boycott enhanced their ability to market their wares as symbols of patriotism and support for the American cause.  McReady cautioned prospective customers against turning back to imported goods too hastily, challenging them to try his snuff “manufactured in this country.”  In addition to declaring that his product was equal to snuff that had been processed from tobacco on the other side of the Atlantic, he issued a political challenge to “every sincere lover of AMERICA.”  That “AMERICA” was the only word in all capitals in the body of his advertisement made it easy for readers to spot and underscored the emphasis McReady placed on this particular appeal to consumers.  The tobacconist doubled down on his claims about the quality of his snuff and his challenge to choose it over imported snuff; he expressed his “hopes that no person will be persuaded to the contrary until he has made trial of [McReady’s] snuff.”  At least try this product once to test its quality, McReady demanded, rather than assume that “imported” meant “better quality.”  Instead of purchasing imported snuff just because they could, McReady sought to persuade consumers to support domestic manufactures and the patriotic ideals associated with them.

March 31

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 31, 1766).

“Augustus Deley, … CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO.”

I find it interesting that this advertisement starts by stating that the advertiser “CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO, in all its Branches.” This makes me wonder if something happened to cast doubt in the minds of his customers about whether they would be able to continue purchasing their tobacco from him or not. This advertisement has the air of someone reassuring his customers that he was indeed still in business.

The fact that Deley mentioned that he needed sufficient notice from those wishing to purchase large quantities of tobacco makes me think that he was not a minor tobacconist. To have customers purchase large amounts of tobacco must have occurred often enough for him to specifically ask those who wished to purchase those amounts to let him know beforehand. It must have been inconvenient for him to have a customer come in and take most of his supply because afterward he would have to potentially turn other customers away while he waited for a new shipment.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Augustus Deley certainly wanted residents of Hartford and its hinterland to know that he continued to sell tobacco, that he was still in business, but his advertisement also alluded to a notice that he posted in the Connecticut Courant nearly three months earlier. Perhaps Deley had recently moved to Hartford and was settling in. After all, his earlier advertisement announced that he was a “Tobaconist (from New-York),” but he dropped that description in his updated advertisement. He may have become an increasingly familiar face in Hartford, but he likely wanted to let potential customers not yet aware of his shop or uncertain of its success that he did indeed “CONTINUE to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO.”

Among the various updates to his advertisement, Deley listed a location: “At the Sign of the Black Boy, Near the North Meeting-House in Hartford.” It was no coincidence that a tobacconist set up shop “At the Sign of the Black Boy.” After all, slaves provided the labor involved in cultivating tobacco in the Chesapeake colonies. Just as many trade cards or tobacco wrappers from the era featured images of enslaved men and women at work on plantations or interacting happily with white masters and overseers, Deley selected a shop sign that reduced a “Black Boy” to the colonial equivalent of a mascot or a brand to market his product.

January 31

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Jan 31 - 1:30:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 30, 1766)

“Which has been proved by many Trials to be equal to the best snuff imported from Great-Britain.”

Advertisements for goods, such as the one depicted above, were commonplace in colonial newspapers. Advertising snuff, also known as sniffing tobacco, would not have been a shocking advertisement for the time as tobacco was a popular product. What is striking about the notice is what the tobacco was compared to:  tobacco imported from Great Britain.

I also find it interesting that Gilpin and Fisher would make a comparison to tobacco from Great Britain at a time when several of the colonies were prone to unrest. Britain had just passed the Stamp Act tax in 1765; some British products were currently being boycotted. Perhaps since the people of the colonies still considered themselves British citizens, they would have wanted to be loyal to British products. On the other hand, the advertisement would give colonists a sense of security in local products since the colonists had been so used to British goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I was excited when Maia chose this advertisement, for a variety of reasons. She did not know that I had already selected an advertisement from the Massachusetts Gazette for yesterday that was also shaped by the Stamp Act, making this a wonderful transition into her responsibilities as guest curator for this week. I also appreciated the appeal to locally produced good, which Maia highlights in the quotation she selected from this advertisement: “Which has been proved by many Trials to be equal to the best snuff imported from Great-Britain.”

When I have featured advertisements that make similar appeals, I have emphasized their political valence and their rhetoric of resistance. Maia offers a perspective that I have not given as much attention: assuring colonists that domestic products were as good as any imported from Great Britain was not just an assurance of quality. This was also a means of offering reassurance to potential customers who faced an increasingly disorienting world of consumption disrupted by transatlantic politics.

Also, in questioning to what extent colonists might have wanted, on some level, to remain loyal to British goods Maia also reminds us that this was indeed a period of resistance – not yet revolution – and colonists continued to embrace their identity as members of the British empire even as they sought redress of grievances within the British system of law and politics.