September 21

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

Sep 21 - 9:21:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (September 21, 1769).
“Goods were shipp’d in London for Boston, last September & October.”

In the late 1760s several vendue masters (or auctioneers) operated in Boston and regularly advertised in the city’s many newspapers. John Gerrish ran the “Public Vendue-Office” in the North End, where he held auctions on Tuesdays. In addition to putting items up for bid, Gerrish also sold some items by wholesale and retail, including an array of goods that he advertised in the September 21, 1769, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. These included textiles, stockings, pins, “and a great Variety of other Articles, too many to be here enumerated.”

Gerrish made a point of informing “his Friends, Country Gentlemen, Shopkeepers, Traders,” and anyone else reading his advertisement that the goods he offered for sale had been imported via London “last September & October.” They arrived a year earlier! Under most circumstances merchants, shopkeepers, and other traders avoided attaching any sort of age to inventory they had not just received on the latest ships from London and other English ports. Indeed, many advertisements for consumer goods incorporated standard language in the first lines, like “just imported,” before even listing the merchandise. This signaled to prospective customers that they could choose from among the most current fashions rather than sorting through leftovers which other shoppers passed over and left on the shelves for considerable amounts of time.

The age of Gerrish’s “very large Assortment of Goods, and Merchandize,” however, became a virtue as fall arrived in 1769. Items “shipp’d in London for Boston, last September & October” had been ordered before the nonimportation agreement adopted by merchants, shopkeepers, and other residents of Boston went into effect. As a means of economic resistance to the taxes levied in the Townshend Acts, colonists in Massachusetts and elsewhere vowed not to import goods from England. They hoped to disrupt trade so significantly that Parliament could not help but take notice, especially if English merchants pressured for repeal of the odious measures. That Gerrish’s goods arrived in Boston “last September & October” was not trivial. It was an important detail that kept the auctioneer in the good graces of his fellow colonist while giving them permission to purchase his wares without violating the terms of the nonimportation agreement.

January 21

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

Jan 21 - 1:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 21, 1768).

“PUBLIC VENDUE, At the NORTH END Vendue OFFICE.”

Auctioneer John Gerrish inserted advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette to encourage residents of Boston and its environs to buy and sell at his “Public Vendue-Office” in the North End. His upcoming auctions included “A great Variety of Articles, — lately imported,” including “Mens Apparel,” a “Variety of Callimancoes,” and “a Parcel of well-made, exceeding stout P. JACKETS and Breeches, very suitable in the present Season for Fishermen.” In addition to new merchandise, he also auctioned “Second hand Articles.” This selection matched the inventories listed in advertisements for shops and other auction houses in local newspapers.

To convince both buyers and sellers to do business at his establishment, Gerrish asserted that the experience would compare favorably to commercial transactions conducted elsewhere in the urban port. “All Sorts of Goods sell full as well at the North End,” he proclaimed, “as in King-Street, Queen-Street, or any other Street, or Auction Room in Boston.” In a bustling city, readers had many choices when it came to venues for buying and selling consumer goods. Gerrish did not want them to dismiss the North End out of hand.

The “Public Vendue Master” also underscored that buyers and sellers could depend on fairness when they made their transactions at the “NORTH END Vendue OFFICE.” Realizing that some readers might indeed have preferences for familiar shops and auction houses elsewhere in the city, he strove to bolster his reputation by assuring potential clients and customers that they had nothing to lose if they instead chose his vendue office. Those who decided to “Employ the Master of said Vendue Office” could “depend upon His Fidelity,” trusting that he made every effort to market their merchandise prior to the auction and encourage the highest possible returns during the bidding. Invoking his “Fidelity” also suggested that he kept accurate books and did not attempt to cheat sellers, especially those who could not be present at an auction to witness the bidding. Yet he also served those looking to make purchases, stressing that “all BUYERS may depend upon never being IMPOSED upon in said Vendue Office.” Gerrish pledged not to unduly pressure prospective customers who attended his auctions. Even as he worked as an intermediary who executed exchanges between buyers and sellers, he wanted each to feel as though they ultimately remained in charge of their commercial transactions rather than relinquishing control to potential manipulation on his part.

John Gerrish, Public Vendue Master, did more than merely announce that he conducted auctions in Boston’s North End. He encouraged both buyers and sellers to participate by instilling confidence in the process, promising that he faithfully served them. Colonists had many choices when it came to acquiring and selling consumer goods. Gerrish used his advertisement to assure them that doing business at his auction house was an option well worth their consideration.

November 26

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-26-11261766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 26, 1766).

“To be sold at publick vendue … PART of a TOWN LOT … WILLIAM EWEN, Vendue-master.”

I found this advertisement interesting because of William Ewen, the “Vendue-master,” which means that auctioned the house and lot. Before he became an auctioneer he had done other significant things in Georgia. He was probably born in England, but moved to Georgia as an indentured servant around the age of fourteen. The Board of Trustees of the colony purchased his indenture and had him work in the store the chief magistrate ran. After his indentured ended, he was awarded land and wanted to try out farming. He failed at farming, causing him to lose his land. Afterwards he worked with settlers in Georgia called Malcontents, who were against the trustees. He became the voice and leader of the Malcontents, paving the way for a successful future.

William Ewen became a “commissioner for the town of Ebenezer, superintendent for Savannah, and later vendue master, or auctioneer for the colony” of Georgia. Last but not least, one of his most significant achievements was being a patriotic leader during the American Revolution. “[N]ews of the Stamp Act (1765) reached the colony and ignited a revolutionary movement, with Ewen at the forefront.” Ewen later served as the first president of the Georgia Council of Safety. It’s really interesting to know that a name from a small advertisement leads to a person who had a major impact on his colony.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Yesterday I expressed frustration that an employment advertisement teased modern readers by offering just enough information to reveal some aspects of household management and gender roles in colonial South Carolina yet not enough information to answer some of the questions it raised. The advertiser had not even signed the notice, inserting “Apply to the Printer” instead, eliminating other means of investigating the particular circumstances of the family who sought a young woman to work as housekeeper, wait on young ladies, and oversee slaves.

Today’s advertisement, on the other hand, carried the signature of “WILLIAM EWEN, Vendue-master.” In his research, Patrick discovered that the local auctioneer was actually a prominent local official who, within the next ten years, would be at the forefront of the Georgia’s patriots at the beginning of the American Revolution.

As the project manager for the Adverts 250 Project during the time that my students serve as guest curators I do not choose which aspects of the advertisements they will research. I discuss possibilities with them. I point them to sources that might be helpful, especially when they identify a particular interest. In many cases, however, I do not find out how they have approached an advertisement until they submit the first draft of their entry for it.

That being the case, I did not know that Patrick intended to do a biographical sketch of William Ewen until he submitted a draft. I was not previously familiar with Ewen, but I considered his story interesting and important. (This happens when I work with newspapers from cities and towns that are less familiar to me than Philadelphia, the focus of much of my earlier research. I am grateful, for instance, whenever J.L. Bell, who knows eighteenth-century Boston as if he lived there himself, provides additional information of the people who appeared in advertisements from that city.) I suggested to Patrick that he eliminate some other material and expand his treatment of Ewen.

I appreciate Patrick’s approach to the advertisement. Given the nature of my research, I tend to focus on the appeals in advertisements more than the biographies of the people. Like every other student who has worked on this project, Patrick has applied his own creativity and curiosity to ask other sorts of questions. Having my students work as guest curators on the Adverts 250 Project is intended to be a learning experience for them. I’m fortunate that they also make it a learning experience for me.