August 18

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (August 15, 1771).

“The following BOOKS, many of them late publications.”

During the week of August 15, 1771, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford had more content than would fit in the four pages of a standard issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.  To solve that dilemma, they distributed a two-page supplement composed entirely of advertising.  One side consisted primarily of twenty-two paid notices submitted by residents of Philadelphia and nearby towns, though the Bradfords interspersed five advertisements for books published and available at their printing office among them.  The other side, however, promoted books sold by the Bradfords exclusively.  In effect, they published a full-page advertisement, one that resembled a broadside catalog and could have been produced and distributed separately if they wished.

Although the list of books filled an entire page, the advertisement featured only fifty-five titles.  In most instances, the Bradfords provided more than the names of the authors and short titles of the books.  Instead, they offered blurbs that previewed the contents for prospective customers.  For instance, one entry described “Salmon’s New Geographical and Historical Grammar, or the present state of the several kingdoms of the world, containing their situation and extent, cities, chief towns, history, present state, form of government, forces, revenues, taxes, revolutions, and memorable events; together with an account of the air, soil, produce, traffic, arms, curiosities, religion, languages, &c. &c. illustrated with a new set of maps and other copper-plates.”  In crafting the blurbs, the Bradfords drew heavily from the extensive subtitles of the books and the tables of contents, but they also noted any ancillary items that added value, such as the maps and images that accompanied Thomas Salmon’s Geographical and Historical Grammar.  For works divided into multiple volumes, they also listed how many were included in a complete set.

Publishing this book catalog as part of an advertising supplement for their newspaper presented an opportunity for the Bradfords to market “A New Publication,” an imported History of France during the Reigns of Francis II and Charles IXby Walter Anderson, as well as hawk other titles among their inventory.  The fees they collected from other advertisers whose notices appeared on the other side of the supplement reduced or eliminated the expense of publishing and distributing a full-page advertisement.

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (August 15, 1771).

February 21

What do newspaper advertisements published 250 years ago today tell us about the era of the American Revolution?

Pennsylvania Journal (February 21, 1771).

“LIBERTY.  A POEM.”

“RUN-AWAY … a Negro Boy named SAY.”

Like every other newspaper printer in colonial America, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford published advertisements about enslaved people.  The pages of the Pennsylvania Journal contained advertisements offering enslaved men, women, and children for sale as well as notices that described enslaved people who liberated themselves and offered rewards for their capture and return to their enslavers.  The Bradfords generated revenues from both kinds of advertisements.  In the process, they facilitated the buying and selling of enslaved Africans and African Americans.  Their newspaper became part of a larger infrastructure of surveillance of Black people, encouraging readers to scrutinize the physical features, clothing, and comportment of every Black person they encountered in order to determine if they matched the descriptions in the advertisements.

Simultaneously, the Bradfords published news about politics and current events that informed readers about colonial grievances and shaped public opinion about the abuses perpetrated by Parliament.  In addition, advertisements underscored concerns about the erosion of traditional English liberties in the colonies when they underscored the political dimensions of participating in the marketplace.  Purveyors of goods encouraged consumers to support “domestic manufactures” by purchasing goods produced in the colonies as alternatives to imported items.  News, editorials, and many advertisements all supported the patriot cause.

Those rumblings for liberty, however, stood in stark contrast to advertisements that perpetuated the widespread enslavement of Black men, women, and children.  The two ideologies did not appear in separate portions of the Pennsylvania Journal or any other newspaper.  Instead, they ran side by side.  Readers who did not spot the juxtaposition chose not to do so.  Consider, for instance, two advertisements in the February 21, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  The Bradfords advertised “LIBERTY.  A POEM” available at their printing office.  Their advertisement appeared next to a notice about “a Negro Boy named SAY,” a chimneysweeper born in the colonies.  Isaac Coats offered a reward to whoever “secures [Say] so that his Master may have him again.”  For his part, Say seized the liberty that so animated the conversations of those who attempted to keep him in bondage.

That was not the first time that the Bradfords placed advertisements about liberty and slavery in such revealing proximity to each other.  Three months earlier, they advertised the same poem and placed an advertisement offering a young man and woman for sale immediately below it.  “LIBERTY” in capital letters and a larger font appeared right above the words “To be sold by JOHN BAYARD, A Healthy active young NEGRO MAN, likewise a NEGRO WENCH.”  This paradox of liberty and slavery was present at the founding of the nation, not only in the ideas expressed by the founding generation but also plainly visible among the advertisements in the public prints.

November 22

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 22, 1770).

“LIBERTY.”

“To be sold … A Healthy active young NEGRO MAN.”

Liberty and enslavement were intertwined in the 1770s, a paradox that defines the founding of the United States as an independent nation.  As white colonists advocated for their own liberty and protested their figurative enslavement by king and Parliament, they continued to enslave Africans and African Americans.  Even those who did not purport to be masters of Black men and women participated in maintaining an infrastructure of exploitation.  The juxtaposition of liberty and enslavement regularly found expression in the pages of newspapers during the era of the American Revolution as news items and editorial letters rehearsed arguments made by patriots and advertisements encouraged consumers to factor political considerations into the choices they made in the marketplace while other news items documented fears of revolts by enslaved people and other advertisements offered Black men, women, and children for sale or announced rewards for capturing enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from those who held them in bondage.

Such contradictory items always appeared within close proximity to one another, especially considering that newspapers of the era usually consisted of only four pages.  In some instances, the juxtaposition should have been nearly impossible for readers to miss.  Consider two advertisements that ran in the November 22, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the newspaper, inserted a short notice about “LIBERTY.  A POEM” available for sale at their printing office.  Immediately below that notice appeared John Bayard’s advertisement offering a “Healthy active young NEGRO MAN” and an enslaved woman for sale.  The word “LIBERTY” in the Bradfords’ very brief notice appeared in all capitals and such a large font that it could have served as a headline for the next advertisement, an exceptionally cruel and inaccurate headline.  Both advertisements represented revenues for the Bradfords, the first potential revenues of potential sales and the second actual revenues paid by Bayard to insert the advertisement.

Examining either advertisement in isolation results in a truncated history of the era of the era of the American Revolution.  The advertisement for “LIBERTY.  A POEM” must be considered in relation to the advertisement for a “Healthy young NEGRO MAN” and woman to tell a more complete story of the nation’s past, even when some critics charge that the inclusion of the latter is revisionist and ideologically motivated.  It is neither.  Instead, it is a responsible and accurate rendering of the past.  The Bradfords positioned these advertisements together on the page 250 years ago.  We cannot separate them today.

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:1:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (March 1, 1770).

“MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store.”

The colophon on the final page of the Pennsylvania Journal stated that the newspapers was “Printed and Sold byWILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD, at the Corner of Front and Market-Streets” in Philadelphia.  Like other eighteenth-century printers, the Bradfords cultivated multiple revenue streams.  They sold subscriptions and advertising space in the Pennsylvania Journal, did job printing, and sold books and stationery wares.  They also peddled patent medicines, another supplementary enterprise undertaken by many printer-booksellers.  An eighteenth-century version of over-the-counter medications, patent medicines likely yielded additional revenue without requiring significant time, labor, or expertise from those who worked in printing offices and book stores.

In a brief advertisement in the March 1, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the Bradfords informed prospective customers that they carried patent medicines: “A few Bottles of MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store of William and Thomas Bradford.”  Once again, the Bradfords followed a precedent set by other eighteenth-century printers, exercising their privilege as publishers of a newspaper to use it to incite demand for other goods they offered for sale.  Yet they did not merely set aside space that might otherwise have been used for either news for subscribers or notices placed by paying customers.

It appears that the Bradfords may have engineered the placement of their advertisement for patent medicines on the page.  It ran immediately below a lengthy advertisement for “YELLOW SPRINGS,” a property for sale in Chester County.  The notice proclaimed that the “Medicinal virtues of the springs … for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here.”  The advertisement than offered descriptions of the springs and the buildings and baths constructed to take advantage of their palliative qualities.

That advertisement primed readers of the Pennsylvania Journal to think about health and their own maladies.  Most were unlikely to travel to Yellow Springs, much less purchase the property, yet patent medicines were within easy reach.  Compositors often placed shorter advertisements for other goods and services offered by printers at the bottom of the column, filling in leftover space.  That the Bradfords’ advertisement appeared in the middle of a column, immediately below the advertisement for Yellow Springs, suggests that someone in the printing office made a savvy decision about where to place the two advertisements in relation to each other.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 18, 1769).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the American General Magazine, or General Repository.”

By the late 1760s, American booksellers had long imported magazines published in London to sell to consumers in the colonies. Yet very few printers attempted to publish American magazines. When Lewis Nicola, publisher, and William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers, placed a subscription notice for the American Magazine, or General Repository in the New-York Journal in the spring of 1769, they promoted a product that had few domestic antecedents in the colonies.

According to the chronological list in Frank Luther Mott’s History of American Magazines, 1741-1850, only twelve American titles came before the American Magazine.[1] The first two appeared in Philadelphia in February 1741 (though dated January) as rivals Andrew Bradford and Benjamin Franklin raced to publish magazines they began advertising to the public months earlier. Bradford’s American Magazine, or Monthly View narrowly edged out Franklin’s General Magazine and Historical Chronicle by only three days to earn distinction as America’s first magazine. Despite this victory, the American Magazine survived for only three issues; the General Magazine did not last much longer, folding in June with its sixth issue. The first American magazines all had short runs. Of the twelve published before 1769, eight lasted less than a year, some for only a couple of months. Two maintained publication for an entire year, but only two others extended their runs for longer durations. The New American Magazine, published by Samuel Nevill (former editor of London’s Evening Post) in Woodbridge, New Jersey, ran for just over two years, from January 1758 to March 1760. The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle, published in Boston, met with slightly more success. Several printers, publishers, and editors played a part in operating this magazine for more than three years, commencing in September 1743 and concluding in December 1746.

Nicola and the Bradfords hoped to achieve more with the American Magazine, or General Repository. Produced in Philadelphia, it was a publication intended for consumption throughout the colonies. Nicola and the Bradfords enlisted others in the printing and book trades to assist in the promotion and circulation of their magazine. In addition to running advertisements in various newspapers, they advised that “SUBSCRIPTIONS … are taken in by the Printer of this Paper.” Networks that prioritized exchanging information for republication from newspaper to newspaper also allowed for cooperation on new ventures that did not amount to direct competition. Despite their efforts to attract subscribers in Philadelphia and beyond, they were unable to create a market that would sustain their publication, despite great interest in promoting “domestic manufactures” of other goods as a means of economic and commercial resistance to the Townshend Acts. Founded in January 1769, the American Magazine, or General Repository ceased publication with the September issue that same year.

[1] Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939), 787.

February 16

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 16, 1769).

“Their love of liberty … will induce them to give their assistance in supporting the interest of their country.”

On February 16, 1769, readers of both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Journal encountered advertisements that called on them to save “CLEAN LINEN RAGGS” and turn them over to a local “Paper Manufactory.” John Keating’s advertisement largely reiterated a notice that he inserted in the New-York Journal more than six months earlier. In it, he advanced a political argument concerning the production and consumption of paper, made from linen rags, in the colonies, especially while the Townshend Act remained in effect. Colonists could outmaneuver Parliament and avoid paying duties on imported paper by supporting the “NEW-YORK Paper MANUFACTORY.”

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford made similar appeals in their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal. The “British Parliament having made” manufacturing paper “worthy the attention of every one who thinks his own interest, or the liberty and prosperity of this province and country worth his notice,” the Bradfords proclaimed, “it’s therefore hoped, that all those will consider the importance of a Paper Manufactory carried to its full extent.” They then explained that in the past year colonists had collected “a small quantity of fine rags,” but a sufficient supply to make nearly “a hundred reams of good writing paper” that “sold cheaper than English paper of the same quantity.” The Bradfords challenged readers to consider how much production could increase if colonists made concerted efforts to save their rags in support of the local “Paper Manufactory.”

To that end, the Bradfords envisioned a special role for women in this act of resistance to Parliament overstepping its authority. They noted that “the saving of rags will more particularly fall within the sphere of the Ladies.” Those ladies expressed “their love of liberty” in a variety of ways, including altering their consumption practices by participating in nonimportation pacts, producing garments made of homespun cloth, and drinking Labrador tea. Collecting rags, a seemingly mundane task, presented another means for women “to give their assistance in supporting the interest of their country.” The Bradfords outlined a method for efficiently incorporating this practice into the daily household routine. Given how easy that would be to accomplish, the Bradfords issued another challenge, this one directed explicitly to “those ladies who have a regard for their country.” Which women who purported to support the colonies in their clash with Parliament “would decline taking this inconsiderable trouble, to save the sums of money that will annually be torn from us to maintain in voluptuousness our greedy task masters?” The Bradfords concluded by underscoring how much women could achieve by sacrificing only a small amount of time in collecting rags. They would create jobs for “the industrious poor” who labored in the paper manufactory as well as serve “the public” as colonists continued to voice their opposition to the duties levied by the Townshend Act. Everyday tasks like shopping or disposing of rags took on political meaning during the imperial crisis; women vigorously participated in resistance to Parliament through their participating in those activities.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:17:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (November 17, 1768).

“Will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE.”

Resorting to creative typography, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Journal managed to squeeze two additional advertisements into the November 17, 1768, edition by running them in the outer margins of the second and third pages. Running the length of the page, one proclaimed, “To be sold by WILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD—–BOHEA TEA by the Chest; PEPPER in Bales; CONGO TEA in Canisters; FRONTINIACK in Bottles; And a few Firkins of LARD.” The other advised readers that “BY AUTHORITY. By the American Company, at the Theatre in Southwark, TOMORROW, being FRIDAY, will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE. To which will be added, By Desire, a PANTOMIME ENTERTAINMENT.”

The placement of these advertisements likely increased their visibility by prompting curious readers to investigate what sort of content merited being printed in the margins. Rather than being easier to overlook because they did not appear in the regular columns with the rest of the content, these advertisements may have benefited from the novelty of their position on the page. The advertisement for grocery items sold by the Bradfords ran along a column of other advertisements, perhaps immediately suggesting that it was yet another commercial notice, but the advertisement for the performance at the theater in Southwark appeared on a page devoted exclusively to news. Some readers may have engaged with the advertisement to confirm whether it offered a continuation or clarification of any of the stories from Europe and elsewhere in the colonies printed on that page.

The length of these advertisements facilitated their placement in the margins, but another factor likely played a part in selecting the Bradfords’ notice for such treatment. The Bradfords were not merchants or shopkeepers. They were the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Reserving their advertisement for the margins did not indicate that its inclusion was an afterthought. Instead, it may have been a deliberate strategy to differentiate it from others in the issue. As printers, they exercised certain privileges when it came to the format of their newspaper. That enhanced their ability to participate in commercial activities beyond job printing and publishing the Pennsylvania Journal.