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.