March 11

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

Boston-Gazette (March 11, 1771).

“The Feast of ST. PATRICK is to be celebrated, together with the Repeal of the STAMP-ACT.”

According to advertisements in the New-York Journal in February and March 1771, colonists began planning an event to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act several weeks in advance of March 18.  The organizers invited “all the Friends of LIBERTY” to Hampden Hall to mark the occasion “with proper Festivity.”  In early March, advertisements about a similar gathering appeared in the Boston-Gazette.  In that case, however, the organizers combined commemorations of the repeal of the Stamp Act with celebrating the “Feast of ST. PATRICK” at the Green Dragon tavern.

The advertisement ran twice in the Boston-Gazette, first on March 4 and a week later in the last issue prior to the important anniversary.  In neither issue was it the only act of commemoration of events that ultimately led to the American Revolution.  Several years before declaring independence, colonists marked anniversaries of significant events.  In the March 4 edition, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted an editorial about the Boston Massacre.  “To-morrow will be the anniversary of the fatal fifth of March 1770,” they proclaimed, “when Mess. Gray, Maverick, Caldwell, Car and Attucks, were slain by the Hands of Eight Soldiers, of the 29th Regiment, then posted in this Town.”  Edes and Gill acknowledged that not all colonists agreed about why the soldiers were quartered in Boston, though they made their position clear.  “[S]ome ridiculously alledge” the soldiers were present “to preserve the Peace, but others say to inforce the Revenue Acts, and the arbitrary unconstitutional Measures of a corrupt and wicked Administration.”  The editorial further lamented the outcome of a trial during which “it was adjudg’d to be excuseable Homicide in six of the Soldiers, and in two of them Manslaughter!”  Despite the verdict, Edes and Gill declared that “By far the greater Part” of the residents of Boston “still think it was a barbarous Murder.”

When the advertisement for the gathering at the Green Dragon ran a second time a week later, Edes and Gill devoted the entire front page of the Boston-Gazette to reprinting the “solemn and perpetual MEMORIAL” about “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street” that originally ran in the Essex Gazette on the day of the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  Thick black borders, a symbol of mourning in the wake of a significant loss, enclosed the entire memorial.  Before they encountered the invitation to the event commemorating the repeal of the Stamp Act at the Green Dragon tavern among the advertisements, readers already contemplated other abuses perpetrated by the British.

Dual commemorations thus appeared in the Boston-Gazette, spanning the sections devoted to news and advertising, in the first weeks of March 1771.  Edes and Gill marked the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre with editorials, one original and the other reprinted from another newspaper, while organizers of an event on the fifth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act published advertisements inviting colonists to the Green Dragon tavern to celebrate.  Advertising contributed to a culture of invoking memories of important events as part of the political culture of the period.

June 18

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

Jun 18 - 6:18:1767 Massachusetts Gazette.jpg
Massachusetts Gazette (June 18, 1767).

“At the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves.”

According to his advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette, William Hill, a baker in Boston, made and sold “Ship Bread,” biscuits, and gingerbread at “the Bake House” appropriately marked with “the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves.” In an era before standardized street numbers organized the streets of towns and cities, shop signs helped both entrepreneurs and customers identify and locate businesses of all sorts. Some shopkeepers and artisans also used the devices depicted on their signs as rudimentary brands, sometimes adopting similar visual images in newspaper advertisements as well as on magazine wrappers, trade cards, and billheads.

Not every advertiser had his or her own shop sign, but that did not prevent them from using the signs of others who ran businesses nearby as landmarks to guide potential customers to their own shops. In the same issue that Hill promoted the breads he sold “at the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves,” Nathaniel Cudworth reported that he kept shop “in KING-STREET, opposite the Sign of Admiral Vernon.” Similarly, Joseph Domett gave the location of his store as “nearly opposite the GOLDEN BALL.” That Domett gave no other directions, not even a street name, suggests the Golden Ball was widely recognized by residents of Boston. The shopkeeper expected potential customers to already be familiar with that landmark, a common point of reference for advertiser and reader alike.

Even without woodcuts depicting the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves, the Golden Ball, or the Sign of Admiral Vernon, the advertisements reveal some of the visual culture of eighteenth-century streets. Advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and other newspapers published in Boston named dozens of signs present in the city in 1767, a vibrant display that served several purposes but now can only be imagined. Sighting various signs aided colonists as they navigated through cities. Signs also enticed colonists to become customers as they encountered them because marketing efforts encouraged consumers to associate certain signs with particular businesses and the men and women who ran them.