March 23


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

Mar 23 - 3:23:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (March 23, 1767).


Before reading this advertisement, I had not even heard of potash. After a bit of research I found an article by William Roberts III, “American Potash Manufactured Before the American Revolution.” I discovered that potash, “the principal industrial chemical of the eighteenth century,” came from wood ashes and had many different uses, from bleaching cloth to making soaps to creating dyes.[1] Nonetheless, this industry did not become widespread in the colonies until a decade before the Revolution.

One reason that the potash industry grew in the colonies was because of the great amount of trees in North America while in England there was an “early depletion of English woodlands [that] had discouraged growth of the industry.”[2] Thomas Stephens had an part in the development of the potash industry in the colonies. Around the middle of the eighteenth centruy, he claimed “to have developed a method of making potash profitably in North America” to the Board of Trade.[3]



Today’s advertisement did not attempt to sell potash itself but rather Thomas Stephens’s pamphlet detailing how to produce the commodity, The Method and Plain Process for Making Pot-Ash Equal, If Not Superior to the Best Foreign Pot-Ash. As Ceara indicates, potash production and export did not become a viable enterprise in the colonies until just before the Revolution. Until that time, Britain depended primarily on Germany and the Baltic for potash. Given the competition, it makes sense that Stephens sought to assure readers and potential potash entrepreneurs that, with the guidance offered in his book, they stood to produce a profitable commodity.

Parliament was indeed interested in cultivating an American potash industry. In response to Stephens’s claim that he had developed a method that would significantly expand potash production in the colonies, Parliament promised “the sum of £3000 whenever he had done enough promoting and publicizing to satisfy the Board of Trade and the Treasury Lords.”[4] That promoting and publicizing resulted in his pamphlet, advertisements to promote the pamphlet, and perhaps even “PROOF BOTTLES belonging to this Treatise” that contained samples to verify the quality of potash made using his “METHOD and plain PROCESS.” Selling the pamphlet may have generated some revenues for printer William Weyman, but Stephens stood to benefit from a much more significant windfall once enough copies had been distributed.

According to Carl Bridenbaugh, Stephens made a tour of several southern colonies to promote his pamphlet in 1757, beginning in Charleston and visiting more than half a dozen cities and towns in the Carolinas and Virginia.[5] Stephens returned to England that same year, but a decade after his departure his pamphlet was still advertised in American newspapers. In the early 1760s, James Stewart, dispatched from London by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce, toured New England and New York. Bridenbaugh credits Stewart with being such a successful advocate that “potash became a staple commodity of New York and New England.”[6] For readers of the New-York Gazette interested in entering or improving potash production, Stephens’s pamphlet may have supplemented Stewart’s instruction.


[1] William I. Roberts, III, “American Potash Manufacture before the American Revolution,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 116, no. 5 (October 1972), 383.

[2] Roberts, 383.

[3] Roberts, 383.

[4] Roberts, 384.

[5] Carl Bridenbaugh, The Colonial Craftsman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950), 104.

[6] Bridenbaugh, Colonial Craftsman, 105.

September 30

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

Occasional Supplement to W. Weyman’s Gazette of Yesterday [New-York Gazette] (September 30, 1766).
“LINENS and SHEETINGS, … Russia Iron, … Ware’s Snuff.”

Today’s advertisement features Greg, Cunningham, & Company and their vast assortment of all different types of goods recently “imported in the last Vessels from Europe.” Fairly unlike any other advertisements I have looked at this week, this shop offered more than a surplus of different textiles and clothing materials, such as “LINENS and SHEETINGS,” laces, velvets, and handkerchiefs, Greg, Cunningham, and Company also carried products that would be found in a modern hardware and sporting goods store. Materials like “Russia Iron,” gunpowder and musket balls were available as well as “Plate Copper” and “dry White Lead.” I had not seen these products advertised before; they stood out because they show that colonists needed supplies that allowed for expansion, growth, and opportunities for new development. From the hardware products to clothing to even a selection of medicines, Greg, Cunningham, and Company offered a diverse selection of goods to consumers.

The advertisement also listed “Ware’s Snuff.” Since it was listed with “middling pipes” and different alcoholic beverages, at first glance I assumed “Ware’s Snuff” was just another pleasure for adults. In fact snuff was extremely popular among men, not only as a product to enjoy, but as a social measure as well. According to Edwin Tunis, “Nearly every man carried the most expensive [snuff box] he could afford.” Some had a different box for every day. Even women took advantage of the readily available product, but only in private.[1] However, after researching further, I found that “Ware’s Snuff” was actually used as a cure for some sicknesses as well. Taking this up the nose would often lead to “a very large discharge of mucus.”[2]



Nick focused on the content of the advertisement he selected for today, but I am also interested in the context in which it appeared. Today’s advertisement was included in a half sheet Occasional Supplement to W. Weyman’s Gazette of Yesterday. Like nearly half of colonial American newspapers published in 1766, William Weyman distributed the New-York Gazette on Mondays – and, usually, only Mondays. Typically, each issue consisted of four pages, two printed on each side of a broadsheet that was then folded in half. In most cases, that was the extent of the news and advertising made available by any particular newspaper during any particular week.

At this time the Pennsylvania Gazette did provide a notable departure. It frequently inserted an additional half sheet in its standard four-page issue, bringing the entire issue to a total of six pages. Even with this additional content, however, the Pennsylvania Gazette did not attempt to distribute additional full issues more than once a week. In the 1770s some newspapers experimented with printing two or three issues per week, but it was not until after the Revolution that newspapers in the largest cities began daily publication.

This brings us back to Greg, Cunningham, and Company’s advertisement and the Occasional Supplement to the New-York Gazette in which it appeared. Why deviate from the usual publication schedule? Considering the amount of labor involved in producing an additional half sheet, why have an Occasional Supplement appear just one day after Monday’s regular issue, rather than later in the week? The “Subject of the Day is quite altered,” the first line of the Occasional Supplement proclaimed, due to “the Arrival of the Lord Hyde Packet” and the news it carried “with regard to the Change in the Ministry.” At the end of July, Lord Rockingham had been dismissed as prime minister. The king instructed William Pitt the Elder to form a government and granted him a title, making him the first Earl of Chatham. Pitt was popular among American colonists, both for his incisive leadership during the Seven Years War and, especially, for his opposition to the Stamp Act. Yet the Occasional Supplement noted that in Britain “there is pro and con, for and against Mr. PITT.” Weyman selected excerpts from letters that arrived on the packet ship “to give both Sides a Chance, and must leave our Readers to judge for themselves.” This news was too significant to wait an entire week to report it in the next issue of the New-York Gazette, hence Weyman’s decision to rush to press with an Occasional Supplement.

This news filled almost the entire first page of the Occasional Supplement, but the other side featured advertisements (including Greg, Cunningham, and Company’s advertisement) exclusively. Sometimes supplements and additional half sheets (like those that accompanied the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1766) were mechanisms for distributing additional advertising, the demand for advertising space exceeding the what was available in regular issues. In this case, however, we see that political reporting opened an opportunity to distribute greater numbers of advertisements. Weyman and others who worked in his shop could have cut their work in half by printing a broadside that reported the news, but instead chose to print advertising on the other side before distributing the Occasional Supplement on September 30, 1766.


[1] Edwin Tunis, Colonial Craftsmen and the Beginnings of American Industry (New York: World Publishing Company, 1965), 53.

[2] Thomas John Graham, Modern Domestic Medicine (London: Published for the Author, 1827), 369.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (September 1, 1766).

“THOMAS MORE’S ALMANACK, For the Year 1767. Is in the Press at W. Weyman’s.”

When it came to the printers and booksellers in colonial America, almanacs were a staple among the merchandise they produced and sold. These inexpensive pamphlets were in great demand, finding their way into the hands of readers from all kinds of backgrounds, from the elite to the most humble. In the 1960s Milton Drake compiled a bibliography of hundreds of almanacs printed in America in the eighteenth-century. Printers met the high demand for these calendars that doubled as reference periodicals by delivering an extensive supply to colonial customers, competing with each other in the process.

Given the diversity of almanacs available for public consumption, printers (as well as the authors of the almanacs themselves) needed to direct potential customers to the volumes they produced. Among the most common appeals, they promoted the accuracy of their almanacs, sometimes underscoring the education or other qualifications of the author or compiler. Benjamin Franklin’s almanacs, authored under the pseudonym Richard Saunders or Poor Richard, gained popularity for the aphorisms the astute printer inserted. (Arguably, those aphorisms made Franklin’s almanacs the most famous of the eighteenth century. Poor Richard’s almanacs remain well known in popular culture today, not just among scholars of early American print culture, thanks not only to their connection to one of the founders but also because the aphorisms have become nuggets of wisdom passed down from one generation of Americans to the next.) The authors and compilers of almanacs, like “Poor Richard,” became brands in and of themselves, contributing to the popularity of certain almanacs and forging a loyalty that predisposed colonists to continue purchasing familiar publications.

William Weyman devised another strategy for placing his almanacs in the hands of readers. He advertised them early (indeed, very early!), which allowed him to bring his almanacs to the attention of potential customers before they even considered others printed by competitors. “THOMAS MORE’S ALMANACK, For the Year 1767” was not yet ready for sale at the time that Weyman placed today’s advertisement. It was merely “in the Press … and will be published in due Time.” This advertisement appeared on September 1, a full four months ahead of the year covered in the almanac, but Weyman was priming customers to consider his almanac. They might not have needed it yet, but it was a product many of them knew that they would purchase eventually.

Modern retailers engage in similar practices. This year many stores started stocking Halloween items in August. Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise will be available soon, if it is not on shelves already. Today’s merchants did not invent promoting seasonal goods well before customers needed them. William Weyman and others were already doing that in the eighteenth century.

February 18

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Feb 18 - 2:18:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (February 21, 1766).

“Wants a Place, A Young Woman that is capable to attend Children.”

A woman looking for placement was not an uncommon thing in early American newspapers. Young women usually would look to be a housekeeper or cook, to care for children, or assist the women of the house. This young woman described her skills as “capable to attend Children, make up small Clothes,” and be all around helpful to the family. Our generation would describe her as a nanny.

In the American colonies, the number of servants a family had often depended on their economic status. Like the size and grandeur of a family’s house, the number of servants could be a status symbol. Not much has changed today.

Feb 18 - Masthead New-York Gazette 2:17:1766
Masthead for New-York Gazette (February 17, 1766).

For me, this advertisement was also an interesting find because normally the New-York Gazette published on Mondays. This week they published both a Monday (February 17) and a Tuesday (February 18) edition, which is were I found this advertisement. Normally for the Adverts 250 Project I would have had to go back to a Monday edition, but for this week I did not have to.

Feb 18 - Masthead New-York Gazette 2:18:1766
Masthead for New-York Gazette Extraordinary (February 18, 1766).



“Not much has changed today.” Indeed, conspicuous consumption was not an invention of the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. It existed before the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century and genteel colonists engaged in it as a means of further differentiating themselves from each other as the middling and lower sorts gained greater access to consumer goods throughout the 1700s.

I believe that Elizabeth is the first guest curator to comment explicitly on the methodology used in selecting the featured advertisement for each day. She notes the same methods that I have described elsewhere in extended commentary about the project’s methodology and how it shapes the scope of the project.

As an instructor, this is an important behind-the-scenes element of students’ work. Each guest curator has compiled a census of newspapers published during his or her week based on the calendars generated by Early American Newspapers. As a result of supplements and extraordinary (“extra”) issues as well as publications starting or stopping in response to the Stamp Act or other reasons, the list of newspapers published in one week often differs from the list for the next week.

As Elizabeth indicates, many colonial American newspapers were published at the beginning of the week, on Mondays, but in most weeks no newspapers were printed on Tuesdays. As we examined this more closely, we discovered that William Weyman actually published the New-York Gazette three times during this week in 1766: the regular issue on Monday, February 17; a broadside (one-page) “Extraordinary” issue on Tuesday, February 18; and a two-page “2d Extra” on Friday, February 21.

Feb 18 - Masthead New-York Gazette 2:21:1766
Masthead for New-York Gazette 2d Extra (February 21, 1766).

This was not immediately apparent, however, due to a coding error in the metadata. The two extraordinary issues were treated as one in Early American Newspapers. As I have noted elsewhere, researchers need to be aware of faulty metadata (background information or “data that provides information about other data”) that may lead them to incorrect conclusions about digitized sources.

Feb 18 - Readex Calendar
Note that the calendar of issues generated by Early American Newspapers does not indicate that the New-York Gazette was published on February 21, 1766.  That “2d Extraordinary” has been conflated with the Extraordinary issue of February 18, 1766.

Elizabeth’s advertisement was actually published in the “2d Extra” on February 21. The February 18 Extraordinary did not include any advertisements. That means that today’s featured advertisement technically departs from the established methodology for this project.

I asked Elizabeth not to edit her original submission when we discovered this. Together we have fast forwarded three days to February 21, but this allows us to make a valuable point about the shortcomings that sometimes emerge when relying on digitized sources.

(Besides, February 18 is my birthday. I’m glad that we found a way to incorporate at least a masthead from a newspaper published 250 years ago on February 18, 1766, into the project.)