December 20

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

Dec 20 - 12:17:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 17, 1767).

“At the Sign of.”

Magdalen Devine frequently placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette throughout 1767. Often a woodcut depicting some of her merchandise, two rolls of fabric and two swatches showcasing the patterns, accompanied her advertisements. This effectively created a logo for Devine, making her advertisements instantly recognizable without potential customers needing to even read a word.

For many eighteenth-century shopkeepers and artisans, the woodcuts that supplemented their advertisements illustrated the signs that marked the places where they conducted business. The devices in the woodcuts reflected the descriptions of shop signs in many advertisements, but that did not necessarily mean that those woodcuts exactly replicated the signs they represented. For instance, leather dressers James Haslett and Matthew Haslett included several visual variations on “the Sign of the Buck and Glove” in their advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette. One may have faithfully duplicated the actual sign; the others offered a similar likeness that distinguished their advertisements from others, attracted the attention of readers, and helped guide potential customers to their shop. Similarly, other woodcuts in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements likely provided representations but not exact replications of shop signs, hinting at what colonial consumers saw when they traversed the streets.

Devine, however, suggested that the woodcut in her advertisements did indeed accurately reproduce her shop sign. In the course of giving directions to her shop, she indicated that she had recently moved “to the House lately occupied by FRANCIS WADE, on the East Side of Second-Street, between Black-Horse Alley and Market-Street.” To further aid “her FRIENDS, and the PUBLIC” in finding her, she noted that her shop was “at the Sign of” but did not conclude the sentence with a description or name for the sign. Instead, she inserted the woodcut that by then served as her logo. While other advertisers implied that woodcuts in their advertisements depicted their signs without commenting on how well they did so, Magdalen Devine provided one of the most explicit indications that what readers saw in the newspaper replicated the actual sign that marked her shop.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 27, 1767).

“For sale at their Shop at the Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE.”

It would have been difficult not to notice the woodcut that accompanied James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the July 17, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Except for the insignia of the lion and unicorn within the masthead at the top of the first page, it was the only visual image in the entire issue, immediately drawing the eye away from the text that surrounded it.

The Hasletts reminded potential customers that “they still carry on the Leather Dressing Business … at their Shop at the Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE in King Street” in Portsmouth. The woodcut indeed depicted a sign that featured a buck and glove, as well as a pair of breeches. The text of the advertisement also promoted “all sorts of Breeches ready made.”

This was not the first time that the leather dressers inserted a woodcut alongside their advertisement, but it had been ten months since they last did so. In the interim, their commercial notices had been unadorned, relying on the copy alone to convince potential customers to avail themselves of the Hasletts’ services.

When they decided to once again include a woodcut, they did not return to either of the two that previously appeared in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette. This woodcut was new, though it included the same elements incorporated into at least one of the previous iterations. All three depicted a signboard with a buck, a glove, and a pair of breeches hanging alongside a separate glove on the same pole. The first version included the date they founded their business and the Hasletts’ names in the same locations as the newest woodcut, but the second one eliminated their names and moved the date to the top of the sign. This version included decorative finials at the top and bottom of the sign that had not been present in either previous woodcut.

With this woodcut, the Hasletts further developed their brand. Their advertisement helps to create a better sense of the visual aspects of eighteenth-century signs that marked all kinds of businesses. However, the variations among the various woodcuts used by the Hasletts suggests that any woodcut should be considered a general or stylistic representation of how a sign might have looked rather than an attempt to closely or exactly replicate its appearance.

March 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (March 5, 1767).

“Quilted or plain Carrying Saddles.”

“JOHN YOUNG, senior, SADLER,” operated a workshop “In Second-street, opposite the Baptist Meeting, and next Door to Mr. Alexander Huston’s,” in Philadelphia. Elsewhere in the city “JOHN YOUNG, jun. Saddler,” ran his own shop “At the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE, at the corner of Market and Front-streets, and opposite the LONDON COFFEE-HOUSE.” The younger Young likely learned his trade from the elder Young. Which one taught the other about the power of advertising? Was that also passed down from one generation to the next? Or did the senior Young eventually adopt marketing strategies on the recommendation of his son (or perhaps even to compete with him)?

Pennsylvania Chronicle (March 9, 1767).

Both Youngs advertised in newspapers printed in Philadelphia in early March 1767, the elder Young in the established Pennsylvania Gazette and the junior saddler in the new Pennsylvania Chronicle. Although both included woodcuts of saddles in their notices, the younger Young seems to have been the more sophisticated marketer when it came to mobilizing an image to identify his products. Note that Young Sr. merely listed directions to aid potential customers in finding his workshop, yet Young Jr. created a brand for his business that operated at “the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE.” Score one for the younger Young’s innovative marketing.

The saddlers offered almost identical appeals concerning quality, price, and fashion. Young Sr. stated that “he makes in the neatest and most Fashionable Manner, and sells at the most reasonable Rates” a variety of saddles and other riding equipment. In turn, Young Jr. announced that “he makes in the best and most fashionable manner, and sells at the most reasonable rates” a similar array of leather goods. Both indicated that they had sufficient inventory “ready made” that they could sell in quantity, though the elder saddler edged out his son by offering “proper Abatement to those who buy to sell again.” In other words, retailers received a bulk discount. Score one for the elder Young’s innovative pricing.

The two saddlers seemed to address slightly different clientele. Although both asserted they made saddles “in the most fashionable Manner,” Young Jr. placed more emphasis on serving elite customers. He listed “GENTLEMEN’S English hunting” saddles first among his wares (and the format of the advertisement directed readers’ eyes to the word “gentlemen”) and underscored that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.” On the other hand, Young Sr. thanked gentlemen and merchants for their previous patronage, but he included appreciation for “Shallopmen, and others” in the same sentence. One saddler traded on exclusivity for elite customers, while the other made his workshop more accessible to clients from all backgrounds. In the end, which marketing method yielded greater revenues by attracting more business? For now, that should be considered a draw.

Whether the Youngs competed or cooperated with each other, they devised advertisements that shared some of the most common appeals deployed in commercial notices printed in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century. Each other advanced unique and innovative marketing strategies, demonstrating that advertising in early America amounted to more than mere announcements that particular vendors sold certain goods.

February 15

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 13, 1767).

“Forty or fifty valuable SLAVES … Also, Sundry Plantations and Tracts of Land.”

The vast majority of colonial newspaper advertisements did not include visual images. When illustrations did appear with advertisements, they usually came from one of four categories. Images of ships at sea accompanied notices for vessels seeking passengers and freight, though they occasionally appeared in advertisements for imported goods. Depictions of horses ran alongside announcements by breeders offering stallions “to cover” mares. Images of slaves served two purposes: they were included with both advertisements seeking to sell slaves and notices that warned about runaways. (Curiously, similar advertisements for indentured servants were much less likely to include depictions of runaways making their escape.) Finally, real estate advertisements sometimes included images of houses or pastoral scenes. In each case, the woodcut belonged to the printer and could be used interchangeably with advertisements placed for similar purposes. On occasion, some advertisers commissioned their own woodcuts to attract attention to their advertisements, usually opting for an image that replicated their shop signs.

From the standard categories of woodcuts, all four appeared in the February 13, 1767, issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. No advertisers, however, spiced up their notices with original illustrations. That did not mean that the advertising in that issue lacked creativity when it came to the deployment of visual images. When advertisements included woodcuts they tended to have only one. Vendue master Robert Wells, however, oversaw the sale of both “forty or fifty valuable SLAVES” and “Sundry Plantations and Tracts of Land.” He opted to include both types of relevant woodcuts in his notice, a choice that likely resulted in readers noticing the rich visual texture of his advertisement. Given that Wells was charged with selling both slaves and real estate, he may have believed that if he was going to include any sort of woodcut at all then using both images was necessary. After all, readers might have passed over an advertisement showing just a slave or just a plantation, assuming that the woodcut summarized the contents of the entire notice. In a newspaper with few illustrations, Wells’ advertisement with two woodcuts stood out from the rest of the content.

October 28


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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 28, 1766).

“A CARGO consisting of about ONE HUNDRED and FORTY young and healthy new NEGROES.”

I chose this advertisement because it demonstrates the inhumane and terrible slave industry in colonial America. The advertisement demonstrates how racial barriers dehumanized Africans in the eighteenth century. Because of their skin tone and origin, Africans were thought of as commodities, not as human beings. This idea is horrifying and irrational to modern readers. However, the transatlantic slave trade was a reality of American culture for hundred of years. In fact, slavery persisted in Southern society until the end of the Civil War.

A contributing factor to colonial Americans attachment to slavery was the need for a large workforce to toil over the agricultural endeavors of Southern colonies. Slavery provided landowners with an inexpensive workforce that could be expanded at virtually any time. Thus the demand for slaves persisted throughout the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.

However slavery also occurred in the all the colonies. Slaves were utilized for domestic service Evidenced comes from multiple advertisements for slaves posted in newspapers printed in the New England and Middle Atlantic colonies. There were advertisements regarding slaves in the Connecticut Courant, the Providence Gazette, and the New-York Gazette, among others. In the fall of 1766, the Connecticut Courant included an advertisement that said “TO be sold for Cash or 6 Months Credit … One Negro Boy.” In the Providence Gazette there was a advertisement that stated: “To be sold at Public Vendue … A likely healthy active Negro Boy, about fourteen Years old.” The New-York Journal included this advertisement in one of its October issues: “TO BE SOLD, A fine Female Slave.” It is obvious from the widespread nature of these advertisements that slavery was an established part of society throughout all the colonies.

Connecticut Courant (October 6, 1766).


Providence Gazette (October 11, 1766).


New-York Journal (October 16, 1766).

Thankfully, the practice of slavery was abolished in the 1800s, but the transatlantic slave trade shaped our country in ways no founding father could have imagined. The legacy of slavery persisted after its abolition, causing strife for descendants of slaves. That is why learning about the roots of slavery is important. It has contributed to years of human rights abuses, the rise of humanitarian movements, and important political change. Even though this part of our history is abhorrent, we need to remember our past in order to ensure justice and equality in the future.



Megan notes that slavery was not restricted to colonies in the Chesapeake and Lower South. Instead, as the advertisements she has chosen for today demonstrate, slavery and the slaver trade were part of colonial culture and economics in New England and the Middle Atlantic as well. I appreciate how she shows that advertisements for slavery were spread across newspapers printed in each region of colonial America in the fall of 1766. For my additional commentary, I am examining how such advertisements were concentrated in one particular issue.

According to the project’s methodology, Megan needed to select an advertisement from a newspaper printed exactly 250 years ago today. That gave her only one option in terms of choosing a newspaper: the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was the only newspaper printed on October 28, 1766. It’s not surprising that when she consulted that issue that she chose an advertisement for an impending slave auction. In total, eighty-four advertisements appeared in that issue. Fourteen of them advertised slaves. Some offered dozens of slaves for sale, cargoes recently arrived from Africa, as was the case in the advertisement Megan chose. Others sought to sell individual slaves, sometimes as part of estate sales. Some warned against runaway slaves and offered rewards for their capture and return. Some notified masters that escaped slaves had been captured and told them where to retrieve their human property. It would have been practically impossible to look at this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal without noticing numerous advertisements explicitly connected to slavery and the slave trade.

The visual aspects of the advertisements made it even more likely that readers would focus on advertisements for slaves. Only ten advertisements featured any sort of image, a woodcut that would have been a standard part of any printer’s stock. These woodcuts included two ships (one for a departing vessel and another for imported goods), two houses (both for properties to be leased), and one horse (for a stolen gelding). The other five woodcuts all depicted slaves, three runaways and two Africans on display to promote auctions from cargoes recently arrived from Africa. The woodcuts depicting slaves were spread out over three of the four pages of the broadsheet newspapers. Considering the density of text in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, these advertisements were among the most prominent items that appeared in that issue.

Megan demonstrated the breadth of advertisements for slaves in newspapers printed in several regions during the fall of 1766. That is important, but it tells only part of the story. The depth of advertising in specific issues and particular newspapers also merits further investigation. That is part of the work my entire Colonial America class is doing with the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 12, 1766).

James & Mathew Haslett … have set up their Factory at the Sign of the Buck and Glove.”

Relatively few artisans or shopkeepers included images in their newspaper advertisement during the eighteenth century. Although printers already possessed the type, advertisers were responsible for providing any woodcuts beyond the stock printers ornaments. As a result, most advertisements placed by artisans and shopkeepers lacked images. In contrast, advertisements for runaway slaves, real estate, and vessels clearing port often sported woodcuts of slaves, houses, or ships, respectively. Each type of those stock ornaments could be used interchangeably for advertisements from the associated genre.

On the other hand, when advertisements placed by artisans and shopkeepers included woodcuts, those images were specific to a particular advertiser. In most cases, the text of the advertisement suggested that the image illustrated the shop sign that marked the advertiser’s establishment. The woodcut in James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement even depicted a shop sign!

The visual culture of the newspaper corresponded to the scenes readers saw on the street. But how closely did these woodcuts replicate the shop signs they were intended to portray? It’s tempting to assume that they were designed to reproduce the original as much as possible, yet the woodcut in the Hasletts’ advertisement throws that supposition to question. The image that appeared in the September 12 issue was the second one used by the Hasletts. Just two weeks earlier they published the same advertisement with a different (but similar) woodcut, before replacing it in the September 4 and September 12 issues. (The woodcut did not appear in the New-Hampshire Gazette again after that throughout the rest of 1766.)

Why did the Hasletts switch from one woodcut to another? What kind of expenses were involved in that decision? Was including a woodcut in their advertisement worth the investment? Did the Hasletts distribute any handbills or billheads that incorporated the same woodcut? Did the new woodcut more closely replicate their actual shop sign?

Today’s advertisement offers some refreshing visual culture among eighteenth-century advertisements usually comprised exclusively of text. However, it also raises questions about the decisions made by advertisers and how closely the crude proto-logos that appeared in newspaper advertisement portrayed the shop signs they were supposed to reference.

While researching this entry, I consulted the original newspapers in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society in addition to the digital surrogates in Readex’s Early American Newspapers.

Sep 12 - Haslett 8:29
Detail of James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette (August 29, 1766). American Antiquarian Society.
Sep 12 - Haslett 9:4
Detail of James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette (September 4, 1766). American Antiquarian Society.
Sept 12 - Haslett 9:12
Detail of James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette (September 12, 1766). American Antiquarian Society.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:25:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766).

“RUN away from his Master … a NEGRO Man named Neptune.”

John Moody placed this advertisement when “a NEGRO Man named Neptune” – almost certainly not the name bestowed on him by his parents when he was born – ran away. This advertisement stands in stark contrast to the one featured yesterday, though both came from the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Yesterday’s “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” encouraged readers to put on all kinds of displays upon receiving word that the Stamp Act had been repealed. This advertisement, however, asserted that black bodies should be on display and encouraged readers to take note of any “NEGRO Man” they encountered. Black bodies were figuratively on display in the crude woodcut that could have been any enslaved man. Black bodies were literally on display – scrutinized closely – any time readers attempted to assess if a black man fit the description in the advertisement. “Neptune” could change his clothing, but the fugitive could not disguise certain physical characteristics: “lost two of his Toes, and can’t move his Under Jaw.” Determining if a black man fit this description could require sustained observation; these are not attributes that would necessarily be noticed at a glance. While many colonial Americans engaged in public spectacles to celebrate the end of the Stamp Act, “Neptune” likely did all he could to avoid becoming a public spectacle, but today’s advertisement encouraged colonial Americans to think of all black bodies as some sort of public spectacle to be observed and scrutinized.