GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“JAMES ASKEW, Post-Rider … desires the Favour of his Customer that have not paid … to pay him … before the 30th of March.”
James Askew placed this advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette to notify his customers of an impending stoppage of service. As the local post rider he delivered newspapers once a week along with any mail for that area. His route included the towns of Lancaster, Carlisle, and Shippensburg, founded in 1709, 1751, and 1730, respectively, some of the oldest inland settlements in colonial Pennsylvania. Askew seems to have covered the southwestern area of colonial Pennsylvania to the boundary of established counties.
He most likely delivered the Pennsylvania Gazette with his own advertisement in it for his own customers to see. Askew used very polite and proper language, such as “desires the favour of his customers that have not paid” and “their compliance will oblige their humble servant,” to get his customers to pay their outstanding bill with him. He then reminds them of their yearly “Entrance Money” for his services, which is common even today for some services. With this advertisement being placed in the March 20 paper he gave customers until March 30 to pay their bills. This would be one more week of newspapers to be dropped off, the Thursday, March 27 issue. Since it was already March that meant that some of these bills were very old because the language that he used made it seems like some of them came from before the new year. Even the “Entrance Money” that was due on March 30 was three months late! Askew gave clear instructions that the money should be left were he delivered his customers’ papers or to pay him in person.
However, a second look at the advertisement that goes beyond the pleasant wording reveals an interesting underlying tone. When I read it I sensed a slightly aggressive or threatening tone by the end. When someone says to “expect further trouble” I do no think of good things. Although each colony had its own laws regarding what would happen to debtors, none of the punishments sound good. As I was doing research for this advertisement I discovered Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey (edited by William Nelson and published in 1903). It included an excerpt from the Pennsylvania Gazette‘s April 10, 1766, issue: an advertisement calling debtors and their creditors into court to figure out what to do.
Often the offender would be sent to debtors’ prison or would have to sell off his belongings to pay his creditors. In colonial America, even worse then being sent to debtors’ prison was the public shame and embarrassment, often including publishing offenders’ names in the newspaper for everyone to see. Many colonial Americans were not very forgiving of those who fell from grace this way.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
James Askew was anxious for his customers to pay him for the newspapers he delivered from Philadelphia. As Elizabeth explains, some owed arrears from the previous year, while others had not yet paid for the current year. Askew gave plenty of notice that his patrons needed to pay or else face legal consequences. Today’s advertisement also appeared in two previous issues: on March 6 and 13. The post rider gave delinquents fair warning that he would no longer tolerate their refusal to pay for the services he provided.
Advertisements like this one suggest that printers were not the only ones who took a financial risk when extending credit while selling and distributing newspapers. (Recall a recently featured advertisement in which the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette called on subscribers and advertisers to pay their bills.) John Bolton, another post rider who had patrons from Chester to West Nottingham, placed a similar advertisement in the same issue as this notice from Askew. He also threatened that those who refused to pay “may depend on being dealt with as the Law directs, without respect of Persons, or further Notice.” Bolton stated that he did not care if his (former) customers were the most humble or the most prominent residents in the towns he served. Anyone who contracted a debt with him was expected to pay up.
Most of the advertisements featured here highlight attempts to sell goods and services to colonial consumers. Elizabeth has chosen an advertisement that demonstrates another aspect of doing business: some colonists eagerly obtained certain goods and services yet neglected to pay for them, at least not in a timely fashion. As a result, some advertisements encouraged payments from those whose demand had so far outstripped their willingness to pay.