April 6

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Apr 6 - 4:3:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 3, 1766).

“Just published, and to be sold … THE IMPORTANCE of the Colonies of NORTH-AMERICA, and the INTEREST of GREAT-BRITAIN, with Regard.”

This advertisement caught my eye because it is the most direct reference to the events leading up to the Revolutionary War that I have encountered. The advertisement addresses the tensions that had been present after the French and Indian War, which really damaged the colonists’ perception of Britain as their mother country. This advertisement mentions explicitly that the colonies and Great Britain were having a strained relationship.

The “just published” work included remarks on the widely despised Stamp Act, which would have been sure to draw in many readers. This also depended on public literacy. Newspapers were a part of it, but there were also smaller works, such as the pamphlets advertised here, published for ordinary colonists to read. Although the most famous, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, would not be published for another decade, these publications and others were meant to reach the minds of many Americans, giving them much to think about in regards to their relationship to Britain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Like several of the other guest curators from my Public History class, Maia has been keeping her eyes open for advertisements that illuminate the political history of the period, especially the role of the Stamp Act in the unfolding imperial crisis. It would have been difficult to miss this advertisement. The printer inserted it at the top of the first column on the first page, immediately below the masthead, making it the first item – either news or commercial notice – that a subscriber would have read.

Apr 6 - First Page of Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 3, 1766).

Note how the layout of this page provides further context and suggests how the printer likely intended readers to interact with this advertisement. It appeared immediately to the left of a list of anti-Stamp Act resolutions from the Committee of Correspondence in Cecil County, Maryland. Continuing to scan across the top of the page, readers encountered a list of resolutions passed at a recent “Meeting of the SONS OF LIBERTY of the Township of Piscataway, in the County of Middlesex, and Province of East New-Jersey.”

Of all the possible news items and advertisements that could have appeared at the top of the first column, it hardly seems like a coincidence that an advertisement for anti-Stamp Act pamphlets appeared there. The printer stoked potential customers’ outrage with the resolutions from the Committee of Correspondence and the Sons of Liberty, increasing the chances they would be interested in purchasing pamphlets about colonists’ rights and the appropriate responses to the abuses they were suffering at the hands of a Parliament that overstepped its authority. The printer yoked politics and commerce, each in the service of the other.

The story becomes more interesting when we realize that David Hall, who advertised the pamphlets, was also the printer and publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette! He used his newspaper to advance political views. At the same time, he looked to make a profit from the controversy that incited the interest that made it possible to sell these pamphlets. In designing the first page of this issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, David Hall revealed himself to be a savvy printer and entrepreneur.

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