What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Subscriptions for the PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE, and UNIVERSAL ADVERTISER, will be taken in by the Printer.”
Throughout January 1767, William Goddard inserted his “PROPOSALS for printing by Subscription … The PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE, And UNIVERSAL ADVERTISER” in newspapers printed in Philadelphia. Although he focused most of his efforts on luring subscribers from that city and its hinterland, he also welcomed subscribers from faraway places who already had access to local newspapers published where they lived.
For instance, his lengthy proposal appeared in the Providence Gazette two days before Goddard published the first issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. He recognized three categories of customers and pledged that each would receive their subscriptions in a timely manner: “ladies and gentlemen … shall, in the city, receive [the newspaper] at their respective houses; or, if in the country, forwarded to them by the first opportunity; nor shall any care or industry be wanting to transmit it to the most distant customers with all expedition possible.” To serve that final category, Goddard had appointed agents in “the other colonies on the continent” who collected names of subscribers on his behalf.
Why would residents of other cities and colonies be interested in Goddard’s Pennsylvania Chronicle? After all, even as he pledged “to form his paper on as extensive and universal principles as any other on the continent” he stated that he was not “intending to derogate, in the least, from the merit of any.” Goddard acknowledged that his competitors and counterparts already published fine newspapers.
However, he also underscored that he had “established an extensive correspondence in Europe, and the several Colonies in America” that would allow him to collect in one publication all sorts of items that would “tend to the improvement, instruction, and entertainments of the PUBLIC.” Other newspapers might (and certainly did) print some of the same material that appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but Goddard cultivated a network of “learned and ingenious” correspondents who not only forwarded accounts of “the most remarkable and important occurrences foreign and domestic” but also submitted original “judicious remarks, pieces of wit and humor, essays moral, political, geographical, historical, and poetical.” Considering the editorial care that Goddard devoted to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, subscribers could expect a publication “as complete as possible,” one that provided both news items printed and reprinted throughout the colonies and original features for their edification and amusement.
Goddard’s lengthy proposal, which filled almost an entire column, did not appear alongside other advertisements in the Providence Gazette. There certainly would have been space for it on the final page, had the printer chosen to place a poem submitted by a reader earlier in the issue. Instead, Goddard’s proposal appeared in the final column on the third page, to the left of news items from Williamsburg, Philadelphia, New York, Hartford, Boston, and Newport. As a result, Goddard’s proposal took on the appearance of a news item as opposed to the commercial notices for consumer goods and services clustered on the following page.
Given its placement within the Providence Gazette, Goddard’s proposal was an advertisement that was not an advertisement, a puff piece that seemed to deliver news but also promoted a product. That Goddard’s proposal received this sort of preferential treatment hardly comes as a surprise when we remember that he formerly published the Providence Gazette before the Stamp Act and when the newspaper once again began publication it did so under the stewardship of his mother, Sarah Goddard.