What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WILLIAM ROGERS, Of Newport, Rhode-Island … has newly furnished his Shop with a neat Assortment of GOODS.”
In general, eighteenth-century advertisers tended to place notices only in their local newspapers, though members of the book trades sometimes accounted for exceptions as they cooperated with colleagues to create larger markets for promoting and distributing reading materials. What qualified as a local newspaper depended on the perspective of readers and advertisers since newspapers were printed only in slightly more than a dozen cities and towns in 1767. Most publications thus served an extensive hinterland, often an entire colony and sometimes a region that included portions of other colonies as well. The Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, had subscribers throughout the colony as well as Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. In the absence of local newspapers to carry their marketing messages, shopkeepers and others in those colonies sometimes advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the other newspapers printed in Philadelphia but distributed widely.
William Rogers “Of Newport, Rhode-Island, on the Parade opposite the Custom-House” did not want for a local newspaper to carry his advertisements. Samuel Hall published the Newport Mercury from his printing shop on Thames Street. The Mercury was Newport’s only newspaper. This did not, however, prevent Rogers from advertising in multiple publications. He took the rather extraordinary action of injecting himself into the Providence market when he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Several shopkeepers who advertised regularly in the Gazette (including Thompson and Arnold, Joseph and William Russell, Benjamin and Edward Thurber, and James Green) already competed with each other to gain both attention in the public prints and customers in their shops. Rogers presented the “neat Assortment of GOODS” in his shop as a viable alternative, especially since “he intends to sell as cheap as can be bought at any Shop in PROVIDENCE.” In the course of the week, Rogers’ advertisement appeared in both the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury.
Rogers may not have expected to garner many customers from Providence, but he almost certainly aimed to attract readers of the Providence Gazette elsewhere in Rhode Island, especially those who lived between Providence and Newport. Shopkeepers in Providence served the city’s hinterland as well as their neighbors in the city. William Rogers wanted some of that business for himself.