What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“John Hansen, Of the City of Albany, INTENDING soon for England …”
As part of his preparations in advance of his departure for England, John Hansen placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal calling on “every Person or Persons whatsoever, that have any lawful Demands against him” to visit his house “and receive immediate Payment.” He also wished to settle accounts with “all Persons, who are indebted unto him.”
Such notices were fairly common in the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers, but this one merits attention because of what it reveals about reading habits and the distribution of newspapers as well as networks of commerce in the colonial era. John Hansen did not reside in the urban port where the New-York Journal was printed. Instead, he described himself as “Of the City of Albany,” on the Hudson River approximately 150 miles to the north. Despite the distance, placing a notice in the New-York Journal was advertising in a local newspaper.
Who was the intended audience for Hansen’s advertisement? Quite possibly he did business with residents of Albany and New York as well as places in between. He needed a means of distributing his announcement to as many of them as possible. To that end, Hansen purchased space in the New-York Journal with a reasonable expectation that neighbors and business associates in Albany would see his notice nestled among so many others.
That was the case because local newspapers were not so much local as regional throughout most of the eighteenth century. Americans experienced an explosion in print after the Revolution: newspapers began publication in a far greater number of smaller cities and towns in the 1780s and 1790s. Until then, however, newspaper publication was concentrated in relatively few places, simultaneously serving local residents as well as all those in the vast hinterlands that surrounded the major settlements. John Hansen could place an advertisement in a newspaper printed in New York and expect his neighbors in Albany to read it because some were subscribers themselves or had access to newspapers from faraway places at local taverns, coffeehouses, or the post office (often the shop operated by a printer). In addition to post riders who delivered newspapers, readers encountered copies that passed from hand to hand.
Subscription lists and notices placed by post riders demonstrate the reach of colonial newspapers, but advertisements by colonists like “John Hansen, Of the City of Albany” further illustrate their broad dissemination. In addition, such advertisements suggest that colonists in faraway places read or skimmed entire issues (including advertisement), not solely foreign and domestic news.