What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Publishers of this Paper, hereby inform their candid Readers, that his Week’s Paper compleats the Year.”
Sarah Goddard and Company had two purposes for placing this advertisement in the August 8, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. First and foremost, they wished to acknowledge that the new issue “compleats the Year” since the newspaper “was revived.” On the occasion of that anniversary, they called on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle their accounts “as speedily as possible.” As a secondary goal, the publishers announced that “This Paper will still be carried on as usual” and requested further “Encouragement” from readers. In other words, if residents of Providence and its hinterland valued the Providence Gazette and wished for it to continue, they needed to subscribe, advertise, and pay their bills.
The previous iteration of the Providence Gazette had ceased publication with its May 11, 1765, issue and, except for extraordinary editions published on August 24, 1765, and March 12, 1766, did not resume publication until August 9, 1766. In the year since it sometimes struggled to attract advertisers, especially in the winter months. Goddard and Company may have developed certain innovations out of necessity, especially frequent oversized and full-page advertisements. Although the design would have caught the attention of reader-consumers, the format may have inspired primarily as a means of filling the page in the absence of other content.
The Providence Gazette was the only newspaper in colonial America printed and distributed on Saturdays in 1766 and 1767. In contrast, at least ten newspapers were published on Mondays (though not all have since been digitized). Similarly, multiple newspapers were published on Thursdays as well. As a result, the Adverts 250 Project has featured at least one advertisement from the Providence Gazette each week while selecting an advertisement from one among many newspapers on other days. Many of those newspapers featured a greater variety and volume of advertising that would merit more attention in a book or article; that being the case, given the nature of this digital humanities project the Providence Gazette might seem overrepresented among the advertisements included. On the other hand, the project’s methodology has required, at least as an outcome even if not originally by intentional design, attention to a smaller publication from a middling-sized port city, shifting focus away from the most significant population and commercial centers in colonial America. The history of advertising in early America would look very different if it focused exclusively on the cities with the most vibrant newspapers: Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Sustained consideration of the Providence Gazette and newspapers from other cities and towns tells a more nuanced story of the mobilization of print to influence consumer choices via advertising in the colonial era.