What was advertised in a colonial American newspapwer 250 years ago today?
“The said Joseph is not, by me, any Ways authorized or impowered to settle any of my Affairs.”
According to his advertisement, a notice that originally appeared in the September 26, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette must have surprised John Whipple. It stated that “ALL Persons having any Demands on the Estate of Captain JOHN WHIPPLE, of Providence; and likewise all those who are any ways indebted to said Estate” should contact the executor, Joseph Whipple. At a glance, it appeared to be a standard estate notice; it replicated the language deployed in similar notices published in newspapers throughout the colonies.
However, John Whipple, the deceased, saw the advertisement and then disputed his death and stated in no uncertain terms that he had not “authorized or impowered” Joseph Whipple “to settle any of my Affairs.” In the very next issue, published on October 3, he inserted his own advertisement, but it was not until the following week that the compositor positioned the two contradictory advertisements next to each other. Was that the result of those working in the “PRINTING-OFFICE, [at] the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” attempting to impose order within the pages of the Providence Gazette? Did they seek to assist readers in navigating the two advertisements? Did they place them one after another as a service to the aggrieved John Whipple? Or did the supposedly deceased captain examine the October 3 issue, notice that his advertisement was not even on the same page as the second insertion of Joseph Whipple’s original notice, and then make a subsequent visit to the printing office to demand that his advertisement would be most effective if it appeared immediately after the fraudulent one?
Colonists engaged in extensive and active reading of newspapers, yet the decision to place the advertisements by the feuding Whipples one after the other (which continued in subsequent issues) suggests that someone – printer, compositor, or advertiser – saw a need for greater organization than the system of unclassified advertisements usually provided. This also had the effect of telling a better and more complete story, potentially ramping up interest among readers interested in local gossip. On the rare occasions that runaway wives responded to advertisements placed by their abandoned husbands, printers or others sometimes positioned their notices next to each other, giving each their say while also accentuating the drama for readers.
Sarah Goddard and John Carter and their employees in the printing office did not further differentiate or organize other advertisements in the Providence Gazette according to their purposes, but in the case of the Whipples and an early modern case of identity theft they did print the related advertisements next to each other throughout most of their runs.