What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“HENDRICK OUDERNAARDE, BROKER, HAS to sell all Sorts of European and West-India Goods.”
Hendrick Oudenaaerde’s advertisement appeared in an Extraordinary issue that supplemented James Parker’s New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Parker published his Gazette (not to be confused with Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury) on Mondays, but explained that circumstances warranted distributing an Extraordinary on Thursday, February 4, 1768. “Letter IX” from the series of “Letters from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” filled nearly four of the six columns in the Extraordinary; news and advertising filled the remainder. According to Parker, “As the Farmer’s Letters came too late for our Paper on Monday last, in order to oblige our Customers, we have given this additional Gazette, and thereby prevent the room being encroached on, in next Monday’s Paper.” This decision resulted in disseminating a greater amount of advertising – for consumer goods, for runaway slaves, for real estate – to readers of Parker’s Gazette alongside “Letter IX.”
Like many other printers throughout the colonies, Parker reprinted a series of essays, twelve in total, written by John Dickinson in 1767 and 1768. Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator rather than a farmer, argued that Parliament did not have the authority to raise revenues by imposing taxes on the American colonies. He conceded that Parliament could regulate trade, yet stressed that the colonies retained sovereignty over their internal affairs, including taxation. In “Letter IX,” Dickinson addressed the necessity for local representation in established assemblies. Published far and wide, the “Letters” helped to unify colonists in opposition to the Townshend Acts.
Readers of Parker’s Gazette could not consume “Letter IX” without being exposed to the advertisements that accompanied it. Public discourse concerning the political ramifications of Parliament’s policies concerning commerce and other matters contributed to an even wider and more frequent distribution of advertising in the late colonial period. In general, the revenues generated by advertisements made it possible for printers to publish and disseminate the news and editorial items that informed debates and shaped sentiments in the colonies. Broadly speaking, that was the case here: the revenues from the advertisements that regularly appeared in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy allowed Parker to issue the extraordinary issue. However, the printer may not have generated additional revenues from the particular advertisements that appeared in the extraordinary. Advertisers usually paid to have their notices inserted for a certain numbers of weeks. The compositor may have chosen half a dozen advertisements that served as filler to complete the issue, but the printer may have run them gratis for the sake of filling the final page. Advertisers who paid to have their notices inserted for a specified number of weeks would have expected to see them in the regular issues of Parker’s Gazette for that many weeks.
In other words, the revenues from advertising generally supported the publication of news and editorials that shaped colonial discourse during the imperial crisis, yet the imperatives of distributing political content also bolstered an expanded dissemination of advertising.