What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“ADVERTISEMENT. From the LONDON GAZETTEER, of March 31.”
On June 4, 1768, the supplement to the New-York Journal carried an advertisement reprinted from the March 31 edition of the London Gazetteer. John Holt included an editorial note that it was “inserted as a Curiosity.” The advertisement promoted “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON, at St. George’s Spaw, at the Dog and Duck in St. George’s Field Southwark,” starting on Easter Monday and continuing “every evening during the summer season” with the exception of Sundays.
Apparently Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, also considered this a “Curiosity” that would entertain their readers. Three weeks later they reprinted the same advertisement in their newspaper. Although printers regularly generated content by reprinting news items and editorials from one newspaper to another throughout the eighteenth century, the attribution practices make it difficult to determine if Goddard and Carter reprinted this curious advertisement after encountering it in the New-York Journal or if they saw the same item in a copy of the London Gazetteer they had obtained and independently chose to reprint the advertisement for the amusement of their readers.
Both the New-York Journal and the Providence Gazette noted that the advertisement originally appeared in the London Gazetteer. In the same supplement, Holt inserted a poem “On JOHN WILKES, Esq; offering himself a Candidate for the County of Middlesex” for readers in New York. He did not indicate the source of the poem, though it did appear with news from London as well as short excerpts from the Public Advertiser and the Public Ledger as well as the London Gazetteer. Holt also reprinted a couplet from the Public Advertiser: “THE Reign of HUMOUR, WIT and SENSE is o’er! / When did it end?—When YORICK was no more.”
Goddard and Carter reprinted both of those items along with two other poems under a heading dated “LONDON, March 29” that further indicated “The following was this morning posted up at the Sun Fire Office, in Cornhill.” This general heading does not make clear whether it applied only to “BRITANNIA to JOHN WILKES, Esq.” or all four poems. A brief explanation accompanied the couplet that also appeared in the New-York Journal. It had been composed “On the Death of Reverend Mr. STERNE, Author of Tristram Shandy, &c.” The novelist had only recently died on March 18, 1768.
Considering that Goddard and Carter published both additional material and information that differed from some of the attributions in Holt’s newspaper, they very well could have made the decision to reprint an interesting advertisement from the London Gazetteer without being influenced by a fellow printer elsewhere in the colonies. Even if Holt’s inclusion of the advertisement in the New-York Journal had inspired them, the further dissemination of it in the Providence Gazette demonstrates that colonists sometimes turned to advertisements for entertainment or amusement. In that manner, advertisements enhanced other content in newspapers by serving purposes other than selling tickets or other goods and services. Either Wolton or the proprietors of St. George’s Spa had paid to insert an advertisement in the London Gazetteer with the intention of attracting audiences. In the end, they entertained readers on the other side of the Atlantic who had no chance of attending the performances. Neither colonial printers nor colonial readers paid anything to Wolton or St. George’s Spa for their entertainment.