What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN-away from the subscriber at Hosack, near Albany, an indented Irish servant Man.”
The second and third pages (or the two center pages of a broadsheet folded in half to create the standard four-page issue) of the June 27, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury included more than just the usual three columns. The compositor created a very thin fourth column by rotating the type ninety degrees; this allowed for the insertion of three additional advertisements in the outside margins that otherwise would not have fit on the page. Two of those advertisements appeared on the second page. John Duncan and Thomas Peeles placed a notice calling on those indebted “to the estate of John Knox, of the town of Schenectady, and county of Albany” to settle accounts. Collin McDonald “of the manor of Livingston, and county of Albany” inserted a notice warning others against trusting his wife, Catherine. She had “eloped from his bed,” causing him to “forewarn all persons not to trust or harbour her on my account, as I will pay no debts contracted by her.” A single advertisement occupied the additional column on the third page. In it, John Macomb, “at Hosack, near Albany,” described James McKinzie, a runaway indentured servant. Given that all three of these advertisements came from Albany and none of them previously appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, they likely all arrived at the same time via the same post carrier or messenger, after the type for the rest of the issue had been set but not before it went to press. The printer and compositor may have had a brief window of opportunity to work these advertisements into the June 27 issue rather than wait a week to publish them.
The placement of these advertisements was certainly out of the ordinary for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but it was not altogether uncommon in newspapers published in the American colonies during the eighteenth century. Printers and compositors sometimes made space for short advertisements in the side margins or across the bottom of the page, but usually only when special circumstances required. This aspect of American newspaper production and format differs significantly from standard practices in Dutch newspapers in the 1760s, as I learned from during a panel on “Newspapers and Information Management in the Atlantic World” at the 24th annual conference sponsored by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture held earlier this month. In her paper on “Dutch Newspaper Coverage of the Berbice Slave Revolit, 1763,” Esther Baakman (Leiden University) presented images of the newspapers she consulted. In terms of graphic design, they featured two columns for news and a third column for advertising. The column for advertising was slightly narrower than the other two and rotated ninety degrees. What amounted to an occasional strategy for inserting additional advertisements in American newspapers was a design feature intended to aid readers in distinguishing among content in Dutch newspapers in the middle of the eighteenth century.