What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST PUBLISHED … THE Power and Grandeur of GREAT-BRITAIN founded nt he Liberty of the COLONIES.”
Colonial newspapers usually carried very little local news. As they were distributed only once a week, often news of local events carried by word of mouth before they had a chance to appear in print. Accordingly, editors privileged news from faraway places, news that readers had not seen for themselves or already heard about in the course of their daily activities.
Such was the case in the August 20, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Even the scant amount of news published under the header “PROVIDENCE, August 20” relayed a description of events that recently occurred in Boston. “Sunday last being the 14th of August,” the short article began, “the Sons of Liberty at Boston, in order to perpetuate the Anniversary of the first Opposition to the Stamp-Act. Met under Liberty-Tree, when many patriotic and loyal To[a]sts were drank, under the Discharge of 45 Cannon.” The article included details about a procession through town, a bonfire, and fireworks, all in commemoration of resistance to the Stamp Act.
The news from “BOSTON, August 15” summarized a new nonimportation agreement devised by the merchants and traders of Boston. They were concerned about an imbalance of trade that made it difficult to “pay the debts due the merchants in Great-Britain,” prompting them to vote unanimously “not to send any further orders for goods to be shipped this fall; and that from the first of January, 1769, to the first of January, 1770, they will not send for or import … any kind of goods or merchandizes from Great-Britain, except Coal, Salt, and some articles necessary to carry on the fishery.” This decision was not merely about economics. Politics played a role as well: “They likewise agreed not to import any Tea, Glass, Paper, or Painters colours, until the acts imposing duties on those articles are repealed.”
The news from Boston also included a copy of a letter “To the Honourable THOMAS CUSHING, Esq; Speaker of the Honourable House of Representatives of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay” from “P. MANIGAULT, Speaker of the Common House of Assembly of the Province of South-Carolina.” That letter included the instructions sent to South Carolina’s agent in Great Britain, directing him to “join with the Agents of the other provinces in America, in obtaining a repeal of the several acts of Parliament which have lately been passed, laying duties in America, and to endeavour to prevent the clause for billeting soldiers in America from being inserted in the next mutiny act which shall be passed.” These instructions touched on some of the most significant issues that eventually sparked the American Revolution.
The following page of Providence Gazette featured “A SONG” reprinted from the August 4 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. Written by “A SON of LIBERTY,” the song was “Addressed to the SONS OF LIBERTY on the Continent of America.” Like the toasts and other festivities that recently took place in Boston, the song celebrated acts of resistance that preserved liberty and freedom in the face of Parliament attempting to impose slavery on the colonies.
Yet news and entertainment did not comprise the entire August 20 issue of the Providence Gazette. More than a dozen advertisements ran in that issue, including one for a pamphlet on sale at the printing office. The title explained its purpose: “THE Power and Grandeur of GREAT-BRITAIN founded on the Liberty of the COLONIES, and the Mischiefs attending the taxing them by Act of Parliament demonstrated.” The compositor placed this advertisement between the politically charged news items from Boston and the patriotic song from Philadelphia. It was a continuation of the news, but also an encouragement for readers to become even better informed about current events. In this instance, news, entertainment, and advertising worked together to form a cohesive narrative about Parliament overstepping its authority to commit various abuses against the colonies.