What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“OBSERVING an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 2064.”
Paying for advertisements to appear in newspapers gave colonists access to public forums to air grievances and engage in disputes. Those disputes sometimes extended over several issues and included advertisements responding to other advertisements. Such was the case for Andrew Crawford and Robert Scott in 1768. The two placed an advertisement in the August 25 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette in rebuttal to “an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 2064, setting forth that Andrew Crawford and Robert Scott, had escaped from the constable and gone off.”
The accused fugitives referred to an advertisement that first appeared in the July 14 edition and then again in the supplements that accompanied the July 21 and August 4 issues. It announced “TEN POUNDS Reward” for two men, Crawford and Scott, who had “ESCAPED from the Constables, some Weeks ago.” In addition to physical descriptions, the advertisement described the two as “Both apt to be drunk, ant to swear, generally work together, and commonly reside in London Britain Township, near Newark; but now are supposed to be gone to Maryland, to Harvest.” It concluded by promising a reward to “Whoever secures the said Fellows, and delivers them to Mr. JOSEPH THOMAS, Goal-Keeper, of Chester County, in Pennsylvania.”
Crawford and Scott took exception to that advertisement. In their response, they acknowledged the reward, but claimed the notice did not indicate any “person obliged to pay it, nor is there any signer to said advertisement.” The accused fugitives seemed to be perpetrating the eighteenth-century version of trolling the original advertiser. Even though the advertisement announcing their escape did not feature a final line listing the name of the advertiser, the final sentence made it reasonably clear that “Mr. JOSEPH THOMAS, Goal-Keeper, of Chester County, in Pennsylvania” sought to recover Crawford and Scott and would pay the reward.
Crawford and Scott, on the other hand, chose to ignore that plain reading of the notice. Instead, they insisted that “it must be the product of some secret, evil, and malicious mind.” They further taunted Thomas by stating that they resided “at the house of Joseph Ralston, near Newark, where any person may meet with, and take us if they please.” In an even more brazen move, they offered a reward of their own: “FIVE POUNDS, to any person or persons that will make evidence, or information, who was the author of the aforesaid advertisement.” In addition to its original appearance on August 25, their response ran in the supplements for September 1 and 15.
Apparently nobody successfully attempted to capture Crawford and Scott after they first announced their whereabouts, but Thomas did see their advertisement and published a response of his own. It first appeared in the supplement to the September 15 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, one column over and almost immediately beside Crawford and Scott’s advertisement. Thomas left the first half of his original advertisement alone, but revised the second half to take into account the new information that Crawford and Scott had published. He reported that “they generally make their home at one Ralston’s, near Newark.” He also adjusted the final line to include a signature, indicating that the reward would be “paid by JOSEPH THOMAS, Goaler.” He repeated the physical description without change and continued to describe the two as “apt to swear, and get drunk,” but he also added “very quarrelsome,” perhaps out of exasperation with their thick headed and impudent response to his first advertisement.
Although advertisements for runaway wives sometimes elicited responses from women who defended their actions in the face of abusive or overbearing husbands, very few runaways of other sorts – servants, slaves, prisoners – published responses to advertisements that offered rewards for their capture and return. They usually attempted to keep a low profile to evade detection. Crawford and Scott, on the other hand, were cheeky or stupid or both, choosing to place an advertisement intended to make Thomas appear foolish and incompetent. As an alternative to pursuing their dispute in person, the jailer and the fugitives resorted to advertisements in the public prints to antagonize each other.