What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A FRESH ASSORTMENT of GOODS, proper for the present and approaching season.”
At a glance, Paul Townsend’s advertisement for a “FRESH ASSORTMENT of GOODS, proper for the present and approaching season” would seem to have been published on October 16, 1768. After all, it appeared on the front page of the October 16, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. Most modern readers would not think twice about that date when examining a single issue of the South-Carolina Gazette, but anyone perusing several consecutive issues would notice a discrepancy.
Like other newspapers of the colonial era, the South-Carolina Gazette was published only once a week, with the exception of occasional supplements and extraordinaries. According to the dates embedded in the masthead of the issues from October 1768, Peter Timothy distributed new editions on October 3, 10, 16, 24, and 31. The issue from October 16 deviates from the seven-day interval that usually fell between issues, suggesting something out of the ordinary with that issue.
It was possible that Timothy could have released an issue a day early. Others printers did so on rare occasions. However, the South-Carolina Gazette was regularly published on Mondays. Colonial printers did not circulate new issues on Sundays. Indeed, Sunday was the only day of the week that did not see the publication of at least one newspaper somewhere in colonial America. Most printers published their newspapers on Mondays and Thursdays, but a few also published on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. It would have been extremely exceptional for Timothy to publish the South-Carolina Gazette on a Sunday. Nothing in the issue under consideration merited doing so.
Indeed, the masthead reads “MONDAY, OCTOBER 16, 1768.” A summary of local news from “CHARLES-TOWN” on the third page, however, bears that date “October 17.” All of this evidence makes it clear that the compositor made a mistake when updating the issue number and date of what should have been the October 17 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.
This minor discrepancy may not seem to matter much in telling the story of the American experience during the period of the imperial crisis that ultimately became the American Revolution. It does, however, provide a stark example for demonstrating to students the importance of noticing the details and identifying patterns among the sources they examine. If the date on the issue had been accurate, if it had been published on October 16, the contents would have demanded even greater scrutiny to determine what the printer considered so momentous to deem publication on a Sunday imperative. The details led to a false alarm in this instance, but in other cases noticing such deviations from the printing practices of the era can lead readers to coverage of significant events. For instance, the New-Hampshire Gazette, usually published on Fridays, appeared a day early on Thursday, May 22, 1766. Colonial newspapers rarely incorporated headlines. This one, however, announced “Total Repeal of the STAMP-ACT.” The printers rushed to press a day early to spread the breaking news about such a significant story.