What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To be sold at the Printing-Office … An HUMBLE ENQUIRY.”
An advertisement for a pamphlet about politics appeared among the various notices inserted in the June 28, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement consisted almost entirely of the pamphlet’s title: “An HUMBLE ENQUIRY INTO The NATURE of the DEPENDENCY of the AMERICAN COLONIES upon the PARLIAMENT of GREAT BRITAIN, and the RIGHT of PARLIAMENT to lay TAXES on the said COLONIES.” James Johnston, the printer of the newspaper, informed readers that they could purchase copies at the printing office. He also listed the price, but did not further elaborate on the contents of the pamphlet.
He may have considered doing so unnecessary because an excerpt from Humble Enquiry comprised the entire first page of that issue, with the exception of the masthead. By the time readers encountered the advertisement on the third page most would have also noticed, even if they had not read carefully, the “EXTRACT from a Pamphlet” on the first page. Johnston presented an opportunity for prospective customers to read a substantial portion of the pamphlet in the pages of his newspaper. He also promised that “The remainder [of the excerpt] will be in our next” issue. By providing a portion of the pamphlet to readers of the Georgia Gazette for free, Johnston hoped to entice some of them to purchase their own copy and explore the arguments made “By a FREEHOLDER of SOUTH CAROLINA” on their own. He devoted one-quarter of the space in the June 28 edition to this endeavor.
In addition to marketing the pamphlet, the excerpt served another purpose. Even for readers who did not purchase a copy of their own to read more, the excerpt informed them of the debates that dominated much of the public discourse in the late 1760s. Together, the advertisement and the excerpt demonstrate some of the many trajectories of print culture in shaping the imperial crisis and, eventually, calls for independence. Newspapers informed colonists about events as they unfolded, weaving together news and editorials that often encouraged readers to adopt a particular perspective. At the same time, printers like Johnston invited readers to learn more about current events by purchasing books and pamphlets that addressed the rupture between Parliament and the colonies. In the case of Humble Enquiry, Johnston simultaneously offered within the pages of the Georgia Gazette an overview in the form of an excerpt that doubled as an editorial and instructions for learning more in the form of an advertisement for the entire pamphlet.