What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WANTED, AN APPRENTICE … Enquire of the printer.”
Printing offices served as information hubs in eighteenth-century America. Publishing newspapers depended on gathering all sorts of information to print and circulate. To aid in that endeavor, printers often called on colonists to keep them apprised of news to insert in their publications. James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, made such overtures in every issue; the colophon on the final page noted that “Letters of Intelligence … are taken in” at the printing office. Johnston selected from among the “Letters of Intelligence” submitted for his consideration, but also liberally reprinted material from newspapers published in other colonies, a common practice in the eighteenth century. Most editions of the Georgia Gazette also included shipping news compiled by the customs house in Savannah, a listing of vessels “ENTERED INWARDS,” “ENTERED OUTWARDS,” and “CLEARED.” Advertisements comprised a significant portion of the content of the Georgia Gazette, delivering all sorts of information via legal notices, announcements, notices warning about enslaved men and women who escaped, and lists of consumers goods and commodities for sale.
Yet not all the information received in the printing office circulated in print. Johnston, like other printers, intentionally held some information in reserve at the request of those who supplied it. That made “Enquire of the printer” a common phrase that concluded many advertisements. One that ran in the October 11, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette briefly stated, “WANTED, AN APPRENTICE to the BARBER and P[ER]UKE MAKING BUSINESS. Enquire of the Printer.” Two other advertisements in that issue, both of them seeking overseers on plantations, also instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the printer” to learn more, including the identity of the prospective employers. Advertisers did not pay only for printers to set type and provide space in their newspapers; the fees printers charged for advertising sometimes included other services, including fielding inquiries from readers who desired more information. Printers oversaw multiple means of disseminating information to colonists, often making information readily available in print but sometimes serving as gatekeepers who dispersed certain information much more sparingly. “Enquire of the printer” advertisements demonstrate that information that flowed out of printing offices did not always take the form of print.