What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The whole taken from the Boston Chronicle, in which they were first published.”
Newspaper printers participated in networks of exchange in eighteenth-century America, liberally reprinting articles, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another. Items originally published in, for example, Philadelphia’s newspapers found their way into newspapers printed in other colonies, both north and south. Over time, information radiated outward from the original place of publication. “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” penned by Pennsylvania lawyer and legislator John Dickinson, originally ran as a series of essays in newspapers printed in that colony, but printers from New England to Georgia reprinted the essays over the course of several months as they came into possession of them.
Although the most common, this was not the only means of acquiring coverage of current events published in newspapers in faraway colonies. Sometimes printers collected together several news items and republished them as pamphlets. At least four printers issued their own edition of the popular series of “Letters from a Farmer” in 1768. A couple of years later, an advertisement in the January 3, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette informed readers that they could purchase a different pamphlet, A State of the Importations from Great-Britain into the Port of Boston, from the Beginning of Jan. 1769, to Aug. 17th 1769. The entire narrative came directly “from the Boston Chronicle, in which they were first published.” John Mein and John Fleeming, printers of the Boston Chronicle, had collected together a series of articles that ran on the front page for several months.
The advertisement in the Georgia Gazette merely reiterated the lengthy title of this pamphlet, adopting a common marketing strategy in the eighteenth century when titles sometimes provided detailed overviews of the contents of books and pamphlets. Prospective customers learned that it included “the Advertisements of a Set of Men who assumed to themselves the Title of ‘All the Well Disposed Merchants,’ who entered into the a solemn Agreement, (as they called it) not to import Goods from Britain, and who undertook to give a ‘True Account’ of what should be imported by other persons.” Even the notation about “The whole taken from the Boston Chronicle, in which they were first published” appeared on the title page.
This pamphlet collected together lively coverage of recent events in Boston, including Mein’s accusations that prominent merchants played the part of patriots in public while secretly violating the nonimportation agreements for their own benefit. Mein, a Loyalist who resented such hypocrisy, named several of these “Well Disposed Merchants,” taking particular aim at John Hancock. His essays drew the ire of Boston’s patriots and led to violence, especially when Mein published insulting caricatures of many of Boston’s patriot leaders. By the time the advertisement for A State of the Importations ran in the Georgia Gazette, Mein had fled Boston to escape an angry mob.
James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, did not have enough space in the pages of his newspaper to reprint all of Mein’s explosive essays about Boston’s “Well Disposed Merchants.” Selling the pamphlet that collected them together, however, provided an alternative for sharing items that originally appeared in Boston’s newspaper with notorious Loyalist sympathies. Even if readers did not agree with Mein’s politics, they might have been curious to examine for themselves the spectacle that led to his flight from Boston.