What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Foundation is now building, and will be soon finished.”
In 1770, Rhode Island College (now Brown University) moved from Warren to its permanent location in Providence. An advertisement that ran in the June 2 edition of the Providence Gazette advised that “ALL Person who have undertaken to supply any of the Timber for the COLLEGE, are desired to deliver the same as soon as possible, as the Foundation is now building, and will be soon finished.” It further requested that “all those who subscribed Lime are desired to bring it immediately, as it is now much wanted.” Three members of the committee overseeing fundraising for the construction of a new edifice to house the college signed the notice. By then, the committee was familiar to readers of the Providence Gazette, having regularly placed advertisements encouraging prospective benefactors to contact them to make their donations to the college.
While it took the form of an advertisement, this notice delivered news about the progress of the construction of the college, providing coverage that did not always appear among the news items. John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, included a short item about a ceremony for laying the foundation stone in the May 19 edition. The advertisement placed by Stephen Hopkins, John Jenckes, and John Brown two weeks later gave an update as work continued. Residents of Providence could make their own observations about the status of the building, but readers in other towns could not. The committee’s advertisement helped to keep them informed. It conveniently appeared almost immediately after news from Providence, separated only by a notice calling on those “indebted for this paper above one Year” to settle accounts. Carter craftily inserted his own notice at the end of the news in order to draw greater attention, but the placement of the committee’s new advertisement suggested a continuation of news from Providence. The next advertisement, promoting medicines sold by Amos Throop, more effectively signaled the transition to paid notices. Many of the subsequent advertisements, however, were legal notices that also delivered news to readers. News and advertising could not be easily delineated in colonial newspapers.