What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Hear of good Encouragement, by applying to the Printer at the Exchange.”
By the late 1760s, entrepreneurial colonists established and advertised “intelligence offices” in Boston and New York. The brokers who operated those establishments provided a variety of services for their clients. They introduced merchants and traders seeking to buy and sell commodities. They conducted real estate transactions. They also facilitated sales of indentured servants and enslaved people in addition to aiding employers seeking workers. Brokers made matches in the marketplace.
Yet their occupation was not unique in that regard. Printing offices served as intelligence offices by another name. Throughout the eighteenth century, advertisements often concluded with instructions to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information. Consider some of the advertisements that appeared in the July 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. One short notice offered a young enslaved woman for sale, but offered little detail beyond her age and a promise that she “can be well recommended.” The advertisement did not identify the enslaver; instead, it concluded with the familiar refrain, “Enquire of the Printer.” Another advertisement offered employment opportunities for men willing to migrate to Virginia. The anonymous advertiser sought a “Sober single Man, of a good Character, who understand the Smith’s Business” and “a single Man of like Character, who understands the tending and Management of a Merchant’s Mill.” Candidates could learn more “by applying to the Printer at the Exchange.” According to the colophon, John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, ran his office “near the Exchange, in Broad-Street.”
Printing offices were hubs for collecting and circulating information in eighteenth-century America. Printers disseminated some information via newspapers, but advertisements in those publications often hinted at far more information that did not appear in print. By visiting or sending notes to printers, readers could learn more about job opportunities and commodities, real estate, indentured servants, and enslaved people for sale. Newspaper advertisements reveal how frequently printers acted as brokers as one of the many facets of their occupation.