What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Valuable pieces, professedly written in defence of the Liberties of Englishmen.”
An advertisement for the March edition of “THE FREEHOLDER’s MAGAZINE; Or Monthly CHONRICLE of LIBERTY,” published in London, appeared in the July 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Who placed the advertisement was not clear. The advertisement attributed the magazine to “a PATRIOTICK SOCIETY” and declared that it was “Printed for ISAAC FELL, No. 14, in Pater-noster Row.” Fell may have arranged with Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, to insert the advertisement or Wells may have independently done so. The advertisement concluded with a note that “Some of the Numbers, as a Specimen of the Work, may be seen by applying to ROBERT WELLS, Bookseller and Printer in Charlestown, South-Carolina.” Wells may have acquired copies of the Freeholder’s Magazine and reprinted an advertisement from a London newspaper as part of his effort to make sales in his local market.
Either way, a publisher in London or a bookseller in Charleston believed that they could incite demand for the Freeholder’s Magazine in South Carolina given current events and public discourse. After all, the “Magazine contains many curious and valuable pieces, professedly written in defence of the Liberties of Englishmen; and highly proper to be perused at this important juncture.” The March issue included a frontispiece depicting “LIBERTY presenting MAGNA CHARTA to BRITANNIA.” The advertisement stated that the April edition would feature “a curious Engraving of the Arms of John Wilkes,” a noted defender of the liberties of Englishmen who resided on both sides of the Atlantic, continuing the theme of the publication via images as well as print. (The May edition included an engraving of “The Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston” pirated from Paul Revere’s print.) Fell or Wells or both likely believed that the tone of the magazine would resonate with readers in South Carolina. Most who lamented the abuses of Parliament and condemned the Boston Massacre had not settled on demanding independence. Instead, they valued being part of the British Empire and expected that they would enjoy “the Liberties of Englishmen” in the colonies. By selling the Freeholder’s Magazine, Wells contributed to the print and visual culture that shaped debates about the position of the colonies in the British Empire. In turn, consumers who read and viewed the contents of the Freeholder’s Magazinebecame better informed and better able to participate in the discourse of liberty as it evolved during the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution.