What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JOHN HATFIELD, TALLOW-CHANDLER and SOAP-BOILER … CARRIES on the said Business as usual.”
Among the three newspapers published in Charleston in 1770, readers encountered far more advertising than news in the final week of July. On Wednesday, July 25, Robert Wells distributed the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Like most newspapers published in eighteenth-century America, it consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Wells divided each page of his newspaper into four columns, yielding sixteen columns of content for subscribers and other readers. Advertising comprised eleven of those sixteen columns, slightly more than two-thirds of the issue. Three of the four columns on the first page contained news.
Yet it was the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that delivered the most news that week. The following day, Peter Timothy published the weekly edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. It also consisted of four pages, but featured only three columns per page. Of the twelve columns in the July 26 issue, advertising comprised ten. Timothy devoted just two columns to news, including “Timothy’s Marine List,” the shipping news from the customs house. The first item on the first page was a proclamation from the acting governor calling the colonial assembly into session on August 14. Otherwise, news items appeared on pages two and three, though that was not an uncommon format for newspapers of the period.
Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal discovered the same proportion of advertising and news in the issue that circulated on Tuesday, July 31. Charles Crouch published two and half columns of news and editorials, confined entirely to the second page. Paid notices filled the first page. The contents of the newspapers published in South Carolina in the early 1770s were not always so lopsided in favor of advertising over news, but the issues from the final week of July 1770 underscore that newspapers were vehicles for disseminating advertising just as much as (and sometimes more than) delivering the news.