What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Said Report is FALSE.”
In late October 1770, Richard Clark, a watch- and clockmaker, took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to address a rumor circulating in Charleston. “[I]t hath been reported by some MALICIOUS PERSONS,” Clark lamented, “That I was going to leave the Province.” That was not the case at all. “I therefore acquaint the PUBLIC,” he continued, “that said report is FALSE, as I never had such an Intention.”
Why would others have traded in such gossip? Was it an attempt by a competitor to undermine Clark’s business by pulling away customers who thought he was leaving the colony? Did disgruntled acquaintances seek to cause him financial difficulty if Clark’s associates demanded that he pay his debts in advance of his departure? Did something else occur? Clark did not speculate beyond ascribing the false reports to “MALICIOUS PERSONS” responsible for the mischief, though that does not mean that he did not have suspicious that he left unspoken.
The watchmaker took the opportunity to promote his business at the same time he corrected the record. He “return[ed] Thanks to all those who have been pleased to favour me with their Custom,” establishing that he had a clientele who availed themselves of his services. He invited them and others to visit his shop on King Street, where he cleaned and repaired watches and clocks “in the neatest Manner, and greatest Dispatch.” He promised quality and efficiency to his customers, two standard appeals in newspaper advertisements placed by artisans.
Clark competed for customers in a crowded marketplace, one sometimes shaped in part by innuendo and rumor that appeared in print or passed from person to person by word of mouth. For more than a year and a half, clock- and watchmakers John Simnet and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith engaged in vicious sparring matches in their advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Even if it was not a competitor who spread the false reports of Clark’s supposed plans to leave the colony, the watchmaker had to deal with the consequences of gossip that could damage his livelihood. He turned to the public prints to address the calumnious reports and provide reassurances that he remained in business.