January 19

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (January 19, 1771).

As Advertising is attended with Expence to the College, tis earnestly requested that it need not be repeated.”

When Rhode Island College (Now Brown University) moved from Warren to its permanent home in Providence in 1770, supporters launched a fundraising campaign to erect a building.  A local committee published advertisements that simultaneously asked for donations and kept the public apprised of progress on the edifice.  Hezekiah Smith toured South Carolina and Georgia, seeking “subscribers” who pledged to make donations and providing additional information in newspapers published in Charleston and Savannah.

Construction of the building began in 1770 and continued the following year.  A new advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette on January 19.  “THE Committee for building the College,” desire all Persons who are Subscribers to pay their Subscriptions immediately, as the Workmen are now daily calling for their Money.”  The committee had amassed sufficient pledges to commence construction, but now they needed those benefactors to follow through on their commitments in order to pay the bills.  In a nota bene, the committee offered an alternative to cash donations:  “Some Inch and Quarter Plank and Floor Boards are yet wanted, and will be received in Lieu of Money, if brought immediately.”  Those supplies would not settle accounts with the workers, but they would allow them to make progress on the building.

The first time it ran in the Providence Gazette, this advertisement appeared first among the paid notices, immediately below the prices current.  That increased the likelihood that readers who perused the news but did not intend to read the advertisements would spot it on the third page even if they ignored the final page filled exclusively with advertising.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, may have given the advertisement that privileged placement in support of the committee’s efforts, but any support apparently did not extend to providing occasional free advertising.  “As Advertising is attended with Expence to the College,” the committee declared, “’tis earnestly requested that it need not be repeated.”  In its fundraising efforts, Rhode Island College encouraged philanthropy through various means, including local support, distant subscribers who met a representative dispatched to solicit benefactors, and donations of materials.  The committee did not manage, however, to leverage free advertising for their fundraising notices as an alternative to other kinds of contributions, though it is not clear if they even made such a proposal to the printer.  Carter was at least amenable enough toward the project to give the newest advertisement a strategic placement on the page.

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