Who was the subject of advertisements in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today?
“Will be SOLD, by PUBLIC VENDUE … in Baltimore Town, Maryland.”
On January 24, 1771, Jacob Giles and W. Young placed an advertisement about an upcoming “PUBLIC VENDUE” or auction of several enslaved men, women, and children. The sale was scheduled for March 6 “in Baltimore Town, Maryland.” That advertisement appeared in the Maryland Gazette, published in Annapolis. Simultaneously, the same advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Journal, published in Philadelphia. That Giles and Young advertised in two newspapers published in different cities demonstrates an important aspect of the circulation of newspapers prior to the American Revolution. They tended to serve entire colonies or regions rather than just the cities or towns of publication and their hinterlands.
In order to run newspaper advertisements, Giles and Young had to look to Annapolis and Philadelphia, the nearest places where printers published newspapers. Baltimore did not have a newspaper printed locally in 1771. William Goddard commenced publication of the Maryland Journal in Baltimore on August 20, 1773, but until then residents of that port on the Chesapeake relied on newspapers published in Annapolis, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg, Virginia, for their news and advertising. Giles and Young certainly welcomed prospective bidders from other places to their auction, but their advertisement was not intended solely for faraway readers who might not see any broadsides or handbills that may have been posted or distributed in Baltimore. Giles and Young anticipated that prospective bidders in Baltimore and its environs would see their notice in the Maryland Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.
At the beginning of 1771, there were only twenty-seven newspapers published throughout the thirteen colonies that eventually became the United States. No newspapers were published in Delaware or New Jersey. Of the remaining eleven colonies, newspapers emanated from only one city or town in seven of them, though some of the major ports had multiple newspapers. The Georgia Gazette (Savannah), the Maryland Gazette, and the New-Hampshire Gazette(Portsmouth) were the only newspapers published in those colonies. Three newspapers were published in New-York City, four in Philadelphia (including one in German), three in Charleston, South Carolina, and two in Williamsburg. In each case, those newspapers served readers far beyond those cities. Rhode Island had two newspapers, one in Newport and the other in Providence. North Carolina also had two, one in New Bern and the other in Wilmington. Massachusetts had the greatest number of newspapers, six in total, with five published in Boston and one in Salem. Only Connecticut had newspapers published in three towns, the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, the Connecticut Journal in New Haven, and the Connecticut Gazette in New London. That they all bore the name of the colony rather than the town testifies to their dissemination to other places in Connecticut as well as portions of Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.
When Giles and Young sought to advertise an auction of enslaved people in Baltimore, necessity prompted them to insert notices in newspapers published in Annapolis and Philadelphia. Those newspapers served extensive regions, making them the local newspapers for readers in Baltimore, especially in the absence of any newspaper published in that town.