February 9

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

Providence Gazette (February 9, 1771).

“HIS Majesty’s Post-Master General … has been pleased to add a fifth Packet-Boat to the Station between Falmouth and New-York.”

In January and February 1771, an advertisement that ran in newspapers published in several colonies informed colonists of an improvement to the communications infrastructure that connected them to Britain.  The postmaster general added “a fifth Packet-Boat to the Station between Falmouth and New-York” for the purpose of “better facilitating … Correspondence between Great-Britain and America.”  The advertisement gave notice that the mail “will be closed at the Post-Office in New-York … on the first Tuesday in every Month” and then “dispatched by a Packet the next Day for Falmouth.”

Dated “New-York, Jan. 22, 1771,” this advertisement appeared in the January 28 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  The notice next ran in the New-York Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal on January 31.  (It may have been in the January 24 edition of the New-York Journal; a page is missing from the digitized copy.)  The advertisement soon found its way into the Providence Gazette on February 2 and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on February 4.  By then, it ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury a second time, though it did not run in every newspaper more than once.  The advertisement next appeared in the Maryland Gazette on February 7 and the New-Hampshire Gazette on February 8.  Additional newspapers in Boston carried it on February 11, including the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  The Essex Gazette ran the notice on February 12, as did Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette and Rind’s Virginia Gazette on February 14.  It made a surprising late appearance in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 18 (though it may have been in that newspaper on February 4, an issue not available via the databases of digitized newspapers).  Unfortunately, several issues of newspapers published in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in the ensuing weeks have not survived, making it impossible to determine when or if readers in those colonies encountered the same advertisement.

Throughout the Middle Colonies, New England, and the Chesapeake, however, colonists had access to the notice within a matter of weeks.  It did not appear in every newspaper, but it did run in newspapers in the major newspapers published in the largest port cities as well as several minor newspapers in smaller towns.  Although formatting shifted from one newspaper to another, the copy remained the same.  In each case, the first appearance of the advertisement benefited from a privileged place on the page, often positioned immediately after news items and before other advertisements.  That likely increased the chances that readers uninterested in perusing the advertisements would at least see the notice about the additional packet boat that transported mail across the Atlantic.  Its placement allowed it to operate as both news and advertisement.  Newspapers, one vital component of colonial communications networks, kept readers informed about improvements to the postal system, another important component.

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