May 24

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

Connecticut Journal (May 24, 1771).

“RUN away … a Negro Man named GLASGOW.”

Near the end of April 1770, Dover, an enslaved man, liberated himself from Nathaniel Sperry of New Haven.  As the anniversary of Dover making his escape approached, Sperry turned to the public prints to seek assistance in capturing Dover and returning him to bondage.  To that end, he placed an advertisement in which he described Dover and offered a reward in the Connecticut Journal.  On the night of May 7, 1771, another enslaved man, Glasgow, liberated himself from John Treat of Milford.  On the same night, “a Negro Man named ABEL” liberated himself from Gideon Platt, Jr., also of Milford.  Abel and Glasgow may have worked together to outsmart their enslavers and increase their chances of successfully escaping from their enslavers.  Platt and Treat placed separate advertisements in the Connecticut Journal, perhaps unaware of any possible connection until their notices appeared one after the other in the May 10, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal.

All three advertisements ran for three consecutive weeks, but their format shifted during that time.  On May 10, all three appeared in a single column on the final page.  The following week, however, the printers had more content than space, so they improvised by placing the advertisement about Abel in the left column on the second page and the advertisements about Dover and Glasgow in the right margin on the third page.  Since the type had already been set for these advertisements, the printers simply divided them into several columns that ran perpendicular to the other text on the page. Doing so conserved time and effort while also making using of available space since the printers had to make only one small revision, placing the town and date on the same line as John Treat’s name.  For the final appearance in the May 24 edition, all three advertisements returned to the regular columns, each of them reconstituted to their original format (save for the minor change to Treat’s advertisement about Glasgow).

Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers of the Connecticut Gazette, minimized the amount of effort required to run the advertisements about Abel, Dover, and Glasgow for three consecutive weeks.  They adopted a common strategy of printing in the margins, a practice that tended to their own interests as entrepreneurs seeking to maximize revenues while reducing expenses.  In the process, they demonstrated their commitment to serving their customers by publishing notices submitted to their printing office, including notices about enslaved people who liberated themselves.  The Greens could have delayed publication of the advertisements about Abel, Dover, and Glasgow by a week, as other printers sometimes did when they had more content than space.  Instead, the Greens invested additional effort in publishing descriptions of the men, even as they conserved their own resources.  Reconfiguring the advertisements twice, even if not starting over on setting type each time, testified to their willingness to give customers access to the power of the press as a means of encouraging surveillance of Black people with the intention of capturing of enslaved people who liberated themselves.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 24, 1771

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Connecticut Journal (May 24, 1771).

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Connecticut Journal (May 24, 1771).

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Connecticut Journal (May 24, 1771).

May 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (May 23, 1771).

“The Sale of the late Rev’d Dr. Sewall’s Library is postponed.”

The Adverts 250 Project has recently examined examples of printing in the margins of eighteenth-century newspapers, a strategy for increasing the amount of space available when printers had more content than would otherwise fit in an issue.  On May 17, 1771, Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers of the Connecticut Gazette, placed three advertisements describing enslaved men who liberated themselves and offering rewards for their capture and return in the margins of their newspaper.  They did not have enough additional content to justify publishing a supplement, another common means of creating space for material that did not fit in a standard issue.  To make those advertisements fit in the margins, the Greens took type that had already been set in a single column and divided it into several shorter columns.  The previous day, John Holt took a different approach when he inserted an advertisement in the margins of the New-York Journal.   His notice about a new “Carrier of this Paper” appeared for the first time, running the entire length of the rightmost column on the third page rather than separated into multiple shorter columns positioned side by side.  In each case, appearing in the margins may have enhanced the visibility of the advertisements.

Not every printer and compositor resorted to this strategy, but many did so frequently enough that additional content in the margins became a familiar sight to eighteenth-century readers.  Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, placed two brief items in the margins of the May 23, 1771, edition.  One notice advised, “The Sale of the late Rev’d Dr. Sewall’s Library is postponed.”  The other provided instructions to readers to “See Supplement, for other News and Advertisements.”  A two-page supplement accompanied the standard issue.  Draper likely could have made space there for the notice about the postponed sale, but may have chosen not to do so.  Such a short notice would not have been nearly as visible among the other contents of the supplement as it was in the margin on the third page of the standard issue.  Its placement there also suggests that the information arrived too late to develop a more complete advertisement.  For a standard four-page issue, compositors set type for the third page last, making the notices in the right margin of the third page the last items incorporated into the issue.

Given the amount of advertising in the supplement, all of it previously published in other issues in recent weeks, and the dates listed for the news items, the supplement may have gone to press before the second and third pages of the standard issue.  Draper knew in advance that he would need to distribute a supplement, but he likely did not have much notice that “The Sale of the late Rev’d Dr. Sewall’s Library is postponed.”  As a result, he adopted both strategies for publishing content that did not fit in the standard four-page edition:  issuing a supplement and printing in the margins.  The latter was a clever adaptation prompted by the limits and possibilities of the printing technology available in the eighteenth century. It was a practical solution that had the added benefit of drawing attention to the items that appeared in the margins.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 23, 1771

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Maryland Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 23, 1771).

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Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 23, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Journal (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 23, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Rind] (May 23, 1771).

May 22

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 20, 1771).

“A large and elegant Assortment of Chinces, Callicoes, printed Cottons … at the House of Mr. Russell in Long-Lane.”

Following the custom of the time, the May 20, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette arranged news accounts according to geography.  News from London (dated April 2), far away, came first, followed by news from other colonies.  The printers also selected updates from Newport (dated May 13) and Portsmouth (dated May 17), in that order, getting closer to their own city before inserting news from Boston (dated May 20).  The local news included a curious item: “A large and elegant Assortment of Chinces, Callicoes, printed Cottons, Clouting Diapers, Dowlasses, Huckabuck, Irish Linnens, Silk and Linnen Handkerchiefs, may be had very cheap at the House of Mr. Russell in Long-Lane, if apply’d for this Day.”  Rather than news, it read like an advertisement that belonged elsewhere in the newspaper.

The same item appeared among the news dated “BOSTON, May 20” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and in the Boston Evening-Post.  All three newspapers printed in Boston on that day included what otherwise looked like an advertisement among the local news.  In each case, the printers reprinted some items from a supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter published on May 16.  They also inserted new items, varying the order.  In other words, a compositor did not set type from start to finish for content that first appeared elsewhere.  The printers of each newspaper made decisions about which items to include and in which order.  They all decided to include this advertisement among the local news.

Why?  Was it a favor for Joseph Russell, one of the proprietors of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy?  Russell was also a successful auctioneer who regularly advertised in several newspapers rather than restricting his marketing efforts to his own publication.  For instance, he placed an advertisement for an upcoming auction in the May 20 edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  He gave the usual location, “the Auction-Room in Queen-street” rather than “the House of Mr. Russell in Long-Lane.”  Something distinguished the sale of the “large and elegant Assortment” of textiles as different, meriting a one-day-only sale at Russell’s home rather than the auction house … and its unique placement among news items instead of alongside other advertisements.

As a partner in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, Russell certainly exercised some influence in the placement of his advertisements, even though John Green oversaw the day-to-day operations of the newspaper.  Deciding to experiment with an unusual placement for his notice, Russell may have convinced other printers to give his advertisement a privileged place in their publications as well.  In his History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas described Russell as “full of life,” asserting that “[f]ew men had more friends, or were more esteemed.  In all companies he rendered himself agreeable.”[1]  Perhaps this vivacious auctioneer convinced his partner and several other printers to slip an advertisement into a place that such notices did not customarily appear in the 1770s.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 140.

May 21

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

Essex Gazette (May 21, 1771).

“All as cheap as they can be bought in Boston.”

From New Hampshire to Georgia, purveyors of consumer goods frequently made appeals to price in their newspaper advertisements.  They often made general statements, like Francis Grant did in an advertisement in the May 21, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  He described his prices for a “good Assortment of English and West-India GOODS” as “cheap.”  Similarly, John Appleton declared that he sold his merchandise “on the most reasonable Terms.”  John Appleton made a stronger case for his prices, asserting that he sold imported foods “At the very lowest Rates.”  Even so, he deployed rather generic language.

Other advertisers, however, attempted to attract customers by making bolder and more specific promises about their prices.  William Vans advertised a “Beautiful Assortment of Paper Hangings” (or wallpaper) as well as a “great Variety of English, West-India and Grocery GOODS.”  He pledged that he set prices “as cheap as any Store in Town.”  Yet merchants and shopkeepers in Salem did not compete for customers only among themselves but also with their counterparts in nearby Boston.  That being the case, Jonathan Nutting sold “Painters Colours” and window glass “as cheap as they can be bought in Boston.”  Nathaniel Sparhawk stocked all sorts of merchandise, listing dozens of items in his advertisement.  Like Nutting, he proclaimed that he was “determined to sell as low as can be bought in Boston.”  George Deblois expressed a similar sentiment in an advertisement enumerating just as many goods.  He trumpeted that his prices were “as cheap … as can be bought in this town, or any other town in the province.”  Consumers did not need to look to Boston or anywhere else for better bargains than they could find in Salem.

Making an appeal to price became a standard part of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods in the eighteenth century.  Almost every advertisement in the May 21, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette included some mention of low prices, suggesting that both advertisers and prospective customers expected such appeals incorporated into marketing efforts.  Yet many advertisers did not merely declare low prices by rote.  Instead, they devised more sophisticated appeals, such as comparing their prices to their competitors in town and beyond.  Those merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged that consumers looked for the best deals.  In turn, they promised their customers would find those deals at their shops, stores, and warehouses.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 21, 1771

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Essex Gazette (May 21, 1771).

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Essex Gazette (May 21, 1771).

May 20

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

Boston-Gazette (May 20, 1771).

UMBRILLOES.”

A brief advertisement in the May 20, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette informed readers of “ALL Sorts of UMBRILLOS, made in the neatest Manner, and very cheap, to be sold at the Golden Cock, Marlboro’ Street, Boston—Where Ladies may have their own Silk made into Umbrillos, or old Umbrillos mended.”  That advertisement likely garnered less attention than the one placed by competitor Isaac Greenwood in the same issue of the Boston-Gazette.  As part of his marketing campaign, Greenwood used graphic design to his advantage.

Like many other advertisers, Greenwood led with a headline, in this case “UMBRILLOES” in capitals, italics, and a slightly larger font.  He paired the headline with a visual image depicting a woman holding an umbrella.  A close view of the woman, it included only her head and shoulders, thus allowing readers to see that she wore a necklace and had an elaborate hairstyle.  The umbrella contributed to her aura of refinement.  The entire umbrella was not visible; instead, it extended beyond the frame of the image, suggesting that the amount of protection it provided from sun or rain could not be fully represented in the image.  More importantly, this also communicated that a woman who carried an umbrella would occupy a greater amount of both physical and visual space.  That, in turn, meant greater notice by observers.  As a fashionable accoutrement, an umbrella enhanced a genteel woman’s image or even a young girl’s image.  Greenwood proclaimed that “Ladies may be supplied with all Sizes, so small as to suit Misses of 6 or 7 Years of Age.”  As Kate Haulman explains, umbrellas appeared in England and its American colonies in the 1760s, “stylistic spoils of empire hailing from India,” but many critics considered umbrellas “effeminate, appropriate only for use by women.”[1]  Note that both advertisements positioned women and girls as the primary consumers of umbrellas or parasols, the decidedly feminine counterpart.

Carrying an umbrella, the entire concept an exotic import in the early 1770s, likely meant attracting attention.  Greenwood underscored that was the case with a visual image that undoubtedly drew notice, especially since so few newspaper advertisements featured visual images of any sort.  In depicting both an umbrella and the woman who carried it, Greenwood anticipated the fashion plate that became such an integral part of marketing in the nineteenth century.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 632.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 20, 1771

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Boston Evening-Post (May 20, 1771).

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Boston-Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 20, 1771).

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Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 20, 1771).

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Newport Mercury (May 20, 1771).

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Newport Mercury (May 20, 1771).

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Newport Mercury (May 20, 1771).

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New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 20, 1771).

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New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 20, 1771).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 20, 1771).

May 19

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

New-York Journal (May 16, 1771).

Philip House, who has been for some Years past the Carrier of this Paper, is now discharged from my Business.”

When Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, discovered that that they had more content for the May 17, 1771, edition than space would usually allow, they opted to print several advertisements in the margins.  Although that format was not part of every issue of the Connecticut Journal or other eighteenth-century newspapers, printers and compositors did resort to placing advertisements in the margins fairly regularly.  On the previous day, for instance, John Holt, printer of the New-York Journal, placed an advertisement in the right margin on the third page, running perpendicular to the rest of the text on that page.

A couple of features, however, distinguished Holt’s notice from the advertisements the Greens ran in the margins.  First, Holt’s advertisement concerned his own business.  “Whereas Philip House, who has been for some Years past the Carrier of this Paper, is now discharged from my Business,” Holt announced, “This is to desire the Customers for the said Paper, to let me know if any of them should fail of getting their Papers, till the present Carrier becomes acquainted with the Places where they are to be left.”  Holt placed his notice for the purpose of customer service, maintaining good relationships with subscribers following a change in personnel that potentially had an impact on whether or how quickly they received their newspaper.

Placing such a notice in the margin may have been quite intentional, a means of enhancing its visibility and increasing the likelihood that subscribers noticed it.  Unlike the Greens, Holt did distribute an additional half sheet for advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue.  He could have placed his own advertisement there, but doing so ran the risk of it getting separated from the rest of the issue.  In the margin of the third page, Holt’s notice became part of the standard four-page issue.  Its placement in the margin encouraged readers to peruse it in order to discover what kind of information received special treatment.

The format also indicated that Holt intended for his notice to appear in the margin from the start.  It ran in two lines that extended the length of the column.  The advertisements the Greens placed in the margins of the Connecticut Journal, on the other hand, were divided into several columns of a few lines each.  Those advertisements ran in a previous edition.  Rather than resetting type, the Greens made them fit in the margins by distributing what originally appeared in a single column across five short columns.  They did so out of necessity when they did not have sufficient space in the standard issue of their newspaper, whereas Holt did not transpose his notice from a traditional column to the margin.  From its conception, Holt had a different vision for his note to subscribers about disruptions in delivering the New-York Journal.

At a glance, advertisements printed in the margins of eighteenth-century newspapers look like they ended up there simply because compositors ran out of space.  Closer examination combined with knowledge of the production of newspapers, however, reveals the range of factors likely influenced decisions to place advertisements in the margins.  Different circumstances prompted the Greens to place advertisements in the margins than led Holt to do so.