What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“William M’Crackan … hath to dispose of a general assortment of East-India and English Goods.”
When subscribers read the July 5, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, they immediately encountered an advertisement placed by William McCrackan on the first page. Advertisements could appear anywhere in eighteenth-century newspapers. Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal, filled most of the first page with news from Paris and London, reprinted from the July 1 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. That coverage continued on the second page and onto the third. The Greens then inserted news from Salem, Hartford, and Boston before devoting half a column to local events in New Haven. Advertisements accounted for half of the third page. The final page consisted entirely of news from Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, and New York, all of the items reprinted from other newspapers. Except for that half column of local news, McCrackan’s advertisement and the other notices comprised the only original content in the issue.
This configuration of news and advertising deviated from the format usually preferred by the Greens. They tended to place news on the first pages and reserve the final pages for advertising. Some of their counterparts in other cities and towns did the same, but others rarely did so. The larger the venture, the more likely advertisements appeared on the front page. Hugh Gaine, for instance, regularly filled the first and final pages of the New-York Gazette with advertising and ran the news on the second and third pages. Such was the case for the items from Paris and London in his July 1 edition that the Greens reprinted on July 5. The process for producing newspapers explains the different strategies. Printers created four-page issues by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. With far more advertising in the New-York Gazette than the Connecticut Journal, Gaine got an early start on the first and fourth pages by printing advertisements, most of them already set in type because they repeated from previous issues. That meant breaking news ran on the second and third pages, the last part of the newspaper that went to press. A busy port, New York was much more of a communications hub than New Haven. Gaine ran news that arrived on vessels from throughout the British Atlantic world, including the news from Paris and London delivered on “the DUKE OF CUMBERLAND Packet, Capt.MARSHAM, in 6 Weeks and 4 Days from FALMOUTH.” The Greens in New Haven rarely received news from Europe or the Caribbean that had not already arrived in New York, Boston, and other major ports. They relied on reprinting news that first ran in other newspapers. A different means of compiling content resulted in a different distribution of news and advertising in most issues compared to the New-York Gazette and other newspapers published in the largest cities. On occasion, however, the Greens experimented with placing advertisements on the first page. That did not look strange to eighteenth-century readers because they did not necessarily expect to find the most significant news immediately below the masthead on the first page.