What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Many Gentlemen are enquiring concerning the situation, circumstances, &c of Dartmouth College.”
Colonial printers sometimes blurred the lines between news and advertising. Such was the case with an item that appeared in the August 6, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant. As the last item among the news in that issue or as the first item among the advertisements, Ebenezer Watson inserted a notice that functioned as both. “Whereas many Gentlemen are enquiring concerning the situation, circumstances, &c of Dartmouth College,” Watson announced, “this may inform the public, That A Continuation of the Narrative of the Indian Charity-School in Lebanon in Connecticut; From the Year 1768 to the Incorporation of it with Dartmouth-College, and removal and settlement of it in Hanover, in the Province of New Hampshire, 1771 is lately published.” The notice seemed to provide an overview of the recent history of Dartmouth College, but, like many advertisements for books, it simply listed the extensive title of the publication it promoted.
Eleazar Wheelock, president of Dartmouth College, penned the volume. Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, printed the book and, in the notice that he placed in his own newspaper, informed readers that copies “may be had at the Printing Office in Hartford.” He exercised his prerogative as printer to place his advertisement in a place that it looked like news, likely hoping to increase the number of readers who would take note of it even if they did not peruse other advertisements. The items that appeared after it all had a format that readily identified them as advertisements, but Watson’s notice was more difficult to distinguish from the news items that filled most of the page.
In addition to using this advertisement as a transition between news and paid notices, Watson also made a request of other newspaper printers. In a nota bene, he declared that “If the Printers in general would be so kind as to insert the above in their respective paper, the favor will be gratefully acknowledged, and possibly the public benefited.” In asking his counterparts in other cities and towns to reprint his advertisement, Watson continued to treat it as a news item that delivered information for the purpose of better informing the public, not merely a commercial endeavor and means of generating revenue at his printing office in Hartford. He apparently hoped that other printers would similarly present his advertisement as news of interest to their readers.