What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Several scandalous and malicious written bills stuck up in many public places about town.”
William Tweed was angry. As he strolled through the streets of Charleston in the fall of 1771, he discovered that an anonymous antagonist had posted small broadsides, written by hand rather than printed, that attacked him. In response, he turned to the public prints to achieve some sort of remedy. In an advertisement in the October 22 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he expressed his frustration that “several scandalous and malicious written bills” had been “stuck up in many public places about town, tending to injure his character and reputation with the public.” To remedy the situation, he offered a generous “One Hundred Pounds reward” to “Whoever will discover the author thereof, so that he may be brought to justice.”
Tweed meant business. He placed the same advertisement in the South-Carolina and American Gazette on October 21 and in the South-Carolina Gazette on October 24. In the course of three days, it ran in each newspaper published in the city, maximizing the number of readers likely to see it. Considering the size of the reward that Tweed offered, he probably did not think twice about how much it cost to run the advertisement simultaneously in three newspapers.
Tweed likely removed the handwritten bills wherever and whenever he encountered them, but his advertisements may have called additional attention to the accusations they made against him. Newspaper readers who had not otherwise been aware of the bills may have sensed a good story, one that Tweed did not commit to print, and asked their friends and associates if they knew more about what had transpired than appeared in the advertisements. Even as Tweed attempted to leverage the power of print for damage control, he may have given the handbills new life and greater reach as colonists gossiped about what occurred. On the other hand, discovering the author of those missives gave him a better chance to defend himself and rehabilitate his character and reputation. That, apparently, was worth the risk of drawing attention to the incident in a series of newspaper advertisements.