November 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (November 25, 1771).

“Last Saturday was published … The CENSOR, No. 1.”

Ezekiel Russell distributed the first issue of The Censor on November 23, 1771.  Two days later, he promoted his new publication in an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Russell announced that he published the inaugural issue “Last Saturday” and invited prospective subscribers to reserve their copies.  “The Receiption this Paper has already met with,” he confided, “gives the Publisher Encouragement to hope for a large Subscription for the same, and that he shall be enabled to continue it on Saturday next.”

Russell apparently had some doubts about whether The Censor would achieve a second issue.  It did, but publication lasted less than six months.  Russell distributed the last known issue on May 2, 1772.  In his monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, Clarence Brigham describes The Censor as “a political magazine rather than a newspaper, somewhat in the style of the ‘Tatler’ or ‘Spectator.’”  Frank Luther Mott indicates that it was one of only three American magazines founded between 1760 and 1774, but otherwise gives The Censor little attention beyond including it in a chronological list of magazines in an appendix.  “The political state of the Colonies was unfavorable to literature,” Mott intones.[1]  Brigham present a more sanguine view of The Censor, especially “its occasional ‘Postscripts’ [which] bore every appearance of being newspapers and contained certain local news and a large number of advertisements.”[2]

If such a Postscript accompanied the first issue, it has not survived.  Unlike printers who launched newspapers during the period, including Richard Draper and the Pennsylvania Packet in the fall of 1771, Russell did not seek advertisers in his notice.  Instead, he focused on attracting subscribers, expressing his desire that “every Subscriber will deposit something on subscribing” in order to defray the “great Expence” associated with the publication and “setting up a new Office.”  As Brigham notes, advertising supplements accompanied certain subsequent issues.  In the coming months, the Adverts 250 Project will examine some of those Postscripts to the Censor.

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[1] Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1939), 26, 788.

[2] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester: Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 275.

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