December 9

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 9, 1771).

“Subscriptions for the CENSOR, a New Political Paper.”

In a crowded market for selling almanacs, Ezekiel Russell advertised “The Original Copy of Ames’s Almanack, For the Year 1772” in the December 9, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Russell claimed that only he printed that version of the popular almanac and announced that he would publish it, along with “Three Elegant Plates,” at his printing office on Marlborough Street the following week.  In addition, he advised prospective customers to look for an updated advertisement that included the “Particulars of the above curious Almanack with the Places where the Original are Sold.”

Although Russell opted not to include that information in his current advertisement, he did devote space to promoting another publication that he recently launched on November 23.  “Subscriptions for the CENSOR, a New Political Paper, published every Saturday,” he declared, “are taken in at said Office.”  According to newspaper historian and bibliographer Clarence Brigham, The Censor was more of a magazine than a newspaper, though the advertising supplements that sometimes accompanied it resembled those distributed with newspapers.

Isaiah Thomas, printer of the Massachusetts Spy at the time Russell published The Censor, declared that “those who were in the interest of the British government” supported The Censor “during the short period of its existence” in his History of Printing in America (1810).[1]  Thomas credited his own newspaper with inspiring The Censor.  “A dissertation in the Massachusetts Spy, under the signature of Mucius Scaevola,” he explained, “probably occasioned the attempt to establish this paper.”  The piece “attached Governor Hutchinson with a boldness and severity before unknown in the political disputes of this country.”  In turn, it “excited great warmth among those who supported the measures of the British administration, and they immediately commenced the publication of the Censor; in which the governor and the British administration were defended.”

Thomas, one of the most ardent patriots among Boston’s printers, had little use for The Censor.  Neither did most other residents of the city.  According to Thomas, “the circulation of the paper was confined to a few of their own party.  As the Censor languished, its printer made an effort to convert it into a newspaper; and, with this view, some of its last numbers were accompanied with a separate half sheet, containing a few articles of news and some advertisements.”  In the end, Russell discontinued The Censor “before the revolution of a year from its first publication.”[2]  The last known issue bears the date May 2, 1772.  Despite Russell’s attempts to attract subscribers, he did not manage to establish a market for a publication, whether magazine or newspaper or amalgamation of the two, that defended the governor and British policies.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers, ed. Marcus McCorison (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 153.

[2] Thomas, History of Printing, 284-285.

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