March 28

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

The Censor (March 28, 1772).

The hurry of our other business prevents giving the Publick an additional half sheet.”

When Ezekiel Russell began publishing The Censor, a political magazine, in the fall of 1771, he did not include advertising as a means of generating revenue.  Each weekly issue of the publication consisted of four pages, two printed on each side of a broadsheet then folded in half.  In that regard, The Censor resembled newspapers of the period, but it did not carry short news articles reprinted from other newspapers, prices current, shipping news from the customs house, poetry, advertisements, and other content that appeared in other newspapers.  Instead, Russell used The Censor to disseminate political essays that expressed a Tory perspective on current events in Boston, often only one essay per issue.  Sometimes essays spanned more than one issue.  After a few months, Russell began distributing a half sheet Postscript to the Censor with content, including advertising, that more closely resembled what appeared in other newspapers published in Boston.

Russell devoted the entire March 28, 1772, edition of The Censor to a letter from a correspondent who defended Ebenezer Richardson, the customs official who killed eleven-year-old Christopher Seider.  On the night of February 22, 1770, Richardson fired into a crowd of protestors who objected to merchants bringing an end to their nonimportation agreement before Parliament repealed import duties on tea.  His shots killed Seider.  The boy’s funeral became an occasion for further anti-British demonstrations.  Less than two weeks later, heightened tensions overflowed into the Boston Massacre.  A jury convicted Richardson of killing Seider, but the authorities chose to imprison rather than execute him.  The king eventually pardoned Richardson and offered him a new post in Philadelphia in 1773, but he was still imprisoned in 1772 when a correspondent of The Censor examined his case.

That correspondent’s letter did not fit in a single issue of The Censor.  Russell concluded with a brief note that “The Remainder must be omitted until next Week.”  He further explained that “the hurry of our other business prevents giving the Publick an additional half sheet” with other news, advertising, and other content.  He did find space, however, to insert a short teaser about a forthcoming publication.  “It is with pleasure the Printer can promise his Customers,” Russell declared, “that in a few days will be published, a PAMPHLET, intimately connected with the present Times, and perhaps one of the most agreeable Entertainments ever offered the sensible Publick.”  He did not further elaborate on the topic of that pamphlet, but his announcement suggested that he could be savvy in his efforts to incite interest and anticipation among consumers.  In this instance, Russell emphasized his own marketing but did not tend to the paid notices that would have appeared in the “additional half sheet.”  Isaiah Thomas, the patriot printer of the Massachusetts Spy and author of The History of Printing in America (1810), claimed that The Censor quickly failed because Russell published unpopular political views.  While that may have been the primary reason, it also looks as though Russell did not sufficiently attend to the business aspects of publishing it.  Not distributing the “additional half sheet” meant delayed advertising revenues and dissatisfied advertisers.

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