What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
Ezekiel Russell continued publication of the Censor, a political newssheet that expressed Tory sympathies that lasted only a few months, in April 1772. He inserted this introduction in the April 11 edition: “As the Petition of the CLERGY, &c. for a repeal of the THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES, has been a subject of much speculation in England as well as America, we now offer our Readers said Petition with the Debates in the HOUSE OF COMMONS thereon, not doubting but it will be acceptable to many of them.” The debate concerned the doctrinal positions adopted by the Anglican Church during the English Reformation. At the conclusion of the petition, Russell informed readers that “The Proceedings of the House of Commons upon the above Petition are in the Postscript.”
He referred to the Postscript to the Censor, a half sheet that much more resembled a newspaper than the Censor did. The format accounted for some of the distinction. Russell organized the content in the Postscript into two columns per page, but did not use multiple columns in the Censor. In addition, the Postscript also carried advertisements, a defining feature of early American newspapers. No advertisements appeared in the Censor. When Russell first distributed the Postscriptwith the Censor, most of the advertisements promoted goods and services available at his printing office. He gradually managed to cultivate a more substantial clientele of advertisers, though never the numbers who placed notices in the several newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s.
Still, the number of advertisements and the amount of space they occupied on April 11 exceeded any of the previous issues. Fourteen advertisements filled nearly two of the four pages of the Postscript. Only a couple sought to incite interest in goods sold at Russell’s printing office. George Deblois, Smith and Atkinson, and others who advertised regularly in other newspapers took a chance on seeking customers who read the Postscript, though political sympathies may have played a role in that decision for William Jackson, the Loyalist who ran a shop at the Brazen Head. Russell might have gained additional advertisers over time had he not ceased publication of the Censor three weeks later. He seemed to gain advertisers though not enough readers to sustain his newssheet, prompting him to indefinitely suspend it. For a short period in the spring of 1772, residents of Boston had access to six weekly publications that disseminated advertising, more than in any other urban port in the colonies.