What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“FOR KINGSTON, IN JAMAICA, THE SHIP POLLY AND PEGGY.”
Readers frequently encountered advertising on the front page of eighteenth-century newspapers. Printers did not relegate that content to other sections. Some filled all or most of the front page with advertising, as Hugh Gaine did in the June 1, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Others divided the space between advertising and news. William Goddard devoted the first two columns of the June 1 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advertisements, reserving the third column for news. John Dunlap, on the other hand, gave priority to news on the front page of the Pennsylvania Packet published that day, but that did not prevent him from including some advertisements. The first two and a half columns contained news. Four advertisements filled the remainder of the final column.
Those advertisements delivered news of a different sort. One notice informed the public that the Polly and Peggy sought passengers and freight for a voyage to Jamaica. Another let travelers know that Martin Delany opened a tavern “at Appiquimany Bridge (commonly called Cantwell’s Bridge) on the great road from Philadelphia to Dover.” He encouraged them to lodge there, promising “the best usage,” “a variety of the first wines, [and] spirits,” and “completely refitted” stables. In another advertisement, Robert Mack called on “James Pearce, of George-Town” and “David Foset of Snowhill” to “pay charges” and “take away” Jack and Charles, enslaved men in his custody at the jail in New Castle. In addition, White and Montgomery reported that “just opened [a] store on the north side of Market-street wharf.” A note at the bottom of the column advised, “FOR MORE NEW ADVERTISEMENTS SEE THE FOURTH PAGE.” Dunlap suggested that readers would be just as interested in the information relayed in the paid notices that appeared on the last page as the news from Europe, the shipping news from the custom house, and the prices current in Philadelphia on the second and third pages.
Printers did not adopt uniform practices about where advertisements should appear in relation to other content, though they usually reserved some or all of the final page for paid notices. Advertisements could appear just about anywhere in the newspaper, including on the front page, with the arrangement within any newspaper changing from week to week. Printers did not classify advertisements as content that could not appear on the front page. As a result, advertisements often accounted for some of the first news or information that readers encountered when they perused eighteenth-century newspapers.