What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The County Goal in this Place was broke up.”
Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, typically placed news items on the first pages of his newspaper and advertisements on the final pages. Not every colonial printer did so. Some dispersed paid notices throughout their newspapers, even placing advertisements on the first page. Watson sometimes included advertisements in the final column of the second page, as he did in the July 7, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant, before continuing with additional news items on the third page and devoting the final page to advertisements. As a general rule, only news items ran on the first page and only paid notice and the “POETS CORNER” appeared on the last page.
That did not mean, however, that readers did not encounter news when they perused the last page. Among the advertisements for consumer goods and services in the July 7 issue, for instance, one advertisement featured a prominent headline that advised the public to “Take Notice!” It described three men who recently escaped from the county jail. Ely Warner, the jailer, offered rewards for the capture and return of Elisha Wadsworth of Hartford, “confined for Debt,” Abraham Curtiss of Suffield, “committed for Debt,” and John Grant, “a transient Person, committed for Burglary.” Another advertisement had a dramatic headline that alerted readers to a “BURGLARY!” Benjamin Sedgwick of Canaan reported that his shop “was broke open” and several items stolen on June 26. He offered a reward for apprehending the thief and the stolen merchandise. In another advertisement, Lynde Lord alerted the public that “noted Burglarian John Brown, who was under Sentence of Death for House breaking,” escaped from the jail in Litchfield sometime during the night of June 14. Readers could easily recognize him since previous punishments included cropping his ears and branding.
Several of the advertisements in the Connecticut Courant delivered news, much of it more immediately relevant to residents of central Connecticut than stories reprinted from London, Philadelphia, and Boston. When they paid to insert notices, advertisers acquired limited responsibilities as editors and journalists who aided in keeping their communities informed about local events.