Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“STOP a MURDERER!”
Yesterday I examined instances of advertisements in the Connecticut Courant delivering news to readers. Notices about burglaries and prisoners who escaped from jails kept communities informed about recent events in their area. On occasion, advertisements that doubled as news items merited regional coverage through publication in newspapers in several cities and towns. Such was the case with the “STOP a MURDERER!” advertisements that ran in several newspapers published in New England in June and July 1772.
Elijah Williams, sheriff of Berkshire County in Massachusetts, reported that James Hervey, “a transient person” was suspected of robbing and murdering James Farrel in Stockbridge. Williams listed the items that Hervey stole and might wear or attempt to sell, including “one pair of large silver shoe-buckles, marked I.F.” The sheriff also provided a description of Hervey, “about six feet high, about 24 years old, very meanly clothed, of a fair complexion, very light coloured hair, supposed to be an Englishman.” Williams enlisted the aid of the public in apprehending Hervey, offering a reward to whoever captured him and delivered him to the jail in Berkshire County.
This notice appeared among the advertisements, rather than integrated with news items, in several newspapers, including the July 3 edition of the New-London Gazette, the July 4 edition of the Providence Gazette, and the July 6 edition of the Newport Mercury. Only Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, gave the notice a privileged place that suggested they considered it news as well as an advertisement. They inserted the notice as the first item in the first column on the first page. In combination with the headline, that increased the likelihood that readers would take note. European news that arrived via ships from London and Bristol appeared immediately below. In contrast, advertisements of various sorts surrounded the “STOP a MURDERER!” advertisement in other publications. Still, the headline likely drew attention, especially considering that colonizers were accustomed to active reading as they navigated the dense text that filled eighteenth-century newspapers.