What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“My purpose to Ride weekly, and carry the News Papers from Portsmouth … to Canterbury.”
Published in Portsmouth, the New-Hampshire Gazette served the entire colony as well as portions of Massachusetts (including the region that became Maine in 1820). Daniel Fowle established the newspaper in October 1756. In September 1764, he began a partnership with his nephew, Robert Fowle. They faced little competition from other printers in the colony. Thomas Furber and Ezekiel Russell briefly published the Portsmouth Mercury between 1765 and 1767 (with the last known issue dated September 29, 1766). No other newspaper appeared in New Hampshire until after the American Revolution. The short-lived Exeter Chronicle lasted about six months in 1784. At about the same time it folded, Robert Gerrish commenced publishing the New-Hampshire Mercury in Portsmouth. Other newspapers appeared in Exeter, Keene, and Portsmouth by the end of the decade.
Prior to the American Revolution, colonizers in New-Hampshire depended on the New-Hampshire Gazette for news and advertising. Although the Fowles printed the newspaper, others assumed some of the responsibility for disseminating it to subscribers and other readers throughout the colony. John Erving, for instance, rode a route that served ten towns between Portsmouth and Canterbury. In the summer of 1772, he ran an advertisement to announce his plan “to Ride weekly, and carry the News Papers from Portsmouth through Greenland, Newmarket, Epping, Nottingham, Deerfield, Alenstown, Pembrook, Concord, Boscawen, and thence to Canterbury.” He also offered to deliver the New-Hampshire Gazette to other towns along that route.
Riders like Erving helped make publishing the newspaper a viable venture for the Fowles. Delivery services expanded the geographic reach of the newspaper as well as the number of prospective subscribers and advertisers. That being the case, did the Fowles offer Erving any sort of discount on his advertisement or publish it free of charge? They did not give it a privileged place in their newspaper. In the August 14, 1772, edition, it appeared near the bottom of the last column on the third page. In the same issue, the Fowles placed their own notice calling on “ALL Persons Indebted to the Printers of this Paper … to settle the same immediately” or face legal action at the top of the first column on the front page, making it the first item readers encountered under the masthead. They could have chosen to place Erving’s advertisement immediately below their own notice on the front page or placed it at the beginning of the advertisements or at the top of a column on another page. They could have incorporated larger font, as they did in advertisements that had “George Deblois,” “Forge Masters,” and “Mr. MORGAN” in significantly larger letters. The placement and the format of Erving’s advertisement did little to distinguish it from other content in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Even if the Fowles did extend some sort of discount to Erving, they did not otherwise aid him in marketing the delivery of the newspaper they published.
The publication history of New Hampshire’s eighteenth-century newspapers comes from entries in Clarence S. Brigham’s History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 and Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820.