Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN AWAY … an Irish servant man, named Michael Nugent.”
James Riddle’s advertisements concerning an indentured servant who had “RUN AWAY” shortly before the new year received a privileged place in January 6, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. It was the only advertisement on the first page of the newspaper. As readers perused an “Extract of a letter from a Gentleman in London,” “Extracts from the Minutes of the House of Burgesses in Virginia,” and news from Warsaw, they encountered a notice that described Michael Nugent, “an Irish servant man, … by trade a taylor,” and offered a reward for capturing and imprisoning him or delivering him to Riddle on Shippen Street in Philadelphia. The advertisement appeared at the bottom of the middle column of the first page.
That an advertisement appeared on the front page of a colonial newspaper was not uncommon. Printers frequently ran paid notices on the first page, often as a practical matter. Newspapers consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Some printers placed advertisement, which ran for multiple weeks, on the first and last pages, printed those first, and reserved the second and third pages for the most recent news that arrived in the printing office. Even when they did not devote the entire first page to advertising, printers tended to cluster notices together in complete columns. The front page of a newspaper, for instance, could feature two columns of news and one column of advertising or one column of news and two columns of advertising.
A single advertisement, especially one that did not promote some aspect of the printer’s own business, was unusual. In this instance, the printers placed all other advertisements in the final column of the third page and filled the final page with notices, segregating news from advertising except for the lone notice about a runaway indentured servant on the front page. Its placement may have also been a practical matter since it was just the right length to complete the column that included news from Virginia before starting a new column of news from Warsaw. Riddle’s advertisement generated revenue for the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, but it served another purpose as well. It functioned as filler when laying out the first page of the newspaper.