What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Such original pieces and extracts as will afford the most pleasing and useful amusement.”
James Rivington, a prominent printer and bookseller in New York, determined that the city needed another newspaper to supplement the three already published there in 1773. He envisioned, however, a publication that would circulate far beyond the city and even beyond the colony. When the first issue appeared on April 22, the masthead bore a lengthy title, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser. All colonial newspapers were regional rather than local, but Rivington sought to serve several regions simultaneously.
Although he frequently placed advertisements for books, stationery, and other merchandise in newspapers printed in New York, Rivington did not place his first advertisements for his own newspaper in the city. Instead, his first newspaper notices appeared in the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 22, 1773. Over the next several weeks, his advertising campaign expanded to several other newspapers.
Rivington placed a fairly humble notice in the Newport Mercury, announcing his plan to publish “a WEEKLY GAZETTE, or the CITY and COUNTRY ADVERTISER” that would “contain the best and freshest advices, foreign and domestic, and such original pieces as will afford the most pleasing and useful amusement.” He listed the prices, promised that “All favours from the inhabitants of Rhode-Island colony, will be gratefully acknowledged,” and identified local agents who collected subscriptions, including the printer of the Newport Mercury.
In comparison, his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle had a much grander tone. Rivington proclaimed that he would publish a newspaper “differing materially in its Plan from most now extant” and asserted that he received “Encouragement from the first Personages in this Country” to pursue the endeavor. Now he needed “public Patronage” or subscribers. Over the course of six lines, the full title of the newspaper appeared as a headline, followed by the “Plan” that described the purpose and contents of the newspaper. He pledged to invest “All his humble Labours” and select materials according to “the most perfect Integrity and Candour.” He concluded by noting that he planned to distribute the first issue “when the Season will permit the several Post-Riders to perform their Stages regularly.” After all, it did not good for residents of Philadelphia and other towns to subscribe to this newspaper if they would not receive it in a timely fashion.
Compared to the description of “such original pieces and extracts as will afford the most pleasing and useful amusement” that Rivington mentioned in his advertisement in the Newport Mercury, the “Plan” in his notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle was much more extensive. His newspaper would include some of the usual content, such as “the most important Events, Foreign and Domestic” and “the Mercantile Interest in Arrivals, Departures and Prices Current, at Home and Abroad.” In addition, Rivington trumpeted that the “State of Learning shall be constantly reported.” It seemed as though he intended to publish content that often appeared in magazines imported from London, such as the “best Modern Essays,” “New Inventions in Arts and Sciences, Mechanics and Manufactures, Agriculture and Natural History,” and a “Review of Mew Books … with Extracts from every deserving Performance.” Rivington took his responsibilities as editor seriously, refusing to publish any “crafty Attempt with cozening Title, from the Garrets of GRUBB-STREET.” His readers could depend on receiving only content “that may contribute to the Improvement, Information and Entertainment of the Public.”
Although Rivington went into greater detail when addressing readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle compared to readers of the Newport Mercury, in each instance he sought to entice prospective subscribers with more than just the news, those “freshest advices, foreign and domestic.” He promised additional content that would amuse as well as inform. Several newspapers included a poetry corner on the final page, printing a new poem each week. Rivington proposed giving his subscribers an even greater amount of literary content, delivering items that tended to appear in magazines. He hoped that would help to distinguish his newspaper from other published in New York and other towns in the colonies.