What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He informs those Gentlemen whom he has supplied with the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, that their Year expired.”
It was a common refrain among newspaper printers. “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more,” John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, declared in the April 17, 1773, edition, “are requested to make immediate Payment.” Throughout the colonies, subscribers, advertisers, and others fell behind on their bills, prompting printers to regularly insert notices calling on them to settle accounts. Many were much more elaborate than Carter’s brief notice, underscoring the expenses incurred by printers, extolling the benefits of timely circulation of the news, setting deadlines for payments, or threatening legal action against those who refused to comply.
Yet Carter was not alone in calling on subscribers to make payments in that issue of the Providence Gazette. Joseph Rickard, Jr., “POST-RIDER from PROVIDENCE to CONNECTICUT,” placed his own notice. He began by extending “his Thanks to his Employers the Year past” and then moved beyond the pleasantries to inform “those Gentlemen whom he has supplied with the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, that their Year expired the Third of April,” two weeks earlier. The being the case, Rickard “requests an immediate Settlement with every one.” He offered two reasons for customers to abide his request. First, he owed his own debt to the Carter. Rickard hoped that customers would feel some sort of obligation to assist him in maintaining his financial standing with the printer who supplied the newspapers. Suspecting that would not be sufficient motivation for many of his customers, Rickard issued a threat, though he did so in the most pleasant way possible. He needed customers to pay their bills in order that he “may be enabled to … serve them with Punctuality in future.” In other words, he would no longer deliver newspapers to customers who did not pay.
Rickard’s advertisement testifies to the role that credit played in printing and disseminating newspapers in eighteenth-century America. In addition, it also attests to the circulation of newspapers beyond their places of publication. Rickard served subscribers to the Providence Gazette who not only resided in other towns but also in other colonies. At the time, printers published three newspapers in Connecticut, the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, and the New-London Gazette. For many colonizers in eastern Connecticut (and central Massachusetts), the Providence Gazette served as their local newspaper, despite the distance that Rickard covered to deliver it to them. Considered together, notices placed by printers and post riders tell a more complete story about the business of producing and disseminating the news in early America.