What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Rogue! A Rogue! A Rogue!”
The headline set one advertisement apart from others that appeared in the June 17, 1773, edition of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer. Some of those others had headlines like “TO BE SOLD,” “IMPORTED,” “TO BE LETT,” or “WANTED.” Many deployed the name of the advertiser as the headline, including “ABRAHAM DURYEE,” “ENNIS GRAHAM,” “THOMAS HAZARD,” and “JOSEPH PEARSALL.” Even the printer used his own name, “JAMES RIVINGTON,” as the headline for his advertisement. A few headlines provided more specific details, such as “DELAWARE LOTTERY,” “HORSEMANSHIP,” “INDIGO,” “THEATRE,” and “WATCHES.”
One distinctive advertisement paired two headlines, “FIVE POUNDS REWARD” and “A Rogue! A Rogue! A Rogue!” The first frequently appeared in advertisements describing and offering rewards for the capture and return of apprentices and indentured servants who ran away from their masters and enslaved people who liberated themselves from their enslavers. In contrast, the repetition of “A Rogue! A Rogue! A Rogue!” set the advertisement apart from any of the others and likely demanded the attention of readers, inciting curiosity about what kind of offenses merited such a headline.
When they set about learning more, readers discovered that the rogue was an “atrocious villain, known by the name of Isaac Vanden Velden” who had recently “imposed on several persons in this city, with bills of exchange, which he has forged in the name of Mr. Paul Hogstraffer, of Albany.” Even before those incidents, Vanden Velden had a reputation for misconduct in both Philadelphia and Albany, according to the advertisement, and sometimes “pretends to have large rights in land on the Mississippi. The con artist “talks fast, and affects a good deal of propriety in his conversation,” so much so that he “has a very good address, and appears capable of executing any artful piece of fraud.” Readers might detect Vander Velden, “a German,” from his speech; although he “speak good English,” he retained “a little of his own country accent.”
A nota bene indicated that the rogue was headed in the direction of Philadelphia. Given the circulation of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer well beyond the city, the advertiser hoped that readers put on alert about Vanden Velden would capture and “secure the above impostor in any of his Majesty’s jails, so that he may be brought to justice.” In this instance, the advertisement with its extraordinary headline served as a public service announcement and a supplement to the news that ran elsewhere in the newspaper.