What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“PROPOSALS, For PUBLISHING, upon a PLAN entirely new, a Periodical PAPER.”
For several years, three newspapers served residents of Connecticut, the New-London Gazette (established as the Connecticut Gazette in November 1763), the Connecticut Courant (established October 1764), published in Hartford, and the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy (founded October 1767). In addition, the Newport Mercury, the Providence Gazette, and several newspapers published in New York circulated in Connecticut. In 1773, Alexander Robertson, James Robertson, and John Trumbull made plans to launch a fourth newspaper in the colony. To that end, they distributed subscription proposals for the “NORWICH PACKET, OR THE CONNECTICUT, MASSACHUSETTS, NEW-HAMPSHIRE, AND RHODE-ISLAND INTELLIGENCER, AND WEEKLY ADVERTISER.” They intended for their newspaper to serve a region that extended far beyond the town where they published it.
As was the case with the Maryland Journal (published in Baltimore) and Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, it took some time for the printers to amass a sufficient number of subscribers to commence publication. The Robertsons and Trumbull stated that the “first Paper will be published as soon as a competent Number of Subscribers are procured.” They printed the first issue in October 1773, the Norwich Packet became the third new newspaper in the colonies that year. That brought the total to thirty-three newspapers throughout the colonies, most of them in English along with two in German published in Pennsylvania. By the end of the year, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy folded, while Isaiah Thomas and Henry-Walter Tinges established the Essex Journal in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Even as a few newspapers, such as the Boston Chronicle, went out of business in the early 1770s, colonizers gained access to a greater variety of newspapers in the years just before the American Revolution. Overall, the total number rose from twenty-six in 1765 to thirty-one in 1770 to forty-three in 1775. During the Revolutionary War, several of those newspapers ceased or paused publication. Printers founded others to supply colonizers with information about the war, commerce, and other news.
The Norwich Packet continued publication throughout most of the war, though suspended from late September 1782 through late October 1783. The Robertsons and Trumbull, however, parted ways. In May 1776, Trumbull became the sole publisher when the Robertsons, who were Loyalists, relocated to New York. In their subscription proposals, the three printers asserted that they planned to publish a “succinct detail of the Proceedings of the Parliament of Great-Britain, especially such as relate to America, and the political Manoeuvres of the Statesmen in and out of Administration.” How to interpret and respond to those “Proceedings” and “Manoeuvres” eventually resulted in such deep fissures that some colonizers declared and fought for independence while others remained loyal to Britain. When the Robertsons and Trumbull established the Norwich Packet, the updates and editorials in the newspaper helped shape public discourse about the relationship between the colonies and Parliament. Within just a couple of years, the Norwich Packet related and recorded many of the events of the Revolutionary War. In order to publish “the most recent Advices of every remarkable Event,” however, the printers first had to convince “THE PUBLIC” to subscribe.