July 29

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Spy (July 29, 1773).


As Isaiah Thomas attempted to entice enough subscribers to launch the Royal American Magazine, at a time that no magazines were published anywhere in the colonies, he found himself in the position of defending against rumor about what kind of content the publication would feature.  On July 29, 1773, he once again ran the subscription proposals as the first item in the front page of his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy.  On the third page, the inserted another notice with the headline “ROYAL AMERICAN MAGAZINE” to comment on the gossip.  “WHEREAS it has been reported, (notwithstanding the declaration of the intended publisher, in his proposals),” Thomas stated, “that the Royal American Magazine will be influence by a PARTY; this may serve to acquaint the public, that notwithstanding what might be reported, whenever this intended work shall make its appearance, it will never by GUIDED or INFLUENCED by a PARTY, whatever, while published by “I. THOMAS.”  In other words, some meddling colonizers suggested that Thomas, known for the critiques of the British government that he published in his newspaper, would deploy the new magazine for the same purpose.

As Thomas reminded readers, the proposals did indeed preemptively address any suspicions on that count.  Immediately before listing the conditions, such as price and publication dates, in the proposals, Thomas devoted a paragraph to that very question.  “The public may be assured,” the printer pledged, “that the Royal American Magazine, is not by any means to be a Party affair, or any ways tend to defame or lessen private characters.”  That being the case, he “therefore begs no one would conceive an unfavourable opinion of it, as his design is to render it acceptable to ALL honest men, of whatever religious or political principles they may be.”  Colonists in and near Boston could choose from among five newspapers printed in the city, some, like the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy, known for their support of the Sons of Liberty and others, like the Boston Post-Boy and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, known for their Loyalist sympathies.  With only one magazine to serve all the colonies, however, Thomas aimed to select content that would make the publication “acceptable to ALL honest men.”

Whatever his intentions may have been (and whether or not he accurately represented them to prospective subscribers and the public), the Royal American Magazine did seem “GUIDED or INFLUENCES by a PARTY” when Thomas began publishing it at the end of January 1774.  In A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850, Frank Luther Mott notes that “propaganda for the patriot cause was prominent.”[1]  Perhaps “ALL honest men” included only those patriots who shared Thomas’s perspective, any others not honest at all in his view.


[1] Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1939), 84.

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