What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RAN-AWAY … a Sailor, named John Morgan … Portsmouth, Aug. 5.”
The notice arrived in the printing office too late to appear in the August 6, 1773, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette… almost. John Morgan, a sailor, deserted or “RAN-AWAY from the Ship Exeter Galley” and William Pearne offered a reward to “Whoever will bring the said Man” to him in Portsmouth. Readers could recognize Morgan, “pretty tall, well built, about 30 Years of Age,” by his “dark Complexion, & black short Hair” as well as his “blue Jacket, check Shirt, Oznabrigs Trousers, and a new Pair of Shoes.”
The advertisement was dated “Portsmouth, Aug. 5.” The August 6 edition was already in production when Pearne delivered the notice to the printing office. Like other colonial newspapers, the New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Daniel Fowle, the printer, and others in the printing office would have selected the contents, set the type, and printed the first and fourth pages on one side of the broadsheet in advance of working on the second and third pages on the other side. They needed to hang the incomplete newspapers to dry after the first printing. Fowle and the rest apparently had the type set for the second and third pages and were ready to take it to press when Pearne’s advertisement arrived. Pearne may have pleaded or insisted that it needed to appear in the August 6 edition rather than wait an entire week for the next issue. That would have given Morgan even more time to make good on his escape.
Fowle or one of the compositors made room for the advertisement in the margin at the bottom of the second page. It consisted of nine lines, too many to appear together, but there was enough space to add three lines below each of the three columns of news on that page. The text of the advertisement featured a larger font, a subtle visual cue to alert readers that they encountered content that was not part of the news items originally planned for that page. The following week, the advertisement did appear as a single piece along with other paid notices on the third page of the August 13 edition. For immediate publication, however, the printing office resorted to the margin to satisfy a customer who submitted a time-sensitive advertisement at the last minute.