August 17

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Courant (August 17, 1773).

“Ruth, the Wife of me the subscriber threatens to run me in debt.”

Colonizers placed newspaper advertisements for a variety of purposes.  In many ways, their paid notices served as an extension of local news coverage, though in such instances the advertisers rather than the printers made editorial decisions about the information disseminated to readers.  Consider the August 17, 1773, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  An advertisement for the “SAY-BROOK BARR LOTTERY,” held for the purpose of “fixing Buoys and other Marks on an near Say-brook Barr at the Mouth of Connecticut River” to “render the Navigation into and out of said River, both safe and easy,” informed the public about where to buy tickets and when the drawing would be held.  Another advertisement described a horse “Stray’d or stolen out of the pasture of Martin Smith” and offered a reward for its return.  In yet another advertisement, Samuel Russel, “Sheriffs Deputy,” warned that Solomon Bill, “who the greater part of his life has been strongly suspected to be concern’d in counterfeiting money,” had escaped before his trial and offered a reward for his capture.

Other advertisements testified to marital discord in local homes, likely overlapping with the gossip that both men and women shared as they went about their daily routines.  Moses Phelps declared that his wife, Ruth, “threatens to run me in debt.”  Accordingly, he ran his advertisement “to forbid all persons trusting her on my account, as I will pay no debt contracted by her.”  Unable to exercise his patriarchal authority at home, Moses resorted to the public prints to try to compel his wife to behave in a manner he considered appropriate.  Cornelias Flowers, Jr., did so as well, stating that throughout his marriage to Mary that she “behaved herself in a very unbecoming manner, and has injured me in the most tender part.”  No doubt some readers gossiped and speculated about the particulars of what happened between Cornelias and Mary.  Utilizing the same formulaic language as Moses Phelps, Cornelias stated that Mary “intends to run me in debt” and instructed “all persons not to trust her on my account, for I will pay no debt she shall contract.”

Such news may not have been as momentous as some of the accounts from London, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, and other places that the printer chose to include elsewhere in that issue of the Connecticut Courant, but, for many colonizers, it likely had just as much impact on their daily lives.  News of a notorious counterfeiter at large in the colony, a lottery to improve navigation of a river important to local commerce, and troubled marriages spread by word of mouth, yet the inclusion of these items among newspaper advertisements helped raise awareness and keep conversations about them flowing.

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