Slavery Advertisements Published January 24, 1771

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Maryland Gazette (January 24, 1771).

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Maryland Gazette (January 24, 1771).

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Maryland Gazette (January 24, 1771).

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Maryland Gazette (January 24, 1771).

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Maryland Gazette (January 24, 1771).

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New-York Journal (January 24, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Gazette (January 24, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Journal (January 24, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Journal (January 24, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Journal (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 24, 1771).

January 23

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 21, 1771).

“SADLERY WARE.”

Ornamental printing helped to make the final page of the supplement that accompanied the January 21, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury more visually interesting than any other portion of that issue.  Rather than use a single line to separate advertisements, the compositor instead selected a variety of decorative type.  Compare, for instance, the line between the advertisement for “SADLERY WARE” and George Ball’s advertisement about his new location to the ornaments that appeared above and below most of the other advertisements.

Eighteenth-century newspapers tended to feature few visual images other than a crest or signet in the masthead and a small number of woodcuts depicting ships, houses, horses, enslaved people, and runaway indentured servants.  Sometimes those woodcuts appeared in great numbers, but most often advertisers deployed them sparingly.  The edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury under consideration here ran only three advertisements with woodcuts, one on the third page and two on the fourth page.  No images appeared on the second page; only the crest in the masthead adorned the first page.  The two-page supplement included six woodcuts, two on the first page and four on the second.  (Three of them can be seen in the detail of that page above.)  With four woodcuts, the last page of the supplement already incorporated greater visual diversity than any other page of the standard issue and the supplement.

Beyond that, the compositor spruced up the page with more than twenty lines of decorative type that separated advertisements.  The third and fourth pages of the standard issue and the first page of the supplement all consisted entirely of advertising, yet none of them received such treatment.  Instead, single lines sequestered advertisements.  What explains the burst of creativity on the final page?  Was it a ploy to attract attention from readers once they discovered no news or editorials, especially those prone to skip over advertisements?  Did more than one compositor set type for that issue and its supplement?  What other factors might have influenced the design decisions that produced a final page so different from the rest of the issue?  The format of these advertisements raises interesting questions without clear answers.

January 22

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 22, 1771).

“Scotch camblets for negro wenches gowns.”

Advertisers took to the pages of the January 22, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to offer a variety of commodities for sale.  A good number of advertisers also sought to sell enslaved men, women, and children; their notices were interspersed among the others, ubiquitous in the commercial landscape represented on the printed page and enacted in everyday life.  The executors of Edward Smilie’s estate, for instance, advertised “Twenty-seven valuableSLAVES, among whom are, a carpenter and driver, as few good house-wenches, a seamstress, and several handy boys and girls.”  Thomas Knighton advertised “Nineteen valuable NEGROES, among which are, one copper, two sawyers, and a good house wench.”  An anonymous advertiser instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer” to learn more about purchasing a “Young NEGRO FELLOW, that has been used to attend on a Gentleman in the Country.”

Such advertisers, however, were not alone in their efforts to profit from the enslavement of Africans and African Americans.  Henry Rugeley and Company advertised a variety of goods, mostly textiles but also tea and seeds.  Their textiles included “a variety of long and clear lawns, Silesia linens, tandems, Russia drab, dowlas, garlix, osnabrugs, and half-ell German linen” as well as “Scotch camblets for negro wenches gowns.”  Although Rugeley and Company did not seek to sell enslaved people, at least not in that advertisement, the partners did want a share of the market for supplying provisions to enslavers.  They derived some of their revenues from selling textiles intended to clothe enslaved women.  The transatlantic slave trade had tentacles that extended beyond the buying and selling of enslaved men, women, and children.  Like Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal who collected advertising fees and facilitated sales of enslaved people, Rugeley and Company deliberately played a supporting role in the perpetuation of slavery in colonial America.  As newspaper advertisements and other sources make clear, there was money to be made through enslavement and exploitation, not only by slave traders but also by printers, merchants, shopkeepers, and others in a vast commercial infrastructure that catered to enslavers.

January 21

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 21, 1771).

“The Trial of … Soldiers in His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot.”

On January 14, 1771, John Fleeming announced that he would publish a pamphlet documenting the trial of the soldiers prosecuted for “the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, & Patrick Carr, on the Evening of the 5th March 1770,” an event now known as the Boston Massacre.  John Adams defended the soldiers in court, winning acquittals for six of them.  The other two, convicted of manslaughter for deliberately firing into the crowd, received reduced sentences after pleading benefit of clergy.  They avoided the death penalty in favor of branding on the thumbs in open court.  When Fleeming, a Tory sympathizer and former partner in publishing the discontinued Boston Chronicle, announced his plan to publish an account of the trial, Thomas and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, placed their own advertisement for “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE” immediately below Fleeming’s notice.  Perhaps suspicious of what might appear in Fleeming’s pamphlet, the Fleets offered an antidote.

In the next issue of the Boston Evening-Post, Fleeming inserted a more extensive advertisement to proclaim that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” an account of “The Trial of … Soldiers in His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot; For the MURDER of” the five men who died during and soon after the Boston Massacre.  The printer noted that this account had been “Taken in short Hand by John Hodgdon” and furthermore it was “Published by Permission of the Court.”  Perhaps to alleviate lingering suspicions about how much commentary he might insert or otherwise attempt to further shape the narrative in favor of the soldiers, Fleeming included a note near the conclusion of his advertisement.  “In this Publication,” he declared, “great Care has been taken to render the Evidence as accurate as possible, by comparing Mr. Hodgdon’s Copy with other Minutes taken at the Trial.”  Fleeming also listed the various contents of the pamphlet, from “The Indictments against the Prisoners” to “the Verdict returned by the Jury.”  The pamphlet provided a complete account of events associated with the trial, Fleeming assured the public.

This advertisement met with different treatment by the Fleets compared to Fleeming’s previous advertisement.  They placed it in the lower right corner of the first page, the only advertisement on that page.  In addition, the advertisement listed both Fleeming and “the Printers hereof” as sellers of the pamphlet.  Apparently the Fleets, who tended to favor the patriot cause, though not as vociferously as Benjamin Edes and John Gill in the Boston Gazette, found that the pamphlet accurately rendered the events of the trial.  They even saw an opportunity to generate revenues at their own printing office by retailing copies.  They already encouraged participation in the commodification of events related to the imperial crisis, having marketed “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE.”  Even as they endorsed Fleeming’s new publication, they also continued to run advertisements for that earlier pamphlet elsewhere in the newspaper.  Interest in Fleeming’s new pamphlet about the trial had the potential to reinvigorate demand for an account of the events that led to the trial.

January 20

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

Virginia Gazette [Rind] (January 17, 1771).
“A mulatto man slave named AARON, who brought suit against my father, Henry Randolph, in the General Court.”

Some historians and other scholars describe eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements about enslaved people who liberated themselves the first narratives of enslavement, though they acknowledge that those advertisements were not penned by enslaved people themselves.  Such advertisements document stories of resistance when read counter to the purposes of the enslavers who wrote them to encourage surveillance of Black people with the goals of identifying enslaved people who liberated themselves and returning them to bondage.  Filtered through the perspectives of enslavers who shaped the narratives, these advertisements told incomplete stories.  Still, these so-called runaway advertisements collectively testify to widespread resistance among enslaved people throughout the colonies.

The story of “a mulatto man slave named AARON” is among those countless incomplete narratives that almost certainly would have included different details had it been written by the enslaved man rather than his enslaver.  John Randolph placed an advertisement in the January 17, 1771, edition of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette to advise the public that Aaron had “RUN away” the previous June.  From Aaron’s perspective, however, he continued his quest for freedom by other means.  Randolph reported that Aaron previously “brought suit against my father, Henry Randolph, in the General Court, for his freedom.”  Aaron appeared before the court as Aaron Griffing.  Randolph did not explain the significance of the surname.  Notably, the enslaved man did not identify himself using the last name of his enslaver.  Randolph stated that “the suit was determined … in my father’s favour” even though “many of [Aaron’s] colour got their freedom [from] that court,” perhaps indicating that other enslaved “mulatto” men and women successfully sued for their freedom.  Even though he appeared in court as Aaron Griffing, Randolph suspected that he “may change his name” to improve his chances of remaining undetected and “endeavour to pass for a freeman.”  From Aaron’s perspective, no passing was involved.  He liberated himself after the court refused to do so.

Randolph’s advertisement included other information that Aaron might have described in more detail … or avoided altogether … had he told his own story.  For instance, Randolph declared that Aaron has been “marked on each cheek I, R, the letters very dull.”  The circumstances that led to the enslaved man bearing the initials of John Randolph (or another enslaver?) on his face may have been a significant motivation for liberating himself … or it may have been a story too painful for words.  Whichever may have been the case, Randolph’s advertisement survives today as a testament to Aaron’s courage and conviction to liberate himself.  It reverberates with meaning unintended by the enslaver who wrote and disseminated it a quarter millennium ago.

January 19

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

Providence Gazette (January 19, 1771).

As Advertising is attended with Expence to the College, tis earnestly requested that it need not be repeated.”

When Rhode Island College (Now Brown University) moved from Warren to its permanent home in Providence in 1770, supporters launched a fundraising campaign to erect a building.  A local committee published advertisements that simultaneously asked for donations and kept the public apprised of progress on the edifice.  Hezekiah Smith toured South Carolina and Georgia, seeking “subscribers” who pledged to make donations and providing additional information in newspapers published in Charleston and Savannah.

Construction of the building began in 1770 and continued the following year.  A new advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette on January 19.  “THE Committee for building the College,” desire all Persons who are Subscribers to pay their Subscriptions immediately, as the Workmen are now daily calling for their Money.”  The committee had amassed sufficient pledges to commence construction, but now they needed those benefactors to follow through on their commitments in order to pay the bills.  In a nota bene, the committee offered an alternative to cash donations:  “Some Inch and Quarter Plank and Floor Boards are yet wanted, and will be received in Lieu of Money, if brought immediately.”  Those supplies would not settle accounts with the workers, but they would allow them to make progress on the building.

The first time it ran in the Providence Gazette, this advertisement appeared first among the paid notices, immediately below the prices current.  That increased the likelihood that readers who perused the news but did not intend to read the advertisements would spot it on the third page even if they ignored the final page filled exclusively with advertising.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, may have given the advertisement that privileged placement in support of the committee’s efforts, but any support apparently did not extend to providing occasional free advertising.  “As Advertising is attended with Expence to the College,” the committee declared, “’tis earnestly requested that it need not be repeated.”  In its fundraising efforts, Rhode Island College encouraged philanthropy through various means, including local support, distant subscribers who met a representative dispatched to solicit benefactors, and donations of materials.  The committee did not manage, however, to leverage free advertising for their fundraising notices as an alternative to other kinds of contributions, though it is not clear if they even made such a proposal to the printer.  Carter was at least amenable enough toward the project to give the newest advertisement a strategic placement on the page.

January 18

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 18, 1771).

“A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”

When George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died on September 30, 1770, it did not take long for printers, booksellers, and others to market commemorative items that celebrated the life of the minister and mourned his passing.  Within a week, advertisements for merchandise ranging from poems to hymns to funeral sermons began appearing in colonial newspapers.  While the commodification of Whitefield’s death was concentrated in New England, consumers in other regions also had opportunities to purchase memorabilia.

Those advertisements ran regularly for several months, but then tapered off at the end of the year.  As part of that process, printers and booksellers incorporated Whitefield commemorative items into advertisements promoting other items for sale.  For instance, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet inserted an advertisement for four pamphlets in the January 7, 1771, edition of their newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post.  “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD” was the third of those four items.  Previously, Whitefield commemorative items merited advertisements of their own in the Boston Evening-Post.

Such was the case in a brief advertisement in the January 18 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle advised prospective customers that “A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”  Whitefield’s death and the ensuing commemorations and mourning rituals were no longer breaking news, so the Fowles, like the Fleets, devoted less advertising space to marketing memorabilia.  Yet they still had inventory available, surplus copies that diminished any potential profits gained from the commodification of the minister’s death.  Advertising excess copies of almanacs in January was an annual custom for printers throughout the colonies.  The Fowles folded their Whitefield commemorative items into that practice, attempting to draw on remaining demand without giving over a significant amount of space to their advertisements.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

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Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-19-161736
Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children as well as notices offering rewards for those who escaped from bondage.

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Advertisement for an enslaved woman and an enslaved child from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

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General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 315th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

January 17

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 17, 1771).

“Each articles will be put up singly, and in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Both the size and format of Richard Tidmarsh’s advertisement on the final page of the January 17, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal likely attracted attention.  Rather than appearing in a single column, it ran across two columns.  It also extended half a column, creating a large rectangle of text that seemed to dominate the page even though it accounted for about one-third of the content.

Tidmarsh, a druggist, announced an upcoming auction of “DRUGS, MEDICINES, and SHOP FURNITURE” in advance of his departure from the colony “by the first spring vessels.”  He listed the items up for sale, in effect publishing an auction catalog as a newspaper advertisement.  That list made the format of his advertisement even more distinctive.  The introductory material extended across two columns, but the list of items for sale ran in three narrow columns that also did not correspond to the width of any columns that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  To help prospective buyers navigate the list, Tidmarsh arranged entries for medicines in alphabetical order.  In the final column, he inserted headers in capital letters for sections enumerating “PERFUMERY,” “PATENT MEDICINES,” and “SPARE UTENSILS and FURNITURE.”  In the introduction, the apothecary explained his rationale for selling items separately rather than as a whole.  He envisioned that “practitioners, as well as Gentlemen of the trade, will have an opportunity of being supplied with such articles as they may be out of.”  Tidmarsh apparently did not anticipate any buyers for his entire inventory, but did anticipate demand for the various drugs and medicines on their own.  He offered credit to buyers who purchased a sufficient quantity and promised that the “whole of the stock of MEDICINES and DRUGS are of the first quality.”  To guide prospective buyers through the auction, he asserted that each article would be sold “in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Tidmarsh advertised an eighteenth-century version of a “going out of business” sale.  In an effort to liquidate his inventory before leaving Philadelphia, he organized an auction that would allow buyers to acquire medicines “of the first quality” at bargain prices compared to retail and perhaps even wholesale transactions.  He published an auction catalog in the public prints, its organized columns guiding prospective bidders through both the items for sale and the order.  He also encouraged participation by offering credit to those who purchased in sufficient quantities.  The unusual format of the apothecary’s advertisement also drew attention to the upcoming auction, helping to generate interest and incite bidders to attend.

January 16

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 14, 1771).

“Said Morton has to dispose of, a large and very neat assortment of gilt and plain frame looking-glasses and sconces.”

Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in Hanover-Square,” printed the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, one of several newspapers published in the city in the early 1770s.  On many occasions, Gaine devoted more space to disseminating advertising than news articles, letters and editorials, prices current, and shipping news from the customs house.  Such was the case for the January 14, 1771, edition.

Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, that issue consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, but Gaine distributed paid notices throughout his newspaper.  The first two columns on the first page of the January 14 edition contained advertising.  News accounted for most of the third and fourth columns, but five short advertisements concluded the fourth column.  News filled the first three columns of the second page before giving way to advertising in the final column.  On the third page, readers encountered news in the first two columns and advertising in the last two.  The final page consisted entirely of paid notices.  Overall, nine of the sixteen columns, more than half of the issue, delivered advertising to readers.

Yet that was not all.  Gaine had so many advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue that he also published a two-page supplement to accompany it.  With the exception of the masthead, that supplement contained nothing but paid notices, another eight columns of advertising.  Considered together, this amounted to seventeen of the twenty-four columns in the standard issue and supplement.  More than two-thirds of the content that Gaine delivered to subscribers and other readers that week consisted of advertising.

For many newspaper printers in eighteenth-century America, advertising generated revenues that rivaled or surpassed subscription fees.  For Gaine, that was almost certainly the case, thought the volume of advertising also suggests impressive circulation numbers.  Advertisers would not have chosen to insert their notices in his newspaper if they were not confident that they would reach the general public.