April 5

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 5, 1771).

“… till she behaves more like an obedient Wife.”

From New England to Georgia, runaway wife advertisements frequently appeared in early American newspapers.  Aggrieved husbands warned the public against extending credit to wives who departed their households.  Although these advertisements framed the women as spouses who abandoned both their household responsibilities and good social order, they also testified to one means at women’s disposal for exercising power in a society that granted so much authority to husbands.  Almost certainly, women were not always solely to blame when marital discord that became so severe that wives fled from husbands.  Men shaped the narrative when they published runaway wife advertisements, but they told only part of the story.

Such advertisements ran so often in colonial newspapers that they sometimes featured standardized or formulaic language, as in the case of Samuel Richardson’s notice in the April 5, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  “I forbid all Persons,” he stated, “trusting my Wife, Mary Richardson, any Thing on my Account.”  Although the conflict in the Richardson household may have attracted attention, the wording that Samuel chose did not merit particular notices.  Benjamin Wills, on the other hand, opted for language that did not regularly appear in this genre of advertising.  “Edea, the wicked Wife of me the Subscriber,” he proclaimed, “makes a constant practice of squandering away my Substance, and spends the most of her Time in running from House to House, chatting about those Things of neither Advantage nor Profit, running me in Debt, wherever she can get credit, and takes no care of my House nor Family.”  Benjamin catalogued specific grievances against his wife in the process of informing the community that he would “pay no Debts contracted by her … till she behaves more like an obedient Wife.”

Benjamin resorted to more colorful language than what appeared in most runaway wife advertisements.  Was this evidence of greater discord in the Wills household compared to others with husbands who placed such advertisements?  Did literacy play a part in the variations that made Benjamin’s advertisement so different from the standardized language of Samuel Richardson’s notice?  Wills signed his advertisement with “his + Mark,” an indication that he did not write it, though he very well may have dictated it.  Wills may have been able to read even if he could not sign his name, but he may have been familiar with runaway wife advertisements without regularly reading them and absorbing the formulaic wording.  He understood their function even if he did not replicate their usual form.  Realizing that such notices usually leveled accusations against willful wives, he may have done his best to explain why he found it necessary to publish the advertisement even though he did not have ready access to the usual words and phrases.

That Wills signed with “his + Mark” raises questions about the production of his advertisement.  Did he visit the printing office?  If so, did the printers offer any assistance in choosing the language or did they merely transcribe what Wills dictated?  Did Wills instead entrust someone in the town of Lee with transcribing the advertisement for him and then sent it to the printing office in Portsmouth?  If so, the printers did not have the opportunity to suggest the standardized words and phrases that so often appeared in runaway wife advertisements.  The variations in Wills’s advertisement may have been the result of his level of literacy and the process of producing the notice for publication.

Slavery Advertisements Published April 5, 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.

Connecticut Journal (April 5, 1771).

April 4

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 4, 1771).

“Too many Articles to be enumerated.”

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently published extensive advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Those advertisements served as catalogs of their inventory, listing all sorts of goods they offered for sale.  Both the length and the number of entries communicated the array of choices available to consumers.  In the April 4, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, Joshua Gardner inserted an advertisement that filled half a column.  In a dense paragraph, he enumerated scores of “ENGLISH GOODS,” everything from textiles and trimmings to housewares and hardware.  Like many of his peers, he concluded with a promise of “sundry other articles” that would not fit in his advertisement.

Other advertisers did not describe the scope of their wares in such detail.  Some, like Ebenezer Storer, merely stated that they had on hand an “Assortment of GOODS” and invited prospective customers to visit their shops to see for themselves.  Others provided a preview of their merchandise, but dismissed the long lists published by competitors.  Margaret Newman and Robert Hall both took that approach.  Newman promoted her “neat Assortment of English & India GOODS” as well as an “Assortment of Paper Hangings, Felt Hats, Cutlery Ware,” and textiles.  Reiterating “Assortment” underscored choices for consumers, so many choices that a newspaper advertisement could not contain all of them.  Newman proclaimed that she could not even attempt to list her goods because they “Consist[ed] of too many Articles to be enumerated.”  In his advertisement for a “fresh Parcel of Garden Seeds” and a “Collection of the Best Kind of Fruit-Trees,” Hall insisted that he had “too many Sorts to be inserted in an Advertisement.”  Most of his competitors who placed advertisements in the same issue listed dozens of seeds or trees.

Both Newman and Hall suggested that they carried the same variety of goods as their competitors who published long lists of merchandise.  Their insistence that they had “too many Articles to be enumerated” even implied that they might offer more choices than their competitors who provided extensive accounts of their inventory, such a vast array that they could not select only some to appear in their advertisements.  Publishing shorter advertisements may have been motivated by financial concerns, but advertisers like Newman and Hall devised ways of making the length work to their advantage.

Slavery Advertisements Published April 4, 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 (April 4, 1771).

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Maryland Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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Maryland Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 4, 1771).

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New-York Journal (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 4, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 4, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 4, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 4, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 4, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 4, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 4, 1771).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 4, 1771).

April 3

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

“RD. SAUSE. CUTLER.”

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery … or a means of capitalizing on a competitor’s marketing efforts.  On March 4, 1771, Bailey and Youle, cutlers from Sheffield, ran a newspaper advertisement notable for a woodcut that included their names and depictions of more than a dozen items available at their shop.  Four weeks later, another cutler, Richard Sause, inserted a strikingly similar advertisement in the same newspaper, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Like Bailey and Youle, his notice began with a woodcut that included his name and images of various items in his inventory.  He also listed those items and more, including “oyster knives, razors, scissors; pocket, pruning and pen knives; …[and] corkscrews.”  In addition to the assortment of merchandise represented in both image and text, Sause also stocked “sundry other things too tedious to mention.”

Sause further enhanced his woodcut by incorporating his name into the depictions of a table knife and a sword, a modification not present in Bailey and Youle’s image of their wares.  The table knife appeared in the upper left and the sword in the lower right, making it likely that viewers would encounter items branded with Sause’s name first and last as they glanced at the depictions of many kinds of cutlery.  Sause’s woodcut also featured a greater number of items, testifying to the many choices he offered to consumers.  In the copy that accompanied the image, he twice invoked variations of the phrase “other articles too tedious to mention,” deploying language not present in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement.  Using his competitor’s notice as a model, Sause devised improvement for his own.

It seems unlikely that Sause produced this advertisement without having seen the notice that Bailey and Youle placed in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Furthermore, whoever carved the original woodcut probably carved the second, given the similarities between several pieces of cutlery depicted in each.  Bailey and Youle continued running their advertisement when Sause’s notice first appeared, the similarities between the two all the more apparent because they were the only images that appeared anywhere in the April 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and its supplement, with the exception of the masthead.  When Bailey and Youle published an advertisement that increased their visibility in the marketplace, Sause took notice and shamelessly replicated their efforts.

Detail from Bailey and Youle’s advertisement, Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

April 2

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

“He will likewise dispose of at private sale, all his household furniture.”

In the spring of 1771, Sampson Neyle took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise what amounted to an eighteenth-century version of a moving sale.  He advised readers that he planned “to embark for England in few weeks” and planned to sell his belongings before departing.  He also called on “all persons who have accounts against him” to seek payment before he left Charleston.  Colonists frequently placed such advertisements in advance of making transatlantic trips.  They almost always mentioned settling accounts, but only some of them offered items for sale.

Neyle listed an assortment of “household furniture” for prospective buyers, including “a neat mahogany desk and book-case, cloaths press, shaving stand, chairs, tables, bedstead, [and] feather beds.”  He also intended to part with housewares like china and glass.  To make these items more attractive, Neyle suggested that even they were secondhand that they had been barely used.  He proclaimed, in italics to draw notice, that most of those items “were new about five months ago.”  Neyle’s moving sale presented an opportunity for buyers to benefit from bargains on slightly used consumer goods compared to what they would pay artisans and retailers for new items.

Yet Neyle also attempted to manage that discount and his own proceeds by first offering his belongings “at private sale.”  Only if necessary would he sponsor a “public sale.”  Here he likely made a distinction between one-on-one transactions with buyers and an auction.  A “private sale” of any or all of the items allowed Neyle to set prices and negotiate with buyers based on how much interest they demonstrated.  At an auction, however, he would have to settle for the highest bid … and anything that did not sell via “private sale” likely would not achieve a higher bid at auction.  In addition, sponsoring an auction also meant paying a vendue master, further eroding Neyle’s bottom line.

Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal encountered many invitations to participate in the consumer revolution.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans placed advertisements for all sorts of new goods, but other advertisers offered secondhand items as well.  Neyle and others who advertised moving sales expanded the number of ways that colonists could acquire goods, not unlike the many estate notices that listed used furniture and housewares for sale.

Slavery Advertisements Published April 2, 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.

Essex Gazette (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 2, 1771).

April 1

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 1, 1771).

“At the Black Boy and Butt.”

Two advertisements in the April 1, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post featured Black bodies on display, either as part of a device that marked the location of a shop or in the description of an enslaved man who liberated himself by fleeing from his enslaver.  In each instance, an advertiser laid claim to a Black body for his own purposes and benefit.

Jonathan Williams sold “Good Madeira,” other imported wines, and cider at his shop “in Cornhill.”  To help customers identify his business, Williams marked the location with a sign, “the Black Boy and Butt,” that depicted a Black child and a large cask.  Like other purveyors of goods and services who included shop signs in their advertisements, Williams presented an image intended to represent his business, a precursor to the modern logo.  In this instance, that image commodified not only wine through the depiction of the cask but also Black men, women, and children through the depiction of the “Black Boy.”  Both wine and enslaved Black people arrived in Boston and elsewhere in the colonies via networks of trade that crisscrossed the Atlantic.  Colonial consumers very well knew that commerce depended in large part on enslaved labor and the transatlantic slave trade.  In placing a Black boy and a cask on display, Williams’s shop sign encapsulated that relationship.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (April 1, 1771).

Elsewhere among the advertisements in that issue, Hugh McLean of Milton provided a description of “a Negro Man, named Peleg Abby” and offered a reward to “Whoever will apprehend said Runaway.”  According to McLean, Abby was “about 26 Years of Age” and “about Five Feet Six Inches high.”  To help readers recognize the fugitive who sought his freedom so they could return him to bondage, McLean also documented the clothes Abby wore when he departed and other clothes he took with him.  McLean placed the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, but that version also included a generic woodcut of a Black man on the run.  The image helped draw attention to that advertisement at the same time that McLean asked readers to take careful note of the age, height, and clothing of all Black men they encountered in order to discern if any of them might be the enslaved man he sought to recover.

Black people were a common sight in Boston and its hinterlands in the colonial period on the eve of the American Revolution.  Descriptions of Black bodies, sometimes accompanied by nondescript woodcuts, were also subjects of interest in the public prints, frequently appearing in newspaper advertisements published in the bustling port city.  Their presence testified to the extent that both culture and commerce, even in New England, were enmeshed the transatlantic slave trade and the perpetuation of slavery in the colonies.

Slavery Advertisements Published April 1, 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.

Boston Evening Post (April 1, 1771).

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Boston-Gazette (April 1, 1771).

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Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (April 1, 1771).

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New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

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New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

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Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 1, 1771).

March 31

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 28, 1771).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the SPY are also taken in by Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker.”

Most newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s did not have extensive colophons.  Consider, for example, those newspapers published at the time that Isaiah Thomas relaunched the Massachusetts Spy on March 7, 1771.  The colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter simply stated, “BOSTON: Printed by R. DRAPER.”  Similarly, the colophon for the Boston Evening-Post read, in its entirety, “BOSTON: Printed by T. and J. FLEET.”  The Boston-Gazette also had a short colophon, “Boston, Printed by EDES & GILL.”  Limited to “Printed by GREEN & RUSSELL,” the colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy did not even list the city.  All of those colophons appeared at the end of the final column on the last page.

In contrast, Thomas adopted a style much more often (but not universally) deployed in newspapers published in other cities and towns.  Extending across all four columns on the final page, it provided much more information about the Massachusetts Spy for readers, prospective subscribers and advertisers, and others who might have business with the printing office.  He included his location, “UNION-STREET, near the Market,” and listed the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence” annually.  He also noted that he sought advertising, but did not specify the rates.  In addition, Thomas stated that “Articles of Intelligence … are thankfully received.”  In other words, he solicited contributions to print or reprint in the Spy.  Like other newspaper printers, he accepted job printing as a means of supplementing the revenues from subscriptions and advertising.  Thomas proclaimed that he could produce “Small Hand-Bills at an Hour’s Notice.”  He provided all of the services available in other printing offices.

Thomas included an additional enhancement in his colophon, one that not only did not appear in other newspapers published in Boston but also did not appear in other newspapers published throughout the colonies.  He listed local agents who accepted subscriptions for the Spy in towns beyond Boston: “Mr. J. Larkin, chairmaker, and Mr. W. Calder, painter, in Charlestown; Mr. J. Hillier, watch-maker, in Salem; Mr. B. Emerson, Bookseller, in Newbury-Port; and Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgewater.”  That portion of the colophon reflected advertisements Thomas placed in other newspapers prior to relaunching the Spy.  It testified to a network the printer established for gathering sufficient subscribers to make his newspaper a viable enterprise.  The list also made it more convenient for prospective subscribers to order their copies of the Spy.  Those who lived in any of the towns listed in the colophon could deal directly with the local agents rather than dispatch letters to the printing office in Boston.

When it came to publishing a newspaper in Boston, Thomas was a newcomer in the early 1770s.  All of the other newspapers in circulation had been established for many years.  Perhaps the printers believed that their newspapers and their printing offices were so familiar to readers that they did not need extensive colophons providing a lot of information.  Thomas chose a different model, one much more common in newspapers published in other places.  In the process, he added his own innovation, listing local agents, in order to gain greater advantage of the portion of each issue that he surrendered to the colophon.