January 18

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

Pennsylvania Packet (January 18, 1773).

“AN ADDRESS TO THE INHABITANTS OF THE BRITISH SETTLEMENTS IN AMERICA, UPON SLAVE-KEEPING.”

In January 1773, John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, announced that An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-Keeping, a work attributed to Benjamin Rush, was “Just published” and available for sale.  Dunlap leveraged his access to the press to give the announcement special prominence in his newspaper, treating it as an editorial rather than an advertisement.

Consider how Dunlap organized the contents of the January 18, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet and the supplement that accompanied it.  In the standard issue, news items and editorials appeared on the first two pages, followed by advertising on the last two pages.  Similarly, the two-page supplement began with two columns of news and the remainder of the content consisted of advertising.  Dunlap’s announcement masqueraded as an editorial that ran in the first column of the second page and overflowed into the next column, followed by news from London, Newport, New York, and Philadelphia.  The printer inserted an excerpt from the pamphlet, hoping to entice readers to want more and purchase their own copies.  In giving prospective customers an overview of the essay, Dunlap noted that the “Author of the above Address after having showed the inconsistency of Slave-keeping with the principles of humanity – justice – good policy and religion; concludes as follows.”  After reading that conclusion, prospective customers could acquire the pamphlet and examine the various arguments about humanity, justice, good policy, and religion for themselves.  In treating this announcement as an editorial or news item, Dunlap adopted a strategy sometimes deployed by other printers to promote books and pamphlets they published.

Whatever the conclusions reached in the Address … upon Slave-Keeping, Dunlap apparently did not find them sufficiently convincing to alter his policies concerning the kinds of advertising that he printed in the Pennsylvania Packet.  Two advertisements about enslaved people appeared on the facing page, one offering a “HEALTHY country bred NEGRO LAD” for sale and the other seeking to hire a “SMART, active WHITE or NEGRO BOY … to wait on table and go on errands.”  Candidates for that position included enslaved youths who did the work while their enslavers received the wages.  An advertisement in the supplement described a “Negro Fellow named LONDON” who liberated himself by running away from his enslaver in Baltimore and offered a reward for his capture and return.  Even as Dunlap treated the conclusion of the Address … upon Slave-Keeping as an editorial intended to arouse interest in a pamphlet he sold, he generated revenue by printing and disseminating advertisements that perpetuated slavery.