February 23

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

New-York Journal (February 23, 1769).

“The imposition laid upon us in the use of British paper.”

Although colonial printers liberally reprinted news items and editorial pieces from newspaper to newspaper, they only infrequently reprinted advertisements. After all, advertisements usually addressed local and regional audiences. In addition, paid notices were an important revenue stream that made colonial newspapers viable ventures. As a result, printers had few reasons to reprint advertisements from the newspapers they received from their counterparts in other cities and towns. On occasion, some printers did reprint advertisements that they considered either entertaining or instructive. Such was the case for an advertisement from the February 16, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal that John Holt reprinted just a week later in the February 23 edition of the New-York Journal.

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford had inserted an advertisement offering “Ready MONEY for CLEAN LINEN RAGGS” that Pennsylvania’s “Paper Manufactory” could make into paper, thus supporting the local economy, eliminating dependence on paper imported from England, and avoiding the duties imposed by the Townshend Act. The Bradfords conceived of saving rags as a political act rather than a mundane chore, charging “Ladies” to express “their love of liberty” by taking the lead in supporting this particular act of resistance to Parliament’s overreach.

Holt eliminated any mention of the Bradfords and their “Pennsylvania Writing PAPER,” considering them irrelevant to the lesson he wished to impress on readers of the New-York Journal. He reprinted the rest of the advertisement in its entirety, along with a brief introduction: “For the Encouragement of the Paper Manufactory, the following Advertisement is copied from the Pennsylvania Journal, and being equally applicable to this Province, is earnestly recommended to the Consideration of all who desire its Prosperity and wish to preserve its Freedom.” In making this statement, Holt doubled down on the political message advanced by the Bradfords.

But that was not all Holt did. After reprinting the original advertisement, he inserted an editorial of equal length. He lamented the “great sums of money that are continually sent out of America … for the single article of paper.” He expressed dismay that colonists had not done more to encourage paper production in New York; the industry would garner “a considerable and certain profit” as well as avoid “the unconstitutional imposition exacted upon us” by the duties on imported paper. Encouraging domestic manufacture of paper would “promote the good of our country, and preserve its right and liberties.” Finally, Holt made a bid for supporting paper production in New York rather than Philadelphia, another reason to remove any mention of the Bradfords and their goods from the advertisement. He complained that “[b]esides the money sent from this province to Europe for paper, considerable sums are sent for it to Philadelphia.” He believed that approximately twenty paper mills operated in that city and its environs, compared to only a couple in New York. Not only did Holt promote paper made in America, he wanted his own colony to benefit from its production rather than import from a neighboring province.

Although Holt described this piece as an advertisement and placed it among the paid notices, it might better be considered an editorial. The political valence of the original advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal merited reprinting in the New-York Journal, but Holt enhanced it with even more extensive commentary.