What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“He purposes to return to this LAND of LIBERTY.”
In the summer of 1770, William Wylie, a watchmaker, took to the pages of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette to inform the community that he would soon depart for Britain. He made “his grateful acknowledgments to those Ladies and Gentlemen, who have hitherto employed him,” but he had other purposes for placing his advertisement. He requested “that those who have omitted sending the money for the repairing their watches” would settle accounts before his departure. He did not explain why he was making the voyage, but did state that he needed the money “to accomplish his design, in going to Britain.” Wylie also pledged to return to Virginia and wanted former and prospective customers to keep him in mind for their watchmaking needs. He hoped that loyal customers would once again hire him after his temporary absence.
Wylie also injected politics into his advertisement. He proclaimed that he planned “to return to this LAND of LIBERTY as soon as possible,” using capital letters for added emphasis for his description of Virginia. Paying to insert his advertisement in the newspaper also allowed the watchmaker an opportunity to express political views in the public prints as he went about his other business. As printer and editor, Rind selected the content when it came to news, editorials, and entertaining pieces, but he exercised less direct control over the content of advertisements. Wylie could have submitted a letter to the editor in which he extolled the virtues of “this LAND of LIBERTY,” but with far less certainty that Rind would print it than an advertisement in which the watchmaker commented on his political views in the course of communicating with his customers. Besides, presenting a homily on politics to readers of Rind’s Virginia Gazette does not appear to have been Wylie’s primary purpose in publishing the advertisement. All the same, he made a deliberate choice to deviate from the standard format for the type of advertisement he placed. Nothing about the goals he wished to achieve required that he opine about politics at all, but Wylie purchased the space in the newspaper and had the liberty to embellish his advertisement as he wished. In turn, readers of Rind’s Virginia Gazette encountered political commentary among the advertisements in addition to the news and editorials elsewhere in the newspaper.