September 2

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

Sep 2 - 9:2:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 2, 1768).

“IT is with much Regret I find myself obliged to appear in Print against my Husband.”

A week ago the Adverts 250 Project featured a preview of “Mrs. Sarah Wiggenss APPEAL to the Public representing her Husband’s Advertising her in this Paper.” That preview took the form of a notice inserted by the printers in the final issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette published in August 1768. Upon learning that her husband, Tuften, had placed an advertisement in the previous issue to advise the public that he would no longer pay any debts contracted by her because she had “ELoped from me … and refuses to live with me as an obedient Wife,” Sarah submitted her own advertisement to tell her side of the story. It “came too late” to the printing office to appear in the August 26 edition, but the printers promoted it as a feature that readers should anticipate “in our next.” The printers did not merely acknowledge that they would publish Sarah’s response. Instead, they disclosed that “it will appear how greatly she has been injured and imposed upon” by Tuften. By inciting interest in this domestic dispute laid before the public, the printers likely hoped to increase readership of the New-Hampshire Gazette and reap the benefits of placing their newspaper before the eyes of greater numbers of colonists.

Sarah detailed response to her husband’s short advertisement made for lively reading. First, she apologized for even having to place a notice in the public prints. “IT is with much Regret,” she lamented, “I find myself obliged to appear in Print against my Husband.” However, she was stunned that Tuften had even placed an advertisement and, in the process, implied that she had committed adultery. She had been betrayed by her husband, “one whose Duty it is to be my Virtue’s Guard and preserve it from every stain.” That was only one way in which Tuften had failed as a husband, but it was sufficient for Sarah to defend herself in view of the entire community. Given “how base I have been and still am treated by him,” Sarah proclaimed, “my Resentment rises at his Folly, and in justice to my injur’d Reputation, I am bound to vindicate it.” She then revealed that Tuften had courted her for some time. She initially refused his advances, but eventually consented to marry him in January 1767, “though greatly against the Advice of my Friends.” At that point Tuften apparently became more interested in the property Sarah brought into the marriage than in his bride herself. He stole her “Marriage Settlement” out of her chest, depriving her of the legal document that offered financial protection in the event that she became a widow. Having surrendered her “Right of Dower” to Tuften’s estate, Sarah now had “nothing left me.” This provoked a heated argument that culminated in her departure, but “with his consent.” According to Sarah, she took some clothing with her and Tuften “promised to send all my other Things by any Body I sent for them.” When she sent a man named Kenniston to collect her belongings, Tuften became enraged and refused to hand over anything. Instead, he placed the advertisement accusing Sarah of departing without his permission and refusing to heed his authority as head of the household. Most upsetting to Sarah, the advertisement implied she committed adultery. In the wake of Tuften demanding that others not to extend credit to his wife, she relied on sympathy to overcome those instructions. She bemoaned her current condition: “I have one small Child of six Months old at my Breast, and we are exposed to the wide World, having no prospect of a Reconciliation with my Husband.” She concluded with one more apology for making a private matter so public, asking “Pardon of the Public, for the Trouble I have given them to read the Circumstances of my Misfortunes.” That Sarah found herself in the position to make such an apology painted an even more unflattering portrait of perfidious husband.

Extending three-quarters of a column, Sarah Wiggin’s “APPEAL” rivaled news items printed elsewhere in the issue for length. If the printers charged to insert this response, they certainly increased their advertising revenue for the week. Even if they did not charge but instead treated her response as a letter intended to inform the public of interesting news, they still stood to generate additional revenue. Printing such a salacious story likely captivated readers, perhaps even drawing the attention of some who did not regularly peruse the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette but took a prurient interest in observing this drama unfold. More readers, for whatever reason, meant wider circulation and the potential to sell even more advertising space.

August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:26:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 26, 1768).

“Mrs. Sarah Wiggenss APPEAL … will be in our next.”

The August 26, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included a notice from the printers concerning two advertisements, one that had been published and one that had not. “Mrs. Sarah Wiggenss APPEAL to the Public, representing her Husband’s Advertising her in this paper,” the printers explained, “came too late, but will be in our next.” The printers encouraged readers to acquire the next issue and peruse it carefully in order to learn how gros[s]ly she has been injured and imposed upon by him.” The Wiggins resided in Stratham, but their marital squabbles became common knowledge far beyond their own town.

Readers did not need to look any further than the next page to witness (once again, since it also appeared in the previous issue) the quarrelsome advertisement that had elicited Sarah Wiggin’s “APPEAL.” Her husband, Tuften, announced to the residents of Portsmouth and its hinterland that his wife had “ELoped from me … and refuses to live with me as an obedient Wife.” Given that turn of events, he resorted to the same measures as many other spurned husbands, stating that he placed his notice in the public prints in order “to forbid any Person, giving her Credit on my Account” because “I will not pay any Debt by her contracted from the ninth of August last, 1768.” In a nota bene he magnanimously, from his perspective at least, counseled that “If she returns, she will be kindly received upon reasonable terms.”

Sarah apparently had no intention of returning to Tuften. Instead, she submitted a detailed defense of her flight to the printers for presentation to the public, a defense so lengthy that the compositor did not have sufficient time or space to include it in the August 26 edition by the time it arrived in the printing office. When it did appear the following week it occupied three-quarters of a column (more on that in a subsequent entry). Public awareness of domestic strife in the Wiggin household expanded as husband and wife each placed advertisements and the printers inserted notices concerning those advertisements.

The printers did not merely note that a response from Sarah would soon appear in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Instead, they offered colorful commentary about “how gros[s]ly she has been injured and imposed upon” by her husband. Perhaps they found her response convincing and felt sympathy for her, but their own notice that another chapter in the saga would soon become available had the added benefit of provoking additional interest among readers. The printers leveraged these advertisements about an unhappy marriage to bolster circulation of their newspaper. It was not the first time that they capitalized on disputes made public in this manner.

July 8

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

Jul 8 - 7:8:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette Extraordinary (July 8, 1768).

“Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith looks upon himself to be greatly abused.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith was not pleased with a “scandalous anonimous Piece” that appeared on the front page of the July 1, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Although the author did not explicitly name Griffith, it did not take much deduction to determine that “a Man of this abandoned Character, named – N–th–el S––fe G–fi–th, of Hampton” was none other than Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. The article purported that Griffith had “descended into some Sink for Human Excrements, (from whence it was wished he could never have gotten out, as it was the most proper Place for his Abode)” and then “proceeded to the Meeting-House in Hampton, and in a dirty, filthy and polluted Manner discharged the same upon the Linings and Cushings of a Gentleman’s Pew.” The article went into further detail about how Griffith had not only befouled the pew but, more generally, a house of worship shared by the entire community. It then attributed various moral failings to the perpetrator of this “atrocious and sacrilegious Insult.”

Horrified by this account, Griffith placed an advertisement in the next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Although Griffith could not control the editorial decisions made by the printers, he did exercise greater latitude when it came to paid notices. He wanted the printers to give him equal time and an opportunity to redeem himself in the face of the “scandalous anonimous Piece.” To that end, his advertisement addressed the printers directly, insisting that they “acquaint the Public in [their] next Paper that he shall the next Week publickly acquit himself to their Satisfaction of the scandalous and sacrilegious Acts he is in that Piece charged with.” For the moment, this advertisement did not allow the tale from the previous week to go unanswered. It informed the community, in addition to the printers, that Griffith did not accept the account as presented in the most recent issue. Griffith’s advertisement also made the case that the printers must allow him a more extensive answer, not as an advertisement at his own expense but as a news item, not unlike the “scandalous anonimous Piece.” Perhaps Griffith also believed that by ramping up interest in the dispute among readers that the printers would be more likely to publish his rebuttal.

The next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, did not feature any items signed by Griffith, neither as news items or advertisements. Griffith may have agonized too long over his response to submit it in time for publication. The issue did include a anonymous piece addressed “To the PRINTERS” that expounded on fourteen “RULES AGAINST SLANDER.” Perhaps Griffith submitted those rules to lay the groundwork for his own response. Perhaps the printers, disappointed not to have Griffith’s response in hand, inserted the “RULES AGAINST SLANDER” themselves as a means of keeping the controversy fresh and encouraging readers to look for more developments in subsequent issues. Perhaps other members of the community, disgusted by the entire exchange, took it upon themselves to provide their own commentary about how to treat one another.

The plot thickened two weeks after Griffith’s advertisement appeared in the July 8 edition. A response from Griffith attributed the “cruel Piece” to “the circumstantial Evidence known to all the Inhabitants of Hampton, to have the Character of as infamous a Liar, as ever existed on this Globe, the scandalous Author of the defamatory Piece, only excepted.” Furthermore, Griffith described the alleged witness as “A Girl who for Ten Dollars more, and another green Gown, may perhaps be induced to swear as roundly & plumply to the Point, as the Author could wish or desire.” Griffith met the attacks against his character with provocative accusations of his own.

Advertisements sometimes entertained colonists because they contained scandal. Runaway wife advertisements, for instance, reflected as poorly on the husbands who placed them as the wives who fled. Sometimes the scandal played out in greater detail when wives or relatives placed responses. In other instances, colonists turned to advertisements to pursue their feuds with rivals they believed had wronged them in some way. News items sometimes presented tabloid accounts of certain people and events, but colonists also made room among the advertisements for a good bit of gossip. On occasion, scandal flowed back and forth between news items and paid notices in eighteenth-century America.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 25, 1768).

“ADVERTISEMENT. From the LONDON GAZETTEER, of March 31.”

On June 4, 1768, the supplement to the New-York Journal carried an advertisement reprinted from the March 31 edition of the London Gazetteer. John Holt included an editorial note that it was “inserted as a Curiosity.” The advertisement promoted “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON, at St. George’s Spaw, at the Dog and Duck in St. George’s Field Southwark,” starting on Easter Monday and continuing “every evening during the summer season” with the exception of Sundays.

Apparently Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, also considered this a “Curiosity” that would entertain their readers. Three weeks later they reprinted the same advertisement in their newspaper. Although printers regularly generated content by reprinting news items and editorials from one newspaper to another throughout the eighteenth century, the attribution practices make it difficult to determine if Goddard and Carter reprinted this curious advertisement after encountering it in the New-York Journal or if they saw the same item in a copy of the London Gazetteer they had obtained and independently chose to reprint the advertisement for the amusement of their readers.

Both the New-York Journal and the Providence Gazette noted that the advertisement originally appeared in the London Gazetteer. In the same supplement, Holt inserted a poem “On JOHN WILKES, Esq; offering himself a Candidate for the County of Middlesex” for readers in New York. He did not indicate the source of the poem, though it did appear with news from London as well as short excerpts from the Public Advertiser and the Public Ledger as well as the London Gazetteer. Holt also reprinted a couplet from the Public Advertiser: “THE Reign of HUMOUR, WIT and SENSE is o’er! / When did it end?—When YORICK was no more.”

Goddard and Carter reprinted both of those items along with two other poems under a heading dated “LONDON, March 29” that further indicated “The following was this morning posted up at the Sun Fire Office, in Cornhill.” This general heading does not make clear whether it applied only to “BRITANNIA to JOHN WILKES, Esq.” or all four poems. A brief explanation accompanied the couplet that also appeared in the New-York Journal. It had been composed “On the Death of Reverend Mr. STERNE, Author of Tristram Shandy, &c.” The novelist had only recently died on March 18, 1768.

Considering that Goddard and Carter published both additional material and information that differed from some of the attributions in Holt’s newspaper, they very well could have made the decision to reprint an interesting advertisement from the London Gazetteer without being influenced by a fellow printer elsewhere in the colonies. Even if Holt’s inclusion of the advertisement in the New-York Journal had inspired them, the further dissemination of it in the Providence Gazette demonstrates that colonists sometimes turned to advertisements for entertainment or amusement. In that manner, advertisements enhanced other content in newspapers by serving purposes other than selling tickets or other goods and services. Either Wolton or the proprietors of St. George’s Spa had paid to insert an advertisement in the London Gazetteer with the intention of attracting audiences. In the end, they entertained readers on the other side of the Atlantic who had no chance of attending the performances. Neither colonial printers nor colonial readers paid anything to Wolton or St. George’s Spa for their entertainment.