October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:30:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 30, 1769).

“VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON.”

Advertising increasingly took on a political valence during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Advertisers made political arguments about which goods and services to purchase, encouraging colonists to support “domestic manufactures” and abide by nonimportation agreements intended to exert economic pressure to achieve political goals. Some advertisements included commentary on current events, blurring the line between advertisements and editorials.

Other advertisements sometimes delivered news to colonists. Consider an advertisement for a pamphlet that appeared in the October 30, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. Patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill announced that they has “Just Published … AN APPEAL TO THE WORLD; OR A VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON,” a pamphlet historians attribute to Sam Adams. The pamphlet included “certain Letters and Memorials, written by Governor Bernard, General Gage, Commodore Hood, the Commissions of the American Board of Customs, and others” as well as “RESOLVES” from “a Meeting of the Town of BOSTON.” The lengthy advertisement concluded with an excerpt “From the APPEAL to the WORLD, Page 33.” Edes and Gill gave prospective customers a preview of the contents of the pamphlet in order to entice them to purchase their own copies.

Even if readers did not buy the pamphlet, the advertisement still delivered news to them. Indeed, it looked much more like a news item than an advertisement, especially given its placement in the October 30 edition of the Boston-Gazette. It appeared on the first page, nestled between news items, spilling over from the first column into the second. Most of the advertising for that issue ran on the third and fourth pages. Edes and Gill exercised their prerogative as printers of the Boston-Gazette to give the advertisement a privileged place in their own newspaper. Yet they were not the only printers to do so. The same advertisement, including the “RESOLVES” and the excerpt from the pamphlet, ran on the first page of the Boston Evening-Post on the same day. It was also nestled between news items and spilled over from one column to the next, while most of the advertising for that newspaper also ran on the third and fourth pages. T. and J. Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, gave the advertisement the same privileged place in their own newspaper, further blurring the line between advertising and news. Even though they were rivals when it came to selling newspapers, they had an affinity when it came to politics. The Fleets used the advertisement to deliver news to their readers while simultaneously presenting an opportunity to become even better informed by purchasing the pamphlet. The worlds of commerce and politics became even more firmly enmeshed as printers and advertisers deployed advertising for partisan purposes during the era of the American Revolution.

September 30

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

Sep 30 - 9:30:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 30, 1769).

“Advertise the said William Hambleton Scholar as a notorious Cheat.”

Advertisement or news article? An item that appeared in the September 30, 2019, edition of the Providence Gazette raises interesting questions about its purpose. Extending half a column, it detailed the activities of William Hambleton Scholar, a confidence man who had defrauded Philip Freeman, Jr., of “Fifty-one Pounds Ten Shillings Sterling” through the sale of “a Bank Bill of England, and two private Bankers Promissory Notes.” All three financial devices were forgeries. It took Freeman some time to learn that was the case. He had purchased the bank bill and promissory notes in May and remitted them to associates in London, only to learn several months later that Giles Loare, “principal Notary of the City of London” declared them “absolute Forgeries.”

In response, officials from the Bank of England “authorized and requested” that Freeman “advertise the said William Hambleton Scholar as a notorious cheat.” They instructed Freeman to act on their behalf to encourage the apprehension of the confidence man. To that end, “[t]he Company of Bankers also request the Publishers of the several News-Papers, through the several Provinces, to publish this Advertisement.” Freeman asserted that the public was “greatly interested in this Affair,” but also warned that Scholar had another fifty bank bills “all struck off of a Copper-Plate, in the neatest Manner, and so near the true ones as to be hardly perceivable.” The narrative of misdeeds concluded with a description of the confidence man, intended to help the public more easily recognize him since “it is uncertain which Way he may travel.”

Was this item a paid notice or a news article? Freeman referred to it as an “Advertisement,” but “advertisement” sometimes meant announcement in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world. It did not necessarily connote that someone paid to have an item inserted in the public prints. The story of Scholar and the forged bank bills appeared almost immediately after news items from New England, though the printer’s advertisement for a journeyman printer appeared between news from Providence and the chronicle of the confidence man’s deception. No paid notices separated the account from the news, yet a paid notice did appear immediately after it. This made it unclear at what point the content of the issue shifted from news to paid notices. The following page featured more news and then about half a dozen paid notices. Perhaps the printer had no expectation of collecting fees for inserting the item in his newspaper, running it as a service to the public. It informed, but also potentially entertained readers who had not been victims of Scholar’s duplicity. That the “Advertisement” interested readers may have been sufficient remuneration for printing it in the Providence Gazette.

August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 8, 1769).

“ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMITLON … are requested … to make Payment.”

Colonists had many opportunities to shape the contents of eighteenth-century newspapers. Printers called on the public to submit “Articles and Letters of Intelligence,” many of them even reiterating this invitation weekly by embedding it in the colophon inserted in every issue (as was the case for William Goddard and the Pennsylvania Chronicle as well as John Carter and the Providence Gazette). Colonists also sent editorials and responses to items they saw published in the newspaper.

Colonists had other opportunities to shape the news beyond submitting editorials and “Letters of Intelligence” for printers to select or discard. Placing advertisements allowed them to distribute important information about local events which printers otherwise would not have incorporated into their newspapers. Consider the advertisements in the August 8, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Several legal notices advised readers of events taking place in Salem and elsewhere in Massachusetts. For many readers, these notices had as much impact on their daily lives as coverage of “the honourable House of Representatives of this Province” gathering to drink toasts on the occasion of “the happy Anniversary of the Birth of our most gracious Sovereign” or the list of resolutions drawn up by “merchants, planters and other inhabitants of South-Carolina” who signed their own nonimportation agreement in late July.

One legal notice advised, “ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMILTON, late of Salem, Merchant, deceased, are requested, without Delay, to make Payment of the Sums, respectively due, to Archibald Wilson, … Administrator of said Estate.” Those who did not settle accounts with Wilson could expect to suffer the consequences. The administrator stated that they would be “sued immediately” if they did not comply. Coverage of colonial legislators drinking toasts to “The KING, QUEEN, and ROYAL FAMILY” and “The Restoration of Harmony between Great Britain and the Colonies” gave readers a sense of the current political landscape in their colony. News of residents of Charleston adopting their own nonimportation agreement similar to those already in place in Boston and New York contributed made readers better informed about the intersection of commerce and politics throughout the colonies. Yet Archibald Wilson threatening to sue anyone indebted to the estate of Arthur Hamilton would have had the most immediate and consequential impact on some households that received the Essex Gazette.

Colonists could not dismiss the portion of newspapers devoted to advertising as ancillary; instead, they had to read both the items selected by the printer and advertisements submitted by fellow colonists in order to become aware of all “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic” promised in the masthead of the Essex Gazette and so many other eighteenth-century newspapers.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 29, 1769).

“I hereby forewarn all Persons against trusting her on my Account.”

Newspapers printed in colonial America notably carried relatively little local news. As most were published once a week, printers realized that much of the local news of consequence spread via word of mouth between issues. Accordingly, they reserved space in their newspapers for printing news from other colonies, the Caribbean, Europe, and other places. This often involved reprinting items from other newspapers, organizing the contents such that news from the farthest away appeared first. Consider the July 29, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. The masthead proclaimed that it carried “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.” It included news from London (reprinted from the London Gazette), followed by news from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Newport, and Providence. The final page, usually reserved for advertising, carried more news from Boston and Philadelphia as well as a brief update from South Carolina. The brigantine Grant had just sailed for London from Charleston, carrying “twenty bales of STAMPED PAPER, which was imported here in the memorable year 1765.”

Although printers and editors ran little local news in colonial newspapers, the advertisements submitted by other colonists did include some of the “freshest Advices” about events that occurred in their own communities. Legal notices, estate notices, and other announcements certainly carried news of interest. Other advertisements advised readers of significant interactions and changing relationships between members of the community. In his advertisement dated “Providence, July 29 1769,” Thomas Lindsey announced that Sarah, his wife, “has eloped from my Bed and Board, and otherwise conducted herself in a very unbecoming Manner.” That being the case, Lindsey warned that he would not pay any debts contracted by his wife. This advertisement informed the community of discord in the Lindsey household, which was news as much as gossip. It documented a wife resisting the authority of her husband and the consequences for doing so. The advertisement also delivered important information to shopkeepers, innkeepers, and others who might consider doing business with a woman who was so exasperated with her husband that she saw no alternative except to remove herself from his authority. Readers who knew more of the backstory than the advertisement revealed may have extended aid despite the husband’s indignant warning.

Which piece of news had greater relevance to readers of the Providence Gazette, a note about stamped paper being returned to England several years after the repeal of the Stamp Act or a notice about evolving personal and financial relationships in the Lindsey household contained in an advertisement? Each touched on aspects of colonial life and culture. Each delivered information that helped readers better understand the society in which they lived. For those who interacted with the Lindsey family, news of Sarah leaving Thomas was as momentous in their daily lives as learning about continued resistance to all sorts of new legislation from Parliament. Purchasing advertising space gave colonists other than printers and editors an opportunity to deliver and shape the news that appeared in the public prints.

May 15

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

May 15 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 15, 1769).

“In August last an Agreement was made not to import any Goods from Great-Britain.”

This notice appeared in the May 15, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly MercuryBy Order of the Committee of Merchants in New-York.” The same notice appeared four days earlier in the New-York Journal. Just as “Merchants & Traders” in Boston had been reminding the public about nonimportation agreements and assessing compliance with their resolutions, so did their counterparts in New York. The committee provided a brief overview: “in August last an Agreement was made not to import any Good from Great-Britain (a few Articles excepted) that should be shipt after the first of November, until an Act of Parliament laying Duties on Paper, Glass, &c. for raising a Revenue here should be repealed.” Furthermore, any goods that arrived “contrary to the Agreement” were to be placed in a “public store” and not be offered for sale until such time that the nonimportation agreement came to an end. Those who did not comply “should be deemed Enemies to this Country.” Notably, this notice did not excoriate women as dangerous consumers of imported goods, as so many editorials tended to do, but instead imbued them with considerable political power in making choices about which goods to purchase and which purveyors to patronize.

The placement of this notice in both the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury makes it impossible to determine whether the printers included it as an editorial or as a paid advertisement. In the New-York Journal, it ran almost immediately after a short section devoted to news about the colony. A brief auction notice appeared between the two. Otherwise, the notice from the Committee of Merchants inaugurated the portion of that edition devoted to advertising. In the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the notice from the Committee of Merchants also appeared almost immediately after news from the colony, again with one advertisement about an auction preceding it. In this case, however, this meant that the notice from the Committee of Merchants appeared at the top of the column that launched the advertisements for the issue, making it much more visible than if it ran right after news from the colony at the bottom of the previous column. In both cases, the notice from the Committee of Merchants provided context and set the tone for reading the other advertisements, especially those that marketed consumer goods. The notice served as a bridge between the news delivered in the first pages and the advertising in the final pages. In that regard, whether it was a paid notice mattered not nearly as much as how the printers deployed it in their respective newspapers.

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.

February 11

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

Providence Gazette (February 11, 1769).

“Great Inconveniences having arisen to the Public, by returning Letters for the Postage.”

The February 11, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette carried a notice from the General Post Office in New York dated January 20. It announced that “the Mail for Falmouth will be made up at this Office on Saturday the 4th of February next.” Although that date had already passed, the notice remained relevant to readers in Providence and throughout the colonies as it further explained that mail intended for the other side of the Atlantic “will continue to be made up in the same Manner upon the first Saturday in every Month, and the Packet Boat ordered to sail with it the next day.” At the command of the Deputy Postmaster General, James Parker communicated other instructions and advice to those who sent letters “to any Part of His Majesty’s Dominions, either in Europe or America” and beyond.

Was this piece an advertisement or a news item? Did John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette receive payment for inserting it in his newspaper? Or did he run it as a public service to his subscribers and other readers? The placement of the notice within the newspaper makes it difficult to determine if Carter classified it as news or advertising. It ran in the final column on the third page, after news items from Savannah, Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, New Haven, Boston, and Providence yet before the prices current from New York. Lines that extended across the column separated the notice from the items above and below, whereas a shorter line that extended across only a portion of the column separated the various news items from other cities and towns. Paid notices comprised almost the entire fourth page, except for the first item, an “Extract [about sows that] may be acceptable to many of our Country Readers.” While the notice from the General Post Office might have appeared in the place of the extract, the latter was many lines longer. The compositor may have made choices about where to place the two items within the newspaper based on their relative lengths. Although advertisements generally appeared after other content in the Providence Gazette, the compositor did sometimes take such liberties for practical purposes.

Whether or not Carter received payment for running the notice concerning the General Post Office, the item served as both news and advertising. Its placement made it a bridge between items that were definitely news and other items that were definitely paid notices. Its contents underscore that advertisements often delivered valuable information to colonial readers. For instance, the Providence Engine Company placed the final notice in the February 11 issue. In it, the Company informed residents of the city to prepare their fire buckets for inspection or else they could “depend on being prosecuted as the Law directs.” Like the notice from the General Post Office, that one blurred the distinction between news and advertising.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:17:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (August 17, 1767).

“I … am of Opinion that they may be serviceable in many Disorders, if properly used.”

These items from the August 17, 1767, edition of the Boston Evening-Post blurred the lines between advertising and news content. The proprietor of “JACKSON’s Mineral Well in Boston” had previously advertised the spa in other newspapers. The “RULES” for the establishment, including the hours and rates, appeared in an advertisement on the final page of the issue that carried these announcements, easily identified as an advertisement among more than a score of other advertisements. These announcements, on the other hand, occupied a more liminal space on the third page, at the transition between the news content and advertising in the issue.

The notices had the appearance of news. They followed immediately after an extract from a “Letter from a Gentleman in London” and news from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but they preceded James McMaster’s advertisement for “A general Assortment of Scotch and English Goods” and the advertising that accounted for the remainder of the issue. In particular, the item by James Lloyd resembled a letter submitted to the newspaper rather than an advertisement. Lloyd sought to rectify an incorrect report that he described “Mr. Jackson’s mineral Spring” as being “of a noxious Quality.” Furthermore, he so wholly approved of the waters that he “recommended the Use of them” to his patients afflicted with various disorders. Was this news or an endorsement? The other item contained information that might have been considered general interest but did not explicitly address potential patrons.

Were these pieces local news items the editor selected as a service to readers? Or were they puff pieces and product placements that the proprietor of the “Mineral Well” had arranged to have printed in such close proximity to the news as to make them appear as though they came from a source that did not stand to generate revenue from inciting clients to visit the spa? If they were indeed advertisements, they could have been combined with verifiable advertisement printed on the following page.

Aug 17 - 8:17:1767 Page 3 of Boston Evening-Post
Third Page of Boston Evening-Post (August 17, 1767).