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first of November, until an Act of Parliament laying Duties on Paper, Glass, &c. for raising a Revenue here should be repealed.”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).