What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Two LIGHT-HOUSES on Thatcher’s Island for the Safety of Navigation.”
Advertisements in colonial newspapers often carried important news that supplemented the contents that appeared elsewhere. Consider, for example, an advertisement that first ran in the Essex Gazette on December 31, 1771, and then continued to appear in subsequent issues in 1772. “WHeras the Government having at their own Charge erected Two LIGHT-HOUSES on Thatcher’s Island for the Safety of Navigation,” the advertisement informed readers, “This is to give Notice, that said LIGHT-HOUSES are finished.” Furthermore, “the LAMPS in said HOUSES have been light ever since the 21st of this Month.” According to the National Park Service, “The original towers [constructed in 1771] were replaced by the present 124-foot tall, twin granite towers in 1861.” Now known as the Cape Ann Light Station, those towers are a distinctive site (and sight!) in the region.
The National Park Service also explains that Thacher Island, located about a mile offshore from Rockport, Massachusetts, gained its name “when the General Court granted it to Anthony Thacher in 1636-1637.” Thacher and his wife were the sole survivors of a shipwreck near the island in 1635. Over the next four decades, several other shipwrecks occurred in the area, prompting the Massachusetts colonial government to purchase the island with the intention of establishing a light station. Only nine lighthouses operated in North America prior to the twin lights on Thacher Island. The two towers made the site easy for mariners to identify. The other lighthouses guided ships to entrances to harbors, making these lights the first to mark a hazardous location. As the advertisement in the Essex Gazette noted, they contributed to “the Safety of Navigation.” They were also the last lighthouses built before the colonies declared independence.
Readers of the Essex Gazette may very well have been aware of the construction of the lights on Thacher Island, but this advertisement confirmed for the entire community that the project had been completed and the lights now lit. In addition, printers and merchants participated in extensive networks for exchanging newspapers and the information contained in them. An advertisement in the Essex Gazette, the newspaper printed closest to the location of the new lighthouses, almost certainly helped in disseminating news that the lights on Thacher Island now warned vessels of treacherous waters.