February 15

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

Boston-Gazette (February 15, 1773).

“THE Persons who may incline to purchase PATTY HALL’s House … need not be afraid of the Neighbours.”

The feud between Patty Hall and her neighbors continued in the advertisements in the February 15, 1773, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  The altercation first appeared in the public prints when Hall placed a notice offering her house for sale in the February 1 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  She noted that her neighbors made “a great Bustle” in court about “a Piece of Land” associated with the property, but then “dropt the Matter.”  That being the case, she assured “Any Person that inclines to Purchase, may depend that a good Title will be given.”  Hall also accused her neighbors of various acts of vandalism and intimidation, including throwing stones at her.

Hall’s neighbors apparently read or heard about the advertisement.  They did not wait a week to respond in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette.  Instead, they placed notices in the next newspapers published in town, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy on February 4.  Hall’s neighbors sarcastically mentioned the “Politeness” accorded to them before clarifying that the matter had moved to another court and requesting that public “suspend their Judgment” until “Evidences on both Sides are properly examined.”  They also inserted their advertisement in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette on February 8, a week after Hall’s original notice.  It ran immediately above a response from Hall.  She described additional harassment she claimed that she experienced from her neighbors.

Having set the record straight once already, Hall’s neighbors did not feel the need to rush to publish a response to Hall’s latest advertisement.  Instead, they waited for the next edition of the Boston-Gazette on February 15.  In what they framed as a letter to the editors, Hall’s neighbors assured anyone “who may incline to purchase PATTY HALL’s House – with such a Title as she can give – need not be afraid of the Neighbours.”  They asserted that knocking at all hours and other alleged torments “were never heard by the Neighbours” and concluded that “it was all done within Doors.”  That being the case, they declared, Hall was in the best position to identify the real culprits.  Her neighbors recommended that if anyone who purchased the house wished to avoid such intrusions that they “need not keep the same Company” as Hall.

Edes and Gill, the printers of the Boston-Gazette, may have enjoyed the argument between Hall and her neighbors.  They almost certainly appreciated the revenue that their advertisements generated.  In publishing those advertisements, Edes and Gill and the printers of other newspapers abdicated a small amount of editorial control to those who paid to purchase space in their publications.  The advertisements carried news, of a sort, that would not have appeared among the articles and editorials that the printers selected to include elsewhere in their newspapers.  Hall and her neighbors could have relied on rumors and gossip to malign each other, but they realized that advertisements gave them a much larger audience for presenting their grievances to the court of public opinion.

February 8

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

Boston-Gazette (February 8, 1773).

“MRS. HALL is sensible that the Advertisement in Thursday’s Papers was intended to injure her in the Sale of her House.”

The feud between Patty Hall and her neighbors continued to move back and forth between newspapers.  It began when Hall inserted a notice in the February 1, 1773, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  She accused five of her neighbors of conspiring to drive her out of her house on Hanover Street by making spurious claims in court before dropping the matter and simultaneously vandalizing the house and even throwing stones at her as she passed through her year.  Hall did not give any reason that her neighbors felt such enmity, but she did declare that she could give “a good Title” to anyone who purchased the house.

Rather than waiting a week to respond in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette, Hall’s neighbors inserted a response in the February 4 editions of both the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy.  They described themselves as “THE PERSONS mentioned with so much Politeness by Mrs. HALL in her Advertisement” and directed readers to “See Edes and Gill’s last Gazette.”  They advised that the “Conduct of both Parties” would become apparent, “either to their Honor or Disgrace,” upon more extensive examination.  In other words, they cautioned readers not to believe everything that Hall put into print.  At the same time, they warned against trusting the title that Hall offered “until the same shall be determined in a due Course of Law,” clarifying that they had not dropped the case, as Hall indicated, but instead moved it to another court.

Hall had at least one thing in common with her neighbors.  She did not wait to respond in the same newspaper that carried their notice.  She did not allow them that much time to frame the narrative.  Instead, she once again published an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, this time in the February 8 edition.  Her neighbors apparently decided to insert their advertisement in that newspaper as well.  The compositor conveniently combined the two notices into a single advertisement that told a story for readers.  The format, a short line instead of a full line separating the two notices, allows the possibility that Hall reprinted the advertisement to provide context for her response, but her reference to suspending further advertisements because she had “no Money to trifle with” suggests that she would not have taken on the expense of reprinting an advertisement she found so objectionable.

She certainly meant to acknowledge that “the Advertisement in Thursday’s Papers was intended to injure her in the Sale of her House.”  She intentionally misunderstood the “Compliment to her Politeness,” stressing that she “least intended” any pleasantries because she “knew to whom she was speaking, and chose to address them in a Language they understood.”  She adamantly asserted that she had “no Notion of treating Persons politely” when she suspected them of perpetrating the “dirty Actions” she described in her first advertisements as well as “daubing her Yard and Doors with the most nauseous Filth, beating at her Shutters with Axes and Clubs, and disturbing her with repeated Noises at all Hours of the Night.”  She lamented that she gave her neighbors “no other Provocation” except her “Refusal to cut down Part of her House” until a court determined the true ownership of the land that portion of the dwelling occupied.  Hall claimed that she welcomed a court decision because she was confident that it “will do her Justice, and act without Partiality.”  Beyond the courts, she continued to use the public prints to excoriate her neighbors for their malicious behavior.

Both Hall and her neighbors expected that the public engaged with their version of events across multiple publications and through discussing what they read in one newspaper or another or what their acquaintances told them they had read or heard.  As the adversaries waited for a legal decision from the court, they pursued another sort of vindication in the court of public opinion.

February 4

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 4, 1773).

“The Conduct of the Parties from first to last will best appear … when the Evidences on both Sides are properly examined.”

Printers selected which items appeared among the news and editorials in their newspapers, yet colonizers exercised some amount of editorial authority when they published news in the form of advertisements.  Consider and exchange between Patty Hall and her neighbors in two newspapers published in Boston in the first week of February 1773.

Hall initiated the exchange with an advertisement in the February 1 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Placing the notice for the purpose of selling a house, Hall seized the opportunity to name several of her neighbors and report that they “made a Complaint to the Selectmen, about a Piece of Land; and they laid it before the Grand Jury; and after making a great Bustle, dropt the Matter.”  The matter being settled, Hall declared that the purchaser “may depend that a good Title will be given.”  According to Hall, that was only the beginning of the trouble she supposedly had with her neighbors.  She claimed that at the same time she “had her Windows broke, Spouts tore down, the Drane stopt,and frequently Stones thrown at all Parts of the House.”  To make matters even worse, she “very nearly escap’d a great Stone thrown at her passing thro’ the Yard.”  She suspected that her neighbors were directly responsible or “employ somebody to do it” and offered a reward to anyone “that will apprehend the Person or Persons concern’d.”

Boston-Gazette (February 1, 1773).

The neighbors that Hall named – “Constable Hale, James Bailey, Samuel Sloan, Retailer, Elizabeth Clarke and Nowell, and Deacon Barrett” – objected to the version of events that Hall published in the Boston-Gazette.  Rather than wait a week to make their rebuttal in the next edition of that newspaper, they inserted their own notice in both the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy just three days later.  They identified themselves as “THE PERSON mentioned with so much Politeness by Mrs. HALL in her advertisement, *” and directed readers to “* See Edes and Gill’s last Gazette.”  They offered clarifications about the outcome of the “Bustle” in court, stating that when Hall “gave Notice that the Matter was dropt, she should have added,—  “in order to be taken up at another Court.’”  Unlike Hall, the neighbors considered the matter far from settled.  They encouraged others “to suspend their Judgment both as to the Merits of the Cause and the Title … until the same shall be determined in a due course of law.”  As for the other allegations made by Hall, her neighbors implied that she fabricated the story.  “The Conduct of the Parties from first to last will best appear, either to their Honor or Disgrace,” they asserted, “when the Evidences on both Sides are properly examined.”  In refusing the dignify Hall’s allegations with any more of a response, her neighbors suggested they had no merit.

Hall wished to frame the narrative of her troubles with her neighbors.  Purchasing a paid notice in one of the local newspapers allowed her to do so.  Similarly, those neighbors also bought advertising space to tell their side of the story.  This allowed both parties to bypass the printer-editors of the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, and the Massachusetts Spy to determine for themselves what kind of content the public read or heard about as colonizers discussed the altercation that appeared among newspaper advertisements that delivered all kinds of local news.

January 18

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

Pennsylvania Packet (January 18, 1773).


In January 1773, John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, announced that An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-Keeping, a work attributed to Benjamin Rush, was “Just published” and available for sale.  Dunlap leveraged his access to the press to give the announcement special prominence in his newspaper, treating it as an editorial rather than an advertisement.

Consider how Dunlap organized the contents of the January 18, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet and the supplement that accompanied it.  In the standard issue, news items and editorials appeared on the first two pages, followed by advertising on the last two pages.  Similarly, the two-page supplement began with two columns of news and the remainder of the content consisted of advertising.  Dunlap’s announcement masqueraded as an editorial that ran in the first column of the second page and overflowed into the next column, followed by news from London, Newport, New York, and Philadelphia.  The printer inserted an excerpt from the pamphlet, hoping to entice readers to want more and purchase their own copies.  In giving prospective customers an overview of the essay, Dunlap noted that the “Author of the above Address after having showed the inconsistency of Slave-keeping with the principles of humanity – justice – good policy and religion; concludes as follows.”  After reading that conclusion, prospective customers could acquire the pamphlet and examine the various arguments about humanity, justice, good policy, and religion for themselves.  In treating this announcement as an editorial or news item, Dunlap adopted a strategy sometimes deployed by other printers to promote books and pamphlets they published.

Whatever the conclusions reached in the Address … upon Slave-Keeping, Dunlap apparently did not find them sufficiently convincing to alter his policies concerning the kinds of advertising that he printed in the Pennsylvania Packet.  Two advertisements about enslaved people appeared on the facing page, one offering a “HEALTHY country bred NEGRO LAD” for sale and the other seeking to hire a “SMART, active WHITE or NEGRO BOY … to wait on table and go on errands.”  Candidates for that position included enslaved youths who did the work while their enslavers received the wages.  An advertisement in the supplement described a “Negro Fellow named LONDON” who liberated himself by running away from his enslaver in Baltimore and offered a reward for his capture and return.  Even as Dunlap treated the conclusion of the Address … upon Slave-Keeping as an editorial intended to arouse interest in a pamphlet he sold, he generated revenue by printing and disseminating advertisements that perpetuated slavery.

December 28

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

Boston-Gazette (December 28, 1772).

“The only true and correct ALMANACKS from my Copy, are those printed by R. Draper, Edes & Gill, and T. & [J.] Fleet.”

As 1772 came to an end and the new year approached, Richard Draper, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet continued their efforts to direct prospective customers to the edition of Nathaniel Ames’s almanac for 1773 that they collaboratively printed and sold.  The final issues of the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy for 1772 once again carried advertisements with a note from the almanac’s author that warned against counterfeit editions and proclaimed that the “only true and correct ALMANACKS from my Copy, are those printed by R. Draper, Edes & Gill, and T. & [J.] Fleet.”

None of those newspapers featured the extended version that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on December 24.  The Fleets even ran a streamlined version in the Boston Evening-Post, eliminated the introductory lines that declared “THIS DAY IS PUBLISHED, And TO BE SOLD by R. DRAPER, T. & J. FLEET, and EDES & GILL” as well as the final lines that advised “Purchasers, especially by the Quantity, are requested to be particular in enquiring whether they are printed by the above Printers, of whom ALMANACKS may be had at the cheapest Rate.”

The version of the advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy remained unchanged, as did the version in the Boston-Gazette.  Edes and Gill did not include any fanfare about “JUST PUBLISHED” the first time they inserted the note from Ames in the Boston-Gazette.  They positioned that note just below local news, implying that it was just as much a piece of newsworthy information as an advertisement for an item they sold.  Those printers pursued a similar strategy the next time they ran the notice.  This time it did not serve as a transition from news to advertising.  Instead, it was the only advertisement that appeared on second page of the December 28 edition of the Boston-Gazette, running immediately below news from Warsaw.  That made it even more likely that anyone carefully perusing the news would encounter the notice from the printers.  Taking advantage of their access to the press to shape how information was disseminated to reader-consumers, Edes and Gill continued their practice of treating counterfeit almanacs that competed with their “true and correct” almanacs as news the community needed to know.  As part of their marketing efforts, they used the placement of the notice on the page to enhance their insinuation that consumers had a duty to choose the “true and correct” copies over any counterfeits.

October 24

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

Providence Gazette (October 24, 1772).

“WEST’s ALMANACK … is now in the Press.”

Where advertisements appeared in colonial newspapers varied from publication.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, placing news items on the front and interior pages.  Others placed advertisements on the first and last pages since those were the first pages printed when producing a standard four-page edition.  Advertisements, which often repeated for multiple weeks, could be set in type and printed first, saving the second and third pages for the latest news that arrived in the printing office.  In some instances, printers distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing paid notices in the rightmost column on each page.

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, consistently placed advertising at the end of the newspaper.  Paid notices usually filled the final page, though sometimes news items ran in the upper left corner.  The third page often had advertising that appeared to the right of the news.  In general, Carter printed news and editorials in the first two pages.

That made the placement of an announcement about “WEST’s ALMANACK, for the Year of our Lord 1773, with some valuable Improvements and Additions” all the more noteworthy for its placement in the October 24, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Rather than appearing among the advertisements or even as the first of the advertisements, the notice ran on the third page, immediately below local news from Providence and above shipping news from the customs house, a regular news feature.  The first advertisements in the issue appeared lower in the column.  The notice about the almanac, authored by Benjamin West in an annual collaboration with the printer of the Providence Gazette, declared that it was “now in the Press, and will be speedily published by the Printer hereof.”  The notice appeared in larger type than the news above and below it, helping to draw attention to it.

Given his interest in the success of the almanac, Carter treated the notice about its publication as a news item.  In so doing, he exercised his prerogative as the printer of the newspaper to give the notice a privileged place, separate from other advertisements.  The following week, Carter inserted an advertisement to inform prospective customers that he “Just PUBLISHED” the almanac, placing it first among the advertisement in that issue.  In both his initial effort to incite interest and his subsequent attempt to market the almanac, Carter took advantage of his access to the press to increase the likelihood that consumers saw his notices.

September 5

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (September 5, 1772).

“Lemuel Gustine, who was committed on Suspicion of counterfeiting New-York Money.”

Advertisements in colonial newspapers often delivered news to readers, supplementing the news that printers selected to appear elsewhere in their publications.  Colonizers who perused the September 5, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, learned of the death of Joshua Spooner, “late of Providence, Carpenter,” in an estate notice placed by John Smith.  They also found details about lotteries approved by the General Assembly for the purposes of raising funds “to build a Town Wharff in Warwick” and “for the repairing the Meeting House in the Town of Barrington; and also for the purchasing and opening some Highways in said Town.”  Another advertisement informed readers that Peter Heynes, “SCHOOLMASTER from DUBLIN,” planned to open an evening school with a term that ran from October 10 through April 10.

Advertisements also delivered news about crimes and their perpetrators.  Paul Tew, the sheriff, ran an advertisement about Lemuel Gustine, who had been committed to “his Majesty’s Goal in Providence … on Suspicion of counterfeiting New-York Money.”  That notice previously appeared in the August 22 and August 29 editions.  Disseminating news in the form of an advertisement had the advantage of keeping it in the public eye for longer durations.  It also reached readers who only occasionally perused newspapers and might have missed an article that ran only once in an issue they did not read.  Tew described Gustine, noting both the clothing he wore at the time he made his escape and a distinctive “cut on the Forehead in the Cherokee Mode.”  Gustine had been born in Saybrook, Connecticut.  The sheriff suspected that he was headed in that direction.  No matter where Gustine may have been at the time Tew’s advertisement spread the news of his escape from the jail in Providence jail for the third time, readers in Rhode Island, western Connecticut, and southern and central Massachusetts had access to information about his alleged crime, his appearance, and the reward for capturing and returning the fugitive to the sheriff.  Both Tew and the public had an interest in repeatedly disseminating news about criminals via advertisements in colonial newspapers.

July 8

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Newport Mercury (July 8, 1772).


Yesterday I examined instances of advertisements in the Connecticut Courant delivering news to readers.  Notices about burglaries and prisoners who escaped from jails kept communities informed about recent events in their area.  On occasion, advertisements that doubled as news items merited regional coverage through publication in newspapers in several cities and towns.  Such was the case with the “STOP a MURDERER!” advertisements that ran in several newspapers published in New England in June and July 1772.

Elijah Williams, sheriff of Berkshire County in Massachusetts, reported that James Hervey, “a transient person” was suspected of robbing and murdering James Farrel in Stockbridge.  Williams listed the items that Hervey stole and might wear or attempt to sell, including “one pair of large silver shoe-buckles, marked I.F.”  The sheriff also provided a description of Hervey, “about six feet high, about 24 years old, very meanly clothed, of a fair complexion, very light coloured hair, supposed to be an Englishman.”  Williams enlisted the aid of the public in apprehending Hervey, offering a reward to whoever captured him and delivered him to the jail in Berkshire County.

This notice appeared among the advertisements, rather than integrated with news items, in several newspapers, including the July 3 edition of the New-London Gazette, the July 4 edition of the Providence Gazette, and the July 6 edition of the Newport Mercury.  Only Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, gave the notice a privileged place that suggested they considered it news as well as an advertisement.  They inserted the notice as the first item in the first column on the first page.  In combination with the headline, that increased the likelihood that readers would take note.  European news that arrived via ships from London and Bristol appeared immediately below.  In contrast, advertisements of various sorts surrounded the “STOP a MURDERER!” advertisement in other publications.  Still, the headline likely drew attention, especially considering that colonizers were accustomed to active reading as they navigated the dense text that filled eighteenth-century newspapers.

July 7

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

Connecticut Courant (July 7, 1772).

“The County Goal in this Place was broke up.”

Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, typically placed news items on the first pages of his newspaper and advertisements on the final pages.  Not every colonial printer did so.  Some dispersed paid notices throughout their newspapers, even placing advertisements on the first page.  Watson sometimes included advertisements in the final column of the second page, as he did in the July 7, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant, before continuing with additional news items on the third page and devoting the final page to advertisements.  As a general rule, only news items ran on the first page and only paid notice and the “POETS CORNER” appeared on the last page.

That did not mean, however, that readers did not encounter news when they perused the last page.  Among the advertisements for consumer goods and services in the July 7 issue, for instance, one advertisement featured a prominent headline that advised the public to “Take Notice!”  It described three men who recently escaped from the county jail.  Ely Warner, the jailer, offered rewards for the capture and return of Elisha Wadsworth of Hartford, “confined for Debt,” Abraham Curtiss of Suffield, “committed for Debt,” and John Grant, “a transient Person, committed for Burglary.”  Another advertisement had a dramatic headline that alerted readers to a “BURGLARY!”  Benjamin Sedgwick of Canaan reported that his shop “was broke open” and several items stolen on June 26.  He offered a reward for apprehending the thief and the stolen merchandise.  In another advertisement, Lynde Lord alerted the public that “noted Burglarian John Brown, who was under Sentence of Death for House breaking,” escaped from the jail in Litchfield sometime during the night of June 14.  Readers could easily recognize him since previous punishments included cropping his ears and branding.

Several of the advertisements in the Connecticut Courant delivered news, much of it more immediately relevant to residents of central Connecticut than stories reprinted from London, Philadelphia, and Boston.  When they paid to insert notices, advertisers acquired limited responsibilities as editors and journalists who aided in keeping their communities informed about local events.

May 28

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Journal (May 28, 1772).

“CATHERINE DESSENER … came and stole away said boy.”

Beyond the articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in eighteenth-century newspapers, advertisements often relayed news, gossip, or a combination of the two.  In a notice that ran in the May 28, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Thomas King relayed the story of a child that he had sheltered for more than five years and the child’s mother who “stole away said boy.”  Like advertisements about wives who “eloped” from their husbands, apprentices and indentured servants who ran away from their masters, and enslaved people who liberated themselves from their enslavers, King’s notice relayed the perspective of the advertisers and included only the details he chose to share with readers.  The mother, Catherine Dessener, might have given quite a different account had she placed her own advertisement.

According to King, Dessener left her son, Johannes, with him when the child was “only ten weeks old.”  Over the course of the next five and a half years, Dessener “made no satisfaction for [King’s] trouble of maintaining her child.”  King did not specify the details of any agreement he and Dessener reached when he agreed to shelter Johannes or how often he and the child had contact with Dessener while Johannes resided in his household.  He did warn others “not to take an indenture on said child, or entertain him at their peril.”  He might have been worried about Dessener earning the trust of another colonizer and then absconding with Johannes again … or he might have already had a claim on the child as an apprentice or servant when he reached an appropriate age.  King did not address issues that could have prompted Dessener to flee with her child, such as the quality of the food, clothing and shelter he provided or the treatment the child received in the King household.

King presented a straightforward story of a generous patriarch who welcomed a child of little means into his home, only to have the mother take advantage of the situation for years.  Whether or not that was accurate, King’s version framed the narrative for the public.  Dessener and her friends and relations may have circulated an alternative account via word of mouth, but they did not have the benefit of the power of the press that King purchased when he paid to place an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal.