August 17

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

Connecticut Courant (August 17, 1773).

“Ruth, the Wife of me the subscriber threatens to run me in debt.”

Colonizers placed newspaper advertisements for a variety of purposes.  In many ways, their paid notices served as an extension of local news coverage, though in such instances the advertisers rather than the printers made editorial decisions about the information disseminated to readers.  Consider the August 17, 1773, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  An advertisement for the “SAY-BROOK BARR LOTTERY,” held for the purpose of “fixing Buoys and other Marks on an near Say-brook Barr at the Mouth of Connecticut River” to “render the Navigation into and out of said River, both safe and easy,” informed the public about where to buy tickets and when the drawing would be held.  Another advertisement described a horse “Stray’d or stolen out of the pasture of Martin Smith” and offered a reward for its return.  In yet another advertisement, Samuel Russel, “Sheriffs Deputy,” warned that Solomon Bill, “who the greater part of his life has been strongly suspected to be concern’d in counterfeiting money,” had escaped before his trial and offered a reward for his capture.

Other advertisements testified to marital discord in local homes, likely overlapping with the gossip that both men and women shared as they went about their daily routines.  Moses Phelps declared that his wife, Ruth, “threatens to run me in debt.”  Accordingly, he ran his advertisement “to forbid all persons trusting her on my account, as I will pay no debt contracted by her.”  Unable to exercise his patriarchal authority at home, Moses resorted to the public prints to try to compel his wife to behave in a manner he considered appropriate.  Cornelias Flowers, Jr., did so as well, stating that throughout his marriage to Mary that she “behaved herself in a very unbecoming manner, and has injured me in the most tender part.”  No doubt some readers gossiped and speculated about the particulars of what happened between Cornelias and Mary.  Utilizing the same formulaic language as Moses Phelps, Cornelias stated that Mary “intends to run me in debt” and instructed “all persons not to trust her on my account, for I will pay no debt she shall contract.”

Such news may not have been as momentous as some of the accounts from London, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, and other places that the printer chose to include elsewhere in that issue of the Connecticut Courant, but, for many colonizers, it likely had just as much impact on their daily lives.  News of a notorious counterfeiter at large in the colony, a lottery to improve navigation of a river important to local commerce, and troubled marriages spread by word of mouth, yet the inclusion of these items among newspaper advertisements helped raise awareness and keep conversations about them flowing.

October 10

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

Providence Gazette (October 10, 1772).

“The Shop of Holden and Grainger, Taylors, was broke open.”

Advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers sometimes served as precursors to police blotters that recorded crimes in later centuries.  In particular, they most often provided details about burglaries, in part because the victims offered rewards for the return of stolen goods and the conviction of the culprits.

Two burglaries occurred in Providence on the night of September 22, 1772.  Perhaps the same “Thief or Thieves” perpetrated both crimes.  William Barton reported his shop “was broke open, and robbed of … five new Beaver Hats, not coloured; one second handed Hat, cut in the new Fashion; and one Cloth coloured Surtout, with Basket Buttons.”  Similarly, tailors Holden and Grainger declared that their shop “was broke open” and an even greater array of items taken.  The details that the tailors provided would have made it easy to identify the stolen goods, including “one Suit of Claret coloured Broadcloth, not finished, the Lining nearly of the same Colour, with Leather Pockets, a Pocket in the Lining of the left Forebody, having Gold Basket Buttons, and Gold Knee-straps, the Breeches not lined” and “a light grey Broadcloth lapelled Jacket, with Basket Buttons of the same Colour, partly worn, having new Lining to the Skirts, and Tow-cloth Pockets.”  Holden and Grainger also stated that “the same Shop was broke open” near the end of August.  Unfortunately for Barton, that had been the case for his shop as well.  The “Thief or Thieves” may have kept some or all of the stolen items for themselves, but they more likely fenced them.  The articles then entered what Serena Zabin has called an “informal economy” that made participating in the consumer revolution more accessible to the lower sorts – free, indentured, and enslaved – who did not have the means to purchase new goods directly from shopkeepers who retailed them or artisans who produced them.

Barton offered a reward of fifteen dollars for apprehending the burglars or five dollars for recovering the stolen articles.  Similarly, Holden and Grainger promised twelve dollars to “Whoever apprehends the Thief or Thieves” and six dollars for the stolen items.  They also decided to take advantage of placing their notice in the Providence Gazette by concluding with a nota bene that informed the public that they “have for Sale choice Deer Skins, and ready made Breeches, cheap for Cash or Grain.”  Like many other advertisers, they placed an advertisement with more than one purpose.  As long as they had the public’s attention, they figured they could benefit from promoting their services in addition to seeking assistance in recovering their stolen goods.

June 3

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

Pennsylvania Packet (June 3, 1772).


Readers frequently encountered advertising on the front page of eighteenth-century newspapers.  Printers did not relegate that content to other sections.  Some filled all or most of the front page with advertising, as Hugh Gaine did in the June 1, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Others divided the space between advertising and news. William Goddard devoted the first two columns of the June 1 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advertisements, reserving the third column for news.  John Dunlap, on the other hand, gave priority to news on the front page of the Pennsylvania Packet published that day, but that did not prevent him from including some advertisements.  The first two and a half columns contained news.  Four advertisements filled the remainder of the final column.

Those advertisements delivered news of a different sort.  One notice informed the public that the Polly and Peggy sought passengers and freight for a voyage to Jamaica.  Another let travelers know that Martin Delany opened a tavern “at Appiquimany Bridge (commonly called Cantwell’s Bridge) on the great road from Philadelphia to Dover.”  He encouraged them to lodge there, promising “the best usage,” “a variety of the first wines, [and] spirits,” and “completely refitted” stables.  In another advertisement, Robert Mack called on “James Pearce, of George-Town” and “David Foset of Snowhill” to “pay charges” and “take away” Jack and Charles, enslaved men in his custody at the jail in New Castle.  In addition, White and Montgomery reported that “just opened [a] store on the north side of Market-street wharf.”  A note at the bottom of the column advised, “FOR MORE NEW ADVERTISEMENTS SEE THE FOURTH PAGE.”  Dunlap suggested that readers would be just as interested in the information relayed in the paid notices that appeared on the last page as the news from Europe, the shipping news from the custom house, and the prices current in Philadelphia on the second and third pages.

Printers did not adopt uniform practices about where advertisements should appear in relation to other content, though they usually reserved some or all of the final page for paid notices.  Advertisements could appear just about anywhere in the newspaper, including on the front page, with the arrangement within any newspaper changing from week to week. Printers did not classify advertisements as content that could not appear on the front page.  As a result, advertisements often accounted for some of the first news or information that readers encountered when they perused eighteenth-century newspapers.

February 12

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 12, 1771).

“They have entered into Co-partnership, and continue to carry on the FACTORAGE BUSINESS.”

Like many other colonial newspapers, the masthead for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.”  In other words, printers promoted their newspapers by claiming that they delivered accounts of current events as soon as they became available.  Local news appeared quickly, but news from other colonies, Great Britain, Europe, and other distant places took more time to report.  Printers published letters they received from distant correspondents and reprinted items as newspapers arrived from other colonies and London.

In addition to those “freshest Advices,” colonial newspapers also contained significant amounts of advertising.  On occasion, some even seemed as though they were delivery mechanisms for advertisements rather than purveyors of news.  The February 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal provides an extreme example.  It consisted almost entirely of paid notices from the first page to the last.  In the first column immediately below the masthead readers encountered a header for “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.”  Charles Crouch, the printer filled all three columns of the first page with advertisements.  He inserted one column featuring news from Charleston and towns in other colonies, shipping news from the customs house, and a poem to entertain readers on the second page.  Otherwise, advertising constituted the remainder of the second page and the entire third and fourth pages.  Overall, paid notices accounted for eleven of twelve columns in the February 12 edition.

That did not mean, however, that readers did not have access to the “freshest Advices.”  Advertisements delivered a variety of news, especially about local people and events.  One notice published on February 12, for instance, identified colonists who did not appear in court to serve as jurors and would be fined if they did not “make good and sufficient Excuses, upon Oath, for their Non-Attendance.”  Several estate notices informed the public of deaths, accounts to be settled, and real estate and household goods for sale.  One advertisement described enslaved men who liberated themselves, offering rewards for their capture and return while simultaneously encouraging readers to scrutinize all Black men they encountered.  Another notice lamented that “there are many Gentlemen who have Plantations and Negroes in the Parish of St. James, Goose Creek, and no white Man on them, by which Means, the Negroes are enabled to prosecute all Manner of Roguery.”  The advertisement then instructed such offenders to “provide white Men for their respective Plantations” and organize patrols or face legal consequences.  An array of advertisements, including one in which William Gibbes and William Hort offered their services as factors or brokers, kept readers informed about local commerce.  One advertisement in Welsh invited those who could read it to participate in St. David’s Day celebrations.

Crouch did not print many news articles in that particular edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but that did not mean that he neglected to provide readers with valuable information.  The advertisements presented the “freshest Advices” about many local and regional events, keeping readers informed.

January 15

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

Essex Gazette (January 15, 1771).

“A POEM on the Execution of William Shaw.”

True crime!  News of the murder of Edward East circulated widely in New England.  The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter was among the first publications that presented the news to the public.  A short article in its September 27, 1770, edition reported, “We hear from Springfield, that one Edward East, was murthered in the Gaol at that Place, by William Shaw and George French, who wounded him in several Parts, on the 17th of this [month], of which Wounds he died the next Day.”  As was common practice at the time, several newspapers reprinted this news over the course of several weeks.

On October 12, the Connecticut Journal provided updates in a longer story, reporting that a “jury by their verdict declared” Shaw “to be guilty” of murder, “whereupon the sentence of death was passed upon him.”  The execution was scheduled for November 8.  At the same time, the jury did not find enough evidence to convict French as an accomplice but instead “returned a verdict in his favour.”  On November 19, the Boston Evening-Post noted that Shaw’s execution was delayed until December 13, but did not provide an explanation.  The Connecticut Journal reported on Shaw’s execution in its December 18 edition.  “On which solemn occasion,” the editor declared, “an affecting sermon was delivered by the Rev. MOSES BALDWIN … to an audience of many thousands collected from all the adjacent towns as spectators of the awful scene.”  Newspapers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island all reported on the execution.

Advertisements for commemorative items soon appeared as well, including one for “A POEM on the Execution of William Shaw” in the January 7, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  On January 10, an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter promoted another commemorative item, “A SERMON intitled, The Ungodly condemned in Judgment; Preached at Springfield, December 13th 1770.  On Occasion of the Execution of WILLIAM SHAW, for Murder, By MOSES BALDWIN.”  Printers and booksellers in other places also advertised and sold the poem and the sermon.  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette in Salem, for instance, advertised the poem on January 15.  These advertisements helped to deliver news of current events while offering consumers opportunities to learn more.  For those who were not among the “many thousands” who heard the sermon and witnessed the execution, the commemorative items served as a proxy in addition to as supplement for coverage in newspapers.

September 22

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

Providence Gazette (September 22, 1770).

Cutting his throat, and stabbing him in the belly.”

The advertising section of the Providence Gazette in the early 1770s sometimes read like a late nineteenth-century police blotter.  Consider the September 22, 1770, edition.  Among the advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, and one advertisement offering a good price for a flying squirrel, several other advertisements relayed stories of thefts and worse crimes.

The first recorded a theft, its tone suggesting unpleasant consequences for the thief.  An anonymous advertiser suggested that the “Person who took a new Beaver Hat out of the Court-House” on the previous Thursday evening “will do well to leave it” at the printing office for the owner to retrieve.  By doing so, the thief “may thereby prevent the disagreeable Circumstance of a personal Application.”  Whether or not the advertiser actually knew the identity of the thief, he suggested that he did.  The prospect of a “personal Application” suggested retribution for refusing to voluntarily return the hat.

In an advertisement that had already been running for many weeks, Seth Wetmore of Middletown, Connecticut, described how his house “was broke open … by some Person or Persons unknown” at the beginning of July.  The burglars absconded with a variety of clothing and other personal articles.  Wetmore suspected that they may have been the same men who escaped from the jail in New Haven the previous night, John Armstrong and John Galloway, and their accomplice, James Burne.  Wetmore offered a reward for the return of his goods “or the greater Part of them” and the capture of the “Felons” over and above the reward offered by the jailer.

In the most disturbing of these advertisements, Charles Keen of Providence described the depraved acts of “notorious offenders … instigated by the devil.”  An “evil-minded person or persons” had entered his pasture in the dead of night and attempted to kill his horse.  The unfortunate horse had been “peaceably feeding and fettered” when the perpetrators set about “cutting his throat, and stabbing him in the belly, with a large knife, or other weapon.”  The horse initially survived the ordeal, but Keen suspected that he could still die of the wounds.  Keen offered a substantial reward to anybody “who will make such discovery of any person or persons that were guilty of the above wicked act.”

When it came to crime reporting, from a hat nicked at the courthouse to a brutal attack on a horse in the middle of the night, the advertisements in this issue of the Providence Gazette carried far more news than the rest of the newspaper.

January 29

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

Boston Weekly News-Letter (January 26, 1769).

“Sundry stolen Goods.”

News did not appear solely among the news items in eighteenth-century newspapers. Instead, several sorts of advertisements, including legal notices and estate notices, frequently covered the news, making readers aware of recent events in their communities and beyond. Advertisements concerning stolen goods also relayed news to readers. The last two advertisements in the January 26, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter did just that.

The first reported that on January 6 “sundry stolen Goods, the Property of Joshua Winslow & Son and John Rowe,” had been found concealed in the home of Thomas Vickers. In the wake of that discovery, Vickers had fled. The remainder of the advertisement, placed by Rowe, offered a description of his physical appearance and clothing. Rowe suggested that Vickers might try to escape Boston “on board some foreign bound Vessel,” alerting mariners and others to keep their eyes open for him on the docks. Rowe offered a reward to anyone who apprehended Vickers and presented him to Edmund Quincy, “Justice of Peace in Boston.”

The second advertisement also told the story of a theft, but this one perpetrated “by some evil-minded Person or Persons yet unknown.” Rather than a description of the thief, it provided descriptions of the items stolen from onboard the sloop “Wilkes, William Campbell, Master,” on January 9. The stolen goods included “One Piece check Linnen narrow strip’d, 32 Yards,” “Three Dozen Pair dark speckled Hose,” and “A Suit blue Broad-Cloth Cloaths, Waistcoast and Breeches.” Campbell hoped that descriptions of the goods would aid in capturing the thief as well as recovering the property he had lost.

These two advertisements appeared immediately below others placed by John Gerrish, Richard Smith, and William Jackson. Gerrish advertised an auction scheduled to take place the following day. Smith and Jackson both listed merchandise available at their stores. All three named wares that corresponded closely to the kinds of items stolen from aboard the Wilkes and presumably those discovered in Vickers’s house. In their efforts to participate in the consumer revolution, not all colonists acquired goods from merchants, shopkeepers, and auctioneers. Some stole them and other purchased items either knowing that they had been pilfered or not inquiring too carefully about their origins. A single column of advertisements in the Boston Weekly-Mercury reveals the spectrum of choices available to colonists when it came to acquiring consumer goods.