What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250years ago today?
“SIR, PLEASE to return with speed, for things are bad. WR”
Among the several advertisements in the October 29, 1773, edition of the Connecticut Journal, Job Perit sold a “large Assortment of English & India GOODS,” Daniel Huntington peddled a “fresh Parcel of Drugs and Medicine,” and Amos Morrision, a “Wigg-Maker & Hair-Dresser,” presented his services to prospective clients. John Danielson and John Row each placed real estate notices, while John Lothrop called on “all those that are any Ways indebted to him” to settle accounts or face legal action. One notice announced a fair “for the Barter and Sale of all Kinds of Goods, homespun or other Manufactures, Horses, Sheep,” and other livestock. Another announced a delay in drawing numbers for the New Haven Lottery. Jonathan Brown and Ebenezer Townsend offered rewards for a strayed or stolen horses. The printers, Thomas Green and Samuel Green, advertised “THE MACARONIE JESTER,” a book of jokes, and invited subscribers for the Royal American Magazine to submit their names to the printing office to be forwarded to Isaiah Thomas in Boston.
Some of these advertisements may have been of greater interest than others to various readers, but each of them addressed the public and clearly stated their purpose. A more cryptic advertisement did not do so. In its entirety, that brief notice stated, “SIR, PLEASE to return with speed, for things are bad. WR.” What did it mean? Who placed the advertisement? What was the relationship between “WR” and “SIR”? What had happened to prompt “WR” to place this notice? Why did “WR” choose to place an advertisement in the public prints along with whatever other means of contacting “SIR” they used? Did some readers suspect that they knew the identities of “WR” and “SIR” and the circumstances that inspired the advertisement? Did they gossip and share their suspicions with others? How much did the printers know about “WR” and their situation? Whatever the answers to these questions, the Greens surrendered a small bit of editorial control over the contents of their newspaper when they published the advertisement. Every printer did so with every advertisement they published, allowing others to determine some of the contents of their publications while simultaneously exercising the prerogative to reject paid notices if they did not believe they matched the tone of the newspaper. Each advertisement, like each news item, essay, and letter, told a story and disseminated information to the reading public. In the case of “WR” and “SIR,” however, the advertisement obscured most of the relevant information and addressed a single reader. In placing the notice, “WR” leveraged the power of the press for their own purposes, just as every advertiser did when they purchased space in newspapers.