What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMITLON … are requested … to make Payment.”
Colonists had many opportunities to shape the contents of eighteenth-century newspapers. Printers called on the public to submit “Articles and Letters of Intelligence,” many of them even reiterating this invitation weekly by embedding it in the colophon inserted in every issue (as was the case for William Goddard and the Pennsylvania Chronicle as well as John Carter and the Providence Gazette). Colonists also sent editorials and responses to items they saw published in the newspaper.
Colonists had other opportunities to shape the news beyond submitting editorials and “Letters of Intelligence” for printers to select or discard. Placing advertisements allowed them to distribute important information about local events which printers otherwise would not have incorporated into their newspapers. Consider the advertisements in the August 8, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Several legal notices advised readers of events taking place in Salem and elsewhere in Massachusetts. For many readers, these notices had as much impact on their daily lives as coverage of “the honourable House of Representatives of this Province” gathering to drink toasts on the occasion of “the happy Anniversary of the Birth of our most gracious Sovereign” or the list of resolutions drawn up by “merchants, planters and other inhabitants of South-Carolina” who signed their own nonimportation agreement in late July.
One legal notice advised, “ALL Persons indebted to the Estate of ARTHUR HAMILTON, late of Salem, Merchant, deceased, are requested, without Delay, to make Payment of the Sums, respectively due, to Archibald Wilson, … Administrator of said Estate.” Those who did not settle accounts with Wilson could expect to suffer the consequences. The administrator stated that they would be “sued immediately” if they did not comply. Coverage of colonial legislators drinking toasts to “The KING, QUEEN, and ROYAL FAMILY” and “The Restoration of Harmony between Great Britain and the Colonies” gave readers a sense of the current political landscape in their colony. News of residents of Charleston adopting their own nonimportation agreement similar to those already in place in Boston and New York contributed made readers better informed about the intersection of commerce and politics throughout the colonies. Yet Archibald Wilson threatening to sue anyone indebted to the estate of Arthur Hamilton would have had the most immediate and consequential impact on some households that received the Essex Gazette.
Colonists could not dismiss the portion of newspapers devoted to advertising as ancillary; instead, they had to read both the items selected by the printer and advertisements submitted by fellow colonists in order to become aware of all “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic” promised in the masthead of the Essex Gazette and so many other eighteenth-century newspapers.