November 3

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

Nov 3 - 11:3:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (November 3, 1768).

“Circumstances may yet enable him to set one Day in Six apart to give Advice to indigent Persons, Gratis.”

John Coghill Knapp, “Attorney at Law,” was a familiar figure to colonists who read the New York newspapers in the 1760s. He frequently placed lengthy, chatty advertisements offering a variety of legal services. In November 1768 he inserted a new advertisement, one that extended half a column, in the New-York Journal. He proclaimed that he “WILL continue to give the most candid Opinion and Advice, in all Cases of Law or Equity, with such Reasons laid down in Support thereof, as fully to give the desired Satisfaction.” He drew up “Memorials, Remonstrances, or any Case” as well as “Writings and Conveyances of every Kind, from the smallest Agreement, to Deeds of the greatest Consequence.” Although he did not state it explicitly in this new advertisement, earlier notices made clear that “Conveyances of every Kind” included the buying and selling of enslaved men, women, and children. As he had done in previous advertisements, he promised “strict Secrecy, Integrity, and Dispatch” in serving all his clients no matter what kind of work they brought to his office.

In addition to those attributes particularly valued in an attorney, Knapp concluded by declaring that he had “some Hopes, Circumstances may yet enable him to set one Day in Six apart to give Advice to indigent Persons, Gratis.” He aspired to some day be in a position to provide free legal services to those who could not otherwise afford his fees, but he did not have the means to do so at the moment. The lawyer cleverly leveraged his best intentions, which testified to his character, to attract clients who could pay. He did so while simultaneously promoting his industriousness, indicating that he pursued his profession six days of every week. Just as he set the seventh day aside for worship, he desired to set the sixth day aside for altruism. That was only possible, however, if he earned enough throughout the rest of the week to support himself. Knapp suggested that he wanted to provide aid “to all indigent Persons,” but called on prospective clients to give him the opportunity to do so. By engaging his services, they indirectly contributed to a charitable enterprise. Knapp attempted to distinguish himself from other attorneys by deploying philanthropy as a marketing strategy.

August 24

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

Aug 24 - 8:24:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 24, 1768).

“He HATH OPENED A WRITING OFFICE.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted advertisements for the blanks (or forms) that he printed and sold to supplement the revenues from operating the colony’s only newspaper. The purposes of those blanks ranged widely, including “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessels and seamen, [and] indico certificates.” Making use of printed blanks allowed colonists to enter into a variety of commercial and legal agreements on their own.

Some colonists, however, did not wish to enter into such arrangements without consulting someone with greater expertise in drawing up agreements and other legal devices, especially when the complexity of their situation exceeded the circumstances anticipated on the standardized forms. In those instances, Benjamin Prime offered his services.

In the summer of 1768, Prime inserted advertisements in the Georgia Gazette to announce that he “HATH OPENED A WRITING OFFICE” conveniently located near the Assembly House in Savannah. There he drew up a variety of “Instruments,” including “Wills, Deeds, Mortgages, Leases, Letters of Attorney, Articles of Agreement,” and much more, as indicated by “&c. &c.” (invoking the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera twice). Prime’s services paralleled many of those achieved by the printed blanks sold at the printing office on Broughton Street.

Yet contracting Prime’s services conferred additional value for his clients, as he underscored in the introductory remarks in his advertisement. He explained that he “hath been bred to the Law, and hath been a practitioner for several years in the province of North Carolina.” He contributed experience and expertise to the transactions and agreements he oversaw, according greater peace of mind to clients who may have been hesitant to rely on printed blanks alone. Given that he had only recently opened his office in Savannah, he publicized his credentials as a means of assuring prospective clients that they could depend on his competence in serving them.

September 22

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

sep-22-9221766-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (September 22, 1766).

“Mr. KNAPP, with strict Candour, agreeable to the Constitution, and Fundamentals of Law and Equity, will give his Opinion and Advice on any Case.”

Lengthy expositions and sensational narratives by John Coghill Knapp were a fixture among the advertisements that appeared in the New-York Mercury in 1766, giving the impression that the “Attorney at Law” loved to talk in real life and would spare no effort in pursuing the interests of his clients. The preponderance of prose in his advertisements may have been a selling point, demonstrating to potential clients that he left no stone unturned and no contingency unanticipated.

While it may not be completely fair to compare Knapp’s legal philosophy to modern ambulance chasers known for their obnoxiously loud television commercials and flashy billboards, the two both adopted modes of advertising intended to attract as much attention as possible. Force of personality played a part in Knapp’s advertising, but he also resorted to gimmicks to tempt potential customers to avail themselves of his services. He promised to “give his Opinion and Advice on any Case, verbally stated, for One Dollar.” This one-price-fits-all fee structure seemed designed to get as many clients as possible into his office on Rotten Row, especially those nervous about the costs of consulting other attorneys.

Knapp’s fee structure also suggested that he sought to work with common men and women, not just the elite and affluent. In addition to charging one dollar for cases “verbally stated,” he charged “similar easy Terms” for cases in writing, depending on “the Length of papers to peruse, and Number of Questions to solve.” Knapp recognized that many of his potential clients might not have extensive documents (or any at all) related to their legal concerns. He also implicitly acknowledged that some potential clients might be able to read his advertisements but not write much (or anything) about the various situations he described in his advertisement.

Knapp developed an over-the-top persona in his advertisements as he positioned himself as a lawyer who served everyday people.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:9:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (June 9, 1766).

“PERMIT me thus heartily to congratulate you on the Expulsion of an Act which must have involved these respectable Colonies into the utmost Difficulty.”

A week ago the Adverts 250 Project featured a “to be continued” advertisement placed by John Coghill Knapp from the “Scrivener, Register, and Conveyancer’s OFFICE, on Rotten-Row.” The lawyer’s advertisement concluded with a not that “The Remainder of this Advertisement, with some further Remarks that may be beneficial to the Publick, in our next.” The wording raised questions about whether the advertiser or the printer made the decision to delay publication of “The Remainder.” Did Knapp devise a clever means of inciting interest in whatever might appear in “The Remainder” or did the printer run out of space and choose to truncate the advertisement? After all, it wasn’t uncommon for printers to insert notices that advertisements that had not appeared in the current issue would be published in the next.

An examination of the dates attached to each advertisement may help to answer this question. The original advertisement, published in the June 2 issue of the New-York Mercury, was dated “2d of June.” It was written the same day that it was printed (or, more likely, post-dated to be current with the issue). “The Remainder” that appeared in the June 9 issue of the New-York Mercury was dated “June 7” – after the previous issue, making it more likely that Knapp did originally intend to have the advertisement appear in separate pieces in two consecutive issues.

What were these “further Remarks that may be beneficial to the Publick” that Knapp promised and expected readers to anticipate? Knapp published an extended reflection on the repeal of the Stamp Act, “the Expulsion of an Act which must have involved these respectable Colonies in the utmost Difficulty.” In particular , he lauded “that great Defender of LIBERTY, the most Noble and Right Honorable WILLIAM PITT.” Knapp used politics and current events to appeal to potential clients who had protested the Stamp Act.

In a second paragraph, he discussed his own virtues as an attorney. In addition, he stated that he was “again admitted to Practice in that Profession to which I was regularly bred.” In his previous advertisement he had announced that he “received his Education at the University of Oxford; was regularly bred to the Profession of the LAW.” The Stamp Act disrupted attorneys’ work since legal documents were supposed to be recorded on stamped paper. Knapp lamented that “the Stagnation of Business during the Debate of that weighty Affair, has been sorely felt.” Now that the repeal had gone into effect, Knapp was “again admitted” to practicing the law now that the colonies had reverted to “Dear Liberty, the Birth-Right” of the Britons who resided there.

June 3

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

Jun 3 - 6:2:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (June 2, 1766).

For all intents and purposes, John Coghill Knapp’s advertisement for his legal service concluded with a version of “to be continued,” prompting readers to seek out his advertisement in the next issue of the New-York Mercury. Perhaps this helped to draw greater attention to the services he offered.

The wording, however, suggests that Knapp may not have devised this innovation on his own. Indeed, it may have been an accidental innovation rather than a purposeful strategy for inciting interest in the remainder of Knapp’s advertisement. The notice at the end of the advertisement states that it will be continued “in our next” issue rather than “in the next” issue. The distinction between “our” and “the” puts the statement in the printer’s voice, regardless of who composed the rest of the advertisement. This notice appeared at the bottom of a column. It seems likely that the printer ran out of space to insert Knapp’s entire advertisement but instead included as much as possible (probably adjusting the fees charged to Knapp accordingly).

What may have been the inconvenience of an incomplete advertisement could have worked to Knapp’s advantage in the end. The note that “further Remarks that may be beneficial to the Publick” would appear “in our next” issue incited anticipation and curiosity about what else Knapp would say about the legal services he provided. It certainly worked on this modern reader; I’ll feature the continuation of Knapp’s advertisement next week. (Did it work on you? Are you curious to see the updated advertisement a week from now?!)

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As an aside, be sure to note that this lawyer’s office was located “on Rotten-Row.” Modern readers may make of that what they wish!