July 10

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 8, 1771).

“A small warehouse … in Baltimore.”

The Pennsylvania Chronicle, like other American newspapers published prior to the American Revolution, served a large region.  Published in Philadelphia, it circulated in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York.  Some copies certainly made their way to even more distant places, but it was residents of those colonies that considered the Pennsylvania Chronicle a local newspaper in terms of subscribing and advertising.

Such was the case for James Clarke, a woolen manufacturer in Baltimore, when he wished to inform “all Merchants and Traders, that he has just imported … A NEAT assortment” of merchandise “which he purposes to dispose of by wholesale.”  He invited “any merchant or tobacco planter” to contact him or visit his warehouse “at the sign of Pitt’s Head, in Baltimore.”  When he placed his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle in July 1771, Baltimore did not yet have its own newspaper.  Just over two years later, William Goddard, the printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, would commence publishing the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, but for the time being Clarke and others in Baltimore read and advertised in newspapers published elsewhere.  In addition to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, they had several options, including the Maryland Gazette published by Anne Catherine Green in Annapolis, the Pennsylvania Gazette published by David Hall and William Sellers in Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Journal published by William Bradford and Thomas Bradford in Philadelphia.  Henry Miller also published a German-language newspaper, the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, in Philadelphia.  By the end of 1771, John Dunlap launched yet another newspaper in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Packet, giving Clarke and others in Baltimore another option for a regional newspaper in the absence of one printed locally.

Advertisements like those placed by Clarke testified to the regional character of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and other newspapers.  Many of them included datelines that helped readers navigate the notices and determine which were most relevant to them, such as “Baltimore, July 1, 1771” at the top of Clarke’s advertisement.  The woolen manufacturer understood that the publication circulated widely and expected that prospective customers in Baltimore and the surrounding area would see his notice among the greater number of advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans and others who ran businesses in Philadelphia.

June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:2:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (June 2, 1768).

“JOHN BOYD, Druggist, Has just imported, and now sells, at BALTIMORE TOWN.”

John Boyd placed an advertisement for “A Neat and general assortment of Drugs, and Medicines” in the June 2, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Unlike many others who advertised consumer goods and services in the Journal, Boyd did not operate a business in Philadelphia.  Instead, he sold his array of remedies “at BALTIMORE TOWN” in neighboring Maryland. Residents of Philadelphia were not the intended audience for Boyd’s advertisement, especially since several druggists and shopkeepers who stocked medicines among their general merchandise served that busy port city.  Some of them, including Nathaniel and John Tweedy and John Sparhawk, advertised in the same issue that carried Boyd’s notice.

Instead, Boyd sought the patronage of other residents of “BALTIMORE TOWN” as well as colonists who lived in the hinterlands between Baltimore and Philadelphia.  He depended on the wide distribution of the Pennsylvania Journal as a regional newspaper that served readers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and beyond. He expected that readers outside Philadelphia would at least skim the advertisements for local content in addition to reading news items that reported on events throughout the colonies, Europe, and the Atlantic world.  Yet he also realized that other advertisers, especially direct competitors who specialized in medicines, often provided mail order services. Accordingly, he assured potential customers that “The Prices will be the same, or as low as in Philadelphia.” Henry Stuber, a druggist in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, made the same promise in his own advertisement that ran once again in the supplement that accompanied the June 2 edition.

Boyd in Baltimore and Stuber in Lancaster vied for local and regional clients by advertising in a newspaper published in Philadelphia, seizing the best option available to them in the middle of the eighteenth century.  Yet that would not be the case for much longer.  Throughout the years of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution the number of newspapers printed in the colonies and the new nation fluctuated yet expanded over time, a trend that only intensified in the final decade of the eighteenth century as printers in an increasing number of cities and towns published local newspapers.  After all, the fate of the republic, an experiment with an uncertain outcome, relied on educated and informed citizens.  Both before and after the Revolution, the revenues from advertisements contributed to the publication and dissemination of the news, even though conceptions of what counted as a local newspaper for the purposes of advertising changed over time.