March 26

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

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 26, 1770).

“A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street.”

Only three weeks after the Boston Massacre colonial consumers could purchase engravings depicting the event.  On March 26, 1770, the first advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  Both announced “A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street” available for sale by Edes and Gill, the patriot printers of the Boston-Gazette.  Engraved by Paul Revere, this print has become the most iconic image of the Boston Massacre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (though more colonists likely encountered woodcuts depicting the coffins of the victims that accompanied newspaper coverage of the event and the funeral procession than purchased or even glimpsed Revere’s Bloody Massacre in the eighteenth century).

Widely considered a piece of propaganda rather than an accurate depiction of the event that transpired on the evening of March 5, Revere’s engraving was the first to hit the consumer market in 1770.  Controversy at the time focused less on any liberties taken with the facts and more on Revere basing his work on an engraving by Henry Pelham and then issuing his own version so quickly that he edged out Pelham.  As the Massachusetts Historical Society explains, “Although Pelham created his image, The Fruits of Arbitrary Power first, somehow Revere, working from Pelham’s rendition of the scene, created, advertised, and issued his own version, The Bloody Massacre, ahead of Pelham’s.”  Although the advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette did not name Revere as the engraver, they certainly promoted sales of his depiction of the event.

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 26, 1770).

Pelham considered this an injustice.  He wrote to Revere shortly after the advertisements first appeared.  “When I heard that you was cutting a plate of the late Murder,” Pelham lamented, “I thought it impossible as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you coppied it from mine and I thought I had intrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you.”  For his part, Revere may have been more concerned with disseminating as quickly as possible an incriminating image of the 29th Regiment firing on colonists.  After all, just as printers liberally reprinted news, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another, eighteenth-century engravers frequently copied images that came into their possession, though usually after they had been published.

Did Revere weigh the “dictates of Honour and Justice” against serving the patriot cause and determine that the latter mattered more?  To what extent did the sirens of fame and fortune play a role in his decision to copy Pelham’s engraving and make his own version the first available for public consumption?  Can these questions be separated, or must they each inform the other?  Like printers and booksellers who profited from publishing and selling political treatises and accounts of current events during the era of the American Revolution, Revere also reaped rewards for his engraving even as he educated the public and shaped popular opinion.

December 11

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

Dec 11 - 12:11:1769 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (December 11, 1769).

“Printed Catalogues of which will be given gratis.”

On December 11, 1769, auctioneer Joseph Russell placed advertisements about an estate sale “At the House of the late Mr. John Knight” in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston and Boston Post-Boy. He inserted the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter four days later, informing prospective bidders that a “PUBLIC VENDUE” or auction of Knight’s “House-Furniture” would take place on December 20. Items up for bid included “Feather Beds, Bedsteds, and Bedding,” “a great Variety of Mens & Womens Wearing Apparel,” and “Shoe and Knee Buckles.” In additional to those items, Russell planned to auction “a valuable Library of Books, consisting of History and Divinity.”

The advertisement concluded with a note that “printed Catalogues … will be given gratis.” Those catalogs may have listed all of the items to be sold at auction, but more likely they listed only the books. That same year in Philadelphia William Bradford and Thomas Bradford printed a Catalogue of Books, to be Sold, by Public Auction, at the City Vendue-Store, in Front-Street. That catalog was a broadsheet with four columns; the format lent itself well to posting the catalog around town. Other eighteenth-century catalogs resembled pamphlets instead.

Auctioneers, printers, and booksellers regularly advised newspaper readers that they published book catalogs and distributed free copies, using one advertising medium to promote another. Some historians of print culture suspect that some references to such catalogs in newspaper advertisements led to bibliographic ghosts, alluding to catalogs that were never printed despite the promises or best intentions of the advertisers. For those that did make it to press, book catalogs were even more ephemeral than newspapers, making it less likely that colonists saved rather than discarded them. Still, enough have survived to demonstrate that auctioneers and others did print and distribute catalogs as a means of informing consumers and inciting demand. Newspapers notices were the most voluminous form of advertising in early America, but other marketing media, including catalogs, circulated as well. Russell expected his newspaper advertisements and book catalog to work in tandem.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:30:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 30, 1769).

“VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON.”

Advertising increasingly took on a political valence during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Advertisers made political arguments about which goods and services to purchase, encouraging colonists to support “domestic manufactures” and abide by nonimportation agreements intended to exert economic pressure to achieve political goals. Some advertisements included commentary on current events, blurring the line between advertisements and editorials.

Other advertisements sometimes delivered news to colonists. Consider an advertisement for a pamphlet that appeared in the October 30, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. Patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill announced that they has “Just Published … AN APPEAL TO THE WORLD; OR A VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON,” a pamphlet historians attribute to Sam Adams. The pamphlet included “certain Letters and Memorials, written by Governor Bernard, General Gage, Commodore Hood, the Commissions of the American Board of Customs, and others” as well as “RESOLVES” from “a Meeting of the Town of BOSTON.” The lengthy advertisement concluded with an excerpt “From the APPEAL to the WORLD, Page 33.” Edes and Gill gave prospective customers a preview of the contents of the pamphlet in order to entice them to purchase their own copies.

Even if readers did not buy the pamphlet, the advertisement still delivered news to them. Indeed, it looked much more like a news item than an advertisement, especially given its placement in the October 30 edition of the Boston-Gazette. It appeared on the first page, nestled between news items, spilling over from the first column into the second. Most of the advertising for that issue ran on the third and fourth pages. Edes and Gill exercised their prerogative as printers of the Boston-Gazette to give the advertisement a privileged place in their own newspaper. Yet they were not the only printers to do so. The same advertisement, including the “RESOLVES” and the excerpt from the pamphlet, ran on the first page of the Boston Evening-Post on the same day. It was also nestled between news items and spilled over from one column to the next, while most of the advertising for that newspaper also ran on the third and fourth pages. T. and J. Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, gave the advertisement the same privileged place in their own newspaper, further blurring the line between advertising and news. Even though they were rivals when it came to selling newspapers, they had an affinity when it came to politics. The Fleets used the advertisement to deliver news to their readers while simultaneously presenting an opportunity to become even better informed by purchasing the pamphlet. The worlds of commerce and politics became even more firmly enmeshed as printers and advertisers deployed advertising for partisan purposes during the era of the American Revolution.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 25, 1769).

“He hereby offers, and assures a FREE PARDON.”

In late May 1769 Major General Alexander Mackay issued a pardon to “Soldiers who have deserted from His Majesty’s Troops quartered” in Boston, provided that they returned and surrendered by the last day of June. It was not, however, a blanket pardon; Mackay did exclude nearly twenty deserters who had committed other crimes. Instead of the promise of a pardon, he offered a reward for “apprehending and securing them in any of the public Goals [jails].” To get the word out about the pardons (and the rewards for the excluded soldiers), Mackay had one of his officers, “C. FORDYCE, Major of the Brigade,” insert notices in the public prints.

Dated May 23, the notice first appeared in the Boston Chronicle and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (published on the same broadsheet and distributed with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) on May 25. Within a week, the same notice ran in all of the newspapers published in Boston, appearing in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (published in the same broadsheet and distributed with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) at the first opportunity on May 29.

Over the next several weeks, publication of the notice concerning Mackay’s pardon radiated out from Boston. It next appeared in the Essex Gazette on May 30 and then the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette on June 2. The notice soon found its way into both newspapers published in Rhode Island, running in the Providence Gazette on June 3 and in the Newport Mercury on June 5. A week later, the same notice appeared in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant. With the exception of the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven, the notice about the pardon ran in every newspaper in New England. (Copies of the Connecticut Journal for June 9 and 23 were not available for consultation. The notice may have appeared in one or both of those issues of the newspaper published at the furthest distance from Boston.)

At the same time that more newspapers featured the notice, most continued to include it in subsequent editions. It ran in every issue of the Boston Chronicle, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Connecticut Courant, the Essex Gazette, the New-London Gazette, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette from the time of first insertion through the end of June. It appeared in most issues of the Boston Post-Boy and the New-Hampshire Gazette, though it quickly disappeared from the Boston Evening-Post after only two insertions. In total, the notice ran at least fifty-one times in at least eleven newspapers published in New England over the course of five weeks. It made sense to print the notice far and wide considering that deserters were likely to leave Boston to evade capture.

Although information about the pardon could have been considered news, in each instance the notice appeared among the advertisements in every newspaper that carried it. Purveyors of consumer goods and services sometimes published advertisements in multiple newspapers in their city, but a coordinated advertising campaign of this magnitude was extraordinary in 1769. Members of the book trade sometimes inserted subscription notices among the advertisements in as many newspapers as possible, but even their efforts did not usually match the campaign created by Fordyce. He harnessed the power of the press to spread news of the pardons throughout New England, depending on both distribution networks and subsequent word of mouth to inform deserters that they would receive forgiveness if they only returned to their posts.

May 22

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

“Enquire of the Printers.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (May 22, 1769).

On May 22, 1769, readers of the Boston Evening-Post encountered an advertisement offering an enslaved youth for sale: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, brought up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of the Printers.” On the same day, a nearly identical advertisement ran in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of Edes and Gill.” The Massachusetts Gazette, published the same day, also carried that advertisement: “TO BE SOLD, A fine likely Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Inquire of Green & Russell.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 22, 1769).

Except for variations in the spelling of “brought” (or “bro’t”), the copy in all three notices was identical until the final sentence that advised interested parties to “Enquire of the Printers” for more information. These advertisements and many others like them made T. and J. Fleet, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell active participants in the slave trade. Printing advertisements for the purposes of buying and selling enslaved men, women and children or capturing those who escaped from bondage already made printers complicit in the perpetuation of slavery, but these “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements demonstrated even more active involvement as purveyors of people, not merely as conduits for disseminating information.

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (May 22, 1769).
Compared to newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South, far fewer advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children ran in newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic, but they were not absent. Printers in Boston devoted less space in their newspapers to these advertisements, but the frequency of “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements suggests that the Fleets, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell invested time in facilitating these transactions beyond what was required for receiving the copy and setting the type. In effect, they served as brokers, even if they never described or advertised their services in that manner.

March 6

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Boston Evening-Post (March 6, 1769).

“A neat Assortment of China, flower’d and plain Glass and Stone Ware.”

Advertisements like this were very common in newspapers in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Hammatt and Brown had for sale an impressive list of goods, including tea, chocolate, cotton wool and a “neat Assortment” of china, glass, and stoneware. This advertisement displayed the expanding consumer culture in the colonies. No longer were people producing things for self-sufficiency. As T.H. Breen explains, “[A] pioneer world of homespun cloth and wooden dishes … was swept away by a flood of store-bought sundries.”[1] Colonists became interested in things and what those material goods did for their image. This change also led to an emergence of a commonalities and a community mindset among colonists of different areas. For example, in “Baubles of Britain”; The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Breen describes a “shared language of consumption.”[2] People in the colonies had this newfound connection with each other. A colonist from Massachusetts would see the type of fabric a visitor from a southern colony wore and immediately know the material and social class that went with it. This created a common connection among people and subsequently grew a feeling of nationalism through the colonies as the imperial crisis with Britain drew to its boiling point.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Olivia indicates, advertisements of this sort were indeed commonly inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers, especially in those published in the largest port cities. Although they ran in every newspaper printed in the colonies, they appeared in greater numbers and with greater frequency in publications from Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. In each of those cities, advertisers contended not only with competitors who placed advertisements in the same newspapers they did but also with rival merchants and shopkeepers who advertised in other newspapers as well as those who did not advertise at all. The advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, for instance, reveal only a small portion of the commercial landscape that made consumer goods available in colonial Massachusetts.

When they decided to advertise the assortment of goods they sold at their shop in Union Street, Hammatt and Brown chose from among several newspapers published in Boston. The Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette were all published on Mondays. A second issue of the Boston Chronicle came out on Thursdays, along with the Boston Weekly News-Letter and Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. Each included an array of advertisements that hawked the same kinds of wares that Hammatt and Brown listed in their notice. Some merchants and shopkeepers opted to advertise in more than one publication, but others, like Hammatt and Brown, confined themselves to a single newspaper. Among them, advertisers created sufficient copy to barrage colonial readers and potential customers with lists of goods and encouragement to acquire them. Advertising often accounted for as much as half or more of each newspaper. Advertisers submitted so many notices to T. and J. Fleet’s printing office that the issue of the Boston Evening-Post that carried Hammatt and Brown’s advertisement was accompanied by a two-page supplement comprised entirely of advertisement, including Thomas Knight’s advertisement that listed almost all of the same merchandise. Elsewhere in the colonies, other newspapers carried advertisements that peddled similar inventory, contributing to a shared experience, as both readers and consumers, among colonists from New Hampshire to Georgia.

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[1] Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119, (May 1988): 78

[2] Breen, 76.

February 26

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 20, 1769).

“Two Tierces of SUGAR of the first Quality.”

Sugar was a sought-after consumer good, closely associated with tea in the eighteenth century. Drinking tea with sugar was popular in colonial America, especially since the rituals resembled the lifestyle of Britons on the other side of the Atlantic. Everyone loved tea with sugar, but it is essential to look at where all the sugar came from.

The production of sugarcane, mostly by slaves in the Caribbean, increased throughout the eighteenth century. During this time, there was a shift from tobacco to sugar, according to B.W. Higman. In “The Sugar Revolution,” Higman states, “The six central elements of the sugar revolution are commonly regarded as a swift shift from diversified agriculture to sugar monoculture, from production on small farms to large plantations, from free to slave labour, from sparse to dense settlement, from white to black populations, and from low to high value per caput output.”[1] As part of the “sugar revolution,” the exportation of sugar from the Caribbean to mainland North America allowed colonists to live a life resembling the mother country. Slaves, the hands behind production, played a significant part in the expansion of colonial consumer culture. With high demand for sugar, slaves put in long hours on plantations to meet the needs of mass production. Enslaved labor boosted production to large-scale enterprises. It is safe to say slavery was a driving force in the success of the sugar industry. It is interesting how colonists set high demands for a good, such as sugar, to enhance their identity as British while allowing enslaved workers to be the means behind it. It shows how slavery was part of consumer culture even for colonists kept their hands clean by not owning slaves.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph Russell advertised the “SUGAR of the first Quality” that prompted Chloe to consider the connections between slavery and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Russell, however, was neither a shopkeeper nor a merchant. Instead, he was an auctioneer who regularly advertised the various goods coming up for bids at his “Auction Room, in Queen-street.” In addition to the sugar slated to be sold “by PUBLIC VENDUE” (or auction), he also advertised “a variety of English GOODS.” Russell was not alone in his efforts to steer consumers to auctions rather than patronizing the many shops in Boston. Immediately above his advertisement, another notice, this one placed by John Gerrish, informed readers of an upcoming auction of “A fresh Assortment of GOODS” at “the Public Vendue-Office, North End.” Beyond Boston, other auctioneers also published newspaper advertisements to promote their establishments. Four of them – “Abeel & Neil’s VENDUE,” “M‘DAVITT’s Vendue House,” “MOORE & LYNSEN’s AUCTION-ROOM,” and “Nich. W. Stuyvesant, & Co’s. Vendue-House” – inserted notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on the same day that Russell’s advertisement ran in the Boston Evening-Post.

Auctions presented additional opportunities for colonists to participate in the consumer revolution. Rather from visit shops or warehouses where they would have to haggle with shopkeepers and merchants in hopes of gaining the lowest prices, they could instead seek bargains at auctions. Auctioneers advertised in hopes of drawing crowds, hoping that would increase bids, but colonists knew that they could acquire goods below market value if bidding lagged. Gerrish’s advertisement indicated that his next auction consisted of “a great Variety of ARTICLES, both New, and Second hand.” For those who could not afford to purchase certain kinds of clothing, housewares, and other merchandise from merchants and shopkeepers, auctions allowed them to acquire secondhand items at reduced prices. Gerrish announced that the “Goods may be viewed before the Sale,” thus allowing prospective bidders to examine used items for wear, defects, and cleanliness in advance rather than forcing them to make decisions on the spot during the auction.

Russell’s auction of “a variety of English GOODS” likely included many items similar to those listed in Thomas Knight’s advertisement on the same page of the Boston Evening-Post. While Knight proclaimed that he was “determined to sell at the very lowest” prices, savvy consumers knew that they might get even better deals at an auction.

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[1] B.W. Higman, “The Sugar Revolution,” Economic History Review 53, no. 2 (May 200): 213

December 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 26, 1768).

“Ravens Duck | Bohea Tea | Mason Glasses.”

Samuel Fletcher aimed to use typography to his advantage in an advertisement that ran in the December 26, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. In it, he listed a variety of imported goods among the inventory at his store “Near the Draw-Bridge,” including textiles, tea, and housewares. The contents of Fletcher’s advertisement did not much differ from what appeared in other notices for consumer goods placed in the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers published in the busy port. The format, however, distinguished Fletcher’s advertisement from many others.

Fletcher enumerated approximately sixty items, organizing them into three columns that trisected the advertisement. Other advertisers that listed their wares tended to do so in dense paragraphs that did not feature any white space. Such was the case in Gilbert Deblois’s advertisement immediately below Fletcher’s notice and Joseph Barrell’s advertisement immediately to the right. Yet Fletcher was not alone among merchants and shopkeepers in electing to divide his goods into columns. Elsewhere on the same page, Samuel Allyne Otis divided his advertisement into two columns. Joshua Blanchard incorporated visual variety into his advertisement, publishing a short list of wines followed by a paragraph that promoted the quality of customer service his clients could anticipate. Although many advertisers opted for the standard dense paragraph, some experimented with other formats.

Fletcher’s decision to use columns came with one disadvantage. He could not list as many items in the same amount of space. Still, he managed to provide a general preview, enough to suggest an array of choices for consumers, before concluding with the phrase “With many Articles not mentioned” running across all three columns. This signaled to prospective customers that he did not necessarily stock fewer choices than his competitors, only that he organized them differently in his advertisement. In the spirit of “less is more,” listing fewer items but in a format with sufficient white space that allowed readers to navigate the contents of the advertisement more easily could have drawn attention to specific entries much more readily than had they appeared amidst a dense list of merchandise. For Fletcher’s advertisement, the typography very well could have been as effective as the copy.

November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 7, 1768).

“A large Assortment of the following Goods.”

William Scott operated a store on the “North Side of Faneuil Hall, next Door to the Sign of General Wolfe” in Boston. There he sold “a large Assortment” of goods, including “Manchester Cotton Checks and Handkerchiefs,” “Forest Cloths, Plains and Kerseys,” and “Irish Linens” of various widths.

To attract customers to his store, Scott inserted advertisements in every newspaper published in Boston. On Monday, November 7, 1768, his advertisement appeared in the Boston Chronicle. On the same day it simultaneously ran in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy, a joint publication with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette. On Thursday of that week, it ran in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, a publication printed on the same broadsheet and distributed with the Boston Weekly News-Letter. No matter which newspapers they read, residents of Boston and the surrounding area encountered Scott’s advertisement. He made a significant investment in advertising in his efforts to saturate the local print media with his notices.

Scott likely exercised little influence over where his advertisement appeared in each newspaper. The compositors made those choices. Still, his advertisements occupied a privileged position in the Boston Chronicle, appearing as one of only three advertisements on the final page, and in the Boston-Gazette, appearing on the first page above a news item. This increased the chances that readers of those newspapers would notice Scott’s advertisement.

The format of the advertisements provides further evidence of the role played by compositors in presenting them to the reading public. Scott apparently submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors made unique decisions when it came to typography. For instance, the list of merchandise had one item per line in the Boston Evening-Post iteration while the Boston Post-Boy version grouped all the items together into a single paragraph. Although Scott carefully planned for widespread distribution of his advertisement, he entrusted the compositors with its final format in each publication. He oversaw certain aspects of his marketing campaign – copy and distribution – while yielding others – format and placement on the page – to the printing offices. He considered some, but not all, of the opportunities made possible by print.

October 24

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

Oct 24 - 10:24:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (October 24, 1768).

“IN seventeen hundred and sixty-eight, / Of a runaway servant I’ll relate.”

A curious advertisement appeared in the October 24, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. It offered “THREE POUNDS Reward” for the capture and return of William Tyler, an indentured servant who ran away from John Townsend. Yet Townsend had not paid to have this advertisement inserted in the Boston Evening-Post. Instead, the printers, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, had made an editorial decision to reprint the advertisement as a novelty to entertain their subscribers and other readers. A brief note indicated that they reprinted it from the October 3 issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

The subject of the advertisement was hardly unusual, but the method of delivering the content certainly deviated from that of most other advertisements in colonial newspapers. Rather than writing a brief narrative about the runaway servant, Townsend composed a poem. In nearly two dozen rhyming couplets, he delivered the usual information about Tyler’s age, appearance, occupation, clothing, personality, and other distinguishing characteristics. “He has a hobble in his walk, / And a mutter in his talk,” Townsend reported. Furthermore, the runaway “takes tobacco and strong drink, / When he can get ‘em, I do think.” Many of the rhymes were rather labored, but Townsend managed to insert all the pertinent information. The Fleets apparently considered his efforts worthy of sharing with a larger audience, though likely more for amusement than edification.

Colonial newspapers regularly included items reprinted from other newspapers, some published in the colonies and others in England and other parts of Europe. Modern concepts of plagiarism did not apply; networks of printers exchanged their publications and then borrowed extensively, usually word-for-word, from other newspapers when they compiled news and editorial content for inclusion in their own newspapers. However, they did not usually reprint advertisements. After all, advertisements meant revenues. In most instances printers expected others to pay to have their advertisements inserted in newspapers, but on occasion certain advertisements possessed such entertainment value that printers selected them without concern for collecting fees. In June 1768, for example, the printers of both the New-York Journal and the Providence Gazette inserted an advertisement for a show featuring “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON.” That advertisement first ran in the London Gazetteer in March 31. Both newspapers acknowledged its origins. The New-York Journal explained that it “is inserted as a Curiosity.”

Advertisements had the capacity to entertain as well to inform or to shape consumer demand. That the Fleets reprinted Townsend’s advertisement that relayed the story of a runaway servant in a poem demonstrates that they perused more than just the news in other publications when identifying content to appropriate and share with their own readers.