What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Hoping they will leave the odd Pence at the Place, / Where the Papers are left for them by CASE.”
Three newspapers printed in New York served the city and the rest of the colony in the early 1770s. Samuel Inslee and Anthony Car printed the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, leasing it from Samuel Parker. Hugh Gaine printed the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, while John Holt printed the New-York Journal. In addition, Alexander Robertson and James Robertson published the Albany Gazette for a brief period in the early 1770s, establishing the newspaper on November 21, 1771, and distributing the last known issue on August 3, 1772. Post riders distributed those newspapers to subscribers throughout the colony.
Newspaper subscribers notoriously asked for credit and fell behind in making payments, causing printers to publish frequent requests for them to settle accounts or face legal action. Many of the subscribers to the newspapers published in New York apparently failed to pay the post riders either. In the fall of 1772, a man who identified himself only as Case sent a request to Holt’s printing office: “Please to insert the following Lines in your next, and oblige the Albany Post Rider.” Those lines consisted of a short poem, entitled “The Albany Post Rider’s Representation,” that pleaded with subscribers to pay for delivery of their newspapers.
Case’s poem was not great literature, but it made his case in a manner that readers likely found entertaining … or at least noticed. “AS true as my Name is CASE, / I find Cash very scarce,” the poem began with a couplet that did not quite rhyme. That did not deter the post rider from continuing: “Therefore take it not unkind, / If I put my Customers in mind, / I have rode Post one Year, / Which has cost me very dear.” Case asserted that he made sacrifices to carry the news “Which make me stand in need of pay, / Without the least Delay: / From such Gentlemen indebted to me, / For bringing them their News to read and see.” He concluded with instructions in the form of a suggestion, “Hoping they will leave the odd Pence at the Place, / Where the Papers are left for them by CASE.”
This verse did not rival the weekly entry in “POET’S CORNER” that appeared in the upper left corner of the final page of Holt’s New-York Journal, but it did distinguish Case’s advertisements from others. Colonizers sometimes resorted to poems to enhance advertisements placed for a variety of purposes, including goods for sale and runaway indentured servants. They experimented with advertising copy beyond writing straightforward notices that merely made announcements.