April 21

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

Pennsylvania Journal (April 21, 1773).

“A STAGE WAGGON, to go from Great-Egg-Harbour to Philadelphia.”

Newspaper advertisements kept residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands informed about transportation infrastructure that connected the busy port to other towns in the 1770s.  Shortly after Rensselaer Williams published his advertisement about the Royal Oak Inn adjacent to the Trenton Ferry and Charles Bessonett promoted his “FLYING MACHINE,” a stagecoach between Philadelphia and Princeton with connections to New York, William McCarrell ran his own advertisement to advise the public that he “has fitted a STAGE WAGGON, to go from Great-Egg-Harbour” in New Jersey “to Philadelphia once every week.”

McCarrell provided a schedule so passengers could plan their journeys.  The stage “set off from Ann Risleys, at Abseekam [Absecon], on Monday mornings” and passed by “Thomas Clark’s mill and the Forks” on its way to the Blue Anchor.  The stage likely stopped at that inn for the night before continuing to Longacoming and Haddonsfield and arriving at Samuel Cooper’s ferry on Tuesday afternoon.  After crossing the Delaware River via the ferry, the stage paused in Philadelphia until Thursday morning before retracing its route and returning to Absecon on Friday afternoon.

In addition to passengers, McCarrell’s stage also carried freight, such as “dry goods or other articles” as well as newspapers and letters, charging four pence each.  McCarrell sought to generate additional revenue with that ancillary service, declaring that “persons that live convenient” to the route “may have the news-papers regular” if they contacted him to make arrangements.  Although his advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Journal, McCarrell transported any of the newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time, including the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Packet.  Each of those publications owed some of its circulation beyond the city to post riders and stage operators.  As a result, McCarrell and his counterparts not only carried passengers and freight but also helped disseminate information throughout the colonies.

April 17

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

Providence Gazette (April 17, 1773).

“He informs those Gentlemen whom he has supplied with the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, that their Year expired.”

It was a common refrain among newspaper printers.  “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more,” John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, declared in the April 17, 1773, edition, “are requested to make immediate Payment.”  Throughout the colonies, subscribers, advertisers, and others fell behind on their bills, prompting printers to regularly insert notices calling on them to settle accounts.  Many were much more elaborate than Carter’s brief notice, underscoring the expenses incurred by printers, extolling the benefits of timely circulation of the news, setting deadlines for payments, or threatening legal action against those who refused to comply.

Yet Carter was not alone in calling on subscribers to make payments in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  Joseph Rickard, Jr., “POST-RIDER from PROVIDENCE to CONNECTICUT,” placed his own notice.  He began by extending “his Thanks to his Employers the Year past” and then moved beyond the pleasantries to inform “those Gentlemen whom he has supplied with the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, that their Year expired the Third of April,” two weeks earlier.  The being the case, Rickard “requests an immediate Settlement with every one.”  He offered two reasons for customers to abide his request.  First, he owed his own debt to the Carter.  Rickard hoped that customers would feel some sort of obligation to assist him in maintaining his financial standing with the printer who supplied the newspapers.  Suspecting that would not be sufficient motivation for many of his customers, Rickard issued a threat, though he did so in the most pleasant way possible.  He needed customers to pay their bills in order that he “may be enabled to … serve them with Punctuality in future.”  In other words, he would no longer deliver newspapers to customers who did not pay.

Rickard’s advertisement testifies to the role that credit played in printing and disseminating newspapers in eighteenth-century America.  In addition, it also attests to the circulation of newspapers beyond their places of publication.  Rickard served subscribers to the Providence Gazette who not only resided in other towns but also in other colonies.  At the time, printers published three newspapers in Connecticut, the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, and the New-London Gazette.  For many colonizers in eastern Connecticut (and central Massachusetts), the Providence Gazette served as their local newspaper, despite the distance that Rickard covered to deliver it to them.  Considered together, notices placed by printers and post riders tell a more complete story about the business of producing and disseminating the news in early America.

April 16

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

Massachusetts Spy (April 16, 1773).

THE extensive circulation of the MASSACHUSETTS SPY, through town and country, renders it very beneficial for those who ADVERTISE therein.”

Many colonial printers promoted their newspapers in the colophon that appeared on the final page.  Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, did so in one of the lengthier colophons that appeared in newspapers published in the 1770s.  In addition to providing his name and the place of publication, he gave extensive directions to his printing office “At the South Corner of MARSHAL’S LANE, leading from the MILL-BRIDGE into UNION-STREET.”  Thomas noted that “all Persons may be supplied with this Paper” and gave the price for an annual subscription.  He also listed local agents in four towns – Bridgewater, Charlestown, Newburyport, and Salem – who accepted subscriptions on his behalf.  In addition, Thomas solicited advertisements and job printing, including handbills and printed blanks.  He informed prospective customers of “PRINTING in its various Branches, performed in a neat Manner, with the greatest Care and Dispatch, on the most reasonable Terms.”

Massachusetts Spy (April 16, 1773).

Although printers regularly promoted various goods and services available in their printing offices, they did not often include their own newspapers among those advertisements (except to call on recalcitrant subscribers to make payments) nor did they insert notices to encourage the public to place advertisements.  That made Thomas’s notice at the top of the first column on the first page of the April 16, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Spy rather unusual.  The printer proclaimed, “THE extensive circulation of the MASSACHUSETTS SPY, through town and country, renders it very beneficial for those who ADVERTISE therein.”  Established July 17, 1770, the Massachusetts Spy was the newest of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, but Thomas suggested that its circulation rivaled its competitors.  Advertising in his newspaper, the printer asserted, drew the attention of readers and, in turn, that attention yielded results for the advertisers.  In making his pitch, Thomas also stated that “Advertisements … are inserted in a neat and conspicuous manner on the most reasonable terms,” offering assurances about the effectiveness, quality, and price of advertising in his newspaper.

Thomas also sought new subscribers.  After extolling advertisements, he addressed “Such gentlemen and ladies, in this Province as are desirous of taking in the SPY.”  The printer characterized its contents as “the earliest and most important Foreign and Domestic Intelligence, with a number of ORIGINAL papers, on a variety of subjects.”  To further entice prospective subscribers, he gave the price of an annual subscription and trumpeted that it “is cheaper than any public paper or other periodical publication whatever, of its bigness [or size], in the four quarters of the globe.”  Accordingly, the Massachusetts Spyhas met with very great encouragement from the public,” a pronouncement intended to resonate with prospective advertisers as well as prospective subscribers.  In a nota bene, Thomas offered to send the newspaper to “Gentlemen and ladies in any of the American colonies, who incline to subscribe,” another testament to the “extensive circulation” that he mentioned as a reason for placing advertisements.

At the bottom of the final page of each issue of the Massachusetts Spy, the colophon informed readers that Thomas accepted subscriptions at the printing office and briefly mentioned “ADVERTISEMENTS taken in.”  Although advertisements accounted for significant revenue for colonial printers, Thomas and others rarely promoted advertising except in the colophons of their newspapers.  In this instance, Thomas apparently recognized an opportunity to cultivate more advertising for his newspaper.  In making his pitch to prospective advertisers, he emphasized price (“reasonable terms”) and, especially, effectiveness (displaying notices in a “conspicuous manner” and the “extensive circulation” of the newspaper).  He coupled those appeals with his efforts to attract more subscribers, hoping to expand both means that the Massachusetts Spy generated revenue.

March 1

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

Pennsylvania Packet (March 1, 1773).

“Every particular that may contribute to the improvement, information, and entertainment of the public, shall be constantly conveyed through the channel of the NEW-YORK GAZETTEER.”

A week after James Rivington’s proposal for publishing a newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, first appeared in the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle, it ran in the Pennsylvania Packet.  During that week, Rivington also inserted the proposal, with variations, in the Connecticut Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal.  In advance of publishing a newspaper intended to serve an expansive region, the bookseller, printer, and stationer launched an advertising campaign in multiple newspapers throughout that region.  Once his notice appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet on March 1, 1773, all four English-language newspapers in Philadelphia carried it to readers dispersed far beyond that busy urban port.

These advertisements likely helped Rivington attract subscribers.  In his History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas notes that Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer “was patronized in all the principal towns by the advocates of the British administration who approved the measures adopted toward the colonies” and “obtained an extensive circulation.”  Furthermore, the newspaper “undoubtedly had some support from ‘his Majesty’s government.’”  Patriots found Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer “obnoxious.”  On November 27, 1775, “a number of armed men from Connecticut entered the city, on horseback, and beset his habitation, broke into his printing house, destroyed his press, threw his types into heaps, and carried away a large quantity of them, which they melted and formed into bullets.”  Rivington departed for England soon after that encounter, but he returned to New York once the British occupied the city.  In October 1777, he began publishing Rivington’s New-York Gazette; or the Connecticut, Hudson’s River, New-Jersey, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser once again.  That title lasted for two issues before he changed it to Rivington’s New-York Loyal Gazette and, not long after that, the Royal Gazette.[1]

Although Thomas did not care for Rivington’s politics, he did give him credit for his skills as an editor, a printer, and an entrepreneur who disseminated his newspaper widely.  Thomas acknowledged that “for some time Rivington conducted his paper with as much impartiality as most of the editors of that period; and it may be added, that no newspaper in the colonies was better printed, or was more copiously furnished with foreign intelligence.”  In addition, Thomas reported that Rivington claimed that “each impression of his week Gazetteer, amounted to 3,600 copies” in October 1773.[2]  For the period, that was an extensive circulation indeed.


[1] Isaiah Thomas, History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 508-9.

[2] Thomas, History of Printing, 511.

September 3

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 3, 1772).

“Funeral SERMON … preached by the Rev. Mr. ELI FORBES, of Brookfield.”

A few months after the death of Joshua Eaton in April 1772, a subscription notice for “SOME short Account of the LIFE and CHARACTER of the late Rev’d Mr. JOSHUA EATON, of Spencer” appeared in the September 3 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The proposed volume also included “Seven of his serious and useful SERMONS – together with his Funeral SERMON, preached the Sabbath after his Interment by the Rev. Mr. ELI FORBES, of Brookfield.”

Subscription proposals for books that publishers anticipated would have widespread interest often listed local agents in cities and towns in several colonies.  Sometimes the networks for collecting subscriptions were regional, such as those that extended throughout New England, while others incorporated all of the colonies, including the efforts of Robert Bell to establish an American literary marketplace.  In this instance, however, the publishers suspected that Eaton’s biography and sermons would generate primarily local interest in central Massachusetts.  The list of local agents who collected subscriptions included “Deacons Watson and Murry of Spencer” as well as men in the nearby towns of Brookfield, Worcester, Shrewsbury, and Westborough.  Richard Draper and John Boyles, printers in Boston, were the only local agents outside of central Massachusetts.  The proposals did not include other agents along the Massachusetts coastline or in neighboring colonies.  Even in such a compact market, the subscription notice helped to generate sufficient interest to take the book to press, perhaps aided by the commitment of Eaton’s friends to honor the deceased minister.  Draper and Boyles printed the book sometime the following year, with a preface that Forbes, the editor, dated October 20, 1772.

That the subscription notice that ran in a newspaper printed in Boston listed local agents in several towns in central Massachusetts demonstrates the reach of colonial newspapers as they circulated far beyond the towns where they were published.  Newspaper advertisements likely would not have been the only means of spreading word about the proposed volume in Spencer and nearby towns, but if the advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter had been intended solely for prospective subscribers in and near Boston then it would not have been necessary to list more than half a dozen local agents in central Massachusetts.  In the absence of newspapers printed in that part of the colony prior to 1775, newspapers from Boston served as local publications.

April 5

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

South-Carolina Gazette (April 2, 1772).

“Be very punctual in their Publications … and be particularly careful in circulating the Papers.”

The first page of the April 2, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette consisted almost entirely of the masthead and advertisements placed by colonizers.  At the top of the first column, however, Peter Timothy, the printer, inserted his own notice before the “New Advertisements” placed by his customers.  In it, he announced that “my present State of Health will not admit of my continuing the PRINTING BUSINESS any longer.”  Effective on May 1, “Thomas Powell, Edward Hughes, & Co.” would “conduct and continue the Publication of this GAZETTE.”  Wishing for the success of his successors, Timothy assured readers that they could expect the same quality from the publication under new management that he had delivered “during the Course of Thirty-three Years.”  Picking up where he left off, the partners “will have the Advantage of an extensive and well established Correspondence” with printers and others who provided news.  In addition, Timothy declared that they would “be very punctual in their Publications—regular and exact in inserting the Prices Current—continue my Marine List—and be particularly careful in circulating the Papers.”

Timothy addressed subscribers and other readers when he mentioned the “Charles-Town Price Current” and “Timothy’s Marine List,” as the printer called his version of the shipping news obtained from the customs house.  In making promises about the punctually publishing newspapers and attending to their circulation, however, he addressed both readers and advertisers.  Colonizers who paid to insert notices wanted their information disseminated as quickly and as widely as possible, whether they encouraged consumers to purchase goods and services, invited bidders to attend auctions and estate sales, or offered rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves.  Certainly subscribers wanted their newspapers to arrive quickly and efficiently, but Timothy understood the importance of advertising when it came to generating revenues.  After all, he devoted only five of the twelve columns in the April 2 edition to news (including the “Charles-Town Price Current” and “Timothy’s Marine List”) and the other seven to advertising.  In addition, he distributed a half sheet supplement, another six columns, that consisted entirely of advertising.  Paid notices accounted for just over two-thirds of the content Timothy disseminated on April 2, even taking his “extensive and well established Correspondence” into consideration.

As he prepared to pass the torch to Powell and Hughes, Timothy did not address advertisers directly, but he certainly addressed concerns that would have been important to them.  The South-Carolina Gazette competed with two other newspapers published in Charleston at the time.  Timothy sought to keep both subscribers and advertisers loyal to the publication he would soon hand over to new partners.

June 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 20, 1771).

Those who advertise in this Paper … are requested to send them … on Wednesdays.”

Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, made a last-minute addition to the June 20, 1771, edition before taking it to press.  In a brief note, he declared, “Those who advertise in this Paper which circulates so extensively, are requested to send them in Season on Wednesdays:  whereby the Paper may be published earlier on Thursdays.  See SUPPLEMENT.”  The supplement that accompanied that issue did not include additional instructions for submitting advertisements.  It did contain several notices that did not appear in the standard issue as well as news items from New York, Hartford, Newport, and Providence.

The printer’s note to advertisers ran in the right margin of the third page of the June 20 edition, marking it as something inserted only after preparation of the rest of the issue had been completed.  Like other colonial newspapers, the Boston Weekly News-Letter consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  The printer began with the first and fourth pages, placing news and advertisements received in advance on those pages.  That left space for recent news and other advertisements on the second and third pages, printed only after the ink on the first and fourth pages dried.  For instance, the second and third pages of the June 20 edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter included multiple items from Boston and Cambridge dated that day.  Draper’s note to advertisers in the margin almost certainly was the last type set for the standard issue, perhaps in exasperation that some advertisers submitted their notices so late as to delay distribution of the newest edition while Draper and others who worked in the printing office produced the supplement to accompany it.

Draper tended to the interests of his subscribers and other readers in his note.  He aimed to make the newspaper available as early in the day as possible.  This also served his own interests since Isaiah Thomas published the Massachusetts Spy, a competing newspaper, on the same day.  He also angled for additional advertising, even as he clarified the right time to submit advertisements.  In asserting that the Boston Weekly News-Lettercirculates so extensively,” he not only testified to the time required for printing each edition but also assured prospective advertisers that significant numbers of readers would see their notices.  The success of his newspaper depended on attracting sufficient subscribers and advertisers.  Draper attempted to cultivate positive relationships with both constituencies, in the process offering instructions intended to facilitate the production of the newspaper while simultaneously attracting more business.

March 25

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

Boston-Gazette (March 25, 1771).

“Said Gazette has an extensive Circulation.”

In the eighteenth century, some newspaper printers used the colophon on the final page to promote subscriptions and advertising, but not every printer did so.  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, regularly updated his colophon.  In March 1771, the colophon informed readers of the subscription price, “Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, (exclusive of Postage),” and the advertising rates, “Three Shillings” for notices “not exceeding eight or ten Lines.”  Printers often inserted notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts or face legal action, but they rarely advertised their own newspapers to prospective subscribers or potential advertisers.

That made Hall an exception.  He began in his own newspaper, printed in Salem, Massachusetts, with a brief notice on March 12, 1771.  Hall informed “Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers” that Thomas Walley accepted subscriptions at his store on Dock Square.  Two weeks later, Hall placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, hoping to reach a greater number of readers.  He once again listed Walley as his local agent in Boston.  He also explained that he printed the Essex Gazette on Tuesdays and instructed subscribers that they could “apply for their Papers” at Walley’s store “every Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Hall did not limit his advertisement to seeking subscribers this time around.  He devoted eight of the thirteen lines to soliciting advertising for the Essex Gazette.  Addressing “Those Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise,” Hall proclaimed that his newspaper had “an extensive Circulation, particularly in every Town in the County of Essex.”  Furthermore, he declared that the Essex Gazette was “universally read in the large Sea Port Towns of Salem, Marblehead, Glocester and Newbury-Port” as well as “many other considerable Towns in that County.”  That was not the extent of the newspaper’s dissemination, according to the printer.  He noted that it also “circulated in most of the Towns on the Eastern Road as far as Casco-Bay” (today part of Maine).

In his efforts to increase the number of advertisers (and enhance an important revenue stream) for the Essex Gazette, Hall focused on the circulation of his newspaper.  After all, prospective advertisers knew that placing notices in any newspaper was a good investment only if a significant number of readers actually saw their advertisements.  Hall carefully delineated the reach of the Essex Gazette to reassure “Gentlemen who may have Occasion to advertise” that his newspaper had established a significant readership in the region.

March 10

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 7, 1771).

Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”

On March 7, 1771, John Stavers and Benjamin Hart inserted an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform thew public that the “POST-STAGE from and to Portsmouth in New-Hampshire” had a new location in Boston.  Formerly at the Sign of the Admiral Vernon on King Street, the stage now operated from “Mrs. Bean’s at the Sign of the Ship on Launch” on the same street.  It arrived on Wednesdays and departed on Fridays, carrying passengers, packages, and newspapers between the two towns.

Stavers and Hart’s advertisement included two notes that Richard Draper, printer of the Weekly News-Letter, likely added, perhaps after consulting with the stage operators.  Both appeared in italics, distinguishing them from the rest of the contents of the advertisement.  One note called on “Customers to this Paper, on the Eastern Road and at Portsmouth, that are indebted more than one Year … to send the Pay by the Carriers.”  In other words, Draper asked any subscribers who lived along the circuit traversed by Stavers and Hart to submit payment to them for delivery to his printing office in Boston.  The other note proclaimed that “Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”  Colonial newspapers depended on revenues generated by advertising.  In this note, Draper sought to assure prospective advertisements that placing their notices in his newspaper would be a good investment because the Weekly News-Letter reached audiences well beyond Boston.  He also encouraged prospective advertisers who lived outside the city, both to the north and the west, to place notices in the Weekly News-Letter in order to reach readers in their own communities.

Draper seems to have piggybacked messages concerning his own business on an advertisement placed by clients who operated a stage between Boston and Portsmouth.  He likely figured that a notice about transporting passengers and packages between the two towns would attract the attention of current subscribers in arrears with their accounts.  He also seized the opportunity to tout the circulation of the newspaper in order to promote it as a vehicle for disseminating advertising.  An advertisement for the “POST-STAGE” ended up doing a lot of work in the interests of the printer.

December 30

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

Dec 30 - 12:30:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 30, 1769).

The Price of a Year’s paper is in itself trifling.”

As 1769 drew to a close, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, placed two timely advertisements in the final edition for the year. In one, he continued marketing the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770.” In the other, he called on “Subscribers to this GAZETTE” to settle accounts, noting that “Numbers of them are now greatly in Arrear.”

Although January 1 marked a new year on the calendar, Carter asserted that November 9 “closed the Year” for most of his subscribers. In the seven weeks that had elapsed since then, many neglected to pay what they owed, “to the great Disadvantage of the Printer.” Carter lamented that during the past year “he has not received of his Subscribers a Sufficiency barely to defray the Expence of Paper on which the GAZETTE has been printed.” Yet he had expenses other than paper, including the “Maintenance and Pay of Workmen.” Like other printers who issued similar notices to subscribers, Carter suggested that publishing a newspaper did not pay for itself, at least not readily. If subscribers wished for the Providence Gazette to continue circulation, they had a duty to pay for that service to the community. Otherwise, “the Publication of this GAZETTE must be discontinued.”

Doing so required little sacrifice on the part of any particular subscriber. “The Price of a Year’s Paper is in itself trifling,” Carter argued, “and ‘tis certainly in the Power of every Subscriber once in Twelve Months to pay Seven Shillings.” He hypothesized that because the annual subscription fee was so low that it made it easy for subscribers to overlook it or even dismiss its importance. What did seven shillings one way or another matter to Carter? They mattered quite a bit, the printer answered, noting “that a Thousand such Trifles, when collected, make a considerable sum.”

Carter very likely exaggerated the number of subscribers for the Providence Gazette. He did so to make a point, but it served another purpose as well. The success of colonial newspapers depended at least as much on advertising revenue as subscription fees. Prospective advertisers needed to know that inserting notices in the Providence Gazette would likely yield returns on their investments because the newspaper circulated to so many subscribers throughout the colony and beyond. Inflating his circulation helped Carter encourage more advertising. That did not mean, however, that it would solve his financial difficulties. Although most of the notice addressed subscribers, Carter concluded by requesting that “EVERY PERSON indebted to him, either for the GAZETTE, Advertisements, or in any other Manner, immediately … settle and discharge his respective Account.” Apparently some advertisers were just as delinquent as subscribers when it came to paying their bills.