August 21

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

Maryland Journal (August 20, 1773).

“He rides POST from the town of Baltimore to the town of Frederick (once a week).”

The inaugural issue of the Maryland Journal carried twenty advertisements in addition to an address from William Goddard, the printer, news from London, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, an essay “On the SIMPLICITY OF DRESS,” a letter responding to an editorial in the Maryland Gazette, prices current for commodities in Baltimore, a list of letters arrived “by the Frederick-Town POST,” and a poem.  Like other colonial newspapers, the Maryland Journal featured a variety of content.  As Goddard explained in his address, the publication “shall contain not only the Public News, which I shall collect and compile with the greatest Care, but … I will supply the Room with such moral Pieces, from the best Writers, as will conduce most to inculcate good Principles and humane Behaviour, and now and then with Pieces of Wit and Humour, that tend both to amuse and instruct.”

The advertisements included one from the post rider who had delivered the letters from Frederick, a town about forty-five miles west of Baltimore.  Absalom Bonham informed the public that he made the journey between Baltimore and Frederick once a week.  In addition, he continued from Frederick on to Winchester, Virginia, delivering messages, carrying letters, and distributing newspapers.  The post rider also served as a subscription agent for the Maryland Journaland the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the newspaper that Goddard had published in Philadelphia for the past several years.  Bonham set off “from Mr. WILLIAM ADAMS’s, at the sign of the Race Horses, in Baltimore,” every Saturday afternoon, the day after the weekly edition of the Maryland Journal went to press.  He apparently figured that residents of Frederick, Winchester, and other towns along the way were already familiar enough with his comings and goings that he did not need to provide additional information about his route and schedule.

In another notice in the inaugural issue, Goddard offered employment to an “active faithful Man, who can write a tolerable Hand, and keep a fair Account, and is otherwise well qualified to ride as a private POST or CARRIER between this Town and Philadelphia, once a Week.”  The printer needed a trustworthy assistant bow that he oversaw publication of newspapers in two towns.  Both of these advertisements testified to the infrastructure for producing and, especially, disseminating newspapers in eighteenth-century America.  Goddard had already undertaken a campaign for attracting subscribers for the Maryland Journal.  Bonham, the post rider, continued those efforts as part of his duties in the towns he visited each week.

February 9

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

Providence Gazette (February 9, 1771).

“HIS Majesty’s Post-Master General … has been pleased to add a fifth Packet-Boat to the Station between Falmouth and New-York.”

In January and February 1771, an advertisement that ran in newspapers published in several colonies informed colonists of an improvement to the communications infrastructure that connected them to Britain.  The postmaster general added “a fifth Packet-Boat to the Station between Falmouth and New-York” for the purpose of “better facilitating … Correspondence between Great-Britain and America.”  The advertisement gave notice that the mail “will be closed at the Post-Office in New-York … on the first Tuesday in every Month” and then “dispatched by a Packet the next Day for Falmouth.”

Dated “New-York, Jan. 22, 1771,” this advertisement appeared in the January 28 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  The notice next ran in the New-York Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal on January 31.  (It may have been in the January 24 edition of the New-York Journal; a page is missing from the digitized copy.)  The advertisement soon found its way into the Providence Gazette on February 2 and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on February 4.  By then, it ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury a second time, though it did not run in every newspaper more than once.  The advertisement next appeared in the Maryland Gazette on February 7 and the New-Hampshire Gazette on February 8.  Additional newspapers in Boston carried it on February 11, including the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  The Essex Gazette ran the notice on February 12, as did Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette and Rind’s Virginia Gazette on February 14.  It made a surprising late appearance in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 18 (though it may have been in that newspaper on February 4, an issue not available via the databases of digitized newspapers).  Unfortunately, several issues of newspapers published in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in the ensuing weeks have not survived, making it impossible to determine when or if readers in those colonies encountered the same advertisement.

Throughout the Middle Colonies, New England, and the Chesapeake, however, colonists had access to the notice within a matter of weeks.  It did not appear in every newspaper, but it did run in newspapers in the major newspapers published in the largest port cities as well as several minor newspapers in smaller towns.  Although formatting shifted from one newspaper to another, the copy remained the same.  In each case, the first appearance of the advertisement benefited from a privileged place on the page, often positioned immediately after news items and before other advertisements.  That likely increased the chances that readers uninterested in perusing the advertisements would at least see the notice about the additional packet boat that transported mail across the Atlantic.  Its placement allowed it to operate as both news and advertisement.  Newspapers, one vital component of colonial communications networks, kept readers informed about improvements to the postal system, another important component.