September 30

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

Sep 30 - 9:30:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 30, 1769).

“Advertise the said William Hambleton Scholar as a notorious Cheat.”

Advertisement or news article? An item that appeared in the September 30, 2019, edition of the Providence Gazette raises interesting questions about its purpose. Extending half a column, it detailed the activities of William Hambleton Scholar, a confidence man who had defrauded Philip Freeman, Jr., of “Fifty-one Pounds Ten Shillings Sterling” through the sale of “a Bank Bill of England, and two private Bankers Promissory Notes.” All three financial devices were forgeries. It took Freeman some time to learn that was the case. He had purchased the bank bill and promissory notes in May and remitted them to associates in London, only to learn several months later that Giles Loare, “principal Notary of the City of London” declared them “absolute Forgeries.”

In response, officials from the Bank of England “authorized and requested” that Freeman “advertise the said William Hambleton Scholar as a notorious cheat.” They instructed Freeman to act on their behalf to encourage the apprehension of the confidence man. To that end, “[t]he Company of Bankers also request the Publishers of the several News-Papers, through the several Provinces, to publish this Advertisement.” Freeman asserted that the public was “greatly interested in this Affair,” but also warned that Scholar had another fifty bank bills “all struck off of a Copper-Plate, in the neatest Manner, and so near the true ones as to be hardly perceivable.” The narrative of misdeeds concluded with a description of the confidence man, intended to help the public more easily recognize him since “it is uncertain which Way he may travel.”

Was this item a paid notice or a news article? Freeman referred to it as an “Advertisement,” but “advertisement” sometimes meant announcement in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world. It did not necessarily connote that someone paid to have an item inserted in the public prints. The story of Scholar and the forged bank bills appeared almost immediately after news items from New England, though the printer’s advertisement for a journeyman printer appeared between news from Providence and the chronicle of the confidence man’s deception. No paid notices separated the account from the news, yet a paid notice did appear immediately after it. This made it unclear at what point the content of the issue shifted from news to paid notices. The following page featured more news and then about half a dozen paid notices. Perhaps the printer had no expectation of collecting fees for inserting the item in his newspaper, running it as a service to the public. It informed, but also potentially entertained readers who had not been victims of Scholar’s duplicity. That the “Advertisement” interested readers may have been sufficient remuneration for printing it in the Providence Gazette.

July 5

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

Jul 5 - 7:2:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 2, 1767).

“If the Goods are recovered a handsome Reward will be given.”

Shopkeeper Thomas Fisher got duped! He placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal that related the story of a customer who lied to him and then absconded with quite a selection from his inventory. Fisher wanted his goods back and the thief punished. To that end, he offered “a handsome Reward.”

Fisher was too trusting when a young man visited his shop and introduced himself as “the Son of Mr. John Riker of this City” and then provided further embellishments to his tale. He claimed that “he had served an Apprenticeship” at sea with Captain Prince, a regular client in Fisher’s shop. As was the tradition at the end of many apprenticeships and indentures, the young man was to receive a set of clothes from his former master, a parting gift to launch him into the world. Fisher did not question the young man’s identity or doubt that Prince had dispatched him to his shop “to take of me such Clothes as were necessary for his outfit,” even though he had not heard directly from the captain about charging items to his account. After all, the young many told this story “with so many probably Circumstances,” prompting Fisher to give him all the goods eh chose. It was only the next day that Fisher learned that neither Riker nor Fisher knew anything about the young man. By then, he had made off with considerable merchandise, including “Three Yards of blue and Pink mixt seven Quarter broad cloth, yellow double gilt Metal Buttons, with all other Trimmings suitable for a Coat and Breeches.” Although neither Thomas Fisher nor Captain Prince knew this con man, he knew enough about their business relationship to pull the wool over the shopkeeper’s eyes.

Not all colonists participated in the consumer revolution through lawful means. Some resorted to stealing; others bought stolen goods through an informal economy that operated along extralegal avenues. Fisher suspected that the young man who fooled him might attempt to sell the stolen textiles and adornments. Alternately, he might take them to a tailor to be made into a suit that he could then wear or sell. Whatever eventually happened to these particular fabrics and buttons, frequent advertisements about items stolen from shops and homes suggest that many consumer goods circulated in colonial America that had not been exchanged in the legitimate marketplace. Some colonists found alternate means of acquiring the goods they desired.