April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Karpowich

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 14, 1768).

“Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivaled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in the laws of Great Britain and the true interest of the COLONIES.”

In the April 14, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette David Hall and William Sellers published an advertisement for a pamphlet containing a popular and widely read set of letters written by John Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator from Pennsylvania. They are titled “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.” According to the introductory notes in the “Online Library of Liberty” compiled by the Liberty Fund, Dickinson penned them under the name of “A Farmer” due to the fact that they were quite controversial. In these letters, he spoke out against the British Parliament and discussed the sovereignty of the thirteen colonies. The “Letters” famously helped unite the colonists against the Townshend Acts. These acts were passed largely in response to the failure of the Stamp Act. Dickinson argues in his letters that the taxes laid upon the people with these laws were for the sole purpose of gaining revenue from the colonies. Parliament was not trying to regulate trade or the market. This meant that they were illegal and should not have been passed. This pamphlet was meant to collect all of the “Letters” to help spread Dickinson’s arguments, showing that there was already growing discontent in the colonies in the late 1760s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Hall and Sellers did not merely make an announcement that they had “Just published” a pamphlet that collected together all twelve of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.”  Not unlike modern publishers, their marketing efforts included a testimonial that described the significance of the title they offered for sale. Indeed, they devoted nearly half of the space in their advertisement to an endorsement reprinted from the Boston Chronicle.  In so doing, Hall and Sellers advised potential customers that “Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivalled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in thelawsof Great-Britain, and the true interest of the COLONIES.”  Colonists unfamiliar with the “Letters” were encouraged to purchase the pamphlet and read them.  Colonists who had already read them as they appeared in newspapers were encouraged to acquire the pamphlet and continue referring to the wisdom provided by “such an able adviser, and affectionate friend.”

The testimonial from the Boston Chronicle also indicated that the “Letters” “have been printed in every Colony, from Florida to Nova-Scotia.”  For several months in late 1767 and early 1768, printers up and down the Atlantic coast reprinted this series of twelve essays.  For some this meant an essay a week over the course of three months, but others published supplementary issues that sped up publication of the “Letters” as they simultaneously disseminated other news and advertising.  Not all newspapers had finished the project at the time Hall and Sellers published the pamphlet that collected all of the “Letters” together.  The day before their advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, James Johnston published “LETTER X” in the Georgia Gazette.  Once the pamphlet was ready for sale, printer-booksellers in several colonies began promoting it in their own newspapers.  A network of printers participated in distributing Dickinson’s “Letters” twice, first as editorial content in newspapers and then as pamphlets that conveniently collected the essays into a single volume.  As Zach notes, Dickinson’s reasoned arguments aided in uniting many colonists in opposition to abuses committed by Parliament, but the dissemination of his work depended on the active involvement of colonial printers.

April 6

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Apr 6 - 4:3:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 3, 1766).

“Just published, and to be sold … THE IMPORTANCE of the Colonies of NORTH-AMERICA, and the INTEREST of GREAT-BRITAIN, with Regard.”

This advertisement caught my eye because it is the most direct reference to the events leading up to the Revolutionary War that I have encountered. The advertisement addresses the tensions that had been present after the French and Indian War, which really damaged the colonists’ perception of Britain as their mother country. This advertisement mentions explicitly that the colonies and Great Britain were having a strained relationship.

The “just published” work included remarks on the widely despised Stamp Act, which would have been sure to draw in many readers. This also depended on public literacy. Newspapers were a part of it, but there were also smaller works, such as the pamphlets advertised here, published for ordinary colonists to read. Although the most famous, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, would not be published for another decade, these publications and others were meant to reach the minds of many Americans, giving them much to think about in regards to their relationship to Britain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Like several of the other guest curators from my Public History class, Maia has been keeping her eyes open for advertisements that illuminate the political history of the period, especially the role of the Stamp Act in the unfolding imperial crisis. It would have been difficult to miss this advertisement. The printer inserted it at the top of the first column on the first page, immediately below the masthead, making it the first item – either news or commercial notice – that a subscriber would have read.

Apr 6 - First Page of Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 3, 1766).

Note how the layout of this page provides further context and suggests how the printer likely intended readers to interact with this advertisement. It appeared immediately to the left of a list of anti-Stamp Act resolutions from the Committee of Correspondence in Cecil County, Maryland. Continuing to scan across the top of the page, readers encountered a list of resolutions passed at a recent “Meeting of the SONS OF LIBERTY of the Township of Piscataway, in the County of Middlesex, and Province of East New-Jersey.”

Of all the possible news items and advertisements that could have appeared at the top of the first column, it hardly seems like a coincidence that an advertisement for anti-Stamp Act pamphlets appeared there. The printer stoked potential customers’ outrage with the resolutions from the Committee of Correspondence and the Sons of Liberty, increasing the chances they would be interested in purchasing pamphlets about colonists’ rights and the appropriate responses to the abuses they were suffering at the hands of a Parliament that overstepped its authority. The printer yoked politics and commerce, each in the service of the other.

The story becomes more interesting when we realize that David Hall, who advertised the pamphlets, was also the printer and publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette! He used his newspaper to advance political views. At the same time, he looked to make a profit from the controversy that incited the interest that made it possible to sell these pamphlets. In designing the first page of this issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, David Hall revealed himself to be a savvy printer and entrepreneur.