April 8

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 8, 1771).

“Rider from Boston to Northampton, Deerfield, &c.”

Silent Wilde’s advertisement in the April 8, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post testified to the dissemination of that newspaper to subscribers who lived far from its place of publication.  Wilde described himself as a “Rider from Boston to Northampton, Deerfield, &c.”  He served towns in the western part of the colony, one hundred miles and more from the bustling port city.  Only six newspapers were printed in the colony at the time, five of them in Boston and one in Salem.  For residents of Northampton, Deerfield, and other towns, the Boston Evening-Post was a local newspaper.

The printing office of the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, was closer than Boston, but that newspaper did not carry nearly as much news about Massachusetts matters, including coverage of the governor and the colonial assembly, as the Evening-Post and other newspapers from Boston.  The issue of the Evening-Post that carried Wilde’s advertisement, for instance, devoted two out of three columns on the front page to news with a “BOSTON, APRIL 4” dateline.  The printers evenly divided the second page between news from London and news from Boston, including exchanges between the governor and the assembly.  The Connecticut Courant reprinted news from Boston publications, but that newspaper’s coverage of Massachusetts politics and current events was not nearly as extensive as what appeared in the newspapers published in that colony.  As was the case in most colonies, newspapers printed in the largest city served as both local and regional publications, disseminating news to the far reaches of the colony.

Wilde ran his advertisement in the Evening-Post, but he indicated that he “carried the Boston News-Papers.”  His “Engagement with the Printers” to serve subscribers in western towns likely included Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, and the Massachusetts Spy.  The names of those publications suggested both local and regional coverage of news and dissemination of newspapers.  It took some time for those publications to reach residents of Northampton, Deerfield, and other towns, but they eventually read the same news and advertising, as packaged by the printers, as residents of Boston.

March 12

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

Essex Gazette (March 12, 1771).

“Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers.”

In 1771, printers in Boston published more newspapers than in any other town or city in the colonies.  Mondays saw the distribution of three newspapers, the Boston Evening-Post printed by Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal printed by Benjamin Edes and John Gill, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy printed by John Green and Joseph Russell.  Two more newspapers came out on Thursdays, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter printed by Richard Draper and the Massachusetts Spy printed by Isaiah Thomas.  Residents of Boston had many options for reading the news.

In Salem, Samuel Hall printed and distributed the Essex Gazette on Tuesdays.  He often reprinted news that previously appeared in the Boston newspapers, though that was a reciprocal relationship.  Boston printers apparently received copies of the Essex Gazette and reprinted items from its pages.  On March 11, for instance, Edes and Gill devoted the entire front page of the Boston-Gazette to reprinting a memorial occasioned by the “Anniversary of Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston” nearly a week earlier.  Printers participated in exchange networks that gave them access to newspapers from other cities, newspapers filled with content that they could choose to reprint in their own publications.  What about readers?  Did any residents of Boston subscribe to newspapers published elsewhere?  Or did they depend on local publications to print and reprint, as so many mastheads proclaimed, “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic”?

Despite the crowded newspaper market in Boston, Hall indicated demand for the Essex Gazette existed among prospective subscribers in the bustling port city.  He inserted a notice in the March 12 edition to inform “THOSE Gentlemen, in and near Boston, who have signified their Desire of becoming Subscribers for this Gazette … that Subscriptions are taken in at the Store of Mr. Thomas Walley, on Dock-Square, Boston.”  That some residents of Boston wished to subscribe to the Essex Gazette suggests that dissemination of newspapers did not only flow out from the city to other parts of the colony but that some readers received newspapers published in other places.  For some subscribers, the Essex Gazette may have been another “local” newspaper that happened to serve an entire region, not unlike those published in Boston.  Titles that included Massachusetts (rather than Boston) or and Country Journal testified to the reach of those newspapers.  According to Hall’s advertisement, the Essex Gazette had a similar reach that extended not only into Salem’s hinterlands but into Boston as well.

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (May 27, 1768).

“A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.”

Isaac Beers and Elias Beers sold a variety of goods at their shop in New Haven. In the spring of 1768 they enumerated many of their wares in an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal, listing textiles and adornments that ranged from “blue, bluegrey, and blossom colour’d German Serges” to “A very large Assortment of Buttons, Bindings, and all kind of Trimmings for Mens Cloathes” to “A genteel Assortment of the newest fashion’d Ribbons.” They stocked grocery items, including tea, cofeem and sugar, as well as “Pigtail Tobacco” and snuff.

Although they were not booksellers or stationers, the Beers included writing supplies and books among their inventory. Like other shopkeepers, they carried “Writing Paper” and wax wafers for making seals. They also sold bibles and spelling books as well as “A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.” (Although that portion of the advertisement has been damaged in the copy of the May 27, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal seen above, the same advertisement appeared the next week in an issue that has not been damaged.)

The Beers did not need to provide any further explanation for prospective customers to identify the pamphlet that contained all twelve of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” previously printed and reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies, starting in December 1767 and continuing into the spring of 1768. In these “Letters,” Dickinson, under the pseudonym of “A Farmer,” presented a dozen essays that explained how Parliament overstepped its authority in passing the Townshend Act and other measures that usurped the authority of colonial legislatures. He encouraged colonists to resist Parliament’s designs or risk even greater abuses.

Upon completion of the series, industrious printers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia collected all twelve “Letters” in pamphlets. Printers and booksellers in several colonies advertised that they sold the “Letters,” but supplying the public with that pamphlet was not the province of the book trade alone. Shopkeepers like the Beers purchased “A few” copies to retail alongside general merchandise in their own shops, considering the “Letters” significant enough to merit particular mention in their advertisements. In so doing, they assisted in disseminating some of the arguments that eventually transformed resistance into a revolution. The choices they made as retailers and advertisers helped to shape the rhetoric of the Revolution.