What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He now rides Post from Providence to Norwich, and will engage to deliver the Providence Gazette.”
In the early 1770s, the Providence Gazette simultaneously served as both local and regional newspaper. With only two newspapers printed in Rhode Island, the Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette, those publications provided news and advertising to towns throughout the colony as well as central and southeastern Massachusetts and western Connecticut. Advertisements testify to the reach of the Providence Gazette, its dissemination beyond the port where John Carter printed the newspaper.
For instance, Reuben Bishop advertised his services as a post rider from in the fall of 1773. He covered a route between Providence and Norwich, Connecticut, forty-five miles to the southwest. Bishop offered to deliver the newspaper to “the present Subscribers on that Road, or to any others that may subscribe.” Those others would have seen his advertisement when they perused copies of the Providence Gazette that passed from hand to hand, from household to household. Colonial newspapers rarely had a single reader. In addition to carrying letters and newspapers, Bishop proposed that he could “other Business, on reasonable Terms,” on behalf of those who engaged his services. Customers in the Providence area could find him “at the House of Col. Knight Dexter” on Saturday mornings, the same day that Carter published a new weekly edition of the Providence Gazette. Bishop presumably departed for Norwich once he had the newspapers to deliver to subscribers along his route.
Other advertisements in the September 11 edition also demonstrate that the Providence Gazette kept colonizers near and far informed about current events. In one notice, Uzal Green of Coventry lamented that his wife, Martha, “hath eloped from me, and refuses to return to my Bed and Board.” The aggrieved husband, who very likely gave his wife good reason for departing from his household, warned that he would not pay “any Debt of her contracting.” He cut her off from his credit. Unlike most husbands who placed such advertisements, he addressed his wife, declaring that he “will receive her kindly” if she “will return home to me.” He trusted that she would read or hear about that overture thanks to the wide distribution of the Providence Gazette. In another advertisement, the “Directors of the Congregational Meeting-House Lottery” in East Greenwich provided an update about their endeavor and directed colonizers to purchase tickets from agents in their town, Providence, and Newport.
After the American Revolution, printing offices established newspapers in many more towns, but throughout the colonial period newspaper publication was concentrated in major and minor ports. Post riders like Reuben Bishop provided a valuable service in disseminating the Providence Gazette and other newspapers far beyond their places of publication.