June 17

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (June 17, 1773).

“A Rogue!  A Rogue!  A Rogue!”

The headline set one advertisement apart from others that appeared in the June 17, 1773, edition of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  Some of those others had headlines like “TO BE SOLD,” “IMPORTED,” “TO BE LETT,” or “WANTED.”  Many deployed the name of the advertiser as the headline, including “ABRAHAM DURYEE,” “ENNIS GRAHAM,” “THOMAS HAZARD,” and “JOSEPH PEARSALL.”  Even the printer used his own name, “JAMES RIVINGTON,” as the headline for his advertisement.  A few headlines provided more specific details, such as “DELAWARE LOTTERY,” “HORSEMANSHIP,” “INDIGO,” “THEATRE,” and “WATCHES.”

One distinctive advertisement paired two headlines, “FIVE POUNDS REWARD” and “A Rogue!  A Rogue!  A Rogue!” The first frequently appeared in advertisements describing and offering rewards for the capture and return of apprentices and indentured servants who ran away from their masters and enslaved people who liberated themselves from their enslavers.  In contrast, the repetition of “A Rogue!  A Rogue!  A Rogue!” set the advertisement apart from any of the others and likely demanded the attention of readers, inciting curiosity about what kind of offenses merited such a headline.

When they set about learning more, readers discovered that the rogue was an “atrocious villain, known by the name of Isaac Vanden Velden” who had recently “imposed on several persons in this city, with bills of exchange, which he has forged in the name of Mr. Paul Hogstraffer, of Albany.”  Even before those incidents, Vanden Velden had a reputation for misconduct in both Philadelphia and Albany, according to the advertisement, and sometimes “pretends to have large rights in land on the Mississippi.  The con artist “talks fast, and affects a good deal of propriety in his conversation,” so much so that he “has a very good address, and appears capable of executing any artful piece of fraud.”  Readers might detect Vander Velden, “a German,” from his speech; although he “speak good English,” he retained “a little of his own country accent.”

A nota bene indicated that the rogue was headed in the direction of Philadelphia.  Given the circulation of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer well beyond the city, the advertiser hoped that readers put on alert about Vanden Velden would capture and “secure the above impostor in any of his Majesty’s jails, so that he may be brought to justice.”  In this instance, the advertisement with its extraordinary headline served as a public service announcement and a supplement to the news that ran elsewhere in the newspaper.

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.