What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“If propagating injurious reports be at all commendable …”
Whether or not advertisements achieved the intended purposes of those who placed them in colonial newspapers, they did generate revenue for the printers who published them. At least that was the case once advertisers paid for their advertisements; colonial printers frequently inserted their own notices calling on subscribers and advertisers alike to settle accounts long overdue.
If his clients did indeed pay, James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, generated significant revenue by publishing two series of advertisements between feuding colonists in the spring of 1768. It began with the dispute between Lachlan McGillivray and John Joachim Zubly. Over the course of several lengthy advertisements, the two men published point and counterpoint among the advertisements in the Georgia Gazette. They spilled so much ink making accusations and defending their reputations that Johnston even published a two-page supplement devoted entirely to their quarrel because including their notices in the regular issue would have crowded out both news and other advertisements. That they thrust and parried in the pages of the Georgia Gazette week after week over the course of a month likely provided entertainment for some readers not involved in their disagreement.
That exchange had barely died down before another found its way into the Georgia colony’s only newspaper. Upon receiving a letter from John Mullryne informing her of his intention to publish “a short dissertation upon Slanders” and “the danger of envenomed tongues,” Heriot Crooke opted to promptly place her own advertisement in the Georgia Gazette for public view rather than respond privately to her correspondent. In so doing, she preempted Mullryne and shaped the narrative by suggesting that she had had nothing to hide when it came to his accusations about how she had comported herself when discussing the candidates standing for election to become “Member of Assembly for Vernonburgh.” Crooke’s advertisement ran in the May 11 edition of the Georgia Gazette. It appeared again the following week, but by then Mullryne had composed a lengthy response. In it, he accused Crooke of being a pawn who acted “under the influence of a prompter or prompters.” He then defended himself against accusations leveled in an affidavit that had been included in Crooke’s original advertisement.
Together, the two advertisements filled approximately two-thirds of a column, a significant amount of space in a newspaper comprised of only eight columns. Assuming that Johnston, like many other printers, charged by the length of the advertisement, he stood to profit from the feud that unfolded among the advertisements in his newspaper. This also benefited the advertisers who wished to draw attention to the legal issues they litigated in their notices. By paying to have their advertisements inserted, Crooke and Mullryne (as well as McGillivray and Zubly) sidestepped the editorial process involved in selecting which news items to publish. In publishing advertisements, they made sure the content they wanted to see in the Georgia Gazette was indeed available for consideration by the public.