July 10

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 8, 1771).

“A small warehouse … in Baltimore.”

The Pennsylvania Chronicle, like other American newspapers published prior to the American Revolution, served a large region.  Published in Philadelphia, it circulated in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York.  Some copies certainly made their way to even more distant places, but it was residents of those colonies that considered the Pennsylvania Chronicle a local newspaper in terms of subscribing and advertising.

Such was the case for James Clarke, a woolen manufacturer in Baltimore, when he wished to inform “all Merchants and Traders, that he has just imported … A NEAT assortment” of merchandise “which he purposes to dispose of by wholesale.”  He invited “any merchant or tobacco planter” to contact him or visit his warehouse “at the sign of Pitt’s Head, in Baltimore.”  When he placed his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle in July 1771, Baltimore did not yet have its own newspaper.  Just over two years later, William Goddard, the printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, would commence publishing the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, but for the time being Clarke and others in Baltimore read and advertised in newspapers published elsewhere.  In addition to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, they had several options, including the Maryland Gazette published by Anne Catherine Green in Annapolis, the Pennsylvania Gazette published by David Hall and William Sellers in Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Journal published by William Bradford and Thomas Bradford in Philadelphia.  Henry Miller also published a German-language newspaper, the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, in Philadelphia.  By the end of 1771, John Dunlap launched yet another newspaper in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Packet, giving Clarke and others in Baltimore another option for a regional newspaper in the absence of one printed locally.

Advertisements like those placed by Clarke testified to the regional character of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and other newspapers.  Many of them included datelines that helped readers navigate the notices and determine which were most relevant to them, such as “Baltimore, July 1, 1771” at the top of Clarke’s advertisement.  The woolen manufacturer understood that the publication circulated widely and expected that prospective customers in Baltimore and the surrounding area would see his notice among the greater number of advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans and others who ran businesses in Philadelphia.

September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (September 8, 1769).

“A Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.”

In the late 1760s, the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven by Thomas Green and Samuel Green, carried significantly less advertisements that most newspapers printed elsewhere in the colonies. Such was the case for some of the newspapers from smaller towns. For instance, the September 8, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal contained only four advertisements. The printers placed two of those advertisements themselves. In one, they announced “A Plan of Exercise, fro the Militia of the Colony of Connecticut” for sale at their printing office. In the other, they promoted two tracts concerning religion, one that would be available soon and the other already in stock.

The other two advertisements merit particular notice. Both offered enslaved people for sale. One described “a healthy, strong NEGRO FELLOW, 22 or 23 Years old” who had “had the Small-Pox” and thus was not at risk of contracting it again. The other listed “a likely Negro Wench, aged about 23 Years” and also “a Negro Girl, between 2 and 3 Years of Age.” Nicholas Street, the colonist who held them in bondage, described the woman as “strong and healthy,” not unlike the “NEGRO FELLOW” in the other advertisement, and specified that she was “well-skilled in all Business suitable for a Wench.” He did not indicate the relationship between the woman and the girl, leaving readers to reach their own conclusions about whether Street compounded the violence being done by separating family members. He certainly did not express any compunction about selling the woman and girl separately.

Advertisements were an important source of revenue for printers. Paid notices made newspapers viable ventures; they funded the circulation of the news far and wide during the era of the American Revolution. Advertisements concerning enslaved people, whether offering them for sale or seeking the capture of those who attempted to seize their liberty by escaping, accounted for a significant portion of the paid notices that made it possible for printers to continue publishing newspapers. These two advertisements in the Connecticut Journal are especially striking because they represent the only advertising revenue the Greens accrued for the September 8 edition. Even in New England, enslavement was enmeshed in print culture. The two served as bulwarks for each other. Newspapers perpetuated slavery through the frequent publication of advertisements concerning enslaved people, while the advertising fees collected from enslavers contributed to the continuing operations of every newspaper published in colonial America.