August 17

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Packet (August 17, 1772).

“He came on redemption, and was disappointed in meeting his expected friend.”

James Gordon found himself in an unanticipated situation when he migrated from Londonderry to Philadelphia in the summer of 1772.  The “WRITING-MASTER AND ACCOMPTANT” declared that he “came on redemption, and was disappointed in meeting his expected friend.”  In other words, he did not pay his passage in advance, nor did he sign an indenture and agree to work for a set number of years in exchange for transportation across the Atlantic.  Instead, Gordon became a redemptioner.  Compared to indentured servants who signed contracts that outlined their commitments in advance of departing European ports, redemptioners were “redeemed” by colonizers who paid their passage upon arrival.  Many redemptioners arranged in advance for family and friends to redeem them.  Others, however, sailed without knowing who might redeem them, sold into indentured servitude after crossing the Atlantic.  That system was especially popular with German-speaking migrants.  Newspapers published in Philadelphia ran the greatest numbers of advertisements offering redemptioners for sale.

Gordon apparently thought that a friend would redeem him when he arrived in Philadelphia, though the friend may not have been aware of that arrangement.  Whatever the circumstances, he placed an advertisement seeking a patron to redeem him by paying for his passage and hiring him “as a Clerk or Schoolmaster.”  Gordon expressed his willingness to work for “any Gentleman, Merchant, Farmer, or other, in any part of the province of Pennsylvania, or New-Jersey.”  If no one who wanted to hire him as a clerk or schoolmaster were to “pay his redemption,” he could be redeemed by someone who had him do other kinds of work that Gordon likely would have found much less agreeable.

To avoid that possibility, Gordon added a nota bene in which he attempted to promote the qualities that made him a good schoolmaster and clerk while simultaneously not scaring off prospective employers by overselling himself.  Perhaps most importantly, he wanted to impress them with his honesty.  “As the generality of advertisers are pleased to embellish their abilities with the most exalted encomiums,” he declared, “the above Gordon, as to that point inclines to be silent, only, that by his behaviour, method of teaching, (or clerkmanship) and assiduity, flatters himself of meriting the kind approbation of any employer.”  Gordon hoped that his advertisement would convince someone would hire him as a schoolmaster or clerk.  Otherwise, he faced the prospects of the owner or captain of the vessel that carried him across the ocean would allow others to “pay his redemption” and employ him as they saw fit.  Gordon may have thought that he had a deal in place when he left Londonderry, but redemption turned out to be a gamble for the writing master and clerk.

August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:31:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle Postscript
Postscript to the Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 31, 1768).

“James Gordon Is removed from his store in Third-street.”

When he moved his shop from Third Street to Chestnut Street in the summer of 1768, James Gordon placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advise former and prospective customers where to acquire the array of goods he offered for sale. One insertion of his advertisement did not, however, appear in a standard issue distributed on Mondays, nor in a supplement that accompanied such an issue. Instead, Gordon’s advertisement and a handful of others appeared in a Postscript to the Pennsylvania Chronicle published on Wednesday, August 31. The Pennsylvania Chronicle was usually a counterpoint to the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, both distributed on Thursday, but subscribers and other readers gained access to this special issue just a day before the publication of the other two newspapers printed in Philadelphia.

William Goddard, the printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, explained the purpose of distributing the Postscript midway between issues instead of keeping to the usual schedule. “By the Earl of Halifax, arrived at New-York, from Falmouth, we have the following fresh Advices,” Goddard trumpeted, “which we now issue out in an extraordinary Half Sheet, as a Proof that we have as good Intelligence as our vigilant Neighbours, and are as willing to exert ourselves in the Service of the Public.” In other words, when it came to reporting the news from abroad the Pennsylvania Chronicle had the connections to keep its readers informed in a timely manner. That newspaper’s efforts rivaled those of its local competitors, both of which had been established for much longer. Indeed, by issuing the Postscript Goddard scooped the Gazette. The following day Hall and Sellers issued a Postscript to the Pennsylvania Gazette (in addition to the regular issue and the advertising supplement that usually accompanied it) that delivered the same news received “By the JULY PACKET, arrived at New-York from Falmouth.” That special edition also carried several advertisements.

Goddard issued the Postscript not only to keep readers informed but also to promote his newspaper. He hoped to increase circulation and, in turn, revenues from subscriptions and advertising. Compared to the Gazette and the Journal, the Chronicle carried fewer advertisements, but Goddard knew that he could attract more advertisers, like James Gordon, by increasing distribution. Prospective advertisers would be more willing to make that investment if the Chronicle increased its readership. Goddard’s note introducing the special edition was directed to advertisers as much as to readers.