What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“RUN AWAY … TWO NEGROE MEN.”
Given the distance, it is not surprising that it took longer for word of the Boston Massacre to reach James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, than his counterparts in other cities. On April 11, 1770, he published coverage of the Massacre, reprinting the article that originally appeared in Edes and Gill’s Boston-Gazette on March 12. Johnston did not indicate whether he reprinted the news directly from the Boston-Gazette or from one of the many newspapers that had earlier reprinted and further disseminated Edes and Gill’s coverage of the shocking event.
The news from Boston comprised almost an entire page, prompting Johnston to issue a relatively rare advertising supplement because he lacked space for all the content for that week. The supplement featured sixteen advertisements, including three that described enslaved men and women who escaped from the colonists who held them in bondage.
Johnston’s supplement to the Georgia Gazette did not take the same form as most supplements to other newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Those usually ran on half sheets with a masthead to identify the publication. The only indication that this supplement belongs with the April 11 edition of the Georgia Gazette is a notation at the bottom of the page. “[No. 340.]” corresponded to the issue number in the masthead of the standard issue.
It is impossible to tell the size of the sheet for Johnston’s April 11 supplement from digitized copies of the Georgia Gazette except to say that it certainly was not a half sheet. It may very well have been a quarter sheet. Under other circumstances, I would visit the American Antiquarian Society to examine an original edition and take measurements, but that library, like others across the nation, is temporarily closed as part of the physical distancing measures to slow and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
No matter the size of the supplement, carrying news of the momentous events in Boston forced Johnston to decide between enlarging the size of the Georgia Gazette on April 11 or choosing among advertisements and other news to delay for a week. Having a duty to subscribers to provide news and a financial obligation to advertisers to distribute their notices, Johnston opted for creating a supplement. Doing so drew on a precious resource, considering that imported paper was still taxed under the Townshend Acts and supplies of paper produced in the colonies were limited.