What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“His Store in East-Greenwich.”
On December 23, 1769, Richard Matthewson published a newspaper advertisement promoting the “Neat Assortment of English and West-India Goods” he sold at his store near the courthouse in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. On the same day, James Mitchell Varnum also published a newspaper advertisement, that one informing the public that he “hath lately opened an Office … in the Character of Attorney at Law” in the town of East Greenwich. Both advertisements ran in the Providence Gazette. They demonstrate the widespread circulation of colonial newspapers.
For Matthewson and Varnum, the Providence Gazette, printed twenty miles distant from East Greenwich, was their local newspaper. In 1769, only two newspapers were printed in Rhode Island, the Newport Mercury by Solomon Southwick and the Providence Gazette by John Carter. Each served as clearinghouses for advertisements from beyond the busy ports where the printing offices were located. Matthewson expected that customers in East Greenwich and the surrounding villages would read the Providence Gazette and encounter his notice. Otherwise he would not have placed it. Similarly, Varnum anticipated that investing in an advertisement in the Providence Gazette would generate clients for his law office.
An explosion of printing occurred after the American Revolution. Printers established newspapers in smaller towns throughout the new United States in the final decades of the eighteenth century and even more as the nineteenth century progressed. In the period before the American Revolution, however, colonists had access to far fewer newspapers. Several newspapers emanated from the largest port cities, but they often served an entire colony or an even larger region. Some colonies had only one newspaper, such as the Georgia Gazette published in Savannah and the New-Hampshire Gazette published in Portsmouth. Their mastheads bore the name of the colony rather than the town where they were published. Only in New England were some newspapers named for cities and towns, suggesting a greater concentration of print in that region. (Newspapers published in New York served the entire colony, not just the bustling port.) Even when named for a town, however, newspapers like the Providence Gazette circulated throughout an entire colony and beyond. That made the Providence Gazette the local newspaper and appropriate place to advertise for Matthewson, Varnum, and others who lived in other parts of the colony.