April 16

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

Connecticut Courant (April 16, 1771).

“All gentlemen passengers, [who are] inclined to favour him with their custom[, will] meet with good usage, from their humb[le ser]vant.”

From the early spring through the late fall, Jeremiah Lord operated a “Passage-Boat” or ferry that transported passengers along the Connecticut River and crossed the Long Island Sound, connecting the inland village of Middletown, Connecticut, and the coastal towns of Saybrook, Connecticut, and Sag Harbor, New York.  The passage boat sailed from Middletown on the first and third Monday each month and returned from Sag Harbor the following Thursday, “winds and weather permitting.”  Each passenger paid “half a Dollar” if on foot and twice as much if transporting a horse.

Though dated “March 1771,” Lord’s advertisement first appeared in the Connecticut Courant, printed in Hartford, on April 9.  It then ran for two more weeks.  That it appeared more than once allows historians and other modern readers to discover many of the details obscured in the April 16 edition as a result of collection and preservation practices.  Many eighteenth-century newspapers currently in the collections of research libraries have not been preserved as single issues but instead have been bound together with others.  Depending on the size of the newspaper and its frequency of publication, those volumes include six months, an entire year, or even more issues.  Because they have been bound, the newspapers can no longer be laid flat.  For newspapers with generous margins, this does not matter, but for this with narrow margins it means that often some of the text has been absorbed into the binding.  Often this affects only a small portion of the text, perhaps the last couple of letters at the edge of the column, but in other instances even more text remains hidden by the binding.  Such is the case with the rightmost column on the first and last pages and the leftmost column on the second and third pages of the April 16 edition of the Connecticut Courant.

Modern readers interested in advertising overcome this obstacle by examining other issues.  Advertisements ran multiple times, their placement on the page usually changing.  Lord’s advertisement, for instance, did not appear in the column adjacent to the binding in the April 9 and April 23 editions.  It is more difficult to recover the contents of news accounts, letters, and other items usually printed only once.  Even when most of the print remains legible, other aspects of the production or preservation of historical newspapers conceal portions of the contents.