October 19

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

Essex Gazette (October 19, 1773).

“The REPRESENTATIONS of Governor Hutchinson, and others, Contained in certain LETTERS transmitted to England.”

Among the various advertisements in the October 19, 1773, edition of the Essex Gazette, Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, the printers of the newspaper, offered a pamphlet “Just published in Boston” and available at their printing office.  Many readers likely already knew about the contents of the pamphlet, “The REPRESENTATIONS of Governor Hutchinson, and others, Contained in certain LETTERS transmitted to England, and afterwards returned from thence, and laid before the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the MASSACHUSETTS-BAY, Together with the RESOLVES of the two Houses thereon.”  Acquiring the pamphlet and reading the correspondence for themselves, however, gave colonizers an opportunity to see for themselves exactly what Thomas Hutchinson and others had reported to ministers and members of Parliament in letters that had not been intended for public consumption.  Purchasing and perusing the pamphlet also presented another means of participating in politics.

As Jordan E. Taylor explains in Misinformation Nation: Foreign News and the Politics of Truth ion Revolutionary America, this was not the first instance of printers publishing private letters from colonial officials to associates in London.[1]  In the wake of the arrival of British soldiers in Boston in 1768, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, published Letters to the Ministry from Governor Bernard, General Gage, and Commodore Hood.  The Halls reprinted the pamphlet and sold it in Salem.  Taylor describes the letters as “quite benign – dull even,” yet a “few passages, nevertheless, aroused indignation,” including “Bernard’s suggestion that the Massachusetts charter be altered to weaken the council and strengthen the office of the governor.”  In addition, letters from customs commissioners recommended “two or three Regiments” to “restore and support Government” in Boston.  From the perspective of the printers and many colonizers, these letters were “hard evidence that a group of officials was conspiring to intentionally exaggerate the disorder in Massachusetts and bring troops into Boston.”

In 1773, the Representations of Governor Hutchison and Others further misrepresented the situation in Massachusetts, at least according to colonizers who advocated for the patriot cause and who recognized a pattern in how the misunderstandings between the colonies and Parliament occurred.  This pamphlet included letters from Thomas Hutchinson, Andrew Oliver, the lieutenant governor, and Charles Paxton, a customs officer.  One passage written by Hutchinson addressed “the abridgment of the colonists’ liberties,” though the governor “claimed that he was predicting, rather than prescribing, that those liberties might eventually be limited.”  Paxton requested “two or three regiments” or else “Boston will be in open rebellion.”  Taylor notes that printers “widely shared the letters in their newspapers,” making them widely accessible and perhaps even generating demand for a volume that collected them together.  The letters gained sufficient interest for the pamphlet to go through ten editions as colonizers examined what Hutchinson and others had written for themselves and constructed their own narrative that the Representations and representations of colonial officials amounted to misrepresentations that caused and exacerbated the imperial crisis.


[1] For a more complete account of Letters to the Ministry and Representations of Governor Hutchinson, see Jordan E. Taylor, Misinformation Nation: Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022), 52-54.

April 23

Who was the subject of advertisements in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal (April 23, 1773).

“TO BE SOLD … A likely Negro Man … Enquire of the Printers.”

TO BE SOLD, A Negro Boy … Enquire of the Printers.”

Timothy Green ran a busy printing office in the early 1770s.  In addition to publishing the New-London Gazette, he sold books, some that he printed but most of them imported.  In the April 23, 1773, edition of his newspaper, Green advertised one of his own imprints, informing readers that “A Faithful HISTORY OF REMARKABLE OCCURRENCES, IN THE Captivity and Deliverances OF Mr. JOHN WILLIAMS, Minister of the Gospel in DEEERFIELD” was “Just Published, and to be Sold.”  Green also did job printing, including broadsides, handbills, and blanks (or forms).  Similarly, Thomas Green and Samuel Green oversaw a bustling printing office where they published the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  In the spring of 1773, they distributed subscription proposals for a new edition of “A Discourse on Justification by Faith alone. BY THE REVEREND JONATHAN EDWARDS.”  Those proposals also appeared in the April 23 edition of the New-London Gazette, part of a network of printers and others who cooperated in collecting the names of subscribers who reserved copies.

New-London Gazette (April 23, 1773).

Among their many other responsibilities, all three printers also served as slave brokers.  The same day that they promoted important historical and theological works, they also advised readers to “Enquire of the Printers” to learn more about enslaved people advertised for sale in their newspapers.  In the Connecticut Journal, a brief advertisement announced, “TO BE SOLD, (for no Fault, but for want of Employ,) A likely Negro Man, about 26 Years old, fit for Town or Country. Enquire of the Printers.”  An even shorter, but equally insidious, advertisement in the New-London Gazette stated, “TO BE SOLD, A Negro Boy, about 13 Years old, lately brought into the Country.  Enquire of the Printer.”  In both cases, the advertisers declined to identify themselves, instead instructing interested parties to contact the printers for more information.  In turn, the printers facilitated the sales of enslaved people twice over and generated revenue from the advertisements in the process.  First, they disseminated the notices, undertaking the labor required to print and distribute the advertisements and the rest of the newspapers.  Then, they actively participated in the sale of the “likely Negro Man” and the “Negro Boy, about 13 Years old,” responding to messages they received in the printing office and colonizers who visited to learn more.  As these advertisements demonstrate, printers in New England participated in perpetuating slavery during the era of the American Revolution, alongside their counterparts in Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and other colonies with greater numbers of enslaved people.  Such advertisements underwrote the production and dissemination of the news, while those that required readers to “Enquire of the Printers” further enmeshed printers in the slave trade as brokers for sales.

For an extended consideration of such advertisements, see Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 287-323, and the companion website.

March 19

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

Essex Gazette (March 19, 1771).

“Whoever has a Mind to purchase … by applying to the Printer hereof may know further.”

Advertisements for grocery items, an “elegant Assortment of English GOODS,” sermons in memory of George Whitefield, and real estate for sale or lease ran in the March 19, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Readers were accustomed to encountering each sort of advertisement when they perused the Essex Gazette.  They were also accustomed to another kind of advertisement that offered enslaved people for sale.  In that issue, an anonymous advertiser presented a “likely, healthy, stout NEGRO Man, of about 30 Years of Age, who understands the farming Business in all its Branches.”  The advertiser advised prospective purchasers that the enslaved man was “To be SOLD, for Want of Employ, and not for any Fault.”  In other words, he was not ill, lazy, or disorderly; his current enslaver did not have enough work to keep him occupied.  The advertiser, who also had a “House Lot” in Marblehead for sale, instructed interested parties to contact the printer for more information.

Samuel Hall was that printer.  He began printing the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in August 1768.  The success of that newspaper and every other newspaper published in the colonies depended on attracting both subscribers and advertisers, but it also depended on other services provided at the printing office.  Printers served as information brokers.  The newspapers they distributed accounted for only a portion of the information in their possession.  They frequently disseminated via other means, including letters and conversations in printing offices, information that did not appear in print, especially when advertisers did not include all the particulars in their notices but instead asked readers to “enquire of the printer.”  In some cases, they made introductions, putting those who made inquiries in contact with advertisers.  On other occasions, they supplied additional details.  Either way, they acted as brokers, not only brokers of information but also brokers who facilitated sales.

When Hall published an advertisement for a “House Lot in Marblehead” and a “likely, healthy, stout NEGRO Man” that told readers they could learn more “by applying to the Printer,” he became a real estate broker and a broker in the slave trade.  Jordan E. Taylor has recently examined “enquire of the printer” advertisements published throughout the colonies and new nation in the eighteenth century, demonstrating that Hall was not alone.[1]  Taylor identified more than 2100 unique “enquire of the printer” advertisements offering enslaved people for sale.  Printers from New England to Georgia actively participated in the slave trade, both by publishing advertisements about enslaved people and by acting as a broker for “enquire of the printer” advertisements.  As Taylor argues, “Print culture was inextricable from the culture of slavery, just as print capitalism was slavery’s capitalism.”


[1] Jordan E. Taylor, “Enquire of the Printer:  Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704-1807,” Early American Studies:  An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 287-323.