What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Warwick Bridge Lottery.”
When readers perused the pages of the July 27, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, they encountered a variety of news gathered from various sources. The first page featured editorials in the form of letters “To the PRINTER of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE” and “To the Inhabitants of the Town of Providence” as well as news from London delivered “By the Brig Diana, Captain Perkins, arrived at Boston.” News from London continued on the second page, eventually giving way to items from Jamaica and North Carolina. The third page consisted of items with datelines from Quebec, New York, Cambridge, and Boston along with brief updates about Providence. On the final page, the printer devoted most of the first column to additional news from Boston, but reserved the remainder for a list of “PRICES CURRENT inPROVIDENCE” and advertisements. Many of those advertisements delivered news that did not appear elsewhere in the newspaper.
For instance, the “Managers of the Warwick Bridge Lottery” provided a brief update on their public works project. They encouraged readers to fund their endeavor by purchasing tickets for a drawing slated to take place “in a very short Time.” In a much lengthier advertisement that ran week after week for several months, Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer, reported on actions taken by the colony’s General Assembly concerning “Old Tenor Bills.” Clarke called on “all Persons possessed of said Bills, to bring them in, and have them exchanged, agreeable to said Act of Assembly.” Clarke supplemented that notice, dated December 31, 1770, with a shorter notice dated June 20, 1771. In another advertisement that ran for several months, this one in multiple newspapers, Alexander Colden informed colonists that “HIS Majesty’s Post-Master General … has been pleased to add a fifth Packet Boat to the Station between Falmouth and New-York” for the purpose of “better facilitating … Correspondence between Great Britain and America.”
Some of the advertisements promoted a variety of consumer goods and services or described real estate for sale, but a significant number of them delivered news. In order to stay informed, readers could not dismiss advertisements out of hand but instead needed to skim them for important updates that might not appear among the articles and editorials printed on the other pages of the newspaper.