April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Karpowich

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 14, 1768).

“Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivaled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in the laws of Great Britain and the true interest of the COLONIES.”

In the April 14, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette David Hall and William Sellers published an advertisement for a pamphlet containing a popular and widely read set of letters written by John Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator from Pennsylvania. They are titled “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.” According to the introductory notes in the “Online Library of Liberty” compiled by the Liberty Fund, Dickinson penned them under the name of “A Farmer” due to the fact that they were quite controversial. In these letters, he spoke out against the British Parliament and discussed the sovereignty of the thirteen colonies. The “Letters” famously helped unite the colonists against the Townshend Acts. These acts were passed largely in response to the failure of the Stamp Act. Dickinson argues in his letters that the taxes laid upon the people with these laws were for the sole purpose of gaining revenue from the colonies. Parliament was not trying to regulate trade or the market. This meant that they were illegal and should not have been passed. This pamphlet was meant to collect all of the “Letters” to help spread Dickinson’s arguments, showing that there was already growing discontent in the colonies in the late 1760s.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Hall and Sellers did not merely make an announcement that they had “Just published” a pamphlet that collected together all twelve of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.”  Not unlike modern publishers, their marketing efforts included a testimonial that described the significance of the title they offered for sale. Indeed, they devoted nearly half of the space in their advertisement to an endorsement reprinted from the Boston Chronicle.  In so doing, Hall and Sellers advised potential customers that “Among all the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivalled for strength of argument, elegance of diction, knowledge in thelawsof Great-Britain, and the true interest of the COLONIES.”  Colonists unfamiliar with the “Letters” were encouraged to purchase the pamphlet and read them.  Colonists who had already read them as they appeared in newspapers were encouraged to acquire the pamphlet and continue referring to the wisdom provided by “such an able adviser, and affectionate friend.”

The testimonial from the Boston Chronicle also indicated that the “Letters” “have been printed in every Colony, from Florida to Nova-Scotia.”  For several months in late 1767 and early 1768, printers up and down the Atlantic coast reprinted this series of twelve essays.  For some this meant an essay a week over the course of three months, but others published supplementary issues that sped up publication of the “Letters” as they simultaneously disseminated other news and advertising.  Not all newspapers had finished the project at the time Hall and Sellers published the pamphlet that collected all of the “Letters” together.  The day before their advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, James Johnston published “LETTER X” in the Georgia Gazette.  Once the pamphlet was ready for sale, printer-booksellers in several colonies began promoting it in their own newspapers.  A network of printers participated in distributing Dickinson’s “Letters” twice, first as editorial content in newspapers and then as pamphlets that conveniently collected the essays into a single volume.  As Zach notes, Dickinson’s reasoned arguments aided in uniting many colonists in opposition to abuses committed by Parliament, but the dissemination of his work depended on the active involvement of colonial printers.

February 4

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

Feb 4 - 2:4:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy Extraordinary
New-York Gazette Extraordinary [New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy] (February 4, 1768).

“HENDRICK OUDERNAARDE, BROKER, HAS to sell all Sorts of European and West-India Goods.”

Hendrick Oudenaaerde’s advertisement appeared in an Extraordinary issue that supplemented James Parker’s New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Parker published his Gazette (not to be confused with Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury) on Mondays, but explained that circumstances warranted distributing an Extraordinary on Thursday, February 4, 1768. “Letter IX” from the series of “Letters from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” filled nearly four of the six columns in the Extraordinary; news and advertising filled the remainder. According to Parker, “As the Farmer’s Letters came too late for our Paper on Monday last, in order to oblige our Customers, we have given this additional Gazette, and thereby prevent the room being encroached on, in next Monday’s Paper.” This decision resulted in disseminating a greater amount of advertising – for consumer goods, for runaway slaves, for real estate – to readers of Parker’s Gazette alongside “Letter IX.”

Like many other printers throughout the colonies, Parker reprinted a series of essays, twelve in total, written by John Dickinson in 1767 and 1768. Dickinson, a lawyer and legislator rather than a farmer, argued that Parliament did not have the authority to raise revenues by imposing taxes on the American colonies. He conceded that Parliament could regulate trade, yet stressed that the colonies retained sovereignty over their internal affairs, including taxation. In “Letter IX,” Dickinson addressed the necessity for local representation in established assemblies. Published far and wide, the “Letters” helped to unify colonists in opposition to the Townshend Acts.

Readers of Parker’s Gazette could not consume “Letter IX” without being exposed to the advertisements that accompanied it. Public discourse concerning the political ramifications of Parliament’s policies concerning commerce and other matters contributed to an even wider and more frequent distribution of advertising in the late colonial period. In general, the revenues generated by advertisements made it possible for printers to publish and disseminate the news and editorial items that informed debates and shaped sentiments in the colonies. Broadly speaking, that was the case here: the revenues from the advertisements that regularly appeared in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy allowed Parker to issue the extraordinary issue. However, the printer may not have generated additional revenues from the particular advertisements that appeared in the extraordinary. Advertisers usually paid to have their notices inserted for a certain numbers of weeks. The compositor may have chosen half a dozen advertisements that served as filler to complete the issue, but the printer may have run them gratis for the sake of filling the final page. Advertisers who paid to have their notices inserted for a specified number of weeks would have expected to see them in the regular issues of Parker’s Gazette for that many weeks.

In other words, the revenues from advertising generally supported the publication of news and editorials that shaped colonial discourse during the imperial crisis, yet the imperatives of distributing political content also bolstered an expanded dissemination of advertising.

January 20

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

Jan 20 - 1:20:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette Extraordinary (January 20, 1768).

“FOUR Years of a Mulatto Girl’s Time to be Sold.”

James Parker issued an Extraordinary issue of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy on January 20, 1768, just two days after publishing the regular issue for the week. The printer explained that “Matters of Amusement and Speculation, as well as News by the Packet, crowding in upon us at this Juncture, we think it necessary to give this Second extra Gazette, in Order to be upon a Par with our Neighbours.” The Extraordinary consisted of two pages, compared to the four of the regular Gazette. In addition to the “Matters of Amusement and Speculation” and “News” received via recent arrivals in the port city, the Extraordinary also featured a list of the “PRICE CURRENT in NEW-YORK” and three short advertisements.

Those advertisements included one that announced “FOUR Years of a Mulatto Girl’s Time to be Sold.” The unnamed “Mulatto Girl” apparently was not a slave, despite her mixed heritage. That the advertiser sold four years of her time rather than selling her outright suggests that she was an indentured servant who would eventually gain her freedom once her indenture expired. Given that so many other mulatto men, women, and children were enslaved in colonial America, how had this come to happen? How had this mulatto girl escaped enslavement for life in favor of servitude for a fixed number of years?

Perhaps her mother was a free woman. Within a cultural and legal framework that specified that the status of the child followed the condition of the mother, it did not matter if the mulatto girl’s mother was white, black, or mulatto, nor did it matter if her father was free, enslaved, or indentured. If her mother had been a free woman at the time of the mulatto girl’s birth then the child would have been free herself. Financial considerations may have contributed to the decision to indenture the girl for a portion of her childhood and youth. Alternately, her mother may have been enslaved but managed to negotiate for the eventual freedom of her offspring. Securing an indenture for her daughter may have been a means of achieving gradual emancipation. Other circumstances may have shaped the mulatto girl’s experiences. The advertisement does not provide enough information to know for certain.

The notice appeared in an interesting context. What kinds of news did James Parker consider so pressing as to warrant an Extraordinary issue? The bulk of the supplement consisted of the seventh in the series of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” that critiqued the Townshend Acts. Even though Dickinson recognized the authority of Parliament to oversee the empire, he argued that the colonies possessed sovereignty over their internal affairs. In particular, he stressed that Parliament overstepped its authority by imposing taxes on the colonies intended to raise revenues rather than merely regulating trade.

As many colonists asserted their rights and printers published letters and speeches that defended the liberty of the North American colonies, they also accepted various forms of unfree labor, including enslavement and indentured servitude. Those systems extended beyond just labor; slaves and indentured servants experienced unfree status in colonial society. Advertisements that promoted and reinforced slavery and indentured servitude appeared alongside impassioned appeals to liberty like Dickinson’s “Letters.” The revenues such advertisements generated for printers helped to fund the dissemination of newspapers that made stark calls for freedom from enslavement to the abuses of Parliament. That an advertisement for “FOUR Years of a Mulatto Girl’s Time” appeared alongside Dickinson’s “LETTER VII” demonstrated complex and contradictory understanding of the nature of liberty during the revolutionary era.