February 24

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 24, 1773).

“A weekly NEWS-PAPER … differing materially in its plan from most others now extant.”

James Rivington’s efforts to launch a new newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or, the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, continued in the February 24, 1773, editions of the Pennsylvania Gazetteand the Pennsylvania Journal.  Although published in New York, Rivington intended circulation far beyond the city and sought subscribers in distant towns.  His first efforts to promote the proposed newspaper in the public prints appeared as advertisements in the Newport Mercury, a shorter notice, and the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a much more extensive notice, on February 22.

Despite its length, the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle did not give any particulars about how readers could subscribe to Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  The advertisement in the Newport Mercury concluded with a note that “Subscriptions are taken in by MOSES M. HAYS, of Newport, and the printer hereof,” but readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle did not have access to similar information.  The advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal remedied that, advising that “Subscriptions are received by Mr. Nicholas Brooks, near the Coffee-House in Philadelphia.”  Given how often printers served as brokers of information that did not appear in their newspapers, prospective subscribers could have also enquired at any of the printing offices of the newspapers that carried Rivington’s advertisements.

In addition to naming a local agent, the advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journalincluded the same appeals that Rivington made in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Although readers in Philadelphia and its hinterlands already had access to four newspapers in English and two in German, Rivington asserted that he would supply something different when he entered “this Periodical Business.”  He planned to publish the usual sorts of news about current events, politics, and commerce, yet he also aimed to supplement that material with items often associated with magazines imported from London.  That meant his readers would encounter the “best modern essays,” a “review of new-books … with extracts,” and “new inventions in arts and sciences, mechanics and manufactures, [and] agriculture and natural history.”  Rivington, known for his Loyalist sympathies, offered a selection of reading material that he may have believed emphasized cultural connections within the empire as a means of counteracting what he saw as an American press that too often stoked tensions during the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s.

February 22

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

Newport Mercury (February 22, 1773).

“Such original pieces and extracts as will afford the most pleasing and useful amusement.”

James Rivington, a prominent printer and bookseller in New York, determined that the city needed another newspaper to supplement the three already published there in 1773.  He envisioned, however, a publication that would circulate far beyond the city and even beyond the colony.  When the first issue appeared on April 22, the masthead bore a lengthy title, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser.  All colonial newspapers were regional rather than local, but Rivington sought to serve several regions simultaneously.

Although he frequently placed advertisements for books, stationery, and other merchandise in newspapers printed in New York, Rivington did not place his first advertisements for his own newspaper in the city.  Instead, his first newspaper notices appeared in the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 22, 1773.  Over the next several weeks, his advertising campaign expanded to several other newspapers.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 22, 1773).

Rivington placed a fairly humble notice in the Newport Mercury, announcing his plan to publish “a WEEKLY GAZETTE, or the CITY and COUNTRY ADVERTISER” that would “contain the best and freshest advices, foreign and domestic, and such original pieces as will afford the most pleasing and useful amusement.”  He listed the prices, promised that “All favours from the inhabitants of Rhode-Island colony, will be gratefully acknowledged,” and identified local agents who collected subscriptions, including the printer of the Newport Mercury.

In comparison, his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle had a much grander tone.  Rivington proclaimed that he would publish a newspaper “differing materially in its Plan from most now extant” and asserted that he received “Encouragement from the first Personages in this Country” to pursue the endeavor.  Now he needed “public Patronage” or subscribers.  Over the course of six lines, the full title of the newspaper appeared as a headline, followed by the “Plan” that described the purpose and contents of the newspaper.  He pledged to invest “All his humble Labours” and select materials according to “the most perfect Integrity and Candour.”  He concluded by noting that he planned to distribute the first issue “when the Season will permit the several Post-Riders to perform their Stages regularly.”  After all, it did not good for residents of Philadelphia and other towns to subscribe to this newspaper if they would not receive it in a timely fashion.

Compared to the description of “such original pieces and extracts as will afford the most pleasing and useful amusement” that Rivington mentioned in his advertisement in the Newport Mercury, the “Plan” in his notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle was much more extensive.  His newspaper would include some of the usual content, such as “the most important Events, Foreign and Domestic” and “the Mercantile Interest in Arrivals, Departures and Prices Current, at Home and Abroad.”  In addition, Rivington trumpeted that the “State of Learning shall be constantly reported.”  It seemed as though he intended to publish content that often appeared in magazines imported from London, such as the “best Modern Essays,” “New Inventions in Arts and Sciences, Mechanics and Manufactures, Agriculture and Natural History,” and a “Review of Mew Books … with Extracts from every deserving Performance.”  Rivington took his responsibilities as editor seriously, refusing to publish any “crafty Attempt with cozening Title, from the Garrets of GRUBB-STREET.”  His readers could depend on receiving only content “that may contribute to the Improvement, Information and Entertainment of the Public.”

Although Rivington went into greater detail when addressing readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle compared to readers of the Newport Mercury, in each instance he sought to entice prospective subscribers with more than just the news, those “freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”  He promised additional content that would amuse as well as inform.  Several newspapers included a poetry corner on the final page, printing a new poem each week.  Rivington proposed giving his subscribers an even greater amount of literary content, delivering items that tended to appear in magazines.  He hoped that would help to distinguish his newspaper from other published in New York and other towns in the colonies.