February 11

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

Feb 11 - 2:8:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 8, 1770).

“The House to be supplied with the News-Papers for the Amusement of his Customers.”

When Daniel Jones opened a tavern “at the Sign of the HAT and HELMET” on Newbury Street in Boston, he placed an advertisement in the February 8, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. He listed many amenities that he provide for “Gentlemen Travellers and others,” including coffee, “good Liquors,” and “good Care” taken of their horses. Jones also indicated, “The House to be supplied with the News-Papers for the Amusement of his Customers.”

In making that pledge, Jones revealed that he offered a service available in many eighteenth-century coffeehouses and taverns. Colonists did not need to subscribe to newspapers in order to gain access to them. Instead, they could patronize establishments that maintained subscriptions expressly for the purpose of serving their clientele. Jones stated that customers at the Hat and Helmet would be bale to read “the News-Papers,” indicating that he planned to acquire more than one publication. He likely subscribed to several local newspapers, choosing among the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Yet he probably did not limit the selection solely to local newspapers. In addition to the New-Hampshire Gazette, the Newport Mercury, the Providence Gazette, and other newspapers published in New England, he may have subscribed to newspapers printed in New York and Philadelphia or even publications from the southern colonies or London.

Circulation numbers do not tell the entire story when it comes to the dissemination of information via the colonial press in the era of the American Revolution. Jones could have subscribed for a single copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, yet dozens of customers at his tavern may have read the issues he made available. Some patrons may not even have read the newspaper itself but instead heard portions of it read aloud at the tavern. In both cases, newspapers had a much greater reach than the number of subscribers considered alone would indicate.

September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 19, 1767).

“Every proper Measure has been concerted to render the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE as useful and entertaining as possible.”

In September 1767, Sarah Goddard and Company inserted an impassioned notice in the newspaper they published. They thanked subscribers of the Providence Gazette for their patronage, especially those who had already paid their bills, while also calling on others to settle accounts. They politely requested that “those who have not yet settled for the last Year’s Papers, will be so considerate as to follow the Example of those who have already paid.” Settling the “Company Accounts” would allow Goddard and Company to “carry on the useful and necessary Business of Printing in this Town.” They concluded their advertisement with an elaborate argument about the value derived from a local newspaper, portraying their work not only as a means of earning a living but, more importantly, as a service to the entire community.

The timing and urgency of that advertisement became even more apparent in a notice that appeared at the top of the first column on the first page of the September 19, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette. In an address “To the PUBLIC,” they reported the dissolution of the “Partnership between SARAH GODDARD and COMPANY.” In his monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, Clarence Brigham states that a history of the newspaper appeared in the March 6, 1779, edition.[1] This history identified Samuel Inslee as Goddard’s partner. The advertisements calling on subscribers to pay their bills had not merely been part of the regular business of operating a printing office. The publishers knew that one partnership was coming to an end and another on the verge of commencing. They wanted subscriber to settle accounts in order to facilitate the transition.

The advertisement in the September 19, 1767, issue indicated that Sarah Goddard and John Carter now operated the printing office and published the newspaper. The colophon also shifted to read: “Printed by SARAH GODDARD and JOHN CARTER.” This partnership lasted until Goddard’s retirement in November of the following year. In the meantime, Goddard and Carter assured readers that publication of the Providence Gazette would continue without disruption to the quality they had come to expect: “every proper Measure has been concerted to render the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE as useful and entertaining as possible.” Goddard and Carter promised that “Care and Diligence shall not be wanting” in the production of the newspaper as they invited the public to “continue to favour this Paper with their Subscriptions.”


[1] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 2: 1008.

January 25

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

Providence Gazette (January 24, 1767).

Subscriptions for the PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE, and UNIVERSAL ADVERTISER, will be taken in by the Printer.”

Throughout January 1767, William Goddard inserted his “PROPOSALS for printing by Subscription … The PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE, And UNIVERSAL ADVERTISER” in newspapers printed in Philadelphia. Although he focused most of his efforts on luring subscribers from that city and its hinterland, he also welcomed subscribers from faraway places who already had access to local newspapers published where they lived.

For instance, his lengthy proposal appeared in the Providence Gazette two days before Goddard published the first issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. He recognized three categories of customers and pledged that each would receive their subscriptions in a timely manner: “ladies and gentlemen … shall, in the city, receive [the newspaper] at their respective houses; or, if in the country, forwarded to them by the first opportunity; nor shall any care or industry be wanting to transmit it to the most distant customers with all expedition possible.” To serve that final category, Goddard had appointed agents in “the other colonies on the continent” who collected names of subscribers on his behalf.

Why would residents of other cities and colonies be interested in Goddard’s Pennsylvania Chronicle? After all, even as he pledged “to form his paper on as extensive and universal principles as any other on the continent” he stated that he was not “intending to derogate, in the least, from the merit of any.” Goddard acknowledged that his competitors and counterparts already published fine newspapers.

However, he also underscored that he had “established an extensive correspondence in Europe, and the several Colonies in America” that would allow him to collect in one publication all sorts of items that would “tend to the improvement, instruction, and entertainments of the PUBLIC.” Other newspapers might (and certainly did) print some of the same material that appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but Goddard cultivated a network of “learned and ingenious” correspondents who not only forwarded accounts of “the most remarkable and important occurrences foreign and domestic” but also submitted original “judicious remarks, pieces of wit and humor, essays moral, political, geographical, historical, and poetical.” Considering the editorial care that Goddard devoted to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, subscribers could expect a publication “as complete as possible,” one that provided both news items printed and reprinted throughout the colonies and original features for their edification and amusement.

Goddard’s lengthy proposal, which filled almost an entire column, did not appear alongside other advertisements in the Providence Gazette. There certainly would have been space for it on the final page, had the printer chosen to place a poem submitted by a reader earlier in the issue. Instead, Goddard’s proposal appeared in the final column on the third page, to the left of news items from Williamsburg, Philadelphia, New York, Hartford, Boston, and Newport. As a result, Goddard’s proposal took on the appearance of a news item as opposed to the commercial notices for consumer goods and services clustered on the following page.

Given its placement within the Providence Gazette, Goddard’s proposal was an advertisement that was not an advertisement, a puff piece that seemed to deliver news but also promoted a product. That Goddard’s proposal received this sort of preferential treatment hardly comes as a surprise when we remember that he formerly published the Providence Gazette before the Stamp Act and when the newspaper once again began publication it did so under the stewardship of his mother, Sarah Goddard.

January 22

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 22, 1767).

“All those who may be pleased to favour him with Advertisements for the first publication … to send them to the Printing-Office.”

William Goddard published proposals for a new newspaper, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and Universal Advertiser, in Philadelphia’s other newspapers for several weeks in late December 1766 and early January 1767. He pledged “to give his readers a weekly relation of the most remarkable and important occurrences, foreign and domestic, collected from the best magazines and papers in Europe and America, as well as from other sources, having a particular regard to such matters as shall most intimately relate to the welfare of the Colonies.”[1]

In addition, he offered space for advertisements, though the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal already featured extensive advertising, sometimes extending to half-sheet supplements devoted exclusively to commercial and other notices. “The Rates of the paper and advertisements,” Goddard promised, “shall be the same … with those heretofore and now printed in this city.—All advertisements shall be punctually inserted, in order as they come in, and be neither delayed or displaced, but shall appear in a fair and conspicuous manner.”

Readers of the newspapers already printed in Philadelphia encountered Goddard’s proposal, dated December 23, 1766, for nearly a month before he published an update that he expected to commence publication of the Pennsylvania Chronicle on January 26. In that shorter notice, he requested that “all those who may be pleased to favour him with Advertisements for the first publication, which will be very extensively circulated, to send them to the Printing-Office … as soon as possible.”

Goddard had experience with publishing newspapers, having previously printed the Providence Gazette for several years. He knew that profits from such an endeavor usually did not arrive from subscriptions but rather from the additional revenues generated by selling advertising space. He also knew that advertisements drew readers. As attractive as those “most remarkable and important occurrences, foreign and domestic” may have been to prospective subscribers, colonists also desired the news and marketing appeals delivered via advertisements. Assorted legal notices kept citizens informed. Notices about runaway servants, slaves, and wives kept residents cautious of strangers they encountered. Notices promoting consumer goods and services kept potential customers aware of current fashions and the availability of products that were part of the ongoing consumer revolution.

Goddard’s proposal also revealed how advertisers could expect the notices they purchased to be handled by the printer: no privileges or preferences when it came to when or how they were inserted in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Although Goddard’s promise about the timing for printing advertisements may have been accurate, the requirements for laying out columns and pages within any issue almost certainly prohibited publishing advertisements in the same order that they arrived in the printing office. In his advertisement to solicit advertisements, Goddard engaged in his own sleight of hand that savvy consumers expected from any sort of marketing.


[1] For Goddard’s original proposal, see Pennsylvania Gazette (January 8, 1767).

May 11

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

May 11 - 5:9:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 9, 1766).

“He proposes to begin the publication of a NEWSPAPER on Friday next.”

William Rind was preparing to publish a newspaper. In fact, he was a week away from launching a rival newspaper to the Virginia Gazette published by Alexander Purdie and Company. Rind also published his newspaper in Williamsburg on Fridays, but to avoid confusion he named it Rind’s Virginia Gazette in order to distinguish it from its competitor as much as possible. (I wonder if Purdie and Company engaged in similar sarcasm as they set type for this advertisement promoting a rival publication, an advertisement that appeared in their own newspaper.)

Rind needed to estimate how many copies of the first and subsequent issues he should print. His advertisement included a call for “those Gentlemen with whom he has left subscription papers, to return the lists of those who have already signed.” What did he mean by subscription papers? To assess and encourage interest in his newspaper Rind, like others who printed books and periodicals in the eighteenth century, first distributed another form of advertising known as subscription papers or subscription notices: printed announcements that included a prospectus describing the purpose and intentions of the proposed publication as well as a list of terms for subscribing (such as cost and frequency of publication). Rind likely made arrangements with local merchants and shopkeepers to post his subscription papers. The subscription papers may have had space for new subscribers to write their names; alternately, the merchants and shopkeepers aiding Rind may have kept lists of their own. Whichever method was employed, Rind called on “those Gentlemen with who he has left subscription papers” to forward the lists of subscribers to him.

Review of Don N. Hagist’s “The Stamp Act Riots Heard ‘Round the World”

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending a public lecture, “The Stamp Act Riots Heard ‘Round the World,” presented by Don N. Hagist at the Newport Historical Society. Hagist, an independent scholar, is the author of several books about the era of the American Revolution, including The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers Behind the Photographs; British Soldiers, American War: Voices of the American Revolution; and General Orders, Rhode Island: December 1776 – January 1778. He has also compiled four hundred advertisements in a volume that may be of particular interest to regular visitors here: Wives, Slaves and Servant Girls: Advertisements for Female Runaways in American Newspapers, 1770-1783.

For this presentation, Hagist set about exploring how the world heard about protests against the Stamp Act that took place in Newport, Rhode Island. To do so, he consulted American and British newspapers, demonstrating how local history telescoped out to tell a much larger story about the initial acts of resistance to Parliamentary authority and how protests in Newport were viewed on both sides of the Atlantic.

If we want to know about the reception the Stamp Act received in Newport, why not go to the Newport Mercury directly? Hagist deftly explained how changes in demographics and communications made reading newspapers in the eighteenth century much different than reading them in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Even a busy port like Newport was a small town compared to today’s standards, and keep in mind that newspapers were published once a week. There was little need for the local printer to provide extensive details about events that happened in town. Either local residents witnessed the protests against the Stamp Act themselves or they heard about them via word of mouth before the next issue of the local newspaper was published. Hagist explained that colonists consulted newspapers to learn about what was happening in faraway places, not their own neighborhoods. Indeed, news items were usually organized geographically, with items from London, the metropolitan center, and the English provinces appearing first, followed by news from other countries in Europe, then news from around the Atlantic world and the globe, and finally news from other colonies in British mainland North America.

As a result, the most extensive newspaper coverage of public demonstrations against the Stamp Act in Newport appeared not in the Newport Mercury but instead in publications printed in other cities. According the Hagist, the September 2, 1765, issue of the Newport Mercury, the first to appear after local residents made effigies, built a gallows, hanged and burned the effigies, and threatened the local stamp agent and forced his resignation in late August, mentioned these events, but not in nearly as much detail as the edition of the Boston Evening-Post, also published on September 2. (Here we see how printing a newspaper only once a week allowed for information to travel some distance and thus appear in print “simultaneously” as “the freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”)

The Boston Evening-Post devoted an entire column to providing extensive details about recent events in Newport. On the same day, the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, also offered coverage of the protests in Newport. Even though readers were treated to only half a column, this still exceeded the amount of detail in the Newport Mercury. In its September 6 issue, the New-Hampshire Gazette reprinted the coverage from the Boston Evening-Post. Printers continued a practice common in the colonial era: spreading news by borrowing generously from newspapers they received from their counterparts in faraway places. Reprinting news items verbatim was a standard practice, for all kinds of events and not just the protests against the Stamp Act.

Hagist then demonstrated that coverage of the protests in Newport crossed the Atlantic. The earliest report he found appeared in the London Chronicle on October 5, 1765, indicating that letters received from Boston included accounts of a “dangerous mob” in Newport. Over the course of the next month, an assortment of newspapers in London and other cities in Great Britain offered further coverage of the protests in Newport. This was news, but not “big news,” Hagist argued. One reprinting of the coverage from the September 2 Boston Evening-Post appeared between news from the continent and theater notices. Hagist explained that riots and other forms of political violence were much more common in the eighteenth century than today. Although we may think of the Stamp Act protests in Newport and elsewhere as exceptional, early modern newspaper printers and readers did not always think that they merited special attention.

Still, as time passed many London newspapers continued to insert items about the protests in Newport, sometimes rehashing information previously published when it came via a new source on one of the most recent ships to arrive at a port in England. The conclusion that Hagist reached next may have been the most surprising material for his audience: not everybody in London and the rest of England agreed that the Stamp Act was a good idea. Some sympathized with the colonists. British printers inserted the entire text of colonial charters in their newspapers so readers could decide for themselves if the traditional rights and privileges of colonists to govern themselves had been violated.

Hagist also offered one item of particular interest to me: an advertisement in which a London printer and bookseller announced that he sold about half a dozen pamphlets opposing the Stamp Act, each printed in Newport. This demonstrated both the flow of ideas and the flow of printed goods across the Atlantic. During the question-and-answer period I challenged Hagist on his interpretation of that advertisement, asking if he might have been too generous in asserting that such advertisements demonstrated any particular sentiment toward the colonists’ plight rather than opportunistic printers seeking to make a profit off of a political controversy. He acknowledged that the profit motive was indeed present, even a driving force, but argued that making a profit and engaging in an open exchange of ideas and rigorous debate were not mutually exclusive. (I’ve made similar arguments about a variety of advertisements featured here and that I have examined elsewhere, so it’s not surprising that his answer satisfied me.)

Hagist concluded, as I will now, with a brief summary of his presentation. Newspaper coverage of the Stamp Act protests in Newport was accurate. He did not find evidence of exaggerated rumors. The event, like other demonstrations occurring throughout the colonies, was major news in the American press. It was also considered news in Great Britain, but not accorded the same importance. It merely appeared alongside other news from the colonies, though over time it did spark additional debate in English newspapers. In general, coverage in British newspapers was remarkably balanced, defying modern expectations.

Over the past three months I have attempted to demonstrate that the content and appeals of many of the advertisements featured here were shaped by the events, especially continuing opposition to the Stamp Act, covered elsewhere in colonial newspapers. It’s necessary to examine the advertisements in the context of the news items in order to achieve a complete picture of how attempts to market various goods would have resonated with potential customers. Don N. Hagist’s lecture provided some of that context in a lively presentation that clearly engaged a standing-room-only audience at the Newport Historical Society last night.


If you’d like to learn more about Don N. Hagist’s work, visit his blog:  British Soldiers, American Revolution.