What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“BOOKS … for Sale at the PRINTING OFFICE.”
John Carter exercised his prerogative as printer of the Providence Gazette in placing an advertisement for “BOOKS … for Sale at the PRINTING OFFICE” immediately below the governor Joseph Wanton’s proclamation about the GaspeeAffair. The Gaspee, a British schooner that enforced the Navigation Acts in Rhode Island, ran aground near Warwick while pursuing another vessel on June 9, 1772. Colonizers boarded and burned the ship. For several years, colonizers in Rhode Island and other colonies protested against increased British regulation of trade and Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes via the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts. The Boston Massacre in March 1770 intensified tensions. Although colonizers had not yet determined to declare independence, the Gaspee Affair became significant for deploying violence in resistance to the crown’s authority. The Boston Tea Party, more famous today, occurred more than a year after the burning of the Gaspee.
Just four days after that event, the Providence Gazette carried Wanton’s proclamation. Many colonizers likely already heard what happened, but the weekly newspaper offered an opportunity to examine the governor’s account and his response. Wanton stated that “a Number of People, unknown, boarded his Majesty’s armed Schooner the Gaspee[,] … dangerously wounded Lieutenant William Dudingston, the Commander, and by Force took him, with all his People, put them into Boats, … and afterwards set Fire to the said Schooner, whereby she was entirely destroyed.” Wanton called on “His Majesty’s Officers” in Rhode Island, “both Civil and Military, to exert themselves, with the utmost Vigilance, to discover and apprehend the Persons guilty of the aforesaid atrocious Crime.” He also offered a reward to anyone “who shall discover the Perpetrators of the said Villainy.” Finally, Wanton commanded “the several Sheriffs in the said colony” to post the proclamation “in the most public Places in each of their Towns in their respective Counties.”
Readers of the Providence Gazette likely encountered the proclamation there before it appeared on broadsides posted in their towns. As breaking news, it may have attracted more attention than many other items that appeared elsewhere in the issue. Anticipating that would be the case, Carter made a savvy decision to place his own advertisement immediately after the proclamation, increasing the likelihood that prospective customers would take note of it.