November 14

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

Norwich Packet (November 11, 1773).

“NOAH HIDDEN, has undertaken to ride Post between the town of NORWICH and PROVIDENCE.”

Today the Adverts 250 Project features an advertisement from the Norwich Packet and the Connecticut, Massachusetts, New-Hampshire, and Rhode-Island Weekly Advertiser for the first time.  After circulating subscription proposals during the summer of 1773, Alexander Robertson, James Robertson, and John Trumbull established the newspaper on October 7, “judging from the date of the earliest issue located, that of Nov. 4, 1773, vol. 1, no. 5.”[1]  America’s Historical Newspapers does not include that issue, but instead begins with the November 11 edition.  Noah Hidden, a post rider, placed the final advertisement in that issue, though he may have started advertising as early as the inaugural edition.

Hidden advised the public that he “has undertaken to ride Post between the Town of NORWICH and PROVIDENCE,” a distance of about fifty miles.  He departed from the printing office in Norwich on Thursdays and from Knight Dexter’s house in Providence on Saturdays.  Not by accident, this itinerary matched the publication schedule of the newspapers in both towns.  The Robertsons and Trumbull distributed a new edition of the Norwich Packet on Thursdays.  For many years, John Carter published the Providence Gazette on Saturdays.  Hidden carried “Letters, Papers, Memorandoms, or small Bundles left at either of said Places,” pledging to take good care of them and offering receipts “if required.”  In particular, he noted that he would provide “those who choose to employ him, with this PAPER.”

The post rider presented this enterprise as a valuable service “to the Inhabitants of both towns and the intermediate Country.”  He underscored the “great utility” of disseminating the information in the newspapers and letters he delivered along his route.  Furthermore, Hidden asserted that his contributions to the regional information infrastructure merited the “Encouragement which a faithful Discharge of the Business he has undertaken shall entitle him to.”  His endeavors help to explain how the Robertsons and Trumbull could suggest that a newspaper published in Norwich served each of the colonies in New England.  Like other colonial newspapers, the Norwich Packet circulated far beyond its place of publication.


[1] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 66.

September 11

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

Providence Gazette (September 11, 1773).

“He now rides Post from Providence to Norwich, and will engage to deliver the Providence Gazette.”

In the early 1770s, the Providence Gazette simultaneously served as both local and regional newspaper.  With only two newspapers printed in Rhode Island, the Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette, those publications provided news and advertising to towns throughout the colony as well as central and southeastern Massachusetts and western Connecticut.  Advertisements testify to the reach of the Providence Gazette, its dissemination beyond the port where John Carter printed the newspaper.

For instance, Reuben Bishop advertised his services as a post rider from in the fall of 1773.  He covered a route between Providence and Norwich, Connecticut, forty-five miles to the southwest.  Bishop offered to deliver the newspaper to “the present Subscribers on that Road, or to any others that may subscribe.”  Those others would have seen his advertisement when they perused copies of the Providence Gazette that passed from hand to hand, from household to household.  Colonial newspapers rarely had a single reader.  In addition to carrying letters and newspapers, Bishop proposed that he could “other Business, on reasonable Terms,” on behalf of those who engaged his services.  Customers in the Providence area could find him “at the House of Col. Knight Dexter” on Saturday mornings, the same day that Carter published a new weekly edition of the Providence Gazette.  Bishop presumably departed for Norwich once he had the newspapers to deliver to subscribers along his route.

Other advertisements in the September 11 edition also demonstrate that the Providence Gazette kept colonizers near and far informed about current events.  In one notice, Uzal Green of Coventry lamented that his wife, Martha, “hath eloped from me, and refuses to return to my Bed and Board.”  The aggrieved husband, who very likely gave his wife good reason for departing from his household, warned that he would not pay “any Debt of her contracting.”  He cut her off from his credit.  Unlike most husbands who placed such advertisements, he addressed his wife, declaring that he “will receive her kindly” if she “will return home to me.”  He trusted that she would read or hear about that overture thanks to the wide distribution of the Providence Gazette.  In another advertisement, the “Directors of the Congregational Meeting-House Lottery” in East Greenwich provided an update about their endeavor and directed colonizers to purchase tickets from agents in their town, Providence, and Newport.

After the American Revolution, printing offices established newspapers in many more towns, but throughout the colonial period newspaper publication was concentrated in major and minor ports.  Post riders like Reuben Bishop provided a valuable service in disseminating the Providence Gazette and other newspapers far beyond their places of publication.

August 21

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

Maryland Journal (August 20, 1773).

“He rides POST from the town of Baltimore to the town of Frederick (once a week).”

The inaugural issue of the Maryland Journal carried twenty advertisements in addition to an address from William Goddard, the printer, news from London, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, an essay “On the SIMPLICITY OF DRESS,” a letter responding to an editorial in the Maryland Gazette, prices current for commodities in Baltimore, a list of letters arrived “by the Frederick-Town POST,” and a poem.  Like other colonial newspapers, the Maryland Journal featured a variety of content.  As Goddard explained in his address, the publication “shall contain not only the Public News, which I shall collect and compile with the greatest Care, but … I will supply the Room with such moral Pieces, from the best Writers, as will conduce most to inculcate good Principles and humane Behaviour, and now and then with Pieces of Wit and Humour, that tend both to amuse and instruct.”

The advertisements included one from the post rider who had delivered the letters from Frederick, a town about forty-five miles west of Baltimore.  Absalom Bonham informed the public that he made the journey between Baltimore and Frederick once a week.  In addition, he continued from Frederick on to Winchester, Virginia, delivering messages, carrying letters, and distributing newspapers.  The post rider also served as a subscription agent for the Maryland Journaland the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the newspaper that Goddard had published in Philadelphia for the past several years.  Bonham set off “from Mr. WILLIAM ADAMS’s, at the sign of the Race Horses, in Baltimore,” every Saturday afternoon, the day after the weekly edition of the Maryland Journal went to press.  He apparently figured that residents of Frederick, Winchester, and other towns along the way were already familiar enough with his comings and goings that he did not need to provide additional information about his route and schedule.

In another notice in the inaugural issue, Goddard offered employment to an “active faithful Man, who can write a tolerable Hand, and keep a fair Account, and is otherwise well qualified to ride as a private POST or CARRIER between this Town and Philadelphia, once a Week.”  The printer needed a trustworthy assistant bow that he oversaw publication of newspapers in two towns.  Both of these advertisements testified to the infrastructure for producing and, especially, disseminating newspapers in eighteenth-century America.  Goddard had already undertaken a campaign for attracting subscribers for the Maryland Journal.  Bonham, the post rider, continued those efforts as part of his duties in the towns he visited each week.

July 2

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

New-London Gazette (July 2, 1773).

Also at the Printing-Office in Norwich, and by Nathan Bushnell, jun. and Joseph Knight, Post Riders.”

In early July 1773, Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, ran an advertisement for a pamphlet that he “Just Publish’d” and sold at the printing office.  He noted that it was the “Third EDITION corrected.”  The Adverts 250 Project has traced the marketing of earlier editions of that pamphlet, John Allen’s “ORATION, Upon the BEAUTIES of LIBERTY, Or the essential Rights of the AMERICANS,” a publication that John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark have described as “one of the best-selling pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary crisis, passing through seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775.”[1]

In advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy on January 14, 1773, Benjamin Kneeland and Nathaniel Davis announced that the pamphlet was “Now in the press, and will be published in a few days.”  A week later, the printers announced “This Day was published” the “SECOND EDITION.”  Newspaper advertisements did not account for the first edition.  It did not take long for Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, the printers of the Essex Gazette, to advertise that they sold the pamphlet at their printing office in Salem.  Copies of the Oration circulated beyond Boston.

Green … or Joseph Knight, a post rider … apparently acquired the pamphlet and determined that the conditions were right to market a third edition in Connecticut.  The imprint on the title page stated, “Printed by T. Green, for Joseph Knight, post-rider.”  The efforts of the printer and the post rider to disseminate Allen’s Oration extended beyond the printing office in New London to include the printing office in Norwich, Knight, and another post rider, Nathan Bushnell, Jr.  Printer-booksellers frequently stocked books and pamphlets published by their fellow printer-booksellers.  They also served as local agents who collected subscriptions for proposed publications.  Newspaper advertisements, however, rarely mentioned post riders as publishers or even as local agents responsible for selling and distributing books and pamphlets.  Green and Knight devised an innovative method for marketing and disseminating this pamphlet, perhaps increasing its circulation and contributing to the popularity that led to four other editions appearing in the next two years.


[1] John M. Bumstred and Charles E. Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine: John Allen and the Spirit of Liberty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 21, no. 4 (October 1964): 562.

April 17

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

Providence Gazette (April 17, 1773).

“He informs those Gentlemen whom he has supplied with the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, that their Year expired.”

It was a common refrain among newspaper printers.  “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more,” John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, declared in the April 17, 1773, edition, “are requested to make immediate Payment.”  Throughout the colonies, subscribers, advertisers, and others fell behind on their bills, prompting printers to regularly insert notices calling on them to settle accounts.  Many were much more elaborate than Carter’s brief notice, underscoring the expenses incurred by printers, extolling the benefits of timely circulation of the news, setting deadlines for payments, or threatening legal action against those who refused to comply.

Yet Carter was not alone in calling on subscribers to make payments in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  Joseph Rickard, Jr., “POST-RIDER from PROVIDENCE to CONNECTICUT,” placed his own notice.  He began by extending “his Thanks to his Employers the Year past” and then moved beyond the pleasantries to inform “those Gentlemen whom he has supplied with the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, that their Year expired the Third of April,” two weeks earlier.  The being the case, Rickard “requests an immediate Settlement with every one.”  He offered two reasons for customers to abide his request.  First, he owed his own debt to the Carter.  Rickard hoped that customers would feel some sort of obligation to assist him in maintaining his financial standing with the printer who supplied the newspapers.  Suspecting that would not be sufficient motivation for many of his customers, Rickard issued a threat, though he did so in the most pleasant way possible.  He needed customers to pay their bills in order that he “may be enabled to … serve them with Punctuality in future.”  In other words, he would no longer deliver newspapers to customers who did not pay.

Rickard’s advertisement testifies to the role that credit played in printing and disseminating newspapers in eighteenth-century America.  In addition, it also attests to the circulation of newspapers beyond their places of publication.  Rickard served subscribers to the Providence Gazette who not only resided in other towns but also in other colonies.  At the time, printers published three newspapers in Connecticut, the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, and the New-London Gazette.  For many colonizers in eastern Connecticut (and central Massachusetts), the Providence Gazette served as their local newspaper, despite the distance that Rickard covered to deliver it to them.  Considered together, notices placed by printers and post riders tell a more complete story about the business of producing and disseminating the news in early America.

November 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 6, 1772).

“Those Persons are desired to make some Agreement, otherways their Papers must cease.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, frequently inserted notices calling on subscribers and others to settle accounts.  They threatened to sue those who did not pay their bills.  Such notices regularly appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Printers extended credit to subscribers, hoping to increase their circulation numbers in order to generate more revenue by attracting advertisers, and many of those subscribers notoriously became delinquent in paying for their newspapers.

Printers were not the only ones, however, who had a hard time collecting from newspaper subscribers.  The post riders who delivered newspapers to subscribers in other towns also experienced difficulty getting subscribers to pay for their services.  Printers, including the Fowles, sometimes ran notices on behalf of the post riders who facilitated the circulation of their newspapers to subscribers and other readers in towns near and far.

On November 6, 1772, the Fowles ran notices related to both situations.  They advised that “Mr. MILK the Eastern-Post Having now Completed the Year, the Customers are desired to send pay for their Papers by him.”  The printers did not suggest legal action as a consequence of ignoring their notice this time.  Instead, they attempted to reason with subscribers, stating that having enjoyed their subscriptions throughout the year that Milk serviced the route they now had an obligation to pay.  Similarly, the Fowles stated that “Mr. LARRABEE (the Post to Dartmouth College) … also Rode a Year” so “the Customers for this Gazette, on that Road, are desired to send pay and the Entrance for another Year if they expect the Papers sent any longer.”  In this instance, the Fowles expected subscribers to settle accounts for the past year as well as pay in advance for the coming year if they wished to continue receiving the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Perhaps they had an even more difficult time collecting from subscribers at Dartmouth College than those served by the Eastern Post.

The Fowles also instructed subscribers in Hampton and other towns along the route covered by “Mr. NOBLE [and] the Boston Post” that the rider would no longer deliver their newspapers “unless he can by some Means come at the Pay” for his services.  Those subscribers needed “to make some Agreement” with Noble or else “their Papers must cease, or be sent by private Hands.”  Noble apparently no longer found it financially feasible to deliver the New-Hampshire Gazettewithout being paid for his efforts.  Enlisting the aid of the Fowles, he put subscribers on notice that they either had to pay what they owed him or he would discontinue delivery.

Both kinds of notices provide glimpses into the operations of eighteenth-century printing offices and their networks for circulating newspapers to subscribers and other readers.  The Fowles did not directly receive revenues from running these notices, but indirectly such notices may have been as lucrative as paid advertisements if they managed to get some subscribers to settle accounts and kept circulation numbers strong enough to attract advertisers.

September 20

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

New-York Journal (September 20, 1772).

“Hoping they will leave the odd Pence at the Place, / Where the Papers are left for them by CASE.”

Three newspapers printed in New York served the city and the rest of the colony in the early 1770s.  Samuel Inslee and Anthony Car printed the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, leasing it from Samuel Parker.  Hugh Gaine printed the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, while John Holt printed the New-York Journal.  In addition, Alexander Robertson and James Robertson published the Albany Gazette for a brief period in the early 1770s, establishing the newspaper on November 21, 1771, and distributing the last known issue on August 3, 1772.  Post riders distributed those newspapers to subscribers throughout the colony.

Newspaper subscribers notoriously asked for credit and fell behind in making payments, causing printers to publish frequent requests for them to settle accounts or face legal action.  Many of the subscribers to the newspapers published in New York apparently failed to pay the post riders either.  In the fall of 1772, a man who identified himself only as Case sent a request to Holt’s printing office: “Please to insert the following Lines in your next, and oblige the Albany Post Rider.”  Those lines consisted of a short poem, entitled “The Albany Post Rider’s Representation,” that pleaded with subscribers to pay for delivery of their newspapers.

Case’s poem was not great literature, but it made his case in a manner that readers likely found entertaining … or at least noticed.  “AS true as my Name is CASE, / I find Cash very scarce,” the poem began with a couplet that did not quite rhyme.  That did not deter the post rider from continuing: “Therefore take it not unkind, / If I put my Customers in mind, / I have rode Post one Year, / Which has cost me very dear.”  Case asserted that he made sacrifices to carry the news “Which make me stand in need of pay, / Without the least Delay: / From such Gentlemen indebted to me, / For bringing them their News to read and see.”  He concluded with instructions in the form of a suggestion, “Hoping they will leave the odd Pence at the Place, / Where the Papers are left for them by CASE.”

This verse did not rival the weekly entry in “POET’S CORNER” that appeared in the upper left corner of the final page of Holt’s New-York Journal, but it did distinguish Case’s advertisements from others.  Colonizers sometimes resorted to poems to enhance advertisements placed for a variety of purposes, including goods for sale and runaway indentured servants.  They experimented with advertising copy beyond writing straightforward notices that merely made announcements.

August 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 30, 1771).

“[*Immediate Settlement*]”

Like many other printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, publishers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, periodically placed notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts.  Some printers tied such notices to important milestones in the publication of their newspapers.  Most often they announced that a newspaper completed another full year of publication and simultaneously asked readers to mark the occasion by paying any debts that had been on the books for more than a year.  Doing so allowed them to underscore the longevity of the newspaper while also collecting revenues necessary for continued operations.  Rarely did they ask subscribers, advertisers, and others to bring their accounts completely up to date; instead, most printers continued to allow credit for more recent transactions.

On occasion, however, some printers did request an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” in the notices they placed in their newspapers.  Such was the case in August 1771 when the Fowles asked “THOSE of our Eastern Customers, from Kittery to Falmouth, &c. who received the New Hampshire Gazette, of Mr. James Libbey, late Post Rider, deceased … to settle immediately with the Printers.”  They did not ask that all customers settle accounts, only those served by the former post rider.  Libbey’s death may have disrupted distribution of the New-Hampshire Gazette in eastern towns located in the portion of Massachusetts that eventually became Maine.  If they were uncertain when another reliable post rider would cover the route, the Fowles may have considered the time right to get accounts in order with subscribers in that region.

To lend their request some urgency, the printers designed a headline intended to attract attention.  The Fowles sometimes enclosed headlines for advertisements, especially legal notices, within brackets, a practice peculiar to their newspaper.  In this instance, they supplemented brackets with asterisks to make clear that they desired an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” without delays.  They deployed graphic design to distinguish their notice from others as they grappled with a transition within the operations of their printing office and the distribution of their newspapers.

October 6

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

Providence Gazette (October 6, 1770).

“The regular and speedy Delivery of their Papers.”

In the 1770s, the Providence Gazette served as the local newspaper for many readers in the northeastern region of Connecticut as well as northern Rhode Island.  An advertisement that ran in the October 6, 1770, edition outlined the route that Joseph Rickard, a former postrider, took from Providence to several towns in Connecticut.  Joseph Jewet and Elijah Nichols intended to assume Rickard’s responsibilities, informing the public, “particularly the Customers to the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE,” that they now carried letters and newspapers to Killingly, Pomfret, Woodstock, and Ashford.

In their attempt to build their clientele, Jewet and Nichols offered improvements over the service that Rickard provided.  They pledged the “greatest Attention will be paid to the regular and speedy Delivery of the Papers” in order that “Customers may receive them earlier than usual.”  The masthead of the Providence Gazette proclaimed that it contained “the freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic.”  That “speedy Delivery” enhanced the careful selection of contents and the speed that the printer took news to press, putting “the freshest Intelligence” in the hands of subscribers and other readers in northeastern Connecticut.  Jewet and Nichols also indicated that they would “extend their weekly Ride to other Towns” if they encountered sufficient demand.

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, gave Jewet and Nichols’s advertisement a privileged place.  It was the first advertisement that appeared in the October 6 edition, running immediately below the list of prices current in Providence.  Readers more interested in news than advertising were more likely to peruse Jewet and Nichols’s notice as a result of where the printer chose to place it on the page.  Carter had his own interest in the success of the postriders’ endeavor.  Reliable and speedy delivery to northeastern Connecticut meant that he could maintain and possibly even expand the number of subscribers in that region.  Success for Jewet and Nichols meant better prospects for Carter and the Providence Gazette.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:17:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 17, 1770).

“To Ride as Carrier … in order to carry News Papers.”

The first two advertisements in the August 17, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette concerned the operations of the newspaper.  Quite likely, the printers exercised their control of the press to give those notices a privileged place.  The first advertisement, repeated from the previous issue, acknowledged the upcoming fourteenth anniversary of the newspaper and contained Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle’s call on subscribers, advertisers, and others who owed debts to settle accounts or face legal action.

James Templeton addressed the residents of Amherst, Wilton, Temple, Petersborough, New Dublin, Marlborough, Keen, Walpole, Charlestown, Chesterfield, Westmoreland, Hinsdale, Winchester, Swansey, and other town in “the extreme Parts of the Province” to offer his services to “Ride as Carrier or Post … in order to carry News Papers.”  He promised to be “punctual and faithful” in his delivery even as he endeavored to get the newspapers to subscribers “as cheap as possible at that great Distance.”

While not overseen directly by the Fowles, Templeton’s enterprise stood to benefit them as proprietors of the New-Hampshire Gazette through maintaining or even increasing readership.  Templeton also revealed how quickly readers in “the extreme Parts of the Province” received their newspapers.  He proposed meeting the rider from Portsmouth who carried the newspapers as far as Amherst on Mondays.  The Fowles published the New-Hampshire Gazette on Fridays.  That meant that half a week elapsed before each new edition made it to the carrier who delivered the newspaper to the more remote towns in the colony.  Even more time passed as Templeton rode his circuit through the various towns.

Printers and their associates frequently commented on the production and distribution of the news in the advertisements they inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers.  It seems unlikely that it was a coincidence that Templeton’s advertisement immediately followed the Fowles’s advertisement.  The printers sought to facilitate distribution of their publication even as they also attempted to collect on debts owed to the printing office.