March 25

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

Mar 25 - 3:25:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 25, 1768).

“May be supplied with the NEW HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE &c. &c. for NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.”

Today’s advertisement provides a relatively rare glimpse of the subscription rates for an eighteenth-century newspaper. While a few printers inserted both subscription and advertising rates in the colophon on the final page, transforming the publication information into a final advertisement that appeared in each issue, most did not. Printers rarely mentioned the subscription rates in the pages of their newspapers, even as they frequently published notices calling on subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts.

An advertisement in the March 25, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included the subscription and delivery costs for residents of “the Towns of Kittery, Berwick, Somersworth, Rochester, Dover, Durhan, Newmarkett, and … Stratham.” In it, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the newspaper, informed readers that “a Carrier or Post Rider” would begin delivering newspapers in those towns the following week. Those who wished to subscribe would be charged “NINE SHILLINGS Lawful Money per Annum, Carriage included.” They were expected to pay “at Entrance” rather than later become the subjects of subsequent notices calling on subscribers to pay their overdue accounts. While this notice indicated the total fees charged to subscribers serviced by the carrier who covered this route, it still obscured the base rate for subscriptions. The Fowles listed a fee with “Carriage included.” Was it the same rate as residents of Portsmouth paid for their annual subscriptions? Or had it been topped off to cover delivery expenses? Either way, the notice revealed the price of a subscription for residents of towns in Portsmouth’s hinterland, information that did not frequently appear in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

This notice also testified to the current and continuing dissemination of the newspaper beyond Portsmouth. Dated March 25, a Friday, and appearing in an issue of the same date, it advised that “FRIDAY next” the carrier would begin making deliveries along the proposed route. The Fowles invited “Those who incline to encourage so useful and advantagious a Person as a Carrier” to submit their names for a list “at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.” The printers expected that readers in those towns already had sufficient access to the New-Hampshire Gazette that they would see this notice and respond in less than a week. Even before the Fowles employed “a Carrier or Post Rider” for this particular route the news and advertising contained in the pages of their newspaper had wide distribution beyond Portsmouth. Establishing this new route only extended their efficiency and reach in disseminating information in the era of the American Revolution.

March 22

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 22 - 3:20:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 20, 1766).

“JAMES ASKEW, Post-Rider … desires the Favour of his Customer that have not paid … to pay him … before the 30th of March.”

James Askew placed this advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette to notify his customers of an impending stoppage of service. As the local post rider he delivered newspapers once a week along with any mail for that area. His route included the towns of Lancaster, Carlisle, and Shippensburg, founded in 1709, 1751, and 1730, respectively, some of the oldest inland settlements in colonial Pennsylvania. Askew seems to have covered the southwestern area of colonial Pennsylvania to the boundary of established counties.

Pennsylvania Counties 1752
Pennsylvania Counties as of 1752 (Ber = Berks; Buc = Bucks; Ch = Chester; Cu = Cumberland; Lan = Lancaster; Nhn = Northampton; Ph = Philadelphia; Yo = York).

He most likely delivered the Pennsylvania Gazette with his own advertisement in it for his own customers to see. Askew used very polite and proper language, such as “desires the favour of his customers that have not paid” and “their compliance will oblige their humble servant,” to get his customers to pay their outstanding bill with him. He then reminds them of their yearly “Entrance Money” for his services, which is common even today for some services. With this advertisement being placed in the March 20 paper he gave customers until March 30 to pay their bills. This would be one more week of newspapers to be dropped off, the Thursday, March 27 issue. Since it was already March that meant that some of these bills were very old because the language that he used made it seems like some of them came from before the new year. Even the “Entrance Money” that was due on March 30 was three months late! Askew gave clear instructions that the money should be left were he delivered his customers’ papers or to pay him in person.

However, a second look at the advertisement that goes beyond the pleasant wording reveals an interesting underlying tone. When I read it I sensed a slightly aggressive or threatening tone by the end. When someone says to “expect further trouble” I do no think of good things. Although each colony had its own laws regarding what would happen to debtors, none of the punishments sound good. As I was doing research for this advertisement I discovered Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey (edited by William Nelson and published in 1903). It included an excerpt from the Pennsylvania Gazette‘s April 10, 1766, issue: an advertisement calling debtors and their creditors into court to figure out what to do.

Mar 22 - 4:10:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 10, 1766).

Often the offender would be sent to debtors’ prison or would have to sell off his belongings to pay his creditors. In colonial America, even worse then being sent to debtors’ prison was the public shame and embarrassment, often including publishing offenders’ names in the newspaper for everyone to see. Many colonial Americans were not very forgiving of those who fell from grace this way.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

James Askew was anxious for his customers to pay him for the newspapers he delivered from Philadelphia. As Elizabeth explains, some owed arrears from the previous year, while others had not yet paid for the current year. Askew gave plenty of notice that his patrons needed to pay or else face legal consequences. Today’s advertisement also appeared in two previous issues: on March 6 and 13. The post rider gave delinquents fair warning that he would no longer tolerate their refusal to pay for the services he provided.

Advertisements like this one suggest that printers were not the only ones who took a financial risk when extending credit while selling and distributing newspapers. (Recall a recently featured advertisement in which the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette called on subscribers and advertisers to pay their bills.) John Bolton, another post rider who had patrons from Chester to West Nottingham, placed a similar advertisement in the same issue as this notice from Askew. He also threatened that those who refused to pay “may depend on being dealt with as the Law directs, without respect of Persons, or further Notice.” Bolton stated that he did not care if his (former) customers were the most humble or the most prominent residents in the towns he served. Anyone who contracted a debt with him was expected to pay up.

Mar 22 - Post Rider 3:20:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 20, 1766).

Most of the advertisements featured here highlight attempts to sell goods and services to colonial consumers. Elizabeth has chosen an advertisement that demonstrates another aspect of doing business: some colonists eagerly obtained certain goods and services yet neglected to pay for them, at least not in a timely fashion. As a result, some advertisements encouraged payments from those whose demand had so far outstripped their willingness to pay.