January 24

Who was the subject of advertisements in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today?

Maryland Gazette (January 24, 1771).

Will be SOLD, by PUBLIC VENDUEin Baltimore Town, Maryland.”

On January 24, 1771, Jacob Giles and W. Young placed an advertisement about an upcoming “PUBLIC VENDUE” or auction of several enslaved men, women, and children.  The sale was scheduled for March 6 “in Baltimore Town, Maryland.”  That advertisement appeared in the Maryland Gazette, published in Annapolis.  Simultaneously, the same advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Journal, published in Philadelphia.  That Giles and Young advertised in two newspapers published in different cities demonstrates an important aspect of the circulation of newspapers prior to the American Revolution.  They tended to serve entire colonies or regions rather than just the cities or towns of publication and their hinterlands.

In order to run newspaper advertisements, Giles and Young had to look to Annapolis and Philadelphia, the nearest places where printers published newspapers.  Baltimore did not have a newspaper printed locally in 1771.  William Goddard commenced publication of the Maryland Journal in Baltimore on August 20, 1773, but until then residents of that port on the Chesapeake relied on newspapers published in Annapolis, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg, Virginia, for their news and advertising.  Giles and Young certainly welcomed prospective bidders from other places to their auction, but their advertisement was not intended solely for faraway readers who might not see any broadsides or handbills that may have been posted or distributed in Baltimore.  Giles and Young anticipated that prospective bidders in Baltimore and its environs would see their notice in the Maryland Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.

Pennsylvania Journal (January 24, 1771).

At the beginning of 1771, there were only twenty-seven newspapers published throughout the thirteen colonies that eventually became the United States.  No newspapers were published in Delaware or New Jersey.  Of the remaining eleven colonies, newspapers emanated from only one city or town in seven of them, though some of the major ports had multiple newspapers.  The Georgia Gazette (Savannah), the Maryland Gazette, and the New-Hampshire Gazette(Portsmouth) were the only newspapers published in those colonies.  Three newspapers were published in New-York City, four in Philadelphia (including one in German), three in Charleston, South Carolina, and two in Williamsburg.  In each case, those newspapers served readers far beyond those cities.  Rhode Island had two newspapers, one in Newport and the other in Providence.  North Carolina also had two, one in New Bern and the other in Wilmington.  Massachusetts had the greatest number of newspapers, six in total, with five published in Boston and one in Salem.  Only Connecticut had newspapers published in three towns, the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, the Connecticut Journal in New Haven, and the Connecticut Gazette in New London.  That they all bore the name of the colony rather than the town testifies to their dissemination to other places in Connecticut as well as portions of Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.

When Giles and Young sought to advertise an auction of enslaved people in Baltimore, necessity prompted them to insert notices in newspapers published in Annapolis and Philadelphia.  Those newspapers served extensive regions, making them the local newspapers for readers in Baltimore, especially in the absence of any newspaper published in that town.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 23, 1767).

“WILLIAM ROGERS, Of Newport, Rhode-Island … has newly furnished his Shop with a neat Assortment of GOODS.”

In general, eighteenth-century advertisers tended to place notices only in their local newspapers, though members of the book trades sometimes accounted for exceptions as they cooperated with colleagues to create larger markets for promoting and distributing reading materials. What qualified as a local newspaper depended on the perspective of readers and advertisers since newspapers were printed only in slightly more than a dozen cities and towns in 1767. Most publications thus served an extensive hinterland, often an entire colony and sometimes a region that included portions of other colonies as well. The Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, had subscribers throughout the colony as well as Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. In the absence of local newspapers to carry their marketing messages, shopkeepers and others in those colonies sometimes advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the other newspapers printed in Philadelphia but distributed widely.

William Rogers “Of Newport, Rhode-Island, on the Parade opposite the Custom-House” did not want for a local newspaper to carry his advertisements. Samuel Hall published the Newport Mercury from his printing shop on Thames Street. The Mercury was Newport’s only newspaper. This did not, however, prevent Rogers from advertising in multiple publications. He took the rather extraordinary action of injecting himself into the Providence market when he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Several shopkeepers who advertised regularly in the Gazette (including Thompson and Arnold, Joseph and William Russell, Benjamin and Edward Thurber, and James Green) already competed with each other to gain both attention in the public prints and customers in their shops. Rogers presented the “neat Assortment of GOODS” in his shop as a viable alternative, especially since “he intends to sell as cheap as can be bought at any Shop in PROVIDENCE.” In the course of the week, Rogers’ advertisement appeared in both the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury.

Rogers may not have expected to garner many customers from Providence, but he almost certainly aimed to attract readers of the Providence Gazette elsewhere in Rhode Island, especially those who lived between Providence and Newport. Shopkeepers in Providence served the city’s hinterland as well as their neighbors in the city. William Rogers wanted some of that business for himself.