December 31

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

Dec 31 - 12:28:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 28, 1769).

“Induce those Gentlemen who have long been Customers, to renew their Subscription.”

Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, marked the end of 1769 with a notice to subscribers in the final edition of the year. He did not so much mark the imminent start of a new calendar year as much as he noted that “This Paper concludes the Year of many of the Subscribers to it.” He took the opportunity to encourage “those Gentlemen who have ling been Customers, to renew their Subscription” for another year.

Draper made this appeal in a crowded media market, the most crowded in the American colonies. Boston, a bustling urban port, was among the largest cities, but others were larger. Despite that fact, printers in Boston published more newspapers in the late 1760s than their counterparts in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. As 1769 drew to a close, Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter competed with four other newspapers published in Boston: the Boston Chronicle (one of the few newspapers anywhere in the colonies published twice a week, but also noted for its Loyalist sympathies and tone), the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette (perhaps the most vocal in support of the Patriot cause, but certainly not the only newspaper that took that stance), and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

Given the competition, Draper asked subscribers to consider what distinguished his newspapers from others. “The Publisher hopes by the Carefulness in his Publications of giving Intelligence in the most authentic Manner,” he stated, “that the Paper will retain the Credit it always had of being as judicious … as any other Paper.” Draper suggested that he took his role as editor seriously, carefully selecting the contents of each issue to deliver accurate information rather than propaganda to his readers. An example of his editorial style appeared on the page following his notice to subscribers. He republished three letters from the Essex Gazette, providing a short explanation by way of introduction: “Having in our last published from the Essex Gazette, the Advertisement of the Committee of Merchants at Marblehead, wherein several Gentlemen’s Names were mentioned, Justice requires us to publish the Vindication of themselves, taken from the last Essex Gazette.” Having inserted a portion of the story in one edition, Draper continued coverage as more information became available. More partisan printers might not have been so generous or conscientious. In his monumental History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas praised Draper, declaring that he “was esteemed the best compiler of news of his day.”[1] That was the characteristic that Draper marketed to subscribers when he called on them to renew their subscriptions. They could depend on receiving a carefully curated newspaper that kept them well informed of the events of the day.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America with a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers, ed. Marcus A. McCorison (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 144.