February 23

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

New-York Journal (February 23, 1769).

“The imposition laid upon us in the use of British paper.”

Although colonial printers liberally reprinted news items and editorial pieces from newspaper to newspaper, they only infrequently reprinted advertisements. After all, advertisements usually addressed local and regional audiences. In addition, paid notices were an important revenue stream that made colonial newspapers viable ventures. As a result, printers had few reasons to reprint advertisements from the newspapers they received from their counterparts in other cities and towns. On occasion, some printers did reprint advertisements that they considered either entertaining or instructive. Such was the case for an advertisement from the February 16, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal that John Holt reprinted just a week later in the February 23 edition of the New-York Journal.

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford had inserted an advertisement offering “Ready MONEY for CLEAN LINEN RAGGS” that Pennsylvania’s “Paper Manufactory” could make into paper, thus supporting the local economy, eliminating dependence on paper imported from England, and avoiding the duties imposed by the Townshend Act. The Bradfords conceived of saving rags as a political act rather than a mundane chore, charging “Ladies” to express “their love of liberty” by taking the lead in supporting this particular act of resistance to Parliament’s overreach.

Holt eliminated any mention of the Bradfords and their “Pennsylvania Writing PAPER,” considering them irrelevant to the lesson he wished to impress on readers of the New-York Journal. He reprinted the rest of the advertisement in its entirety, along with a brief introduction: “For the Encouragement of the Paper Manufactory, the following Advertisement is copied from the Pennsylvania Journal, and being equally applicable to this Province, is earnestly recommended to the Consideration of all who desire its Prosperity and wish to preserve its Freedom.” In making this statement, Holt doubled down on the political message advanced by the Bradfords.

But that was not all Holt did. After reprinting the original advertisement, he inserted an editorial of equal length. He lamented the “great sums of money that are continually sent out of America … for the single article of paper.” He expressed dismay that colonists had not done more to encourage paper production in New York; the industry would garner “a considerable and certain profit” as well as avoid “the unconstitutional imposition exacted upon us” by the duties on imported paper. Encouraging domestic manufacture of paper would “promote the good of our country, and preserve its right and liberties.” Finally, Holt made a bid for supporting paper production in New York rather than Philadelphia, another reason to remove any mention of the Bradfords and their goods from the advertisement. He complained that “[b]esides the money sent from this province to Europe for paper, considerable sums are sent for it to Philadelphia.” He believed that approximately twenty paper mills operated in that city and its environs, compared to only a couple in New York. Not only did Holt promote paper made in America, he wanted his own colony to benefit from its production rather than import from a neighboring province.

Although Holt described this piece as an advertisement and placed it among the paid notices, it might better be considered an editorial. The political valence of the original advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal merited reprinting in the New-York Journal, but Holt enhanced it with even more extensive commentary.

February 3

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

New-London Gazette (February 3, 1769).

“LAST Wednesday morn, at break of day, / From Philadelphia run away, / An Irish man, nam’d John M‘Keoghn, / To fraud and imposition prone.”

The “Poets Corner” was a regular feature in the New-London Gazette in the late 1760s. It frequently ran in the first column on the final page, appearing alongside advertisements and, on occasion, news items. When readers perused the February 3, 1769, edition, they encountered a relatively short poem in the “Poets Corner” and a much lengthier one among the advertisements. This second poem, bearing the title “ADVERTISEMENT,” told the story of John McKeoghn, an Irish indentured servant who ran away from Mary Nelson in Philadelphia on January 10.

The poem told a cautionary tale about how looks and actions could be deceiving. “He oft in conversation chatters, / Of scripture and religious matters, / And fain would to the world impart, / That virtue lodges in his heart; / But take the rogue from stem to stern, / The hypocrite you’ll soon discern, / And find (tho’ his deportment’s civil) / A saint without, within a devil.” Not only had McKeoghn run away, he had also stolen several textiles and garments from Nelson. In addition, he “Can curse and swear as well as lie.” The poem warned colonists to assess inner character rather than rely on outward appearances. Just because McKeoghn possessed goods that testified to a particular status, just because he often comported himself in a particular way, did not mean that he truly belonged among the ranks of the genteel that he so successfully imitated. With sufficient observation, anyone who met him should have been able to recognize him for the fraud he was.

It seems unlikely that Nelson paid to place this advertisement in the New-London Gazette. More likely, Timothy Green, the printer, spotted the poem among the advertisements in the January 16 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and decided to reprint it as an entertaining piece for his readers. The poem did not mention any suspicions that McKeoghn was headed to Connecticut in particular. If Nelson had intended to place the advertisement in newspapers beyond Philadelphia, she certainly could have chosen others with more extensive circulation and more readers, especially newspapers published in Boston and New York. Although printers did not usually reprint advertisements free of charge, Green may have made an exception in this case, seizing an opportunity to present a curiosity to his readers.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 16, 1769).

December 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 30, 1768).

“JUST PUBLISH’D, (And TO BE SOLD by D. & R. FOWLE.)”

Colonial printers rarely listed their advertising fees in their newspapers. Those that did usually set rates that took into account a variety of factors, including the length of an advertisement, its duration, and the time and labor involved in setting type. Most printers specified that an advertisement would run for three or four weeks for an initial fee and then accrue additional fees with each subsequent insertion. The cost of those insertions made clear that the initial fee took into account that a compositor had to set the type for an advertisement’s first appearance but not afterward. Printers also stated that the basic fees were adjustable in that they were proportional to the length of each advertisement. Shorter advertisements cost less, but longer advertisements more. The basic fees provided a starting point for the calculations.

Other content in colonial newspapers – news, editorials, prices current, shipping news, and poetry and other entertainment pieces – changed from issue to issue. Type for each item had to be set with each new edition. Advertisements, however, continued from week to week without change. Their placement on the page often shifted as compositors eliminated notices that had expired, added others, and arranged the contents in an order that yielded columns of the same length, but that did not require (setting type for each advertisement. In that regard, reprinting advertisements for second and subsequent weeks reduced the time and labor required for producing a portion of the newspaper.

When preparing the final edition for 1768, reprinting advertisements that previously appeared in previous weeks saved the compositor for the New-Hampshire Gazette considerable time and labor. The last page consisted entirely of advertisements and a colophon. That page exactly replicated the last page of the previous issue: all of the same advertisements in the same order, an extraordinary repetition even taking into account that individual advertisements ran for multiple weeks.

Like most other colonial newspapers, a standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of only four pages, created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and folding it in half. The page of advertising that did not change from one issue to the next represented one-quarter of the contents of the December 30 edition. Producing copies one-by-one on a hand-operated press still required the same amount of time and energy. When it came to content, however, reprinting advertisements streamlined the production process. The printing office at the New-Hampshire Gazette would have still been a bustling place, but the compositor experienced a brief respite when it came to preparing the last page for the final edition of 1768.

October 24

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

Oct 24 - 10:24:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (October 24, 1768).

“IN seventeen hundred and sixty-eight, / Of a runaway servant I’ll relate.”

A curious advertisement appeared in the October 24, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. It offered “THREE POUNDS Reward” for the capture and return of William Tyler, an indentured servant who ran away from John Townsend. Yet Townsend had not paid to have this advertisement inserted in the Boston Evening-Post. Instead, the printers, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, had made an editorial decision to reprint the advertisement as a novelty to entertain their subscribers and other readers. A brief note indicated that they reprinted it from the October 3 issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

The subject of the advertisement was hardly unusual, but the method of delivering the content certainly deviated from that of most other advertisements in colonial newspapers. Rather than writing a brief narrative about the runaway servant, Townsend composed a poem. In nearly two dozen rhyming couplets, he delivered the usual information about Tyler’s age, appearance, occupation, clothing, personality, and other distinguishing characteristics. “He has a hobble in his walk, / And a mutter in his talk,” Townsend reported. Furthermore, the runaway “takes tobacco and strong drink, / When he can get ‘em, I do think.” Many of the rhymes were rather labored, but Townsend managed to insert all the pertinent information. The Fleets apparently considered his efforts worthy of sharing with a larger audience, though likely more for amusement than edification.

Colonial newspapers regularly included items reprinted from other newspapers, some published in the colonies and others in England and other parts of Europe. Modern concepts of plagiarism did not apply; networks of printers exchanged their publications and then borrowed extensively, usually word-for-word, from other newspapers when they compiled news and editorial content for inclusion in their own newspapers. However, they did not usually reprint advertisements. After all, advertisements meant revenues. In most instances printers expected others to pay to have their advertisements inserted in newspapers, but on occasion certain advertisements possessed such entertainment value that printers selected them without concern for collecting fees. In June 1768, for example, the printers of both the New-York Journal and the Providence Gazette inserted an advertisement for a show featuring “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON.” That advertisement first ran in the London Gazetteer in March 31. Both newspapers acknowledged its origins. The New-York Journal explained that it “is inserted as a Curiosity.”

Advertisements had the capacity to entertain as well to inform or to shape consumer demand. That the Fleets reprinted Townsend’s advertisement that relayed the story of a runaway servant in a poem demonstrates that they perused more than just the news in other publications when identifying content to appropriate and share with their own readers.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 25, 1768).

“ADVERTISEMENT. From the LONDON GAZETTEER, of March 31.”

On June 4, 1768, the supplement to the New-York Journal carried an advertisement reprinted from the March 31 edition of the London Gazetteer. John Holt included an editorial note that it was “inserted as a Curiosity.” The advertisement promoted “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON, at St. George’s Spaw, at the Dog and Duck in St. George’s Field Southwark,” starting on Easter Monday and continuing “every evening during the summer season” with the exception of Sundays.

Apparently Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, also considered this a “Curiosity” that would entertain their readers. Three weeks later they reprinted the same advertisement in their newspaper. Although printers regularly generated content by reprinting news items and editorials from one newspaper to another throughout the eighteenth century, the attribution practices make it difficult to determine if Goddard and Carter reprinted this curious advertisement after encountering it in the New-York Journal or if they saw the same item in a copy of the London Gazetteer they had obtained and independently chose to reprint the advertisement for the amusement of their readers.

Both the New-York Journal and the Providence Gazette noted that the advertisement originally appeared in the London Gazetteer. In the same supplement, Holt inserted a poem “On JOHN WILKES, Esq; offering himself a Candidate for the County of Middlesex” for readers in New York. He did not indicate the source of the poem, though it did appear with news from London as well as short excerpts from the Public Advertiser and the Public Ledger as well as the London Gazetteer. Holt also reprinted a couplet from the Public Advertiser: “THE Reign of HUMOUR, WIT and SENSE is o’er! / When did it end?—When YORICK was no more.”

Goddard and Carter reprinted both of those items along with two other poems under a heading dated “LONDON, March 29” that further indicated “The following was this morning posted up at the Sun Fire Office, in Cornhill.” This general heading does not make clear whether it applied only to “BRITANNIA to JOHN WILKES, Esq.” or all four poems. A brief explanation accompanied the couplet that also appeared in the New-York Journal. It had been composed “On the Death of Reverend Mr. STERNE, Author of Tristram Shandy, &c.” The novelist had only recently died on March 18, 1768.

Considering that Goddard and Carter published both additional material and information that differed from some of the attributions in Holt’s newspaper, they very well could have made the decision to reprint an interesting advertisement from the London Gazetteer without being influenced by a fellow printer elsewhere in the colonies. Even if Holt’s inclusion of the advertisement in the New-York Journal had inspired them, the further dissemination of it in the Providence Gazette demonstrates that colonists sometimes turned to advertisements for entertainment or amusement. In that manner, advertisements enhanced other content in newspapers by serving purposes other than selling tickets or other goods and services. Either Wolton or the proprietors of St. George’s Spa had paid to insert an advertisement in the London Gazetteer with the intention of attracting audiences. In the end, they entertained readers on the other side of the Atlantic who had no chance of attending the performances. Neither colonial printers nor colonial readers paid anything to Wolton or St. George’s Spa for their entertainment.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (June 4, 1768).

The following Advertisement from the London Gazetteer … is inserted as a Curiosity.”

Colonial printers generated content for their newspapers by liberally reprinting items that previously appeared in other newspapers. Much of the news came from newspapers printed in other colonies, but some it also came directly from newspapers printed in London. In making their editorial decisions, printers sometimes chose items intended to inform or to educate, but other times selected items intended solely to entertain. The latter included anecdotes, poems, and even advertisements.

For instance, John Holt reprinted news from London in the Supplement to the New-York Journal distributed on June 4, 1768. He complemented the news from the Public Advertiser and Public Ledger with items intended to edify and to amuse, namely a poem “On JOHN WILKES, Esq; offering himself a Candidate for the County of Middlesex” and an “Advertisement from the London Gazetteer of the 31st of March last.” Holt explained that the advertisement “is inserted as a Curiosity” for his readers.

The advertisement offered colonists a glimpse of popular culture and entertainments available in England. It announced a spectacle that occurred every night (except Sundays) throughout the summer: “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON, at St. George’s Spaw, at the Dog and Duck in St. George’s Fields Southwark.” The notice listed ten tricks performed by Wolton, including riding “two horses on full speed, standing upright with one foot on each saddle” and making “a flying leap over the bar with two horses, sitting on both saddles.” For added interest, Wolton beat a drum during some of his tricks and fired a pistol during others. To make the event even more spectacular, the proprietors supplied “Proper musick” to set the tone throughout the series of stunts.

Unless they planned a trip across the Atlantic, the readers of the New-York Journal did not have opportunities to witness Wolton’s show of horsemanship during the summer of 1768, but Holt suspected that the advertisement on its own provided some of level of entertainment. Its inclusion in the New-York Journal demonstrates how carefully the printer scoured other newspapers for content he imagined his readers would enjoy. Some colonists likely paid similar attention to the advertisements in their local newspapers, not because they were responsible for filling out the pages but instead because they sought entertainment, either by attending events like fireworks shows and musical performances or simply by reading advertisements that included curious or amusing content.

November 2

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

Nov 2 - 11:2:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 2, 1767).

“China Ware and Paper, much cheaper than they will come a little while hence.”

In the fall of 1767, Caleb Blanchard placed the same advertisement in multiple newspapers published in Boston, increasing the likelihood that potential customers would learn that he stocked an assortment of imported goods. In the course of a single week, his advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette on October 29 (examined yesterday) and the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on November 2. Blanchard certainly was not the only colonial merchant who attempted to broadcast his marketing efforts as widely as possible by advertising in several newspapers. By the late 1760s this was a fairly common strategy among advertisers in port cities with competing newspapers.

Yet Blanchard’s advertisement merits attention not only because it was the same advertisement, in terms of the content, in more than one newspaper. On closer examination it appears to have been the same advertisement set with the same type yet printed in two different newspapers.

At a glance, it is fairly easy to distinguish between the typography of Blanchard’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and its counterpart in the Boston-Gazette. The compositors make different decisions about capitalization, italics, and line breaks. In addition, the Massachusetts Gazette version lists three captains who imported Blanchard’s inventory but the version in the Boston-Gazette includes only two. While they had the same copy (with the exception of the third captain), these were two different advertisements.

Comparing the versions in the Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post, however, does not yield any readily apparent visual discrepancies. Even after examining the original issues in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society, the advertisements do not seem to be distinctive or unique to their respective publications. Instead, it appears that Richard Draper at Massachusetts Gazette and Thomas and John Fleet at the Boston Evening-Post shared an advertisement set in type at one printing office and transported to the other.

This requires a lot more investigation, especially since this is not the first instance of this sort of cooperation and sharing of advertisements among Boston printers during the fall of 1767 that I have encountered. This example raises many questions about the printing trade and the business practices adopted in Boston that will require much more research. Yet I wanted to highlight these advertisements as a means of demonstrating how a much larger project can originate from discovering something unexpected. Blanchard’s advertisements are only a tiny part of an expansive print culture in eighteenth-century America, yet they suggest that big questions come from small pieces of evidence.

Nov 1 - 10:29:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 29, 1767).
Nov 2 - 11:2:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 2, 1767).