What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The above Agreement was signed by almost all the Merchants in this City.”
Eighteenth-century newspapers regularly carried several types of content. Most included news, editorials, and advertisements. Some often included a poem on the final page. Others included shipping news from the customs house or a list of prices current for commodities among the news items. Some items, however, did not neatly fit in any particular category. This notice that ran in the November 27, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was part news, part editorial, and part advertisement.
The notice offered an overview of recent developments concerning nonimportation agreements adopted by many colonists in an effort “to defeat the iniquitous Purposes of the oppressive Act of Parliament, imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, [and] Tea.” Such measures had been adopted widely in “all the middle Colonies of America, except the Colony of Rhode-Island.” This so angered that merchants of New York that most signed an additional agreement, that one targeting “any Person or Persons dwelling and residing in the said Colony of Rhode-Island,” pledging not to do business with them “until they shall fully come into the Agreement subscribed by the Merchants of Boston, New-York and Philadelphia, not to import Goods from Great-Britain until the Act imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, Tea, &c. is repealed.” In addition, New York’s merchants demanded that their counterparts in Rhode Island place in storage goods they recently imported and not sell them until after new goods arrived in the wake of the repeal of the Townshend Acts. Not only did they seek to compel Rhode Island to fall in line with the nonimportation agreement, they also sought to level the playing field when it came time to return to business as usual if they managed to make Parliament relent.
Usually such items appeared among the news and editorials in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but for some reason it was situated among the advertisements in the November 27, 1769, edition. News and editorials filled the first two pages and spilled over to the third. The remainder of the third page and the entire fourth page consisted entirely of advertisements, with the exception of this notice sandwiched between two advertisements for real estate. The compositor could have just as easily placed it among or at the end of the news that ran on the same page, but instead chose to transition from the news to a dozen advertisements before inserting this notice. Why? Was it a paid notice? Did the printer not consider it news? Did the printer suspect that it would garner greater attention in the section of the newspaper intended primarily for advertisements? Its place in the issue deviated from the order otherwise imposed on the various contents. Whatever the explanation, this notice demonstrates that even in newspapers that usually adhered to a particular structure or organization for news items, editorials, and advertisements, colonists sometimes encountered news among the paid notices. Advertising often served as an important supplement to news and editorials when it came to staying informed about current events in the era of the American Revolution.