April 30

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (April 30, 1772).

“A servant lad of slender fame, / And WILLIAM COCHRAN is his name.”

To increase the chances that readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would take note of his advertisement about a runaway indentured servant, James Wilson resorted to more than a dozen rhyming couplets.  In the spring of 1772, he advised that “THIS instant April the twelfth day, / From the subscriber run away, / A servant lad of slender fame, / And WILLIAM COCHRAN is his name.”  Wilson then described Cochran’s clothing, age, and physical characteristics, incorporating as much information as appeared in other advertisements placed for the same purpose but in verse to entertain and to hold the attention of readers who might recognize the fugitive.  In addition, Wilson commenced his advertisement with a headline that proclaimed, “SIX DOLLARS Reward,” and concluded, as was common practice in such notices, with more details about the reward.  “Whoever will this lad secure, / That I again may him procure,” Wilson declared, “As I my honour do regard, / He shall get the above reward, / And all costs reasonable thereon, / By the subscriber, JAMES WILSON.”

Many of the rhymes were quite strained, though Wilson generally did better with the meter.  Still, composing a great work of literature was not his goal.  Instead, he sought to produce an advertisement that readers would notice and remember, especially considering how frequently advertisements for runaway apprentices and indentured servants as well as notices offering rewards for enslaved people who liberated themselves appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers published in the colony.  The combination of rhyming couplets and the white space within the advertisement that resulted from that format distinguished Wilson’s notice from others.  Three notices about runaway indentured servants appeared immediately above Wilson’s advertisement in the April 30, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, each of them a dense paragraph of text.  Such advertisements were so familiar to eighteenth-century readers that Wilson apparently believed that bad poetry was better than no poetry in drawing attention to his advertisement.

February 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 30, 1772).

“A carpenter he is by trade, / Clandestinely from me he stray’d.”

Like newspapers published throughout the colonies, the Pennsylvania Journal regularly ran advertisements about indentured servants who ran away and enslaved people who liberated themselves.  When Richard Grosvenor, a carpenter indented to Joseph Lamb, ran away in January 1772, Lamb placed such an advertisement.  To distinguish his notice from others and make it more memorable, Lamb composed a verse that described Grosvenor and the horse that he stole.

Rather than the standard “RUN AWAY” that appeared at the beginning of similar advertisements, Lamb commenced with “JANUARY the nineteenth day, / RICHARD GROSVENOR rode away.”  He then simultaneously described the runaway servant and mocked him.  “Short, thick, and chunkey, five feet four / His height appears, – I think no more,” Lamb pronounced.  He then explained that Grosvenor was “fat and plump, the cause I reckon / ‘S with eating of my beef and bacon.”  Lamb had provided for the ungrateful servant, only to be betrayed.  As for Grosvenor’s clothing, most of it was old, worn, and faded, “And yet the proud, presumptuous cur / Must place upon each heel a spur, / Brass joined ones, some of the best; / The drunken sot’s compleatly dressed.”  Lamb peppered the carpenter with insults before describing the horse he stole.  His advertisement concluded, as most did, with the terms of the reward for capturing and returning the runaway servant.  “Whoever takes up the miscreant, / A good reward they shall not want, / THREE DOLLARS cast, I do declare, / Just one for him, and two the mare.”  As a final insult, Lamb offered twice as much for recovering the horse as he did for his “drunken sot” of an indentured servant.

Readers of the Pennsylvania Journal encountered so many advertisements about runaway servants that Lamb sought to increase the chances that they took note of his notice about Grosvenor.  The unusual format likely made the description of Grosvenor more memorable as well.  Lamb was certainly not the first aggrieved advertiser to resort to stilted verses to describe a runaway servant, but so few adopted that strategy that he probably believed it stood a good chance of engaging readers as they perused the advertisements.

November 20

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (November 18, 1771).

“I am no servant.”

As soon as the Pennsylvania Packet commenced publication in late October 1771, William Henry Stiegal placed advertisements to promote the American Flint Glass Manufactory at Manheim in Lancaster County.  That advertisement ran for several weeks.  Stiegal soon supplemented it with another notice, that one offering “FIVE PISTOLES REWARD” for “a certain servant man, named FELIX FARRELL, by trade a Glass Blower” who ran away from the factory.  Stiegal described Farrell and promised the reward to whoever “secures him in any of his Majesty’s [jails].”  It was one of many advertisements for runaway servants that ran in newspapers printed in Philadelphia that fall.

Most went unanswered, but Felix Farrell published a response to set the record straight.  Readers encountered both Stiegal’s notice claiming Farrell ran away and Farrell’s response in the November 18 edition.  Farrell acknowledged Stiegal’s advertisement, but warned that he was “no way desirous of having any person plunge himself into an expensive law-suit.”  He then filled in details that Stiegal overlooked in his notice, stating that he and other men migrated to Pennsylvania “to pursue the business of making glass-ware.”  They were “pleased with the civility” that Stiegal demonstrated to them when they first arrived, especially since they were “strangers in America.”  Stiegal convinced them “to enter into articles of agreement with him.”  The relationship, however, turned sour, at least according to Farrell.  He reported that Stiegal “forfeited the covenant on his part” by not paying the promised wages.  That meant that Farrell had “a right to leave his employ and to bring action against him” rather than “drudge and spend my whole life and strength” upholding a broken contract.

Most significantly, Farrell declared, “I am no servant.”  He did not reach that conclusion on his own, but had instead “taken the opinion of an eminent gentlemen of the law” who examined the articles of agreement between Stiegal and Farrell.  Furthermore, Farrell warbed that “no person can be justified in apprehending me.”  Anyone who attempted to do so “will subject himself to an action of false imprisonment.”  Farrell retained a copy of the articles of agreement, asserting his willingness to publish them for consideration in the court of public opinion as well as pursue more formal legal proceedings if Stiegal continued to harass him.

The power of the press usually operated asymmetrically when it came to runaway advertisements in eighteenth-century America.  Wives who “eloped” from their husbands usually did not publish responses.  Enslaved men and women who liberated themselves did not place notices, nor did most indentured servants.  Felix Farrell was one of those rare exceptions, someone who had both the resources to pay for an advertisement and firm enough standing not to place himself in further jeopardy by calling additional attention to himself.

December 21

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

Dec 21 - 12:21:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (December 21, 1769).

“A servant, that from Ireland came, / Catherine Waterson her name.”

Advertisements concerning runaway indentured servants as well as advertisements concerning runaway apprentices and enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage often comprised a significant portion of the notices that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The December 21, 1769, edition and its supplement included several such advertisements. A “servant boy, named RICHARD LITTLE, about 19 years of age,” ran away from Thomas Renick. An “English convict servant man, named JONATHAN STICKWOOD” ran away from William Goodwin. An “Apprentice lad, a German, and speaks but broken English, named GEORGE THOMAS GERHARD” ran away from Matthias Folk. Several other aggrieved masters described servants and apprentices who departed without their permission. Each offered rewards for apprehending and returning the rebellious servants and apprentices.

James Gibbons, an innkeeper, was among those who placed an advertisement in hopes of recovering a runaway servant. To attract more attention to his notice, he composed it in verse. A series of rhyming couplets transformed what otherwise would have been a mundane description of Catherine Waterson, an indentured servant from Ireland, into an amusing piece of entertainment for readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Its format alone distinguished it from the other advertisements on the page, each comprised of dense blocks of text.

Gibson provided the same information that appeared in other advertisements for runaways, but in a manner intended to make the details more memorable. He offered a physical description of Waterson, “Of a down look; complexion dark, / In her face much pock mark’d,” and described her clothing, including “Two handkerchiefs about her neck, / One a flag, the other check.” Waterson, who was “Very apt to swear and lie,” could not be trusted. Gibbons underscored that she “is very artful to deceive, / And an answer quick will give” (relying on a near rhyme to complete the couplet). He noted an encounter Waterson had with “one / Who stop’t her as away she run,” exclaiming that “by a cunning craft wile / She did him so much beguile.” Waterson had a talent for talking her way out of difficult situations; anyone who interacted with her needed to be wary of trusting anything she said. Gibbons suspected that Waterson would attempt to pawn a pincushion and a “very large silver spoon” that she had stolen, presenting perhaps the best opportunity to identify and apprehend her. In that case, he requested that prospective buyers think of him rather than completing the transaction “And safe secure her in some Goal [Jail] / That I may have her without fail.” In return, Gibbons would pay “reasonable charges” and “SIX DOLLARS Reward.”

In the course of thirty rhyming couplets, Gibbons presented a lively tale of runaway servant Catherine Waterson. Although the general narrative did not much differ from those in any of a half dozen other advertisements concerning runaway servants and apprentices in the same edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the innkeeper likely made his tale more memorable, increasing the likelihood that an observant reader would recognize the wayward Waterson. The clever poem was not a great work of literature, but it served its purpose by distinguishing his advertisement from the other notices for runaways.

November 30

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

Nov 30 - 11:30:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (November 30, 1769).

“WHEREAS by an Advertisement in the Philadelphia Papers …”

Did colonists read all of those advertisements that appeared in the pages of early American newspapers? Occasionally some of the advertisements help to answer that question. Consider an advertisement that ran in the November 27, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy and, later that week, in the November 30 edition of the New-York Journal. The notice acknowledged “an Advertisement in the Philadelphia Papers, of November 2, 1769” that described a runaway named Galloway and offered a reward for apprehending him. According to the notice in the New York newspapers, “a Person answering the Description of the above-named Galloway” had been jailed in the city. The notice instructed Galloway’s master to contact one of the aldermen, “who has the Goods that Galloway had stole, in his Possession.” Someone had indeed read the advertisements, at least those concerning runaway apprentices and indentured servants and their counterparts about enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage. Such advertisements usually included a fair amount of detail, in this case enough to identify Galloway and the stolen goods. In addition to disseminating that information, this advertisement served as a testimonial to the effectiveness of inserting such notices in the public prints.

It also demonstrated that newspapers circulated far beyond the cities and towns where they were printed. This notice concerning a runaway described “in the Philadelphia Papers” appeared in two newspapers in New York, describing a suspected runaway jailed in New York. Newspapers from Pennsylvania found their way to New York … and residents of New York had a reasonable expectation that their newspapers circulated in Pennsylvania. Someone considered it effective to respond to an advertisement that originated “in the Philadelphia Papers” by placing a notice in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal. Thanks to exchange networks devised by printers and abundant reprinting from one newspaper to another, the news items and editorials in colonial newspapers created a public discourse that extended from New England to Georgia. Yet conversations in those newspapers were not confined to news and editorials selected by printers. Advertisers sometimes engaged in their own conversations that moved back and forth from one newspaper to another, further contributing to the creation of imagined communities among readers in faraway places.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 22, 1769).

“BETWEEN the sixth and seventh day, / MARY NOWLAND ran away.”

Advertisements for runaway servants and slaves regularly appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette in the 1760s. The June 22, 1769, edition, for instance, featured several such advertisements. To distinguish his notice from others, Abraham Emmit opted for a format other than the usual dense block of text that provided a description. Instead, he published a poem about Mary Nowland, deploying a style intended to encourage readers to give the advertisement more than a cursory glance and, as a result, better remember how to recognize this particular runaway. In addition, the novelty of his poem imbued his advertisement with greater entertainment value, further contributing to the likelihood that readers would take note.

Among the rhyming couplets, Emmit provided a physical description of Nowland. Although in verse, it simultaneously described and denigrated the runaway servant. She had “Brown hair, red face, short nose, thick lips” and was “large and round from neck to hips.” Indeed, the aggrieved Emmit suggested that Nowland was so chubby that it affected her movement – “Short, thick, and clumsy, in her jog” – so much so that he compared her to a “fatten’d hog.” Like many other advertisements for servants, this one reported Nowland’s origins as a means of helping readers identify her. Emmit did not, however, simply state that Nowland had been born in Ireland. Instead, he mentioned that she was “The same religion with the Pope” and “Upon her tongue she wears a brogue,” expecting readers to reach the conclusion that Nowland was an Irish Catholic. In presenting this puzzle, albeit not a particularly difficult one, Emmit encouraged greater participation by readers from their first encounter with the text than most runaway advertisements expected of them. This notice did not merely charge readers with reporting or capturing a runaway if they happened to spot her; it invited them first to engage with the printed page much more actively than they would have when perusing other advertisements concerning runaways.

The clever Emmit did not merely sign his verse. He incorporated his own name into the final couplet, promising a reward of forty shillings to anyone who delivered Nowland to him: for any reader “Who brings her home I will give them it, / Your humble servant, ABRAHAM EMMIT.” These last lines were just as stilted as the rest of the poem, but composing a piece of great literature had not been Emmit’s purpose. Given how many notices about runaway servants and other advertisements ran in the Pennsylvania Gazette, he sought a means to differentiate his advertisement and draw greater attention from readers. The format of the poem alone, compared to dense paragraphs of text in other advertisements, separated it from others on the page, encouraging readers to have a closer look. Emmit speculated that once they discovered the novelty he had composed that they would pay more attention to his description of the runaway Nowland. Providing this simple entertainment increased the chances that someone would recognize Nowland and either return her to Emmit’s household or send word of her whereabouts.

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).

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.

August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (August 8, 1768).

“RUN away … a Welch Servant Man, named WILLIAM WALTERS.”

John Gifford was not happy when “a Welch Servant Man, named WILLIAM WALTERS” ran away in the summer of 1768. The aggrieved master reported that Walters, a mason, had departed with his wife, a woman described as “very remarkable in her Talk.” Gifford may have been commenting on her dialect, but given that he described both husband and wife as “much given to Drink” he may have meant that she resorted to crude speech that made her particularly easy to identify.

To reduce the chances of Walters and his unnamed wife successfully making their escape, Gifford placed notices in multiple newspapers. The New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy both published his advertisement on Monday, August 8. The same advertisement first appeared the previous Thursday in the August 4 edition of the New-York Journal (number 1335). The notation “35 38” intended for the compositor indicated that Gifford made arrangements for his advertisement to run for four consecutive weeks. He intended to place it before as many eyes as possible in hopes of capturing the runaway mason.

To that end, Gifford immediately inserted a similar advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, printed in Philadelphia. Like the New York publications, it was distributed to subscribers and other readers far beyond the city. Gifford suspected that the couple might be more readily identified in New York and would attempt to make their way to another busy port before continuing their flight via ship to somewhere even more distant. Gifford’s advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle the same day it first appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy, simultaneously informing widely dispersed readerships to be on the lookout for a Welch mason and his wife. Gifford must have quickly dispatched copy for the advertisement to William Goddard’s printing office on Market Street in Philadelphia in order for his notice to appear in print so quickly. He revised it only slightly, acknowledging local conditions by offering “Forty Shillings Reward” rather than “TWO POUNDS REWARD.” He also added a nota bene that demanded “All masters of vessels and others are hereby forbid to carry them off,” a standard warning in advertisements for runaway servants and slaves.

When it came to enlisting the aid of the public prints in capturing a runaway servant, Gifford spared little expense. In addition to the reward and “all reasonable Charges” he offered to “Whoever secures [Walters], so that his master may have him again,” he also invested in advertisements in four newspapers published in two cities. The New-York Journal was the only one that listed its advertising rates: “Five shillings, four Weeks.” Others most likely charged similar fees, indicating that Gifford spent at least twenty shilling (or one pound) on advertising intended to increase surveillance and lead to the capture and return of his runaway servant. Creating imagined communities via simultaneous readership was not just a project undertaken by printers who selected content from among possible news items, often reprinting from one newspaper to another. Advertisers made their own contributions to that project when they paid to have notices printed in multiple newspapers in multiple locations.

July 25

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

Jul 25 - Connecticut Courant 7:25:1768
Connecticut Courant (July 25, 1768).

“RUN-AWAY.”

When Ephraim Smith, “an assigned Servant,” ran away from Dr. Eliot Rawson of Middletown in the summer of 1768, the doctor placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant in hopes that someone would “take up said Runaway, and secure him in any of his Majesty’s Goals.” Once Smith had been captured and committed to jail, Rawson pledged to pay a reward as well as other expenses. One aspect of Rawson’s advertisement especially distinguished it from other notices concerning runaway servants, apprentices, and slaves. The headline featured unique typography, the word “RUN-AWAY” in capital letters printed upside down.

Was this intentional? Or was it merely an error made by the compositor? If it was an error, nobody associated with the runaway notice – not the advertiser, not the compositor, not the printers of the Connecticut Courant – considered it consequential enough to remedy. The advertisement ran for three weeks, the standard time specified in rate structure listed in the colophon, before being discontinued. Throughout its entire run it likely attracted attention as a result of the upside down text that introduced the description of Smith and the reward offered by Rawson.

The compositor certainly had opportunities to correct the error. The advertisement first appeared in the July 11 edition, at the top of the center column and immediately below the masthead on the front page. It moved to different positions on the fourth page in the next two issues, indicating that the compositor viewed and handled the type.

Even if the headline initially appeared upside down as a mistake, perhaps everyone involved considered it a fortuitous one and intentionally chose not to reset the type in the first line of the advertisement. After all, it made Rawson’s notice difficult to miss on a page that consisted almost entirely of densely text. An advertisement for a runaway servant might not have merited a second glance by readers who had previously encountered it in another edition, but the incongruity of the upside down text in all capitals and a larger font demanded subsequent notice. It forcefully reminded readers to keep their eyes open for the delinquent Smith when they might otherwise have passed over the advertisement as old news.

Whether intentional or an error, the unique headline produced benefits that relied on the visual elements of the advertisement rather than the copy, making it unnecessary or undesirable to flip the headline to the proper orientation in subsequent iterations of the advertisement. Especially in the absence of visual images, typography played an important role in the quest to have readers take note of newspaper advertisements.