June 29

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

Essex Gazette (June 29, 1773).

“Our Customers are very willing their Papers should be read … by any Person who will be so kind as to forward them.”

Newspapers stolen before subscribers read them: the problem dates back to the eighteenth century … and probably even earlier.  It became such an issue in Massachusetts in the summer of 1773 that Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, the printers of the Essex Gazette, inserted a notice addressing the situation.  The printers recognized that many subscribers who lived outside Salem “depend upon receiving their Papers by transient Conveyance” or by indirect means as postriders and others delivered bundles of letters and newspapers to designated locations, such as taverns or shops, with the expectation that members of those communities would then distribute the items to the intended recipients.

The Halls expressed their appreciation to “any Persons for their Favours in forwarding any Bundles to the respective Persons and Places that they are directed to.”  They also acknowledged that their “our Customers are very willing their Papers should be read, after the Bundles are opened, by any Person who will be so kind as to forward them to their Owners in due Season.”  However, all too often that did not happen.  Those who should have felt obliged to see that the newspapers reached the subscribers, especially after they read someone else’s newspaper for free, waited too long to do so or set them aside and forgot about them completely.  That being the case, the printers “earnestly” requested that “those who have heretofore taken up Paper only for their own Perusal, and afterwards thrown them by, or not taken any Care to send them to those who pay for them, would be so kind as not to take up any more.”  Instead, they should “leave them to the Care of those who are more kindly disposed” to see them delivered to the subscribers.

To make the point to those most in the need of reading it, the Halls declared that they “had the Names of some (living in Andover) … who, after having taken up and perused the Papers, and kept them several Days, were at last ashamed to deliver them to the Owners.”  The printers, as well the subscribers, considered this practice “very ungenerous.”  The Halls made a point of advising the culprits that they were aware of who read the newspapers without forwarding them to the subscribers.  They hoped that an intervention that did not involve naming names or directly contacting the perpetrators would be sufficient in altering such behavior.  They did not scold the offenders for reading the newspapers without subscribing.  Indeed, they framed that practice as something printers expected, but they did remind those readers that such generosity did not deserve the “very ungenerous” habit of hoarding and disposing of newspapers instead of forwarding them to the subscribers in a timely manner.  This was one of many challenges that colonial printers encountered in maintaining an infrastructure for disseminating information.

April 6

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

Essex Gazette (April 6, 1773).


On the occasion of the third anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Dr. Benjamin Church delivered an address “upon the dangerous Tendency of Standing Armies, and in Commemoration of the horrid Massacre perpetrated by a Party of the 29th Regiment on the Fifth of March 1770.”  According to coverage in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on March 8 and reprinted in the Essex Gazette the next day, Church “had the universal Applause of his Audience; and his Fellow Citizens voted him their Thanks, and unanimously requested a Copy of his Oration for the Press.”  John Greenleaf quickly printed Church’s Oration, followed by Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, promoting a “THIRD EDITION, corrected by the AUTHOR.”  Commodification of the Boston Massacre occurred simultaneously with commemoration of it, as had been the case with the first and second anniversaries.

Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette in Salem, participated in both the commemoration and the commodification of the Boston Massacre.  In addition to reprinting coverage of the events that marked the anniversary in Boston, they ran an editorial from Marblehead in the March 23 edition.  “THE respectable metropolis of this province,” the anonymous author began, “has certainly acted worthy of itself in establishing, as a monument against ‘the foul oppression of quartering troops in populous cities, in times of peace,’ the MASSACRE ANNIVERSARY.  It must ever do it honour, and serve to convince relentless oppressors, that such measures will produce disgrace to themselves, as well as distress to an injured people.”  The author concluded with a call for colonizers beyond Boston to commemorate the Boston Massacre and remember its significance.  “And while the city solemnizes the fifth of Marchwith its yearly oration,” the author asserted, “may every town in the province observe it in some suitable way; and by keeping up a memento of measures the most cruel and oppressive, be ever guarding its inhabitants against the intriguing designs of Pensioners, Despots, and Tyrants.”

Elsewhere on the same page, the Halls presented an opportunity for consumers to do their part in guarding against “cruel and oppressive” measures by doing their part to commemorate the Boston Massacre through purchasing Church’s Oration.  They apparently sold the correct edition printed by Edes and Gill, declaring that “To-Morrow Morning will be published, and sold by the Printers hereof, An ORATION … to COMMEMORATE THE BLODDY TRAGEDY of the FIFTH of MARCH, 1770.  By DR. BENJAMIN CHURCH.”  The anonymous author from Marblehead gave an endorsement for Church’s Oration as well as the addresses delivered in 1771 and 1772 in the editorial.  “The Gentlemen who exhibited on the two first of these anniversaries,” the author noted, “gave great satisfaction to their hearers, as was evident from the applause they received; and the last performance [by Church] expresses so much true sense, and this conceived in such a delicate stile, that no one can read it without respect for the celebrated author.”  The editorialist from Marblehead likely had a copy of Church’s Oration printed by Greenleaf, allowing for extensive quotations and reflections on how they accurately described the crisis the colonies faced.

That editorial bolstered the advertisement for Church’s Oration that the Halls inserted in that issue and subsequent advertisements that appeared in the next three issues of the Essex Gazette.  More than a month after the anniversary, the Halls continued to hawk the pamphlet, extending the commemoration and helping to keep the dangers of quartering soldiers in Boston visible to their readers who resided outside that city.

February 18

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

Essex Gazette (February 18, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”

How much did advertising cost?  How much did advertising cost compared to subscriptions?  These are some of the most common questions I encounter when discussing eighteenth-century advertising at conferences and public presentations.  The answer is complicated, in part because most eighteenth-century printers did not list advertising rates or subscription fees in their newspapers.  A significant minority, however, did regularly publish that information in the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page.

Such was the case with Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  Over the course of two lines, the colophon in their newspaper announced, “THIS GAZETTE may be had for Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum (exclusive of Postage) 3s. 4d. (or 4s. 6d. if sent by the Post) to be paid at Entrance.  ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”  The colophon revealed how much the Halls charged for subscriptions and advertising as well as other business practices.

Subscribers paid six shillings and eight pence per year, but that did not include postage for delivering the newspapers.  The printers expected subscribers to pay half, three shillings and four pence, in advance.  Like many other eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, the Halls extended credit to their customers.  Newspaper subscribers were notorious for not paying for their subscriptions, as demonstrated in the frequent notices calling on subscribers to settle accounts placed in newspapers throughout the colonies, prompting the Halls to require half from the start.  They asked for even more, four shillings and six pence, from subscribers who lived far enough away that they received their newspapers via the post, though the colophon does make clear if the additional shilling covered postage.  The Halls may have charged a higher deposit because they considered it more difficult to collect from subscribers at a distance.

Short advertisements, those “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” cost three shillings or nearly half what an annual subscription cost.  Other printers specified that they adjusted advertising rates “in proportion” to length.  The Halls likely did so as well, making the cost of an advertisement that extended twenty lines about the same as a subscription.  They did not specify in the colophon that they required payment before running advertisements.  Some printers made that their policy but apparently made exceptions.  When they inserted notices calling on subscribers to send payment, they sometimes addressed advertisers.  For many eighteenth-century printers, advertising generated significant revenue. Considering that a single advertisement could cost as much or more as an annual subscription in the Essex Gazette, the Halls had good reason to cultivate advertisers as well as subscribers.