What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The ACADEMY in LEEDS … in England.”
Readers of the Newport Mercury likely recognized many or even most of the names that appeared among the advertisements for goods and services in the early 1770s. Such advertising tended to be local in nature, though local could be broadly defined since colonial newspapers tended to serve regions rather than just the towns where they were printed. One of two newspapers printed in Rhode Island, for instance, the Newport Mercury served all of the southern portions of the colony. The Providence Gazette provided news and advertising throughout the north. Thomas Green, Paul Mumford, Gideon Sisson, and Nicholas Tillinghast all ran businesses in Newport and placed advertisements in the Newport Mercury. John Borden operated a ferry between nearby Portsmouth and Bristol. He also placed advertisements in the Newport Mercury.
Most advertisements did not come from places outside of the region that the Newport Mercury served, though occasional exceptions did find their way into the pages of that newspaper. A. Grinshaw’s notice in the September 17, 1770, edition was one such exception. Grinshaw, a schoolmaster, promoted his “ACADEMY in LEEDS, Which is pleasantly situated in the County of York, in England.” He made arrangements from the other side of the Atlantic to place his advertisement in the Newport Mercury, hoping to attract pupils for his boarding school from among the merchant elite who resided in the busy port. The appearance of Grinshaw’s advertisement raises questions about printing and bookkeeping practices. Colonial printers frequently ran notices calling on their customers, including advertisers, to settle their accounts or face legal consequences. Did Solomon Southwick, the printer of the Newport Mercury, extend credit to an advertiser so far away? Or did he insist that Grinshaw pay in full before printing his advertisement? Did Grinshaw deal directly with Southwick? Or did he work through an associate who traveled between England and the colonies? Did Grinshaw ever see his advertisement in print? Did that even matter to him? Did the schoolmaster find a receptive audience in Newport? Did he gain any new students as a result of placing it? Other sources may reveal the answers to some of these questions, but the advertisement itself does not.