What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“For LONDONDERRY, The Ship FAME, HUGH LISLE, Master.”
The Pennsylvania Journal relayed shipping news from other ports as well as lists of vessels that “Entered in,” “Outwards,” and “Cleared” from the customs house in Philadelphia. In addition, the newspaper carried advertisements about vessels seeking freight and passengers heading to various ports throughout the British Atlantic world. Stock images of ships at sea often adorned those advertisements.
Sometimes the pages of the newspaper may have seemed as crowded as the docks in Philadelphia, a bustling port and the largest city in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. Fourteen such advertisements, each with an image of a ship, ran in the December 2, 1772, edition in advance of vessels departing for Antigua, Belfast, Charleston, Drogheda, Londonderry, and Newry. Ten of them appeared on the final page. Filling an entire column, they impressed on readers the connections between Philadelphia and other parts of the empire.
Other newspapers published in Philadelphia also ran such advertisements, but the Pennsylvania Journal seemed to be the most popular place for merchants and captains to promote upcoming voyages. On December 2, the Pennsylvania Gazetteran ten of those advertisements, eight of them clustered together in a single column. Earlier in the week, the Pennsylvania Packet carried only three such advertisements on November 30. Later in the week, the Pennsylvania Chronicle carried just one on December 5. Many, but not all, of the advertisements that ran in other newspapers also ran in the Pennsylvania Journal. The notice concerning the Fame, headed to Londonderry, for instance, appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Packet as well as the Pennsylvania Journal. The notice about the Minerva’s upcoming voyage to Newry ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal. On the other hand, the advertisement announcing that the Industry would sail to Newry and Drogheda appeared solely in the Pennsylvania Packet.
Whether they had been published for decades or just a few years, each of the newspapers printed in Philadelphia featured extensive advertising. Those who placed notices expressed confidence in the circulation of each newspaper to reach readers who would benefit from the information they paid to insert. At the same time, merchants and masters of vessels seemed to have the greatest confidence that advertising in the Pennsylvania Journal would yield the results they desired, at least during one week late in the fall of 1772. This raises a question worth exploring in more detail: did advertisers … and readers … have different expectations about the kinds of notices they would encounter in the various newspapers published in Philadelphia in the 1770s?