December 4

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

Essex Journal (December 4, 1773).

“THOSE LADIES and GENTLEMEN who are desirous of seeing the curious ART of PRINTING, are hereby informed that on MONDAY next the Printing Office, will be opened for their reception.”

When Isaiah Thomas and Henry-Walter Tinges formed a partnership to publish the Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet: Or, the Massachusetts and New-Hampshire General Advertiser in the fall of 1773, they devised a savvy marketing campaign.  Thomas already published the Massachusetts Spy in Boston.  He continued overseeing that newspaper, while Tinges ran the printing office in Newburyport.  To generate interest in the new publication, the partners inserted a notice in the November 26 edition of the Massachusetts Spy, informing both prospective subscribers and prospective advertisers that they would distribute the inaugural issue of the Essex Journal “GRATIS” on December 4.  They envisioned “a very large Number will be printed off, and distributed throughout the Provinces of Massachusetts Bay and New-Hampshire.”

Thomas and Tinges used that first issue as a vehicle for further promoting the newspaper as well as several ventures Thomas already had underway.  An extensive address “To the PUBLIC” from the printers and “PROPOSALS For CONTINUING the ESSEX JOURNAL” filled most of the first page, appearing below a masthead that included woodcuts of the arms of the colony, an indigenous man holding an arrow in one hand and a bow in the other, on the left and a packet ship under sail, presumably carrying newspapers and letters, on the right.  The title of the newspaper ran between the images.  At short advertisement for a magazine that Thomas already marketed extensively completed the final column: “SUBSCRIPTIONS for the ROYAL AMERICAN MAGAZINE, which will speedily be published by I. THOMAS, in Boston, are taken in at the Printing-Office.”  A longer advertisement addressed to “the generous Patrons and Promoters of useful KNOWLEDGE, throughout AMERICA,” a notice that previously appeared in several newspapers published in Boston, appeared on the final page of the inaugural issue.  In it, Thomas solicited articles for the Royal American Magazine and warned prospective subscribers to submit their names soon or risk missing the first issue.  A shorter advertisement on the final page promoted “Thomas’s Boston Sheet ALMANACK for the year ensuing, proper for all Merchants, Shopkeepers, &c. to paste or hang up in their Stores or Shops.”

Essex Journal (December 4, 1773).

On the third page, the first advertisement immediately following the news invited “LADIES and GENTLEMEN who are desirous of seeing the curious ART of PRINTING” to visit the printing office on the following Monday.  The printers planned to open their shop to the public, prepared to “wait on all who will do them the honour of their company.”  Thomas and Tinges highlighted demonstrations scheduled for “eleven o’clock in the forenoon, and at three in the afternoon.”  They hoped that such exhibitions would help convince prospective subscribers and prospective advertisers to do business with them.  Opening the printing office to the public “for their reception” anticipated open houses that many businesses now host to draw attention to new endeavors.  Another advertisement, this one on the final page, asked “GENTLEMEN and LADIES in this and the neighbouring towns who will encourage the Publication of this Paper” to “send in their names with all convenient speed.”  Thomas and Tinges suggested that publishing subsequent issues of the Essex Journal was not a foregone conclusion.  Instead, they needed prospective subscribers to confirm their commitment before the next issue would go to press.  A second issue depended on “a sufficient number of Subscribers.”  As a final bonus, a supplement accompanied the inaugural issue.  It featured news about “the detestable TEA sent out by the East-India Company, part of which being just arrived in [Boston] harbour,” that made its way to Newburyport the previous day via “Friday’s Post.”  With the supplement, Thomas and Tinges made the point that subscribers to the Essex Journal could expect to receive the latest news as soon as it arrived in Newburyport rather than waiting for the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, the New-Hampshire Gazette, published in Portsmouth, or any of the newspapers published in Boston.

Despite these efforts, it took a few weeks for Thomas and Tinges to collect enough subscriptions to convince them of the viability of publishing the Essex Journal.  The various marketing strategies incorporated into the inaugural issue, from distributing free copies to the extensive subscription proposals to the open house at the printing office to the news supplement, likely helped generate interest, but the process took time.  Thomas and Tinges did not publish the second issue of the Essex Journal for more than three weeks.  It appeared on December 29, once again carrying the proposals and conditions to entice readers who had not yet subscribed.

August 12

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

Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (August 12, 1773).


It was a busy year for proposing and establishing new newspapers in the colonies.  In 1773, printers in several colonies announced their intentions to publish new newspapers, some in towns that did not yet have their own newspapers and others in places already served by one or more newspapers.  The first new newspaper of the year appeared in New York following an extensive campaign to attract subscribers in the city and far beyond.  James Rivington distributed the first issue of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s-River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser on April 22, 1773.  Alexander Robertson, James Robertson, and John Trumbull sought subscribers during the summer and began publishing the Norwich Packet and the Connecticut, Massachusetts, New-Hampshire, and Rhode-Island Weekly Advertiser in the fall.  The first newspaper published in Norwich, it became the fourth published in Connecticut at the time.  In Baltimore, William Goddard launched the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser on August 20 after disseminating subscription proposals for many months.  It was the first newspaper in a city not yet prepared for two weekly publications.  Robert Hodge and Frederick Shober did not manage to attract enough subscribers to make their proposed newspaper a viable venture.

William Duncan hoped for a different outcome when he placed “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING A WEEKLY NEWSPAPER, AT NORFOLK,” in the August 12 edition of Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette.  Duncan hoped to gather enough subscribers to support the Norfolk Gazette and Virginia Advertiser.  If successful, it would be the first newspaper published in that town and the first one published in Virginia beyond Williamsburg.  Duncan indicated the cost for both subscriptions and advertisements “will be the same as those published in WILLIAMSBURG” in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette and Rind’s Virginia Gazette.  According to the colophons in both newspapers, subscriptions cost twelve shillings and six pence per year and advertisements “of a moderate Length” ran for three shillings for the first week and then two shillings for each additional insertion.  Duncan pledged to subscribers that he would devote “Attention to their Interest, by procuring the earliest Intelligences” and selecting only “what may be really useful as well as entertaining” while avoiding filler that did not matter to readers.

To aid in this endeavor, “SUBSCRIPTIONS will be taken in by the different GENTLEMEN instructed withPROPOSALS,” a common practice for gauging interest in books, newspapers, magazines, and other publications in early America.  Printed proposals usually included both an overview of the purpose of the publication, the plan for taking it to press, and the conditions for subscribing, including cost and descriptions of the paper and type.  In his newspaper advertisement, Duncan acknowledged that a “Specimen or Paper, Size, and Arrangement, may be expected by some” who wished to examine a sample before subscribing.  However, he had not yet arrived in Virginia and in his absence “does not purpose that any Thing of that Nature should be shown until he carries the Work into Execution.”  Such circumstances may have made some prospective subscribers wary.  William Duncan and Company did eventually distribute the first edition of the Virginia Gazette or Norfolk Intelligencer on June 9, 1774, ten months after the subscription proposals first appeared in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg.  Duncan began working on the project in the summer of 1773, but it took the better part of a year to commence publication.

June 22

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

Connecticut Courant (June 22, 1773).

“PROPOSALS, For PUBLISHING, upon a PLAN entirely new, a Periodical PAPER.”

For several years, three newspapers served residents of Connecticut, the New-London Gazette (established as the Connecticut Gazette in November 1763), the Connecticut Courant (established October 1764), published in Hartford, and the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy (founded October 1767).  In addition, the Newport Mercury, the Providence Gazette, and several newspapers published in New York circulated in Connecticut.  In 1773, Alexander Robertson, James Robertson, and John Trumbull made plans to launch a fourth newspaper in the colony.  To that end, they distributed subscription proposals for the “NORWICH PACKET, OR THE CONNECTICUT, MASSACHUSETTS, NEW-HAMPSHIRE, AND RHODE-ISLAND INTELLIGENCER, AND WEEKLY ADVERTISER.”  They intended for their newspaper to serve a region that extended far beyond the town where they published it.

As was the case with the Maryland Journal (published in Baltimore) and Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, it took some time for the printers to amass a sufficient number of subscribers to commence publication.  The Robertsons and Trumbull stated that the “first Paper will be published as soon as a competent Number of Subscribers are procured.”  They printed the first issue in October 1773, the Norwich Packet became the third new newspaper in the colonies that year.  That brought the total to thirty-three newspapers throughout the colonies, most of them in English along with two in German published in Pennsylvania.  By the end of the year, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy folded, while Isaiah Thomas and Henry-Walter Tinges established the Essex Journal in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  Even as a few newspapers, such as the Boston Chronicle, went out of business in the early 1770s, colonizers gained access to a greater variety of newspapers in the years just before the American Revolution.  Overall, the total number rose from twenty-six in 1765 to thirty-one in 1770 to forty-three in 1775.  During the Revolutionary War, several of those newspapers ceased or paused publication.  Printers founded others to supply colonizers with information about the war, commerce, and other news.

The Norwich Packet continued publication throughout most of the war, though suspended from late September 1782 through late October 1783.  The Robertsons and Trumbull, however, parted ways.  In May 1776, Trumbull became the sole publisher when the Robertsons, who were Loyalists, relocated to New York.  In their subscription proposals, the three printers asserted that they planned to publish a “succinct detail of the Proceedings of the Parliament of Great-Britain, especially such as relate to America, and the political Manoeuvres of the Statesmen in and out of Administration.”  How to interpret and respond to those “Proceedings” and “Manoeuvres” eventually resulted in such deep fissures that some colonizers declared and fought for independence while others remained loyal to Britain.  When the Robertsons and Trumbull established the Norwich Packet, the updates and editorials in the newspaper helped shape public discourse about the relationship between the colonies and Parliament.  Within just a couple of years, the Norwich Packet related and recorded many of the events of the Revolutionary War.  In order to publish “the most recent Advices of every remarkable Event,” however, the printers first had to convince “THE PUBLIC” to subscribe.

March 23

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

Connecticut Courant (March 23, 1773).

“A motive to Gentlemen in Business to give orders for the Papers.”

As he prepared to launch a new newspaper, “RIVINGTON’s NEW-YORK GAZETTEER; OR THE CONNECTICUT, NEW-JERSEY, HUDSON’s-RIVER, AND QUEBEC WEEKLY ADVERTISER,” James Rivington continued to expand his advertising campaign in newspapers in New York, New England, and Pennsylvania.  He placed a notice in the Connecticut Courant on March 23, 1773, a full month after his first notices appeared in the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 22.  Except for the brief advertisement in the Newport Mercury, the much more extensive subscription proposals in the other newspapers all provided an overview about how Rivington envisioned that his newspaper would include content that distinguished it from others.  In many ways, he proposed a hybrid of a newspaper and a magazine, a publication that “will communicate the most important Events, Foreign and Domestic” as well as the “State of Learning” with the “best modern Essays,” a “Review of New Books,” and coverage of “new Inventions in Arts and Sciences, Mechanics and Manufactories.”

For readers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, Rivington also attempted to incite interest through noting that “the Merchants and Traders of New-York, have universally patronized this Design, and their Advertisements will constantly appear in the Gazetteer.”  Given New Haven’s proximity to New York, Rivington apparently believed that consumers and retailers there would find such advertisements by merchants and shopkeepers in the bustling port as interesting and as useful as the rest of the content.  He made a similar pitch to residents of Hartford in his notice in the Connecticut Courant.  Following the paragraph describing the news and essays he planned to include in the newspaper, the printer expressed his hope that the “general support and promise of Mr. Rivington’s Friends, to Advertise in his Gazetteer … may be a motive to Gentlemen in Business to give orders for the Papers, which will be very regularly sent to the Subscribers.”  Rivington envisioned that advertising, in addition to coverage of “the Mercantile Interest in America, Departures and Prices Current, at Home and Abroad,” would facilitate commerce between New York and smaller towns in neighboring Connecticut.  He suggested to prospective subscribers in Hartford and New Haven that they consider advertisements placed by “Merchants and Traders” in New York as valuable sources of information, as newsworthy and practical in their own right as reports about current events.

February 24

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 24, 1773).

“A weekly NEWS-PAPER … differing materially in its plan from most others now extant.”

James Rivington’s efforts to launch a new newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or, the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, continued in the February 24, 1773, editions of the Pennsylvania Gazetteand the Pennsylvania Journal.  Although published in New York, Rivington intended circulation far beyond the city and sought subscribers in distant towns.  His first efforts to promote the proposed newspaper in the public prints appeared as advertisements in the Newport Mercury, a shorter notice, and the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a much more extensive notice, on February 22.

Despite its length, the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle did not give any particulars about how readers could subscribe to Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  The advertisement in the Newport Mercury concluded with a note that “Subscriptions are taken in by MOSES M. HAYS, of Newport, and the printer hereof,” but readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle did not have access to similar information.  The advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal remedied that, advising that “Subscriptions are received by Mr. Nicholas Brooks, near the Coffee-House in Philadelphia.”  Given how often printers served as brokers of information that did not appear in their newspapers, prospective subscribers could have also enquired at any of the printing offices of the newspapers that carried Rivington’s advertisements.

In addition to naming a local agent, the advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journalincluded the same appeals that Rivington made in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Although readers in Philadelphia and its hinterlands already had access to four newspapers in English and two in German, Rivington asserted that he would supply something different when he entered “this Periodical Business.”  He planned to publish the usual sorts of news about current events, politics, and commerce, yet he also aimed to supplement that material with items often associated with magazines imported from London.  That meant his readers would encounter the “best modern essays,” a “review of new-books … with extracts,” and “new inventions in arts and sciences, mechanics and manufactures, [and] agriculture and natural history.”  Rivington, known for his Loyalist sympathies, offered a selection of reading material that he may have believed emphasized cultural connections within the empire as a means of counteracting what he saw as an American press that too often stoked tensions during the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s.

February 22

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

Newport Mercury (February 22, 1773).

“Such original pieces and extracts as will afford the most pleasing and useful amusement.”

James Rivington, a prominent printer and bookseller in New York, determined that the city needed another newspaper to supplement the three already published there in 1773.  He envisioned, however, a publication that would circulate far beyond the city and even beyond the colony.  When the first issue appeared on April 22, the masthead bore a lengthy title, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser.  All colonial newspapers were regional rather than local, but Rivington sought to serve several regions simultaneously.

Although he frequently placed advertisements for books, stationery, and other merchandise in newspapers printed in New York, Rivington did not place his first advertisements for his own newspaper in the city.  Instead, his first newspaper notices appeared in the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 22, 1773.  Over the next several weeks, his advertising campaign expanded to several other newspapers.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 22, 1773).

Rivington placed a fairly humble notice in the Newport Mercury, announcing his plan to publish “a WEEKLY GAZETTE, or the CITY and COUNTRY ADVERTISER” that would “contain the best and freshest advices, foreign and domestic, and such original pieces as will afford the most pleasing and useful amusement.”  He listed the prices, promised that “All favours from the inhabitants of Rhode-Island colony, will be gratefully acknowledged,” and identified local agents who collected subscriptions, including the printer of the Newport Mercury.

In comparison, his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle had a much grander tone.  Rivington proclaimed that he would publish a newspaper “differing materially in its Plan from most now extant” and asserted that he received “Encouragement from the first Personages in this Country” to pursue the endeavor.  Now he needed “public Patronage” or subscribers.  Over the course of six lines, the full title of the newspaper appeared as a headline, followed by the “Plan” that described the purpose and contents of the newspaper.  He pledged to invest “All his humble Labours” and select materials according to “the most perfect Integrity and Candour.”  He concluded by noting that he planned to distribute the first issue “when the Season will permit the several Post-Riders to perform their Stages regularly.”  After all, it did not good for residents of Philadelphia and other towns to subscribe to this newspaper if they would not receive it in a timely fashion.

Compared to the description of “such original pieces and extracts as will afford the most pleasing and useful amusement” that Rivington mentioned in his advertisement in the Newport Mercury, the “Plan” in his notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle was much more extensive.  His newspaper would include some of the usual content, such as “the most important Events, Foreign and Domestic” and “the Mercantile Interest in Arrivals, Departures and Prices Current, at Home and Abroad.”  In addition, Rivington trumpeted that the “State of Learning shall be constantly reported.”  It seemed as though he intended to publish content that often appeared in magazines imported from London, such as the “best Modern Essays,” “New Inventions in Arts and Sciences, Mechanics and Manufactures, Agriculture and Natural History,” and a “Review of Mew Books … with Extracts from every deserving Performance.”  Rivington took his responsibilities as editor seriously, refusing to publish any “crafty Attempt with cozening Title, from the Garrets of GRUBB-STREET.”  His readers could depend on receiving only content “that may contribute to the Improvement, Information and Entertainment of the Public.”

Although Rivington went into greater detail when addressing readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle compared to readers of the Newport Mercury, in each instance he sought to entice prospective subscribers with more than just the news, those “freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”  He promised additional content that would amuse as well as inform.  Several newspapers included a poetry corner on the final page, printing a new poem each week.  Rivington proposed giving his subscribers an even greater amount of literary content, delivering items that tended to appear in magazines.  He hoped that would help to distinguish his newspaper from other published in New York and other towns in the colonies.