What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Table, calculated to shew the Contents … of any Sled Load or Cart Load of WOOD.”
In March 1771, Samuel Freeman of Falmouth, Casco Bay, took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to advertise “A Table, calculated to shew the Contents (in Feet and twelfth Parts of a Foot) of any Sled Load of WOOD.” An extended version ran on March 8. It mentioned that the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette also sold that table at their office in Portsmouth. In addition, it explained the purpose of such a table to readers who may have been unfamiliar with a practice from “Every City and populous Town in America …, Portsmouth only excepted.” Even Falmouth in Casco Bay (Maine today, but then still part of Massachusetts) had regulations for appointing officials to measure loads of wood and issue certificates for buyers to consult during their transactions with sellers. The advertisement advised that the residents of Portsmouth might wish to consider such a system at the town’s annual meeting at the end of the month.
The explanation and the commentary did not appear in subsequent iterations of the advertisement. Instead, an abbreviated version ran on March 15, 22, and 29. It did not mention copies of the table available at the printing office. It looks as though Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the Portsmouth Gazette, saw an opportunity to insert an editorial, not among the news items, but instead appended to an advertisement submitted by one of their customers. Doing so provided context for Freeman’s advertisement, but it also transformed the first iteration into more than the advertiser may have intended. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette were accustomed to encountering all kinds of information among the advertisements. That publication featured a higher proportion of legal notices than most other newspapers published in the early 1770s, perhaps prompting readers to peruse the advertisements for updates about current events. The printers did not take such liberties with Freeman’s advertisement each time it ran. After the Fowles made their pitch in its initial appearance it reverted to the copy that the advertiser submitted to the printing office.