September 9

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

Sep 9 - 9:9:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (September 9, 1768).

“Brief Account of the LIFE, and abominable THEFTS, of the notorious Isaac Frasier.”

True Crime! In early September of 1768, Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, sold a pamphlet about an execution of a burglar that had just taken place. “Just published, and to be sold by the Printers hereof,” the Greens announced, “Brief Account of the LIFE, and abominable THEFTS, of the notorious Isaac Frasier, (Who was executed at Fairfield, on the 7th of September, 1768) penned from his own Mouth, and signed by him, a few Days before his Execution.” This advertisement first ran in the September 9 issue, just two days after the execution and presumably less than a week after the infamous thief had dictated his life’s story.

The Greens marketed memorabilia about an event currently in the news. To help sustain the attention Frasier and his trial and execution had generated, they ran a short article about the burglar, offering prospective customers a preview of the pamphlet. “Last Wednesday,” the Connecticut Journal reported, “Isaac Frasier, was executed at Fairfield, pursuant to the Sentence of the Superior Court, for the Third Offence of Burglary; the lenitive Laws of this Colony, only Punishing the first and second Offences with whipping, cropping, and branding. He was born at North-Kingston, in the Colony of Rhode-Island. It is said, he seem’d a good deal unconcerned, till a few Hours before he was turn’d off—and it is conjectured, by his Conduct, that he had some secret Hope of being cleared, some Way or other.” The Greens likely intended that this teaser provoke even more interest in Frasier, stimulating sales of the pamphlet.

To that end, all of the news from within the colony focused on thieves and burglars who had been captured and punished. Two days before Frasier’s execution, David Powers had been “cropt, branded and whipt” in New Haven after being discovered “breaking open a House.” He had previously experienced the same punishment in Hartford, where James Hardig was “whipt ten stripes at the public whipping post … for stealing.” The Greens described Hardig as “an old offender, as it appears he has already been cropt, branded and whipt.” If they did not change their ways, Powers and Hardig would find themselves “Candidate[s] for a greater Promotion” at their own executions. Frasier’s case offered a cautionary tale for anyone who chose to purchase and read his pamphlet.

Although Frasier was executed upon his third conviction for burglary, he recorded more than fifty burglaries and thefts in the Brief Account. According to Anthony Vaver, Frasier had “toured all over New England and into New York, covering hundreds of miles at a time and committing burglaries all along the way.” Vaver provides and overview of Frasier’s case at Early American Crime, including the circumstances of all three burglaries that led to his execution and a map of the route he followed on his crime spree.

March 21

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

Mar 21 - 3:21:1768 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 21, 1768).

“(For other Advertisements, see the Suppliment.)”

Compared to newspapers published in most other towns and cities, Hartford’s Connecticut Courant featured relatively little advertising. The March 21, 1768, edition devoted even less space to advertisements than usual, presumably because the printer, Thomas Green, opted to insert “Letter X” of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” in its entirety. Only five advertisements appeared in the issue, a short notice from the “Treasury-Office” immediately below the masthead as the first item in the first column on the first page and four others that comprised less than a column on the third page.

Samuel Gilbert’s notice concerning “A good, convenient Dwelling-House and Garden” for sale or rent was the last of those advertisements. “Letter X” filled the remainder of the issue, but Green first inserted an announcement at the conclusion of Gilbert’s advertisement: “(For other Advertisements, see the Suppliment.)” These directions suggest that Green did indeed have other paid notices to disseminate to the public, but the copy of the Connecticut Courant photographed and digitized by Readex for its America’s Historical Newspapers database does not include a supplement. The database does include, however, a nearly complete run of that newspaper for 1768, lacking only two of the issues printed on each Monday of the year. (Gaps in the issue numbers make it clear that two are indeed missing.) Readex reproduced supplements to other issues when they were among the collections of the libraries and archives that partnered with the company in making these historical sources more widely available and accessible. That the database does not include the supplement for the March 21, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Courant suggests that no extant copy had been located. This is disappointing but hardly surprising. We are fortunate to have an almost complete archive of the Connecticut Courant, a situation that demonstrates that newspapers were less ephemeral than other printed media that disseminated advertising in eighteenth-century America. The traces of other forms of advertising, including broadsides and catalogs, mentioned in early American newspapers, printers’ ledgers, and other sources indicate that our collections of newspapers and their advertisements will always be much more complete than our collections of other advertising media from the period.

An ephemeral advertising supplement that disappeared over time, however, might not be the only explanation. Alternately, Green may have gotten ahead of himself when he advised readers to consult the supplement for other advertisements. The printer may have intended to publish and distribute an additional half sheet, a common practice for other newspapers but less common for the Connecticut Courant, but ultimately ran out of time or determined that he did not have sufficient advertising content to merit the expenditure of resources. Green may have announced a supplement that has not survived to the twenty-first century because it never actually existed in the eighteenth century. Our archive of the Connecticut Courant may be more complete than the evidence from the period otherwise suggests. The announcement concerning an advertising supplement may testify to the aspirations of the printer rather than the work he accomplished.

March 18

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 18, 1768).

“A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed, to be sold by Richard Woodhull, in New-Haven.”

Richard Woodhull’s advertisement for “A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed” benefited from its fairly unique yet conspicuous placement in the March 18, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Unlike some printers who reserved certain pages for news items and other pages for advertisements, brothers Thomas Green and Samuel Green distributed news and advertising throughout the entire issue, though only news and the masthead appeared on the first page. The second, third, and fourth pages all featured both news and paid notices, with news first and advertising filling in the remainder of the page. In other words, readers encountered news and then advertising when they perused the page from left to right. On the second and fourth pages, advertisements comprised nearly the entire final column. On the third page, however, a single paid notice appeared at the bottom of the last column …

… except for Woodhull’s advertisement, a short announcement printed on the far right of the page. The type had been rotated to run perpendicular to the rest of the text, replicating a strategy sometimes deployed by printers and compositors in other colonial newspapers. In this instance, however, the execution was rather clumsy in comparison. The text of Woodhull’s advertisement was positioned flush against the contents of the third column rather than set slightly to the right with at least a narrow strip of white space separating them. Unfortunately, examining a digital surrogate does not allow for any assessment of whether this was done out of necessity to fit the size of the sheet or if the Greens had sufficient margins that they could have moved Woodhull’s advertisement to the right and away from the third column. The March 18 edition was only issue “No. 22” of the Connecticut Journal. Given that the Greens had been publishing the newspaper for less than six months, they still may have been experimenting to determine their preferred format when it came to graphic design and visual aspects.

Alternately, the Greens may have resorted to squeezing Woodhull’s advertisement on the third page because they neglected to insert it when they set the type for the columns. The same advertisement appeared in the March 11 edition (in what appears to be the same size font, though working with a digital surrogate makes it impossible to definitively state that was the case), but in four lines in a column with other advertisements. The spacing between words seems to be replicated in the perpendicular insertion the following week, suggesting that the Greens at some point took four lines of type that had already been set and positioned them side by side to make a single line. A new version of the advertisement, completely reset and extending only three lines, appeared in a regular column in the March 25 issue. Yet another version, again completely reset but this time in only two lines, was inserted as the final item the last column in the April 1 issue before the advertisement was discontinued in subsequent issues.

Woodhull may have requested these variations as a means of drawing attention to his advertisements, but it seems more likely that they resulted from the Greens working through their practices for the publication process for what was a relatively new endeavor. Although Thomas had more than a decade of experience as a printer, setting up shop with his brother Samuel was a new enterprise. The two may have been working out a system for operating their business and organizing tasks. Whatever the reason for the awkward insertion of Woodhull’s advertisement, it had the effect of making his notice difficult to overlook. Casual observers could not help but notice the strange line of text, in larger font, set perpendicular to the rest when they glanced at the page. Those who actively read the news from Boston or the shipping news from New Haven’s Custom House could not have missed Woodhull’s advertisement. Whether done intentionally or not, the unusual typography made Woodhull’s advertisement more visible to potential customers.

November 13

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

Nov 13 - 11:13:1767 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 13, 1767).

“Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green launched a new newspaper, the Connecticut Journal; and New-Haven Post-Boy, on October 23, 1767. Like many other colonial printers, they used the colophon not only to provide the particulars concerning publication but also as an advertisement for the newspaper itself: “All Persons may be supplied with this Paper at Six-Shillings a Year.”

Yet colonial newspapers rarely had sufficient subscribers to make them sustainable business ventures. In addition to subscriptions, advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream. To that end, the Greens also issued a call for advertisers in the colophon. In the process, they provided a relatively rare indication of the costs of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers.

How much did it cost Michael Todd to place an advertisement for the “GOOD Assortment of Winter Goods” at “his Store in New-Haven” in the November 13 issue? According to the colophon, “Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, and Six-Pence each Week afterwards; and long Ones in Proportion.” Todd’s advertisement was approximately half again as long as it was wide. He would have paid four shillings and six pence to run it for the first three weeks and then another nine pence for each week thereafter. (Todd and other advertisers received a discount for subsequent insertions because the labor of setting the type had already been completed.) If Todd ran his advertisement for only three weeks the cost would have been equivalent to three-quarters of a yearly subscription. Running it for a fourth week would have raised the shopkeeper’s cost (and the printers’ revenue) to the same as a subscription.

Advertisements were indeed good for business, especially the printing business. The amount of space devoted to advertising in the Connecticut Journal gradually expanded during its first month of publication, a development the Greens welcomed and sought to further cultivate in order to improve the prospects for their new publication. They met with some success. The Connecticut Journal continued publication for more than fifty years, issuing its final edition in December 1820. Advertising filled one-third of the space in that issue.

May 6

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

May 6 - 5:5:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 5, 1766).

“He has as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS.”

Thomas Green’s notice that he intended to open a school does not look much different from other advertisements offering similar services in the decade prior to the Revolution, at least not until the final sentence. After rehearsing the subjects to be taught and assuring parents that their “Scholars” and “small Readers” that he would instruct his charges “with the greatest Alacrity,” he also announced that “He has, as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS, &c. at a reasonable Rate.”

How did Green earn his living? Was he primarily a shopkeeper who sought to supplement his income by trying his hand at teaching? Or was he a teacher or tutor who sold some imported goods on the side to help make ends meet when he his school was not fully enrolled? This advertisement does not offer any definitive answers, but Newport was a small enough town in 1766 (even though it ranked as one of the most significant ports in British mainland North America) that most readers would have been familiar with his occupation(s). In his reference to retailing imported goods, he noted he did so “as usual,” suggesting that readers were already aware of his business activities.

As many American towns and cities continued to grow throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, the residents increasingly lived among strangers. “THOMAS GREEN, In Banister’s Row” did not seem to think of himself as a stranger to others in Newport. Just the opposite, his advertisement suggests that he believed the majority of residents were at least acquainted with him in some fashion.

March 11

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Mar 11 - 3:10:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 10, 1766).

“Just Published … The Necessity of Repealing the American STAMP-ACT.”

Protesting the Stamp Act continued to occupy many American colonists in March 1766. It was certainly a primary concern of the printer of the Connecticut Courant and many of that newspaper’s readers. The Connecticut Courant was a more modest publication than some of its counterparts in larger cities – its four pages featured only two columns rather than three – but it opposed the Stamp Act with the same vigor as many more robust publications.

The first two (of four total) pages of the March 10, 1766, issue were devoted to coverage of the Stamp Act, including a letter from London (dated November 1 and reprinted from the Public Ledger), an extract of another letter from London (dated December 14 and reprinted from a Boston newspaper published February 27), and several shorter reports about the reactions of colonial officials near and far.

Advertisements of any sort did not appear until the third page. Today’s featured advertisement demonstrates that the commercial notices took on a political valence during the Stamp Act crisis. Printers, authors, and other members of the book trades marketed books and pamphlets about “The Necessity of Repealing the American STAMP-ACT.” And this particular advertisement should not be considered an isolated example. It appeared immediately above a similar advertisement for a pamphlet about “THE RIGHTS of the COLONIES TO THE PRIVILEGES Of British SUBJECTS.” The former was published in Boston and the latter in New York.

Mar 11 - Connecticut Courant Third Page 3:10:1766
Third page of the Connecticut Courant (March 10, 1766).

Both appeared in a column headed with an announcement that “THE last Tuesday of this Month (being the 25th Day) there is to be a General Congress of the SONS OF LIBERTY, in this Colony, to meet in Hartford, by their Representatives chosen for that Purpose.” (Was this an advertisement? It appeared alongside other advertisements, but given the printer’s political proclivities it is quire possible he inserted this notice gratis.) News coverage of the Stamp Act continued in the column to the left.

The content of the newspaper provides important context for understanding today’s advertisement. The other items formed a narrative that may have influenced potential customers to purchase one or both of the pamphlets offered for sale.

Boycotts of imported goods certainly gave decisions about which goods to purchase (or not) political valence in the 1760s and 1770s, but advertisements for books and pamphlets defending the “RIGHTS of the COLONIES” encouraged colonists to become readers who were better informed and who could better articulate why the actions of Parliament were so dangerous.

January 21

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jan 21 - 1:20:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (January 20, 1766)

“To be sold at the Heart and Crown, Hartford:  Ames, Hutchins, and Ellsworth’s Almanacks.”

Historians who study newspapers in colonial America usually argue that if printers made any money at all from publishing newspapers that the profits derived from the advertisements rather than subscriptions.  Given the number of advertisements that appeared in many colonial newspapers, this is not hard to believe.

That being the case, did Thomas Green make any money when he printed this issue of the Connecticut Courant?  Only two advertisements appeared in the broadsheet folded in half to create four pages.  One was a legal notice; the other was this advertisement for almanacs, seemingly placed by the printer himself and thus not generating any revenue except for whatever sales might result from its inclusion.  Still, it is an odd advertisement:  presumably most consumers would have purchased almanacs much earlier, not nearly three weeks into the new year.  In addition, the lower edge of the advertisement is not even with the column on the left (unlike the two columns on the other three pages in this issue), suggesting that the advertisement was included as filler, and hastily at that.  Did Green have a bit of extra space and decide to fill it with an attempt to get rid of merchandise that was going out of date with each passing week?

Much of this is speculation.  This advertisement interests me because it raises so many questions about printers and their practices in the 1760s.

Jan 21 - 1:20:1766 - Connectictu Courant - full page
Final Page of Connecticut Courant (January 20, 1766)