What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”
The supplement that accompanied the May 21, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included “PROPOSALS FOR PUBLISHING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A MAP of the INTERIOR PARTS OF NORTH-AMERICA. By THOMAS HUTCHINS, Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Royal American Regiment, and Engineer.” Hutchins explained that the map depicted a region “which must soon become a most important and very interesting part of the British empire in America.” It included “the great rivers of Missisippi and Ohio, with the newest smaller streams which empty into them” as well as “Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan.” Hutchins asserted that the map “accurately delineated” the region, “a great part of the country and most of the rivers and lakes … laid down from surveys, corrected by the observation of latitudes, carefully executed by himself” during the Seven Years War and “since the final treaty with the western and northern Indians in 1764.” The map also incorporated “every considerable town of the various Indian Nations, who inhabit these regions.” The “extent of their respective claims,” Hutchins noted, “are also particularly pointed out.” Land speculators and settler colonizers certainly had their eyes on those “respective claims,” despite the Proclamation Line of 1763 that reserved that territory for indigenous peoples.
Hutchins declared that he would publish and deliver the map “as soon as the Subscribers amount to a number adequate to defray the unavoidable expence of the publication.” Like so many others who wished to publish books and maps, he did not intend to assume the financial risk without assurances that the project would meet with success. To that end, he invited “those in SOUTH-CAROLINA who may think proper to encourage” publishing the map to “as soon as possible, send their names to the Printers of this Paper.” Powell, Hughes and Company acted as local agents for subscribers. Hutching did not, however, restrict his marketing efforts to newspaper notices. He also distributed broadside subscription proposals that featured almost identical text. Measuring approximately thirteen inches by eight inches, a copy at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania includes blank space to insert the name of a local agent who could have posted the subscription notice in a retail shop or printing office. That accounts for the first variation in the text compared to the advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette, an invitation for subscribers to “send their names to [blank]” rather than “send their names to the Printers of this Paper.” A short paragraph unique to the broadside notice followed that blank: “WE the Subscribers do agree to pay Lieutenant THOMAS HUTCHINS, or Order, for the above-mentioned Map and Analysis, ONE PISTOLE, on the receipt thereof, according to the Number affixed to our respective Names.” Additional blank space provided room for subscribers to add their names and indicate how many copies they wished to order. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s copy does not have any manuscript additions; no subscribers signed it to reserve their maps.
Newspaper advertisements provided the best opportunity to circulate subscription notices to the greatest number of prospective customers, but they were not the only means of inciting interest in books and maps. Hutchins and other entrepreneurs also distributed broadsides to local agents to facilitate recording the names of subscribers. I suspect that a greater number of those broadsides circulated in early America than survive today, increasing the frequency that colonizers encountered advertising media.