What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Some evil-minded Person or Persons have attempted to destroy a new Store.”
John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, did not include much local news in the October 5, 1771, edition of his newspaper. Of the twelve columns spread over four pages in that issue, only two-thirds of a column featured news under the heading “PROVIDENCE.” Such was the case in most colonial newspapers, most of them a weekly publication schedule. Local news tended to spread by word of mouth before printers took their newspapers to press.
Even as printers like Carter made their own editorial decisions about which news to feature and which to exclude, advertisers paid to highlight certain events in the notices they placed. As a result, advertisements often delivered news or elaborated on stories already in circulation. Consider, for instance, an advertisement placed by the partnership of White, Allen, and Waterman. According to that notice, “some evil-minded Person or Persons have attempted to destroy a new Store … by putting Fire through one of the Windows” and setting a barrel on fire. Fortunately for the proprietors, that barrel contained “some Bayberry-Wax” and the fire “was happily extinguished by the running of the Wax.” The partners offered a reward to “Whoever will give Information of the villainous Author or Authors of this wicked and diabolical Act, so that he or they may be legally convicted.”
Among the other advertisements in that issue of the Providence Gazette, readers encountered estate notices placed by executors, calls for creditors of colonists who presented petitions related to an Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors to appear in court, and an announcement that the proprietors of the Providence Library would meet the following week to conduct business vital to the continued operations of that institution. Such local news that ran as advertisements, interspersed among notices for consumer goods and services, filled more space than the “PROVIDENCE” news selected by the printer. Readers interested in all of the “freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic” promised in the masthead needed to peruse the advertisements in addition to the other contents of the newspaper.