GUEST CURATOR: Maia Campbell
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A few Hogsheads of good MOLASSES and Jamaican SUGAR. Also a few ANCHORS.”
What interested me about this advertisement was the trade connection with Jamaica. Jamaica was, at the time, a colony of the empire of Great Britain, and yet it does not seem that the North American colonies want to break trade with Jamaica, and understandably so. Goods from Jamaica were valued because of the inability to grow them in most of the colonies. Sugar was an especially popular import. People used sugar for cooking, baking, and for sweetening their tea. Sugar was an integral part of the colonists’ way of life.
I was also intrigued that the advertiser sold anchors along with the two sweet goods. It seemed out of place in the advertisement. Yet there was a place for anchors in colonial society. Merchants and fisherman, depending on the state of their anchors, would need to replace them. Furthermore, those new to seafaring would need to purchase anchors for their vessels.
Again, it is interesting that this colonial vendor chose to sell in two different categories, and yet they were profitable categories.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Maia has selected an advertisement that testifies to the networks of exchange and commerce that crisscrossed the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. In noting that Jamaica was a British colony at the time (captured by the English from Spain more than a century earlier in 1655 and formally ceded to the British in 1670), she demonstrates an understanding of an extensive and integrated British empire that takes some students by surprise when they first enroll in early American history courses. The history of the colonial era and the founding of the nation cannot be told by exclusively focusing on the thirteen colonies on mainland North America and their interactions with England. Instead, as this advertisement indicates, colonial Americans consumed goods produced in other British colonies. But these were more than just commercial interactions; in the process of trading with each other they also shared news, ideas, and culture.
Historians continue to debate what/where/who constituted early America. Today’s advertisement argues for a Vast Early America and encourages a broad conception – and that’s before even taking into account who labored to produce “Jamaican SUGAR” for colonists’ consumption. The history of slavery and its connections to consumption lie just under the surface of this commercial notice.