March 27

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 27 - 3:27:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 27, 1766).

“At Store No. 14 on Long-Wharf.”

In the eighteenth century, Boston was one of the leading port cities in the colonies and Long Wharf was the center of shipping for the city. Before Faneuil Hall became the main marketplace for Boston, it was Long Wharf. The wharf was built of wood and stone over the defensive wall that used to encircle the harbor. Work on this new wharf began in 1710 and when it was finished, Long Wharf was 1,586 feet long and 54 feet wide. There was enough room for fifty ships to dock on the wharf and unload their cargo right into the warehouses on the wharf without the need for smaller intermediary ships. Both warehouses and shops were on the wharf, therefore the public and businesses owners made their way to the wharf for goods and commerce.

John and William Powell were in a great location, not just for the customer traffic but because they had lower transportation costs than other stores. It is likely that they received their shipments directly from the ships that transported their goods. In addition, they may have had a warehouse attached or nearby their shop for close storage of their goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I appreciate the way that Mary used this advertisement to investigate the infrastructure for commerce in Boston during the eighteenth century. However, it caught my eye for a different reason (which has been one of the great pleasures of collaborating on this project with my Public History students: the different questions, perspectives, and interpretations).

John and William Powell sold “Philadelphia Flour” at their store on Long Wharf. Both their merchandise and the format of their advertisement differ from many others that have been featured here. Some advertisements for consumer goods adhered to a formula: a headline announcing that goods had been “just imported” from London or another English or European city in a particular vessel and were being sold by a particular shopkeeper at a particular place, all followed by a list (length varied) of the “assortment of goods” for sale. The format and the language often followed a standardized pattern.

John and William Powell’s advertisement, however, contained none of those aspects. (The three items for sale hardly count as a short list, not when compared to other advertisements of the era.) The “Philadelphia Flour” that they sold had not been imported from across the Atlantic. Instead, it was part of a coastal trade in which the colonies supplied each other with the resources they produced. Pennsylvania, “the best poor man’s country,” and other Middle Atlantic colonies produced grains that they shipped to other colonies in North America as well as to the Caribbean and English ports.

Advertisements from the 1760s often trumpeted imported goods that colonists could purchase as expressions of their identity, but other commercial notices announced the availability of basic necessities, many of them produced in neighboring colonies.

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