GUEST CURATOR: Trevor Delp
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A few Barrels of good BROWN SUGAR.”
Richard Champney advertised “A few Barrels of South-Carolina PITCH, and a few Barrels of good BROWN SUGAR.” Soon after Columbus encountered the New World, Europeans realized the potential for sugar cane production. In the following years many European countries worked to colonize and establish sugar plantations throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.
This advertisement spurred me to look into who Richard Champney was. I found a letter written to George Washington from a Richard Champney. The letter does not confirm that it is the same Richard Champney as posted the advertisement, but it was addressed from Portsmouth and addressed sugar colonies in South America. Within the letter Champney expresses that the “Petitioners have for a number of years past been very considerably concerned and interested in the Trade to the Colony of Essequebo and Demarara on the Coast of Guiana in the West Indies formerly under the Government of the States of Holland.” This is interesting because the colony referenced in the letter was notorious for being a major producer of sugar cane throughout the eightheenth century. Champney’s advertisement combined with his letter to George Washington lead me to wonder if he was working to become a more prominent distributor of sugar in New Hampshire and beyond.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Rather than situating today’s advertisement in the 1760s, Trevor takes a longer view of commerce in the early modern Atlantic world. In so doing, he addresses a misconception about motivations for exploration and colonization that I often discover during the first weeks of my courses on colonial America and the Atlantic world: namely, that America was settled (exclusively) for religious freedom. While religion was a primary motivation for many colonists, popular narratives all too often overlook the role that trade and commerce played in exploration and colonization.
Many scholars argue that Europeans first ventured into the Atlantic in search of sugar. They had previously obtained sugar via long distance trade with Asia, a trade with a hub in the Middle East. This made sugar expensive, so enterprising Europeans wanted to eliminate the middlemen. They wanted direct access to supplies of sugar themselves, and finding a water route to Asia seemed like one of the best means of gaining that access. Europeans did not, however, immediately venture across the Atlantic in search of sugar. Instead, they explored the African coast (setting up trading posts to obtain other goods) and sailed to island chains in the eastern Atlantic (including the Cape Verde Islands, the Canary Islands, and Madeira), where they established plantations to cultivate sugar (which, in turn, initiated the involuntary migration of unfree laborers). By the time Columbus voyaged to the New World, Europeans had gained a lot of experience looking for commercial opportunities and establishing colonies and plantations with the intention of increasing their access to sugar. Setting up such more plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean was an extension of activities already underway for decades.
Richard Champney advertised sugar to colonists who settled New Hampshire, in part, because of the importance of sugar as a commodity over the previous three centuries. An everyday staple in the modern world, it was a commodity that inspired exploration and settlement in the early modern period.