GUEST CURATOR: Trevor Delp
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Who has good white WINE by the Quarter Cask.”
The history of alcohol in colonial America is a long story of appreciation and sometimes conflict. Today I’m focusing on colonists’ appreciation of wine and other forms of alcohol.
According to Colonial Williamsburg, in 1770 “the colonies already had more than 140 rum distilleries, making about 4.8 million gallons annually.” Colonists’ dependence on alcohol was not necessarily due to alcoholism but due to poor water conditions. A dependence on beer and cider grew in Britain because crowded cities often did not have enough clean drinking water for all citizens, so they would resort to drinking beer and ciders. According to Melissa Swindell, “Alcohol-based drinks typically wouldn’t spread disease, and they had a much longer ‘shelf-life’ than non-alcoholic beverages.” This, combined with limited knowledge on the health effects of alcohol, made it the perfect hydration substitute to water.
The importance on alcohol consumption in colonial America also coincided with a lack of consistent clean drinking water. Colonial Williamsburg also reports that in 1768 “Virginians exported to Britain a little more than thirteen tons of wine while importing 396,580 gallons of rum from overseas, and another 78,264 from other North American colonies.” For every ton there are 264.48 gallons, so this means that while exporting thirteen tons (3,438.24 gallons) of wine the colonies were still importing far more rum than they were exporting wine.
Founders like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were not shy to indulge in alcohol consumption. According to Colonial Williamsburg once again, John Adams started his day with a glass of hard cider and Thomas Jefferson “imported fine libations from France.”
All of this suggests there was not the current stigma that alcohol was sinful or a moral failing. Cutter’s advertisement was not out of place, nor taboo, because it referenced alcohol, but merely a normal part of daily life.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
When Trevor “chose” this advertisement, I wasn’t certain what he might do with it, although I assumed he might choose one of the three commodities listed and offer a closer look at its role in colonial life and commerce. That was indeed the strategy he chose, demonstrating how a short reference to “good white WINE by the Quarter Cask” led him to learn about not only alcohol but also about public health conditions in Britain and America in the eighteenth century.
I say that Trevor “chose” (intentionally in quotation marks) this advertisement because he really had no choice at all. Regular visitors will remember that our methodology states that all featured advertisements must come from the most recently published newspaper exactly 250 years ago and advertisements cannot be featured more than once. Given those parameters, today’s advertisement had to come from the New-Hampshire Gazette. Compared to larger publications from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, only a handful of advertisements appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette. All of the other advertisements for consumer goods and services in this issue have already been featured previously, either by Trevor or, because advertisements often ran for several weeks, by previous guest curators. As a result, Trevor “chose” this advertisement. His work with it demonstrates that an advertisement need not be long or elaborate to help us learn about life in colonial America.
I appreciate that these circumstances presented another opportunity to reflect on the differences among colonial newspapers printed in the 1760s. To one extent or another, all of them included advertising (and even relied on advertising revenue to keep publishing), but the larger urban ports had newspapers overflowing with advertisements for consumer goods and services while such advertisements were not as prominent a feature in newspapers in smaller towns.