GUEST CURATOR: Trevor Delp
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“By Benjamin Faneuil, Junr. At his Store in Butler’s Row”
Today’s advertisement caught my eye because of the author’s name, “Benjamin Faneuil Junr.” As a Massachusetts native, Faneuil Hall is a place I have always loved to visit and explore. According to Faneuil Hall’s website, Faneuil Hall was first a “home to merchants, fishermen, and meat and produce sellers, and provided a platform for the country’s most famous orators.” Furthermore, it tells how Samuel Adams organized the citizens of Boston to seek independence from Britain and “George Washington toasted the nation there on its first birthday.” Faneuil Hall is a cornerstone of American culture and history. As excited as I was, I could not jump to the conclusion that this Benjamin Faneuil, Jr. was a relation to the prominent Boston Faneuil family name until further researching it.
To start, I looked into the history of the Faneuil name, starting with Peter Faneuil, the merchant who donated Faneuil Hall. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Peter’s father, Benjamin, and two uncles emigrated from France. One of the uncles, Andrew Faneuil, made a name for himself as one of New England’s wealthiest men through trading and Boston real estate investments. Benjamin Faneuil fathered two sons, Peter and Benjamin Jr., and three daughters. Peter worked tirelessly as a trader between Europe and the West Indies, acquiring a lot of money and eventually donating Faneuil Hall. There is little history on Benjamin Jr., except that he married against his uncle Andrew’s wishes, making Peter “heir to most of his fortune.” This means that although Benjamin Jr. did not have the same financial notability that his brother had, he may have had the help of his brother as a merchant. I hypothesize that this would greatly benefit Benjamin Jr.’s business as a store owner and give him recognition among other colonists.
After researching the Faneuil family name I wanted to find the location of Benjamin Jr.’s store to further my understanding of who he was. In the advertisement it reports that Benjamin Jr.’s store was located on Butlers Row. After using Google Maps to find the current location of Butler’s Row, I found that is it bordering Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
After researching both the Faneuil family name and Butler’s Row, I believe that the author of today’s advertisement was indeed Peter Faneuil’s brother. This advertisement gave me the opportunity to dig deeper into the history of Faneuil Hall and, more specifically, the rich history of the Faneuil family.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
This advertisement, like so many others, suggests that eighteenth-century consumers spoke a very different language than we do today. Some of this is a matter of non-standardized spelling: “Fyal Wines” most likely refers to wine from Faial, one of the islands in the Azores. Other words and phrases have passed out of everyday usage: “Russia and Ravens Duck, Ticklinburg, Oznabrigs.” What were these?!
Each was a kind of fabric. Today I’d like to examine “Ravens Duck.” The term duck most likely comes from the Dutch word doek, meaning cloth. Considering that Holland was a major supplier of sailcloth in the early modern era, it makes sense that “duck” came to mean a heavy fabric among English speakers. According to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles, sailcloth imported to the colonies was often trademarked for identification: “The light flax sail fabrics imported mostly from England and Scotland bore the trademark stencil of a raven [commonly referred to as ravens duck at the time] while the heavier weights bore the trademark picturing a duck.”
To learn more about this textile, check out “The Great Age of Duck” from the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.
 Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles (New York: 1967), 99.