GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A Passage Boat … is now Established between Long-Island and New-London.”
A “Passage Boat” between New London, Connecticut, and Long Island, New York, was a quicker way of travelling than by over land. Ebenezer Webb pointed out that passengers would save fifty miles when they traveled to New York. Webb also developed a schedule and a system of rates, which allowed passengers to be able to plan their passage. Printing the schedule in an advertisement allowed prospective customers to save it if needed for future reference. Webb also made sure to include where he could be found at both locations; he gave the locations of the taverns and which days he would be in what area. He also let potential customers know that if they would like to become customers of the New-London Gazette, he would drop them off on any of the islands off the coast of Long Island. Those islands included Shelter Island, Plum Island, and Gardiners Island. Another courtesy that passengers in Sterling could enjoy was a “Ferry-Boat” for carrying them to Shelter Island. Webb listed three different rates, which needed to be paid in New York currency. The different rates included “Man and Horse” for eight shillings, a “single Passenger” for three shillings, and for “Packs or Bundles” of goods it depended on their weight.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Today’s advertisement provides important information about ferry service between Connecticut and Long Island during the colonial period, reminding us that the most efficient forms of travel in the eighteenth century differed from modern conveniences made possible by a much more complex transportation infrastructure. As Elizabeth notes, colonists who needed to travel from New London to New York could shave fifty miles off their journey, plus benefit from “the excellent Road on the Island,” if they opted for Webb’s “Passage Boat” service rather than traveling via a land route. In comparison, ferry service today does not seem to offer the same advantages, given the conveniences of travel by car, bus, and train.
I found the final portion of this advertisement to be especially interesting for what it suggests about the business practices and distribution of the New-London Gazette. Webb noted that he would deliver the newspaper to “Those Person on any of the Islands that encline to become Customers.” Despite the distance between New London and those islands (and their separation by Long Island Sound), the New-London Gazette would have been a local newspaper for residents of the islands, at least as much of a local newspaper as those printed in New York. The printer of the New-London Gazette certainly welcomed opportunities to increase distribution to paying subscribers and would have approved of Webb’s efforts to deliver newspapers to Shelter Island and other locales. Given that they were associates in that regard, might the printer have given Webb a discount on advertisements for the ferry service? After all, Webb’s success could also drum up additional business for the New-London Gazette, a mutually beneficial relationship.