GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“TO BE SOLD, By THOMAS DOUGHTY, IN DOCK-STREET: CHOICE old Madeira Wine.”
In this advertisement published in the New-York Journal, Thomas Doughty offered a lot of different beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, for sale in his shop on Dock Street. What caught my eye was that Madeira wine was the only drink listed with a description: “old.”
After researching the history of Madeira wine, I discovered that it was created specifically to withstand long travels overseas when it would be shipped to other countries. Steven Grasse, author of Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History, writes, “The idea – and what made Madeira so durable and, in turn, beloved by early Americans – is that the wine is essentially spoiled, professionally and on purpose.” Madeira wine was advertised as being old, because that’s what it was known for: never going bad despite the passing of time.
Madeira wine was a favorite drink amongst colonists. Grasse writes that although Madeira was a more expensive item, it was still very popular in British North America. “Madeira wasn’t cheap. Common people wouldn’t have drunk it – or, at least, not often – but that didn’t stop it from becoming part and parcel of the story of the American Revolution.” Grasse goes on to say that Madeira became a leading import during the Revolution. Madeira was a favorite choice of colonists because it kept constant quality over long periods of time.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
In addition to “Madeira Wine,” Thomas Doughty sold “sundry other Articles of Grocery” imported from faraway places. To help potential customers navigate his advertisement he grouped similar items together: first alcoholic beverages, hot drinks (tea, coffee, and chocolate) next, then sugars followed by fruits and spices, and finally tobacco. That he listed alcohol first indicates which products he believed would attract readers’ attention and prompt them to peruse the rest of the goods he offered for sale.
Mary has examined the origins of Madeira, a wine that may be less familiar to modern readers than the rum, port, and wines Doughty hawked in his advertisement. He also sold another spirit that remains very popular today, Holland Geneva, though it is now commonly known as gin (which is a corruption of the word “Geneva”). Originally produced in Holland, gin almost immediately became one of the most popular drinks when it was introduced in England, especially after William and Mary assumed the throne. It had a reputation for being both inexpensive and strong.
Each of the alcoholic beverages in Doughty’s advertisement was either named after its place of origin (Madeira and Holland Geneva) or included a place in their description (“Lisbon Red Port,” “Tenriffe Wines,” “Jamaica Spirits,” and “West-India Rum”). Modern consumers certainly still identify their potent potables by their place of origin, but for colonists that was not merely a means of making distinctions of quality or reputation or other attributes. In addition, they also thought about the networks of trade and commerce that brought alcoholic beverages to British mainland North America from Portugal and its island outposts in the eastern Atlantic, the Netherlands, and the Caribbean. The range of alcohols and groceries items in Doughty’s advertisement demonstrates that colonists participated in transatlantic and global networks of trade during the eighteenth century.
 Steven A. Grasse, Colonial Spirits: A Toast to our Drunken History (New York: Abrams, 2016), 74.
 Grasse, Colonial Spirits, 75.
 Grasse, Colonial Spirits, 75.