December 1

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

dec-1-1211766-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (December 1, 1766).

“A Parcel of choice JAMAICA SUGARS.”

Since this advertisement from the December 1, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post advertised Jamaican sugar I decided to focus on the plantations the English established in the Caribbean. England was in the race to become the most important economic power in Europe. In order to do that England needed colonies, including Jamaica (taken from the Spanish in 1655), to produce of one of the most popular staple crops.

For this goal plantations needed a large labor force. At first the Spanish utilized natives of the area and African slaves. European diseases became a problem for plantation owners as Indian populations dwindled. Later, English planters also found it difficult to persuade indentured servants to work in the harsh environment so by the end of the seventeenth century they focused on primarily using enslaved Africans because they were able to acquire more of them. The demand for African laborers also rose because they too were dying from diseases and the conditions they worked under. According to the British National Archives, between 1702 and 1808 around “840,000 Africans were shipped to Jamaica and a further 100,000 imported into Virginia and Chesapeake.” Overall, around “four million slaves were brought to the Caribbean, and almost all ended up on the sugar plantations.”

The constant demand for sugar in the colonies as well as England itself drove up the need for African slaves in the Caribbean. Since the cost for slaves was low, planters were able to produce more sugar, which in turn drove down the cost. Boston did not have as many slaves as other parts of the colonies, but readers of the Boston Evening-Post who purchased “choice JAMAICA SUGARS” were part of an economy that depended on slavery.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph Russell was a busy auctioneer. He was also a busy advertiser. Nick has selected one of three advertisements Russell placed in the December 1, 1766, issue of the Boston Evening-Post. The printers grouped the three advertisements together at the top of the third and final column on the third page.

dec-1-1211766-consecutive-adverts-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (December 1, 1766).

The first announced an auction to be held “TO-MORROW,” December 2. Given how soon that auction was slated to take place, “TO-MORROW” appeared in a larger font than anything else in any of Russell’s advertisements. Only one other advertisement on the same and the facing page included font that large: shopkeeper Richard Salter’s name in his advertisement for imported goods. As a result, Russell’s advertisement likely caught readers’ eyes and demanded their attention. The large font gave his impending auction the sense of urgency required to attract prospective bidders in the final hours before the vendue began. The advertisement named a series of goods nearly identical to those listed in Russell’s advertisement that appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette three days earlier (featured earlier this week). It repeated ancillary material verbatim, including a nota bene announcing that “Goods are daily selling off at private Sale at the above Auction-Room, VERY CHEAP.”

Russell’s second advertisement promoted the auction of “choice JAMAICA SUGARS” to take place “On THURSDAY next 4th of December,” the advertisement that Nick selected to examine today. Russell’s final advertisement previewed an auction scheduled to take place a week after that, “On THURSDAY the 11th Instant.” At that time, Russell planned to sell different sorts of merchandise than what appeared in either of the other two advertisements: “A great Variety of genteel House Furniture” and “Glass and China Ware.”

In these advertisements Russell used time to his advantage in three different ways. In the first, he created a sense of urgency. The auction was imminent. Readers needed to make plans to attend or risk being shut out of the deals. However, those unable to make it to that auction could still shop at their leisure, as the nota bene about goods “daily selling off at private Sale” made clear. In the latter two advertisements, he advised the public of upcoming auctions with sufficient time to generate interest. Potential buyers had plenty of time to envision bidding on “Mahogany Tables, Looking Glasses,” and other furnishings, perhaps imagining the deals they might get at auction. Depending on their personalities, readers would have reacted to each use of time in different ways. Some would have been more susceptible to the excitement of an impending auction. Others would have responded better to planning for a vendue more than a week away or shopping at their convenience in “the Auction Room in Queen-Street.” Russell creatively deployed all three strategies to attract as many potential consumers as possible.

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