What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
Isaac Williams launched a new venture for the new year, a “COFFEE-HOUSE, at the lower end of Queen Street, in Portsmouth,” New Hampshire. Based on the description of the Crown in his advertisement, Williams sought to operate an establishment similar to those in London, other cities throughout England and continental Europe, and major port cities in the North American colonies. The London Coffee House, for instance, opened in Philadelphia in 1754, a little over a decade earlier.
Eighteenth-century coffeehouses tended to be homosocial environments, gather places for men to conduct business, talk politics, socialize, and gossip. Williams invited “Gentlemen on Business” to visit his coffeehouse, noting that they would find there “the freshest Intelligence that is possible to be had.” The proprietor and staff likely provided some of this “Intelligence,” as did the array of patrons who assembled there, but a good amount of “the freshest Intelligence” probably derived from newspapers. In addition to the New-Hampshire Gazette, Williams likely supplied copies of major and minor newspapers from throughout the colonies as well a variety of publications from London and other parts of the Atlantic world.
Williams did not promote his coffeehouse merely as a place for merchants to negotiate deals and settle accounts. He also portrayed it as a destination for the “Entertainment” of his clients. Indeed, when the proprietor listed the reasons to visit his coffeehouse, the word “PLEASURE” appeared in capital letters, while “Business” did not. In addition to coffee, he served “PUNCH, WINE, BEER, &c. &c. &c.” Eighteenth-century patrons would have read “&c. &c. &.c” as “etc. etc. etc.” and imagined a variety of spirits. Williams catered to men looking to have a good time with friends, associates, and acquaintances.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, may not have been as big or as bustling as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or Charleston in the 1760s, but it was a still a busy port city in its own right. Accordingly, local entrepreneurs launched businesses, such as the Crown Coffee House, that offered services and, more generally, experiences that paralleled those that could be found in larger cities.