January 14

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

Georgia Gazette (January 14, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD on board the schooner Molly, John Gale master, lying at Ross’s Wharf.”

Not all commercial transactions took place in shops or warehouses in eighteenth-century America. In addition to acquiring consumer goods at auction houses and estate sales, some colonists also made purchases aboard ships when they arrived in port. Such was the case with a small selection of commodities advertised by “John Gale, master” who advertised that he sold his wares “on board the schooner Molly … lying at Ross’s wharf.”

Gale’s advertisement first appeared in the January 14, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. The shipping news in that issue indicated that the Molly, sailing from Salem and Marblehead, had “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE in SAVANNAH” on January 8. Gale placed his advertisement in the first issue of the local newspaper published after his arrival. While shopkeepers and merchants could depend on residents of Savannah having at least some familiarity with the shops and storehouses they operated and possibly did not find it necessary to advertise, Gale did not have that advantage. Advertising was imperative for the master of the newly arrived vessel to attract customers, especially since he planned to be in port for a limited time. Two weeks later, the shipping news reported that the Molly had “ENTERED OUTWARDS” to return to Salem and Marblehead.

Given that he transacted business aboard a ship in port for just a few weeks, Gale operated exclusively as a wholesaler, selling all of his goods in bulk: rum by the hogshead and brown sugar and mackerel by the barrel. He also sold blubber and “trainoil,” an eighteenth-century designation for whale oil, by the barrel. Although whaling flourished as an American maritime commercial endeavor in the nineteenth century, it had already emerged as an important economic activity by the final third of the eighteenth century because consumers desired whale oil to burn in lamps and to make soap.

Although Gale served as captain of the Molly, he likely worked for one or more merchant owners of the vessel, men who determined where the ship would sail and what cargo it would carry. Gale and the Molly may have pursued the coastal trade and traced a regular route between New England and the southern colonies. Not all traders in the Atlantic world needed to cross the ocean to generate profits.

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