GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“LONDON, New-York, and other MADEIRA WINE, by the Pipe, Hogshead, Quarter Cask, or Dozen.”
Colonial Americans drank alcoholic beverages all the time and at any time they wanted. According to Ed Crews, colonists commonly had a drink for breakfast, brunch, lunch, pre-dinner snacking, during supper, and right before bed. Colonists enjoyed drinking at social events, work, and, even during studies at colleges. In fact, Crews reports, in 1639 Nathaniel Eaton, the President at Harvard College at the time, “lost his job” when he did not provide enough beer for students and staff. Alcohol was a wonder drink believed to have many beneficial properties ranging from warming the body, making people stronger, aiding the sick, and generally causing people to have a good time.
Today’s notice advertised the sale of a variety of wines and spirits imported from across the Atlantic, including Madeira, Port, Burgundy, Claret, and Brandy, as well as Jamaican Rum from the Caribbean. Colonists had a variety of different drinks they preferred, including mixers called Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle, Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip, and just as many names for being drunk.
Wine, rum, and whiskey were favored drinks among the colonists, with rum being king amongst the common man. Elites imported wine, especially Jefferson who loved French wine and attempted to produce wine in America, a failed endeavor. George Washington, on the other hand, owned and operated a private whiskey distillery on his property at Mt. Vernon.
American colonists consumed a large variety of alcoholic beverages for various occasions and at times throughout the day, with wine, rum, and whiskey being especially favorite drinks.
For more on “Drinking in Colonial America,” see Ed Crews’ article on the Colonial Williamsburg website.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Cunningham and Sands, purveyors of all sorts of alcohol, emphasized quality and service in their advertisement. Whether customers purchased any of a dozen different varieties of wine or instead opted for rum from Jamaica and other locales in the West Indies, all were “warranted to be excellent in Quality.” This was possible because Cunningham and Sands took “the greatest Care” in choosing which wines and rum to import and sell, implying a certain level of expertise on their part. They also took great care in “the Management” of the wines they stocked, suggesting that they were shipped and stored under the best conditions in order to avoid any sort of contamination or turning. Cunningham and Sands implied that they knew wine as well as artisans knew their trades.
In terms of service, the partners offered several options to potential customers interested in obtaining their products. Consumers could visit Cunningham and Sands at one of two locations in Charleston, either “at their Counting-House fronting the Bay, on Mr. Burn’s new Wharf, or at their Store in Union-street.” Realizing that not all readers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette – and prospective customers – resided in the Charleston or had easy access to either of their two locations, Cunningham and Sands also announced that “All Orders from the Country will be punctually complied with.” In effect, they offered mail order service! They apparently believed this convenience would attract customers. Not only did they include it in their advertisements, they also drew special attention to it by inserting it as a separate nota bene rather than including it in the paragraph of dense text that detailed the other aspects of quality and service they provided. (Whether Cunningham and Sands or the printer decided that the nota bene should be printed in italics is much more difficult to determine. Advertisers generally wrote their own copy and printers generally made decisions about layout, but occasionally advertisers exercised some influence over format.)
Sam notes that Americans consumed a fair amount of alcohol and enjoyed various sorts of wines and spirits. Today’s advertisement reveals some of the options available to them as well as part of the process involved in shopping for these items.