March 3

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

mar-3-331767-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 3, 1767).

Imported from GRENADA … A Quantity of RUM.”

Anthony Lamotte advertised a shipment of rum and sugar to be sold at his store “next door to Mansell, Corbet & Co.” Lamotte wanted to assure his customers that he continued to supply them with the best Grenada rum, equal to imports from Jamaica. As I explained in an earlier entry, alcoholic beverages were a staple of colonial American life, consumed throughout the day. However, unlike other drinks, rum was a major commodity for the colonies due to its central role in the “Triangular Trade” arrangements between America, Africa, and Europe.

mar-3-classic-triangular-trade
Routes for one version of the triangular trade.

Colonists were part of multiple triangular trades. Each was a series of arrangements where raw resources and manufactured goods were traded throughout the Atlantic. One triangle began with Europe sending textiles, rum, and other manufactured goods to Africa. From there, slaves were sent to the Americas (primarily the Caribbean and southern colonies). Americans then produced and exported sugar, tobacco, and cotton to Europe. Another triangle saw Africa transport slaves to the West Indies. The slaves then worked on plantations where they produced sugar and molasses to be sent to the New England colonies. Colonists in New England then used the sugar and molasses to make rum to ship to Africa. These trade arrangements were self-propagating.

mar-3-triangle-trade-rum
Routes for an alternate version of the triangular trade that emphasized rum production in New England.

While these trade networks are important to understanding economic relationships — and the importance of rum — they do not account for all trade in the eighteenth century. Many other vessels transported goods that did not neatly fit this pattern, such as the one that carried rum from Grenada to South Carolina.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Anthony Lamotte regularly placed advertisements in Charleston’s newspapers. Whether relatively brief or more extensive, his notices advanced a common theme when it came to marketing the rum he imported from Grenada. The phrase “superior in quality to what is usually imported from the other Windward Islands” appeared in both his short advertisement from the October 20, 1766, issue of the South Carolina Gazette and today’s advertisement from the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal published four months later.

Lamotte likely realized that he faced quite a challenge: Jamaican rum was widely considered superior to all others produced in the West Indies. As Sam notes, rum was a popular commodity that colonists enjoyed consuming, but rum from Jamaica was more popular than others. To sell his rum from Grenada, Lamotte needed to change the perception that Jamaican rum was categorically superior to all others.

He initiated his advertising campaign by seeking to establish that rum from Grenada was preferable to rum produced elsewhere in the Windward Islands. Once he advanced that argument in multiple newspapers over the course of several months he raised the stakes by claiming that “GRENADA RUM, of the finest flavor and colour” not only exceeded the quality of rum from nearby islands but should have also been considered “in every respect equal to the best Rum imported from Jamaica.”

Lamotte had “A Quantity of RUM” available for sale, but his advertisement suggested that it might have been a limited quantity that might sell out quickly. He promised “his friends and customers, that in a few months he will be able to supply them constantly” with rum imported from Grenada. Lamotte may have been hoping that by making available a limited supply he could generate word-of-mouth endorsements or, at the very least, make supplies seem temporarily rare and incite anticipation for a time in the future, but not too distant, when he could supply discerning customers with greater quantities.

 

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