What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“INGLIS and HALL have just imported, In the ship Friendship, Capt. Fitzherbert, from Bristol.”
Inglis and Hall advertised a “NEAT ASSORTMENT” of merchandise “just imported, In the ship Friendship, Capt. Fitzherbert, from Bristol, and the last vessels from London.” Throughout the colonies, merchants, shopkeepers, and others who sold imported goods frequently indicated which ship transported their wares across the Atlantic. This was not superfluous information for eighteenth-century consumers. Instead, it allowed readers who might be potential customers to determine how recently sellers obtained their inventory. They could test the accuracy of what “just imported,” a formulaic phrase regularly inserted in advertisements, actually meant.
Inglis and Hall had the good fortune that their advertisement appeared immediately below the shipping news in the July 8, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Upon reading that their merchandise arrived “In the ship Friendship, Capt. Fitzherbert, from Bristol,” readers could glance up the column to see of they spotted the vessel and its captain in the list of those that had “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” since the last issue. The Friendship was listed first, having arrived from South Carolina five days earlier. Apparently Fitzherbert did not sail directly from Bristol to Savannah but instead made port in the much larger Charleston before continuing to Georgia. Still, by consulting the shipping new readers could determine that at least some of the merchandise Inglis and Hall promoted as “just imported” had indeed been just imported.
Not every advertisement that indicated which ship and captain transported goods now available for sale happened to be positioned so conveniently on the page in relation to the shipping news. (Most likely, the proximity in this case was a happy coincidence for Inglis and Hall, rather than a deliberate effort.) Yet colonial newspapers were relatively short by today’s standards, only four pages or perhaps six or eight if they happened to include a supplement that week. In addition, most printers inserted the shipping news immediately before the advertisements, making that information fairly easy to locate. If readers were not already aware of which ships had recently been in port, they could efficiently consult the shipping news when they encountered the names of vessels in commercial notices. Eighteenth-century advertisers expected potential customers participated in this sort of active engagement with news items printed elsewhere in newspapers as they contemplated future purchases.