What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He has two swift-sailing small Sloops, which ply constantly between Providence and Newport.”
Readers of the Providence Gazette encountered two advertisements for ferries between Providence and Newport on the final page of the November 14 edition. The operators adopted different strategies in promoting their services. Thomas Lindsey and Benjamin Lindsey inserted a short, streamlined advertisement to announce that their “STAGE-BOATS … ply twice a Week … with GOODS and PASSENGERS.” They made a nod toward customer service, assuring prospective customers that they “may depend on being faithfully served,” and concluded with standard language about the “excellent Accommodations for Passengers.” They dressed up their advertisement with a woodcut of a ship, which likely attracted attention since it was the only image that accompanied an advertisement in the entire issue.
Joshua Hacker devised a much more extensive advertisement. Even without a woodcut, its length and the table of fees distinguished it visually from the other advertisements on the same page. Hacker elaborated on many of the marketing appeals made by the Lindseys; he also launched additional appeals intended to convince prospective clients to choose him over his competitors. While the Lindseys sailed twice a week, Hacker’s sloops “set off every Day … Wind and Weather permitting.” Instead of using formulaic phrases that consistently appeared in other advertisements offering passage, Hacker expanded on the “exceeding good Accommodations,” promising that passengers “can be as comfortable on board … as in their Parlours.” Hacker did not merely reiterate stock phrases used in advertisements throughout the colonies. He exerted additional effort in writing copy to make it resonate with potential customers.
He also incorporated additional justifications for selecting his business over others. Not only did he make an appeal to price – “the very cheapest rates” – he provided a list of more than a dozen specific rates, including nine pence for a single passenger, three shillings for a four-wheeled carriage, and three shillings for a barrel of cargo. To cultivate customers, he also offered some services gratis. He informed those who wished to ship goods between the two ports that “he hath a convenient Store for depositing such Goods,” a warehouse where they would be stored for free. Hacker also made an appeal to his long experience, noting that he had “for upwards of ten Years, carried on this Business.”
Neither the Lindseys nor Hacker merely announced that they operated ferry and freight service between Providence and Newport. Both advanced appeals intended to make their businesses attractive to prospective clients, yet their approaches differed significantly. The Lindseys relied on methods already in use by their counterparts who advertised similar services in other colonial ports. Hacker, however, offered a much more innovative advertisement that further developed existing marketing strategies.