What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Snow TRISTRAM … WILL be ready to sail in 14 Days.”
In the late 1760s Joseph Russell and William Russell advertised frequently in the Providence Gazette. Unlike most advertisers throughout the colonies, they sometimes ran multiple advertisements in a single issue, a tactic that enhanced their prominence as local merchants and gave their enterprises even greater visibility. Such was the case in October 1768. On October 1 they placed a new advertisement for “a neat and fresh Assortment of GOODS” that they had just imported “in the Ship Cleopatra.” It appeared in all five issues published in October. On October 15 they inserted a new advertisement that solicited passengers and cargo for the Tristram, scheduled to sail for London in fourteen days. In the same advertisement the Russells seized the opportunity to hawk their “stout Russia DUCK, best Bohea TEA, [and] an neat Assortment of Irish LINENS.”
That advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette on two more occasions, but never with updated copy. It ran in the October 22 edition, still proclaiming that the Tristram “WILL be ready to sail in 14 Days.” Anyone interested in arranging “Freight or Passage” needed to pay attention to the date listed at the end of the advertisement: “October 15, 1768.” The advertisement made one final appearance on October 29 – the day the Tristram was supposed to set sail – still stating that the ship would depart in fourteen days. It may have still been possible to book passage, but unlikely that Captain David Shand took on additional cargo at that time. The Russells, however, continued to peddle textiles and tea along with the assortment of other merchandise promoted in the companion advertisement published elsewhere in the issue.
The Russells provided enough information for prospective clients to determine the sailing date of the Tristram even though they did not revise the copy as the date approached. Listing the date they submitted the advertisement to the printing office was an imperative component because once the type had been set the notice would run without changes until it was discontinued. Very rarely did advertisements undergo any sort of revision in colonial America. Instead, they were eventually replaced with new advertisements comprised of completely different copy, if advertisers wished to continue at all. This meant that advertisements that ran for any length of time might include outdated portions, an aspect that likely contributed to skepticism of marketing efforts by readers.