April 24

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Boston Chronicle (April 24, 1769).


Being from Massachusetts, I have spent time in major port cities like Boston and Gloucester. Since Massachusetts resides on the coast, it developed a maritime economy that included shipbuilding. I was drawn to this advertisement because it attempted to sell a ship, not some sort of consumer good or service. In the northern colonies, such as Massachusetts, shipbuilding was a major form of commerce. According to the National Park Service, early ships were made of wood and built not just for fishing, but for trading with foreign countries. Although there was unrest with Great Britain in the colonies and boycotts were taking place in 1769, ships were still important for the economy of the colonies, as well as communication between the colonies and other places. The shipbuilding activities in Massachusetts ports had such an impact that, in addition to aiding the colonies in their victory over Great Britain, it also helped develop the ships that made the United States the major world power it has become today.



Massachusetts did indeed have a maritime economy in the eighteenth century. Residents and visitors knew that was the case when they walked the streets of Boston and Salem and other ports increasing in size and importance. Readers of the several newspapers printed in Boston and the one in Salem also knew it from the shipping news regularly published immediately before the advertisements. The placement of records from the customs house as a bridge between news and advertising underscored the importance of maritime commerce to the colony.

In the April 24, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, this advertisement for “The SHIP AMERICA” ran in the middle column of the final page, immediately to the right of a column filled entirely with shipping news. That column was not enough to contain the list of vessels that had “Entered in,” were “Outward bound,” or had “Cleared out.” The roster continued into the second column, extending through approximately one-third of it. Except for a brief advertisement for “Choice Beef in Barrels,” the shipping news moved directly to the notice about “The SHIP AMERICA,” followed by another seeking to sell a schooner, and another announcing that “THE Snow THISTLE … will clear to sail [to New York] in a few days.”

The shipping news provided a map of sorts that depicted Boston’s place in transatlantic networks of commerce and exchange. The list of ships that had “Entered in” included fifty-two vessels, arriving from Bristol, Georgia, Hispaniola, Greenock, Hull, Jamaica, London, Nova Scotia, New Haven, New London, New York, North Carolina, Philadelphia, Surinam, Turks Island, and Virginia. Another twenty-six were “Outward bound,” heading to Bay Chaleur, Maryland, London, Newfoundland, Hew Haven, New London, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Philadelphia, Quebec, Rhode Island, St. Croix, Surinam, and the West Indies. Forty-two additional vessels had already “Cleared out” on their voyages to Annapolis Royal, Canso, Hispaniola, London, Newfoundland, New Haven, New London, New Providence, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Philadelphia, Rhode Island, Virginia, and the West Indies.

The advertisement for “The SHIP AMERICA” promoted some of the vessel’s qualities, but the placement of the notice next to and below the shipping news testified to the possibilities available to anyone who might have the resources to purchase the ship or enter into partnership with other entrepreneurs.

One thought on “April 24

  1. Friends, I just joined this forum a couple of days ago, and am very much enjoying the posts. A couple comments on this one about “The SHIP AMERICA” if I may.

    As described, the “Shipping News” in colonial New England newspapers contain fascinating information. If you are ever in Boston, and have time to visit the Boston Public Library, ask to see this large document:

    Naval Office Shipping Returns 1686-1763 (TNA Reference CO 5/848-851), (Boston: Boston Public Library). Microfilm, and print from microfilm, and at Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

    It is a copy of records kept by the British naval officer (a civilian rank) of the port of Boston showing the comings and goings of every merchant vessel (but not fishing vessels) at that port. In my own research I found this of immense value in helping to identify vessels, their owners, their Masters (captains), armament, number of crew, tons burthen, where built, where last registered, when their cargo was bonded, exceptional detail about every item of cargo aboard, where they came from and where they are going. British Customs records from that period before our American Revolution have never been found (only occasional fragments) so these ledgers are extremely important. The “TNA Reference…” is what you would use if you want to view or get copies of the original documents, kept in England at The National Archives at Kew, UK.

    These ledgers were kept at all major British ports along the American coast, and for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

    After we gained independence from Britain, our own customs service was established, and from that time until the present, records are available in various locations of our own National Archives and Records Administration, and in current US Customs records.

    There was a warship built in the colonies named AMERICA which also has an interesting history.
    But again, you will not see her mentioned in the Naval Office Shipping Returns.

    Have fun!

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