What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Genteel Accommodations, civil Usage, and good Attendance may be depended on.”
When Robert Benson took over operations of “COLE’S and the GREENLAND COFFEE-HOUSE, in Ball Court, Cornhill,” in London in 1772, he placed advertisements in newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina. Why did Benson advertise his new enterprise to colonizers on the other side of the Atlantic? Nic Butler explains that “[t]housands of prospective emigrants first learned about the Carolina Colony and booked passage to that distant land at a small coffee shop in the heart of London. From the 1670s to the 1830s, the Carolina Coffee House in Birchin Lane served as the epicenter for conversations about the colony, its business opportunities, and its residents.”
Benson introduced himself to readers in South Carolina as “BOB, WAITER from the CAROLINA.” For some, this might have been a reacquaintance. Merchants who visited London may have met Benson on their travels. Similarly, the affable Bob may have interacted with colonizers who passed through the Carolina Coffee House when they migrated to South Carolina. Several other coffeehouses in Cornhill also served as meeting places for exchanging information about faraway places, including the Virginia Coffee House, the Jamaica Coffee House, the Jerusalem Coffee House, and the African Coffee House.
Benson encouraged colonizers in South Carolina to consider Cole’s and the Greenland Coffee House as alternatives to others in Cornhill. Building on his experience at the Carolina Coffee House, he assured readers that “Particular Attention will be given to all Bills, Letters, and Messages” left at the establishments he operated. In addition, for any “GENTLEMEN” planning to visit London, Benson promised “Genteel Accommodations, civil Usage, and good Attendance.” Those accommodations included suppers every evening as well as a variety of wines and liquors to purchase “Wholesale and Retail.”
Entrepreneurs in England rarely placed advertisements in colonial American newspapers. In this instance, Benson apparently believed that he could cultivate a clientele among residents of South Carolina who had occasion to travel to London. Even for those who remained in the colonies, Benson aimed to have Cole’s and the Greenland Coffee House become destinations for correspondence, hoping this would prompt friends and associates of colonizers in South Carolina to spend time (and money) at his coffeehouse.
Learn more about “The Carolina Coffee House of London” and other coffeehouses by reading or listening to Nic Butler on the Charleston County Public Library’s Charleston Time Machine.