What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“She is a new Vessel, has excellent Accommodations for Passengers.”
The various commodities marketed in eighteenth-century newspapers testify to the networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic, but the advertisements also reveal the movement of people. Almost every advertisement in the November 11, 1767, extraordinary issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, for instance, featured some element of mobility.
Six advertisements offered passage from Philadelphia to faraway places, including Cape Fear, North Carolina; Grenada; Barbados; Londonderry; and London. Half simply stated that readers could arrange either “Freight or Passage,” but the others promoted their “excellent Accommodations for Passengers” to attract travelers. Due to the size of the port city, newspapers published in Philadelphia regularly carried such advertisements, but similar advertisements also appeared frequently in newspapers from smaller cities and towns.
Some colonists used advertisements to announce their arrival. For instance, one “YOUNG MAN … lately arrived from England” placed an employment notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, informing his new neighbors that he “would be glad to serve any Gentleman as Clerk.” The anonymous ‘YOUNG MAN” requested that anyone interested in hiring him “Inquire of the PRINTER.” He also indicated his willingness to extend his journey when he expressed interest in positions available “either in Town or Country.”
Three additional advertisements documented recent departures of indentured servants who absconded from their masters. One reported that Abraham Weaver, am English linen weaver who ran away from Amos Garrett in Swan Creek in Maryland, had been seen with a widow who might attempt to pass as his wife. Garrett suspected that “they may make for Philadelphia or the eastern-shore of Maryland.” John Odenheimer of Philadelphia indicated that his servant, a German named Eberhard Hirschman, had been “seen in Lancaster, at the Sign of the Highlander” the previous week. These runaways attempted to put considerable distance between themselves and their masters.
Newspaper advertisements like these depicted a flurry of movement of people, not just commodities, throughout the Atlantic world and beyond in the eighteenth century. Those who purchased passage on ships traveled for various reasons, commercial and personal. Some, like the “YOUNG MAN … lately arrived from England,” embraced mobility as a means of encountering new opportunities, but others, including many indentured servants, found that their experiences in new places did not live up to their expectations. They made new departures, frustrating masters who had bought their services for a period of years. American colonists lived in an extremely mobile society. Advertisements for consumer goods and services often insinuated social mobility, but other paid notices revealed significant geographic mobility as well.