March 3

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 3, 1767).

Imported from GRENADA … A Quantity of RUM.”

Anthony Lamotte advertised a shipment of rum and sugar to be sold at his store “next door to Mansell, Corbet & Co.” Lamotte wanted to assure his customers that he continued to supply them with the best Grenada rum, equal to imports from Jamaica. As I explained in an earlier entry, alcoholic beverages were a staple of colonial American life, consumed throughout the day. However, unlike other drinks, rum was a major commodity for the colonies due to its central role in the “Triangular Trade” arrangements between America, Africa, and Europe.

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Routes for one version of the triangular trade.

Colonists were part of multiple triangular trades. Each was a series of arrangements where raw resources and manufactured goods were traded throughout the Atlantic. One triangle began with Europe sending textiles, rum, and other manufactured goods to Africa. From there, slaves were sent to the Americas (primarily the Caribbean and southern colonies). Americans then produced and exported sugar, tobacco, and cotton to Europe. Another triangle saw Africa transport slaves to the West Indies. The slaves then worked on plantations where they produced sugar and molasses to be sent to the New England colonies. Colonists in New England then used the sugar and molasses to make rum to ship to Africa. These trade arrangements were self-propagating.

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Routes for an alternate version of the triangular trade that emphasized rum production in New England.

While these trade networks are important to understanding economic relationships — and the importance of rum — they do not account for all trade in the eighteenth century. Many other vessels transported goods that did not neatly fit this pattern, such as the one that carried rum from Grenada to South Carolina.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Anthony Lamotte regularly placed advertisements in Charleston’s newspapers. Whether relatively brief or more extensive, his notices advanced a common theme when it came to marketing the rum he imported from Grenada. The phrase “superior in quality to what is usually imported from the other Windward Islands” appeared in both his short advertisement from the October 20, 1766, issue of the South Carolina Gazette and today’s advertisement from the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal published four months later.

Lamotte likely realized that he faced quite a challenge: Jamaican rum was widely considered superior to all others produced in the West Indies. As Sam notes, rum was a popular commodity that colonists enjoyed consuming, but rum from Jamaica was more popular than others. To sell his rum from Grenada, Lamotte needed to change the perception that Jamaican rum was categorically superior to all others.

He initiated his advertising campaign by seeking to establish that rum from Grenada was preferable to rum produced elsewhere in the Windward Islands. Once he advanced that argument in multiple newspapers over the course of several months he raised the stakes by claiming that “GRENADA RUM, of the finest flavor and colour” not only exceeded the quality of rum from nearby islands but should have also been considered “in every respect equal to the best Rum imported from Jamaica.”

Lamotte had “A Quantity of RUM” available for sale, but his advertisement suggested that it might have been a limited quantity that might sell out quickly. He promised “his friends and customers, that in a few months he will be able to supply them constantly” with rum imported from Grenada. Lamotte may have been hoping that by making available a limited supply he could generate word-of-mouth endorsements or, at the very least, make supplies seem temporarily rare and incite anticipation for a time in the future, but not too distant, when he could supply discerning customers with greater quantities.

 

October 21

GUEST CURATOR: Lindsay Hajjar

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

oct-21-10201766-south-carolina-gazette
South Carolina Gazette (October 20, 1766).

“RUM … superior in quality to what is usually imported.”

This advertisement is interesting because it closely resembles advertisements we would see today, playing on people’s emotions that this rum was better than what they usually drank. I learned about types of persuasion in my Social Psychology class taught by Professor Maria Parmley. I think the type of persuasion the seller used is peripheral route to persuasion. The advertisement called for consumers to make the decision based on emotion, not facts (like how the rum was made or why it was better quality). Potential customers were told that the rum they were used to drinking was lesser quality than this rum “FROM the Island of Grenada.” This type of precaution tactic is commonly seen in advertisements today; when many people see a commercial with a beautiful model using the product they are more likely to buy it because the product then becomes associated with the model’s beauty. It’s interesting that the way of inciting people to buy one product over another has changed very little in 250 years.

John J. McCusker shows the importance of rum in the colonial American economy.[1] Rum, which was made from sugar that was being produced in the Caribbean colonies, was an important part of the import and export trade. Drinking alcohol, like rum, became an essential part of life for many of the colonists, providing an escape from the pressures of everyday life. Social drinking was something that the colonists have in common with people today. Even though we may not always realize it we have more in common with the people who lived in colonial America than we might assume. Through this advertisement you can see two things that the colonists and people of the twenty-first century had in common, the way consumers can be persuaded to buy goods and how both people today and people then care about the quality of the alcohol they drink.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Lindsay’s analysis of the sophisticated tactics Anthony Lamotte used to market his rum made me wonder how it compared to other advertisements for rum in the same issue of the South Carolina Gazette. Two other notices featured rum prominently.

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South Carolina Gazette (October 20, 1766).

One brief advertisement announced that William Gibbes(?) had “CHOICE JAMAICA RUM, best MUSCOVADO SUGAR, and COFFEE, to be sold cheap.” This advertisement included two of the most common appeals from eighteenth-century advertising: price (“to be sold cheap”) and quality (“CHOICE”). However, Gibbes did not compare the quality of his Jamaican rum to any other rum, whether from the same island, the Windward Islands, or any other place. (The “3M.” in brackets may have been a printer’s note indicating that the advertisement was to run for three months. Perhaps Gibbes relied on repetition of his advertisement, rather than other means of persuasion, to attract customers.)

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South Carolina Gazette (October 20, 1766).

Thomas Shirley advertised a hodgepodge of imported commodities, from flour to iron to Windsor chairs. “A few Puncheons of Jamaica Rum” appeared in the middle of Shirley’s list. Like Gibbes (“to be sold cheap”) and Lamotte (“TO BE SOLD, reasonably”), Shirley made an appeal to price (“to be sold reasonably”), but he made no other effort to distinguish the rum he sold. Some modern readers may be tempted to think that listing Jamaica in italics was intended to highlight the origins of his rum for consumers that considered production in some places superior to others. However, listing place names in italics was common practice throughout eighteenth-century advertisements. In addition, printers – not the advertisers themselves – usually made the decisions about typography.

As Lindsay notes, rum was an extremely popular commodity in colonial America. Amid already high demand, advertisers like Anthony Lamotte worked to direct that demand in their favor. To do so, Lamotte used a marketing strategy that emphasized more than just price and quality. He promised potential customers that his rum was “superior in quality” to others, playing on their emotions in the absence of providing evidence to explain why it was a better product.

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[1] John J. McCusker, “The Rum Trade and the Balance of Payments of the Thirteen Continental Colonies, 1650-1775,” Journal of Economic History 30, no. 1 (March 1970): 244-246.