August 20

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (August 20, 1772).

“He makes American Punch in Perfection.”

When Robert Benson became the new proprietor of “COLE’S and the GREENLAND COFFEE-HOUSE, in Ball Court, Cornhill,” in London, he placed advertisements in newspapers in South Carolina.  Having formerly worked as a waiter at the Carolina Coffee House, he likely hoped that some merchants who had conducted business there would remember him fondly enough to visit his new establishment when they next traveled to London as well as entrust him to receive “Bills, Letters, and Messages” directed to local associates.  He opened his first advertisement with a headline introducing himself as “BOB, WAITER from the CAROLINA,” but concluded it more formally as his prospective customers’ “obedient humble Servant, ROBERT BENSON.”  In a subsequent advertisement, he dispensed with giving his full name, opting instead to solely use the more familiar “BOB, WAITER from the CAROLINA and PENNSYLVANIA COFFEE-HOUSE, in Birchin Lane.”

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 18, 1772).

Benson made other changes when he published a second advertisement in newspapers in Charleston.  In particular, he declared that “for the Accommodation of American Gentlemen, the South-Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania News-Papers, will be regularly taken in.”  Those newspapers featured a significant amount of news from Europe, especially London, that would have been more quickly and more readily available to visitors to the city, but they also carried digests of news from throughout the colonies, varying amounts of local news, prices current for a variety of commodities in Charleston, Savannah, and Philadelphia, and shipping news from the customs houses in those busy ports.  In addition, readers could glean a fair amount of news (and gossip) from reading the advertisements, including legal notices and advertisements intended to promote commerce and consumption (and notices cutting off credit for disobedient wives who “ran away” from their husbands).  Benson considered supplying American newspapers one of the services for his customers that demonstrated he “will exert his utmost Endeavours to merit their Favours.”  He also declared that he “has fitted up” his establishment “very elegantly.”  In addition to the newspapers, American merchants and other travelers would feel at home at Cole’s and the Greenland Coffee House because Benson “makes American Punch in Perfection.”  Even as colonial merchants took part in London’s cosmopolitan culture, Benson suspected they would welcome a taste of home.  He listed the “American Punch” last in his advertisement, one of several amenities that he hoped would make his coffeehouse an attractive destination.  His competitors relied on reputation and word of mouth to attract customers from Charleston and other towns in the colonies.  Benson, the affable “BOB,” on the other hand, believed that directly marketing his new venture in the colonies would contribute to its success.  He attempted to leverage his reputation while also promoting the amenities that made his coffeehouse a rival to any others in London.

July 26

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (July 23, 1772).

“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.