April 25

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 24, 1769).

“CHOICE CHOCOLATE … Cocoa manufactured for Gentlemen in the best Manner.”

When most people read the word “chocolate,” they probably pictures a Hershey’s chocolate bar. However, chocolate to the typical eighteenth-century colonist was a kind of frothy drink made from cocoa beans. According to Rodney Snyder, the chocolate drink originated in Mesoamerica, its first contact with Europeans being traced back to one of Christopher Columbus’s voyages in 1502. Chocolate was mentioned in a colonial newspaper for the first time in 1705, and it quickly became a colonial staple, since it was affordable and could be consumed by people from any class. Around the time of the printing of this newspaper, the colonies were importing over 320 tons of cocoa beans. So readily available was chocolate that it was actually given out as rations to soldiers in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Colonists commonly drank chocolate in coffeehouses, a place where they met to discuss politics, current events, and anything else.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Sam first consulted with me about this advertisement via email, I had a little difficulty finding it in the Boston-Gazette. She told me that it was on the third page, yet it is actually on the second page of the supplement. Sam did not, however, make an error. Instead, she reported the information available to her as a result of a design flaw for one of the databases of digitized newspapers that make the Adverts 250 Project possible.

I regularly sing praises for America’s Historical Newspapers. That database makes my research possible. It also allows me to bring my research into the classroom in meaningful ways, especially when I invite students to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Beyond those projects, America’s Historical Newspapers is a valuable resource for examining primary sources in class, allowing me to present digital surrogates with much more context than modern editions in course readers allow.

That being said, I have learned from experience that the database does have a flaw in the manner that it incorporates supplements. Consider the April 24, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. It consists of the standard four-page issue and a two-page supplement. Ideally, the database would present the standard issue first and then the supplement. However, when viewing this issue online the first page of the supplement appears first, then the first page of the standard issue, then the second page of the supplement, followed by the second, third, and fourth pages of the standard issue. The pages appear in the same order when downloading a PDF of the entire issue. For issues with four-page supplements, the pages are interspersed back and forth between the supplement and the standard issue. I have learned to collate the pages in the correct order when I print them out to mark them up.

Guest curators with less experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers, digitized primary sources, and, especially this idiosyncrasy, do not always realize that the pages presented online and in the PDF appear out of order … nor should they expect that the pages appear in any order other than first to last. When Sam consulted her digital copy of the Boston-Gazette for April 24, John Goldsmith’s advertisement for “CHOICE CHOCOLATE” appeared at the bottom of the third page in the document, hence her notation that I could find it there. I consulted a hard copy that I had collated into the proper order, which led me to a different page and created confusion. In the end, this yielded a teachable moment about how historians must continuously assess their sources, not just the contents but also the format and the media employed to make them available to us.

April 1

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

Apr 1 - 4:1:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 1, 1768).

Good CHOCOLATE … by the Single Pound.”

Today many Christians will celebrate Easter by eating chocolate eggs, chocolate rabbits, and a variety of other chocolate treats, but 250 years ago colonists drank rather than ate the “Good CHOCOLATE” advertised in newspapers and sold by shopkeepers. Along with coffee and tea, chocolate was a popular beverage in eighteenth-century America. Colonists consumed all three hot and sweet, adding sugar to temper any bitterness. Rodney Snyder records this recipe originally published in 1769 in The Experienced English Housekeeper: “Scrape four ounces of chocolate and pour a quart of boiling water upon it; mix it well and sweeten it to your taste; give it a boil and let it stand all night; then mix it again very well; boil it in two minutes, then mix it till it will leave the froth upon the tops of your cups.”

According to Mary Miley Theobald, “Chocolate was usually sold ground and pressed into cakes wrapped in paper.” English shopkeepers and grocers usually sold cakes that weighed two to four ounces, but the one-pound cake was most common in the American colonies as a result of lower import duties making the product less expensive for consumers. Chocolate came from cacao plantations in the West Indies, but much of it arrived as cacao beans. Snyder reports that “a Boston newspaper carried an advertisement for a hand-operated machine for making chocolate” in 1737, the same year that “an inventor in Massachusetts developed an engine to grind cocoa that was inexpensive to run and could produce 100 weight of chocolate in six hours.” Chocolate makers regularly advertised in colonial American newspapers. They outnumbered their counterparts in Britain. Theobald indicates that nearly seventy chocolate makers had set up shop throughout the mainland colonies at the advent of the American Revolution, compared to only one in Britain. By then over 320 tons of cocoa beans had been imported into the colonies.

Chocolate was an important commodity and popular beverage in eighteenth-century America, especially as efficiencies in local production lowered the prices for consumers. In purchasing, processing, and drinking chocolate, colonists participated in a network of trade that connected them to plantations elsewhere in the Atlantic world. Even though some of the production took place locally, colonists who enjoyed a cup of chocolate benefitted from the labor of enslaved men and women on cocoa and sugar plantations. The “Good CHOCOLATE” advertised in colonial newspapers was not merely a sweet treat. Instead, it had a complicated history. In consuming it, colonists participated in the perpetuation of slavery.

February 15

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

Feb 15 - 2:15:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 15, 1768).

“She continues to sell … the genuine flour of mustard.”

Mary Crathorne advertised the mustard and chocolate she “manufactured” at “the Globe mill on Germantown road” in more than one newspaper published in Philadelphia in February 1768. She inserted one notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette on February 11 and another in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 15. Although they featured (mostly) the same copy, the visual aspects of the tow advertisements distinguished one from the other.

A headline consisting of her name, “Mary Crathorne,” introduced the advertisement in the Chronicle. Such design was consistent with that in other advertisements placed by purveyors of goods and services, including Robert Bass and John Lownes. It added readers in identifying the advertisement, but did not call special attention to it. In contrast, her advertisement in the Gazette featured a woodcut depicting a seal for her company flanked by a bottle of mustard on one side and a pound of chocolate on the other. It was the only advertisement in that issue of the Gazette (including the two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising) that incorporated a visual image, distinguishing it from all others. On the other hand, Crathorne’s advertisement in the Chronicle ran on the same page as four advertisements that included woodcuts (a house, a ship, a male runaway servant, and a female runaway servant). In addition to those stock images that belonged to the printer, elsewhere in the issue Howard and Bartram’s advertisement featured a woodcut of dog with its head in an overturned bucket. The “Copper-Smiths from London” ran a shop at “the sign of the Dog and Golden Kettle, in Second-Street.” They effectively deployed the visual image in multiple media, the newspaper advertisement and the shop sign, to create a brand for their business.

Crathorne attempted something similar with her own woodcut in the Gazette, noting that “All the mustard put up in bottles, has the above stamp pasted on the bottles, and also the paper round each pound of chocolate has the said stamp thereon.” She had to revise the copy, however, for inclusion in the Chronicle without the woodcut. “All the mustard put up in bottle has a stamp” (rather than “the above stamp”) “pasted on the bottles, and also the paper round each pound of chocolate has the same stamp thereon.”

Apparently Mary Crathorne (or her late husband who previously ran the business) had commissioned only one woodcut of this trademark image. That made it impossible to publish advertisements featuring the same image in multiple newspapers simultaneously. The aspect that most distinguished her advertisement in the Gazette was completely missing in the Chronicle, where other advertisers treated readers to a series of woodcuts that dressed up their notices. Crathorne engaged in innovative marketing efforts by associating a specific image with her products to distinguish them from the competition, but she did not consistently advance that campaign by inserting the image in all of her advertisements that appeared in print. She recognized that branding could be useful in selling her wares, but she did not apply the strategy to full effect. That required further experimentation by other advertisers.

February 14

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

Feb 14 - 2:11:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (February 11, 1768).

“All the mustard put up in bottles, has the above stamp pasted on the bottles.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would have been familiar with the “genuine FLOUR of MUSTARD” and chocolate that Mary Crathorne advertised in February 1768. Her husband, the late Jonathan Crathorne, had previously produced and sold chocolate and mustard with Benjamin Jackson, but when that partnership dissolved the two men each continued in the business. Sometimes their advertisements appeared one after the other in the Pennsylvania Gazette, as was the case in the November 21, 1765, edition.

Jonathan Crathorne’s advertisement included the same woodcut that his wife later used to promote the business that she operated after his death. It featured a seal flanked by a bottle of mustard on the left and a brick of chocolate on the right. The seal incorporated William Penn’s insignia, a shield decorated with three silver balls, but it bore the words “J. CRATHORN’S PHILADA FLOUR OF MUSTARD.” Crathorne associated pride in the colony with his own products.

After they parted ways, Jonathan Crathorne and Benjamin Jackson engaged in a prolonged public dispute in their advertisements. Mary Crathorne was not as aggressive as her husband in that regard, but the widow did not that “her late husband went to a considerable expence in the erecting, and purchasing out Benjamin Jackson’s part” of “those incomparable mustard and chocolate works at the Globe mill, on Germantown road.”

Mary Crathorne did not want her product confused for any other. To that end, the woodcut in her newspaper advertisement had a purpose that went beyond drawing the attention of readers. “All the mustard put up in bottles,” she reported, “has the above stamp placed on the bottles.” Similarly, “the paper round each pound of chocolate has the same stamp thereon.” To avoid competitors’ products being mistaken for her mustard and chocolate, the widow Crathorne deployed the woodcut from her advertisements as a brand to mark her merchandise. Her husband may have followed the same practice, but his advertisements did not explicitly state that was the case. Perhaps as a woman running a business in a marketplace dominated by men Mary Crathorne found it necessary to devise additional means of promoting her products. She made it easy for consumers to recognize her mustard and chocolate by making sure they were labeled with some sort of trademark that identified the producer.

January 23

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

Jan 23 - 1:23:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 23, 1766).

“Choice COCAO TO BE SOLD By William Dennie, at his Store in King-Street.”

Colonial Americans loved stimulating beverages:  coffee, tea, and chocolate.  Each of these products testifies to the ways diets and rituals associated with food and drink evolved as a result of the webs of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic World and beyond in the early modern era.

Chocolate has become such a significant part of western culture that most people are not aware of its Mesoamerican origins.  Europeans did not encounter chocolate until they came into contact with the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America, where it had been consumed for at least three thousand years.  Chocolate indeed has a long history, but it’s relatively new to most of the world.

In a fascinating article, Marcy Norton reports that Europeans initially did not care for chocolate, but over time developed a taste for it. [1]  Indeed, many Spaniards worried that in preparing and consuming chocolate according to Aztec methods that they were becoming colonized rather than being the colonizers, that they were being reduced to “savages” rather than “civilizing” the indigenous peoples who were the targets of their conquest.

Over time, however, Europeans learned to love chocolate.  By the 1760s chocolate was affordable to a broad array of colonists, who consumed it at home and in coffeehouses where they gathered to conduct business, discuss politics, and gossip.

Jan 23 - Chocolate Pot
Chocolate Pot (Edward Winslow, Boston, ca. 1700-1710).  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In Colonial Williamsburg’s history of “Chocolate in the American Colonies,” Rodney Snyder offers this recipe from The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769):  “Scrape four ounces of chocolate and pour a quart of boiling water upon it; mix it well and sweeten it to your taste; give it a boil and let it stand all night; then mix it again very well; boil it in two minutes, then mix it till it will leave the froth upon the tops of your cups.”

Colonial Williamsburg also offers this history of “hot chocolate,” which includes a greater number of images and features a gallery of coffee and chocolate pots.  You may also enjoy this National Public Radio story about “How Hot Chocolate Became More American Than Apple Pie.”

William Dennie published a no-frills advertisement for “Choice COCAO.”  Perhaps he figured chocolate was so popular that it would sell itself once potential customers knew he stocked it.

[1] Marcy Norton, “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Meso-american Aesthetics,” American Historical Review 111, no. 3 (June 2006): 660-691.

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When I featured an advertisement for tea earlier this month I also commented that several modern suppliers market tea by drawing connections to its colonial heritage.  The same goes for chocolate, including American Heritage Historic Chocolate, “artisan chocolate made from a recipe from 1750 & made only from ingredients available in the 18th century.”  They also sponsor events, including a chocolate demonstration at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia last October.  I wish I could have gone.  Commodities and the history of consumption provide fertile ground for engaging general audiences in learning about the past.  Chocolate was popular in eighteenth-century America and remains popular today, but the methods of procuring, preparing, and consuming it have evolved significantly, presenting wonderful opportunities to examine changes in culture and consumption over time.

Jan 23 - American Heritage Chocolate
Finely Grated Chocolate Drink sold by American Heritage Historic Chocolate.