July 28

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

Jul 28 - 7:28:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 28, 1767).


American colonists participated in networks of trade that crisscrossed the Atlantic. Many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers promoted goods imported from England and other faraway places, but others resulted from a vibrant coastal trade that connected Britain’s North American colonies. As part of that coastal trade, merchants shipped agricultural surpluses, especially wheat, from the Middle Atlantic to the Southern colonies. Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers published in Charleston regularly encountered advertisements for flour and other goods transported from Philadelphia. For instance, in the July 28 edition Godfrey and Gadsden advertised ‘PHILADELPHIA FLOUR, and BAR IRON.” Similarly, Greenland and Jordan announced that hey had “just imported … from PHILADELPHIA” several commodities, including flour, milk, beer, and bar iron.

William Williamson’s advertisement differed from others that marketed goods that originated in Philadelphia and its hinterland. Rather than selling agricultural goods and raw materials produced in the region, Williamson “IMPORTED … fine THREAD STOCKINGS” made in Germantown. Although several competitors advertised clothing, textiles, and adornments imported from London, colonists were in the process of developing their own industries as alternatives, especially in the wake of the Stamp Act and other attempts at taxation and regulation emanating from Parliament. Still, consumers were accustomed to goods imported from Europe; domestically produced stockings and other items were less familiar. Merchants and shopkeepers worked to convince skeptical customers that such products would not disappoint. Williamson testified to the quality of his stockings, underscoring their “durableness” for potential customers who might have been inclined to place more trust in imported wares.

Williamson did not make an explicit “Buy American” appeal in this advertisement, though that sort of marketing strategy had emerged during the Stamp Act crisis two years earlier and became more common as the relationship between Britain and the colonies deteriorated. Instead, he offered consumers an alternative to imported goods without engaging in overt political rhetoric. In that regard, his advertisement educated colonists about the possibilities of American manufactures, paving the way for a turn to homespun during subsequent nonimportation agreements. The availability of durable “GERMAN-TOWN manufactured fine THREAD STOCKINGS” helped colonists imagine the possible alternatives to relying on imports from Britain. They could depend on each other not only for agricultural surpluses and raw materials but also for finished products.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:10:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 10, 1767).

“Just imported … from London … Also in the last vessels from Philadelphia.”

This advertisement by Samuel Douglass and Company (formerly Douglass, Elbert, and Company) in the Georgia Gazette depicted the colonial crossroads of trade in the eighteenth century. While many shopkeepers placed notices that promoted imported goods from particular places (most notably the lengthy list advertisements of manufactured wares from England), these merchants outlined the many networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic and beyond.

Douglass and Company’s inventory came from diverse places. They stocked a “GENTEEL ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS,” an array of dry goods, housewares, and hardware. Various textiles made in the East Indies had been first transported to London before continuing on to the colonies. Other goods had been manufactured in the English provinces and then made their way to faraway markets.

Other products did not cross the Atlantic. Instead, they were part of the coastal trade that connected the colonies (and their economies) to each other. Farmers in the Middle Atlantic colonies, for instance, produced surpluses of wheat, butter, and meat that became important supplies for other English colonies in North America and, especially, the plantation economies of the West Indies. Douglass and Company received their dry goods via London, but ship bread, flour, hams, and other foodstuffs and agricultural products arrived “in the last vessels from Philadelphia.”

Finally, Douglass and Company sold other grocery items, particularly sugar, produced in the West Indies and shipped to the mainland colonies in exchange for agricultural goods. Enslaved Africans toiling on plantations had produced the sugar. Their labor was not mentioned in this advertisement, making Douglass and Company’s sketch of trading networks incomplete. The transatlantic slave trade was a major component of a vast system of exchange in the eighteenth century, one that made the others represented in Douglass and Company’s advertisement both possible and profitable. Douglass and Company may not have sold enslaved Africans themselves, but their venture depended on that endeavor. The map of commerce and exchange conjured in their advertisement was both extensive and incomplete.

March 12

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 12 - 3:12:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 12, 1767).

“A few Firkins choice Irish Butter.”

The advertisement featured today seems to be a standard advertisement for merchants. Blanchard and Hancock had an extensive list of goods for sale at their shop. The second item listed (above the two columns of other goods) was imported Irish butter. This advertisement for “A few firkins choice Irish Butter” can tell us a lot about butter and urban populations.

According to Joan Jensen, as farm families looked to maximize their profits in order to participate in the expanding consumer economy, they looked to diversify their production. In the Middle Atlantic, women’s involvement shifted from textile production to butter throughout the eighteenth century. While urban populations were growing, the market for agricultural goods was too. Although domestic demand for butter was high, a majority of farms from the Middle Atlantic made their profits on butter from exporting it to the West Indies. Even at the start of the nineteenth century when export demands were lower, the domestic market kept the farms making butter profitable.[1]

For urban populations, the butter market was different. Health ordinances prohibited cows in some urban areas around 1760; therefore no one in cities, such as Boston, was making their own butter. As the market for Mid-Atlantic butter shifted from the West Indies to the domestic market, imports such as Irish butter would have competed with Pennsylvania butter.



As we discussed which aspects of today’s advertisement to examine in greater detail, Daniel and I decided that it offered an opportunity to acknowledge the coastal trade in the eighteenth century, a network of exchange sometimes overshadowed by the project’s emphasis on imported textiles, housewares, hardware, and every other “very large Assortment of English & India GOODS” (to use the description from Jolley Allen’s advertisement in the same issue of the Massachusetts Gazette). Daniel astutely notes that by the late 1760s the “few Firkins choice Irish Butter” imported by Blanchard and Hancock likely competed with butter produced by women in Pennsylvania and shipped to American ports (as well as the West Indies).

Historians consult a variety of sources, including letters, bills of lading, and ledgers kept by merchants, to reconstruct the coastal trade in early America, but Daniel and I identified additional evidence on the same page of the Massachusetts Gazette as Blanchard and Hancock’s advertisement. Another notice announced “For NEW-YORK. The Schooner Peggy, William Willson, Master, will sail by the 20th of March Instant, now laying at Long Wharf; and ready for Goods on Freight or Passengers.”

The shipping news also illustrated the vibrant coastal trade. The Customs House reported that four ships had “Entred In” during the previous week, identifying them by their captains: “Paine from Virginia; Tower from North Carolina; Ingraham from Heneago; Downes from Monte Christi.” None made a transatlantic voyage directly to Boston; two arrived from other colonies in North America and two from the West Indies. Similarly, the Customs House recorded that four ships and their masters had recently “Cleared Out,” including “Smith for New York; Stone for Philadelphia; Spence for North Carolina; Jones for West-Indies.” Three were headed to other coastal areas and one to the West Indies. Finally, the Customs House listed six vessels “Outward Bound” in the coming weeks: “Willson for New York; Smith for Philadelphia; Gray for Maryland; Harris for West-Indies; Pale and Sheppard for Newfoundland; Omand for Leith.” This represented a greater diversity of destinations, with ships and cargo headed to ports north and south along the Atlantic coast, the West Indies, and Great Britain.

Eighteenth-century readers and consumers would not have considered Blanchard and Hancock’s “few Firkins choice Irish Butter” in isolation. Instead, they would have placed that commodity within extensive networks of trade that not only crisscrossed the Atlantic but oftentimes incorporated shorter voyages between colonies along the North American coast.


[1] For more on the production and sale of American butter in the late eighteenth-century, see Joan Jensen, Loosening the Bonds: Mid-Atlantic Farm Women, 1750-1850 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), especially the chapter on “The Economics of the Butter Trade,” 79-91.

January 14

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

Georgia Gazette (January 14, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD on board the schooner Molly, John Gale master, lying at Ross’s Wharf.”

Not all commercial transactions took place in shops or warehouses in eighteenth-century America. In addition to acquiring consumer goods at auction houses and estate sales, some colonists also made purchases aboard ships when they arrived in port. Such was the case with a small selection of commodities advertised by “John Gale, master” who advertised that he sold his wares “on board the schooner Molly … lying at Ross’s wharf.”

Gale’s advertisement first appeared in the January 14, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. The shipping news in that issue indicated that the Molly, sailing from Salem and Marblehead, had “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE in SAVANNAH” on January 8. Gale placed his advertisement in the first issue of the local newspaper published after his arrival. While shopkeepers and merchants could depend on residents of Savannah having at least some familiarity with the shops and storehouses they operated and possibly did not find it necessary to advertise, Gale did not have that advantage. Advertising was imperative for the master of the newly arrived vessel to attract customers, especially since he planned to be in port for a limited time. Two weeks later, the shipping news reported that the Molly had “ENTERED OUTWARDS” to return to Salem and Marblehead.

Given that he transacted business aboard a ship in port for just a few weeks, Gale operated exclusively as a wholesaler, selling all of his goods in bulk: rum by the hogshead and brown sugar and mackerel by the barrel. He also sold blubber and “trainoil,” an eighteenth-century designation for whale oil, by the barrel. Although whaling flourished as an American maritime commercial endeavor in the nineteenth century, it had already emerged as an important economic activity by the final third of the eighteenth century because consumers desired whale oil to burn in lamps and to make soap.

Although Gale served as captain of the Molly, he likely worked for one or more merchant owners of the vessel, men who determined where the ship would sail and what cargo it would carry. Gale and the Molly may have pursued the coastal trade and traced a regular route between New England and the southern colonies. Not all traders in the Atlantic world needed to cross the ocean to generate profits.