March 28

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 28 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“CROWN Coffee-House.”

According to Colonial Williamsburg, coffeehouses in the eighteenth century were “information centers and forums for debate and discussion.” Coffeehouses were places where people had conversations with others. Most coffeehouses were not limited to serving just coffee, but provided tea and chocolate as well. Some coffeehouses served alcoholic drinks as well, including the “ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c.” at Isaac Williams’s Crown Coffeehouse. Coffeehouses that did not serve alcoholic drinks sometimes struggled to compete with those that did. Coffee, states Steven Topik, was often dismissed as an unnecessary luxury.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Isaac Williams issued a challenge to the readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Rather than simply announce that he stocked and served “the best of LIQUORS” for his patrons at the Crown Coffeehouse in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he dared them to “be so kind as to call and judge for themselves, whether his ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c. is not as good as at other public Houses.” Advertisers in the eighteenth century, like their counterparts today, engaged in a complicated dance with potential customers. They made claims that they wanted readers to believe, often offering assurances of their validity and trustworthiness, but they also expected potential customers to greet their appeals with some skepticism. Williams acknowledged as much, insisting that he “would not have them take his Word.” Instead, he craftily invited comparisons with other establishments. Readers could not make such comparisons, however, unless they actually became customers and sampled the offerings at the Crown on Queen Street.

Once he got them through the doors, Williams promised a variety of amenities in addition to the “best of Liquors.” In addition to the quality of the beverages, “Gentlemen” experienced a refined atmosphere that included “large and small Entertainment, provided in the most genteel manner.” Such entertainment may have included performances by any of the variety of itinerants that Peter Benes examines his recent book, For a Short Time Only: Itinerants and the Resurgence of Popular Culture in Early America. Musicians, singers, magic lanternists, puppeteers, actors, and conjurers all performed in American taverns and coffeehouses throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. In addition, the advertisement indicated that Williams likely completed renovations to make his coffeehouse a comfortable space for men to gather, drink, gossip, conduct business, discuss politics and current events, watch performers, and exchange information. To that end, he invested “considerable Expence … in making his House convenient” for the entertainment of his patrons.

From the liquor, coffee, and food to entertainment, furnishings, and service, Isaac Williams described an atmosphere that could only be truly appreciated by experiencing it. He prompted readers to imagine themselves drinking and socializing at the Queen, making it more likely that some would accept his challenge to visit and “judge for themselves” whether his coffeehouse compared favorably to other public houses.

March 22

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 22 - 3:20:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 20, 1767).

Choice Green Coffee.”

When it comes to choices of drink when thinking of the colonial and Revolutionary eras, the first one that probably comes to mind is tea. This advertisement is interesting because it sold coffee instead. According to Christina Regelski, coffee was sometimes used as a way of showing wealth or status in the colonial era due to the expensiveness of producing the coffee grounds from the beans. In the southern colonies slaves were often in charge of grinding the coffee beans in the kitchens for their wealthy owners. Sadly, they had no access to the coffee they prepared.

Coffeehouses became hubs of information that could be accessed by many in the eighteenth century. Similar to taverns, men from any status and station could go to coffeehouses to drink coffee and discuss what was going on in their lives and their colony. John Adams even noted the importance of coffeehouses in a letter to James Warren in 1775: “the Debates, and Deliberations in Congress are impenetrable Secrets: but the Conversations in the City, and the Chatt of the Coffee house, are free, and open.”

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Some colonists very well may have encountered Noah Parker’s advertisement for “Choice Green Coffee” when they visited a coffeehouse, such as the Crown Coffeehouse on Queen Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In the same issue that Parker hawked coffee, Isaac Williams placed an advertisement announcing that he had just opened the “CROWN Coffee-House” and provided many amenities for customers (including “the best of LIQUORS” and “large and small Entertainment, provided in the most genteel manner” in addition to coffee). At many eighteenth-century coffeehouses, the amenities included newspapers.

As Ceara notes, coffeehouses were hubs for exchanging information in the eighteenth century. Patrons certainly traded stories, but they also had access to newspapers the proprietors provided for their convenience and entertainment. Customers read newspapers to learn about politics and current events that affected their daily lives and commercial transactions. As a result, the advertisements that appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette and other colonial newspapers had a far wider reach than just local subscribers. Visitors to the Crown Coffeehouse most likely had access to recent issues of many newspapers other than just the New-Hampshire Gazette, especially newspapers from Boston and other parts of New England, but also from elsewhere in the colonies, the Caribbean, and London. Similarly, coffeehouses in other colonial port cities also provided newspapers from near and far for patrons to consult.

In addition to sharing news and gossip, coffeehouses were also places to conduct business. Merchants gathered to settle accounts in comfortable surroundings. Vendue sales or auctions also took place in coffeehouses. Noah Parker may have visited the Crown Coffeehouse to meet with associates interested in purchasing the various commodities he listed in his advertisement. Despite the atmosphere of gentility that Williams and other proprietors cultivated, coffeehouses were also sometimes the venue for buying and selling slaves. Although not as rowdy as taverns, coffeehouses were busy places for exchanging information and conducting business in the era of the Revolution.