February 27

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 27, 1767).

“LONDON, New-York, and other MADEIRA WINE, by the Pipe, Hogshead, Quarter Cask, or Dozen.”

Colonial Americans drank alcoholic beverages all the time and at any time they wanted. According to Ed Crews, colonists commonly had a drink for breakfast, brunch, lunch, pre-dinner snacking, during supper, and right before bed. Colonists enjoyed drinking at social events, work, and, even during studies at colleges. In fact, Crews reports, in 1639 Nathaniel Eaton, the President at Harvard College at the time, “lost his job” when he did not provide enough beer for students and staff. Alcohol was a wonder drink believed to have many beneficial properties ranging from warming the body, making people stronger, aiding the sick, and generally causing people to have a good time.

Today’s notice advertised the sale of a variety of wines and spirits imported from across the Atlantic, including Madeira, Port, Burgundy, Claret, and Brandy, as well as Jamaican Rum from the Caribbean. Colonists had a variety of different drinks they preferred, including mixers called Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle, Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip, and just as many names for being drunk.

Wine, rum, and whiskey were favored drinks among the colonists, with rum being king amongst the common man. Elites imported wine, especially Jefferson who loved French wine and attempted to produce wine in America, a failed endeavor. George Washington, on the other hand, owned and operated a private whiskey distillery on his property at Mt. Vernon.

American colonists consumed a large variety of alcoholic beverages for various occasions and at times throughout the day, with wine, rum, and whiskey being especially favorite drinks.

For more on “Drinking in Colonial America,” see Ed Crews’ article on the Colonial Williamsburg website.



Cunningham and Sands, purveyors of all sorts of alcohol, emphasized quality and service in their advertisement. Whether customers purchased any of a dozen different varieties of wine or instead opted for rum from Jamaica and other locales in the West Indies, all were “warranted to be excellent in Quality.” This was possible because Cunningham and Sands took “the greatest Care” in choosing which wines and rum to import and sell, implying a certain level of expertise on their part. They also took great care in “the Management” of the wines they stocked, suggesting that they were shipped and stored under the best conditions in order to avoid any sort of contamination or turning. Cunningham and Sands implied that they knew wine as well as artisans knew their trades.

In terms of service, the partners offered several options to potential customers interested in obtaining their products. Consumers could visit Cunningham and Sands at one of two locations in Charleston, either “at their Counting-House fronting the Bay, on Mr. Burn’s new Wharf, or at their Store in Union-street.” Realizing that not all readers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette – and prospective customers – resided in the Charleston or had easy access to either of their two locations, Cunningham and Sands also announced that “All Orders from the Country will be punctually complied with.” In effect, they offered mail order service! They apparently believed this convenience would attract customers. Not only did they include it in their advertisements, they also drew special attention to it by inserting it as a separate nota bene rather than including it in the paragraph of dense text that detailed the other aspects of quality and service they provided. (Whether Cunningham and Sands or the printer decided that the nota bene should be printed in italics is much more difficult to determine. Advertisers generally wrote their own copy and printers generally made decisions about layout, but occasionally advertisers exercised some influence over format.)

Sam notes that Americans consumed a fair amount of alcohol and enjoyed various sorts of wines and spirits. Today’s advertisement reveals some of the options available to them as well as part of the process involved in shopping for these items.

December 21

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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 20, 1766).


Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 20, 1766).

“A fresh and general Assortment of Drugs and Medicines.”

Thomas Bridgen Attwood and Edward Agar both sold patent medicines recently imported from London, but the competitors advanced different strategies for attracting customers in their advertisements. Readers of the December 20, 1766, supplement to the New-York Journal encountered notices from both druggists in the center column on the second page, separated by only three other advertisements.

Like many shopkeepers, Agar provided a partial list of his merchandise, hoping to entice potential customers interested in particular products. Among “numberless other articles in the medicinal way,” Agar carried a dozen patent medicines that he mentioned by name: “DR. James’s fever powders, Hill’s pectoral balsam of honey, … Turlington’s balsam, Greenough’s tincture for the teeth, Lockyer’s pills, Anderson’s [pills]; Dr. Ward’s essence for the head-ach, Bateman’s drops, Stoughton’s bitters, Daffy’s elixir, Godfrey’s cordial; … [and] Dr. Ryan’s sugar plumbs for worms.” Colonists would have recognized each of these, just as modern consumers associate particular brands with specific symptoms and remedies.

Attwood depended on that familiarity, refraining from inserting any sort of list. Instead, in a separate paragraph (headed with a manicule to draw attention to it), he promised “The most approved patented Medicines, warranted genuine, from the Original Warehouses.” His advertisement appeared just below Agar’s, making any sort of list unnecessary since his competitor already named many of the most popular eighteenth-century patent medicines. However, even without such fortuitous placement of the two notices, Attwood could have depended on potential customers’ ability to identify a variety of medicines and makers on their own. He chose instead to focus on the services that he provided, including compounding new prescriptions and filling “Country Orders” from those who contacted him by letter rather than visiting his shop.

In general, Agar emphasized selection while Attwood accentuated service. The druggists found common ground when they each promised low prices, one of the most common appeals made to consumers in eighteenth-century advertising. Attwood, more economical in his use of words, pledged to “Sell at the very lowest prices, wholesale and retale.” Agar, the more verbose of the two, stoutly proclaimed that he sold imported patent medicines “on the lowest terms they can possibly be afforded by any one in America.” Which swayed potential customers? Agar’s extravagant assertions about his prices? Or Attwood’s variety of consumer-centered services?

July 5

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

Jul 5 - 7:4:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 4, 1766).

“I have settled … in Henrico county, where I purpose to carry on the FULLING business.”

Mathew Dick, a fuller, used an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette to announce that he had just set up shop in Henrico county. Dated July 1, his notice appeared in the next issue of the Virginia Gazette. Although his “FULLING business” was a new establishment, Dick relied on many of the advertising appeals that were commonly deployed in the eighteenth century, reassuring potential customers that he knew his craft and could provide quality service.

He opened with appeals to quality and price, promising that he did his work “in the best and cheapest manner ever done in this colony.” That last bit – “ever done in this colony” – was a bit of hyperbole that underscored his confidence and dared potential customers to give him a chance and see for themselves if his work lived up to the advertisement. In addition, all the equipment and supplies were prepared “in the best order.”

He also offered some words of wisdom specific to his occupation, again reassuring potential customers of his expertise even though he operated a new establishment. “[T]he wool from the neck and shoulders is the best for the finest cloth,” he lectured. Furthermore, “all woolen cloth should be wove at least 5 quarters wide.” Dick knew his business and used his advertisement to testify to the fact.

Finally, Dick promised excellent customer service. He offered two different locations where customers could drop off the fabric they wanted him to process. He would see to it that their orders were fulfilled “in the neatest manner” and as quickly as possible, but not at the expense of deviating from their instructions. Dick fulled cloth to his customers’ specifications and satisfaction: “their directions most punctually observed and followed.”

Dick’s fulling mill may have been new, but he leveraged multiple appeals in his advertisement to demonstrate that he knew his craft and potential customers could depend on him.

April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:28:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (April 28, 1766).

“May depend on having their commands executed with expedition, and in the neatest manner.”

Breechesmaker John Baster understood the importance of customer service, and he wanted potential customers to know that he would treat them well if they called on him. He promised that his clients “may depend on having their commands executed with expedition, and in the neatest matter.” In other words, he did the job quickly but well, not sacrificing quality for speed.

In choosing to use the word “commands” rather than “orders” or “instructions,” he also established the relationship between artisan and customer. Whether elite, middling, or more humble, all customers could expect deference from Baster throughout their commercial interaction, regardless of their relative status and relationship to each other beyond his shop at the Sign of the Buck and Breeches.

Baster thanked former customers for their patronage (letting potential customers know that others had visited his shop) before stating that he “only requests the continuance of it, no longer than he makes it his study to please.” This convoluted passage was the eighteenth-century method of assuring customers that he understood that if he failed to offer good customer service that he realized that they would seek out other breechesmakers. Not only did he realize that was the case, he expected it.

Customer service is a major aspect of running a retail enterprise today, but colonial Americans understood its value as well, though they may have expressed it differently.