February 7

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

Feb 7 - 2:1:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 1, 1768).

“Joshua Hacker … has two swift sailing small Sloops, which ply constantly between Providence and Newport.”

In the late 1760s Joshua Hacker provided ferry and freight service between Providence and Newport. His “two swift sailing small Sloops” competed with the “Stage-Boats” operated by Thomas and Benjamin Lindsey. That competition took place on the waterways but also on the pages of colonial newspapers. Hacker and the Lindseys both placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette, the terminus of their route. The Lindseys even updated their advertising to promote expanded services in order to compete with Hacker. In turn, Hacker countered by publishing his advertisement in an additional newspaper, widening the market of potential clients.

When it appeared in the February 1, 1768, edition of the Boston Post-Boy, Hacker’s advertisement included the same copy that ran in the Providence Gazette, from comments about the “exceeding good Accomodations for Passengers” to promoting his “ten Years” of experience” to listing prices for shipping all sorts of freight down to “A Box of Candles.” The version in the Boston Post-Boy did introduce the alternate spelling of “Accomodations,” but Hacker did not revise or abbreviate his lengthy advertisement before submitting it to Green and Russell for publication in their newspaper.

Providence and Newport were busy ports in the late 1760s, but Boston was an even larger and busier port. Hacker realized that many merchants and others who did business in Boston might also have cause to travel between Providence and Newport or transport goods between the two locations. Having established himself in Rhode Island and facing an increasingly aggressive rivalry with the Lindseys for local clients, he attempted to drum up new business from prospective customers in a nearby market that had not been recently exposed to his advertisements. The notice in the Boston Post-Boy may have been an attempt to gauge whether such efforts were worth the investment. If Hacker experienced increased business from residents of Boston he could consider placing advertisements in other newspapers, including the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette. On the other hand, if the advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy did not seem to yield additional clients Hacker could decide that advertising in other newspapers would not result in a sufficient return on the investment.

July 3

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

Jul 3 - 7:3:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 3, 1767).

A Passage-Boat fitted in the best Manner for the Reception of Passengers.”

Samuel Beebe and Ebenezer Webb were competitors. Both operated a ferry service, or “Passage-Boat,” between New London, Connecticut, and Long Island, New York, but they did not follow the same route. In his advertisement, which appeared immediately above Beebe’s notice, Webb allowed that “Passengers may be landed on any Part of the East End of the Island,” but then claimed that “Sterling is preferable for a Landing Place.” Beebe, who delivered passengers to Oyster Point Pond at the easternmost tip of Long Island, disagreed. “Passengers, by being landed on the East End,” he argued, “saves more Time than the Distance between there and Sterling.” Beebe admitted that his passengers disembarked at a location farther from New York than if they sailed to Sterling with Webb, but there were other factors that they needed to take into account. “[F]or while a Boat is beating Seven Miles to windward,” Beebe explained, “a Traveler may go Twenty Miles on Shore.” Travelers needed to be well-informed and discerning about the relative advantages of transport via land versus over sea. Webb pointed out that by taking his ferry passengers “must save 50 Miles” compared to traveling only by land around Long Island Sound, but Beebe countered that sometimes traveling by land might be the faster option, especially since “a level plain Road” ran the 120 miles between Oyster Point Pond and New York.

Although Beebe and Webb focused primarily the advantages of their route, both enhanced their advertisements by mentioning other amenities to attract potential clients. In so doing, they marketed transportation services as a travel experience. They invited customers to consider the overall package, not just the route. Webb, for example, delivered copies of the New-London Gazette to subscribers on Long Island. When Beebe began advertising that “he keeps a House of Entertainment for Man and Horse” at Oyster Point Pond, an establishment where “Gentleman Travellers may be well used,” Webb updated his advertisement with a final note that “Good Entertainment for Travellers may be had at the Subscriber’s House.” Both indicated that their ferries operated “Wind and Weather permitting.” Should acts of nature delay departures, passengers could depend on comfortable lodgings while they waited. Time, distance, and comfort all played a role in convincing travelers which “Passage-Boat” to sail.

October 5

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

oct-5-1041766-new-london-gazette
New-London Gazette (October 3, 1766).

“A Passage Boat … is now Established between Long-Island and New-London.”

A “Passage Boat” between New London, Connecticut, and Long Island, New York, was a quicker way of travelling than by over land. Ebenezer Webb pointed out that passengers would save fifty miles when they traveled to New York. Webb also developed a schedule and a system of rates, which allowed passengers to be able to plan their passage. Printing the schedule in an advertisement allowed prospective customers to save it if needed for future reference. Webb also made sure to include where he could be found at both locations; he gave the locations of the taverns and which days he would be in what area.   He also let potential customers know that if they would like to become customers of the New-London Gazette, he would drop them off on any of the islands off the coast of Long Island. Those islands included Shelter Island, Plum Island, and Gardiners Island. Another courtesy that passengers in Sterling could enjoy was a “Ferry-Boat” for carrying them to Shelter Island. Webb listed three different rates, which needed to be paid in New York currency. The different rates included “Man and Horse” for eight shillings, a “single Passenger” for three shillings, and for “Packs or Bundles” of goods it depended on their weight.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Today’s advertisement provides important information about ferry service between Connecticut and Long Island during the colonial period, reminding us that the most efficient forms of travel in the eighteenth century differed from modern conveniences made possible by a much more complex transportation infrastructure. As Elizabeth notes, colonists who needed to travel from New London to New York could shave fifty miles off their journey, plus benefit from “the excellent Road on the Island,” if they opted for Webb’s “Passage Boat” service rather than traveling via a land route. In comparison, ferry service today does not seem to offer the same advantages, given the conveniences of travel by car, bus, and train.

I found the final portion of this advertisement to be especially interesting for what it suggests about the business practices and distribution of the New-London Gazette. Webb noted that he would deliver the newspaper to “Those Person on any of the Islands that encline to become Customers.” Despite the distance between New London and those islands (and their separation by Long Island Sound), the New-London Gazette would have been a local newspaper for residents of the islands, at least as much of a local newspaper as those printed in New York. The printer of the New-London Gazette certainly welcomed opportunities to increase distribution to paying subscribers and would have approved of Webb’s efforts to deliver newspapers to Shelter Island and other locales. Given that they were associates in that regard, might the printer have given Webb a discount on advertisements for the ferry service? After all, Webb’s success could also drum up additional business for the New-London Gazette, a mutually beneficial relationship.