October 30


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

Massachusetts Gazette (October 30, 1766).

“Madeira Fish.”

In this advertisement certain types of fish were being sold: “Madeira Fish” and “Jamaica Fish.”

What drove me to pick this advertisement? I was interested in where these fish came from and how they show the vast networks of trade the colonies are involved in. At the time Jamaica was under British rule; however, Madeira was (and continues to be) an archipelago in the eastern Atlantic that belongs to Portugal. I found this quite interesting since before this I had never heard of Madeira and found it intriguing that the island traded with the New England colonies.

T.H. Breen notes that economic growth of colonial America was not just due to the exporting of goods from the colonies but also consumption thanks to the importation of new goods.[1] These fish are prime examples of this. Breen argued that colonists were not as self-sufficient as later historians claimed. They imported food, like “Madeira Fish” and “Jamaica Fish,” to supplement what they produced themselves. This also showed a taste or craving for goods rather than the common fish from the area.



Ceara rightly notes that this relatively plain advertisement reveals transatlantic networks of commerce. Despite the rich fishing grounds of the North Atlantic, colonists imported and consumed fish from Madeira and the Caribbean, diversifying their diets.

Even as this advertisement conjured an imaginative map of trade throughout the Atlantic, it also oriented colonists toward London, the center of the British Empire. The anonymous purveyor of “Madeira Fish” and “Jamaica Fish” gave few directions to the shop where customers could acquire these fish: “Enquire at the Crown and Sceptre in Back street.” This shop sign invoked two symbols of royal authority. The proprietor could have selected from among countless other devices to mark the location of this shop but chose a sign that asserted allegiance to the king and the British nation. Furthermore, the proprietor continued to display this particular shop sign even after the Stamp Act controversy and the Declaratory Act. Three days earlier, William Murray published an advertisement in the supplement to the Boston Evening-Post, an advertisement that listed his location as “at the Sign of General Wolfe.” Murray associated his shop with the English hero killed at the Battle of Quebec during the Seven Years War. Both Murray and the anonymous proprietor at the “Crown and Sceptre” promoted British identity as integral to their own commercial identities. They also expected this would resonate with potential customers. Elsewhere in the same issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, however, John Gore, Jr., stated that he sold goods imported from London “Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BOSTON.”

These advertisements reveal a tension that began to emerge in advertisements and elsewhere during the 1760s as colonists contemplated how to organize the spatial geography of urban ports in light of their evolving relationship with Britain. Many continued to put great stock in their British identity and membership in the empire, despite new regulations passed by Parliament, but others used new symbols to define their businesses and their relationship to England.


[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 478-485.

April 7

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Apr 7 - 4:7:1766 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (April 7, 1766).

“A Quantity of choice Jamaica FISH to be Sold.”

Trade was, of course, a crucial part of colonial life. Since the colonists could not grow and produce everything they needed, the colonies traded the products they did make for items produced elsewhere, such and sugar, tea, and coffee. Most of their trade was with Britain and British colonies.

This is where Jamaica comes in. It is peculiar to me that Boston would import fish from Jamaica, when New England is known for its seafood as well. However, I think this import has much to do with trade with England. As Jamaica was an English colony, Britain regulated its imports and exports, as it did with the American colonies. Trade between the colonies was not uncommon. Also, even though New England was known for its seafood, the exotic appeal of “Jamaica FISH” could have been strong as well. It would have been a change to receive fish from elsewhere within the British Empire instead of having fish from New England all the time.



Today’s advertisement is very brief compared to the one Maia selected for yesterday. In general, it is shorter than most of the other advertisements in the same issue of the Boston-Gazette. It also appeared as nearly the last item in that issue. Only a two-line advertisements for a “Wet Nurse with a good Breast of Milk” and the colophon (“Boston, Printed by EDES & GILL, in Queen-Street. 1766.”) followed Samuel Hughes’s notice that he sold “A Quantity of choice Jamaica FISH.”

In length and placement, this advertisement likely did not garner the same attention as yesterday’s advertisement for a political pamphlet that appeared at the top of the first page alongside political news. Still, the advertiser and the printer included some features intended to attract the attention of potential customers, making it more than just a bland commercial notice.

Samuel Hughes made an appeal to quality when he described the fish as “choice.” Throughout the eighteenth century, appeals to price and quality were among those most frequently deployed by advertisers. The printers varied the size and style of the font, putting “Jamaica” and “Samuel Hughes” in italics and capitalizing “FISH.” Ornamental type separated this advertisement from those that appeared above and below.

Apr 7 - Final Adverts
Final items that appeared in this issue of the Boston-Gazette (April 7, 1766).

By today’s standards, this advertisement may not appear especially engaging. It lacks the proverbial bells and whistles that we associate with marketing in the modern world. Yet it helps to demonstrate the evolution of advertising. Compare it to the advertisements that appeared in the Boston News-Letter fifty years earlier. Today’s advertisement may look rather stark to our eyes, but it showed evidence of innovation in the eighteenth century.

Apr 7 - Adverts 4:2:1716 Boston News-Letter
The entire advertising section of an issue of the Boston News-Letter (April 2, 1716).