April 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 15 - 4:15:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 15, 1768).

“A few Cask choice Jamaica Sugar & Coffee.”

It is without question that coffee is far more popular drink in the United States than tea, but this was not always the case. During the colonial period, tea was the more preferred caffeine-oriented commodity due to its easy preparation, yet this is not to say that the coffee industry was absent from American culture at the time. Colonists imported some of their coffee from Jamaica, but it was never indigenous to that island; instead, in 1728 Sir Nicholas Lawes brought it over from Haiti. Jamaica’s warm climate made coffee cultivation plentiful and profitable. Approximately 12 million pounds of coffee was exported during the colonial era, making the Jamaican trade one of the largest providers of coffee to the British Empire. Unlike the roasted coffee beans or grinds sold today, usually only the recently picked and pre-roasted coffee beans were sold in colonial America, meaning that the purchaser would have to the roasting, grinding and brewing themselves.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Coffee, tea, and chocolate comprised a trio of exotic hot beverages popular in colonial America.  Many colonists drank these beverages at home, but men also gathered in public venues to consume them together.  As Kurt notes, tea became the most popular of those drinks – and arguably the most emblematic of the early American experience – but the venues that served them were known as coffeehouses.  Like many other aspects of English culture, colonists transported the concept of the coffeehouse across the Atlantic.

Men gathered in coffeehouses for a variety of purposes.  Some conducted business at these establishments.  Merchants and other traders met to make deals and settle accounts over a hot cup of coffee.  Both New York and Philadelphia had a Merchants’ Coffee House prior to the American Revolution, the name suggesting the type of clientele each sought to attract. Customers also gathered to discuss news and politics.  To that end, the proprietors provided several amenities, especially newspapers and pamphlets for their clients to peruse.  In addition to local newspapers, they also subscribed to publications from other cities, broadening the array of sources available to their patrons.  News concerning politics spread as men in coffeehouses read newspapers from near and far, often aloud to their companions, and then discussed current events and editorial pieces, including the “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” that circulated in the wake of the Townshend Act. Merchants also visited coffeehouses to consult newspapers in hopes that the information they contained would guide them in making sound business decisions.

Yet men met at coffeehouses for reasons other than business and politics.  Coffeehouses were centers of sociability.  Customers gathered to converse with one another. As much as many of them liked to think of their discussions with friends and acquaintances as enlightened exchanges, they also tended to engage in gossip as well.  Women were excluded from coffeehouses, from conducting business, from discussing politics, from conversations that took place there, but that did not mean that one of the vices most frequently attributed to women – gossip – was absent from those homosocial spaces.  Men managed to trade stories, both fanciful and snide, without the influence of women, though they liked to pretend otherwise.

Coffee was more than a commodity sold for consumption within the household in eighteenth-century America.  Colonists also gathered in public spaces to drink this hot beverage together as they conducted business, debated politics, and socialized.  Like taverns, coffeehouses were important venues for exchanging information and ideas and, in turn, shaping American commerce and politics, in the era of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution.

December 1

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

dec-1-1211766-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (December 1, 1766).

“A Parcel of choice JAMAICA SUGARS.”

Since this advertisement from the December 1, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post advertised Jamaican sugar I decided to focus on the plantations the English established in the Caribbean. England was in the race to become the most important economic power in Europe. In order to do that England needed colonies, including Jamaica (taken from the Spanish in 1655), to produce of one of the most popular staple crops.

For this goal plantations needed a large labor force. At first the Spanish utilized natives of the area and African slaves. European diseases became a problem for plantation owners as Indian populations dwindled. Later, English planters also found it difficult to persuade indentured servants to work in the harsh environment so by the end of the seventeenth century they focused on primarily using enslaved Africans because they were able to acquire more of them. The demand for African laborers also rose because they too were dying from diseases and the conditions they worked under. According to the British National Archives, between 1702 and 1808 around “840,000 Africans were shipped to Jamaica and a further 100,000 imported into Virginia and Chesapeake.” Overall, around “four million slaves were brought to the Caribbean, and almost all ended up on the sugar plantations.”

The constant demand for sugar in the colonies as well as England itself drove up the need for African slaves in the Caribbean. Since the cost for slaves was low, planters were able to produce more sugar, which in turn drove down the cost. Boston did not have as many slaves as other parts of the colonies, but readers of the Boston Evening-Post who purchased “choice JAMAICA SUGARS” were part of an economy that depended on slavery.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph Russell was a busy auctioneer. He was also a busy advertiser. Nick has selected one of three advertisements Russell placed in the December 1, 1766, issue of the Boston Evening-Post. The printers grouped the three advertisements together at the top of the third and final column on the third page.

dec-1-1211766-consecutive-adverts-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (December 1, 1766).

The first announced an auction to be held “TO-MORROW,” December 2. Given how soon that auction was slated to take place, “TO-MORROW” appeared in a larger font than anything else in any of Russell’s advertisements. Only one other advertisement on the same and the facing page included font that large: shopkeeper Richard Salter’s name in his advertisement for imported goods. As a result, Russell’s advertisement likely caught readers’ eyes and demanded their attention. The large font gave his impending auction the sense of urgency required to attract prospective bidders in the final hours before the vendue began. The advertisement named a series of goods nearly identical to those listed in Russell’s advertisement that appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette three days earlier (featured earlier this week). It repeated ancillary material verbatim, including a nota bene announcing that “Goods are daily selling off at private Sale at the above Auction-Room, VERY CHEAP.”

Russell’s second advertisement promoted the auction of “choice JAMAICA SUGARS” to take place “On THURSDAY next 4th of December,” the advertisement that Nick selected to examine today. Russell’s final advertisement previewed an auction scheduled to take place a week after that, “On THURSDAY the 11th Instant.” At that time, Russell planned to sell different sorts of merchandise than what appeared in either of the other two advertisements: “A great Variety of genteel House Furniture” and “Glass and China Ware.”

In these advertisements Russell used time to his advantage in three different ways. In the first, he created a sense of urgency. The auction was imminent. Readers needed to make plans to attend or risk being shut out of the deals. However, those unable to make it to that auction could still shop at their leisure, as the nota bene about goods “daily selling off at private Sale” made clear. In the latter two advertisements, he advised the public of upcoming auctions with sufficient time to generate interest. Potential buyers had plenty of time to envision bidding on “Mahogany Tables, Looking Glasses,” and other furnishings, perhaps imagining the deals they might get at auction. Depending on their personalities, readers would have reacted to each use of time in different ways. Some would have been more susceptible to the excitement of an impending auction. Others would have responded better to planning for a vendue more than a week away or shopping at their convenience in “the Auction Room in Queen-Street.” Russell creatively deployed all three strategies to attract as many potential consumers as possible.

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.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

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).

February 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Feb 2 - 1:31:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 31, 1766)

“A few Hogsheads of good MOLASSES and Jamaican SUGAR.  Also a few ANCHORS.”

What interested me about this advertisement was the trade connection with Jamaica. Jamaica was, at the time, a colony of the empire of Great Britain, and yet it does not seem that the North American colonies want to break trade with Jamaica, and understandably so. Goods from Jamaica were valued because of the inability to grow them in most of the colonies. Sugar was an especially popular import. People used sugar for cooking, baking, and for sweetening their tea. Sugar was an integral part of the colonists’ way of life.

I was also intrigued that the advertiser sold anchors along with the two sweet goods. It seemed out of place in the advertisement. Yet there was a place for anchors in colonial society. Merchants and fisherman, depending on the state of their anchors, would need to replace them. Furthermore, those new to seafaring would need to purchase anchors for their vessels.

Again, it is interesting that this colonial vendor chose to sell in two different categories, and yet they were profitable categories.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Maia has selected an advertisement that testifies to the networks of exchange and commerce that crisscrossed the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. In noting that Jamaica was a British colony at the time (captured by the English from Spain more than a century earlier in 1655 and formally ceded to the British in 1670), she demonstrates an understanding of an extensive and integrated British empire that takes some students by surprise when they first enroll in early American history courses. The history of the colonial era and the founding of the nation cannot be told by exclusively focusing on the thirteen colonies on mainland North America and their interactions with England. Instead, as this advertisement indicates, colonial Americans consumed goods produced in other British colonies. But these were more than just commercial interactions; in the process of trading with each other they also shared news, ideas, and culture.

Historians continue to debate what/where/who constituted early America. Today’s advertisement argues for a Vast Early America and encourages a broad conception – and that’s before even taking into account who labored to produce “Jamaican SUGAR” for colonists’ consumption. The history of slavery and its connections to consumption lie just under the surface of this commercial notice.