May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 16, 1767)

“Customers coming from the Westward, may save both Time and Shoe-Leather by calling at their aforesaid Shops.”

Playful patter was not usually part of eighteenth-century advertisements, but James Brown and Benoni Pearce needed to do something to compensate for the location of their shops “On the West Side of the Great-Bridge … in Providence.” That put them beyond the center of the small city, founded on the east side of the basin created by the confluence of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers. A map drawn by a British military surveyor, published in London in 1777, shows that Providence primarily stretched along the east side of the basin. This included a fort and the college (now Brown University). However, some colonists built homes and businesses on the west side of the basin. The Great Bridge, first constructed in 1711 and widened in 1744, connected one side of basin to the other.

May 16 - Detail of Map
Detail of Charles Blaskowitz, A Topographical Chart of the Bay of Narraganset in the Province of New England (London: Engraved and Printed for William Faden, 1777). Courtesy Library of Congress.

Realizing that many of their competitors were clustered along the streets on the east side, Brown and Pearce decided to promote their location as a convenience for some of the readers of the Providence Gazette. Especially for those who resided beyond the small port, the shopkeepers “think that their Customers coming from the Westward, may save both Time and Shoe-Leather by calling at their aforesaid Shops.” There was no need to cross the Great Bridge! Doing so, the shopkeepers slyly hinted, wasted valuable time and resources when they could simply choose from among the “neat Assortment of GOODS, suitable for the Season” that Brown and Pearce stocked in their shops. At the same time, the shopkeepers did not want their neighbors to the east to feel unwelcome. They pledged that “those on the other Side, will be well paid for crossing the Pavements, and be kindly received and well used.” It was a waste of time (and shoe leather!) to cross the bridge to visit the shops to the east, but well worth the time to cross in the opposite direction. Other virtues, including good service and a kind reception, more than made up for any inconvenience or extra time spent reaching their shops.

The banter in Brown and Pearce’s advertisement made it memorable. They did not consider it necessary to enumerate their assortment of goods or make detailed promises about low prices. Instead, they let their affable demeanor do the work of attracting customers to “the West Side of the Great-Bridge” to do their shopping.