What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He continues to follow the Business of an INSURANCE-BROKER.”
Like many colonists who placed newspaper advertisements, John Benfield did not confine his notice in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to a single purpose. Instead, he divided it into two portions, advancing separate business enterprises. Benfield opened with a recitation standard in advertisements for consumer goods. He gave his location and promised low prices before listing the various goods, mostly spirits and grocery items, for sale at his store. In the second portion of the advertisement, complete with a manicule to attract the attention of readers, he described a service, insurance, he provided to merchants who owned ships that passed through the busy port of Charleston. While these very different endeavors may have merited separate advertisements, that Benfield choose to combine them in a single notice testifies to the close reading of newspapers, even the advertisements, undertaken in eighteenth-century America. Benfield did not devise a separate advertisement about insurance with a distinct headline because he expected prospective clients would take note of both portions of the combined advertisement.
That did not prevent him from making a case for why merchants and others in the market to purchase insurance should allow him to provide that service. He declared that he “continues to follow the Business of an INSURANCE-BROKER,” establishing that he had experience in that capacity. Furthermore, he made an appeal to price, just as he had done for the goods available at his shop. Benfield declared that “Vessels, which are known in this Province to be staunch and good, with their Cargoes, may be insured here on as low Terms as they are in England.” He offered the convenience of purchasing insurance locally rather than having to communicate over long distances with brokers on the other side of the Atlantic. At a time when many colonists encouraged the production and consumption of “domestic manufactures” as a means a means of reducing dependence on goods imported from England, Benfield offered an alternative for a product offered in the service sector. He did not explicitly make this argument, but he may have expected prospective clients to draw their own conclusions considering the rhetoric about nonimportation and domestic production throughout the colonies in the wake of the Townshend Acts. Certainly some readers would have made the connection without prompting from Benfield, especially after carefully perusing the other contents of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.