March 25

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 25 - 3:24:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (March 24, 1766).

“Just imported in the Cornelia, Capt. Harvey, (via New-York) …”

This advertisement by merchant John Dockray caught my attention because of the fact that the goods came to the colonies via New York City before being sold in Newport, Rhode Island. The Cornelia, commanded by Capt. Harvey, was the ship that brought Dockray’s merchandise to New York. At this time Newport, itself a bustling port, was still smaller in size and population compared to New York or Boston.

The advertisement lists many different everyday goods for everyday people. Dockray clearly characterized these goods as “WINTER GOODS,” the uppercase letters and the placement made that the prominent and eye-catching feature. Due to the fact that it was March, colonists’ winter stores would be getting low as the season came to an end. With spring arriving soon, people would be getting ready for planting, farming, and other occupations.

Dockray also said that the store was attached to his house, which allowed for easy management and control.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth’s final observation, that Dockray operated his business in “his Store adjoining to his House,” allows us to further consider some of the ramifications of the work that she did yesterday when she located the general area where several colonists sold their wares using addresses from newspaper advertisements and trade cards in combination with maps of Boston from the period.

John Dockray’s situation was not unique. In yesterday’s featured advertisement Elizabeth Clark announced that she sold seeds “At her Shop near the Mill Bridge, BOSTON.” Clark most likely resided at the same location. In the featured advertisement from two days ago, William Symonds indicated that he sold his wares “at his house, the corner of Market and Second streets, opposite the Quaker Meeting-house” in Philadelphia. In the portion of the advertisement devoted to Mary Symonds’s millinery business, she reiterated that her merchandise was “in the corner shop in said house.”

Colonial Americans who lived in urban ports – like Newport, Boston, and Philadelphia – often tended to work at the same location where they lived, whether shopkeepers or artisans, unlike today’s practice of residing at one location and working elsewhere. An artisan’s workshop, for instance, might be on the first floor of the domicile, with the family residing upstairs. Or portions of a house could have been set aside for running a shop, as was the case with Mary Symonds.

As a result, the addresses included in colonial advertisements help us to reconstruct more than just the commercial landscape of early American cities and towns. In many instances they also tell us where a variety of people lived, helping us to better understand who lived in which neighborhoods and what kinds of relationships – social as well as economic – developed there.