What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Joshua Hacker … has two swift sailing small Sloops, which ply constantly between Providence and Newport.”
In the late 1760s Joshua Hacker provided ferry and freight service between Providence and Newport. His “two swift sailing small Sloops” competed with the “Stage-Boats” operated by Thomas and Benjamin Lindsey. That competition took place on the waterways but also on the pages of colonial newspapers. Hacker and the Lindseys both placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette, the terminus of their route. The Lindseys even updated their advertising to promote expanded services in order to compete with Hacker. In turn, Hacker countered by publishing his advertisement in an additional newspaper, widening the market of potential clients.
When it appeared in the February 1, 1768, edition of the Boston Post-Boy, Hacker’s advertisement included the same copy that ran in the Providence Gazette, from comments about the “exceeding good Accomodations for Passengers” to promoting his “ten Years” of experience” to listing prices for shipping all sorts of freight down to “A Box of Candles.” The version in the Boston Post-Boy did introduce the alternate spelling of “Accomodations,” but Hacker did not revise or abbreviate his lengthy advertisement before submitting it to Green and Russell for publication in their newspaper.
Providence and Newport were busy ports in the late 1760s, but Boston was an even larger and busier port. Hacker realized that many merchants and others who did business in Boston might also have cause to travel between Providence and Newport or transport goods between the two locations. Having established himself in Rhode Island and facing an increasingly aggressive rivalry with the Lindseys for local clients, he attempted to drum up new business from prospective customers in a nearby market that had not been recently exposed to his advertisements. The notice in the Boston Post-Boy may have been an attempt to gauge whether such efforts were worth the investment. If Hacker experienced increased business from residents of Boston he could consider placing advertisements in other newspapers, including the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette. On the other hand, if the advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy did not seem to yield additional clients Hacker could decide that advertising in other newspapers would not result in a sufficient return on the investment.