February 7

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

Feb 7 - 2:1:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 1, 1768).

“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.

November 14

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

Nov 14 - 11:14:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 14, 1767).

He has two swift-sailing small Sloops, which ply constantly between Providence and Newport.”

Readers of the Providence Gazette encountered two advertisements for ferries between Providence and Newport on the final page of the November 14 edition. The operators adopted different strategies in promoting their services. Thomas Lindsey and Benjamin Lindsey inserted a short, streamlined advertisement to announce that their “STAGE-BOATS … ply twice a Week … with GOODS and PASSENGERS.” They made a nod toward customer service, assuring prospective customers that they “may depend on being faithfully served,” and concluded with standard language about the “excellent Accommodations for Passengers.” They dressed up their advertisement with a woodcut of a ship, which likely attracted attention since it was the only image that accompanied an advertisement in the entire issue.

Joshua Hacker devised a much more extensive advertisement. Even without a woodcut, its length and the table of fees distinguished it visually from the other advertisements on the same page. Hacker elaborated on many of the marketing appeals made by the Lindseys; he also launched additional appeals intended to convince prospective clients to choose him over his competitors. While the Lindseys sailed twice a week, Hacker’s sloops “set off every Day … Wind and Weather permitting.” Instead of using formulaic phrases that consistently appeared in other advertisements offering passage, Hacker expanded on the “exceeding good Accommodations,” promising that passengers “can be as comfortable on board … as in their Parlours.” Hacker did not merely reiterate stock phrases used in advertisements throughout the colonies. He exerted additional effort in writing copy to make it resonate with potential customers.

He also incorporated additional justifications for selecting his business over others. Not only did he make an appeal to price – “the very cheapest rates” – he provided a list of more than a dozen specific rates, including nine pence for a single passenger, three shillings for a four-wheeled carriage, and three shillings for a barrel of cargo. To cultivate customers, he also offered some services gratis. He informed those who wished to ship goods between the two ports that “he hath a convenient Store for depositing such Goods,” a warehouse where they would be stored for free. Hacker also made an appeal to his long experience, noting that he had “for upwards of ten Years, carried on this Business.”

Neither the Lindseys nor Hacker merely announced that they operated ferry and freight service between Providence and Newport. Both advanced appeals intended to make their businesses attractive to prospective clients, yet their approaches differed significantly. The Lindseys relied on methods already in use by their counterparts who advertised similar services in other colonial ports. Hacker, however, offered a much more innovative advertisement that further developed existing marketing strategies.