April 16

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 16, 1768).

“To be SOLD … tea kettles, skillets, spiders, &c.”

This advertisement probably seems strange to many modern readers, especially the reference to “spiders” for sale. According to Alice Ross, the term “spider” refers to a “three-legged, long-handled frying pan” commonly used during the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.  The Oxford English Dictionary describes a spider as “a kind of frying-pan having legs and a long handle.” Until the kitchen stove came about, all cooking in a home was done on the only source of heat: the fireplace. The spider skillet’s legs allowed the user to place the cookware right on top of a burning fire. Before the cooking stove, cookware often had either legs or special rungs to hang pots over the fire. Given its function, most families with a hearth or fireplace most likely had a spider skillet. Ross notes that an advertisement published in the Pennsylvania Packet in 1790 mentioned spider skillets, but this advertisment demonstrates the use of spider skillets nearly a quarter century earlier. Although “spiders” are now unfamiliar to most consumers, they are still used for outdoor excursions, such as camping.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to spider skillets, Amos Atwell sold “a variety of other articles, of American and European manufacture” at his shop “On the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.”  A blacksmith as well as a retailer, Atwell likely made some of the items listed in his advertisement.

Yet he did not publish his notice solely for the purpose of selling goods.  He also indicated that he wished “to hire a journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Like other artisans who placed employment advertisements, Atwell stressed that he would consider candidates who “can be well recommended for virtue and sobriety,” but he was interested in more than just the credentials and reputation of any journeyman blacksmith that he might welcome into his shop.  Atwell sought assistance “extending this branch of American manufacture,” echoing a common theme from news reports published in the Providence Gazetteand throughout the colonies for the past several months.  Due to an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by new taxes levied by the Townshend Act, colonists had resolved to import fewer English goods in favor of consuming goods made in the colonies.  Meeting demand, however, required significantly increasing production in the colonies.  As an act of resistance, colonists pledged to promote domestic manufactures.

In hiring a journeyman “capable of extending this branch of American manufacture” Atwell signaled his stance to prospective consumers.  He was not the only advertiser in the April 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette who did so. In the same column as his notice, cutlers Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark proclaimed that they recently established their shop with the expectation of receiving “due Countenance from the Well-wishers to American Manufactures” during “a Time when the setting up and extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.”  Bucklin and Clark made their argument much more explicitly than Atwell did, perhaps priming readers to recognize the similar, yet more subtle, appeal made by the blacksmith.  Prospective customers should patronize his shop, Atwell implied, because he was heeding the call to increase American production and, in turn, reduce dependence on imported goods.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 15 - 4:15:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 15, 1768).

“A few Cask choice Jamaica Sugar & Coffee.”

It is without question that coffee is far more popular drink in the United States than tea, but this was not always the case. During the colonial period, tea was the more preferred caffeine-oriented commodity due to its easy preparation, yet this is not to say that the coffee industry was absent from American culture at the time. Colonists imported some of their coffee from Jamaica, but it was never indigenous to that island; instead, in 1728 Sir Nicholas Lawes brought it over from Haiti. Jamaica’s warm climate made coffee cultivation plentiful and profitable. Approximately 12 million pounds of coffee was exported during the colonial era, making the Jamaican trade one of the largest providers of coffee to the British Empire. Unlike the roasted coffee beans or grinds sold today, usually only the recently picked and pre-roasted coffee beans were sold in colonial America, meaning that the purchaser would have to the roasting, grinding and brewing themselves.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Coffee, tea, and chocolate comprised a trio of exotic hot beverages popular in colonial America.  Many colonists drank these beverages at home, but men also gathered in public venues to consume them together.  As Kurt notes, tea became the most popular of those drinks – and arguably the most emblematic of the early American experience – but the venues that served them were known as coffeehouses.  Like many other aspects of English culture, colonists transported the concept of the coffeehouse across the Atlantic.

Men gathered in coffeehouses for a variety of purposes.  Some conducted business at these establishments.  Merchants and other traders met to make deals and settle accounts over a hot cup of coffee.  Both New York and Philadelphia had a Merchants’ Coffee House prior to the American Revolution, the name suggesting the type of clientele each sought to attract. Customers also gathered to discuss news and politics.  To that end, the proprietors provided several amenities, especially newspapers and pamphlets for their clients to peruse.  In addition to local newspapers, they also subscribed to publications from other cities, broadening the array of sources available to their patrons.  News concerning politics spread as men in coffeehouses read newspapers from near and far, often aloud to their companions, and then discussed current events and editorial pieces, including the “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” that circulated in the wake of the Townshend Act. Merchants also visited coffeehouses to consult newspapers in hopes that the information they contained would guide them in making sound business decisions.

Yet men met at coffeehouses for reasons other than business and politics.  Coffeehouses were centers of sociability.  Customers gathered to converse with one another. As much as many of them liked to think of their discussions with friends and acquaintances as enlightened exchanges, they also tended to engage in gossip as well.  Women were excluded from coffeehouses, from conducting business, from discussing politics, from conversations that took place there, but that did not mean that one of the vices most frequently attributed to women – gossip – was absent from those homosocial spaces.  Men managed to trade stories, both fanciful and snide, without the influence of women, though they liked to pretend otherwise.

Coffee was more than a commodity sold for consumption within the household in eighteenth-century America.  Colonists also gathered in public spaces to drink this hot beverage together as they conducted business, debated politics, and socialized.  Like taverns, coffeehouses were important venues for exchanging information and ideas and, in turn, shaping American commerce and politics, in the era of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution.

Welcome, Guest Curator Kurt Falter

Kurt Falter is a senior majoring in History with minors in Education, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Political Science. His favorite topics of study are American history, twentieth-century world history, and American government. He serves as a history tutor at the Academic Support Center and co-leader of Candlelight Prayer at Assumption College. He has previously interned at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston, where he conducted a research project on the growing apathy of Americans towards government. His responsibilities also included leading tour groups.

Welcome, Kurt Falter!