September 11

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

Sep 11 - 9:11:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 11, 1767).


Some newspaper advertisements presented consumers with lengthy lists of manufactured goods imported from England, but others promoted foods and beverages that originated in places outside Britain’s global empire. In the September 11, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall announced that they sold “Choice … WINES” imported from islands in the eastern Atlantic. Madeira and Fayal wines came from Portuguese outposts. Madeira, a fortified wine, derived its name from the main island in the Madeira archipelago. Fayal (an English variation of Faial) wines came from one of the islands in the central group of the Azores, an archipelago consisting of nine islands. Tenerife wines came from the largest of the seven Canary Islands, conquered and colonized by Spain. In consuming wines from Madeira, Tenerife, and Fayal, colonists participated in vibrant networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic. Such networks often crossed imperial boundaries, even as nation-states attempted to enforce mercantilist policies.

Given that the Saltonstalls advertised these wines in the public prints, they most likely had imported them legally. Yet a variety of commodities – sugar, molasses, rum, foodstuffs, and wine – found their way to colonial markets via smuggling. “The case of wine is a good example,” according to David Hancock. “Not just in war but also in peace, the varieties and amounts of wine available in British America were greater than those allowed by law and recorded at the customs house.”[1] As the Saltonstalls’ advertisement suggests, colonists could identify many types of wine and made associations with their places of origin. Just as they were accustomed to extensive choices when it came to textiles and housewares, they expected wine merchants to present an assortment so they could make their own selections. Without going into elaborate detail, the Saltonstalls listed three different wines to signal the diversity of their stock to prospective customers.

[1] David Hancock, “Rethinking The Economy of British America,” in The Economy of Early America: Historical Perspectives and New Directions, ed. Cathy Matson (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 81.

November 13

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 13, 1766).


In this advertisement published in the New-York Journal, Thomas Doughty offered a lot of different beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, for sale in his shop on Dock Street. What caught my eye was that Madeira wine was the only drink listed with a description: “old.”

After researching the history of Madeira wine, I discovered that it was created specifically to withstand long travels overseas when it would be shipped to other countries. Steven Grasse, author of Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History, writes, “The idea – and what made Madeira so durable and, in turn, beloved by early Americans – is that the wine is essentially spoiled, professionally and on purpose.”[1] Madeira wine was advertised as being old, because that’s what it was known for: never going bad despite the passing of time.

Madeira wine was a favorite drink amongst colonists. Grasse writes that although Madeira was a more expensive item, it was still very popular in British North America. “Madeira wasn’t cheap. Common people wouldn’t have drunk it – or, at least, not often – but that didn’t stop it from becoming part and parcel of the story of the American Revolution.”[2] Grasse goes on to say that Madeira became a leading import during the Revolution.[3] Madeira was a favorite choice of colonists because it kept constant quality over long periods of time.



In addition to “Madeira Wine,” Thomas Doughty sold “sundry other Articles of Grocery” imported from faraway places. To help potential customers navigate his advertisement he grouped similar items together: first alcoholic beverages, hot drinks (tea, coffee, and chocolate) next, then sugars followed by fruits and spices, and finally tobacco. That he listed alcohol first indicates which products he believed would attract readers’ attention and prompt them to peruse the rest of the goods he offered for sale.

Mary has examined the origins of Madeira, a wine that may be less familiar to modern readers than the rum, port, and wines Doughty hawked in his advertisement. He also sold another spirit that remains very popular today, Holland Geneva, though it is now commonly known as gin (which is a corruption of the word “Geneva”). Originally produced in Holland, gin almost immediately became one of the most popular drinks when it was introduced in England, especially after William and Mary assumed the throne. It had a reputation for being both inexpensive and strong.

Each of the alcoholic beverages in Doughty’s advertisement was either named after its place of origin (Madeira and Holland Geneva) or included a place in their description (“Lisbon Red Port,” “Tenriffe Wines,” “Jamaica Spirits,” and “West-India Rum”). Modern consumers certainly still identify their potent potables by their place of origin, but for colonists that was not merely a means of making distinctions of quality or reputation or other attributes. In addition, they also thought about the networks of trade and commerce that brought alcoholic beverages to British mainland North America from Portugal and its island outposts in the eastern Atlantic, the Netherlands, and the Caribbean. The range of alcohols and groceries items in Doughty’s advertisement demonstrates that colonists participated in transatlantic and global networks of trade during the eighteenth century.


[1] Steven A. Grasse, Colonial Spirits: A Toast to our Drunken History (New York: Abrams, 2016), 74.

[2] Grasse, Colonial Spirits, 75.

[3] Grasse, Colonial Spirits, 75.



May 22

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

May 22 - 5:22:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 22, 1766).

“MADEIRA, Fyall and Lisbon Wine, by the Quarter Cask, Dozen, or lesser Quantity.”

In the 1760s many advertisements announced that merchants and shopkeepers sold an assortment of goods recently imported from London and other locations throughout England and the British Empire. Cornelia Smith’s advertisement, however, demonstrates that colonists participated in a transatlantic and increasingly global network of exchange that extended beyond the holdings of any single nation-state or empire. An array of foods, raw materials, and finished goods moved around and among extensive empires. Consumers regularly purchased merchandise from exotic and faraway places.

May 22 - Madeira Map
Map showing location of Madeira.

Smith sold wines from three different parts of Portugal’s maritime trading empire. The “Lisbon Wine” came from the capital city on the Iberian peninsula, but “MADEIRA” and “Fyall” wines came from two of the island chains in the eastern Atlantic that Europeans encountered in the fifteenth century as they searched for trade routes that would connect them to marketplaces in Asia.

Portuguese settlers arrived in Madeira in 1418 by accident when they were blown off course by a storm as they were attempting to navigate the western coast of Africa. A year later they returned to the archipelago to officially claim if for the Portuguese crown. Settlement began in the 1420s.

Faial (often spelled “Fyal” or “Fyall” in the eighteenth century) is one of the Azorean islands. Portuguese sailors first arrived in the Azores in 1427, exploring the easternmost islands (São Miguel, Santa Maria, and Terceira) first. They did not arrive in Faial, the westernmost of the central group of islands, until 1451.

May 22 - Azores Map
Map showing location of the Azores.

Most residents in England’s North American colonies were unlikely to ever visit Lisbon, Madeira, or Faial, but they were familiar with the wines that came from those places. At a time that they were working out their relationship to England in the wake of the Stamp Act and frequently promoting the virtues of goods produced in America, they were also citizens of the world who participated in networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic and beyond.

May 22 - Ortelius Map
Abraham Ortelius, Acores Insulae (Antwerp, 1608).