July 14

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

Jul 14 - 7:14:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 14, 1770).

“All Cheap for Cash or Melasses.”

On July 14, 1770, John Fitton advertised “NEW-made Poughkeepsie Flour, by the Quantity and Barrel, and a few Barrels of Long-Island Pork” in the Providence Gazette.  Like most eighteenth-century purveyors of goods and services, he did not indicate prices in his advertisement, though he did assert that he sold these items “cheap.”  Fitton’s advertisement appeared next to the “PRICES CURRENT in PROVIDENCE,” a list of the going rates for a variety of popular commodities.  This gave prospective buyers a sense of what they could expect to pay Fitton for flour and pork.  According to the prices current, flour traded at sixteen shillings and six pence “By the Hundred Weight” and pork at seventy-two shillings “By the Barrel.”  If Fitton’s prices deviated too far above those listed in the prices current, buyers knew to look elsewhere to find better deals.  They could also assess the bargains he offered if his “cheap” prices fell below the rates reported in the prices current.  Fitton also informed prospective buyers that he accepted “Cash or Melasses” in payment.  The prices current included an entry for molasses, listing that commodity at one shilling and six pence per gallon.  Anyone with molasses to trade could use the prices current to calculate that a hundredweight of flour was worth eleven gallons of molasses and a barrel of pork was worth forty-eight gallons of molasses.  The prices current established baselines for all sorts of exchanges in the Providence marketplace.

Like most eighteenth-century newspaper printers, John Carter usually placed the prices current adjacent to advertisements, facilitating the process of using one to inform the other.  This required active reading on the part of colonists, but their efforts allowed them to use different items in the newspaper to craft a more complete portrait of the commercial landscape.  Carter’s curation of the content of the Providence Gazette provided readers with useful materials beyond news items that summarized current events near and far.

November 21

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 21, 1766).

“Single and double refin’d Sugar.”

This advertisement, while very small, was also extremely important because it sold arguably one of the biggest products of colonial times. Sugar was one of the most important and bestselling staple crops in the world. Sugar importation was part of a trade network that brought together people from three continents: Europe, Africa, and the Americas (including the Caribbean islands). Slavery played a major part as, over time, millions of slaves on the Caribbean islands worked on sugar plantations.

During colonial times sugar was produced for all sorts of consumers, including people in the North American colonies. According to the William L. Clements Library’s online exhibit about sugar, “Between the middle of the seventeenth century and the middle of the nineteenth century, sugar was transformed from a luxury to a widely consumed commodity in Great Britain and the United States.” With this production also came high mortality rates for slaves who worked on the plantations. In addition, a lot more slaves produced sugar than other staple crops.



In addition to sugar, the advertisement Patrick chose for today also marketed “Molasses, very reasonable.” It comes as no surprise that the proprietor of “the SUGAR HOUSE” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, also sold molasses, a byproduct of the sugar refining process. Like sugar, molasses was produced on sugar plantations in the Caribbean and then exported as part of the trading networks that crisscrossed the Atlantic Ocean. Massive quantities of molasses were transported to New England, including Portsmouth, during the eighteenth century.

Why did colonists purchase so much molasses? They used it to produce rum by fermenting the molasses with yeast and water and then distilling the mixture in copper pot stills. During the eighteenth century New England became a major center for the production of rum. In the process, the New England colonies became enmeshed in what is often called the triangular trade. Merchants shipped sugar and molasses produced on plantations in the Caribbean to New England. Distillers purchased molasses and converted it into rum, which merchants then carried to Africa to trade for captive Africans. Those Africans were then transported to the Caribbean, where they labored as slaves on sugar plantations, as Patrick explains above.

Compared to the slave societies of the Chesapeake, Lower South, and Caribbean, colonists in New England owned relatively few slaves in the eighteenth century. That did not mean, however, that their economy and ability to participate in the expanding consumer culture of the era did not depend in large part on slavery. They relied on the transatlantic slave trade and the labor of enslaved Africans as integral parts of their networks of exchange. In other words, colonists in New England were complicit in perpetuating slavery even if they did not own slaves themselves. That was a consequence of their economic decisions.

On a final note, compare the roles of sugar and molasses in today’s advertisement. The sugar was intended for sale to consumers who were end users. The molasses, on the other hand, was not necessarily intended for the consumption of local customers. Instead, it was part of the production process for creating another commodity, rum, that upon its sale allowed colonists to participate more fully in consumer culture. Rum revenues made it possible to purchase imported English goods listed in so many other advertisements in colonial newspapers.

February 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Feb 2 - 1:31:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 31, 1766)

“A few Hogsheads of good MOLASSES and Jamaican SUGAR.  Also a few ANCHORS.”

What interested me about this advertisement was the trade connection with Jamaica. Jamaica was, at the time, a colony of the empire of Great Britain, and yet it does not seem that the North American colonies want to break trade with Jamaica, and understandably so. Goods from Jamaica were valued because of the inability to grow them in most of the colonies. Sugar was an especially popular import. People used sugar for cooking, baking, and for sweetening their tea. Sugar was an integral part of the colonists’ way of life.

I was also intrigued that the advertiser sold anchors along with the two sweet goods. It seemed out of place in the advertisement. Yet there was a place for anchors in colonial society. Merchants and fisherman, depending on the state of their anchors, would need to replace them. Furthermore, those new to seafaring would need to purchase anchors for their vessels.

Again, it is interesting that this colonial vendor chose to sell in two different categories, and yet they were profitable categories.



Maia has selected an advertisement that testifies to the networks of exchange and commerce that crisscrossed the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. In noting that Jamaica was a British colony at the time (captured by the English from Spain more than a century earlier in 1655 and formally ceded to the British in 1670), she demonstrates an understanding of an extensive and integrated British empire that takes some students by surprise when they first enroll in early American history courses. The history of the colonial era and the founding of the nation cannot be told by exclusively focusing on the thirteen colonies on mainland North America and their interactions with England. Instead, as this advertisement indicates, colonial Americans consumed goods produced in other British colonies. But these were more than just commercial interactions; in the process of trading with each other they also shared news, ideas, and culture.

Historians continue to debate what/where/who constituted early America. Today’s advertisement argues for a Vast Early America and encourages a broad conception – and that’s before even taking into account who labored to produce “Jamaican SUGAR” for colonists’ consumption. The history of slavery and its connections to consumption lie just under the surface of this commercial notice.