What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He likewise proposes keeping an ORDINARY, every Day.”
When Francis Morelli, a pastry cook, moved to a new location in the spring of 1773, he informed “his Friends and Customers” in Charleston with an advertisement in the South-Carolina. Gazette and Country Journal. He assured them that he continued to offer the same services, baking “all Sorts of Pies, Tarts, Cakes, Jellies,” and other pastries that customers could purchase at his shop or have “sent to any Gentleman’s House on the shortest Notice.”
Morelli also took the opportunity to announce that he “proposes keeping an ORDINARY, every Day, where Gentlemen who please to favour him with their Custom, may depend on being provided with the best the Markets can afford.” He also served “Wine, Punch, Beer,” and other beverages. The context makes clear to modern readers that Morelli served food. The Oxford English Dictionary gives additional information about how the term “ordinary” was used in the British Atlantic world in the eighteenth century.
Three related definitions concern foods, including “customary fare; a regular daily meal or allowance of food; (hence, by extension) a fixed portion, an allowance of anything,” and “a meal regularly available at a fixed price in a restaurant, public house, tavern, etc. Formerly also: the company frequenting such a meal, the ‘table.’” The OED describes the former as “Obsolete” and the latter as “Now chiefly historical.”
The third definition captures the term “ordinary” as used by Morelli in his advertisement: “an inn, public house, tavern, etc., where meals are provided at a fixed price; the room in such a building where this type of meal is provided.” Similar to the other entries associated with foods and serving meals, this definition is “Now historical and archaic.” The entry includes more than a dozen examples of the word in use, the earliest dating from 1590, as well as additional notes about its usage. “In Britain in the 17th-18th centuries,” the entry explains, “the more expensive ordinaries were frequented by men of fashion, and the dinner was usually followed by gambling; hence the term was often used as synonymous with ‘gambling-house.’” Another note addresses the use of the word in America: “In the U.S., the southern states, esp. Virginia, continued to use ordinary in this sense into the 19th cent., while other states used tavern.”
I plan to file away this advertisement for teaching purposes because it is such a great example of the English language as spoken and written in the eighteenth century sometimes requires “translation” when twenty-first century readers encounter “historical and archaic” terms, even when the words look familiar. In addition, it presents an opportunity for teaching students how to use the Oxford English Dictionary as a “translation tool.” I envision an in-class exercise in which I direct students to the entry for “ordinary” but allow them to seek out the relevant definitions (in this case 12a, 12b, and, especially, 12c) on their own before having a discussion about what we all learn from examining the various elements of those definitions provided by the OED.