May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 9, 1769).

Just Imported in the Schooner Liberty.”

John Prince placed a short advertisement for “A Quantity of the best JAMAICA SUGARS, by the Hogshead, Barrel, or less Quantity” in the May 9, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. He announced that had “just Imported” his wares “in the Schooner Liberty.” The shipping news, printed in the same column, verified that aspect of Prince’s notice. The “Schooner Liberty, J. Lambert,” captain, arriving from Jamaica was the first entry among the vessels on the list of “INWARD ENTRIES” from the “CUSTOM-HOUSE, Port of SALEM & MARBLEHEAD, May 8.” Nine other ships had also entered the port in the past week. For its first appearance in the Essex Gazette, Prince’s advertisement benefited from its proximity to the shipping news.

“Just imported” was a stock phrase deployed frequently in eighteenth-century advertisements. In many instances, readers may have overlooked claims by merchants, shopkeepers, and others claiming to have “just imported” their merchandise, realizing that they used the phrase rather flexibly to suit their own purposes. In addition, some advertisements ran for weeks or even months without any revisions to the copy; the phrase “just imported” took on a different inflection each time it was repeated in a subsequent insertion of an advertisement originally submitted to the printing office some time earlier.

In the case of Prince’s advertisement, “just Imported” aligned quite literally with the shipping news from May 8 published in the May 9 edition of the Essex Gazette. In the next two issues, May 16 and 23, the phrase operated independently of any other content in the newspaper. Some readers may have been aware that the Liberty was still in port, drawing on their own knowledge to assess what counted as “just Imported.” When Prince’s advertisement ran once again in the May 30 edition, the shipping news listed only one vessel “OUTWARD BOUND,” the “Schooner Liberty” making ready to depart for the West Indies. Prince’s advertisement did not appear in the Essex Gazette again after that. He discontinued it while the phrase “just Imported” applied to a vessel still in port, but that certainly was not the case for every advertiser who adopted such language. Given the elasticity of the meaning of “just imported,” shrewd readers likely discounted the phrase unless they had other means of assessing its accuracy, such as the shipping news.

April 24

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Boston Chronicle (April 24, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD, the SHIP AMERICA.”

Being from Massachusetts, I have spent time in major port cities like Boston and Gloucester. Since Massachusetts resides on the coast, it developed a maritime economy that included shipbuilding. I was drawn to this advertisement because it attempted to sell a ship, not some sort of consumer good or service. In the northern colonies, such as Massachusetts, shipbuilding was a major form of commerce. According to the National Park Service, early ships were made of wood and built not just for fishing, but for trading with foreign countries. Although there was unrest with Great Britain in the colonies and boycotts were taking place in 1769, ships were still important for the economy of the colonies, as well as communication between the colonies and other places. The shipbuilding activities in Massachusetts ports had such an impact that, in addition to aiding the colonies in their victory over Great Britain, it also helped develop the ships that made the United States the major world power it has become today.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Massachusetts did indeed have a maritime economy in the eighteenth century. Residents and visitors knew that was the case when they walked the streets of Boston and Salem and other ports increasing in size and importance. Readers of the several newspapers printed in Boston and the one in Salem also knew it from the shipping news regularly published immediately before the advertisements. The placement of records from the customs house as a bridge between news and advertising underscored the importance of maritime commerce to the colony.

In the April 24, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, this advertisement for “The SHIP AMERICA” ran in the middle column of the final page, immediately to the right of a column filled entirely with shipping news. That column was not enough to contain the list of vessels that had “Entered in,” were “Outward bound,” or had “Cleared out.” The roster continued into the second column, extending through approximately one-third of it. Except for a brief advertisement for “Choice Beef in Barrels,” the shipping news moved directly to the notice about “The SHIP AMERICA,” followed by another seeking to sell a schooner, and another announcing that “THE Snow THISTLE … will clear to sail [to New York] in a few days.”

The shipping news provided a map of sorts that depicted Boston’s place in transatlantic networks of commerce and exchange. The list of ships that had “Entered in” included fifty-two vessels, arriving from Bristol, Georgia, Hispaniola, Greenock, Hull, Jamaica, London, Nova Scotia, New Haven, New London, New York, North Carolina, Philadelphia, Surinam, Turks Island, and Virginia. Another twenty-six were “Outward bound,” heading to Bay Chaleur, Maryland, London, Newfoundland, Hew Haven, New London, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Philadelphia, Quebec, Rhode Island, St. Croix, Surinam, and the West Indies. Forty-two additional vessels had already “Cleared out” on their voyages to Annapolis Royal, Canso, Hispaniola, London, Newfoundland, New Haven, New London, New Providence, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Philadelphia, Rhode Island, Virginia, and the West Indies.

The advertisement for “The SHIP AMERICA” promoted some of the vessel’s qualities, but the placement of the notice next to and below the shipping news testified to the possibilities available to anyone who might have the resources to purchase the ship or enter into partnership with other entrepreneurs.

October 12

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

Oct 12 - 10:12:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 12, 1768).

“INGLIS and HALL, Have just imported, In the INDUSTRY, FURSE, from BRISTOL.”

When Inglis and Hall placed an advertisement in the October 12, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette they adopted formulaic language that often appeared in other advertisements. The partners informed prospective customers that they “have just imported” a variety of goods from London and Bristol. Like many other colonial merchants and shopkeepers, Inglis and Hall reported which ship had transported their goods across the Atlantic: “the GEORGIA PACKET, ANDERSON, from LONDON” and “the INDUSTRY, FURSE, from BRISTOL.” This allowed readers to determine for themselves that Inglis and Hall did indeed stock new merchandise. Many may have been aware of which vessels recently arrived in port, but all could read the shipping news that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.

Inglis and Hall’s advertisement appeared on the second page of the October 12 issue, opposite the list of ships ‘ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE,” those “ENTERED OUTWARDS,” and others that had “CLEARED” the port. The shipping news indicated that the “Ship Georgia Packet, George Anderson” from London “ENTERED INWARDS” on October 10. The Industry was not listed, but it was still in port, having ‘ENTERED INWARDS” on September 30 according to the October 5 edition.

Given the time required to set the type and print both sides of the newspaper on a hand-operated press, Inglis and Hall must have submitted the copy for their advertisement to James Johnston at the printing office in Savannah immediately upon the arrival of Captain Anderson and the Georgia Packet. The shipping news bolstered their claim that they “have just imported” a variety of goods. In other instances, merchants and shopkeepers ran advertisements for weeks or months, never updating them. The appeal to having “just imported” merchandise became outdated, even if the list of goods available for sale remained accurate. Readers could assess that particular appeal: sometimes an inventory described as “just imported” had been lingering on the shelves for quite some time. Consumers interested in the newest goods, including the current fashions from London, had to be aware that advertisers deployed the phrase “just imported” with little attention to the passage of time over the run of their advertisements. Usually accurate when an advertisement first appeared, that description did not disappear until advertisers discontinued their advertisements.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:17:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 17, 1768).

“LEWIS JOHNSON Has just imported … AN ASSORTMENT of MEDICINES.”

When readers of the Georgia Gazette perused the August 17, 1768, edition they encountered an advertisement for “AN ASSORTMENT of MEDICINES, and sundry other Articles” that may have looked familiar. Lewis Johnson had placed his notice listing an extensive array of goods as soon as they arrived in his shop. The shipping news in the June 29 issue indicated that the “Ship Charming Sally, Peter Rainier” from London had “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” on June 28. Johnson’s advertisement listing merchandise “just imported for Sale from LONDON, By the CHARMING SALLY, Capt. RAINIER” appeared in the Georgia Gazette the following day. It ran for three consecutive weeks, a standard length of time according to the fee structure for advertising in many colonial newspapers.

Johnson’s advertisement then disappeared from the next four issues before returning in the August 17 issue. Why did Johnson suddenly decide to insert his advertisement again? Just as its initial run coincided with the shipping news that confirmed the Charming Sally had just arrived with a cargo of goods imported from London, its return to the pages of the Georgia Gazette occurred when the shipping news reported the vessel’s departure. Among the other entries from the Customs House, the “Ship Charming Sally, Peter Rainier” had “CLEARED” and sailed for Martinique. For the past three weeks, the Charming Sally had been listed with those that had “ENTERED OUTWARDS” in preparation of leaving Savannah. Either from the shipping news or his interactions with the captain, Johnson would have known when the ship that transported his goods was leaving. The August 17 issue would be the last issue that carried information about the Charming Nancy provided by the Customs House. It was also Johnson’s last chance to underscore that he had indeed “just imported” his wares on a ship that had recently arrived in port.

His advertisement did not appear the following week, nor did the shipping news mention the Charming Nancy. Johnson had seized the opportunity when it presented itself, but withdrawn his advertisement when the news items printed elsewhere in newspaper made one of the appeals in his advertisement look outdated.

June 29

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

Jun 29 - 6:29:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 29, 1768).

“Has just imported for Sale from LONDON, By the CHARMING SALLY, Capt. RAINIER.”

To inform residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony that he now stocked “AN ASSORTTMENT of MEDICINES, and sundry other Articles,” Lewis Johnson placed an extensive advertisement in the June 29, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. In it, Johnson listed everything from “Peruvian bark” to “West India castor oil” to “Spirit of lavender.” In addition to ingredients for compounding remedies, Johnson also carried several popular patent medicines, including “Bateman’s drops,” “Godfrey’s cordial,” “Turlington’s balsam,” and “Anderson’s pills.”

Johnson must have rushed his advertisement to press, though he may have written the copy in advance of receiving a new shipment of merchandise. Before listing his wares, he informed prospective customers that he “Has just imported for Sale from LONDON, By the CHARMING SALLY, Capt. RAINIER,” the dozens of items he enumerated. Johnson’s advertisement filled most of a column on the second page. The facing page featured a variety of advertisements and news items, including the shipping news for the previous week. Among the arrivals and departures at the port, on June 28 the “Ship Charming Sally, Peter Rainier” had ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” from London. The vessel that carried Johnson’s new inventory arrived the day before his advertisement ran in the Georgia Gazette. The shipping news that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper bolstered his assertion that he carried fresh goods rather than leftovers that had sat on shelves or in storage. This also suggests one manner in which readers engaged with newspapers; Johnson may have expected readers to move back and forth between news items and his advertisement to tell a more complete story.

The copy of this issue of the Georgia Gazette that has been preserved, photographed, and digitized provides other evidence about how some readers used newspapers. Four of the items in the left column have small checkmarks next to them. Why? This was not an indication for the printer or compositor to remove those items in subsequent insertions. All four appear throughout the entire run of Johnson’s advertisement. Instead, someone took note of those items in particular. Perhaps a prospective customer used the advertisement to make a shopping list. Perhaps a competitor marked items of interest. We will probably never know what those checkmarks signified, but they do testify that the advertisement garnered notice. It was not merely published and overlooked by readers of the Georgia Gazette.

May 25

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

May 25 - 5:25:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 25, 1768).

“MANCHESTER and BIRMINGHAM WARES, daily expected from Bristol.”

In an advertisement they placed in the May 25, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, merchants Inglis and Hall promoted merchandise they already had on hand. In addition, they attempted to stoke anticipation for inventory that would be available soon but had not yet arrived at their store in Savannah.

Inglis and Hall proclaimed that they “have just imported” an assortment of goods “from London.” They named the ships and captains that had transported that “QUANTITY of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” across the Atlantic so readers could consult the shipping news or their own memories to confirm that they did indeed sell wares that had recently arrived in the colony.

At the same time, Inglis and Hall reported that they had ordered a “GENERAL ASSORTMENT of LINENS, WOOLENS, MANCHESTER and BIRMINGHAM WARES” that they expected to add to their stock soon since the vessel carrying them was “daily expected from Bristol.” Given that the Georgia Gazette, like every other newspaper published in the American colonies in 1768, appeared only once a week, it was quite possible that Inglis and Hall would make those goods available for sale before the next issue scheduled for publication on June 1. Previewing the merchandise might have drawn customers into the store for an initial visit to see what was available as well as a return visit to check for new arrivals, increasing foot traffic and potential sales.

This strategy also conditioned some prospective customers to read the weekly list of ships “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” printed elsewhere in the Georgia Gazette as an extension of Inglis and Hall’s advertisement. The merchants created the possibility that anyone reading that a vessel had arrived from Bristol would associate that news with their advertisement trumpeting a much more extensive inventory. Although they did not have any authority over the other content in the newspaper, Inglis and Hall harnessed the shipping news as an auxiliary component of their own advertisement.

July 8

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

Jul 8 - 7:8:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 8, 1767).

“INGLIS and HALL have just imported, In the ship Friendship, Capt. Fitzherbert, from Bristol.”

Inglis and Hall advertised a “NEAT ASSORTMENT” of merchandise “just imported, In the ship Friendship, Capt. Fitzherbert, from Bristol, and the last vessels from London.” Throughout the colonies, merchants, shopkeepers, and others who sold imported goods frequently indicated which ship transported their wares across the Atlantic. This was not superfluous information for eighteenth-century consumers. Instead, it allowed readers who might be potential customers to determine how recently sellers obtained their inventory. They could test the accuracy of what “just imported,” a formulaic phrase regularly inserted in advertisements, actually meant.

Inglis and Hall had the good fortune that their advertisement appeared immediately below the shipping news in the July 8, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Upon reading that their merchandise arrived “In the ship Friendship, Capt. Fitzherbert, from Bristol,” readers could glance up the column to see of they spotted the vessel and its captain in the list of those that had “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” since the last issue. The Friendship was listed first, having arrived from South Carolina five days earlier. Apparently Fitzherbert did not sail directly from Bristol to Savannah but instead made port in the much larger Charleston before continuing to Georgia. Still, by consulting the shipping new readers could determine that at least some of the merchandise Inglis and Hall promoted as “just imported” had indeed been just imported.

Not every advertisement that indicated which ship and captain transported goods now available for sale happened to be positioned so conveniently on the page in relation to the shipping news. (Most likely, the proximity in this case was a happy coincidence for Inglis and Hall, rather than a deliberate effort.) Yet colonial newspapers were relatively short by today’s standards, only four pages or perhaps six or eight if they happened to include a supplement that week. In addition, most printers inserted the shipping news immediately before the advertisements, making that information fairly easy to locate. If readers were not already aware of which ships had recently been in port, they could efficiently consult the shipping news when they encountered the names of vessels in commercial notices. Eighteenth-century advertisers expected potential customers participated in this sort of active engagement with news items printed elsewhere in newspapers as they contemplated future purchases.

March 12

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 12 - 3:12:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 12, 1767).

“A few Firkins choice Irish Butter.”

The advertisement featured today seems to be a standard advertisement for merchants. Blanchard and Hancock had an extensive list of goods for sale at their shop. The second item listed (above the two columns of other goods) was imported Irish butter. This advertisement for “A few firkins choice Irish Butter” can tell us a lot about butter and urban populations.

According to Joan Jensen, as farm families looked to maximize their profits in order to participate in the expanding consumer economy, they looked to diversify their production. In the Middle Atlantic, women’s involvement shifted from textile production to butter throughout the eighteenth century. While urban populations were growing, the market for agricultural goods was too. Although domestic demand for butter was high, a majority of farms from the Middle Atlantic made their profits on butter from exporting it to the West Indies. Even at the start of the nineteenth century when export demands were lower, the domestic market kept the farms making butter profitable.[1]

For urban populations, the butter market was different. Health ordinances prohibited cows in some urban areas around 1760; therefore no one in cities, such as Boston, was making their own butter. As the market for Mid-Atlantic butter shifted from the West Indies to the domestic market, imports such as Irish butter would have competed with Pennsylvania butter.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As we discussed which aspects of today’s advertisement to examine in greater detail, Daniel and I decided that it offered an opportunity to acknowledge the coastal trade in the eighteenth century, a network of exchange sometimes overshadowed by the project’s emphasis on imported textiles, housewares, hardware, and every other “very large Assortment of English & India GOODS” (to use the description from Jolley Allen’s advertisement in the same issue of the Massachusetts Gazette). Daniel astutely notes that by the late 1760s the “few Firkins choice Irish Butter” imported by Blanchard and Hancock likely competed with butter produced by women in Pennsylvania and shipped to American ports (as well as the West Indies).

Historians consult a variety of sources, including letters, bills of lading, and ledgers kept by merchants, to reconstruct the coastal trade in early America, but Daniel and I identified additional evidence on the same page of the Massachusetts Gazette as Blanchard and Hancock’s advertisement. Another notice announced “For NEW-YORK. The Schooner Peggy, William Willson, Master, will sail by the 20th of March Instant, now laying at Long Wharf; and ready for Goods on Freight or Passengers.”

The shipping news also illustrated the vibrant coastal trade. The Customs House reported that four ships had “Entred In” during the previous week, identifying them by their captains: “Paine from Virginia; Tower from North Carolina; Ingraham from Heneago; Downes from Monte Christi.” None made a transatlantic voyage directly to Boston; two arrived from other colonies in North America and two from the West Indies. Similarly, the Customs House recorded that four ships and their masters had recently “Cleared Out,” including “Smith for New York; Stone for Philadelphia; Spence for North Carolina; Jones for West-Indies.” Three were headed to other coastal areas and one to the West Indies. Finally, the Customs House listed six vessels “Outward Bound” in the coming weeks: “Willson for New York; Smith for Philadelphia; Gray for Maryland; Harris for West-Indies; Pale and Sheppard for Newfoundland; Omand for Leith.” This represented a greater diversity of destinations, with ships and cargo headed to ports north and south along the Atlantic coast, the West Indies, and Great Britain.

Eighteenth-century readers and consumers would not have considered Blanchard and Hancock’s “few Firkins choice Irish Butter” in isolation. Instead, they would have placed that commodity within extensive networks of trade that not only crisscrossed the Atlantic but oftentimes incorporated shorter voyages between colonies along the North American coast.

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[1] For more on the production and sale of American butter in the late eighteenth-century, see Joan Jensen, Loosening the Bonds: Mid-Atlantic Farm Women, 1750-1850 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), especially the chapter on “The Economics of the Butter Trade,” 79-91.

January 28

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

jan-28-1281767-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 28, 1767).

“INGLIS and HALL, have just imported, In the DIANA, Capt. CHEESEMAN, from LONDON.”

Inglis and Hall, frequent advertisers in the Georgia Gazette, informed potential customers that they “have just imported, In the DIANA, Capt. CHEESEMAN, from LONDON, A general and neat Assortment of EAST-INDIA and EUROPEAN GOODS.” To modern eyes, it may appear quaint that the shopkeepers provided not only the origins of their goods but also the vessel on which they arrived. In the eighteenth century, however, this was vital information that helped readers to determine how they should interpret the claim that the goods had been “just imported.”

To do so, colonists could consult the shipping news that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper, often immediately before the advertisements. According to the January 14 issue of the Georgia Gazette, the “Brigt. Diana, Isaac Cheeseman” from London “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE in SAVANNAH” the previous day. That did not allow sufficient time for Inglis and Hall to insert an advertisement in the local newspaper that week. One did appear in the next issue, on January 21, just eight days after the Diana arrived in Savannah. That same advertisement repeated on January 28, this time in a column to the left of the shipping news that stated the “Brigt. Diana, Isaac Cheeseman” had “ENTERED OUTWARDS” for Portsmouth sometime during the past week. Even if readers of the January 28 issue did not have access to previous editions to determine exactly when the Diana had arrived in port they could at least surmise that it must have been fairly recently considering that she had just departed.

Inglis and Hall ran this advertisement a third and final time a week later. In the time since the Diana arrived in port, she was the only vessel that sailed directly from London. For colonists who increasingly expressed British identity through participation in the consumer revolution, this may have given accrued additional cachet to the merchandise stocked by Inglis and Hall. When the shopkeepers informed potential customers that their inventory came “from LONDON” they suggested connections to the most recent fashions in the metropolitan center of the empire, a selling point that competitors who had not received goods on the Diana could not associate with their wares.

January 5

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

jan-5-151767-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (January 5, 1767).

“A general Assortment of English and India GOODS, consisting of the following Articles.”

William Palfrey’s lengthy list advertisement, which comprised almost the entire third column of the January 5, 1767, issue of the Boston Evening-Post, fulfilled a promise made in a much shorter advertisement inserted in the previous issue. Confined to a single “square” of advertising space, the earlier advertisement announced that Palfrey had just imported “A general Assortment of English and India GOODS, consisting of many Articles.” The final line of the notice indicated that “[The particular Articles will be in our next].” A week later the same short announcement appeared, though this time as a header for a list of dozens of items divided into two columns. The phrase “consisting of many Articles” had been updated to “consisting of the following Articles,” a more appropriate introduction for the list that followed, but otherwise the content and format for the header remained the same.

It would be reasonable to conclude that the printers of the Boston Evening-Post made a decision to truncate Palfrey’s lengthy advertisement in the interest of space. After all, colonial newspapers often included some sort of notice that due to space restrictions some advertisements that had been omitted would appear in the next issue. That could have been the case in this instance, but another explanation places the decision in the hands of the advertiser rather than the printers.

Perhaps Palfrey decided to insert the first advertisement with its promise of a lengthier catalog of merchandise to appear later as a means of inciting interest and anticipation among prospective customers. The advertisement invited readers to consult the pages of the Boston Evening-Post once again, prompting them to look for Palfrey’s advertisement specifically amid all of those from his competitors. Palfrey may have calculated this as a strategy to overshadow other advertisements, especially if he did not have sufficient time to draw up a list of merchandise that had been “just imported in the Brig Lydia, Captain Scott, from LONDON.” The shipping news supplied by the Customs House in the December 29 issue indicated that the Lydia had arrived only two days earlier. Palfrey likely did not have time to compile a complete inventory of his newly arrived merchandise, but did not want to wait a week to inform potential customers about his “general Assortment of English and India GOODS.” The shorter advertisement simultaneously allowed him to spread the word to eager customers and to encourage anticipation among curious readers who might choose to visit his shop only after previewing the merchandise listed in a subsequent advertisement.