What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“LONDON Coffee-House, Kept by THOMAS ALLEN.”
“THOMAS ALLEN’s Marine List.”
In the early 1770s, Thomas Allen operated the “LONDON Coffee-House” in New-London, Connecticut. In an advertisement in that ran in the New-London Gazette in May and June 1773, he offered “genteel Entertainment … for Gentlemen Travellers.” He also sold a variety of “Choice old Spirits by the Gallon” in addition to “Genuine” wines imported from Madeira, Faial, and Tenerife “By the Gal. or Quart.” Presumably, he also served those wines and spirits as well as coffee, tea, and chocolate to “Gentlemen Travellers” and other patrons.
Like other coffeehouses, Allen’s establishment also served as a gathering place for merchants to conduct business and share information. Allen likely subscribed to the New-London Gazette as well as newspapers printed in other colonies, making them available to patrons interested in all sorts of news and especially the shipping news that concerned networks of commerce that crisscrossed the Atlantic.
In addition to that valuable service, Allen established himself as a purveyor of such information in the public prints. Starting with the April 30 edition, the printer of the New-London Gazette supplemented the lists of ships “ENTERED IN” and “CLEARED OUT” of the customs house with “THOMAS ALLEN’s Marine List” that provided details about the location and progress of vessels. Presumably, Allen spoke with captains when they arrived in port, then relayed the news to the printer, thus bolstering the kind of coverage offered by the newspaper. The entry in the June 4 edition, for instance, included this news: “Capt. Newson in 21 Days from Nevis spoke with the following Vessels, viz. May 26th, Sloop Sally, Capt. Campbell, from Nevis, bound to Casco-Bay, Lat. 34 43. Long. 68 6. May 29th, Ship Sally, Capt. Samuel Young, from Bristol, bound to Philadelphia, Lat. 38 10. Lon. 70. who had a number of Passengers on board.” The “Marine List” also gave details about one other ship that Newsom encountered during the voyage from Nevis. Not only merchants valued these updates; families of sailors did so as well.
Allen provided this service for more than fifteen years, bolstering his own reputation as a purveyor of shipping news. The local newspaper benefited from his efforts, as did merchants and families who consulted “THOMAS ALLEN’s Marine List” in addition to the entries from the customs house. The news that appeared in the public prints may have convinced some readers to visit Allen’s coffeehouse to see if they could glean more information from the proprietor, additional details that did not appear in the newspaper.