December 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 2, 1772).

“For LONDONDERRY, The Ship FAME, HUGH LISLE, Master.”

The Pennsylvania Journal relayed shipping news from other ports as well as lists of vessels that “Entered in,” “Outwards,” and “Cleared” from the customs house in Philadelphia.  In addition, the newspaper carried advertisements about vessels seeking freight and passengers heading to various ports throughout the British Atlantic world.  Stock images of ships at sea often adorned those advertisements.

Sometimes the pages of the newspaper may have seemed as crowded as the docks in Philadelphia, a bustling port and the largest city in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution.  Fourteen such advertisements, each with an image of a ship, ran in the December 2, 1772, edition in advance of vessels departing for Antigua, Belfast, Charleston, Drogheda, Londonderry, and Newry.  Ten of them appeared on the final page.  Filling an entire column, they impressed on readers the connections between Philadelphia and other parts of the empire.

Other newspapers published in Philadelphia also ran such advertisements, but the Pennsylvania Journal seemed to be the most popular place for merchants and captains to promote upcoming voyages.  On December 2, the Pennsylvania Gazetteran ten of those advertisements, eight of them clustered together in a single column.  Earlier in the week, the Pennsylvania Packet carried only three such advertisements on November 30.  Later in the week, the Pennsylvania Chronicle carried just one on December 5.  Many, but not all, of the advertisements that ran in other newspapers also ran in the Pennsylvania Journal.  The notice concerning the Fame, headed to Londonderry, for instance, appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Packet as well as the Pennsylvania Journal.  The notice about the Minerva’s upcoming voyage to Newry ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  On the other hand, the advertisement announcing that the Industry would sail to Newry and Drogheda appeared solely in the Pennsylvania Packet.

Whether they had been published for decades or just a few years, each of the newspapers printed in Philadelphia featured extensive advertising.  Those who placed notices expressed confidence in the circulation of each newspaper to reach readers who would benefit from the information they paid to insert.  At the same time, merchants and masters of vessels seemed to have the greatest confidence that advertising in the Pennsylvania Journal would yield the results they desired, at least during one week late in the fall of 1772.  This raises a question worth exploring in more detail: did advertisers … and readers … have different expectations about the kinds of notices they would encounter in the various newspapers published in Philadelphia in the 1770s?

October 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (October 14, 1772).

“Having for some years operated for, and with the most proficient of the art, in the above-mentioned metropolis (of London).”

When William Johnson, a “GLOVER and BREECHES-MAKER,” arrived in Philadelphia in the fall of 1772, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Journal to introduce himself to the community and invite prospective clients to visit the shop he opened on Front Street.  Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, Johnson emphasized his experience working in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire.  Until he had time to establish his reputation in the local market, he depended on his connections to London to sell his services.  In the headline for his advertisements, he described himself as “lately arrived from LONDON.”  In the nota bene that concluded his notice, Johnson declared that he “hopes himself capable to give all possible satisfaction, with respect to the neatness of the fitting, and execution of the workmanship; having for some years operated for, and with the most proficient of the art, in the above-mentioned metropolis (of London).”  He opened and closed his advertisement with references to London.

Johnson also intended for the timing of his arrival to resonate with prospective clients.  Having “lately arrived from LONDON” suggested that he was familiar with the most recent styles in that “metropolis.”  His clients could depend on getting news and advice about current trends, helping them to keep up with new tastes on the other side of the Atlantic and perhaps stay ahead of friends and acquaintances in Philadelphia.  Some artisans continued to promote their connections to London long after they relocated to the colonies.  Johnson provided details that made it possible for prospective clients to determine for themselves that he did indeed recently arrive in the city and, by extension, his knowledge of fashions in London was as current as possible.  He reported that he “lately arrived from LONDON, by Capt. SPARKS.”  The “ship Mary and Elizabeth, J. Sparks from London” appeared among the “ARRIVALS” in the shipping news from the “Custom-House, Philadelphia,” in the September 30 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  When Johnson’s advertisement ran in the October 14 edition, he had been in the city for less than three weeks.  In addition, merchants, shopkeepers, and others also referenced the arrival of the ship in their advertisements.  Randle Mitchell, for instance, stated that he “Just imported” new merchandise “in the Elizabeth and Mary, Capt. Sparks, from London.”  Robert Bass, an apothecary, stocked new medicines “JUST IMPORTED in the Mary and Elizabeth, Capt. Sparks from London.”

As yet unknown to prospective clients in Philadelphia, Johnson attempted to leverage his experience in the “metropolis” of London to convince prospective clients to avail themselves of his services.  That experience garnered proficiency in his craft, including “the neatness of the firring, and the execution of the workmanship,” while also giving him access to current styles in the most fashionable city in the empire.  He included the name of the captain of the vessel that transported him across the Atlantic as a means of confirming that he possessed recent knowledge of the latest trends.

November 11

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

New-York Journal (November 8, 1770).

“Just received per the Hopewell … 53 56.”

John Morton’s advertisement for a “Neat and general Assortment of Good suitable for the Season” appeared on the front page of the November 8, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  Morton indicated that he had just received a shipment via “the Hopewell, Capt. SMITH, from LONDON.”  The two numbers at the end of the advertisement, “53 56,” confirmed that it was the first time his notice ran in the newspaper.  The compositor included those numbers as a shorthand to indicate the first and last issues to insert the advertisement.  They corresponded to issue numbers in the masthead.  The November 8 edition was “NUMB. 1453.”  Morton’s advertisement was scheduled to run in issue 1454 on November 15, issue 1455 on November 22, and issue 1456 on November 29.

Morton’s advertisement was not the only one that included a combination of issue numbers and reference to Captain Smith and the Hopewell.  Hallett and Hazard proclaimed that they had “just imported an assortment of goods “in the Hopewell, Capt. Smith.”  Their advertisement ended with “53 6,” issue numbers intended for the compositor rather than readers.  Similarly, William Neilson promoted “a large Assortment of Goods suitable for the Season, imported in the Hopewell, Capt Smith, from London.”  His advertisement also ended with “53 6,” numbers not related to his merchandise but to bookkeeping in the printing office.

Morton, Neilson, and Hallett and Hazard all apparently placed advertisements as quickly as they could after acquiring new inventory transported across the Atlantic on the Hopewell.  The shipping news, labelled “CUSTOM HOUSE NEW-YORK, INWARD ENTRIES,” included the “Snow Hopewell, Smith, London” among the several ships that arrived in the busy port since the previous issue of the New-York Journal.  Readers may not have paid much attention to the correlation between the issue number and the notations at the end of advertisements, but they were more likely to have noticed the roster of vessels that had just arrived in New York.  That would have helped them to calibrate how recently advertisers acquired the goods they hawked to consumers.  That Morton received his wares via the Hopewell was not a quaint detail.  It was not any more insignificant than the numbers at the end of his advertisement.  Both delivered important information to eighteenth-century readers who understood the context.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:6:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 6, 1769).

“HAS JUST IMPORTED, in the ship Georgia Packet, Capt. George Anderson, from London.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers often informed prospective customers of the origins of their goods, including how they arrived in the colonies. In an advertisement in the December 6, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, Samuel Douglass noted that he “HAS JUST IMPORTED” new merchandise “in the ship Georgia Packet, Capt. George Anderson, from London.” Douglass was not alone in noting that he replenished his inventory with goods transported via the Georgia Packet. Lewis Johnson hawked “A FRESH SUPPLY OF MEDICINES” that was “IMPORTED in the Georgia Packet, Capt. Anderson, from London.” Similarly, Reid, Storr, and Reid listed dozens of items “JUST IMPORTED, in the Ship Georgia Packet, Capt. George Anderson, from London.” Since advertisements ran for weeks or sometimes even months, this information helped consumers determine how recently merchants and shopkeepers had acquired their goods. They consulted the shipping news from the customs house to make those determinations.

The shipping news in the December 6 issue identified several vessels that “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” in the past week, including “Ship Georgia Packet, George Anderson, London.” Readers saw for themselves that Douglass, Johnson, and Reid, Storr, and Reid did indeed carry a “FRESH SUPPLY” of goods “JUST IMPORTED.” All three advertisements ran on the same page as the shipping news, facilitating consultation. Douglass’s advertisement even appeared directly below news from the customs house. The shipping news also supplement advertisements placed by other merchants and shopkeepers. Rowland Chambers, for example, sold flour, produce, and other commodities “On board the sloop Charlotte,” which the shipping news indicated “ENTERED INWARDS” from New York just two days earlier.

A proliferation of advertisements for consumer goods appeared in the December 6 edition of the Georgia Gazette. Details about the origins of those goods incorporated into the advertisements in combination with the shipping news confirm why the newspaper suddenly had more such advertisements than in recent weeks. While providing information about the vessel that transported the goods might seem quaint to twenty-first-century readers, it served an important purpose for consumers in eighteenth-century America. After consulting the shipping news, they could make their own assessments about some of the claims made in advertisements and then choose which shops to visit accordingly.

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.