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.



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.


[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?

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?

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.

June 2

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

Jun 2 - 6:2:1766 (page 4) Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 2, 1766).

“HAs just imported from London in Capt. Coffin and Capt. Marshall, a fresh and neat Assortment of Goods.”

Fredrick William Geyer wanted to make sure that readers of the Boston Post-Boy were aware of the “fresh and neat Assortment of Goods which he is determined to sell exceeding cheap for Cash only by Wholesale or Retail.” He was so anxious for potential customers to know that he could supply them with “a fresh Assortment of English & India GOODS” that he placed two advertisements in the June 2, 1766, issue of the Boston Post-Boy. One appeared on the second page and the other on the fourth page. Whether by design or coincidence, if a reader held open the broadsheet newspaper to peruse its contents one of Geyer’s advertisements would have been visible.

Jun 2 - 6:2:1766 (page 2) Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 2, 1766).

The advertisement from the second page appears to be an updated version of the one from the fourth page. In the latter, Geyer announced that he had just imported goods via the vessel captained by Shubael Coffin. The other advertisement indicated that he had just received goods shipped by “Capt. Coffin and Capt. Marshall.” According to the shipping news from the Boston Custom House published in this issue of the Boston Post-Boy, “Marshall from London” entered port on May 31. The previous issue, published a week earlier, indicated that Coffin’s ship had just arrived, which probably prompted Geyer to compose the shorter notice (which also appeared in the previous issue, making it as current as possible for a weekly publication). He later updated his advertisement to underscore that he really did sell goods “fresh” from London. (He used the word “fresh” in both advertisements.)

The appeal in Geyer’s advertisement required active reading on the part of potential customers. It worked best if consumers engaged with different parts of the newspaper – the shipping news and the advertisements – simultaneously in order to reach the intended conclusions.