December 6

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 6, 1770).

“FOR NEWRY, The SHIP SALLY, WILLIAM KEITH, Master.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and, especially, the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal did not have to walk along the docks and wharves on the Delaware River to glimpse the ships that transported people and goods to and from Philadelphia.  Instead, they saw visual representations of the bustling coastal and transatlantic trade depicted in newspaper advertisements.  Consider the woodcuts that adorned advertisements for freight and passage that appeared in those newspapers in the first week of December 1770.

The Pennsylvania Chronicle featured the fewest such advertisements, only three, but the first item in the first column of the first page, immediately below the masthead, incorporated a woodcut of a vessel at sea into a notice about the Elizabeth and Mary departing for Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica.  The Pennsylvania Gazette, in turn, included eleven images of ships at sea, listing destinations such as Belfast, Dublin, Newry, and Londonderry in Ireland, Glasgow in Scotland, and Barbados and Granada in the West Indies.  Ten of those advertisements ran one after the other, filling almost an entire column on the final page of the December 6 edition.

The Pennsylvania Journal had the greatest number of advertisements with depictions of trading vessels, a total of sixteen.  Fourteen of them ran consecutively, filling half of the final page.  Some also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette on the same day, but others did not.  The map of commerce depicted in the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal was the most extensive, including Charleston, South Carolina, on the mainland; Barbados, Granada, and Jamaica in the West Indies; Cork, Dublin, Newry, and Londonderry in Ireland; and Bristol and London in England.

The pages of Philadelphia’s newspapers testified to the port city’s participation in a bustling network of commerce that crisscrossed the Atlantic.  Readers encountered that story not only in text but also in images that depicted fleets of ships that visited the busy port.  The array of woodcuts depicting ships that accompanied advertisements for passengers and freight often made the pages of newspapers appear as busy as the Delaware River and the wharves that lined it.