April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 14, 1769).

“Public Vendue … at Capt. Jacob Tilton’s Tavern.”

This advertisement from the New-Hampshire Gazette on April 14, 1769, sparked my interest because of what was being sold and where the sale took place: “TO BE SOLD … at Capt. Jacob Tilton’s Tavern … SUNDRY HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE.” The location of this “Public Vendue” or auction, Tilton’s Tavern, seemed unusual. How often does a bar have an auction for household furniture? In the twenty-first century when a bar holds some type of event it is often a car or motorcycle show, but not a furniture auction. According to Leigh Zepernick, a collections intern at the Old State House in Boston, “It is difficult to overstate the importance of taverns in 18th century life. In addition to providing food, drink, and lodging, they were venues for town meetings, legal proceedings, and business transactions. Taverns were a place to debate politics, play games such as cards or dice, and catch up with the latest news and gossip. They were the hub of social life, and in Boston in particular, they were ubiquitous. In 1765, there was one tavern for every 79 adult men.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Edward Moyston’s trade card for the City Tavern (1789). Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Society Miscellaneous Collection).

As Matt notes, a lot more than eating and drinking took place at taverns in eighteenth-century America. Two decades after the New-Hampshire Gazette ran the advertisement about an auction at Tilton’s Tavern in Portsmouth, Edward Moyston distributed a trade card for the City Tavern in Philadelphia. His marketing made it clear that the City Tavern was a place for conducting business. Indeed, the “CITY-TAVERN” appeared in much smaller font than the headline for the trade card that announced the “Merchants’ Coffee-House & Place of Exchange” could be found at the tavern. Moyston had set aside the “two Front Rooms,” noting that they had been “specially appropriated to these purposes” due to a subscription agreement with “Merchants, Captains of Vessels, and other Gentlemen.” Although Moyston also marketed the rest of his establishment as “a TAVERN and HOTEL: Where Gentlemen and the Families are accommodated, as usual, with the most superior Liquors … and every article for the Table is served up with elegance,” he positioned the City Tavern as a place to conduct business. To that end, he likely supplied newspapers published in Philadelphia and other cities for his patrons so they could stay informed of politics and commerce. Those “Merchants, Captains of Vessels, and other Gentlemen” certainly also shared news and gossip with each other in conversations that took place as they cast up accounts and pursued new transactions.

Tilton’s Tavern in Portsmouth may not have been as grand as the City Tavern in Philadelphia (which has been reconstructed and serves visitors today), but it served a similar purpose. As the advertisement Matt selected demonstrates, it was a gathering place familiar to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette and other members of the community. Holding an auction at Tilton’s Tavern was business as usual in the eighteenth century, one of the many activities that took place at an establishment where people gathered to exchange information and goods in addition to consuming food and beverages. Its convenience and central location likely made it a preferred venue compared to the home of the patron who intended to auction furniture and housewares.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (June 20, 1768).

“The commodious Inn, in Princeton, long known by the name of the Hudibras.”

As spring turned to summer in 1768, the number of advertisements aimed at travelers and others seeking entertainment during moments of leisure increased compared to the frequency of their appearance throughout the winter. Josiah Davenport placed advertisements in newspapers published in both Philadelphia and New York when he opened the Bunch of Grapes inn and tavern in Philadelphia, extending an invitation to locals and travelers alike. The proprietors of Ranelagh Gardens advertised a series of fireworks exhibitions in newspapers printed in New York. Samuel Fraunces simultaneously promoted food, lodgings, and entertainment at Vauxhall Garden, an alternative destination on the outskirts of New York City. An advertisement in the June 20 supplement to the Boston Evening-Post announced that the “Waters of Jackson’s Spaw are now in a good Degree of Perfection,” the first notice concerning “Jackson’s Mineral Well” that appeared in Boston’s newspapers since the previous summer. On the same day, Jacob Hyer inserted an advertisement for the “commodious Inn” he recently opened in Princeton, New Jersey, in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Especially in northern colonies, readers encountered seasonal advertisements from an emerging hospitality and tourism industry in the late colonial period.

Hyer had a particular advantage working in his favor when it came to attracting guests to his tavern and inn, the Hudibras. Like many of his counterparts, he had “furnished the House with the best of Liquors” as well as “the best Provisions he can Procure.” Unlike his competitors, however, “the Stage-Waggons from New-York to Philadelphia and back, put up at his House.” This likely increased his clientele since passengers became guests, making it less necessary to advertise. On the other hand, Hyer may have believed that alerting residents of New York to the various amenities at the Hudibras could influence their decisions about taking a trip to Philadelphia. Even before commencing the journey they could plan for comfortable accommodations along the way rather than leave to chance any arrangements for food and lodging. Hyer’s desire “to entertain Travellers … in the best Manner” made the journey sound as appealing as the destination, encouraging readers to consider traveling between New York and Philadelphia for business or for pleasure.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post- Boy (June 6, 1768).

“His House is very well calculated for an Inn.”

When Josiah F. Davenport opened an inn on Third Street in Philadelphia, he advertised in newspapers published in both Philadelphia and New York. Doing so made sense since he billed “the Bunch of Grapes” as “a genteel House of Entertainment, for Travellers and others, who may depend on the best Fare and civilest Treatment.” Davenport positioned his tavern and inn as a destination not only for visitors to the city but also for local residents “who may have Occasion to meet on Business or Recreation.” In addition to the “best Liquors” and the “elegant and spacious” accommodations for guests, Davenport also promoted the location. He proclaimed that Third Street “is becoming one of the grandest Avenues into this City.” The Bunch of Grapes “stands in the Neighbourhood of many principal Merchants and capital Stores.” Furthermore, it was also located “very near the Market.” Visitors traveling to Philadelphia on business could lodge in an establishment close to their associates, one that also happened to be in a swank neighborhood. Local patrons could also take advantage of the convenient location for conducting business or enjoying the various entertainments at the Bunch of Grapes.

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 6, 1768).

Davenport submitted identical copy to the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the Pennsylvania Chronicle (but the compositors for each made their own decisions about capitalization and italics throughout the advertisement). He also adorned the notice in the Chronicle with a woodcut depicting the sign that marked his establishment, a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. He acknowledged that the “large and commodious Inn” he now operated had been “for some time known by the Name of the Bull’s Head.” However, it was now known as the Bunch of Grapes under the management of the new proprietor. The new sign and an image in one of the city’s newspapers helped to cement the switch in branding for the inn. This was especially important considering that the Bull’s Head had established its own reputation for operating at that location.

Davenport realized that the success of the Bunch of Grapes depended on attracting a mixture of customers, both residents of Philadelphia who patronized his “House of Entertainment” for an afternoon or evening and visitors from other places who spent one or more nights. Accordingly, he highlighted a variety of amenities and, especially, the location of the inn in newspapers published in more than one city. Through his marketing efforts, he encouraged travelers to think of the Bunch of Grapes, rather than Philadelphia, as their destination.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 12, 1768).

“FIRE WORKS, PERFORMED by two Italian Brothers from Turin.”

In addition to purchasing an array of goods and services, colonial consumers also spent their money on assorted entertainments. Newspaper advertisements testify to both the popular culture and leisure activities of the period. The May 12, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, for instance, included several advertisements that encouraged readers to gather to socialize at a range of venues that provided entertainment. Some of these, such as an advertisement for a tavern, offered activities available to readers at practically any time, but others, especially an advertisement for a fireworks display, featured one-time-only spectacles.

John Taylor inserted an advertisement announcing that he had just opened “a Tavern and House of public Entertainment” known as “The GLASS-HOUSE” on the outskirts of the city. He invited both “Gentlemen and Ladies” to patronize his new enterprise, pledging to “regale them in the genteelest Manner, with the best Accommodations of every Kind.” In particular, he proclaimed, “Dinners will be provided at the shortest Notice.” Taylor attempted to distinguish his tavern from the many others operating in New York at the time by depicting it as an upscale alternative to the bawdy and boisterous atmosphere in other establishments.

Colonists could also enjoy theatrical productions in some, but not all, of the largest cities. Traveling troupes also entertained residents in towns and villages. In New York, the American Company regularly advertised plays staged “At the Theatre in John-Street.” The company placed two advertisements in the May 12 edition of the New-York Journal, one announcing the program for Friday, May 13 and the other Monday, May 16. On Friday evening viewers would be treated to “A TRAGEDY, call’d VENICE PRESERV’D, OR A PLOT DISCOVER’D” and “A FARCE (never perform’d in America) call’d LOVE A-LA-MODE.” To convince readers to purchase tickets, the company claimed that that the farce would only be performed only once during the season. To raise the stakes, the advertisement included a brief history its popularity: “The above Farce has been acted with more Success than any dramatic Piece in the Memory of Man, for since it was first presented to the Town, it has been presented to crowded Audiences One Hundred and Fifty Seven Nights, and is still constantly play’d at least once a Week, at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden.” The company implied that they anticipated crowds, but cautioned that “No Person on any Pretence whatsoever, can be admitted behind the Scenes.” Each element of the advertisement was designed to persuade potential patrons to attend the show or risk feeling left out of a major event. The American Company sold an experience that yielded a sense of community; not participating, however, resulted in a sense of exclusion and regret.

Two “Italian Brothers from Turin” offered other entertainments for the evening of Saturday, May 14: a fireworks show in three parts at Renelagh Gardens. The brothers described each portion of the show in detail, but their words merely suggested the spectacle that readers would experience if they attended the exhibition. To provide further encouragement, they listed their credentials, claiming that they were “(Engineers to the King of Sardinia) who have given very surprising Specimens of their Abilities before the Royal Family in Spain, and with great Applause before his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, and all the Nobility at Bath.” Even though New York was an imperial outpost on the far side of the Atlantic, the advertisement suggested that its residents could enjoy some of the best entertainments that had amused royals and nobles in England and other places in Europe, but only if they seized the opportunity and made their way to Renelagh Gardens for the exhibition on the only night it would be performed.

Each of these advertisements peddled popular culture to consumers, encouraging them to purchase experiences in addition to goods. The various entertainments cultivated a sense of community among those who witnessed them. Just as merchants and shopkeepers cautioned colonists not to be left behind when it came to the goods they sold, performers and others whose services emphasized leisure activities portrayed participating in the events they sponsored as a means of establishing bonds with other colonists through shared experiences.

December 1

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

Dec 1 - 12:1:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 1, 1767).

“That genteel and well frequented TAVERN.”

When Henry Gray became the proprietor of a tavern “formerly kept by the late BENJAMIN BACKHOUSE” in Charleston, he turned to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform the community that the establishment was under new management. The “well frequented” tavern already had a substantial clientele. It also enjoyed a fair level of familiarity among the population since Gray did not consider it necessary to specify the tavern’s location. He invited the “Friends and Acquaintance of Mr. Backhouse” to continue their patronage, but also extended a welcome to his own friends and other potential customers.

Backhouse’s tavern had been “well frequented” in part because of its “genteel” amenities and gracious service. The new proprietor promised customers that they would continue to “meet with civil treatment” as they enjoyed “good Liquor and good Cheer.” Gray intended to serve “the best of every Thing the Province can afford,” making it clear that he expected “good Order and Decorum” from patrons. Gray positioned his tavern as a destination for the better sorts rather than the sort of raucous watering hole that their social inferiors might frequent.

He also attempted to manage expectations, especially among customers familiar with the tavern from the days that Backhouse ran it. “It cannot be expected the House will be furnished in that elegant Manner Part of it formerly was,” Gray explained. Apparently he had acquired or leased the building from Backhouse’s estate, but not the furnishings. In order to avoid disappointment, he warned patrons in advance that not everything about the interior would be as it had been. He prepared customers to appreciate the features that had continued from the days Backhouse operated the “genteel and well frequented TAVERN” rather than focus on the one element that changed. With that bit of generosity extended by patrons to their new host, Gray pledged “to give Satisfaction as far as in my Power.”

June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:5:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 5, 1767).

“He now keeps the TAVERN at Newbury Ferry.”

Thomas Wood, “Innholder in Salisbury,” offered some helpful advice to travelers in New Hampshire when he announced that he “now keeps the TAVERN at Newbury Ferry.” Not surprisingly, that advice also served to increase the number of patrons, especially overnight guests, at the tavern. Travelers heading east faced a choice when they arrived in his area at the end of the day. Continuing their journey required passage via ferry. Realizing that some might be tempted to call it a day, especially if they had traveled any distance or experienced any difficulties, and wait until the next morning to embark on the ferry, Wood recommended that it actually would be more efficient to make the crossing as the final leg of the journey for the day and then have the liberty to move along at their own convenience at a time that suited the following morning, perhaps saving the trouble of waking the ferry operators. Not only would this arrangement save time, travelers would also benefit from the accommodations that Wood offered at a tavern “repaired in a handsome manner, for the reception of all Gentlemen, Ladies, and others, who travel that way.” Wood assured potential guests they could “depend upon the best of Usage, both for themselves and their Horses.”

Wood made a nod toward what this “best of Usage” entailed in making his recommendation that “it would greatly forward their Journey to cross the Ferry and put up at his House, which would save the trouble of disturbing the Ferrymen so early in the Morning.” Even before interacting with patrons in person, he stepped into the role of concierge to facilitate their travels and create the best possible experience. Many eighteenth-century advertisements indicate that shopkeepers, artisans, and others who provided goods and services practiced what is now commonly known as customer service, though many did not go into detail beyond phrases indicating customers received “the best of Usage.” In his advertisement, Wood included an example to entice potential guests and demonstrate that he did indeed have their best interests at heart, even as he stood to increase his own business at the same time.

November 16

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-16-11161766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 16, 1766).

Opened my House … for the Reception of such Gentlemen and Ladies who may travel this Way.”

In this advertisement from the Providence Gazette, Abijah Hunt wrote that he had just opened up his house to the public. He promised “every Thing suitable for their Accommodation” to any gentlemen and ladies who might stop by.

When I first read through this advertisement I was confused about what exactly Hunt was advertising to readers: an inn or a tavern. He promised to accommodate travelers, but he also mentioned entertainment. On the Colonial Williamsburg webpage, Ed Crews writes that taverns were also called “inns, ordinaries, and public houses” in colonial America. Traveling performers often provided the entertainment in these inns. A wide variety of performers put on acts at these inns, such as magicians, actors, and musicians. Some acts included the use of animals, such as trained pigs. The most common instruments musicians used in their performances were violins, flutes, and trumpets. On nights when there was no provided entertainment, customers often sang together in groups.

Hunt wrote that some of the public taverns in Providence were “not so agreeable as those (to be found in most other large Towns).” Taverns and inns could vary greatly in their atmospheres. Crews describes many inns as “male-domains” where men drank too much and used foul language. Furthermore, “Felons planned crimes, fenced goods, and passed counterfeit money in inns. Fights and murders were common.” Refined women avoided taverns, but prostitutes visited often. In this advertisement, Hunt offered an alternative place of shelter and entertainment for those colonists who wanted a more safe and refined experience.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Mary paints a vivid picture of some of the activities that took place in taverns in the eighteenth century. In addition to being places of entertainment where colonists socialized, Mary also indicates that taverns provided a venue for participating in consumer culture in various ways, including fencing stolen goods and passing counterfeit money.

Such activities were part of what Serena R. Zabin has described as the “informal economy” in colonial America. Not all colonists had the means to purchase new goods directly from merchants and shopkeepers, but that did not prevent them seeking out other ways to obtain the “English, India, and West-India GOODS” that Samuel Nightingale, Jr., marketed on the page after Abijah Hunt’s advertisement appeared. Zabin and others have demonstrated that a vibrant secondhand economy operated in eighteenth-century America; colonists bought and sold used clothing and other goods. Yet others turned to more nefarious means to get their hands on the goods they desired, either stealing or purchasing stolen items. In today’s advertisement Abijah Hunt announced that he opened a house of entertainment to be a place of refuge for visitors “to this Town, both on Business and Recreation,” patrons that he believed wished to avoid some of the more unsavory activities (including the exchange of stolen goods) that took place in some taverns.

While newspaper advertisements reveal a lot about the availability of goods during the consumer revolution, they do not tell the entire story. Occasionally shopkeepers and others placed advertisements lamenting thefts and announcing rewards upon the capture and conviction of the perpetrators, but those who stole the goods almost certainly did not turn to newspapers to offer them for sale. Piecing together the informal economy that included fencing stolen goods, as Zabin has done, requires consulting court records. Those documents provide insight into how some colonists – consumers themselves – used and thought about goods, while newspaper advertisements, for the most part, suggest how retailers, producers, and suppliers attempted to shape colonists’ attitudes and behaviors related to consumption.

 

June 12

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

Jun 12 - 6:12:1766 Frauncis Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 12, 1766).
Jun 12 - 6:12:1766 Johnson Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 12, 1766).

“Gentlemen will be entertained in the most polite manner.”

“AT the Sign of the Globe, … is opened a convenient EATING-HOUSE.”

Compare yesterday’s advertisement for Daniel Ocain’s “house of entertainment” in Savannah to two advertisements for similar establishments that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette during the same week. Samuel Frauncis (more commonly Fraunces) and William and Ann Johnson offered more extensive and luxurious accommodations and promoted them in greater detail.

Fraunces devoted most of his advertisement to listing and describing the food from his “Cook Shop” and “Confectioner’s Shop,” variety of “Victuals,” baked goods, and condiments. Several related enterprises operated out of his location “at the Sign of Queen Charlotte.” His advertisement suggested that he catered to both male and female clients. “Ladies and Gentlemen may be supplied with Cakes and Pastries of all Sorts” at his large Confectioner’s Shop, but it appears that the “Ordinary,” a separate restaurant operated for three hours in the afternoon, was reserved for “the better Entertainment of Gentlemen” exclusively. Men often gathered in homosocial spaces like taverns and coffeehouses to conduct business, discuss politics, and gossip.

William and Ann Johnson did not indicate that their “EATING-HOUSE” had as extensive a menu, but they promoted other amenities instead, including a billiard table “where Gentlemen may divert themselves, by paying for their Games only.” (In other words, patrons were not required to purchase food or drink if they only wished to play billiards and socialize. The Johnsons likely assumed that visitors who came with the intention of only playing pool would eventually order something, but they didn’t want to put up any obstacles to getting customers through the door.) The house, located on the outskirts of Philadelphia in the Northern Liberties, was in an attractive setting away from the crowded port. It had pleasant Gardens and Walks, shaded with pleasant Groves of different Kinds of Apple Trees.” Guests could rent rooms by the week, month, or even the entire summer.

Jun 12 - Samuel Fraunces
Portrait of Samuel Fraunces (unknown artist, ca. 1770-1785).  Francis Tavern Museum.

Samuel Fraunces is still remembered today, best known for Fraunces Tavern in New York City, the site of George Washington’s farewell to his officers at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. He also served as the steward of Washington’s household throughout the president’s first term in office. Fraunces Tavern is still in operation at Pearl and Dock Streets in New York City. Visitors may eat, drink, and socialize on the first floor and tour a museum operated by the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York on the second and third floors.