November 21

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

Nov 21 - 11:21:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (November 21, 1769).

“Meet at the King’s-Arms Tavern in Salem.”

The King’s Arms Tavern in Salem was more than just a place for colonists to eat, drink, and socialize. It was also a place for men to gather to conduct business of various sorts, sometimes mercantile but other times political.   Two advertisements in the November 21, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette called on colonists to attend meetings at the King’s Arms Tavern.

The first concerned a meeting to be held that day. Dated November 13, it originally ran in the previous issue, giving a week’s notice about a meeting for the “Gentlemen of the Committees, chosen by the Towns of Salem, Marblehead and Gloucester, on the Affair of the Fishermen, paying to Greenwich Hospital.” This matter concerned “allowances” of six pence a month that according to laws passed by Parliament in the early eighteenth century seamen were expected to pay to support the Greenwich Hospital in England. Since that institution provided for the widows and children of seamen, Parliament deemed it only fair that seamen should provide the funds for its operation. It was sometimes possible, however, to receive exemptions.[1] For the maritime communities of Salem, Marblehead, and Gloucester, this represented an important political issue, one that predated the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and other legislation passed by Parliament after the Seven Years War,

The second advertisement announcing a meeting at the King’s Arms Tavern gave only one day’s notice. It informed the “Merchants and Traders of this Town, who are Importers of British Manufactures, &c. from Great Britain” of a gathering at the tavern in the evening of the following day. Presumably this meeting concerned nonimportation agreements enacted in protest of the duties imposed on paper, glass, tea, and other goods imported from Britain.

Both of these meetings had political overtones, indicating that colonists gathered at the King’s Arms Tavern, like so many other taverns in colonial America, to practice politics. Taverns were not establishments devoted solely to entertainment. Instead, they were places for exchanging information and formulating plans to take political action. As the events that led to the American Revolution unfolded, meetings in taverns played a significant role, rivaling those gatherings held in colonial assemblies. Power emanated from both venues, not just the one with elected representatives.

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[1] Allyn B. Forbes, “Greenwich Hospital Money,” New England Quarterly 3, no. 3 (July 1930): 519-526.

March 25

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 25 - 3:25:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 25, 1767).

“HENRY SNOW, Distiller from London, MAKES and SELLS … FINE Georgia Geneva.”

Henry Snow distilled many different spirits, including “Georgia Geneva,” “Orange Shrub,” and “Mulberry Brandy.” Many of the spirits he distilled could probably be found in local taverns.

Taverns were very important gathering places in colonial and Revolutionary America. An article about the Queen’s Head Tavern (now more commonly known as Fraunces Tavern) in New York City states, “Taverns were centers of community in the 18th century.” They were where people came to stay as well as just come in for a drink and learn of what was going on in the area. Imported spirits sometimes did not come fast enough to keep up with their popularity in taverns and households, thus American produced spirits were needed to help provide taverns and other consumers with the alcoholic beverages they desired. That’s where American products, like Henry Snow’s spirits, came into play. Because it was expensive to even import these goods, the domestic products were that much better.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Henry Snow walked a fine line in his advertisement for a variety of spirits “Distilled and sold at his shop” in Savannah. As Ceara notes, he produced an array of cordials, brandies, and other liquor to compete with imports at affordable prices. Yet he wanted to assure potential customers of the quality of the spirits he distilled. To do so, he adopted a strategy deployed by many artisans who placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers: he indicated his place of origin along with his occupation.

In this case, Snow was not merely a distiller but instead a “Distiller from London.” This imbued him and his products with greater cachet by suggesting connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire and perhaps even specialized training compared to his local competitors. It also served as a recommendation for the dozen or so different types of spirits he distilled, suggesting that they were among the most popular among consumers in the metropole. Just as tailors implied their familiarity with the latest fashions by stating they were “from London,” Snow hinted that he distilled spirits currently in vogue rather than backwater alternatives to the beverages enjoyed by “gentlemen” on the other side of the Atlantic.

Doing so also meant making assurances about the quality of his locally produced liquors, describing some of them as “fine” or “superfine.” (The layout of the advertisement suggests that the distiller may have intended for “FINE” to describe all of the spirits in the first column and all or most in the second.) As far as Snow’s brandy was concerned, “Any gentlemen who may be pleased to favour him with their orders” could depend on it being “equal to French” brandy. His usquebaugh, however, was an exception. It was merely “little inferior to Irish.” It appears that Henry Snow knew better than to suggest that his whiskey was equal or superior to any produced and imported from Ireland. “Little inferior to Irish” was exceptionally high praise indeed!