What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“N.B. They have just received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.”
The arrival of the Providence in Providence on May 1, 1771, was good for business for John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette. Captain Phineas Gilbert brought a variety of information that quickly found its way into the town’s only newspaper. He delivered newspapers from London and letters from distant correspondents to Carter. In turn, the printer selected excerpts for publication in the Providence Gazette. He also published updates about the progress made by several vessels the Providence encountered during its transatlantic voyage.
In addition to news, the Providence also generated advertising. Merchants quickly placed advertisements announcing that they stocked consumer goods “JUST IMPORTED from LONDON … In the Ship Providence.” John Brown made that pronouncement in the May 4 edition. Joseph Russell and William Russell also advertised that Captain Gilbert delivered a “large Assortment of GOODS” to them. A week later, several other entrepreneurs placed similar notices in the Providence Gazette. The advertising section in the May 11 edition commenced with notification from “Nicholas, Joseph& Moses Brown, In Company” that they had “imported in the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a great Variety of English and India GOODS.” Thurber and Cahoon made the same appeal, adding a nota bene to an advertisement that previously ran in the Providence Gazette. The new copy asserted that Thurber and Cahoon “have just recently received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.” Nathaniel Wheaton did not mention the Providence in his new advertisement, but he did declare that he “just imported from London” an assortment of merchandise that he offered to “the Gentlemen and Ladies both of Town and Country.” Most likely the Providence transported his goods. Not all entrepreneurs who placed such advertisements had shops in Providence. Richard Matthewson of East Greenwich promoted goods he received via the Providence, noting that he set prices “as cheap as any in the Colony.”
While Carter certainly welcomed any news that Captain Gilbert carried, he likely appreciated the goods and, especially, the advertisements they inspired even more. After all, he regularly reprinted news from London that appeared in newspapers published in Boston. That allowed him to satisfy subscribers, but it did not generate additional revenue. The number of advertisements for consumer goods in the Providence Gazette significantly increased after the Providencearrived in port and delivered its cargo to merchants and shopkeepers. That meant both additional content and greater revenue for the newspaper.