November 13

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 11, 1771).

“Freight or Passage.”

Charleston, one of the largest cities in the colonies during the era of the American Revolution, was a busy port and bustling center of commerce.  Residents glimpsed this activity as they went about their daily lives, but they also encountered depictions of it in the public prints.  Newspapers regularly included both shipping news from the customs house and advertisements about ships seeking passengers and freight as they prepared to depart.

For instance, more than two dozen vessels appeared among those that arrived, recently sailed, or were “NOW LOADING” in the shipping news in the November 11, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The arrivals came from Bermuda, Georgia, and New Providence, while the departures headed for East Florida, North Carolina, and Philadelphia.  Ships preparing to sail had an even wider array of destinations, including Bristol, Falmouth, Lancaster, Liverpool, London, Georgia, New York, Barbados, Bermuda, Granada, Jamaica, and New Providence.  The shipping news documented extensive networks of trade that connected Charleston to England and other colonies in North America and the Caribbean.

Advertisements also testified to the level of activity in the port, especially those featuring woodcuts that showed ships at sea.  In the November 11 issue, the compositor chose to cluster five such advertisements together, replicating a view that readers might have seen at the wharves.  Each of the advertisements sought passengers and freight, some of them specifying “Indigo, Deer Skins, or other light Goods” as their preferred cargo.

These visual representations of maritime commerce were not unique to newspapers published in Charleston.  That same week, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter included a cluster of three advertisements with woodcuts of ships at sea and the Pennsylvania Gazette had a cluster of seven such advertisements.  The Pennsylvania Journal ran thirteen of those advertisements one after another, so many that the armada of commercial vessels filled an entire column and overflowed into another.  Compositors did not usually arrange newspaper notices according to genre or purpose in the eighteenth century, but on those occasions that they did place advertisements with images of ships together they created stunning visual representations of an empire of trade.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:10:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 10, 1767).

“Just imported … from London … Also in the last vessels from Philadelphia.”

This advertisement by Samuel Douglass and Company (formerly Douglass, Elbert, and Company) in the Georgia Gazette depicted the colonial crossroads of trade in the eighteenth century. While many shopkeepers placed notices that promoted imported goods from particular places (most notably the lengthy list advertisements of manufactured wares from England), these merchants outlined the many networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic and beyond.

Douglass and Company’s inventory came from diverse places. They stocked a “GENTEEL ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS,” an array of dry goods, housewares, and hardware. Various textiles made in the East Indies had been first transported to London before continuing on to the colonies. Other goods had been manufactured in the English provinces and then made their way to faraway markets.

Other products did not cross the Atlantic. Instead, they were part of the coastal trade that connected the colonies (and their economies) to each other. Farmers in the Middle Atlantic colonies, for instance, produced surpluses of wheat, butter, and meat that became important supplies for other English colonies in North America and, especially, the plantation economies of the West Indies. Douglass and Company received their dry goods via London, but ship bread, flour, hams, and other foodstuffs and agricultural products arrived “in the last vessels from Philadelphia.”

Finally, Douglass and Company sold other grocery items, particularly sugar, produced in the West Indies and shipped to the mainland colonies in exchange for agricultural goods. Enslaved Africans toiling on plantations had produced the sugar. Their labor was not mentioned in this advertisement, making Douglass and Company’s sketch of trading networks incomplete. The transatlantic slave trade was a major component of a vast system of exchange in the eighteenth century, one that made the others represented in Douglass and Company’s advertisement both possible and profitable. Douglass and Company may not have sold enslaved Africans themselves, but their venture depended on that endeavor. The map of commerce and exchange conjured in their advertisement was both extensive and incomplete.