October 5

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

oct-5-1041766-new-london-gazette
New-London Gazette (October 3, 1766).

“A Passage Boat … is now Established between Long-Island and New-London.”

A “Passage Boat” between New London, Connecticut, and Long Island, New York, was a quicker way of travelling than by over land. Ebenezer Webb pointed out that passengers would save fifty miles when they traveled to New York. Webb also developed a schedule and a system of rates, which allowed passengers to be able to plan their passage. Printing the schedule in an advertisement allowed prospective customers to save it if needed for future reference. Webb also made sure to include where he could be found at both locations; he gave the locations of the taverns and which days he would be in what area.   He also let potential customers know that if they would like to become customers of the New-London Gazette, he would drop them off on any of the islands off the coast of Long Island. Those islands included Shelter Island, Plum Island, and Gardiners Island. Another courtesy that passengers in Sterling could enjoy was a “Ferry-Boat” for carrying them to Shelter Island. Webb listed three different rates, which needed to be paid in New York currency. The different rates included “Man and Horse” for eight shillings, a “single Passenger” for three shillings, and for “Packs or Bundles” of goods it depended on their weight.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Today’s advertisement provides important information about ferry service between Connecticut and Long Island during the colonial period, reminding us that the most efficient forms of travel in the eighteenth century differed from modern conveniences made possible by a much more complex transportation infrastructure. As Elizabeth notes, colonists who needed to travel from New London to New York could shave fifty miles off their journey, plus benefit from “the excellent Road on the Island,” if they opted for Webb’s “Passage Boat” service rather than traveling via a land route. In comparison, ferry service today does not seem to offer the same advantages, given the conveniences of travel by car, bus, and train.

I found the final portion of this advertisement to be especially interesting for what it suggests about the business practices and distribution of the New-London Gazette. Webb noted that he would deliver the newspaper to “Those Person on any of the Islands that encline to become Customers.” Despite the distance between New London and those islands (and their separation by Long Island Sound), the New-London Gazette would have been a local newspaper for residents of the islands, at least as much of a local newspaper as those printed in New York. The printer of the New-London Gazette certainly welcomed opportunities to increase distribution to paying subscribers and would have approved of Webb’s efforts to deliver newspapers to Shelter Island and other locales. Given that they were associates in that regard, might the printer have given Webb a discount on advertisements for the ferry service? After all, Webb’s success could also drum up additional business for the New-London Gazette, a mutually beneficial relationship.

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:23:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 23, 1766).

“A most curious four wheeled Carriage, called the AETHERIAL VEHICLE.”

Thomas Sabin provided transportation between Providence and Boston “or elsewhere” for his clients, but he marketed an experience (not unlike modern car manufacturers and airlines). According to his advertisement, the important part of a trip was not necessarily arriving at the destination. Instead, enjoying the journey itself, including the amenities of his “AETHERIAL VEHICLE,” transformed getting from here to there into an event itself.

This was no ordinary “four wheeled Carriage,” Sabin proclaimed. A variety of factors, including its “wonderful and most elegant Construction,” merited an equally wonderful and most elegant name – the “AETHERIAL VEHICLE” – that distinguished it from any of the other carriages, coaches, chaises, phaetons, and, especially, stage wagons common in colonial America.

Sabin conjured up images of practically gliding from place to place, compared to the bumpy ride passengers experienced when using other wheeled vehicles. “It is airy, and more easy than any other Carriage,” he explained. “It would be almost impossible to describe it’s uncommon Machinery in Words, so as to give an adequate Idea of its Ease and Use.” Sabin implicitly challenged readers with doubts about the accuracy of this hyperbolic description to engage his services and judge for themselves, a crafty way to generate more business.

He also deployed another strategy to encourage the curious to become customers. “Those who are not inclined to ride in it, and desire to see it, shall be waited upon by the Owner to view it, when in his Coach House, gratis.” Once Sabin had potential customers in his “Coach House” and was able to speak to them directly, he could work on convincing them to hire his “AETHERIAL VEHICLE.” It’s difficult to know Sabin conducted himself in person, but it’s possible he could have given the same sort of hard sell that modern consumers encounter when they visit car dealerships.

At the very least, Sabin assured clients that they would receive special treatment when they rode the “AETHERIAL VEHICLE.” He promised that “besides the Satisfaction of being conveyed in so convenient a Machine,” customers “may depend upon the most ready Observance of their Desires, and punctual Compliance with their Commands.” For colonists, this would have been the equivalent of hiring a limousine or flying first class.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:11:1766 Advert 2 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 11, 1766).

“The Portsmouth PACKET sails for Boston next Monday.”

This advertisement caught my eye thanks to its fairly unique format. It ran across the bottom of the three columns on the second page of the July 11, 1766, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. It briefly announced that “The Portsmouth PACKET sails for Boston next Monday. Those who incline to go to Commencement may have a Passage, &c.” While it was short on details, the advertisers assumed that readers had sufficient background knowledge to fill in the gaps on their own.

For readers who read or examined this newspaper long after it was published, another advertisement at the bottom of the third column on the facing page told more of the story.

Jul 13 - 7:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 11, 1766).

(As an aside, I note that the third page is not the facing page when accessing this issue digitally since only one page at a time can be accessed and viewed. This creates yet another distinction between the manner in which eighteenth-century readers consumed newspapers and modern readers experience their digital surrogates. Researchers working with original newspapers, however, benefit from a better impression of the visual composition of multiple pages in relation to each other.)

This second advertisement revised the schedule for the stagecoach that regularly traveled between Portsmouth and Boston. Instead of leaving on the following Tuesday, it was instead scheduled to depart on Monday “for the better Convenience of those who may incline to go to the ensuing Commencement at Cambridge, on Wednesday next.”

The Commencement ceremony at Harvard College was a significant enough event that the providers of multiple forms of transportation in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, placed advertisements intended to facilitate travel to it and attract passengers. Their advertisements on facing pages created competition between two modes of transportation, a stagecoach by land or a ship by sea.

April 24

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

Apr 24 - 4:24:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 24, 1766).

“The Stage Wagon … intends to perform the Journey from Philadelphia to New-York in two Days.”

Today it takes only a couple of hours or less to travel between Philadelphia and New York by planes, trains, or automobiles, but in the eighteenth century going from one of these urban ports to the other required much more time. John Barnhill and John Masherew offered a service intended to transport colonists between the two cities as quickly and efficiently as possible (and as comfortably as well: note that “the Waggon-Seats [were] to be set on Springs”).

This journey could be completed in the impressively short span of two days between April and November, but required three days in the winter months. To make this possible, Barnhill and Masherew pooled their resources. Each offered a service that extended into the hinterland around their respective cities, but neither sent their “Stage Waggon” between the two destinations. Instead, Barnhill operated between Philadelphia and Prince Town (now Princeton, New Jersey) and Masherew offered service from New York to Prince Town. At Prince Town, passengers switched from one “Stage Waggon” to the other. Each leg of the journey took a day (or a day and a half in the winter).

The advertisement indicates Barnhill and Masherew began advertising this service before it appeared in the April 24, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette: “commencing the 14th Day of April next.” The notation on the final line – “* 6 W.” – was likely a reminder to the printer to insert the advertisement in six consecutive issues over the course of six weeks.