April 8

GUEST CURATOR:  Jonathan Biscelgia

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

Apr 8 - 4:8:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 8, 1768).

“A few Hogsheads of Choice old Rum.”

This advertisement from the New Hampshire Gazette appears straightforward about what Thomas Bell was trying to sell. However, there is more to this advertisement when examining the vernacular more closely, specifically the word “Hogsheads.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines this as “A large cask, esp. for storing liquids; spec.one of a definite capacity, varying according to the commodity held.” This keys into the fact that Thomas Bell sold large quantities of rum. Rum was prevalent in the colonies because the ingredients, particularly molasses, were easy to acquire because of the triangular trade that connected New England to sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

The sale of alcohol in these large quantities gives insight into consumption trends of the larger population. According to Ed Crews, a public historian at Colonial Williamsburg, “Rum was king of the colonies before the Revolutionary War.  …  By 1770, the colonies had more than 140 rum distilleries, making about 4.8 million gallons annually. That was on top of the 3.78 million gallons imported each year. Production was concentrated in the Northeast.” Identifying that production was concentrated in New England and the Middle Atlantic is important because it tells the larger story of slavery in America. The molasses needed for rum was produced in the Caribbean by the work of slaves. Rum could not have been distilled in mainland North America if it had not been for the struggles of enslaved men and women in the Caribbean.



Today the Adverts 250 Project republishes fourteen advertisements that originally appeared in colonial newspapers 250 years ago today: Thomas Bell’s advertisement for “Choice old Rum” that Jonathan examines above and thirteen advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children that have been incorporated into the daily digest for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. The South-Carolina and American General Gazette published all thirteen of the notices offering slaves for sale or warning about runaway slaves.

A cursory glance at these advertisements does not necessarily reveal the connections between Bell’s notice from the New-Hampshire Gazetteand the series from one of Charleston’s three newspapers. Further examination of all of the newspapers published 250 years ago today might initially reaffirm first impressions about enslavement in southern colonies and freedom in New England.  Two other newspapers, the Connecticut Journal and the New-London Gazette, were also published on April 8, 1768.  Like the New-Hampshire Gazette, neither of them happened to include any advertisements concerning slaves.  Considered solely in this context, the distribution of newspaper advertisements suggests a striking regional different between New England and the Lower South.

Yet the contents of newspapers published on a single day do not tell the entire story of colonial American culture and commerce.  Widening the scope a little – to just newspapers published 250 years ago this week – forces us to confront advertisements for slaves from other newspapers printed in New England as well as even more from the Middle Atlantic.  Widening the scope even more – to all newspapers from 1768 – reveals that colonists placed and read advertisements for slaves in the Connecticut Journal, the New-Hampshire Gazette, and the New-London Gazette, even if they appeared in lesser numbers or frequency than in other newspapers.

This broader view of newspapers and advertisements from 1768 illustrates that that the commerce and culture of colonial New England was not devoid of enslavement.  That being said, Jonathan demonstrates that it is not necessary to identify advertisements for slaves to use eighteenth-century advertisements to examine the region’s relationship to slavery.  Instead, advertisements for a popular commodity like rum testify to New England’s participation in networks of exchange that depended on slavery. Making this connection requires looking beyond the commodity advertised for consumption to also see the process of production and commerce that made “Choice old Rum” available to consumers in New England and throughout the colonies.

March 3

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 3, 1767).

Imported from GRENADA … A Quantity of RUM.”

Anthony Lamotte advertised a shipment of rum and sugar to be sold at his store “next door to Mansell, Corbet & Co.” Lamotte wanted to assure his customers that he continued to supply them with the best Grenada rum, equal to imports from Jamaica. As I explained in an earlier entry, alcoholic beverages were a staple of colonial American life, consumed throughout the day. However, unlike other drinks, rum was a major commodity for the colonies due to its central role in the “Triangular Trade” arrangements between America, Africa, and Europe.

Routes for one version of the triangular trade.

Colonists were part of multiple triangular trades. Each was a series of arrangements where raw resources and manufactured goods were traded throughout the Atlantic. One triangle began with Europe sending textiles, rum, and other manufactured goods to Africa. From there, slaves were sent to the Americas (primarily the Caribbean and southern colonies). Americans then produced and exported sugar, tobacco, and cotton to Europe. Another triangle saw Africa transport slaves to the West Indies. The slaves then worked on plantations where they produced sugar and molasses to be sent to the New England colonies. Colonists in New England then used the sugar and molasses to make rum to ship to Africa. These trade arrangements were self-propagating.

Routes for an alternate version of the triangular trade that emphasized rum production in New England.

While these trade networks are important to understanding economic relationships — and the importance of rum — they do not account for all trade in the eighteenth century. Many other vessels transported goods that did not neatly fit this pattern, such as the one that carried rum from Grenada to South Carolina.





Anthony Lamotte regularly placed advertisements in Charleston’s newspapers. Whether relatively brief or more extensive, his notices advanced a common theme when it came to marketing the rum he imported from Grenada. The phrase “superior in quality to what is usually imported from the other Windward Islands” appeared in both his short advertisement from the October 20, 1766, issue of the South Carolina Gazette and today’s advertisement from the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal published four months later.

Lamotte likely realized that he faced quite a challenge: Jamaican rum was widely considered superior to all others produced in the West Indies. As Sam notes, rum was a popular commodity that colonists enjoyed consuming, but rum from Jamaica was more popular than others. To sell his rum from Grenada, Lamotte needed to change the perception that Jamaican rum was categorically superior to all others.

He initiated his advertising campaign by seeking to establish that rum from Grenada was preferable to rum produced elsewhere in the Windward Islands. Once he advanced that argument in multiple newspapers over the course of several months he raised the stakes by claiming that “GRENADA RUM, of the finest flavor and colour” not only exceeded the quality of rum from nearby islands but should have also been considered “in every respect equal to the best Rum imported from Jamaica.”

Lamotte had “A Quantity of RUM” available for sale, but his advertisement suggested that it might have been a limited quantity that might sell out quickly. He promised “his friends and customers, that in a few months he will be able to supply them constantly” with rum imported from Grenada. Lamotte may have been hoping that by making available a limited supply he could generate word-of-mouth endorsements or, at the very least, make supplies seem temporarily rare and incite anticipation for a time in the future, but not too distant, when he could supply discerning customers with greater quantities.


November 21

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 21, 1766).

“Single and double refin’d Sugar.”

This advertisement, while very small, was also extremely important because it sold arguably one of the biggest products of colonial times. Sugar was one of the most important and bestselling staple crops in the world. Sugar importation was part of a trade network that brought together people from three continents: Europe, Africa, and the Americas (including the Caribbean islands). Slavery played a major part as, over time, millions of slaves on the Caribbean islands worked on sugar plantations.

During colonial times sugar was produced for all sorts of consumers, including people in the North American colonies. According to the William L. Clements Library’s online exhibit about sugar, “Between the middle of the seventeenth century and the middle of the nineteenth century, sugar was transformed from a luxury to a widely consumed commodity in Great Britain and the United States.” With this production also came high mortality rates for slaves who worked on the plantations. In addition, a lot more slaves produced sugar than other staple crops.



In addition to sugar, the advertisement Patrick chose for today also marketed “Molasses, very reasonable.” It comes as no surprise that the proprietor of “the SUGAR HOUSE” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, also sold molasses, a byproduct of the sugar refining process. Like sugar, molasses was produced on sugar plantations in the Caribbean and then exported as part of the trading networks that crisscrossed the Atlantic Ocean. Massive quantities of molasses were transported to New England, including Portsmouth, during the eighteenth century.

Why did colonists purchase so much molasses? They used it to produce rum by fermenting the molasses with yeast and water and then distilling the mixture in copper pot stills. During the eighteenth century New England became a major center for the production of rum. In the process, the New England colonies became enmeshed in what is often called the triangular trade. Merchants shipped sugar and molasses produced on plantations in the Caribbean to New England. Distillers purchased molasses and converted it into rum, which merchants then carried to Africa to trade for captive Africans. Those Africans were then transported to the Caribbean, where they labored as slaves on sugar plantations, as Patrick explains above.

Compared to the slave societies of the Chesapeake, Lower South, and Caribbean, colonists in New England owned relatively few slaves in the eighteenth century. That did not mean, however, that their economy and ability to participate in the expanding consumer culture of the era did not depend in large part on slavery. They relied on the transatlantic slave trade and the labor of enslaved Africans as integral parts of their networks of exchange. In other words, colonists in New England were complicit in perpetuating slavery even if they did not own slaves themselves. That was a consequence of their economic decisions.

On a final note, compare the roles of sugar and molasses in today’s advertisement. The sugar was intended for sale to consumers who were end users. The molasses, on the other hand, was not necessarily intended for the consumption of local customers. Instead, it was part of the production process for creating another commodity, rum, that upon its sale allowed colonists to participate more fully in consumer culture. Rum revenues made it possible to purchase imported English goods listed in so many other advertisements in colonial newspapers.