April 8

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Providence Gazette (April 8, 1769).

“A MEAL-MARKET.”

When I first looked at this advertisement, the phrase “MEAL-MARKET” was foreign to me. According to Oxford English Dictionary “meal” means processed grains, as in “the edible part of a grain … ground to powder” or “the finer part of ground grain.” Bucklin and Peck obtained the processed grain, such as “Wheat Flour, Rye and Indian Meal,” from millers. They also sold “Virginia Corn, and Ship Bread.”

George Washington also worked with millers. According to the historians at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, he moved away from the tobacco and began to plant more grains, mostly wheat and corn in the 1760s. Washington then expanded his gristmill and with that it became more efficient and effective and the revenue started to increase. In order to have an efficient and effective gristmill he had to set up the mill next to a reliable flowing water source. This was key because in order to power the mill water must flow past the waterwheel to generate power. When Washington did have success with his mill he then brought in extra revenue by charging neighboring farmers a fee to grind their grain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Bucklin and Peck made several promises to prospective customers in their advertisement in the April 8, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. They pledged that they would “sell as cheap as they can possible afford, do Justice in Weight and Measure, and, for the Accommodation of the Public, will retail the smallest Quantities that shall be desired.” The second of those appeals – “do Justice in Weight and Measure” – was especially important. It addressed a complaint leveled against millers that went back centuries.

In “Mills and Millers in Old and New World Folksong,” Jessica Bank explains that both the technology of mills and milling and folk songs about millers crossed the Atlantic from Britain to the colonies. Notorious for short-weighting the grains they processed, millers were depicted in depicted in folk songs as “selfish grasping thie[ves] who take advantage of anyone [they] can.” Millers had a reputation for refusing to operate their mills in the presence of their customers, a strategy that allowed them to cheat on the weights and measures. Bank notes that the popular expression “Keep your nose to the grindstone” originally had a second imperative, “and keep your eye to the road,” derived from the practice of ceasing operations of a mill as long as customers were in view.

“The image of the shifty, untrustworthy miller who enriches himself by stealing from those who use his mill to grind their grain,” Bank explains, “appears to have been incredibly long-lived and widely-known, appearing in a number of the folksongs that made their way to Colonial America.” Given that this image of the miller was so prevalent in eighteenth-century popular culture, Bucklin and Peck made a wise decision to address it in their advertisement offering “Wheat Flour, Rye and Indian” for sale. Their other appeals – low prices and the convenience of quantities that suited the needs of their customers – were standard marketing strategies adopted by many advertisers, but proclaiming that they “do Justice in Weight and Measure” was specific to their occupation. Bucklin and Peck understood the suspicion leveled against millers and those who sold the products of their mills; they crafted their advertisement accordingly.

March 16

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

New-York Journal (March 16, 1769).

“NEW-YORK distill’d rum … by the hogshead or barrel.”

This advertisement features “NEW-YORK distill’d rum,” a few other kinds of alcohol, and various other goods offered for sale. The different kinds of alcohol included white wine and “cordials of the best quality.” Some of the terminology used in this advertisement was new to me, such as words like “hogshead” and “cordial.” A hogshead is a unit of measurement used for beer and wine and was equivalent to about 64 gallons. Jeremy Bell states, “A hogshead is a unit of measurement used more commonly in colonial times than today. And why is that? The easy answer is that the average person today does very little with barrels.” However, this unit of measurement is still sometimes used today, even though it is not as familiar to most people as it was in the eighteenth century. This advertisement helps to show how the English language has evolved over the past two and a half centuries.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Luke raises an interesting point about how readily colonial consumers recognized units of measurement that are largely unfamiliar today. Advertisements in colonial newspapers regularly offered commodities by the firkin, tierce, hogshead, and pipe. Such denominations would send most modern readers to a dictionary or some sort of online encyclopedia to find out how much they contained, but colonists who saw Manuel Myers’s advertisement in the New-York Journal knew how much rum a hogshead held … more or less.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a hogshead as “a large cask, esp. for storing liquids; spec. one of definite capacity, varying according to the commodity held.” It further elaborates that the quantity sufficient to fill a hogshead varied “over time and according to locality and commodity.” As Luke indicates, a hogshead held 64 gallons in the eighteenth century.

Today we often use the word “barrel” to refer to a cask of any size, adopting the name that denoted a specific quantity in the British Atlantic world during the early modern period. A barrel held thirty-two gallons or half of a hogshead. Colonists adeptly doubled or halved the volume contained in casks when they considered the relative amounts held by firkins (8 gallons), kilderkins (16 gallons), barrels (32 gallons), hogsheads (64 gallons), pipes (128 gallons), and tuns (256 gallons). Other casks held quantities that did not follow this progression. A tierce, for instance, held approximately 42 gallons or one-third of a pipe.

Colonists spoke a language of consumption that may seem unfamiliar to most modern readers. Just as they recognized the distinctions between textiles in other advertisements in the New-York Journal – lutestrings, cambricks, taffaties – they also understood the relative quantities held in the hogsheads and barrels of rum advertised by Myers. For colonists, it hardly required a second thought to realize that hogsheads were larger than barrels. These words have not disappeared from the English language, but they have faded over time.

December 23

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

Dec 23 - 12:23:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 23, 1767).

“The WHARF and STORES belonging to Capt. Francis Arwen.”

In late December 1767, Van Rensselaer and Peat turned to the Georgia Gazette to advertise “Good West-India and Northward Rum [and] Muscovado Sugar and Pigtail Tobacco; with sundry other Dry Goods,” but that was not the primary purpose of their advertisement. Instead, they promoted a new venture they had just commenced, “having taken the WHARF and STORES belonging to Capt. Francis Arwen.” They offered their services to planters and merchants in Savannah and its hinterland.

Van Rensselaer ad Peat petitioned planters to send rice and other commodities to them for storage before being loaded on ships for transport to other markets for sale. They promised that they had “regular weights and measures” that allowed them to “do justice” in determining the value and volume of goods they received. This benefited planters when it came to charging them for storage and loading commodities onto vessels docked at the wharf, but it also worked in favor of merchants who purchased those commodities. Van Rensselaer and Peat proclaimed that they kept “true and accurate accounts.” Their fair dealing meant that neither planters nor merchants needed to worry that they were being cheated in transactions conducted at Van Rensselaer and Peat’s wharf and stores.

The partners also addressed two other aspects of the services they provided. Savannah competed with the older and larger port at Charleston. Planters might have been tempted to send their rice and other commodities there instead of shipping them via Savannah, anticipating that access to more storehouses meant lower prices. For their part, Van Rensselaer and Peat asserted that they “charg[ed] no more than the Carolina prices” in order to keep their services competitive with those offered by their competitors in the neighboring colony. They also made themselves available to work with planters and merchants at their convenience: “Constant attendance will be given.” This also suggested that watchful eyes safeguarded any commodities deposited for storage, preventing theft.

Many advertisements in colonial newspapers offered goods and services to consumers, but others facilitated the production and distribution of commodities locally and throughout the Atlantic world. The rice and other commodities exported via Van Rensselaer and Peat’s storehouses and wharf were part of large networks of exchange that made possible the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century.