April 6


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

Apr 6 - 4:6:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (April 6, 1767).

To be sold by BENJAMIN MASON, THE Hull of the Sloop THOMAS, … Whale Boats, Whale Irons and Warps.”

I chose this advertisement because it focused on items used by mariners, which were unique from the varied offerings of general stores and other sellers. The advertisement mentions the sale of a “Sloop,” a type of boat, along with many other marine supplies (sails, rigging, anchors). This type of advertisement definitely fits in the newspaper that printed it, the Newport Mercury, published in Newport, Rhode Island. The benefits of colonizing New England included the abundance of ports and access to marine passageways. The geography of New England inspired the establishment of many maritime-based businesses and activities. However, what surprised me was the mention of “Whale Boats” and “Whale Irons.”

As a New Englander I was aware of the booming whaling business of the 1800s. I have even visited the Whaling Museum on Nantucket. But what surprised me was that there was an advertisement regarding the whale trade in Rhode Island in the 1700s. I did some research to learn more about the long history of whaling in New England. Whaling has been a business in the region since the 1600s, dating back to Long Island in 1644 to be exact. Some of the products from whaling throughout the years included whale oil and materials used in candle making. The whaling business was common even before the 1800s!

In addition, I also learned that it was likely this whole advertisement was about whale hunting vessels and equipment. I learned that a sloop was a type of vessel commonly used for whale hunting. According to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, “[W]halers began to outfit single-masted sailing vessels called sloops to pursue the animals into deeper water.” Any sailor who picked up this newspaper would have at once recognized the common tools used in whaling, which was an important element for both a coastal colony and a diverse economy.



Megan reaches a sound conclusion that everything in this advertisement – from the vessel to the equipment to the supplies – would have been used to outfit an eighteenth-century whaling expedition. Not only would sailors have recognized these tools of the trade, they would have noticed that Benjamin Mason spoke their language, especially when he included “Whale Irons and Warps” in the list of equipment for sale.

Thomas Lytle notes that the tool most people know as the harpoon was commonly called an iron by the officers and sailors who served aboard whaling vessels. Lytle dispels a popular misconception about harpoons. In most circumstances harpoons were not used to kill whales. A different tool, known as a lance, was used for that job. Lytle explains that the harpoon “was meant only to fasten to the whale and act as a hook to fasten the whale to the whaleboat.” That then gave the whale hunters an opportunity to kill the whale before it could escape. Lytle asserts that the harpoon “was the single item that determined the success or failure of a whaling voyage” and the entire industry. In addition to the essential “Whale Irons,” Mason also offered “Warps,” better known to most people as nets, for sale. Any buyer would have been well equipped to sponsor a whaling expedition.

Rhode Island’s leaders wanted to encourage that industry in the eighteenth century, long before the golden age of whaling that has captured the popular imagination. In his History of the American Whale Fishery, Alexander Starbuck explains that “the Rhode Island assembly passed an act for the encouragement of the whale and cod fisheries” in 1731. That act authorized “a bounty of five shillings for every barrel of whale oil, one penny a pound for bone, and five shilling a quintal for codfish, caught by Rhode Island vessels and brought into this colony.”[1] Within two years, vessels from Newport successfully collected the bounties offered for whales.


[1] Alexander Starbuck, History of the American Whale Industry from Its Earliest Inception to the Year 1876 (Waltham, MA: Published by the Author, 1878), 35.

January 14

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

Georgia Gazette (January 14, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD on board the schooner Molly, John Gale master, lying at Ross’s Wharf.”

Not all commercial transactions took place in shops or warehouses in eighteenth-century America. In addition to acquiring consumer goods at auction houses and estate sales, some colonists also made purchases aboard ships when they arrived in port. Such was the case with a small selection of commodities advertised by “John Gale, master” who advertised that he sold his wares “on board the schooner Molly … lying at Ross’s wharf.”

Gale’s advertisement first appeared in the January 14, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. The shipping news in that issue indicated that the Molly, sailing from Salem and Marblehead, had “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE in SAVANNAH” on January 8. Gale placed his advertisement in the first issue of the local newspaper published after his arrival. While shopkeepers and merchants could depend on residents of Savannah having at least some familiarity with the shops and storehouses they operated and possibly did not find it necessary to advertise, Gale did not have that advantage. Advertising was imperative for the master of the newly arrived vessel to attract customers, especially since he planned to be in port for a limited time. Two weeks later, the shipping news reported that the Molly had “ENTERED OUTWARDS” to return to Salem and Marblehead.

Given that he transacted business aboard a ship in port for just a few weeks, Gale operated exclusively as a wholesaler, selling all of his goods in bulk: rum by the hogshead and brown sugar and mackerel by the barrel. He also sold blubber and “trainoil,” an eighteenth-century designation for whale oil, by the barrel. Although whaling flourished as an American maritime commercial endeavor in the nineteenth century, it had already emerged as an important economic activity by the final third of the eighteenth century because consumers desired whale oil to burn in lamps and to make soap.

Although Gale served as captain of the Molly, he likely worked for one or more merchant owners of the vessel, men who determined where the ship would sail and what cargo it would carry. Gale and the Molly may have pursued the coastal trade and traced a regular route between New England and the southern colonies. Not all traders in the Atlantic world needed to cross the ocean to generate profits.

April 22


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

Apr 22 - 4:22:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 21, 1766)

“SpermaCeti Candles of the best Manufacture, warranted pure.”

In today’s advertisement spermaceti candles were being sold. Spermaceti candles are candles made out of headmatter from sperm whales. Massachusetts history is rich with whaling culture. According to the Nantucket Historical Association, “Candles were considered a specialized element of the whale-oil trade and were priced as a luxury item.” Spermaceti candles burned brighter and also were odorless. This made them a very attractive commodity and far more expensive than the traditional tallow candles.

In the early eighteenth century colonists first started coming across pods of sperm whales, but it was not until the 1750s that spermaceti oil refining started taking place. According to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, sperm whales were difficult to hunt because they have the ability to dive upwards of three thousand feet, deeper than any other marine animal, and hold their breath for up to ninety minutes. This made hunting them with the rudimentary seafaring technology of the eighteenth century both impressive and lucrative, an endeavor that also came with great danger. These candles were pivotal to life before electricity.

Although the major boom of whaling in New England would not come until the nineteenth century, I still found it interesting that Boston newspapers were advertising spermaceti candles in the 1760s. Patty Jo Rice of the Nantucket Historical Association says, “By 1763 there were as many as twelve manufacturers in the colonies and accusations of pricing violations was commonplace.” This points to development of the whaling market that was not completely documented at the time and that can be hard trace. Today’s advertisement helps to demonstrate that whaling and whale products were becoming increasingly popular in colonial America.



Testaments to quality were among the most common appeals made in eighteenth-century advertisements. Henry Lloyd mobilized such an appeal more than once in today’s advertisement, first when he described the pork he sold as “choice” and again when he assured potential customers that his “SpermaCeti Candles” were both “of the best Manufacture” and “warranted pure.”

The promise that theses candles were “warranted pure” merits additional investigation. Drawing once again from the Nantucket Historical Association, we know that “headmatter, sperm oil (oil from the blubber of the sperm whale), and whale oil (from all other whales) became separate products in the marketplace with headmatter commanding an average of three times the price of standard whale oil.” When shipping these products to England, whaling merchants sometimes mixed whale oil and headmatter together to avoid the higher duties on headmatter. That being the case, colonial consumers could be justifiably suspicious when purchasing spermaceti candles. If headmatter and whale oil could be combined to lower the duties when exported, why not combine them to raise the price of candles made and sold in the colonies? In an era with far fewer regulations than the modern business environment, Henry Lloyd gave his word that customers who purchased relatively expensive spermaceti candles were not being duped or cheated.

Lloyd was not alone in doing so. “Warranted Pure” was a standard assurance offered to consumers in advertisements for spermaceti candles in the decade before the American Revolution. A Boston manufactory issued a trade card circa 1770 that announced “Sperma-ceti candles warranted pure; are made by Joseph Palmer & Co.” The collections of the John Carter Brown Library include this trade card, circa 1764, from Nicholas Brown and Company in Providence. It also promised that customers could purchase spermaceti candles that were “Warranted Pure.” Note the whale in the center and the whalers in the cartouche at the top.

Apr 22 - Spermaceti Trade Card
Nicholas Brown & Co. trade card for spermaceti candles, ca. 1764 (John Carter Brown Library.)