December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 1, 1768).

“David Nelson returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC.”

When David Nelson opened “his new STORE, next door but one to the Rose and Crown, in High-street, Wilmington,” he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Although published in Philadelphia, that newspaper served both local and regional audiences. Colonists in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and cities and town in Pennsylvania beyond the busy port read the Pennsylvania Gazette and inserted advertisements in it. Nelson most likely did not anticipate gaining any customers from Philadelphia, but he knew that the Pennsylvania Gazette was one of the newspapers that residents of Wilmington and the surrounding area regularly read, in the absence of any printed locally.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Nelson provided a short list of merchandise he sold. His “VARIETY OF GOODS” included textiles (“velvets and velverets, serges, flannels, camblets, shaloons, tammies, durants, calimancoes,” and others), adorments (“knee and shoe buckles, mohair and metal buttons”), and groceries (“sugar and melasses”). Yet Nelson offered only a preview of his inventory, enticing prospective customers with a promise that he also stocked “a variety of other GOODS, too tedious to enumerate.” Those who visited his store would encounter many other wonders.

In addition to promoting his wares, Nelson inserted a nota bene that expressed his appreciation for those who had already patronized his new store. He “returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC, for the encouragement he has already had, and hopes for their further favours.” Many colonial merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged their customers in their advertisements. Doing so served two purposes. It encouraged those who had already made purchases to return, but it also communicated to others that their friends and neighbors shopped at that store. Especially since Nelson operated a “new STORE,” providing early indications of its success may have helped to convince other prospective customers to make a visit and examine the goods on offer. Even if Nelson had not yet done much business at that location, he attempted to make his store seem popular to the public. His expression of gratitude suggested that customers already appreciated the “variety of GOODS, too tedious to enumerate,” that he “sold at the lowest prices.”

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:28:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 28, 1767).

“WADE and HEMPHILL’s NEW STORE, in Wilmington, will be continued as usual.”

Francis Wade ran two shops, one on Second Street in Philadelphia and another in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. The latter he operated in partnership with William Hemphill. Wade intended to “leav[e] off the retail business,” and placed an advertisement to that effect. He sought to liquidate his merchandise in an eighteenth-century version of a going out of business sale, “selling off all his stock in trade, at prime cost … for cash only.” He also called on former customers to settle their accounts or else face legal action.

Although the Philadelphia location was closing, “WADE and HEMPHILL’s NEW STORE, in Wilmington, will be continued as usual by William Hemphill.” In the final paragraph of his advertisement, a paragraph devoted to the Wilmington location, Wade outlined some of the common commercial practices that allowed many colonists, especially those who lived in the hinterlands beyond the major urban ports, to participate in the consumer revolution.

Wade and Hemphill purchased surplus crops from country farmers who transported wheat, flaxseed, and produce to ports as part of an export market directed to other North American colonies and the Caribbean. Although the partners paid “the highest prices … in cash,” they anticipated that farmers and their families would spend at least some of that money on merchandise in their store.

To facilitate such trading, Wade underscored some of the advantages that benefited farmers in Philadelphia’s hinterland who chose to deal with Wade and Hemphill’s New Store in Wilmington. The partners purchased wheat and flaxseed “at the Philadelphia prices,” so farmers would not lose any money by opting for the smaller port. In fact, many of them would save valuable time and money because “the road from Lancaster county is 15 miles shorter to Wilmington than Philadelphia, and no ferriage.” Wade offered this information as “an inducement for the wagons to come that way with their loading.” If he managed to convince farmers in the countryside, Wade stood to attract more customers and obtain larger quantities of produce to export for profit.

Wade’s advertisement suggests that colonists did not engage solely in sustenance farming, growing just enough to meet the needs of their family. Instead, they intentionally raised agricultural surpluses with the intention of taking them to market for export elsewhere in the Atlantic world. In turn, they used some of the revenues generated from such sales to purchase both necessities and imported goods they merely desired. Merchant-shopkeepers like Francis Wade and William Hemphill facilitated such transactions, giving many colonists – even those beyond major port cities – access to consumer culture.