November 13

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 11, 1771).

“Freight or Passage.”

Charleston, one of the largest cities in the colonies during the era of the American Revolution, was a busy port and bustling center of commerce.  Residents glimpsed this activity as they went about their daily lives, but they also encountered depictions of it in the public prints.  Newspapers regularly included both shipping news from the customs house and advertisements about ships seeking passengers and freight as they prepared to depart.

For instance, more than two dozen vessels appeared among those that arrived, recently sailed, or were “NOW LOADING” in the shipping news in the November 11, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The arrivals came from Bermuda, Georgia, and New Providence, while the departures headed for East Florida, North Carolina, and Philadelphia.  Ships preparing to sail had an even wider array of destinations, including Bristol, Falmouth, Lancaster, Liverpool, London, Georgia, New York, Barbados, Bermuda, Granada, Jamaica, and New Providence.  The shipping news documented extensive networks of trade that connected Charleston to England and other colonies in North America and the Caribbean.

Advertisements also testified to the level of activity in the port, especially those featuring woodcuts that showed ships at sea.  In the November 11 issue, the compositor chose to cluster five such advertisements together, replicating a view that readers might have seen at the wharves.  Each of the advertisements sought passengers and freight, some of them specifying “Indigo, Deer Skins, or other light Goods” as their preferred cargo.

These visual representations of maritime commerce were not unique to newspapers published in Charleston.  That same week, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter included a cluster of three advertisements with woodcuts of ships at sea and the Pennsylvania Gazette had a cluster of seven such advertisements.  The Pennsylvania Journal ran thirteen of those advertisements one after another, so many that the armada of commercial vessels filled an entire column and overflowed into another.  Compositors did not usually arrange newspaper notices according to genre or purpose in the eighteenth century, but on those occasions that they did place advertisements with images of ships together they created stunning visual representations of an empire of trade.

December 6

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 6, 1770).

“FOR NEWRY, The SHIP SALLY, WILLIAM KEITH, Master.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and, especially, the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal did not have to walk along the docks and wharves on the Delaware River to glimpse the ships that transported people and goods to and from Philadelphia.  Instead, they saw visual representations of the bustling coastal and transatlantic trade depicted in newspaper advertisements.  Consider the woodcuts that adorned advertisements for freight and passage that appeared in those newspapers in the first week of December 1770.

The Pennsylvania Chronicle featured the fewest such advertisements, only three, but the first item in the first column of the first page, immediately below the masthead, incorporated a woodcut of a vessel at sea into a notice about the Elizabeth and Mary departing for Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica.  The Pennsylvania Gazette, in turn, included eleven images of ships at sea, listing destinations such as Belfast, Dublin, Newry, and Londonderry in Ireland, Glasgow in Scotland, and Barbados and Granada in the West Indies.  Ten of those advertisements ran one after the other, filling almost an entire column on the final page of the December 6 edition.

The Pennsylvania Journal had the greatest number of advertisements with depictions of trading vessels, a total of sixteen.  Fourteen of them ran consecutively, filling half of the final page.  Some also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette on the same day, but others did not.  The map of commerce depicted in the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal was the most extensive, including Charleston, South Carolina, on the mainland; Barbados, Granada, and Jamaica in the West Indies; Cork, Dublin, Newry, and Londonderry in Ireland; and Bristol and London in England.

The pages of Philadelphia’s newspapers testified to the port city’s participation in a bustling network of commerce that crisscrossed the Atlantic.  Readers encountered that story not only in text but also in images that depicted fleets of ships that visited the busy port.  The array of woodcuts depicting ships that accompanied advertisements for passengers and freight often made the pages of newspapers appear as busy as the Delaware River and the wharves that lined it.

January 31

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

Jan 31 - 1:31:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 31, 1770).

“For SPAIN, PORTUGAL, LONDON … The SHIP MARY.”

Deciphering the copy in these advertisements may be difficult or even impossible, but the visual images remain as unmistakable in the twenty-first century as they would have been in the eighteenth century. A woodcut depicting a ship at sea adorned half a dozen advertisements, one following right after another, on the third page of the January 31, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. A similar but smaller fleet comprised of three vessels appeared on the first page of that issue. The pages of the newspaper replicated the scene that colonists glimpsed in Charleston’s busy harbor, vessels arriving from faraway ports and departing for new destinations throughout the Atlantic World. This visual imagery testified to the webs of exchange that crisscrossed the ocean and connected colonists in South Carolina to the rest of the continent, the Caribbean, England, mainland Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, and beyond.

Both people and goods moved along those networks of exchange. Most of the notices featuring images of ships advertised “Freight or Passage.” Their captains stood ready to transport commodities cultivated in South America to markets on the other side of the Atlantic. Other advertisements listed vast assortments of consumer goods “imported in the last Vessels” from London, Bristol, and other English ports. Two advertisements on the same page as the larger flotilla featured images of enslaved men, women, and children, vivid reminders that not everyone who arrived in South Carolina migrated there voluntarily.

With their sails billowing and flags looking as if they were flapping in the wind, the woodcuts of the vessels at sea gave the appearance of motion. They testified to the bustling maritime traffic in one of the largest seaports in the colonies. They reminded readers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that even as they went about their daily lives and worried about their deteriorating relationship with Parliament that their corner of the empire was part of vast networks of commercial and cultural exchange that extended throughout the Atlantic and far beyond. The shipping news from the customs house provided a list of ports for readers to peruse, but the visual images in the advertisements, all those ships at sea, conjured much more vivid images that connected colonists to faraway places around the Atlantic and even around the globe.