March 30

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 30 - 3:27:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 27, 1766).

TO BE SOLD, By Adam Collson, Under the TREE of LIBERTY.”

The “TREE of LIBERTY” is a symbol famous to this day for the events that took place under it less than a year before this advertisement. It became a landmark in colonial Boston in the decade before the Revolution. On August 14, 1765, the elm tree near the commons became famous. A gathering of colonists dissatisfied with the Stamp Act hung an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the newly appointed stamp commissioner of Boston. The rebellious political leaders of the day named it the Liberty Tree and during the era of the American Revolution, many protests and demonstrations began or were conducted under it.

By setting up shop under the “TREE of LIBERTY,” Collson let potential customers know that he supported the actions that had taken place there. If others wanted to support those actions as well, they could buy “Fleece Wool” from him under the “TREE of LIBERTY.” Just buying and selling fleece made a political statement in this situation because of the political symbolism attached to this particular tree.

Visit Mapping Revolutionary Boston to learn more about the “TREE of LIBERTY” and other eighteenth-century landmarks.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Once again, Mary has chosen an advertisement that mobilized politics in the service of marketing consumer goods. Like Monday’s advertisement that indicated Barnabas Clarke’s shop was located “Near Liberty-Bridge,” Adam Collson incorporated recent protests against the Stamp Act into the directions he gave potential customers.

Under the TREE of LIBERTY” offers an explicit political message, but Collson’s wares may have also resonated with colonists angered by the Stamp Act. What would colonists have done with “Fleece Wool” once they purchased it? In order to eventually transform this raw material into textiles (perhaps to substitute for those many colonists refused to import from England), the fleece would have been spun into yarn or thread on a spinning wheel, itself a symbol of industry. The colonists valued their spirit of industriousness as they opposed the oppressive acts of Parliament.

Furthermore, as the imperial crisis developed over the next decade, colonists of various backgrounds found themselves involved in a variety of acts of resistance. Some demonstrated in the streets. Some expressed their political opinions via the choices they made as consumers. Women, barred from formal political participation, took up the American cause by sitting at their spinning wheels and transforming “Fleece Wool” and other raw materials into the thread that was then woven into homespun.

Both yesterday and today Mary selected advertisements that contain layers of meaning not always readily apparent to modern readers but which likely resonated with colonists who were very familiar with the relationship between politics and consumption in the age of the Stamp Act.

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