November 1

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

nov-1-1111766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 1, 1766).

“A GENERAL Assortment of English and India Goods.”

In this advertisement in the Providence Gazette, James Green sought to sell an “assortment of English and India Goods.” The “India Goods” had been sent to London by the British East India Company.

Originally, the British East India Company’s primarily goal was trade, but it eventually became a ruling power in India. How? What kept the British East India Company in India was something more useful than any goods that could be exported: armies. They realized that Indians with modern weaponry could be just as good as European soldiers, but for half the price. The Company also used its armies to gain favor with rulers in India. Those armies aided Indian princes, thus creating opportunities for the Company to have sway in governing India.

The Company was able to avoid certain taxes that would normally be put on them for trading. Some Indian leaders tried to oppose the Company, such as the nawāb (or governor) Sirajud-Dawla and the Mughal emperor. They failed when the Company’s army defeated their armies in 1764. After that, the British East India Company gained more control over trade, including the revenue systems of Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar.

Learn more about the British East India Company Raj.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

James Green sold “A GENERAL Assortment of … Goods” and commodities that had been transported great distances. The “Bohea and Green Tea” came from China, the indigo came from France, the spices came from the East Indies, and the “India Goods” came from the Indian subcontinent.

Ceara traces some of the history of the British East India Company in the years immediately before this advertisement appeared in a newspaper on the other side of the world. In providing glimpses of the British East India Company’s interventions in India, she demonstrates that colonists in New England were connected to faraway places that, until recently, have not been associated with the colonial American experience. For a generation and more, however, scholars have been reconceiving of colonial America as only a portion of a larger Atlantic world, but even those expansive boundaries cannot contain the webs of commerce and conquest that spread around the globe. Historians continue to discover that early America was much more vast than we previously realized!

For instance, in a book published earlier this year, Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830, Jonathan Eacott “recasts the British empire’s chronology and geography by situating the development of consumer culture, the American Revolution, and British industrialization in the commercial intersections linking the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.” Eacott examines “evolving networks, ideas, and fashions that bound India, Britain, and America” in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.

In doing her research to write about today’s advertisement, Ceara discovered a portion of this story on her own. It is a story that departs from traditional definitions and expectations about what should be included in a history of colonial America, but it is a more complete story that acknowledges that shopkeepers like James Green and his potential customers who read the Providence Gazette represented only two links in a much longer chain of supply and exchange that extended far beyond London to British merchants and officials operating in a very different colonial context in India.

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