What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“If the Goods are recovered a handsome Reward will be given.”
Shopkeeper Thomas Fisher got duped! He placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal that related the story of a customer who lied to him and then absconded with quite a selection from his inventory. Fisher wanted his goods back and the thief punished. To that end, he offered “a handsome Reward.”
Fisher was too trusting when a young man visited his shop and introduced himself as “the Son of Mr. John Riker of this City” and then provided further embellishments to his tale. He claimed that “he had served an Apprenticeship” at sea with Captain Prince, a regular client in Fisher’s shop. As was the tradition at the end of many apprenticeships and indentures, the young man was to receive a set of clothes from his former master, a parting gift to launch him into the world. Fisher did not question the young man’s identity or doubt that Prince had dispatched him to his shop “to take of me such Clothes as were necessary for his outfit,” even though he had not heard directly from the captain about charging items to his account. After all, the young many told this story “with so many probably Circumstances,” prompting Fisher to give him all the goods eh chose. It was only the next day that Fisher learned that neither Riker nor Fisher knew anything about the young man. By then, he had made off with considerable merchandise, including “Three Yards of blue and Pink mixt seven Quarter broad cloth, yellow double gilt Metal Buttons, with all other Trimmings suitable for a Coat and Breeches.” Although neither Thomas Fisher nor Captain Prince knew this con man, he knew enough about their business relationship to pull the wool over the shopkeeper’s eyes.
Not all colonists participated in the consumer revolution through lawful means. Some resorted to stealing; others bought stolen goods through an informal economy that operated along extralegal avenues. Fisher suspected that the young man who fooled him might attempt to sell the stolen textiles and adornments. Alternately, he might take them to a tailor to be made into a suit that he could then wear or sell. Whatever eventually happened to these particular fabrics and buttons, frequent advertisements about items stolen from shops and homes suggest that many consumer goods circulated in colonial America that had not been exchanged in the legitimate marketplace. Some colonists found alternate means of acquiring the goods they desired.