What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“GERMAN-TOWN manufactured fine THREAD STOCKINGS.”
American colonists participated in networks of trade that crisscrossed the Atlantic. Many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers promoted goods imported from England and other faraway places, but others resulted from a vibrant coastal trade that connected Britain’s North American colonies. As part of that coastal trade, merchants shipped agricultural surpluses, especially wheat, from the Middle Atlantic to the Southern colonies. Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers published in Charleston regularly encountered advertisements for flour and other goods transported from Philadelphia. For instance, in the July 28 edition Godfrey and Gadsden advertised ‘PHILADELPHIA FLOUR, and BAR IRON.” Similarly, Greenland and Jordan announced that hey had “just imported … from PHILADELPHIA” several commodities, including flour, milk, beer, and bar iron.
William Williamson’s advertisement differed from others that marketed goods that originated in Philadelphia and its hinterland. Rather than selling agricultural goods and raw materials produced in the region, Williamson “IMPORTED … fine THREAD STOCKINGS” made in Germantown. Although several competitors advertised clothing, textiles, and adornments imported from London, colonists were in the process of developing their own industries as alternatives, especially in the wake of the Stamp Act and other attempts at taxation and regulation emanating from Parliament. Still, consumers were accustomed to goods imported from Europe; domestically produced stockings and other items were less familiar. Merchants and shopkeepers worked to convince skeptical customers that such products would not disappoint. Williamson testified to the quality of his stockings, underscoring their “durableness” for potential customers who might have been inclined to place more trust in imported wares.
Williamson did not make an explicit “Buy American” appeal in this advertisement, though that sort of marketing strategy had emerged during the Stamp Act crisis two years earlier and became more common as the relationship between Britain and the colonies deteriorated. Instead, he offered consumers an alternative to imported goods without engaging in overt political rhetoric. In that regard, his advertisement educated colonists about the possibilities of American manufactures, paving the way for a turn to homespun during subsequent nonimportation agreements. The availability of durable “GERMAN-TOWN manufactured fine THREAD STOCKINGS” helped colonists imagine the possible alternatives to relying on imports from Britain. They could depend on each other not only for agricultural surpluses and raw materials but also for finished products.