What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“BLANCH WHITE, UPHOLSTERER FROM LONDON.”
Colonists lived in an era of intense geographic mobility. In the decade before the Revolution, the flow of immigrants from across the Atlantic accelerated. Even colonists born in North America moved from place to place as they searched for economic opportunities. Many residents of cities and towns up and down the Atlantic coast could not claim to be from the place they now lived. For various reasons, some continued to emphasize their origins even as they became members of new communities.
This was often the case with tailors, cabinetmakers, and other artisans, especially as newcomers attempting to promote their livelihoods in local newspapers. They needed customers, yet determined that maintaining some aspects of their outsider status would effectively attract patrons who were unfamiliar with them and the goods they produced. Artisans who placed advertisements frequently asserted their connections to cosmopolitan centers in Europe. This gave them a certain cachet, suggesting that they made and sold items that were particularly fashionable. In some instances connections to London and other European cities also implied specialized training superior to any undertaken in the colonies.
In the September 3, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal, Blanch White introduced himself to potential customers as an UPHOLSTERER FROM LONDON.” In the same issue, readers also learned of the services of “Charles Le Frou, From PARIS, Perriwig-maker and hair Dresser.” Recent arrivals often used such designations to identify and distinguish themselves, though many advertisements obscured precisely how much time had elapsed since the artisan had lived and worked in London or another cosmopolitan center of fashion and commerce.
White’s advertisement provided some clarification. Even though he pronounced that he was “FROM LONDON,” he also indicated that he “has followed the Business for many Years past in Philadelphia.” Apparently his connection to London was not recent, yet the upholsterer still considered it a selling point worth mentioning to prospective customers. Some advertisers would have been content not to provide additional information about any extended interim between departing London and setting up shop locally, but White sensed an opportunity in acknowledging the time he spent in Philadelphia. Given that he seemed to specialize in martial supplies, he believed that he “must be known to some Gentlemen of the Military in this City.” He extended a direct appeal to former customers and acquaintances that served as an indirect endorsement.
Years after migrating across the Atlantic, Blanch White continued to identify himself as “FROM LONDON,” at least for the purposes of promoting his business in print. Yet he also found value in underscoring the work he had done and the clients he had served for “many Years” in the largest city in the colonies.