What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At his Shop … in the Street leading from Liberty Bridge to the Mill Dam.”
Like their counterparts in other colonial cities and towns, advertisers in Portsmouth used a variety of landmarks to identify the locations of their shops in the November 27, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. James McDonogh peddled his wares “At his Store on Spring Hill.” Jonathan and Samuel Sparhawk stocked a variety of goods “At the Sign of the State House, near the Parade.” Edmund Davis ran a shop “next Door to the Sign of the Goldsmiths Arms in Queen Street.”
Pierse Long included the most elaborate directions in his advertisement: “At his Shop near the Reverend Mr. Haven’s Meeting House, in the Street leading from Liberty Bridge to the Mill Dam.” These directions referenced an important landmark with renewed significance: the Liberty Bridge. The Townshend Act went into effect a week earlier, spurring heightened anxieties and contemplation about the meaning of political and economic liberty among American colonists. Elsewhere in the November 27 issue, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette inserted updates about the actions taken by the Boston town meeting “to discourage the use of foreign Superfluities as the only means of saving the Country from impending ruin.” The first page featured an extensive item reprinted from the Boston Post-Boy. In it, an anonymous author addressed “My Dear Countrymen” and recommended “the disuse of the most luxurious and enervating article of BOHEA TEA” in favor of Labrador tea cultivated in North America. In summation, that author argued, “Thus my countrymen, by consuming less of what we are not really in want of, and by industriously cultivating and improving the natural advantages of our own country, we might save our substance, even our lands, from becoming the property of others, and we might effectually preserve our virtue and our liberty, to the latest posterity.” The Fowles also reprinted a poem “ADRESSED TO THE LADIES” from the Massachusetts Gazette that encouraged wearing homespun instead of imported textiles and instructed female consumers to “Throw aside your Bohea, and your Green Hyson Tea.” Both news and entertainment items addressed the imbalance of trade between Britain and the colonies, a situation that became even more troubling with the imposition of new duties on certain imported goods.
Long found himself in a difficult position. He sold a variety of imported goods, including “BOHEA TEA.” He almost certainly wished to move his merchandise as quickly as possible before local consumers signed on to non-importation agreements. He may have believed that making a nod toward the concerns expressed by so many concerned colonists could help in that endeavor, so even though he continued to sell “BOHEA TEA” and other imported goods he also connected his business to the nearby Liberty Bridge. On occasion, advertisers previously invoked the Liberty Bridge when explaining to potential customers how to find their shops, but doing so had mostly disappeared from advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette since the repeal of the Stamp Act. It had been the period that the Stamp Act was still in effect that advertisers in Portsmouth most actively incorporated the Liberty Bridge into their commercial notices. It hardly seems a coincidence that Long revived that method at a time of renewed unrest at the end of November 1767. Doing so may have better positioned his business in the minds of potential customers, perhaps even helping them to justify one last purchase of problematic commodities as long as they did so from a shopkeeper who shared their worries about attempts to curtail their liberty.