What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland.”
First in response to the Stamp Act and later in the wake of the Townshend Act, some American merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans cast their advertising appeals in terms of the politics of production and consumption. They sought to convince prospective customers that their decisions about which goods to purchase and which establishments to patronize had a political valence. In so doing, they echoed the calls to boycott imported goods and instead to encourage domestic manufactures published in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers.
John Morris’s advertisement in the April 1, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal suggests that some artisans who resided on the other side of the Atlantic became aware of this discourse and opted to mobilize it for their own benefit. Morris, a “Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland,” announced that he was “willing to come and establish that Branch in any of his Majesty’s Colonies or Plantations in America, if properly encouraged.” In an attempt to frame his advertisement to achieve an enthusiastic response, he addressed it to “the Society of Gentlemen, for the Encouragement of Arts in the different Provinces of America.” Many colonists might have been hesitant to import a variety of goods as a means of resistance when Parliament overstepped its authority, but Morris reasoned that they would welcome an artisan whose labor would make valuable contributions in the domestic marketplace. To underscore this benefit, Morris signed himself as “A Friend to Liberty and Freedom,” indicating his sympathy for the colonists’ cause.
He did not, however, make his case in stronger terms than popular opinion permitted. Morris carefully positioned his work, stating that “the Safety and Protection of his Majesty’s Royal Person, His Dominions and Subjects in general” depended on the efforts of gunflint cutters. He provided a service to king and country. While migrating to the colonies might yield some particular advantages for certain of the monarch’s subjects who wished “for the Encouragement of the Arts in the different Provinces of America,” Morris was not advocating anything more radical than strengthening the economic position of the colonies within the empire. Colonists had called for resistance to abuses by Parliament, but they did not yet seriously entertain notions of revolution or independence. The “Honourable House of Representatives” of Massachusetts, one the colonies that led resistance efforts, underscored that point in a letter to “the Right Honourable the Earl of SHELBURNE, one of his Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State,” a letter that circulated in colonial newspapers (including the April 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette). Legislators from Massachusetts argued in favor of strengthening local government, but also that they were “not insensible of their security and happiness in their connexion with, and dependence on, the mother state.” Furthermore, “they have reason to believe [these] are the sentiments of all the colonies.”
Morris marketed his occupation and willingness to migrate to the American colonies in terms that matched the current political situation. He was an astute enough observer of the rhetoric currently in use in the colonies that even from across the Atlantic he was able to replicate both the sentiments and the appeals advanced by artisans and other advertisers who already resided “in the different Provinces of America.”