GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Karpowich
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A NEAT ASSORTMENT of IRISH LINEN CLOTH, of a bright colour and good fabric.”
During the colonial era linen was an essential resource to many of the colonists who worked in the mercantile market. These goods were responsible for a lot of commerce along trading networks that involved many farmers and merchants, according to Michelle M. Mormul. Linen was often imported from Europe due to the local production never being able to keep up with the amount demanded in the colonial market. Raw materials could be hard to come by and the colonies were not yet properly equipped to make the linen themselves.
Irish linen saw an increase in popularity due to boycotts against British goods. An entry on “Linen” in The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia indicates that this was due to linen traders taking an active stand against British policies. This advertisement by Joseph Wright may have tried to capitalize on those feelings. Wright could be one of the many people looking at the resistance efforts in the colonies as a chance for profit. The boycott from colonial merchants ended in the early 1770s, not long after this advertisement was published.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Zach presents an interesting interpretation of this advertisement for imported “IRISH LINEN CLOTH.” Joseph Wright did not explicitly make a political argument in his advertisement, but he may not have considered doing so necessary. He might have assumed that his prospective customers were already aware of the distinctions between Irish linens and English fabrics as well as the political ramifications of consuming textiles imported from Britain. The Georgia Gazette, which carried his advertisement, certainly made the case. In the same issue, James Johnston reprinted news from England that originally appeared in newspapers from Boston, including commentary on the effects of colonists boycotting English textiles. “There was no mention made of American affairs in the House of Commons from the 14th to the 27th of January; but the towns of Leeds, Wakefield, and others, where coarse woolens are manufactured, have petitioned the Parliament for relief, on account of the great decline of the demand for their manufactures.” Such coverage implied that colonial resistance to the Townshend Act via consumer activism was responsible for the “great decline” experienced by manufacturers in England.
Other items in the same issue of the Georgia Gazette contributed to encouraging a spirit of resistance among readers, especially the editorial that comprised half of that edition. Johnston devoted the first two pages (with the exception of the masthead) to “LETTER X” of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies.” Throughout the colonies printers had been publishing this series of twelve letters warning against abuses by Parliament in their own newspapers, reprinting from one to another just as Johnston reprinted news from England that originally appeared in a newspaper printed in Boston. Readers who perused the April 13 edition of the Georgia Gazette from start to finish encountered “LETTER X” on the first two pages, a column of advertising and a column of news reprinted from other newspapers on the third page, and two columns of advertising on the final page. By the time they read Wright’s advertisement many would have been contemplating politics, especially the politics of consumption, perhaps causing them to be more inclined to purchase the “IRISH LINEN CLOTH, of a bright colour and good fabric” that the merchant peddled.