What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Establishment of Manufactories is essentially necessary to the Well-being of the British Colonies.”
Resistance to the Townshend Act played out in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods published in the fall of 1768. Two types of boycotts – nonimportation agreements and nonconsumption agreements – were among the most effective means of resistance adopted by colonists during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Colonists sought to leverage their economic power to achieve political goals. As Americans throughout the colonies prepared to participate in a new nonimportation agreement set to go into effect on January 1, 1769, John White, a “Tallowchandler and Soapboiler, from London,” joined an increasingly familiar refrain of artisans who promoted goods produced in the colonies.
White placed an advertisement in Providence Gazette to inform readers in “Town and Country” that he had “set up a Manufactory … in the main Street of the Town of Providence.” The tallow chandler and soap boiler devoted a significant portion of his advertisement to advancing an appeal that resonated with contemporary discussions about politics and the relationship between Parliament and colonies. “At a Time when the Establishment of Manufactories is essentially necessary to the Well-being of the British Colonies,” White proclaimed, “it is hoped and expected that a suitable Encouragement will not be found wanting in a people, who, upon all Occasions, have manifested a high Regard to the true Interests of their Country.” He did not merely announce the availability of locally produced soap and candles; he framed purchasing those items as the civic responsibility of colonists, a means of demonstrating that they indeed “manifested a high Regard to the true Interests of their Country.” Lest any should suspect that they might do so at the expense of acquiring quality goods, White offered assurances that his soap and candles were “wrought as well as they are done in London, or any Part of Europe.” Prospective customers did not need to fear sacrificing quality when they made consumer choices inspired by political ideals.
Individual colonists ultimately made their own decisions about their consumption habits during the imperial crisis. However, several constituencies attempted to persuade, cajole, shame, and sometimes even bully colonists into observing boycotts of imported goods. Friends and neighbors encouraged and watched each other, especially as the Sons of Liberty, colonial legislators, and other political leaders gained greater visibility in promoting nonimportation agreements. Coverage of their activities often appeared among the news items in colonial newspapers. Yet elsewhere in those same newspapers artisans and others who sold locally made goods placed advertisements that joined in the chorus, launching their own appeals in support of domestic manufactures in hopes of shaping consumer demand in the colonies.