What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Encouraging all our own Manufactures.”
Shopping became an increasingly political act during the years of the imperial crisis that culminated with the American Revolution. As a means of resisting Parliament’s attempts to overstep its authority, colonists joined nonimportation agreements in the 1760s, first in response to the Stamp Act and later in response to the Townshend Act. They hoped to apply economic pressure to achieve political goals, drafting English merchants harmed by the boycotts to advocate on their behalf. At the same time, colonists also envisioned that “domestic manufactures” would reduce their dependence on goods imported from Britain. In the late 1760s advertisers increasingly addressed this public discourse as they devised “Buy American” campaigns in their advertisements.
Much of Benjamin Jackson and John Gibbons’s advertisement for their “Mustard and Chocolate Store” in Philadelphia expressed such concerns. The partners acknowledged that “there now seems a noble and magnanimous Disposition diffused, and daily diffusing itself more and more, amongst the British Colonies in America, of encouraging all our own Manufactures.” Jackson and Gibbons joined in that call. Because they were “desirous to contribute thereto all in their Power as Individuals,” they proclaimed that they sold their “flour of Mustard … at very low Profits by Wholesale Quantities.” They considered it their civic obligation to make their product as affordable as possible, even if that meant less profit for their own business. In turn, they hoped that this would “induce the true patriotic Merchants, Masters of Vessels, &c. trading to and from New-York, Boston, West Indies, Halifax, &c. to favour them with their Orders.” Jackson and Gibbons did their part, but the scheme depended on others, especially those who supplied “Flour of Mustard” to other colonies, participating as well. If they did, Jackson and Gibbons imagined their plan “would be a Means of annually vending some, perhaps several Hundred, Bushels of Mustard-seed, that might be raised here with little Trouble, and be as a net Gain to the Province.” That would shift the balance of trade that previously favored England. Even a “trifling article” like mustard could have a significant impact on commerce and, in turn, politics if enough suppliers and consumers opted for a product produced in the colonies.
Furthermore, Jackson and Gibbons directly addressed the provisions of the Townshend Act later in the advertisement. “For the Sake of those that are not inclined to encourage the Duty on Glass,” the partners had acquired “a Quantity of neat Earthen Jars” to package their wares. This had the advantage of “helping out own Earthen Ware” industry while depriving Parliament of revenues from the taxes placed on imported glassware. This also yielded additional savings for consumers since the earthenware jars cost “One Shilling per Dozen cheaper than Glass.” The partners still offered “neat Glass Bottles, as usual,” as an option, but they encouraged consumers to make decisions that reduced the demand for those containers.
Jackson and Gibbons made many of their customary appeals to price and quality in their lengthy advertisement, but they also devoted significant space to convincing potential customers – consumers, wholesalers, and retailers – about the political ramifications of their commercial decisions. They offered a means for “true patriotic” colonists to follow through on the rhetoric so often expressed in conversation and in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.