What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Their love of liberty … will induce them to give their assistance in supporting the interest of their country.”
On February 16, 1769, readers of both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Journal encountered advertisements that called on them to save “CLEAN LINEN RAGGS” and turn them over to a local “Paper Manufactory.” John Keating’s advertisement largely reiterated a notice that he inserted in the New-York Journal more than six months earlier. In it, he advanced a political argument concerning the production and consumption of paper, made from linen rags, in the colonies, especially while the Townshend Act remained in effect. Colonists could outmaneuver Parliament and avoid paying duties on imported paper by supporting the “NEW-YORK Paper MANUFACTORY.”
William Bradford and Thomas Bradford made similar appeals in their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal. The “British Parliament having made” manufacturing paper “worthy the attention of every one who thinks his own interest, or the liberty and prosperity of this province and country worth his notice,” the Bradfords proclaimed, “it’s therefore hoped, that all those will consider the importance of a Paper Manufactory carried to its full extent.” They then explained that in the past year colonists had collected “a small quantity of fine rags,” but a sufficient supply to make nearly “a hundred reams of good writing paper” that “sold cheaper than English paper of the same quantity.” The Bradfords challenged readers to consider how much production could increase if colonists made concerted efforts to save their rags in support of the local “Paper Manufactory.”
To that end, the Bradfords envisioned a special role for women in this act of resistance to Parliament overstepping its authority. They noted that “the saving of rags will more particularly fall within the sphere of the Ladies.” Those ladies expressed “their love of liberty” in a variety of ways, including altering their consumption practices by participating in nonimportation pacts, producing garments made of homespun cloth, and drinking Labrador tea. Collecting rags, a seemingly mundane task, presented another means for women “to give their assistance in supporting the interest of their country.” The Bradfords outlined a method for efficiently incorporating this practice into the daily household routine. Given how easy that would be to accomplish, the Bradfords issued another challenge, this one directed explicitly to “those ladies who have a regard for their country.” Which women who purported to support the colonies in their clash with Parliament “would decline taking this inconsiderable trouble, to save the sums of money that will annually be torn from us to maintain in voluptuousness our greedy task masters?” The Bradfords concluded by underscoring how much women could achieve by sacrificing only a small amount of time in collecting rags. They would create jobs for “the industrious poor” who labored in the paper manufactory as well as serve “the public” as colonists continued to voice their opposition to the duties levied by the Townshend Act. Everyday tasks like shopping or disposing of rags took on political meaning during the imperial crisis; women vigorously participated in resistance to Parliament through their participating in those activities.