February 25

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

Providence Gazette (February 25, 1769).

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

“A QUANTITY of choice NEW-ENGLAND FLOUR of MUSTARD.”

“FLOUR of MUSTARD” was popular in eighteenth-century Americas. Mustard was an essential ingredient in many common recipes. According to Colonial Williamsburg, “It was used as whole seeds or even ground into a powder they called flour of mustard. … The powder was often rolled into balls and sold to be mixed up with water.” William Chace sold his flour of mustard “by the Dozen or single.” This suggests that Chace’s target audience included consumers as well as shopkeepers and merchants. To sell in bulk indicates others would purchase to then sell to the colonists in their town. Chace wanted to extend business beyond one place, Providence, to other locations.

It is important to look at the influence of advertisements in colonial newspapers. Colonists relied on newspapers to obtain information about consumer goods. Richard L. Merritt notes, “Colonial businessmen were quick to recognize the newspapers’ potential as advertising media.”[1] It served as an effective way to communicate and promote products. Advertising an item such as mustard, to be bought individually or in bulk, appealed to a large range of people. Without advertisements, it would be more difficult to sell. Word of mouth only goes so far, and the newspaper gave sellers an advantage.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Chloe indicates, mustard was popular in both England and the colonies in the eighteenth century. William Chace made clear that he sold flour of mustard that had been produced in the colonies rather than imported on the same ships that transported glass, lead, paints, papers, and tea subject to duties under the Townshend Acts. The use of all capitals proclaimed “NEW-ENGLAND FLOUR of MUSTARD,” but Chace did not consider merely listing the origin of his product sufficient to convince prospective customers to purchase it. Lest anyone have any doubts about its quality or suspect that this locally produced alternative might be inferior to flour of mustard sent from England, he assured skeptical readers that his product was “superior both for Strength and Flavour to any imported.” This was not Chace’s pronouncement alone. He reported that the “best Judges” had reached this conclusion.

In presenting these appeals to consumers, Chace participated in a larger movement, a form of economic resistance based on encouraging production and consumption of “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to purchasing imported goods – and not just for those items indirectly taxed under the Townshend Acts. Other advertisements more explicitly made this argument, such as those that promoted the production of paper in the colonies, but shopkeepers like Chace could depend on prospective customers being aware of the discourse concerning consumption. He did not need to stridently denounce Parliament in his advertisement, especially since the news items elsewhere in that issue of Providence Gazette primed prospective customers to consider the political meaning associated with their consumption habits. A letter from “A LOVER OF MY COUNTRY,” reprinted from Rind’s Virginia Gazette, “LETTERS in Answer to the Farmer’s LETTER III,” and editorials reprinted from the London Gazetteer and the Newport Mercury rehearsed various perspectives concerning the imperial crisis. The arguments that dominated public debate appeared alongside Chace’s advertisement, providing all the political context necessary for readers to consider why the “Strength and Flavour” of his flour of mustard were not the only reasons they might wish to purchase it.

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[1] Richard L. Merritt, “Public Opinion in Colonial America: Content-Analyzing the Colonial Press,” Public Opinion Quarterly 27, no. 3 (Autumn 1963): 366.

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