What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“In August last an Agreement was made not to import any Goods from Great-Britain.”
This notice appeared in the May 15, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury “By Order of the Committee of Merchants in New-York.” The same notice appeared four days earlier in the New-York Journal. Just as “Merchants & Traders” in Boston had been reminding the public about nonimportation agreements and assessing compliance with their resolutions, so did their counterparts in New York. The committee provided a brief overview: “in August last an Agreement was made not to import any Good from Great-Britain (a few Articles excepted) that should be shipt after the first of November, until an Act of Parliament laying Duties on Paper, Glass, &c. for raising a Revenue here should be repealed.” Furthermore, any goods that arrived “contrary to the Agreement” were to be placed in a “public store” and not be offered for sale until such time that the nonimportation agreement came to an end. Those who did not comply “should be deemed Enemies to this Country.” Notably, this notice did not excoriate women as dangerous consumers of imported goods, as so many editorials tended to do, but instead imbued them with considerable political power in making choices about which goods to purchase and which purveyors to patronize.
The placement of this notice in both the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury makes it impossible to determine whether the printers included it as an editorial or as a paid advertisement. In the New-York Journal, it ran almost immediately after a short section devoted to news about the colony. A brief auction notice appeared between the two. Otherwise, the notice from the Committee of Merchants inaugurated the portion of that edition devoted to advertising. In the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the notice from the Committee of Merchants also appeared almost immediately after news from the colony, again with one advertisement about an auction preceding it. In this case, however, this meant that the notice from the Committee of Merchants appeared at the top of the column that launched the advertisements for the issue, making it much more visible than if it ran right after news from the colony at the bottom of the previous column. In both cases, the notice from the Committee of Merchants provided context and set the tone for reading the other advertisements, especially those that marketed consumer goods. The notice served as a bridge between the news delivered in the first pages and the advertising in the final pages. In that regard, whether it was a paid notice mattered not nearly as much as how the printers deployed it in their respective newspapers.